Divergence of Character for Organizational Success

             Organizational reform is the central framework for the improvement and sustainability of organizations. When operating in a world of constant change – a form of change becomes almost necessary  for survival or sustainability.  If we consider organizations to be similar to organisms operating in a world that is constantly changing  than organizations must do the same – change to improve and thus survive.  An examination of Darwin’s diversification can help to elucidate the value of organizations embracing change.  Author James T. Costa discusses the meaning behind Darwin’s Diversification in The Darwinian Revelation.  He states: 

“Divergence of character is a process, Darwin envisioned, by which natural selection acts on varieties of a species to enhance their competitiveness, an important outcome of which is the differential survival and reproduction of the most divergent varieties on average (insofar as the most divergent varieties compete least). This leads to a de facto ecological division of labor—niche partitioning, in modern terms—yielding an ever-ramifying divergence pattern when iterated over time: the tree of life.” (Costa, 2009). 

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How is your organization adapting to a new environment and what changes are you adopting for increased survival and work efficiency?

         This ability of organizations to embrace change in accordance with their environment and experience a divergence of character can also be understood as organizational adaptation. Those organizations who survive branch out within the tree of life and either through a change of character or innovation extend the ability to operate within a new environment.  This process is important both for external growth and internal growth.  Leading authors have suggested that organizational adaptation is necessary to correct imbalances and improve inefficient processes within an organization. This ability to change is also fundamental to how that organization works and sustains itself in the world at large. The adaptation can be reactive and come after a change in the external environment, or it can be preempted (Purna, 2017).  If we understand change followed by improvement to be a necessity for the sustainability of organizations than the central question is:

“How do we change organizations to improve?” 

           More specifically with this recognition, how do leaders and managers initiate, implement, and sustain a change process that leads to successful outcomes? The answer to the question of success in the face of change is multidimensional and dependent on the complexity of the organization undergoing change, but also the intricacies central to change in the working environment.  A simple equation can help to provide the factors necessary for change and improvement.   

(Change + Improvement/Organization = Success /Organization) / Changing World

           We must first understand that there is a relationship between organization to change, as well as a connection between organization to success and a relationship to organizational improvement.  This equation may appear to give the impression that organization’s success due to change and improvement is a simple endeavor. On the contrary, we recognize organizational  change to be a complex and a precarious undertaking with many challenges as well as unknowns. However, it is our responsibility as leaders to take this complex task and produce or derive a simple answer. 

It is as Steve Jobs once said: 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

        By this token, the next step In “moving the mountain” of implementing change for organizational success is to explain  your organization change  in simple terms.  A simple analogy for Creating Organizational Change for success can be reflected through the  process of creating a car.  Building a car requires  – A driver or a system of navigation, an engine, a body, equipment, fuel and a designer. A look at each of these positions can help us construct an organization and understand how change can provide or continue success.

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Can your organization be reflected in simply? Such as the parts of a car?

        A car cannot run without a system of interrelated parts functioning together.  These interrelated parts performing synergistically can be understood as an operating system which is manipulated by a driver or manager.  This system is a state of constant specified action and expected response.  Consider this system as an entity composed of parts that operates in a circular fashion with clear, uniform goals leading to a targeted and finite set of results. 

Circular Thinking Systems

A good system assesses, functions towards its objective and responds to change accordingly.  A system is the natural state of an organization. This is sometimes dictated by management and is an important component when discussing success.  A system is not just a plan. Plans can fail. “No plan survived contact with the enemy”. Michael Fullan states this as evidence that one must pay attention to the reality of action than to theoretical strategy.  It’s not just important to have a plan or a strategy for change, but you must also have a well run functioning system that can appropriately deal with the reality of a situation.  Michael Fullan also quotes von Moltke to suggest that strategy by itself is insufficient for dealing with life.  A well functioning system in many ways is synonymous to attentiveness or clarity.  Systems cannot exist without clear direction. Fullan again, demonstrates the importance of clarity within a system when he talks of the advice given by Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov in preparation for war.  “Immediate attentiveness to unfolding possibilities was going to be more valuable than forward planning”.

   Thus, we are beginning to understand that a plan is not enough, instead a system that denotes clarity is an important component of an organization wishing to change for success.  This system also requires discussion.  Discussion and evaluation is a necessary part of an operational  system and an organization looking to sustain success. Discussion and evaluation represent point in a system directly after assessment but can also occur at any point of intervention within a functioning system. It is a necessary part in refining a system. Leaders, managers and various intrinsic parts of an organization have discussions with each other to review and reestablish successful procedures. 

“Throughout that change is a process of coming to grips with multiple realities of the people who are the main participants of implementing change.”  Fullan understands that discussion amongst the constituents of a system is essential to it’s success.  An operational system not only has direction, leadership and assessment but it also has discussion. This  pattern  can be observed in the “Research Based Change Model” reflected in Marsha Specks “Best Practices in Professional Development for sustained  Educational Change”.  She presents an image of a systems that can start with  planning progress  to professional development activities followed by implementation of interventions or programs. This diagram represents a system and is a reflection of theoretical function of educational change for programming.

Organizational Change, Improvement and Success require more than a system. It also requires quality parts built to form  a resilient body. In other words,  Organization requires integrity, strength and malleability to the demands of Change for sustainability.  Understanding organizations and their relationship to change requires you to  understand the parts parts of an organization or the structural components of the car.  Knowledge of the body is insight that the limitations that can be placed on the axle of a vehicle before it snaps. It’s understanding that a car must have four wheels for appropriate function. It’s the knowledge of the manner in which the wheels of a car will respond to an environment from sand, to a paved road to grass. In understanding the body, we must also understand the environment.

“The fundamental flaw in most innovators strategies is that they focus on their innovations, on what they are trying to do – rather than on understanding how the larger culture, structures, and norms will react to their efforts”

Perhaps the most obvious requirement of a car is the engine. An engine is a system which helps to propel an organization. Knowledge of the engine provides insight to what drives the organization. How this engine is constructed can be instrumental in how well a car or organization functions in its objective. The same can be said about the fuel, or its parts. These elements are synonymous to the people of an organization.  In other words, understanding what drives the people of an organization is similar to understanding the engine and fuel of a system.

An engine however is designed. This fact helps to shape the most functional part of creating a car – the architect. An architect envisions, designs and instructs the construction of a car. Similarly, an architect envisions, plans, strategizes and creates an organization, change and its success. Authors and experience teaches us that those results cannot exist without a plan that is both principled, flexible and up for discussion.  In other words a principled strategy with a degree of flexibility is the architect and designer of organizations, change and success.  This principled approach along with a principle of limited flexibility allows for guidance, objectives and the opportunity to change. 

Fullan states that strategy formation is judgment designing, intuitive reasoning and emergent learning; It is about transformation as well as perpetuation; it must involve individual cognition and social interaction, cooperation as well as conflict. “It has to include analyzing before and programming after as well as negotiating during; and all of this must be in response to what can be a demanding environment.”   Strategy formation encompasses many of the elements necessary in producing and effective plan for successful change, and successful outcomes. It requires: Experience, material, equipment, people, financial support, discussion and engagement. 

 “To put it simply and Powerfully, people doing the work have information that policymakers don’t have. If Leaders don’t engage them through partnerships and collaborative, cultures, they don’t access that information. Under this scenario, planning fails every time.” 

References:

Fullan, M. (2016). The NEW meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Purna, A. (2017, September 26). Organizational Adaptation Theory. Retrieved from https://bizfluent.com/facts-7533511-organizational-adaptation-theory.html

Speck, Marsha. (1996). Best Practice in Professional Development for Sustained Educational Change. ERS Spectrum. 14.  

 

James T. Costa; The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea, BioScience, Volume 59, Issue 10, 1 November 2009, Pages 886–894, https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2009.59.10.10

 

Take away:

  • The world is in Constant Change
    • Operating/functioning/surviving in the world may require us to embrace change.
      • Darwin’s Divergence of character is a testament to this notion
        • It may help improve growth within and growth without.
  • How do we change for improvement?
    • Define your Organization Simply
    • Create a Simple Equation
    • Determine a Simple Change

Establish Structure – Gain Perspective – Create Change.

       Almost every organization has an organizational chart that reflects formal roles and responsibilities. Experts in the field of leadership note that If the structure is overlooked, an organization often misdirects energy and resources.  It should go then that a highly functioning sport performance organization or system requires structure so that appropriate energy is efficiently centered toward the development, safety and performance of the athlete.

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What is the Structure of your Organization? How is this structure demonstrated or reflected ?

