Why You Shouldn’t Treat the Off-Season Like a Vacation

21 Jul

Athletes usually consider the off-season as a period of rest, but this is the time to get strength and conditioning work done! During “downtime,” sport-specific activity like practices and games are at their lowest level, so your training activity should increase.

Once an athlete has completed his or her sport season, a rest/recovery period of about one week is suggested. Since the demands of the sport season have decreased, strength and conditioning should be a priority. An athlete can now train with maximum frequency (number of days per week), intensity (amount of weight, loads) and volume (number of sets and repetitions).

Think of your off-season in phases. This promotes long-term training and performance improvements. Keep in mind, the key word here is performance; it doesn’t benefit an athlete to improve in the weight room unless those improvements can be applied to his or her sport(s) of choice.

Hypertrophy/Endurance Phase

Very low to moderate intensity and very high to moderate volume; the goals for this phase are to increase lean body mass and develop muscular endurance in preparation for more intense training in later phases.

Exercises ideal for this phase are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Bench Press

Basic Strength Phase

High intensity and moderate volume; this phase progresses to more complex, specialized, and sport-specific training.

In addition to previous exercises, add:

  • Lunge
  • Step-Up
  • Push Press
  • Lat Pulldown

Strength/Power Phase

High intensity and low volume; this phase involves increased strength training intensity and power/explosive exercises.

In this phase add exercises like:

  • Hang Clean
  • Push Press
  • Medicine Ball Throws
  • Plyometrics

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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6 Ways to Sculpt Your Abs

19 Jul

Everyone wants a lean, muscular physique and six-pack abs.  And, although there are lots of people and products making lots of promises, you can do all the abs exercises you want but, until you lose that layer of fat covering your midsection, the only thing you’ll accomplish is strengthening the muscles hidden beneath the fat.

Here are 6 tips to help reveal your abs:

  1. Burn fat.  Doing lots of abs exercises won’t help you lose fat (I once read that it takes 250.000 crunches to burn one pound of fat!).  To lose fat, you’ll need total-body strength training, a certain type of cardio called interval training, and a diet that is consistent with your goals.
  2. Lift weights.  Every time you exercise, you should aim to work every major muscle group.  Research shows that the metabolic impact of strength training persists for up to 48 hours, post-workout.  The more lean muscle you build, the greater the number of calories you burn, at rest.
  3. Keep moving.  Turn your strength training workout into a metabolic circuit by minimizing rest intervals between sets.  Alternate between upper- and lower-body exercises, or push-pull exercises.  Increase the intensity even more by mixing in cardio exercises like step-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, or jumping rope.
  4. Work your entire core.  Don’t limit your focus to your abs.  Find exercises that work your entire core, from shoulders to hips.  We really like to incorporate planks – 4-point, 3-point, side, and several other variations – into our core work.  Rotational exercises, using kettlebells and medicine balls, tend to be higher-intensity and are also effective core exercises.
  5. Add intervals.  As discussed in a previous article, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to burn fat.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  HIIT works equally well, whether the type of exercise is resistance/strength training or cardio.  The key is to go hard during the high-intensity portion of the interval, and keep moving, even during the low-intensity portion of the interval.
  6. Eat smart.  If you really want to get a ripped six-pack, doing the right abs exercises is only part of the equation.  Avoid (or, at least minimize) foods like white grains, pasta, fruit juices, and other processed, high-sugar foods. Ultimately, excess blood sugar gets stored as fat.  Make sure your carbs are whole grain and high-fiber.  Increase your protein consumption by eating more lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, and dairy (milk, Greek yogurt), and add a daily protein shake to your diet.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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7 Ways to Build Explosive Strength

17 Jul

Explosive strength is the key to performance in most sports. It’s the ability to move things—including your own body—really fast.

Whether you’re running, jumping, hitting or throwing, you need to apply maximum force as quickly as possible. This is power. There may be people out there who are stronger than professional athletes, but they aren’t on the field or on the court for one reason. They can’t apply their strength quickly enough.

