A Coach’s Guide to Inclusivity

In part one last week, we covered person-first language, took a detailed look at what it means to truly be inclusive, and evaluated the differences (or lack thereof) in characteristics of athletes with and without disabilities. In part two, we’ll use the critical theory to look at how sport reflects society for people with disabilities, the concept of social settings to check the message your program is sending to people with disabilities, and wrap things up with an action plan for coaches.

Sport as a Model of Society

Especially in an Olympic year, we constantly hear about the values of sport in society. Sports build character, sports teach life lessons, sports teach the value of hard work, team work, self-confidence, and so on. There is no doubt that sport can be a powerful way to do all of these things, but only when done with the goal of doing so. Just like playing a team-building game on the first day of practice doesn’t automatically build a rock-solid team with no further effort, the messages you want to send and the lessons you want to teach with sport need to be consistently evaluated and reinforced to be effective.

One way that we can evaluate sports in society is with the Critical Theory. This is one of five main sociological theories that has guided sociological research for the last fifty years, and focuses on the power dynamics present in a given environment [3]. Someone using critical theory will see sport is an area where culture and social relations can be produced and changed. History has proven that this is the case in sport, from race relations to gender IMG_6575(1)stereotypes, and hopefully now to disability. Main questions to ask of your program from a critical theory perspective include:

  • How do people without disabilities interact with, influence, and make decisions for those with disabilities?
  • How is power shared between individuals with and without disabilities? What is the balance of competitive opportunities, resources, equipment, coaching, and more?

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Hip Health for Athletes

There are a number of chronic and acute pains and injuries in sports that result from a problem in the hips.

[Source: boneandspine.com]
The hip girdle is quite complex, with its four directions of motion and dozens of muscles inserting, attaching, and acting on the various structures. However, don’t get bogged down in complex analyses of each individual muscle and joint. There are a few common practices that most athletes would benefit from in their training to enjoy happy and healthy hips for a long career and great performances.

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Mastering the Hip Hinge

The hip hinge is a key basic athletic movement that must be mastered to perform many strength training exercises in the weight-room. Squat, deadlift, push press, and Olympic lift variations are all highly reliant on this fundamental ability, plus, a rock-solid hip hinge has numerous benefits to whatever sport you play. The hip hinge is the basis of the fundamental athletic position. Building strength and endurance of the back, glute, hamstring, quad, and calf muscles involved in hip hinging will make you powerful in many elements of your game.

What is the hip hinge?

The hip hinge is the movement of pushing the hips back, maintaining a neutral spine and no more than a slight bend of the knees, balancing bodyweight between forefoot and heel. This is the power position and is a part of almost every sport–NFL combine athletes hit this position when testing their vertical jump, baseball players prepare for a ground ball in this position, sports like football, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer play defense from this position, volleyball players bump from a hip hinge, tennis players serve return from the hinge, Olympic lifters hang clean from this position, and finally, this is the deadlift position. The hip hinge is the point of optimal strength of the main muscles of the lower body: calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

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FAQ: Deadlifts for Rowing

The deadlift is a lift that has the potential to have excellent utility and carryover to rowing. I emphasize potential because many rowers perform the lift with the goal in mind of lifting the absolute most weight or reps that they can, rather than the goal of becoming a better rower. Training for rowing always comes back to this question—am I using this activity correctly to become a better rower? In many cases, lifting the absolute most that you can is NOT actually making you a better rower.

The biggest mistake I see with rowers’ deadlifts is turning the lift into a pull with the back rather than a push from the legs and hips. Performed correctly, the deadlift should look almost identical to a half-slide stroke. Rowers tend to incorrectly set up at the bottom of the lift, often turning the lift into a squat or a stiff-leg pull or failing to maintain a braced torso and neutral spine. Check out my video below from How to Deadlift then read on for more deadlift FAQs for rowing.

