Have you ever tried training a Giraffe? It’s different, not like training other animals like tigers or lions. The long legs make for some interesting adjustments to angles and reaches.
In our weight room I lovingly refer to many of our basketball and volleyball players as giraffes. Their long arms and legs are a factor in training. Quite often the tall athletes have longer femurs as well.
It is important that these athletes move safely while training. One of my biggest areas of concern for long, tall athletes is pulling – deadlifts, cleans, RDLs, etc. All of it requires the proper spinal position.
From Giraffes to Leopards
One of my favorite resources in my program is the book “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza. Early in the book, and for good reason, the authors discuss the importance of a braced neutral spine as a key to moving safely and effectively. “The based neutral position is the optimal base position for most human movements.” (p. 36)
Technique and safety are very important while teaching and coaching any exercise or movement. However, I have always been hyper vigilant when it comes to anything that is being pulled off the floor, and even more so with my longer, taller athletes.
“Neutral head, neutral spine, screw your feet into the floor, flat back, butt down-squeeze, chest up, pinch the shoulder blades, chest over knees, knees over toes…” Coaching cues are a great way to keep proper posture top of mind and prevent spinal injury. But it can be difficult for an athlete to think about and follow myriad cues while attempting to get stronger and more powerful.
Coaches also fall into patterns that work for them and use the cues that they are comfortable with and what the athletes are familiar with. We can line athletes up and have them follow our cues repeating our instructions and training safely. However, sometimes along the way coaches realize that not all athletes are made the same and not all strategies fit for everyone all the time.
Some athletes need more time, work, and coaching—whether it be mental, physical, or both. In some cases, they need additional tools to help them out with their training. One tool that has been great for a lot of our athletes is the TriBlock Pulling Block by Gopher Performance. Not only is this a great tool for taller and longer athletes but also for beginning lifters as well.
Using Blocks to Coach Positioning
The TriBlocks come in a pair and can transform into 3 different heights by simply rotating and orientating them on the floor. They adjust from 20.5” to 22.5” to 26.5”H in seconds. This systematic adjustment allows coaches to take a top-down approach to teaching Olympic movements and increase the athletes from a single pull to a double pull common in the Olympic lifts.
I stated early in this post that technique is of the utmost importance, especially the spine. Not only is this critical to all athletes but it is vital to our tall athletes as we begin teaching them to pull with the proper positioning. Using the TriBlock Pulling Blocks has allowed me a dedicated teaching station to get athletes into a great base starting position. Our athletes really like using the blocks and often comment that that it really focuses on the pull. This reinforces the effectiveness of the blocks as they put the athlete in such a good starting position.
Johnson is a graduate of Normandale Community College, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, playing football at both NCC and Augsburg. “RJ” teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 52 team state titles in histenure; Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Specialist – both certifications with Distinction and is the Minnesota NSCA State Director. NSCA awards include Minnesota High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year 2010; State Director of the Year 2013; Strength of America Award 2015; and 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. In 2017 he became a founding Board Member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA); and serves as a Regional Director for the organization. A former volunteer firefighter, he also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety for participation in a lifesaving CPR/AED effort to revive a player that suffered sudden cardiac arrest while at practice. Johnson is a frequent clinician, speaker, author and his Wayzata Trojan Power program has been visited by over 50 other high school and small college programs. He also volunteered his time in the Rockford School District where he and his wife and four children reside by serving as the Rockford Area Youth Athletic Association President and Youth Football Director.