So how you do you develop power? It all starts with your core—and I don’t mean just your abs. Explosive force is produced from your torso and hips.

To improve this ability, you must perform exercises explosively and emphasize hip extension. Your goal isn’t to max out but to perform each rep with maximum strength and speed.

Some of my favorite exercises for building explosive power include:

  • Squats
  • Trap Bar Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift
  • Step-Ups and Lunges
  • Hang Clean (my favorite) and Push Press
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Plyo Push-Ups
  • Sled Drives, Hill Runs, and Parachute Runs

Perform your power exercises towards the beginning of your workout, directly after your dynamic warm-up. Since you won’t be fatigued from other exercise, you’ll be able to do each rep with max intensity.

For any weightlifting power exercise, aim for three to five sets of three to five reps at 75 to 85 percent of your max and rest for two to three minutes between sets. For plyometrics and sprinting drills, make sure to recover fully between sets, resting three to five times longer than the duration of the exercise.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Be Flexible With Your Training

10 Jul

I try to exercise six days a week, usually by strength training (3-4 days) and playing basketball (twice weekly).  Since I workout at the facility I own and operate, there’s rarely an excuse to miss a day (not that I haven’t).  But basketball isn’t always an option, since our group plays at the local middle school.  When school is not in session (holidays, summer, etc.) the gym is closed, which means no basketball.

If I can’t play basketball I’ll do something different.  I’ll run some sprints, intervals, or stadium stairs.  I’ll go for a bike ride, jump rope, or swim some laps.  They’re not necessarily my favorite activities, but I’d rather do something than miss exercising.

Your activity doesn’t need to be anything athletic or overtly exercise related, just do what you enjoy.  Walk your dog or work in the garden.  Get started on that home improvement project.  When you shop at your local mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

The point is… just keep moving.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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6 Ways to Run Farther

7 Jul

Increasing the distance they run is a challenge for beginning runners, and can be a challenge for all endurance athletes.  Sometimes the obstacles these athletes encounter are physical, sometimes mental, and sometimes both.  Setting short- and long-term goals can help with the mental challenges of running.  Don’t worry about how large or small your goal seems, just keep moving.  There are several strategies that can help runners safely and effectively push their distances a little bit farther.  For safety, keep your weekly mileage increases to no more than 10%.

Here are 6 ways to improve your cardiovascular endurance and increase the distance you run:

  1. Warm-up.  Always perform an adequate, movement-based warm-up prior to your run.  Forget about the “old-school,” pre-workout static stretching routine – current research overwhelmingly discourages it.  An appropriate, dynamic warm-up can improve running efficiency and reduce potential problems like cramping and muscle tightness.  And, as long as we’re addressing warm-up, always allow time to cool-down following your run.
  2. Get off the treadmill.  Let’s be honest… running on the treadmill can be boring.  Whenever weather conditions and safety allow, get outside and run.  If necessary, invest in some cold-weather running gear.  The great outdoors provides fresh air, great scenery, and an endless variety of paths and routes.  Enjoying your natural surroundings can distract you and help keep your mind off your mileage.
  3. Change speeds.  Don’t worry about keeping an aggressive pace for the entire length of your run.  If and when needed, slow down to a very light jog, or even a walk.  This strategy may enable you to cover more distance, and you’ll still get a great workout.  As you progress, gradually increase your running time and reduce your light jog/walk time.
  4. Run with a partner.  Research supports training with a friend.  There’s nothing like a training buddy to push you, keep you motivated, accountable, and on-task.  If you usually run alone, ask a friend or family member to join you.  If that’s not an option, there may be a local running group you can join.
  5. Add HIIT.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) may be the single-best way to improve your muscular and cardiovascular endurance.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  Try adding this 10-minute HIIT routine to your plan: Run at as aggressive a pace as you can maintain for 30-seconds.  Immediately follow with 90-seconds of light jogging.  Repeat this 2-minute interval, four more times (five total).
  6. Get stronger.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that strength training has become a common thread in my weekly articles.  Running puts stress on your body.  Strengthening your muscles and connective tissue can help to reduce the negative impact of running on your body.  Increasing muscle endurance means going longer – more miles – before feeling fatigued.  Strength training for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week, is all you need to build and maintain muscle mass.  A former business partner, who trains for (and runs) marathons, swears by yoga to improve hip strengthflexibility, and mobility.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Train Like an Athlete for a Better Physique

5 Jul

Training with a focus on performance, instead of aesthetics, will help you build a lean, functional body that will feel better, look better, and perform better.