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Staying Summer Fit for Rowing

Originally posted as a guest post on Rowperfect UK

It’s summer time and many of us are thinking of time away from the boathouse, ergometer, and spin bike. Often, this is out of our control, such as in the case of the high school student who has a summer job that conflicts with open gym or boathouse times. Sometimes this is in our control, such as a planned vacation or conscious choice to move rowing to the backburner for a few weeks or months and focus on other activities. The competitive athlete will never want to give up an edge to their competition, so while there is no true replacement for time in the boat or on the erg, here is how to stay in as good shape as possible to make smooth the transition back to specific training.

A Rowperfect reader asked, “I’m unable to row for the next month and I can only really use the erg (and for that matter, weights) a few times a week. Other than that, what are good methods for keeping rowing fit?

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Athlete Transitioning: Graduating from Sport

Often lost in the excitement of the final races, championship qualifiers, and preparing for the culmination of another season is the realization that, for the tens of thousands of athletes graduating from high school or college and not continuing sport, this is it. While many rowers will no doubt look forward to sleeping in, no more 2k tests, and a life beyond spandex, many will struggle to adjust to a life that does not revolve around athletics and athletic performance. All sports have unique cultures and forge strong bonds between teammates, and many will not find the close relationships that existed between teammates in work, school, or future life.

Sport serves to unite people, give them a common goal, and bind them through shared struggle. Beyond the medals and trophies, this is what makes sport so valuable in a person’s life. When retired athletes look back on their career and what they enjoyed, it’s usually much more about the lifelong relationships and personal accomplishments than it is about the stat lines of number of games won or trophies earned. These deep bonds between teammates who share the incredible work ethic, intrinsic motivation, and dedication are hard to match later in life.

This is also what makes sport so hard to leave, and why retirement from sport can be so difficult on so many people.

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How to Train Your Rower: Overhead Press

The overhead press is one of the best upper body exercises for rowers. Not only will it help you go “up and over heads” with ease, the overhead press is a great exercise for scapular function and strengthening the whole upper back and shoulder muscles. However, this lift is often executed incorrectly in ways that fail to reap the rewards of this great exercise and have the potential to cause injury. Quality execution is critical in all exercises to gain the full benefit of strength training.


In the previous articles, I explained my system of teaching a large group of rowers the basic barbell exercises by breaking each down into 3-4 parts to simulate the commands of “arms-body-legs-catch.” You’ve seen videos from my clinic for the back squat, front squat, and deadlift. Now we will cover the final barbell exercise and main pressing exercise I use with rowers—the overhead press. In addition to tight hip flexors, many rowers have mobility restrictions in their mid back, or thoracic spine. I first instruct the athlete as best I can, then prescribe scaled-down versions of the exercise while the athlete works to develop mobility. Scaled-down versions of the overhead press include the unilateral dumbbell overhead press and the incline bench press, but the goal is that each athlete can do an overhead press safely and effectively.

Watch the strict overhead press and push press cues, then watch the instructional video.

#1: Rack position—“Walk it out”

The rack position for the overhead press is one of the harder positions for athletes to master, particularly rowers who often have restricted thoracic spine mobility. I first instruct athletes on what a “packed” shoulder feels like. “Packing” refers to putting the scapulae in a position of depression and retraction. If you know anatomical terms, great. If not, extend your arm straight overhead, then bend at the elbow and reach down to grab the tag of your shirt. Take note of what your scapula does when you do this—it should go “back and down” into a position of depression and retraction. Watch this video for a demonstration. Try to get back to this position when you unrack an overhead press. It often helps for athletes to begin the press with the barbell at chin level, imagining creating a shelf with the latissimus dorsi. Several attempts may be necessary to find the right position. Many athletes will want to point the elbows out to the sides in a position of internal rotation. Cue these athletes to point their elbows “up and in,” similar to a front squat but less extreme. You can see me do this with Carl in the instructional video to get him to create a better rack position.

