The “Next Big Thing” is Today

18 Dec

This morning, some of my basketball buddies and I were lamenting about the fact that another year has passed, and that 2017 was a “blur.”  You know… the “time flies” conversation.  We all have kids in various stages of school (and beyond) and, somewhere along the way, one of the guys remarked about how we all sometimes wish our lives away by yearning for the “next big thing.”  I’ve been thinking about that conversation all day.

Let me explain the “next big thing.”  When people address it, they often preface it by saying, “I can’t wait for (or to)…”  For a young child, it may be starting school.  For a teenager, it may be turning 16 and getting a driver’s license.  It may be turning 18 and becoming an “adult.”  It could be graduating from high school and heading off to college.  Or, perhaps, turning 21 and reaching (legal) drinking age.  Eventually, it may be graduating from college,  landing a “real” job, and joining the work force.  Toss in few more of life’s milestones like moving out of the home in which one grew up, getting married, starting a family, and retirement.

Even as parents, we look forward with eager anticipation to our children walking, talking, starting school, getting involved in sports and other activities, and lots of the same “accomplishments” mentioned above.

As an old (and hopefully wise) guy who has experienced most of the aforementioned milestones, here’s my advice: Don’t spend too much time wishing for the “next big thing” because the “next big thing” is today.  Everything that lies ahead will get here, whether you want it to or not.  And, believe me, it’s going to get here quickly.  Invest in today and make it as good and as much as it can be — for yourself and the people around you.  If you do that, you’ll find that most of the “tomorrows” will take care of themselves.

I’m not discouraging anyone from keeping an eye on tomorrow, and planning and preparing, accordingly… just not at the expense of today.

Focus on today.  Invest in today.  Make it great.  As soon as today becomes yesterday, it’s gone… lost to you forever.

Carpe Diem!

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Eat Fewer Foods with Added Sugar

11 Dec

Want to make a dietary change that will help you feel better, look better, and perform better?  Start by minimizing (or avoiding) foods with added sugar.

By reducing or eliminating foods with added sugar from your diet, you will eat fewer carbs.  This strategy, combined with increasing your protein consumption, can lower your calorie intake and optimize hormones that regulate fat burning.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.  They are listed in food labels under a wide variety of names, including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, and — of course — sugar, to name just a few.  This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.

Added sugars, which are sprinkled on and processed into packaged foods and beverages, have become all too common in the American diet, says the American Heart Association. The group argues that sugar bingeing is helping drive the uptick in metabolic changes in the American population, including the exploding obesity rate (U.S. News and World Report).

Added sugars are commonly found in foods and beverages, such as:

  • regular soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  • candy
  • cakes
  • cookies
  • pies and cobblers
  • pastries, sweet rolls, and doughnuts
  • fruit drinks
  • dairy desserts

Check your food labels.  If the foods you usually eat contain added sugar, especially as one of the first few ingredients listed, consider it a red flag.  You can do better by choosing a healthier alternative.

Already doing a good job avoiding foods with added sugars?  The next step is reducing your consumption of refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, etc.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Strengthen Your Core with the Inverted Balance Plank

4 Dec

Want to try a challenging, isometric core-strengthening exercise?  Next time you train, add the Inverted Balance Plank to your workout.

Here’s how to do it: Lie on your back, legs straight and feet together, arms folded across your shoulders.  To begin the exercise, elevate your shoulders and back, and legs and feet, so that you’re balancing on your butt.  Keep your shoulders and feet about six inches above the ground.  Brace your core (like you’re preparing to take a punch in the stomach) and hold that position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can.  As you are able, add more time in increments of 15 seconds.  Use this exercise as a workout “finisher.”

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Healthy Eating Tips for the Holiday Season

28 Nov

Well, it’s that time of year… the holiday “weight gain” season.  And, although there is anecdotal speculation — via media reports, surveys, etc. — that the average American gains 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, several studies now show that the average weight gain during the winter holidays is just a pound or two.  But here’s the real problem: Most people don’t ever lose the pound(s) of weight they put on during the holidays, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine.  Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds a year, that means much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating.