Here are a few tips:

Lift Heavy.  Instead of using weight that you can easily lift, push, or pull, opt for heavier weight that challenges you for your desired number of repetitions, each set.  Your last few repetitions, of your last set, should be a struggle, if you can complete them at all.

Keep Moving.  Turn your workout into a metabolic circuit by reducing rest intervals between sets.  Proceed from one exercise to the next, allowing as little rest as you can manage while maintaining proper form and technique.

Train Movements, Not Muscles.  Incorporate exercises like burpees (squat thrusts), medicine ball slams, dumbbell squat to press, and jumps to your regimen.  Try to avoid machines and use free weights whenever possible, since machines tend to restrict movement to a very narrow range-of-motion.

Upgrade Your Diet.  Eliminate (or at least reduce) sugars from your diet, and make protein and produce the centerpiece of each meal.  Avoid big meals, instead aiming for 5-6 small meals and snacks throughout the day — advance planning and preparation is the key.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The Art of Deception in Basketball

3 Jul

While deception may not be a positive personal attribute, it can be a real asset in sports. The art of deception has great value in basketball, where faking out an opponent can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Of course, deception is important in virtually every sport. In baseball, the pitcher wants to throw a fastball when the batter is expecting a breaking ball. In football, the offense wants to pass when the defense is expecting a running play. But it’s especially useful in basketball, where tactics like changing speed, faking a pass and faking a shot can give an offensive player a competitive advantage.

What makes the art of deception especially valuable is that it’s generally not dependent on physical tools. Deception relies on the cerebral part of the game, so it doesn’t necessarily matter how big or strong or fast you are.

The essence of deception is the ability to make an opponent think you’re doing one thing when you are doing another. Want to become a master of deception? Here are some simple ways to improve your ability to deceive your opponent on the basketball court:

Change Speed

Practice a stop-and-go or a hesitation move to make it more difficult for a defender to guard you. With or without the ball, this involves starting, hesitating (stopping or slowing down), and then starting again.

Change Direction

No player is easier to stop than one who moves solely in a straight line. If you’re a ball handler, practice a crossover dribble. If you rely on your point guard to get you the ball, a well-executed V-cut is hard to defend.

Ball Fake

Pass Fake. Defensive players react to where they think the ball is going. Especially against a zone defense, the fake pass can be effective in drawing defenders toward one area to open up another for a scoring opportunity.

Shot Fake. The shot (pump) fake is a great weapon against over-aggressive defenders and shot blockers. Once you get defenders off their feet, they are at your mercy.

Jab Step

No one likes to get beat off the dribble, but a hard jab step can get a defender off balance to create space for a shot, open a path to the hoop, or clear a passing lane.

Use Your Eyes

Don’t “telegraph” your passes or, more broadly, your intentions. Defenders will be drawn to the direction in which you are looking. Use your eyes to draw them away from what you actually plan to do, like the often-admired “no-look” pass.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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6 Ways to Jump Higher

30 Jun

The ability to get up off your feet is obviously important in sports like basketball and volleyball.  But what about other sports?  Well, since your vertical jump is an indicator of your lower-body explosive power (and since lower-extremity strength and power is important for virtually all sports), it’s in every athlete’s best interest to develop his/her vertical jump performance.