#2: Halfway up—“Foreheads, ready UP”

The next instruction is to press the barbell to forehead height, or halfway up to lockout. This allows me to check that the bar is close to their forehead, not pressed out in front of them, and that they are maintaining a braced torso and neutral spine. Most rowers who exhibit faults in this position tend to have poor thoracic spine mobility, poor starting position, or shoulder/mid-back weakness in maintaining the packed shoulder position.

#3: Finish—“Lockout”

Unlike in the squat, many athletes exhibit poor form at lockout for the overhead press. Athletes with restricted thoracic spine mobility will struggle to lock the bar out straight overhead without compromising the neutral spine. These athletes need to improve their thoracic mobility and find other pressing variations they can do in the meantime. Others will be able to reach the correct position when cued to do so. Make sure you provide complete instruction and give the athlete a few chances to get it right before diagnosing a mobility restriction.

ohp posture.png
Common postural faults at the lockout of the overhead press. Lack of torso bracing at left, lack of thoracic mobility at right

#4: Down—“Down”

As with the deadlift, I emphasize the down position because it helps them find that correct rack position to start the next repetition. I cue them to initiate the descent with the elbows, going from locked out overhead to aiming them forward, then bending the arms into the rack position. This controlled descent makes it much easier to hit the same rack position for each rep and teaches the shoulder a correct range of motion.

Part 1: The Squat

Part 2: The Deadlift

You can also download the complete “How to Train Your Rower” guide for free! This PDF manual contains the 3-part instructional series as well as my 3-part “FAQ” series for each lift.

Download (PDF)

Sport Specialization Is Not the Answer

Will Ruth

I posted an article on Facebook a month ago summarizing many of the problems with youth sports and explaining a few ways that youth and high school coaches could improve the situation. The article was “Does Youth Sports Get the Math All Wrong?” by John O’Sullivan from the Changing the Game Project. Many commenters on the article agreed, but one nonbeliever stuck out. They said, “How do you expect part-time HS coaches to actually do any of this?” and suggested that it would be, “like a Harvard Skytte prize-winning professor coming to 3rd grade to teach quantum physics.”

I know a thing or two about a thing or two, and haven’t gotten a Skytte prize for either of them, but here’s what this part-time HS coach does. First, let’s cover research-based evidence of youth sport specialization vs. non-specialization, or “multilateral” development.

early specialization
T.O Bompa, “Total Training for Young Children,” 2000

#1: “Don’t force, expect, or encourage early specialization”

I encourage all of my athletes to play other sports in the off-season. I don’t leave the “why” up to them—expecting children or HS athletes to read between the lines is a road to frustration. I always played multiple sports, so I talk about what I personally learned and how I applied it from sport to sport. Lead them through it and draw comparisons between their sport and others. Most young athletes won’t see the strategic similarities between soccer and lacrosse or similar skillsets between wrestling and football until you explain it a bit.

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Ditch the Resolutions, Part 1

Will Ruth

The New Years Resolution is a mainstay of holiday culture. It seems like such a great idea. As the calendar turns to a new chapter, so do you. A whole year just stretches out in front of you with endless possibilities. This could be the year for the beach bod, the six-pack, the new diet, the better you. Full of motivation, you come up with a plan, spread the word of your lofty goals to friends and family, and wait for the following Monday (because everyone knows diets start on Mondays). And it never works.

See, always on Monday. [Photo: health.com]
New Years Resolutions (NYR) are notoriously “should” goals, not “I want” goals. The social pressure on the back of all the holiday emotions and often-stressful family situations primes the NYR to be a decision made out of guilt, not intrinsic personal motivation. The timing makes little sense from a goal-setting perspective—still recovering from holiday travel season, mid-flu season, and deep in the winter months. None of these are factors that are inherently motivating for change, nor do they make it easy to stick to something even if you are motivated. This sets the first stage for false hope syndrome [1].

Continue reading → Ditch the Resolutions, Part 1