When it comes to fitness, few people are as respected as Robert Taylor. Currently the owner and founderof SMARTER Team Training, Robert has spent nearly two decades helping athletes from children to the most elite professionals train their bodies to withstand the rigors of their respective sports and improve their performances.
When people come to watch Robert train athletes, they are shocked by how little bench pressing or squatting he has the athletes do. That’s because in the process of strengthening his clients, Robert starts by focusing on the finer points of the human anatomy. These areas include parts of the body that are often neglected and that must be strengthened in order for athletes to get the most out of themselves both in the weight room, and on the field of play.
While talking to us, Robert revealed five valuable body parts that athletes often neglect at their own risk, because ignoring these muscle groups not only diminishes performance, but it creates opportunities for injuries to occur.
1. The head, neck, and upper back
The ability to bench press an impressive amount of weight may attract a lot of eyes in a weight room, but Robert is quick to point out that all of that strength is meaningless if you’re standing on the sideline with a head injury. Robert recommends a variety of flexion, extension and protrusion movements to help strengthen the muscles in and around your head and neck. Without strength in your uppermost extremities, you run the risk of simply being the strongest person on the bus, or sitting on the bench.
“As an athlete, you should be asking what the main emphasis of your strength and conditioning program is,” Robert explained. “Is it to prevent injury? Is it to make an athlete more able to absorb forces? If you’re not training the head, neck, upper back and jaw, then you should be questioning the intent of your strength and conditioning program, the coaches, the athletic directors and even potentially the parents that allow their kids to participate in a program that is not encouraging comprehensive training."
2. The hand flexors
Very few strength programs place any emphasis on hand strength despite the fact that most power delivery in sports is transferred through the hands. Robert explains that serious athletes should take care to train the extensors of the hands, even focusing on the work of individual fingers. Farmer’s carries, pinch grips, bar or rope hangs and using fat grips for pushing and pulling are tools Robert uses to help his athletes improve their grips, which also improves their performances in most of their other activities.
“If you can hold something longer, generally you’re going to be stronger,” Robert explained. “Grip provides an immense amount of confidence for both athletes and non athletes. If you can keep your hand in a more efficient position to deliver power, you can be stronger on something like the bench press. With our NFL Combine guys, we train the forearm and the hand a lot. If you move the wrist just a little bit during a lift, you start to become weaker, and when you’re pulling something, if your hands are tired, you won’t be able to lift as much weight or to get as much strength out of your back and legs.”
3. The anterior shins
Plenty of strength training program address the lower body, but almost none of that training focuses on the shins. As it turns out, neglecting the shins and foot can result in an athlete developing shin splints, a debilitating condition that can humble even the strongest athletes. Robert takes special care to strengthen the anterior shins of his athletes to ensure that they can actually transfer the power they develop in the weight room on the field of play.
“I don’t care how much squatting you do, or how much leg curling and posterior chain work or leg pressing you do, if you’re not addressing the anterior shin and you have shin splints, you’re just a guy that can squat 400 pounds that can’t run down the field because you've got a limp,” Robert warned. “We train this through manual resistance. You’re sitting on your backside on a bench with two or three inches of your ankle off the end of the bench. I’ll place my hand on the shoelaces of your shoe while you point your toes. I’ll provide a little resistance while you pull your toes toward your knee, then you hold and go slow on the way down. So you’re squeezing up, pausing and going slow on the way down until you hit momentary muscular fatigue – where you can no longer perform that motion without deviating from the range of motion.”
4. The gluteus medius
Plenty of people have knees that naturally curve inward. While this may seem like a harmless genetic trait, Robert says that what he calls "kissing knee syndrome" actually makes athletes far more susceptible to injury. In order to protect against a potential ACL tear, Robert suggests that you perform exercises directly targeting the gluteus medius. Otherwise, there is always an elevated chance that a knee injury will keep you from competing.
“Before doing any lower body compound movement in our program, an individual must do the glute med work with a band,” Robert insisted. “If you’re not training the glute med, even with a simple band or lunges, or other things you can do to strengthen that area, you’re going to be susceptible to injury. Take a band and put both feet inside the band and the band goes up around knee height. Get in a low squat type position with the hip being just a little bit higher than the knee. You drive your knee out and count to four, hold for four counts, and then we count to six on the way in.”
5. The external rotators of the shoulders
According to Robert, the shoulders are very complex joints with many degrees of freedom. This freedom ultimately adds to the number of ways that a shoulder can be injured, especially if some parts of the shoulder are weaker than others. Ultimately, Robert says that athletes should make it a point to strengthen the muscles they can’t see in the mirror and stretch what you can, and he even sets up special rules for his athletes to guarantee that the posterior side of the shoulder gets trained, strengthened and protected.
“We have many rules in our program. One is ‘If you’re not doing external rotation and some type of pulling to strengthen the posterior side of the shoulder blade, we’re not letting anyone bench on that day,” Robert said. “We’ll use a rubber stretch band that goes around a fixed object like a rack or a piece of equipment, and we’ll have the athlete squeeze and pause. We’ll count two on the way up, hold for six, and then count for four on the way down. They have to make a field goal position when they’re in the top position, hold at the top position and then come slowly back down. We’ll use light dumbbells and some other things here just to add variety to the program. We’ll also lay them on the side and apply manual resistance to try to emphasize holding in the externally-rotated position.”
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.