Here are some healthy eating tips to help you stay on track and get through the holidays:

  • Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! Stay committed to your exercise/training program. Physical activity can help relieve stress, regulate appetite, and burn up extra calories.
  • Be realistic. Perhaps the holiday season is not the best time to try to lose weight. Aim to maintain your current weight instead.
  • Portion control. Keep your portion sizes small. Eat small portions of a variety of foods rather than a large portion of one food.
  • Eat breakfast. Breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day. It jump starts your metabolism and helps to stave off hunger and cravings.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Alternate cocktails with unsweetened iced tea or seltzer to reduce the quantity of alcohol consumed. Choose wine, light beer or spirits mixed with no calorie beverages.
  • Drink lots of water. Drinking water can decrease the chance of overeating by temporarily filling your stomach. Also, caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration which increases your need for water.
  • Snack sensibly. Choose fruits and vegetables and dip with veggies instead of chips. Limit fried foods, high-fat sauces and gravies, and cheese cubes.
  • Eat slowly and stop when you feel satisfied (not stuffed). Listen to your stomach! It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal your stomach that you’ve had enough. Pay attention to what it feels like to be satisfied and not full.
  • Prepare for temptationNever go to a party or event hungry. Prepare yourself for distractions by eating before you go. Have a small meal or a snack which contains a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and a little healthy fat to fend off hunger, such as natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread or low-fat cottage cheese with fresh fruit.
  • Visualize success. Make an action plan. Think about where you will be, who you will be with and what foods will be available. It’s much easier to deal with a difficult social eating situation if you’ve already planned for it. Parties are a time to mingle with friends and loved ones. Focus on interaction instead of on the food and drinks. Food very often is center stage of any party but you can guarantee success by visualizing the enjoyment of the company and not just the food and drink.
  • Don’t deprive yourself. Don’t spend all your time obsessing over the not-so-healthy delicacy that you’re really craving. Instead, allow a small portion and savor every mouth-watering bite so that you do not feel deprived.

Eating a bit too much one day is not the end of the world! It takes consecutive days of unhealthy eating to gain weight. If you slip up, put it behind you and return to your healthy eating plan, just don’t allow it to become a habit. You are in control of your lifestyle choices so choose wisely. It’s all about lifestyle changes, not diets.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Happy Thanksgiving (Hit the Gym Friday)

22 Nov

Best wishes to you and yours for a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday from Athletic Performance Training Center!

No matter who you are or what your situation is, we all have much for which to be thankful.  Sometimes, life (and the speed at which it moves) has the tendency to obscure that.

Regardless of how or what you celebrate, I hope you are able to reflect on your blessings this holiday season.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Should Athletes Wear Ankle Braces?

13 Nov

Foot and ankle injuries  — both acute and chronic — are among the most commonly occurring injuries among athletes and other physically active individuals.  According to studies by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 25% of athletic injuries were foot- and ankle-related; and up to 35% of time lost to injury in running and jumping sports were because of ankle injuries.

Although it’s impossible to prevent every injury, strength, stability, and mobility exercises are beneficial as injury prevention strategies, and as rehabilitation to restore ankle joint muscle strengthrange-of-motion, and neuromuscular coordination.

The question is, should athletes wear ankle braces and, if so, should the use of ankle braces be situational (pre-injury, post-injury)?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine  (NASM) says no — at least not if the athlete has not suffered a previous ankle injury. Braces and tape* should only be used when there has been an injury and the joint needs the additional support. When joints rely on braces or tape for protection, they actually tend to become weaker. When given the opportunity to strengthen through normal usage, the musculotendinous fibers become stronger and can protect the area without the use of a brace or tape.

*Regarding taping, there are several disadvantages. Although taping initially restricts ankle range of motion, the tape loosens within 30 to 60 minutes of application, cannot be reused, and requires training and time to apply properly. Ankle braces are an appealing alternative to taping, as they too restrict ankle motion but can be tightened as needed, are reusable, require minimal training to apply, and can be applied more quickly than tape.

However, there is some evidence that ankle braces may be beneficial to prevent ankle injury. A recent study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health showed that high school basketball players who wore stabilizing lace-up ankle braces had 68 percent fewer injuries than athletes who did not.

Although there is some disagreement about whether or not ankle braces should be worn to prevent ankle injury, most experts agree that ankle braces are beneficial, post-injury.

“Wearing a lace-up ankle brace is effective in reducing ankle injuries in high school basketball players regardless of age, sex (male or female), or body mass index (body weight for size). The protective effect of this simple device also helps athletes who have already had a previous ankle injury from reinjuring that ankle again. This is good news since ankle reinjury is a common problem in athletes.” (Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, ATC, et al. The Effect of Lace-Up Ankle Braces on Injury Rates in High School Basketball Players. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. September 2011. Vol. 39. No. 9. Pp. 1840-1848)

Ankle braces help prevent injury by restricting motion, but those restrictions don’t necessarily result in negative effects on athletic performance. Evidence suggests that while agility may be affected with use of an ankle brace, vertical jump and balance skills may not.