 

There are a multitude of ways we can denote structure in performance system. Structure can be reflected in the presentation of the individuals who function within a given system. For instance, in the professional sports sector, we often have a hierarchal map which features a General Manager (generally presented at the top of tree) who oversees the various undertakings of a sports system such as the: 

          1. Parts or entities who oversee skill development and competition of  athletes ( generally presented below the general manager along side with other branches of a system).
          1. Parts or entities who oversee preparation and performance ( generally presented below the general manager along side with other branches of a system).

         The structure and presentation of a highly functioning sports system is an important undertaking and necessary factor in facilitating  successful sports performance. The presentation of structure within a sports performance system reflects its values. Members can rely on this presentation as a resource for insight to the overall function of a system. This factor is important to organizational success as well as other factors. As author Harold Ramos once said: 

“My only conclusion about structure is that nothing works if you don’t have interesting characters and a good story to tell.” – Harold Ramos

The key to interesting characters and good stories is that they-re often layered and multi-dimensional. People listening to such stories or characters can appreciate it from a multitude of vantage points. What Harold is teaching us is that structure which leverages perspective is much better than just the construct of structure alone.  In other words, we must not only build a highly organized entity which supports the ability of stakeholders to function, but also to provide those stakeholders a multitude of perspectives. This strategy can create efficiency and improve their chances to make clear and effective decisions which can translate to a higher rate of successful outcomes. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, authors of “How Great Leaders Think, The Art of Reframing” preface their book with a simple message: “Leaders who can reframe – look at the same thing from multiple perspectives – think better.  Thinking better is the key to any successful venture.

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Leveraging Perspective is a Key factor to gaining comprehensive information or components for effective decision making

        Ultimately, success in sport performance systems (or organizations) requires the ability to gain, learn and intervene with perspective.  This is a fundamental principle that can be observed in various factions and functions of successful sports bodies today.

This ability is recognize when  we develop cohesion between various departments such as Skill Competition specialist with those who focus on Preparation and performance. Perspective is the essence of transformative Leadership which is understood as an effective Communication practice between leaders and performers on the field of play. This fundamental principle of leveraging perspective can also be understood as reframing. Reframing describes a strategy in which Leaders adopt more than one frames to allow for seamless communication, discussion, intervention and integration.

As Sports competition improves more attention must be centered to gaining perspective  both outside and within an organization. Sports performance organizations reaching for success cannot afford to oversimplify and overlook the multi frame complexity embedded in sports performance.

In a 2016 study, researcher Jan Ekstrand and her team reported four common risk factors related to Injury risk in football. Authors of this study determined that  the workload imposed on players, the players’ well-being, the quality of internal communication and the head coach’s leadership style (Ekstrand, 2016) played important roles in injury risk. Each of these elements requires the action of gaining perspective in order to effectively reach a good conclusion.

Workload imposed on the players can be determined through external factors such as GPS monitoring as well as Player assessments. The combination of both strategies however provides a more accurate picture of player workload. Player’s well being or readiness can be assessed through external testing such as jump profiles and internal testing procedures which center on central nervous system function.  The combination of both tools however can reflect a comprehensive picture of a player’s well-being. Forms of communication that are multifactorial as opposed to singular allow for a efficiency in the the transfer of information. And a leadership style which leverages the voice of various constituents can potentially provide a wide range of views resulting in comprehensive decision making.  This style of leadership can be understood as Transformational leadership.  It involves motivating and inspiring followers to go beyond their self-interest for the benefit of collective interests by providing vision, meaning, challenges and stimulation ( Ekstrand et al. 2017). Authors of this study, suggested the transformational leadership, or the style that leverages perspective to a greater level than other forms of leadership is associated with the greatest level of performance in sport. 

“Research in the area of sports psychology indicates that transformational leadership on the part of coaches is associated with higher levels of motivation and performance,9improved development and skill gains, increased well-being, increased satisfaction,reduced aggression,increased task/team cohesion10 18–20 and increased willingness to make personal sacrifices for the good of the team.1 (Ekstrand et al., 2017)

Transformational Leadership fits a democratic form of leadership that allows individuals with different beliefs and values to voice their opinions. It allows stakeholders the opportunity to look at issues through different lenses to determine what action to take.  Moreover, it increases the probability of seeing and solving “real” problems.  This form of leadership is effective at both expanding thinking, decision making and innovating. 

This form of leadership is what some authors recognize as “reframing”. These authors believe that the ability for individuals to use more than one frame increases and individuals ability to  make clear decisions and judgements and to act effectively.  In the process of reframing we have to consider not only how a sports system is organized but the interaction between individuals such as players and organizational needs such player management. Reframing also suggest that we must examine the political environment that exists within a system. We can use these systems to help create coalitions, and power bases that can support the objective of a system.  The usefulness of political reframing can be appreciated in team settings where there is resistance to change.  Those leaders adept at gaining political capital are better able to overcome resistance for effective policy changes.  Authors Bolman and Deal demonstrate how gaining a symbolic frame can be useful in the structure of sports performance. Many performance coaches will argue today that an inability to recognize organizational ritual, ceremony, stories or culture will result in ineffective practice no matter how brilliant or effective they may be. This lesson is a reminder that organizations no matter what they do are more than structures. They each tell a story. And to be better at promoting that organization to success you must understand that story on many levels. furthermore, you must be willing to intervene in a multitude of ways to implement success.

The more  comprehensive, intelligent and valuable information we can gain the more armed we are at making a comprehensive, intelligent and valuable decision. Comprehensive is built on multiple perspective. The more perspectives we have the more comprehensive a piece of information is.  “In A  world of increasing ambiguity and complexity, we believe that the ability to use more than one frame increases and individuals ability to make clear judgements and to act effectively.” – (Bolman & Deal, 1992) . 

 

 

References: 

Bolman, L., Deal, T. (1992) Leading and Managing: Effects of Context, Culture and Gender: Educational Administration Quarterly. (28)3., 314 – 329

Ekstrand J. (2016). Preventing injuries in professional football: thinking bigger and working together. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 50:709–710.

Ekstrand, J., Lundqvist, D., Lagerbäck, L., Vouillamoz, M., Papadimitiou, N., & Karlsson, J. (2017). Is there a correlation between coaches’ leadership styles and injuries in elite football teams? A study of 36 elite teams in 17 countries. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(8), 527-531

Good Leadership requires Generational Consciousness

In my most recent dinner outing with a group of work members, I could not help but feel tension amongst the culturally diverse group ranging from early twenties to late fifties. It appeared for a brief moment that the idea of placing individuals from various backgrounds within the stress-laden confines of a team tasked to push the edge of competition may prove to be innovative in theory but poorly functioning practically – but then the drinks came in… Soon enough, i saw the great potential for competitive behavior when quality individuals are able to find purpose in their voice, opportunities to genuinely communicate their ideas and appraised constantly for doing so.  Author Natasha Nicholson provides insight to the dynamics of organizations today.  She states that today “we have four generations in the U.S. workforce – All of them in motion.  These generations include the traditional generations or those individuals born between 1946  and 1964, Generation X those individuals born between 1964 – 1981, and millennials those individuals born between 1982 and 2000.  Each of these generations can differ in manners such as communication styles, beliefs and values.  Yet their presence in organizations are a necessary force for adapting to an ever changing environment as well as sustaining stability and ultimately success.  A perspective in to the beliefs and values of millennials for instance can provide insight to the impact belief and generational characteristics impact organizational value and potential for success.   

It has been said that today’s new generation of workers may appear to value work more than past generations. Such a belief would appear to differentiate them from previous generations and shed light to their potential impact for organizational success.    Today’s generational differences differ not only in beliefs inside of the workplace but outside the workplace as well. Younger generations of today also known as millennials  have been described as viewing the work place as more than an occupation but also a religious rite. The youth generation have strong beliefs toward work commitment  and they are likely to see themselves as more aligned to work than their counterparts. Authors have used terms such as “work matrys” to provide insight to the perception for which youth generations seem themselves.  In a New York times piece author Erin Griffith writes that Youth “participation in organized religion is falling, especially among American millennials. In San Francisco, where I live, I’ve noticed that the concept of productivity has taken on an almost spiritual dimension. Techies here have internalized the idea — rooted in the Protestant work ethic — that work is not something you do to get what you want; the work itself is all. Therefore any life hack or company perk that optimizes their day, allowing them to fit in  even more work, is not just desirable but inherently good.”  (Griffith, E, 2019)

Such a belief is likely to have a measurable impact on the culture of an an organization and can conflict with the norms of the past and/or generational demographics of an organization. For instance, culturally acceptable  practices such as paid time off are now being challenged by students.  In a recent report in Harvard Business review, one author denotes the prevailing attitude among workers The researchers surveyed roughly 5,000 full-time employees who receive paid time off as a benefit, and found that millennials were much more likely to agree with four statements they used to assess work martyrdom. “No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.” “I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.” “I don’t want others to think I am replaceable.” “I feel guilty for using my paid time off.” (Carmichael, 2016)

The differences between work life balance between young generation and older members is apparent.   Millennials were also more likely to want to be seen as work martyrs than older workers; specifically, 48% of Millennials wanted their bosses to see them that way, while only 39% of Gen X did and 32% of Boomers did.   This belief  shape by today’s working youth that “productivity capability — our ability to work, rather than our humanity is  a measure of human worth and can have a significant impact on organizational culture (Carmichael, 2016).