Here are 6 ways to improve your vertical jump:

  1. Get stronger.  Jumping is about pushing your body away from the ground.  The stronger you are through the hips and legs, the greater the force you can generate against the ground.  Exercises like squatsdeadlifts (we like using the trap bar), glute-ham raises (on the bench or manual resistance), and Romanian deadlifts should be incorporated into your training plan.
  2. Develop your “fast-twitch” muscle fibers.  Your fast-twitch muscles are your body’s largest and have the most growth potential.  They are responsible for maximum effort jumps, sprints, and lifts.  However, to produce movement, your body recruits muscle fibers in an orderly progression from smallest to largest.  That means, in order to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, you must work at about 70% or more of your capacity (we benchmark at about 80% of an athlete’s 1RM) – heavy weight, low repetitions for most exercises.
  3. Contrast training.  This strategy will help you accelerate the development of lower-extremity strength and power (and it will also wear you out!).  Contrast training involves performing a strength exercise, immediately followed by an explosive movement.  An example would be to do a set of squats and proceed, without rest, to a set of squat jumps.
  4. Push the Prowler.  We love the weighted sled for the development of hip/leg drive, strength, and power.  You can push it and/or pull it, and adjust the weight to the needs and abilities of each individual athlete.  We use the Prowler as a workout “finisher” for many of our athletes, especially during their off-season training phase.
  5. Plyometrics.  Once you’ve built a strong foundation through strength training, it’s time to add plyometric exercises to your workout.  Plyometric training involves exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible, using something called the Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC).  SSC is basically an eccentric(lengthening) muscle movement rapidly followed by a concentric(shortening) contraction.  Examples of plyometric exercises are box jumpsdepth/drop jumpshurdle jumps, and even jumping rope.
  6. Steer clear of injury.  Vertical jump training should include landing mechanics, since research shows that most non-impact knee injuries result from landing and/or cutting instability.  Balance and stability exercises are important additions to any vertical jump training program.  Biomechanical considerations, such as knee flexion, knee alignment, and hip motion should be closely observed.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Stay Healthy With Yoga

28 Jun

When it comes to exercise, I guess I’m a fairly traditional, “strength training and cardio” kind of guy.  I must admit, however, that after thinking more and more about trying Yoga, I finally added it to the list of services offered at my facility.

I found a terrific Yoga instructor, Megan, and added a weekly class to my routine.

According to research, yoga can benefit flexibilitystrengthposture, and breathing.  Yoga has also been associated with decreasing stressimproving concentration and moodlowering blood pressureboosting energy levels, and even positively affecting learning and memory.

Now, it seems, yoga can even improve overall health and wellness.

In separate studies, scientists from Japan and India say that you can strengthen your immune system by practicing yoga.

The Japanese study found that, after a 90-minute yoga session, people had a higher concentration of a peptide that attacks microbes and lower cortisol (stress hormone) production.

The Indian study reported that even 35 minutes of daily yoga can reduce elevations in cortisol.

For all you athletes and active individuals, Yoga can improve muscle strength and flexibility, improve athletic performance, and reduce injury risk.

Strike a pose!

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Positive People Are Healthier

26 Jun

Abraham Lincoln reputedly said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Do you expect the best or think the worst?  For most of us, optimism and pessimism are on a continuum.  And, while no one is necessarily on the extreme end of either side, we all gravitate one way or another.

Your state of mind affects your health, according to a recent article in Men’s Health.  Negative thoughts are like parasites that can adversely affect your health and wellness.

According to research from the University of Pittsburgh, compared to optimists, pessimists tend to have:

  • higher blood pressure
  • higher triglyceride levels
  • higher odds of heart attack
  • higher odds of early death

Jeffrey Huffman, MD, director of cardiac psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, believes that “Happy and hopeful people are more likely to exercise, eat healthy, and stop smoking.”  Simply stated, a positive outlook empowers you to take control of your health.

Staying positive can also reduce the secretion of a hormone linked to multiple sclerosis and heart disease.

It’s been said that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

It’s never too late to start looking on the bright side and improve your reaction to situations you encounter in your life.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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