By Tony Holler
Follow Coach Holler on Twitter at @pntrack.
I am proud to say that I am a life-long learner. I read and I read and I read. I observe successful educators and question their ideas. I also learn from the mistakes of others.
However, it’s hard to look back on my younger days without some remorse. “Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.” – Mark Twain
Young coaches are full of piss and vinegar. I was. I have often admitted that I was a pretty good coach before I knew what I was doing.
“Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”
– from the Bob Dylan song, “My Back Pages”
Without confidence, young coaches would second-guess themselves repeatedly. Teams reflect the confidence of their coach. When a team buys-in, good things always happen. I strongly urge coaches to act like they know what they are doing. Work on body language. Show confidence. Don’t be a worrywart and a handwringer.
As you are bluffing your way through your teaching and coaching career, be a learner. Go to clinics. Read books. Read online articles. Email experts. Visit gurus. Observe a master teacher. Attend a practice of a championship team. I’ve done all of the above. I am now cursed with what Mark Twain called “miserable uncertainty”. However, I am blessed with 35 years of teaching, coaching, and learning. I am reborn every day, excited to become a better coach. The best methods for coaching have yet to be discovered. There are so many moving parts, we will never find certainty. Coaching will always involve more than just science. The best coaches never read from a script. The best coaches will always be artists.
Is your mind open to something new?
“The only things that are going to change you from where you are today to where you are going to be five years from now are the people you meet and the books you read.” – Lou Holtz
And change we must.
Remember when stretching was an integral part of athletic training? Static stretching was unquestioned. Stretching prevented injuries, improved performance, and was a general cure-all. I wish I had a dime for every time I heard “stretch it out”. The only people I see stretching these days are football teams … the Neanderthals of the sports world … the tea-party science-deniers of our fraternity. Please let the football coaches at your school know that static stretching before exercise is known to impair a person’s strength and power and has no effect on injury prevention.
Here we are in 2014 and I still hear coaches telling athletes to stretch an injured muscle. In 2011, I wrote Boo Schexnayder about one of my sprinters who had a hamstring injury. Here was one of Boo’s points of emphasis, “NO STRETCHING. This accelerates the inflammation process and causes a two-week injury to last months. The relief felt from stretching results from the deadening effect on the proprioceptors (spindles), and is only temporary.” By the time I received this advice, my sprinter had gone to a trainer who had stretched him. My sprinter remained injured for months.
Besides stretching, ice has always been the go-to answer for all sports injuries. Coaches who couldn’t pass a PE course prescribed ice with total confidence. “RICE” was all you needed to know. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation)
Did you know that ice is now in question? Check out the book written by Gary Reinl (twitter @TheAntiIceMan).
When in doubt, prescribe rest. Rest cures all, right? In that same email from 2011, Boo Schexnayder shared these points with me:
- The theme of rehab should be functional locomotive exercise that is pain-free. This gentle exercise limits scar tissue formation.
- Rehab must be functional and locomotive. Leg Curls, etc, are a waste of time unless the injury is so bad the athlete can’t walk. RDLs, squats, and other such exercises place excessive tension on the muscle.
- Exercise Progressions … Each day, 12×60 meters, progressing as possible over time through the following exercises, and progressing patiently enough to keep things pain-free. This is not all that can/will be done in training, but this is the specific hamstring rehab portion. 1. Walking, 2. Easy Jog 3. Jog 4. Run 5. Straight Leg Bounds 6. Sprint
Let me narrow my focus. The curse of sprinting is the hamstring.
I have some of my own observations about hamstring injuries. My evidence is anecdotal over my 40-year track & field experience.
- The fastest sprinters injure their hamstrings most frequently
- In the 4×1, the anchor man has at least twice the likelihood of pulling his hamstring as the 1, 2, or 3 runners.
- Most hamstrings are pulled in warm weather at the end of the season. Cold weather is an over-rated cause of hamstring injuries.
- Multi-sport athletes are more durable than sprint specialists.
- Muscular thickly-built sprinters have more hamstring injuries than the greyhounds.
Prevention is Better than Rehab
Recently I read an article like this one, discussing the prevention of hamstring injuries. I am just a chemistry teacher and high school coach. The expert who wrote the article was a big-timer. He probably drives a fancy car and flies all over the country. This writer of the article in question restated the same old crap. Hamstring injuries are prevented in the weight room. Hamstring injuries are the result of a strength imbalance between the quads and the hamstrings. Hamstring injuries are the result of weak hamstrings.
If you can make a muscle sore by lifting weights, you make it bigger and stronger. Any lift that creates soreness creates strength. It’s all so simple. Injury comes from weakness. Coaches see everything in warrior’s terms … weak vs strong. The weight room is a temple, the genesis of all athletic success. Athletes with strong muscles are the best athletes and have the fewest injuries. Neanderthal mentality.
“The cause of a pulled hamstring is never a weak hamstring. The hamstring is like the lights on the dashboard of your car, they tell you there is a problem but aren’t the problem themselves. If you don’t fix the cause then then at best rehab will progress slowly, at worst the injury will re-occur.” – Boo Schexnayder
Incomplete evidence and small sampling supports dozens of theories.
My college coach sent his sprint group on 6-mile runs for Monday workouts. He believed that distance running created strong hamstrings. “You never see a distance runner pulling a hamstring.” Geez.