One can argue that such a belief is a powerful vehicle for work productivity. Establishing such a belief can be a useful engine for slow companies looking for success.  Additionally, establishing such a belief is effective at attracting and retaining quality performers.  “The technology industry started this culture of work zeal sometime around the turn of the millennium, when the likes of Google started to feed, massage and even play doctor to its employees. The perks were meant to help companies attract the best talent — and keep employees at their desks longer. However, research may not support this theory. Working Harder or perceiving oneself to working harder may not increase work productivity. 

  “This makes it all the more important to underline that the study also finds that sacrificing vacation time has no net benefit on your career. In fact, work martyrs are more likely to be stressed at home and at work, and less likely to be happy with their companies and careers. And they were less likely to receive bonuses — 75% of work martyrs reported receiving a bonus in the past three years, compared with 81% of overall respondents. Previous research by P:TO showed that people who take fewer vacation days are also less likely to get a raise:” (Carmichael, 2016).

Nonetheless, the beliefs and cultures of generations such as millennials can improve the competitive edge of organizations in a constantly growing world.  Finding methods to ameliorate the differences between generations while maximizing productivity is a fundamental to organizational success. Providing clear and purpose is one of the most effective ways in which we can help to improve the ability to communicate across culture and generations. This requires leaders to delve deep and to search individuals for value, to recognize this value and promote it publicly as a key component for the future of an organization success. In other words the action of providing purpose to individuals that is publicly recognize to different members of the group is an opportunity to engage them.  In some ways this can be understood as leveraging leadership. Author Leah Reynolds writes “it should be no surprise that tech-savvy Gen Yers in your organization want to feel  connected, updated and involved.  The technology they grew up with game them real time access to information, and their boomer parents and teachers socialized them to speak up and contribute their ideas.”  (Reynolds, Campbell Bush, Geist, 2008)

Reynolds  provides us indication with why these individuals specifically want to be recognize with purpose.  Generations Yers in particular were taught to follow their purpose and to value themselves in this fashion. However we must realize that such a desire isn’t specific to any particular generation. It is human nature to seek purpose.  Perhaps the difference with generations is not whether they yearn for purpose but the frequency in which they want to be reminded or informed of their purpose.

Reynolds reminds also reminds us that frequency updates may be a powerful tool for alleviating the differences between generational groups,  She writes “ Generation Y likes to be informed and  feel plugged in If they sense that leadership is not sufficiently updating them..”  (Reynolds, Campbell Bush, Geist, 2008). It should be no surprised that for a generation mired in technology which constantly provides information within a blink of an eye, millennials would also have similar demands for understanding their role in a similar capacity. This observation reminds us that we often should look at communication as a resource for improving  organizational function.  It is important to constantly ask ourselves “how effective are our communications in connecting with members of our workforce, an how are we measuring that effectiveness.  Reynolds demonstrates that communication is more than providing statements of veracity, it is also looking at effective ways to consider the interests and communications styles of different individuals.  We may find ourselves attracted to a form of communication that is ineffective. Communication can hold many forms and should be provided in a comprehensive manner.   Concepts such as  “idea campaigns” , individuals meetings and group outings represents variations in communication tactics that target  discussion. More importantly these opportunities provide manners in which  individuals can communicate more effectively. 

Ultimately, we must realize that organizations will consistently have to address  diversity in an increasing competitive market.  Diversity provides and edge toward success. The ability to master diversity lies in ones ability to understand human nature and the complexities of communication. Those can be understood as elements of  adaptability.  Adaptability can be understood as one’s ability to  better connect workforce by building a sense of community, drawing out insights. It is also an important adoption that we should always expect that  things will never be what they used to be. Just as we should be focusing on understanding the generational changes we should also be preparing for the generations to come.

References:

Carmichael, S. G. (2016, August 22). Millennials Are Actually Workaholics, According to Research. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/08/millennials-are-actually-workaholics-according-to-research

Durkin, Dianne (2008), “Youth Movement”, Communication World, Vol. 25, pp. 23-26.

Griffith, E. (2019, January 26). Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/business/against-hustle-culture-rise-and-grind-tgim.html

Lovely, S. (2005). Creating synergy in the schoolhouse: Changing dynamics among peer cohorts will drive the work of school systems. School Administrator, 62(8), 30-34.

Reynolds, L., Campbell Bush, E., and Geist, R. (2008), “The gen y imperative”, Communication World, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 19-22.

Organizational Change in 3 Steps

When individuals are hired by members of a struggling organization to a leadership role, we often hear the value of culture change as a necessary step for a return to organizational success. If an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value, than a change in potential is a necessary element to adapt to a highly competitive and growing environment.  It is difficult to know for sure what must of been going through the mind of early stakeholders or  leaders tasked with transforming struggling organizations.  However, through the work of research and the observations of  various organizations we are beginning to understand the anatomy of organizational change and the various factors necessary for its successful initiation, implementation and institutionalization.   

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Michael Fullan, an expert in leadership and change, along with the work of various researchers help  to provide insight to the anatomy of organizational transformation and provide us a glimpse of how teams mired in failure can find success. 

If it was possible to relegate the complex elements of change to three words the most likely culprits would be goals, collaboration and leadership.

The essence of an organization or  a system composed of value adding processes is built on the foundation of:

  1. “Closing the gap” to an overarching goal
  2.  Recognizing strategies that focus on effective communication and action
  3. Improving the ability to leverage leadership within its system. 

Understanding these three guidelines helps to summarize the multi-dimensional nature of change. 

Step 1: Closing the gap as the or to an overarching Goal

In attempting to understand what took place in the early phases of change we must first recognize that change is unique, non-linear and does not follow clear, rigid rules. However, we can be certain of a few fundamental elements such as establishing meaning. Meaningful change is preceded by determining meaning. Acquiring meaning is an important individual and organizational pursuit if it is to be successful. Fullan states that “acquiring meaning is achieved across a group of people working in concert. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons to be drawn from Fullan’s  explanation of change. In this explanation he demonstrates the importance of establishing a plan and communicating said plan to parts of the organization. Acquiring meaning is the first step in creating a plan. A plan inherently has a starting point and an objective. Acquiring meaning drives us to close the gap or reach the objective of a plan. If the theory of change emerging at this point leads us to conclude that we need better plans and planners, we are embarking on the infinite regress that characterizes the pursuit of a theory of “changing”.  Closing the gap requires self – reflection or the ability to ask difficult questions, challenge norms and understand methods aimed at its construction. Understanding the anatomy for change is perhaps the most important and valuable lesson before undertaking change.  As Fullan states “we need to explain not only what causes it but also how to influence those causes”. Just like physics is a foundation for engineering, knowledge of change has been a foundation for innovation and the ability to create change.  In creating change we recognize that questions that begin with 

  1. Why
  2. What
  3. How 
  4.  What if

are important to know. 

These questions, give us the ability to determine meaning, objective and the abilities to close the gap of an established objective.

Step 2: Recognize the value of strategies that are socially based and action oriented

They also recognize that change is a cyclical process, that requires constant genuine discussion based on data driven assessments.  Authors have argued that Change leadership (or the interplay between artful leadership and organization management) is necessary for developing an organizations culture and is an essential component for developing new core capabilities needed to compete in a global, high tech world (Mcguire, 2006). Fullan demonstrates that trust and cohesion between parts of an organization is important for its success and operation especially when undertaking the complexities of change.  Communication across boundaries allow for greater potential in understanding one another as well as acquire meaning in oneself or the group.  Social discussions allow various elements to share and increase value in one another. In order to display this value, action is needed. A good strategy toward this goal is to begin and end a day with a meeting. There is a firm understanding that discussion built on trust and cohesion allows us to make appropriate decisions as well as actions to reach our planned goals when provided with good information. 

