Henley’s ability to incorporate training from combat sports into his strength and conditioning program speaks to his creative mindset. He has always claimed to be an outside-the-box thinker, and evidence to support that claim can be found all over his program. In addition to his extraordinary approach to using training borrowed from combat sports, Henley finds other ways to add layers to his training that improve on-field performance in nuanced ways without detracting from his core mission to develop bigger, faster and more explosive athletes. Traditional weight training by itself does the job of developing more explosive movement and building muscle, but Henley combines active isometrics with his weight training to great effect – increasing stability and improving movement patterns.
Henley says he adds a stabilization component to all of his pillar exercises, using resistance bands or bungees to create tension from several different angles. Not only does this added tension increase development of the stabilizer muscles, it also improves their posture and positioning.
“We are always telling the guys to fire their glutes or squeeze their quads or drive their rib cage down, which require muscles that you use with any type of core strengthening exercise,” Henley explains. “By adding tension to these movements, we put a little bit more pressure on them and they are able to achieve the correct positioning a little bit easier. If I'm cuing a guy to do a certain exercise and movement over and over and over, it's amazing how when we put them under tension and give them those cues, all of a sudden they hit home, and they get it right. There's something about putting them under tension where they can feel it.”
One of the biggest issues Henley often sees, particularly with his younger players, is poor positioning of their head throughout a lift progression. Historically, there haven’t been a lot of tools for coaches to use tension on the head and neck to naturally improve posture. In 2017, Henley found a solution for that problem, in the form of Iron Neck – a device that quickly fits to each players head like a hat and uses tension and rotational resistance to strengthen the neck. As soon as he began incorporating it, the weaknesses in his players’ kinetic chains were revealed, and they were forced into correct positions.
"Our strength and stability movements are testing time under tension,” Henley explains. “By adding Iron Neck in, it forces our players to hold their heads up. It makes it way more challenging and more importantly teaches them to get in the correct position through feedback they can feel.”
By applying horizontal resistance at the top of the kinetic chain, muscles throughout the neck, back, core and legs are activated through isometrics, forcing the entire body to stabilize against the force. It provides another tool for strength and conditioning coaches to incorporate isometrics into their training in ways they may not have been able to in the past.