Jamaican sprint coach Maurice Wilson told me that retro running (sprinting backwards) up a gradual incline strengthens the hamstrings. Or maybe it’s the mountain yams.
I’m a huge fan of foam rollers and roller sticks but where’s the science?
Boo Schexnayder talks about displacement of the talus, tightness in the lumbar spine, or tightness in the hip flexor/rectus femoris as structural causes of hamstring injuries.
My jumps coach, Dr. Brian Damhoff of Elite Performance Institute, stresses dynamic warmup, glute activation, hip flexor tightness, running mechanics, and core breathing.
Are you feeling Mark Twain’s “miserable uncertainty” yet?
I Know a Guy
Actually, I know a guy who knows a guy. The guy I know is Chris Korfist. I have bought his DVDs. I am a frequent visitor to his training facility (his basement, driveway, and street). I have heard him speak at clinics multiple times. I have visited one of his practices at Elmhurst York High School. Last year he “fixed” one of my sprinters.
Chris Korfist created a sprint culture at one of the most famous distance high schools in the nation. Former York coach Joe Newton is a legend.
Chris Korfist took everyday kids and made them special. The evolution of Chris Korfist’s coaching techniques would make Darwin’s head spin.
At the core, Chris Korfist believes in what I believe. Run fast to get fast. Less is more. Vertical force is the holy grail. Fly 10’s are more than diagnostic … fly 10’s are speed builders. If you don’t time sprints, it ain’t sprinting. The weight room hurts more athletes than it helps.
The newest and most exciting feature of Chris Korfist’s training is “activation”.
Last spring I had a sprinter who had been suffering from hamstring issues for 18 months. Chris Korfist “fixed” him. Quintin Hoosman returned to track & field and was a state qualifier. Quintin has nearly 500 yards rushing in his first two varsity football games this year.
Chris Korfist has learned how to activate muscles from a guy named Douglas Heel from Cape Town, South Africa.
The results are stunning. Injuries are virtually non-existent. Performance has been optimized.
It’s been a pretty good year for Chris Korfist. Chris’s sprinters led Elmhurst York to the 2014 IHSA Track & Field State Championship. In addition, Chris worked weekly with the Hinsdale Central cross country team, the 2013 IHSA Cross Country State Champions. Another project is Ryan Clevenger of Downers Grove North. Clevenger ran 4:11.2 in the 1600 as a junior and may become one of our nation’s best distance runners. When I visited Chris is late July, I observed a one hour session with Clevenger and Billy Magnesen of Hinsdale Central. Magnesen was the #1 runner on Hinsdale’s state championship team coached by Jim Westphal. Magnesen is now running for the University of Illinois.
Activation is like a tune-up for a car.
The process involves the pressing neurolymphatic points, pressure points that activate muscles. I have observed the process on three different occasions. If I didn’t know better, I would accuse Chris Korfist of voodoo or sorcery. But Chris Korfist is not the David Copperfield of track & field, he is a coach. Chris Korfist is best sprint coach I know.
We don’t live like our ancestors. During the last 40,000 years, our bodies evolved to respond to a lifestyle foreign to us now. Now we sit all the time. Our food is unlimited. Instead of living a life-long hunting trip, we sit. Our muscles have trouble staying in sync. Our nervous systems get confused. Strong muscles may be dysfunctional.
Imagine a sprinter sitting through seven class periods of 55 minutes with a slow six-minute walk between each class. When those athletes report for practice after school, are their muscles activated and in sync? Does dynamic warmup activate all muscles for all sprinters? Stretching? Jogging? Foam rollers?
If hip flexors are shut down, sprinting continues with the quads taking over. If the glutes are shut down , sprinting continues with the hamstrings taking over.
Quintin Hoosman had 18 months of hamstring problems. Quintin had big and powerful glutes but they were “worthless as a tub of goo”. Quintin’s glutes were not activated. His hamstrings had to compensate for his dysfunctional glutes. You don’t have to be an exercise physiologist to understand what happens next.
Once you learn “Be-Activated”, you can activate yourself. The sprinters of Elmhurst York High School activated each other before practice and before meets. York’s sprinters were activated, energized, and fast. They also stayed healthy. Healthy & fast sprinters win races. Fast sprinters win championships.
Where Do I Sign Up?
South African physiotherapist and kinesiologist Douglas Heel is coming to Chicago, October 18th and 19th. Sessions will last from 9 AM until 5 PM on both days. Those attending will learn the same activation techniques Chris Korfist has used to produce state champions. The cost is $450. Anyone interested in attending can contact Chris Korfist at email@example.com.
Unlike infomercials selling the latest exercise program guaranteed to give you a six-pack and the energy of a teenager, this program has been pioneered by successful coach. Chris Korfist is a high school teacher and a sprint specialist. Korfist has been on a life-long mission to become an expert on the subject of speed. Chris Korfist has not worked as a businessman, he has done his work in his basement, his driveway, and the street in front of his house. Chris Korfist has done his work with athletes.
This article is not an advertisement for Douglas Heel. I’ve never met the man. We have never spoken. I am simply a high school coach who has paid $450 to learn something new.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – Harry S. Truman
After 40 years of track & field study, I’m going to learn how to activate muscles.
The sessions will be hands-on. We will learn “Be-Activated” from the master.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Ben Franklin