Step 3: Stay the course  of good direction through continually leveraging leadership. 

Experience shows that change occurs from or with the support of a position of leadership. Fullan states that individuals in leadership positions within an organization such as chief administrators or central distract staff are critical sources of advocacy, support and imitation of new programs. This observation is no different from the occurrences of sports organizations which are often run by senior officials such as a general manager or chief executive officer.  They may not be the catalyst for change, but they are certainly important resources for advocacy and support in change. The messaging of advocacy, communicated from the general manager is a constant reminder for those individuals new to change within the organization. They also help to recognize the importance of establishing key stakeholders in facilitating change or leveraging leadership. Leveraging leadership provides individuals with purpose and meaning in their roles but also empowers their positions and perspectives.

In establishing change we recognize that that each instance of change is unique. In other words, when discussing change, we must be mindful that it exists as an individual quality from other episodes of change.  This can be the result of its multifactorial nature.  As authors have suggested there are no hard-and-fast rules to change but rather a set of suggestions for how change can occur.  Generally speaking, we know that change requires us to establish meaning, collaborate and leverage leadership.

References

Fullan, M. (2016). The new meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McGuire, J. (2003). Leadership strategies for culture change: Developing change leadership as an organization core capability. Orlando, Florida: Center for Creative Leadership.

Young, Y. (2006). Mindset. Brighton: Pen Press.

The Three Important Steps for Dealing with the Crisis of a ‘Weight Room’ Injury

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 It is undoubtedly the worst feeling you can suffer through as a strength coach, trainer or movement specialist. Unfortunately, many who work in the profession of human movement and performance have or will encounter this experience to some degree. Regardless of how great you may be at delivering a safe and sound program and/or environment to your athletes/clients, there’s always a potential risk of injury to those individuals within your setting.

Injuries are an unfortunate fixture within the world of sports and they are also a perpetual issue in the world of movement and performance training for sports.  While the practice of exercise and movement training continues to grow, develop and evolve in both safety and potency, the risk of injury to individuals who engage in the potentially precarious practice of exercise remains.  We’ve seen or heard of the horrific headlines where athletes are exposed to life threatening and/or serious injuries such as rhabdoymyolis after engaging in exercise.  And there are of-course the gruesome accidents that can potentially leave indelible marks to both the athlete and training staff. Accidents happen all the time and the weight room is no exception. 

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On September 28, 2009, Johnson suffered an injury when the 275 pounds (125 kg) barbell he was lifting fell on his throat while performing a bench press during a routine team workout. Bleeding from his mouth and nose, he was rushed to California Hospital Medical Center and had three emergency surgeries to repair damage to his crushed vocal cord.

      While the risk of harm is rare, a potential for injury exists every time  an athlete steps in the weight room or performs a form exercise.  Take for instance, those athletes who engage in an increasingly popularly form of exercise called Crossfit, which incorporates high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise. In a 2013 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers demonstrated that just under 74% of individuals who engaged in Crossfit expressed an injury experience as a result of their training (Hak, Hodzovic, Hickey, 2013). This potential for injury has also been demonstrated in other forms of exercise training such as powerlifting. Researchers from the University of Cologne published a study in 2011 in which they concluded that 43% of powerlifters sustained a form of injury during their training (Siewe et al., 2011). Similarly, in a 2002 study published in the American journal of sports medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters expressed a similar rate of injury during training (Raske & Norlin, 2002). Athletes in this study expressed an injury rate of, on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity.  Of these injuries, the most common forms were low back injuries, with an injury rate of 0.43 per 1000 hours (Raske & Norlin, 2002). To this end, regardless of training style, injuries can occur to the training athlete and depending on training stye they can occur relatively often. 

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In a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters experienced an injury rate of , on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity (Raske & Norlin, 2002).

Despite how common it may be within the sports realm the notion of an injured athlete has and will continue to evoke emotional distress from me.  The experience of dealing with an athlete injury in a training setting can often leave some of the most resilient and experienced coaches shaken. Injuries can wipe away potentially progressive plans and completely deride your confidence in people, programs, systems and/or environments.  Athletes injured in the weight room are like scarlet letters that you hold on for life and represent the antithesis of a strength coaches duty.  The ultimate role of a strength coach is to improve an individual’s  potential. Injury has little place in fulfilling this duty. Mike Boyle, world renown strength coach profoundly states that a Strength Conditioning System or Philosophy should rest on a famous principle of the Hippocratic oath – “Do no Harm”.   As strength coaches, athlete safety should be our number one objective and responsibility.

    It would be ingenuous, however,  to believe that the act of exercise and/or performance training does not involve some degree of risk of harm to an athlete.  Especially when consider that the foundation of  strength and mass development involves the breakdown and repair of tissue. While the physiology of tissue adaptation to stress is clear this process does not qualify the fear that all strength coaches, trainers and/or movement specialists experience when an athlete embarks within their training program. On the contrary this fear can have a powerful effect over the, practice, system and philosophy of a strength coach. 

      It is the fear of an athlete experiencing injury that forces strength coaches to make conservative decisions in their program design. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can often result in coaches making unfounded generalizations regarding certain movements or exercises. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can result in the adoption of certain Strength and Conditioning protocols or athlete requirements.  This fear can keep coaches up at night and restive in their search for best practice, injury free methodologies. However, this earnest search for efficient, effective, sound and safe forms of training does not belie the truth. Athletes can, have and will hurt themselves training.  It’s an uncomfortable truth especially since I am in the business of striving for improvements in athlete safety and potential in performance.  Thus, I must be clear in stating that I don’t mean to intimate that athlete injuries in the weight room is acceptable or expected. However, I must not misrepresent the fact that injuries occur to some degree at all levels and in various training settings and arenas regardless of one’s strength training expertise, experience or ethics. At the same, I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if I did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. Regardless of these efforts, injuries occur in the pursuit  of performance and the development of potential. The question we must investigate is not only how do limit injury but also how do we respond when injury occurs. 

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“I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if i did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. “


This post is a reflection on what should take place when strength coaches and trainers are faced with the unfortunate and horrible crisis of injury in the training environment.  I found Bill George’s “Leadership in a Crisis – How To Be a Leader” a very powerful resource for managing these often distressing and complicated situations. His words offer guidance  for the flurry of emotions, thoughts and responses that generally follow the crisis of an injury in performance training setting.

Bill George helps to highlight three important responses when dealing with an injury in the weight room. The first step is to “face reality.” He states that  “leaders need to look themselves in the mirror and recognize their role in creating the problems.” (George, 2017). This statement applies to all strength coaches who experience the crisis of a weight room injury. The first step is to accept responsibility.  A strength coach has a role in any injury that occurs within the strength training environment or under their supervision. In other words, the first step in dealing with a crisis  such as athlete injury under your supervision is to come to terms that you are responsible no matter how inscrutable the circumstances involving the injury.  Accepting responsibility provides the opportunity to move toward the necessary steps of understanding root cause, resolving root cause and taking steps to prevent the root cause of the issue. It is important to state that accepting responsibility is not the same as admitting culpability. Instead, it is the acknowledgement of a leader to seek and provide the truths regarding a situation.  George states “widespread recognition of reality is the crucial step before problems can be solved.” In other words, it is only after the discovery of veracity in a situation can we see a real form of  solution. Truth also breeds Trust as Craig Fugate notes in his article “The True Test of a Successful Crisis Response: Public Trust.” Building public trust is achieved by knowing what to tell the public and your peers. Knowing what to say largely involves the honest delivery of truth.

In acknowledging truths we must also understand the wide range of negative consequences that they can potentially produce – and we must prepare for the worst.  This is the second lesson Bill George provides for demonstrating leadership in a crisis. He states that in a crisis “no matter how bad things are, they will get worse.” (George, 2017) This mindset is integral to not only ensuring an effective solution or method of prevention but also in its execution.  When an injury occurs under our training environment it can be a natural response to avoid thinking of the severity of its consequences. This response may be an unconscious decision to avoid or lessen the pain associated with our role in the occurrence of an injury. As comforting as this strategy may seem, it is best to avoid this approach  for the purpose of developing more effective solutions toward the prevention of the issue. Thinking and preparing for the worst is a useful strategy which can help to eliminate or lessen threats to successful performance in the future. Consider, the process in which Strength Coach Mike Boyle took when removing  spine loaded squat movements as a resource for the lower body development of his athletes. Boyle states:

“The simple reason is that we found the back squat and front squat to be the primary causes of back pain in our athletic population. At any point, in any season, approximately 20% of our athletes would be dealing some kind of back pain that was either caused by squatting or exacerbated by squatting.”

It is safe to assume that Mike Boyle in developing this solution in response to episodes of back injury from his athletes, acknowledged that the injuries to his athletes were his responsibility and that his continued action could pose greater severity to the safety of his athletes. No matter how bad the injury sustained by his athletes were now, his continued approach could result in greater injury in the future.  The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility. Mike’s honest assessment of his history with a particular exercise enabled him to  develop a policy that will likely reduce the incidents of back injuries within his training setting. Being honest with ourselves sometimes requires a change in our perspective and our principles.  This process can be challenging but can be alleviated through another important resource when dealing with crisis – the seeking of help. 

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The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility.

During difficult moments it is important to lean on support and avoid isolation. Bill George states that during a crisis, many leaders attempt to  carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They go into isolation, and think they can solve the problem themselves. As a strength coach it’s important to communicate and reach out to former mentors, teachers and colleagues to help shape perspective and guidance. While a leader needs to acknowledge their responsibility and seek truth, he must also seek help from  his resources to devise solutions and to implement them.

In the end, injuries in the weight room are in many ways inexorable – they are destined to occur. However, our responses when they occur can be vital in limiting the frequency and/or severity of their occurrence. And that is an effort that requires us to take ownership, to be truthful, to treat situations with great severity and to seek the guidance and aid of others. In many ways the challenges and experiences of  athlete injury, can enable us to be a better at dealing with crisis, better in our duties as a strength coach and ultimately better at being a leader.

References

George, B. (2017). “Leadership in Crisis-How to be a Leader.” Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-lead-in-a-crisis. 

Hak, P. T., Hodzovic, E., Hickey, B. (2013). The nature and prevalence of injury during CrossFit training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1.

Jennings, C. (2017, January 17). Report: 3 Oregon football players hospitalized after ‘grueling’ workouts.Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/18491292/three-oregon-ducks-football-players-hospitalized-strength-conditioning-workouts

Siewe, J., Rudat, J., Röllinghoff, M., Schlegel, U. J., Eysel, P., & Michael, J. W. (2011). Injuries and Overuse Syndromes in Powerlifting. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(09), 703-711.

Smith, S. (2009, December 25). USC’s Stafon Johnson talks about injury. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/los-angeles/news/story?id=4769237

Raske, A., Norlin, R. (2002). Injury Incidence and Prevalence among Elite Weight and Power Lifters. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(2), 248-256.

23467262_10105572160467560_654197207509059858_oDan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please check out http://www.doyou-live.com 

“Living High, Training Low” and its implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 3

 

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Today, the New England Patriots play the Oakland Raiders. This game is important for many reasons. First, this is a matchup between two American Football Conference Power houses. As such, there are playoff implications for both teams. A win for the Patriots (with a record of 7 win and 2 losses) provides them a greater edge toward a top seed in the playoffs. On the contrary, a win for the (4 and 5) Oakland Raiders is needed to improve their chances for a playoff berth this season.

This game is also important because of the setting.  NFL athletes will be competing  in Mexico City. There are monumental growth and financial implications for the NFL as it reaches for a greater market pull in the country of Mexico.  As the NFL continues to take steps to grow the highly marketable and lucrative sport of American football to foreign audiences we will continue to see the exposure of NFL athletes to relatively new environments.

It is for this reason, however, that today’s game has a whole different meaning for Sports scientists, Coaches and NFL athletes or those interested in the boundaries of athletic performance. People from various parts of the the world will witness a matchup between elite football athletes in a high-altitude environment.  Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts ( The home and training facility of the New England Patriots) and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California ( The home and training facility of the Oakland, Raiders).  These changes in altitude environment have big league ramifications  for the potential competition performance of big name teams in America’s biggest league.

Elevation

Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California. 

Sport competitions in Mexico City is of great interest to many who study sport science. Mexico City is recorded to be  2240 meters above sea level. This elevation is recognized by the scientific community as moderate altitude and has many implications to competitive athletes. In fact, the scientific discovery of potential physiological adaptations due to variations in altitude environments and their influence to competition and  training in elite athletes was popularized after the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Dr. McLean notes that results from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics suggested that competing at altitude made competition more difficult for certain athletes.  In fact, the differences in performance at altitude led many researchers to investigate the cause of these changes, as well as strategies to overcome the limitations associated with this environment (McLean, 2014).

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The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City would immediately lead to an explosion of research in the field of altitude training (also known as hypoxic training). In 1967, researchers first noted that Vo2 Max ( an indicator of endurance potential) reduced 1% for every 100 meter ascended above 1500 meters (Buskirk et al., 1967). In 1971, researchers from the University of California demonstrated that highly trained endurance athletes appear to be handicapped “ to an unusual extent” at altitude compared to lesser trained individuals (Dill & Adams, 1971). Years later scientist would discover various protocols that provide a boost to factors of performance as a result of the manipulation of altitude.  So what does this mean for the Patriots and Raiders competing today in Mexico City? One notable implication centers on aerobic potential. Scientific research suggests that both the athletes for the Patriots and Raiders will see a 7% drop in their endurance potential as a result of exposure to the moderate altitude environment of Mexico City (Buskirk et al., 1967).

Many will argue that the endurance demands of the largely anaerobic centered sport of Football is dissimilar to that of elite endurance activities. And thus, the litany of research findings on endurance limitations associated with altitude elevations such as that of Mexico City may be limited in application to the sport of American Football.  However these limitations, do not explain the potential impact of elevation to team and/or anaerobic sports and certainly do not limit the lengths at which teams and/or organizations will go to  prepare for competitions that take place at elevation.

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Practice Field at Colorado Springs, Colorado is approximately 1800 meters above sea level

Consider, the fact that the New England Patriots have been practicing all week at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado (which has an altitude elevation of  1,840 meters) in preparation for their matchup in Mexico City. Interestingly,  Mexico City is still four football fields higher in altitude or an elevation of 400 meters above Colorado Springs.

 

In a sport where, athletes only play for an average of 11 minutes a game for a maximum of 20 Games throughout the year, preparation is of the highest importance for ultimate success.   Thus, it should come as no surprise that teams are largely taking the setting of this matchup seriously.  In this blog post or  Part 3  of  “Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football”  we will learn of the various factors that can potentially impact play between NFL teams in Mexico City and learn of various strategies that can help athletes prepare for these conditions. This game can potentially serve as foundation for various altitude intervention techniques which can help improve performance potential of athletes in the NFL.  Our continued understanding of altitude training can provide the construct for a proposed resource that can enable athletes to benefit from elevation environments such as Mexico City. In the end, we may begin to view this Mexico city NFL matchup as much more than, a game with playoff repercussions or  a marketing and financial opportunity for the NFL but also as evidence for a resource to improve performance potential and opportunities for team sport athletes such as those in the NFL.

marshawn-us            As you sit down to watch this game between the Raiders and Patriots, it’s important to realize that this isn’t just any other NFL Football game.  You could center on any of the normal NFL story lines, like Marshawn Lynch’s beastly performance after a return from retirement or Tom Brady’s incredible evasiveness from factors that would warrant retirement. Instead, you should consider the competition environment of  these two dueling teams. Consider the fact that sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984). After the Mexico City Olympics researchers determined that sprinter times in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter events at the Mexico Olympics were approximately 1.7% lower than they would otherwise have been if the races had been run at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984). This change in performance was attributed to the lower air resistance associated with higher elevation (Ward-Smith, 1984).  This lowered air resistance occurs from the fact that air density reduces by about 10% for every 1000 meter increase in altitude.

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Sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984).

The ascent in elevation to a location such as Mexico City produces relative changes in air density and resistance which results in various changes to both physical performance and player behavior such as sprint movement characteristics and velocity (Girard et al., 2013). It should be noted however, that this potential improvement in sprint performance potential can be offset by the increased metabolic challenges associated with arterial oxygen availability at altitude elevation. The ability for NFL  players to repeat high sprint speeds, common to the sport, is likely to be diminished  by the reduction in arterial oxygen saturation (oxygen consumption) associated with altitude elevation. This limitation in exercise performance can also rise as intensity increases (Clark et al., 2007).  In other words, the thin air common to the elevation of Mexico City is likely to provide lower air resistance allowing players to potentially reach higher speeds. However the reduced oxygen consumption associated with the thin air will likely limit speed and performance potential as a result of  the elevation-causing deficiencies to cardiorespiratory system and muscle function.

“The thin air common to the elevation of Mexico City is likely to provide lower air resistance allowing players to potentially reach higher speeds.”

Nonetheless,  If we play close attention to the speed analysis of this NFL game measured by zebra sports speed data we may notice higher absolute speeds within this match up in Mexico city. Pay close attention to the reported speeds of New England players (Jonathan Jones, Brandon Cooks, Matthew Slater, and Phillip Dorsett)  and Oakland Players (Jalen Richard, TJ Carrie, Amari Cooper, Cordarelle Patterson), who in addition to their roles on offense or defense also have high velocity roles on special teams such as punt and kick off where players are more likely to reach top speeds for a relatively longer duration in open space.

In addition to the speed of players, the altitude of Mexico City is likely to affect the flight time and characteristics of the football.  Researchers note that the decrease in air density associated with increasing altitude also results in changes in the drag and lift forces acting on flying objects such as a football (Girard et al, 2013). In other words, the thin air associated with the altitude elevation of Mexico City is likely to result in increased flight time of the football.  Assuming the footballs are properly inflated, pay close attention to it’s flight characteristics during punts, kickoffs and even deep downfield throws.  These characteristics may even play into the potential strategical use of kickers. Elevation changes and the increased flight potential of the football may result in Oakland Raiders Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio or New England Patriots Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hitting far longer kicks than they are normally accustomed to. The same can be said for punters.

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Marquette King who is on par to break an NFL Punting record.  King is is currently averaging 52.6 yards per punt with a net average of 47.5 yards per punt.  Elevation of Mexico City should help him in this pursuit.

As such, we should keep an eye out for Patriots Punter Ryan Allen and/or Raiders Punter Marquette King who is on par to break an NFL Punting record.  King is is currently averaging 52.6 yards per punt with a net average of 47.5 yards per punt.  Should he maintain this pace for the rest of the season, it will be the greatest season both in gross punt average and net average in NFL history (Damiean, 2017).

With all these events taking place also keep in mind of the individual variations of responses to altitude elevation exposure in athletes. Athletes have reported a wide range of negative responses when acutely exposed to moderate altitude elevations. These responses include higher physiological stress as well as negative impacts to sport specific decision making and perception of well-being (Girard et al., 2013). In addition, athletes have also reported exacerbated fatigue levels as a result of moderate altitude exposure (Bartholomew et al, 1999).

These potential responses to altitude elevation begs the question. What is the best way to prepare for a NFL game in Mexico City? After all, there’s a lot at stake for just 11 minutes of football play – especially if your team is looking to improve or searching for a spot in the playoffs.  Authors largely agree that suitable strategies to maximize physiological acclimatization should last 3–7 days for low altitude environments (500–2000 m), 1–2 weeks, for moderate altitude (2000–3000 m) and at least 2 weeks if possible for high altitude (>3000 m) (Girard et al., 2013). Thus, It seems that the New England Patriots are justified for spending 8 Days in elevation in preparation for their Mexico City Match up against the Oakland Raiders.

In fact, this approach to performance is not only a great way to improve preparation for competition at altitude but can result in a new and effective means of eliciting physiological benefits associated with aerobic performance before and/or during an NFL in season. This past training camp I investigated training camps across the NFL looking for teams that employed the use of altitude training as a method of preparation for their In season competition. In particular, I looked for sea level dwelling teams that used Training Camp locations situated at moderate altitude for the purposes of eliciting a physiological performance benefit for their athletes.  I was surprised to find that there were no teams that used training camp as a means of manipulation of altitude for potential physiological benefit. This discovery did not stop me from wondering about the potential for such a resource in the NFL. Similar to the limited manner in which the Patriots used the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Teams from all over the NFL could provide their athletes a beneficial physiological adaptation that results from living at high altitude by spending up to four weeks at a location of moderate altitude.  Researchers largely agree that three to four weeks is the minimum amount of time to elicit the red blood cell changes that occur in response to “living high” or at altitudes greater than 2000 meters above sea level.  However as we learned in “Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 2  duration at moderate altitude is just one part of the equation for athletes looking to gain an edge in performance. The ability to train low or at sea level is also of great importance.

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I was surprised to find that there were no teams that used training camp as a means of manipulation of altitude for potential physiological benefit. While Denver Colorado provides their athletes the opportunity to train at an altitude of 1609 meters or low altitude there is no manipulation of altitude to allow for athletes to train at sea level.  In addition, research has suggested that an elevation of 2000 meters is needed to elicit the blood response associated with improve aerobic performance.

Thus, a location within the US that enables a team to logistically live high  or to hold various football operations such as meetings, study, dining  along with room and board at moderate elevation (2000 to 3000 meters) with easy and relative quick transport to practice and training facilities at sea level (0 – 1000 meters) would produce the most favorable conditions for eliciting the  hematological physiological adaptations  that allows endurance athletes to gain a performance edge in endurance sports as well as the non – hematological adaptations that can help boost performances in repeat sprint sports.

The goal of providing both forms of altitude intervention however is no easy task. It would require transportation that could quickly transport a large group of athletes a distance of 1.4 miles in elevation relatively quickly, safely, daily and consistently throughout the course of a 4-week camp. The creation of such a resource represents the next step for team sports looking to gain an edge in performance in a natural manner.  However, such an approach can also be attained through the formation of a normoxic normobaric practice chamber at moderate altitude.

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Potential Design for a Normoxic Normobaric Chamber at Moderate Altititude as a method of Facilitating “Live High, Train Low” for Teams at Altitude.

Envision a training camp practice bubble outfitted with technology to provide the arterial oxygen level and barometric pressure of a sea level environment.  Such a technological resource would enable teams living at altitude to gain the benefit of  “Living High and Training Low” resulting in the physiological adaptation while living at high altitude and protecting their ability to reach their maximum potential levels of cardiovascular intensity in a sea level environment.

In preparation for this Mexico City competition the Patriots organization took a trip out to Boulder Colorado. This highly successful organization is often known for working to the ultimate the boundaries in effort to win. Evidently, they found it useful to take a trip out to an environment that is recognize as a higher level of altitude than Foxboro Massachusetts. While there is limited evidence that a week (at least three weeks are needed for physiological benefit) spent in higher altitude conditions can elicit the needed adaptations for high altitude play, there are other advantages to surrounding oneself to a competition environment prior to competition. As mentioned earlier, factors such as flight time on ball, speed changes the farther up you travel up altitude. Getting accustomed to these factors can provide a benefit to teams prior to being exposed to these conditions.

In addition, while I respect the monotonous routine that comes with the NFL In season schedule, I also have a respect for the power of Team travel trips. Team trips away from monotony can sometimes serve as a “needed break  and if the conditions are right (cold weather teams traveling to warm locations) can provide both staff members and players a sense of relief from the daily doldrums of a season. More importantly, these trips can help to provide a sense of bond that individuals can sometime evade during a season.  It is for these reasons, that I believe an altitude training camp can also be used for teams during the in season for an extensive period for the objective of improving both physical and mental performance.

Today’s game in Mexico City is one which provides a break from the common settings of American football. It also represents a departure from common methods of preparation for athlete performance.  As you watch today’s game take interest in the challenges as well as the potential benefits that the settings of this matchup can elicit. Take interest in creating a beneficial resource for team sports athletes in the form of an Altitude Training Camp.

 

References:

Buskirk, E., Kollias J., Akers, R., Prokop, E., and Reategui, E. (1967) Maximal performance at altitude and on return from altitude in conditioned runners. Journal of Applied Physiology. 23: 259-266.

Clark, S.A., Bourdon, P.C., Schmidt, W., Singh, B., Cable, G., Onus, K.J., Woolford, S.M., Stanef, T., Gore, C.J., and Aughey, R.J. (2007). The effect of acute simulated moderate altitude on power, performance and pacing strategies in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 102: 45-55.

Dill, B., Adams, W. C. (1971). Maximal oxygen uptake at sea level and at 3,090-m altitude in high school champion runners. Journal of Applied Physiology. 30(6), 854-859.

Girard, O., Amann, M., Aughey, R., Billaut, F., Bishop, D. J., Bourdon, P., . . . Schumacher, Y. O. (2013). Position statement—altitude training for improving team-sport players’ performance: current knowledge and unresolved issues. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), I8-I16.

Hamlin M.J., Hinckson, R.A., Wood, M.R., Hopkins, W.G. (2008). Simulated rugby performance at 1550m altitude following adaptation to intermittent normobaric hypoxia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 11, 593–99.

Damien, Levi. “Marquette King on pace to break NFL record that has stood for 77 years.” Silver And Black Pride.https://www.silverandblackpride.com/2017/10/6/16439606/raiders-punter-marquette-king-on-pace-to-break-nfl-record-that-has-stood-for-77-years.

Horzera, S., Fuchsa, C., Gastingera, R., et al. (2010). Simulation of spinning soccer ball trajectories influenced by altitude. Procedia Engineering ;2:2461–6.

Kawahara, M. (2017). Raiders, Patriots take different approaches to preparing for Mexico City altitude. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/raiders/article/Raiders-Patriots-take-different-approaches-to-12364306.php

Levine, B.D., Stray-Gundersen, J., Mehta, R.D. (2008). Effect of altitude on football performance. Scandinavian Journal of  Medical Science in Sports;18:76–84.

McLean, B. D. (2014). The efficacy of hypoxic training techniques in Australian footballers (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/566

Ward-Smith, A. (1984). Air resistance and its influence on the biomechanics and energetics of sprinting at sea level and at altitude. Journal of Biomechanics17(5), 339-347.

Bartholomew, C. J., Jensen, W., Petros, T. V., Ferraro, F. R., Fire, K. M., Biberdorf, D., . . . Blumkin, D. (1999). The Effect of Moderate Levels of Simulated Altitude on Sustained Cognitive Performance. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 9(4), 351-359.

23467262_10105572160467560_654197207509059858_o.jpgDan Liburd is entering his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please check out http://www.doyou-live.com 

 

Top 10 Notable Points from this Article:

  • There are potential training tools in the form of Altitude Training which can help to elicit positive adaptations for Team Sport Athletes.

    The Big Idea: A normoxic normobaric practice chamber at moderate altitude can provide football athletes the training environment to train “low” or at sea level (during training or practice) while “living high” at a moderate altitude environment. 

  • Mexico City’s elevation of  2240 meters above sea level is considered to be Moderate Altitude:

    Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California.

  • Altitude Elevations results in a decrease in your VO2 max

    Researchers note that VO2 Max ( an indicator of endurance potential) reduces 1% for every 100 meter ascended above 1500 meters (Buskirk et al., 1967)

    Patriots and Raiders will see an estimated 7% drop in their endurance potential as a result of exposure to the 2000 meter above sea level or moderate altitude environment of Mexico City (Buskirk et al., 1967).

  • The greater aerobic shape you’re in the more altitude effects you.

    highly trained endurance athletes appear to be handicapped “ to an unusual extent” at altitude compared to lesser trained individuals (Dill & Adams, 1971). 

  • Notable steps were taken by Patriots in preparation – But is it enough to make a difference?

    Interestingly,  Mexico City is still four football fields higher in altitude or an elevation of 400 meters above Colorado Springs. Are adaptations formed below 2000 meter enough to produce a acclimatization for elevations above 2000 meters.  

  • Athletes are absolutely faster at moderate elevation

    Sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984).

  • Air Density Changes as we increase in Altitude

    Change in Sprint performance is attributed to the lower air resistance associated with higher elevation(Ward-Smith, 1984).  This lowered air resistance occurs from the fact that air density reduces by about 10% for every 1000 meter increase in altitude.

  • Thinner Air of Mexico will likely reduce sprint times

    The reduced oxygen consumption associated with the thin air will likely limit speed and performance potential as a result of  the elevation-causing deficiencies to cardiorespiratory system and muscle function (Girard et al, 2013).

  • Expect to see higher flight times

    Altitude of Mexico City is likely to affect the flight time and characteristics of the football.  Researchers note that the decrease in air density associated with increasing altitude also results in changes in the drag and lift forces acting on flying objects such as a football (Girard et al, 2013)

  • Moderate Altitude has been shown to negatively affect Athletes

    Athletes have reported a wide range of negative responses when acutely exposed to moderate altitude elevations. These responses include higher physiological stress as well as negative impacts to sport specific decision making and perception of well-being (Girard et al, 2013).  

 

5 Key Performance Tips and Strategies learned from Preparing for Ironman

22769632_10105524512284900_2559039511289659906_o      In the process of preparing for my sixth Ironman competition, I have increased my knowledge, refined my training techniques, and sharpened my perspectives on the training necessary to best prepare for an Ironman competition. Training for this super endurance race has enabled me to improve my understanding in various areas of sports science, methods of sports training and ultimately myself. As I approach Ironman Florida I am certain that the advancement in performance strategies, training techniques, and nutrition will allow me to best previous times in all three disciplines of the 140.6 mile endurance competition. More importantly, undertaking this monumental task has allowed me to adopt and reaffirm effective strategies that can potentially help improve the health and sports performance of my clients and athletes.

14199666_10104207690007300_8668785579854542734_n     Looking back, the most notable changes in this stint of Ironman training preparations has been a greater focus on training specificity, the adoption of new appraisal methods for performance and training compartmentalization to overcome the stressors common to a voluminous and technical event. Despite these changes, the most sizable part of this training preparation comes in the form of nutrition periodization, planning, and meal customization.  These three nutritional concepts have enabled me to accommodate greater levels of performance stress, reach higher levels of performance, and improved my body composition to elite level standards.

Strategies such as nutrition periodization combined with various exercise methods have led to training adaptations which have reaffirmed several key principles regarding nutrition and training. In this blog post, I will share these training principles and strategies and provide scientific evidence that supports its use. Adopting these key exercise, nutrition and training steps can significantly improve your performance potential and help you crush your next competition challenge.

22769662_10105524511576320_1765078582855897700_oAfter evaluating past Ironman performances one of the areas I focused on during this training preparation centered on training specificity. Past experience forced me to re-evaluate the specificity of my strategy and technique during my practice sessions. Experience has taught me that success for a given goal is incumbent on the specificity of training sessions for that particular goal. As such, I made sure to fine-tune training factors such as speed, intensity, and equipment to center closely on competition characteristics and demand. Researchers regard the principle of specificity approach as an important element of exercise physiology. This principle states that training responses/adaptations are tightly coupled to the mode, frequency and duration of exercise performed (Hawley, 2002). Furthermore, the principle of specificity predicts that the closer the training routine is to the requirements of the desired outcome (i.e. a specific exercise task or performance criteria), the better the outcome will be.

Tip 1: Train Specific to your Training Goal (Volume, Pace, Intensity)

Training specificity is integral to success within any sport competition, test or challenge. The more specific you are in preparing for the various challenges in a competition the greater the likelihood for success. While this strategy, may seem simple and obvious we can sometimes lose sight of or forget this basic premise during the training process.

Training specificity is demonstrated through your ability to:

  • Train at competition speeds and intensity.
  • Train for competition volume.
  • Train specifically for the particular stressors or unique characteristics of an environment.
  • Train specifically with the exact type of equipment for a given competition.

IMG_1027     If training specificity is part of your training program and performed correctly, competition days should be relatively routine and contain minimal surprises. Competition is nothing more than a reflection of your rehearsals produced during your practice. As you reach your competition resist the urge to deviate from the seemingly mundane tasks of practice.  One of the largest mistakes one can make during competition is to try something new. This can occur when individuals make changes to equipment, nutrition intake, or training strategy leading up to or during competition. Ultimately, training specificity is practicing your competition before your competition. It is the ultimate way to succeed before you succeed.

Training Specificity is the ultimate way to succeed before your succeed.

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Examples of strategies and Practical Applications for the “Training Specificity” Tip (based from training experience).

  1. Train in your competition gear with your competition equipment – The focus here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible and to be specific to the environment for which you train at. This mean getting our the fresh new gear you plan to wear the day of your event and practicing with it.
  2. Train at competition pace and volume – While this statement may seem a bit hackneyed it’s one that many choose to dismiss during their days of preparation. The consequences of competing at an unfamiliar pace or volume can be disastrous to performance and lead to potential injury.
  3. Train specifically to the environment of your competition – Mimicking training environments can be a challenging and sometimes impossible endeavor but it is a strategy that is sure to improve your chances of success come day of competition.

Tip 2: Compartmentalization of Training

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There are of course some limitations to training specifically for a lengthy, taxing and extensive competition like Ironman. Additionally, competition volume and intensities over a period of time can result in greater risk for injury and reduced performance. Compartmentalization or implementing multiple focused sessions with varied objectives and relatively shorter durations can help to alleviate the stress associated with competition training. They also provide the opportunity to break down various parts of competition training for appraisal.

 This strategy has a number of benefits.IMG_0778

  • It allows athletes to understand various areas of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Multiple sessions implemented throughout the day also means frequent rest and recovery periods which can enable an athlete to reach greater levels of intensity for meaningful competition training while lowering risk of injuries related to training volume.

In addition, varying the training stress and/or goals can enable athletes to focus on developing a specific discipline, or applying stress to a specific region while providing rest and recovery to another utilized from a previous training session. This can be achieved through changing training factors such as exercise modalities, training intensities, and training technique.  As you vary your objectives and focus on key factors or parts of competition during training it’s important to trust the process and meet the specific goals of a given training session.

Multiple, relatively short and varied sessions allow for improved efficiency, lower incidence of injury, and greater potential for improved performance.

Tip 3: Test, Assess, to Confirm and Trust the Process.

IMG_0832     As you compartmentalize training sessions and/or focus on the specifics of your competitive event it is always important to evaluate your overall progress. You shouldn’t “trust the process” without a reappraisal method. Thus, good training requires you to focus on establishing consistent, objective means of testing. Each phase, week or training cycle should focus on establishing a test day to determine if your process can indeed be trusted. This reappraisal method is important because it can also give you both insight for developing avenues or new objectives for various measures and a platform on how to create an effective measure for improvement.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Test & Assess” Tip (based from training experience)

  • Listed below are several assessments which helped me to to trust the training process. Consider adding the following assessments to your training routine
  1. Bi – weekly Body Composition Assessments
  2. Bi – weekly Speed/Pace Tests –
  3. Weekly Weigh – ins
  4. Weekly Nutrition dietary Assessments

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Every week or two weeks I performed assessments on factors important to my performance potential such as body composition and speed. These assessments helped me to determine if needed changes were necessary in my training program. Each area of assessment evaluated a specific objective in mind; whether it was to focus on improving or maintaining a certain amount of lean mass or decreasing completion time for a certain activity. Ultimately, by consistently measuring these factors I was able to build performance potential and confidence towards my goal.

Tip 4: Understand that Nutrition & Exercise are inseparable when it comes to Training

The most influential strategy towards improved performance potential for me resulted from the combination of exercise and nutrition. Preparation for this event reminded me of the symbiotic relationship between exercise and nutrition. When designing and/or implementing training programs these two factors of training should not be viewed as separate from one another. On the contrary, exercise and nutrition must be equally acknowledged in order to maximize training adaptations and potential. Changes to performance potential and body composition require contributions from both nutrition and exercise equally. As evidence for this statement consider the fact that nutrition responses can dramatically change in the presence or response to exercise and exercise response can dramatically change in the presence or response to various nutrition interventions. Furthermore, changes in any of these factors can greatly impact training status. Thus, it’s necessary to consider both nutrition and exercise equally when discussing training. As evidence for this relationship consider the fact that when a particular energy system is used by an individual during exercise, factors such as type and duration of exercise in concert with the consumption of certain macronutrients results in a cascade of chemical processes that tells the body how to respond. The responses that result from exercise and nutrition can influence training, body composition and ultimately performance potential.

Take for instance the responses from exercise, protein and resistance training in muscle development. Protein metabolism and synthesis depend on the demands of muscle mass and muscular activity as well as one’s ability to digest and absorb protein (Beradi, 2012). Additionally, in a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated that whey protein supplementation enhances whole body anabolism or growth, and may improve acute recovery of exercise performance after a strenuous bout of resistance exercise. These researchers demonstrated that a form of nutrition intervention combined with exercise can support potentially greater training adaptations through an enhancement of whole body net protein balance. This combination of exercise and nutrition can result in greater training quality and volume due to a more rapid recovery of exercise performance (West, Sawan, Mazzulla, Williamson & Moore, 2017).

As part of my training preparation, I was particularly mindful of protein intake in efforts to maintain a positive balance of protein intake in order to “protect” lean mass and to ensure the process of muscle growth and repair.  This nutrition intervention in response to exercise is a prime example of how we must regard exercise and nutrition within the same scope. In order to achieve favorable training responses, these factors are both necessary and equally important components.

This effect can also be seen in the training responses when exercise is combined with carbohydrate manipulation.  Carbohydrate loading or muscle glycogen “super compensation” for improved performance is another example where the combination of exercise and nutrition results in a training adaptation designed to improve performance. This particular strategy was first discovered by Scandinavian researchers in the 1960’s (Hackney, 2017). Super compensation involves a loading process over the course of 6 days. The process begins with a glycogen or carbohydrate depleting exercise followed by 3 days of a low carbohydrate diet and then 3 days of a high carbohydrate diet. The result of performing this procedure has been shown to substantially increase muscle glycogen levels during competition followed by producing a positive ergogenic effect on exercise performance in sporting events lasting longer than 90 minutes in duration (Hackney, 2017).  This training strategy requires the interaction of nutrition and exercise in order to produce a positive performance outcome. Training is required to deplete glycogen levels and the manipulation of carbohydrates is needed to rebuild carbohydrate stores for greater use during competition.

Nutrition and exercise can elicit a positive training response even during conditions when nutrition intake is purposely limited or eliminated under certain exercise conditions. Consider the impact of fasted cardio to fat and carbohydrate utilization. Researchers have demonstrated that chronic training in a fasted state may improve the body’s ability to use fats as a fuel source while also helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. In addition, the action of performing exercise in a fasted state may help to improve muscle glycogen post training. Ultimately, the combination of exercise and nutritional interventions results in the ability to improve the performance potential through improved fuel needs and/or improving factors related to body composition (Watson, 2016)

In highlighting the three aforementioned exercise and nutrition scenarios utilizing three different macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) I hope to demonstrate the strong relationship between nutrition interventions, exercise and the potentially adaptive response on training for improved body composition and performance potential.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Nutrition + Exercise” Tip (based from training experience)

  1. Fasted Cardio – During the final month of training as my volume of exercise begins to decrease, I begin to incorporate fasted cardio sessions as well as low carbohydrate/ high fat meals to help improve body composition, improve fat utilization during moderate intense exercise and to set the stage for glycogen super compensation.
  2. Glycogen Super-compensation – A week prior to competition my days are filled with relatively short intense pace sessions with a relatively low Carb/high fat diet during the first three days and a steady incorporation of high carb meals 3 days priors to competition.
  3. Protein Recovery Shakes paired with Training Sessions – Each of my training sessions is followed by the consumption of a complete protein. This is perhaps the easiest training intervention to incorporate and can potentially be the most effective training strategy towards improving body composition, decreasing negative factors associated with stress and enhancing athletic potential.

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 Tip 5: Nutrition Planning, Periodization and Customization

If one can except that nutrition and exercise are inseparable concepts then the idea of nutrition planning, periodization and customization become easier to grasp. Nutrition planning, periodization, and customization simply translate to having a training plan, training periodization, and training customization. As athletes approach competition dates various changes are made to both training and nutritional factors to help facilitate improvement in both body composition and performance potential. Nutrition periodization or simply “periodization” is a strategic construction of periods or phases with various objectives regarding both exercise and nutrition. These objectives can center on phases designed to improve strength, mass or focus on periods of relatively high-intensity sessions or low-intensity sessions. Planning, periodizing and customization requires athletes to both understand the demands of the exercise session and the appropriate macronutrients for a particular training response. Regardless, the success of these three factors all rest on the following nutrition factors.

  1. Athletes must have the energy to train optimally
  2. Athletes should focus on nutrient-rich foods  
  3. Provide a resource for recovery from stressful activity
  4. Help to reach or maintain body composition weight goals

For more on meal planning and nutrition periodization please visit the following website . http://www.dairyspot.com/health-wellness/refuel-with-chocolate-milk/sports-nutrition/ 

or check out the video below:

The strategies provided in this post are the result of repeated attempts at improving performance. They are the avenues for which I have selected to improve in athletic potential, body composition and to reach the always fleeting platform of success. As I undertake this next task I am confident they will allow me to surpass previous levels of performance and will provide you with direction and tools to surpass your next challenge.

References:

Berardi, J. M. (2012). Precision nutrition. Toronto: Precision Nutrition, Inc.

Hackney, AC. Human performance enhancement in sports and exercise: nutritional factors – carbohydrate and luids. Revista Universitaria de la Educación Física y el Deporte. 1(1): 27-31 (2008).

Hawley, J. A. (2008). Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? The Journal of Physiology586(Pt 1), 1–2.

Watson, R. R., & Meester, F. D. (2016). Handbook of lipids in human function: fatty acids. Amsterdam: Elsevier/AOCS Press/Academic Press.

West, D., Sawan, S. A., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E., & Moore, D. (2017). Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients, 9(7), 735. 

DLLDan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising Strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Boston University, A Master’s of Science from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards a Phd in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com