Calf raises are an easy and effective ways to strengthen and stabilize your ankles.  Single-leg balance exercises, performed on an unstable surface (like an Airex balance pad), can “teach” the ankle to adapt and adjust to instability, reducing the incidence of ankle rolls, sprains, etc.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Fit is Good, Strong is Better

8 Nov

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Strength training is the way to go.

In addition to improving the way you look, feel, and function, there continues to emerge compelling evidence that strength-based training also benefits long-term health and well-being.

The problem… ?  The vast majority of adults neglect to do even the minimum recommended amount of strength-based exercise.

Here is another resource – a large Australian study – providing support for strength-promoting exercise:

Push ups and sit ups could add years to your life according to a new study of over 80,000 adults led by the University of Sydney.

The largest study to compare the mortality outcomes of different types of exercise found people who did strength-based exercise had a 23 percent reduction in risk of premature death by any means, and a 31 percent reduction in cancer-related death.

Lead author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Centre said while strength training has been given some attention for functional benefits as we age, little research has looked at its impact on mortality.

“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” said Associate Professor Stamatakis.

“And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer.”

The World Health Organization’s Physical Activity Guidelines for adults recommend 150 minutes of aerobic activity, plus two days of muscle strengthening activities each week.

Associate Professor Stamatakis said governments and public health authorities have neglected to promote strength-based guidelines in the community, and as such misrepresented how active we are as a nation.

He cites the example of The Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey which, based on aerobic activity alone, reports inactivity at 53 percent. However, when the World Health Organization’s (WHO) strength-based guidelines are also taken into account, 85 percent of Australians fail to meet recommendations.

“Unfortunately, less than 19 percent of Australian adults do the recommended amount of strength-based exercise,” said Associate Professor Stamatakis.

“Our message to date has just been to get moving but this study prompts a rethink about, when appropriate, expanding the kinds of exercise we are encouraging for long-term health and well-being.”

The analysis also showed exercises performed using one’s own body weight without specific equipment were just as effective as gym-based training.

“When people think of strength training they instantly think of doing weights in a gym, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Many people are intimidated by gyms, the costs or the culture they promote, so it’s great to know that anyone can do classic exercises like triceps dips, sit-ups, push-ups or lunges in their own home or local park and potentially reap the same health benefits.”

The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology today, is based on a pooled population sample of over 80,306 adults with data drawn from the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey, linked with the NHS Central Mortality Register.

The study was observational, however adjustments were made to reduce the influence of other factors such as age, sex, health status, lifestyle behaviours and education level. All participants with established cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline and those who passed away in the first two years of follow up were excluded from the study to reduce the possibility of skewing results due to those with pre-existing conditions participating in less exercise.

Summary of key findings:

  • participation in any strength-promoting exercise was associated with a 23 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 31 percent reduction in cancer mortality
  • own bodyweight exercises that can be performed in any setting without equipment yielded comparable results to gym-based activities
  • adherence to WHO’s strength-promoting exercise guideline alone was associated with reduced risk of cancer-related death, but adherence to the WHO’s aerobic physical activity guideline alone was not
  • adherence to WHO’s strength-promoting exercise and aerobic guidelines combined was associated with a greater risk reduction in mortality than aerobic physical activity alone
  • there was no evidence of an association between strength-promoting exercise and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Take the Negative Chinup/Dip Challenge

1 Nov

Want to challenge yourself in the weight room and improve your strength and fitness?  Try the Men’s Health Negative Chinup/Dip Challenge.  The goal of this challenge is to do 1 negative dip and 1 negative chinup.  Sounds simple enough, right?

First, some background: Eccentric training, which involves focusing on the lowering (or, “negative”) phase of an exercise, can potentially trigger greater strength gains than concentric (lifting-focused) training, according to Ellington Darden, Ph.D. and author of The Body Fat Breakthrough.

“Your muscles can handle more weight during the lowering phase,” Darden says. “And if you draw out that phase to a minute, as you will with the negative dip and negative chinup, you can recruit up to 40 percent more muscle fibers and enjoy a surge in muscle-building hormones.” The result: more power and strength in significantly less time.

Here’s how to perform these exercises:

Negative Chinup

Grab the bar using a shoulder-width, underhand grip and hang at arm’s length with your ankles crossed behind you. Pull your chest up to the bar. Lower yourself slowly, half an inch at a time.

Negative Dip

Grab the bars of a dip station and lift yourself so your arms are straight. Lean forward slightly and lower your body slowly — half an inch at a time — until your upper arms are below your elbows.

The Challenge: You’ll be completing only two reps total (one per move), but they’ll probably be two of the hardest reps you’ve ever done. “Take one minute to lower yourself for each exercise, and rest two minutes between them,” says Darden. If you can’t last longer than 30 seconds, your eccentric strength needs a lot of work.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Don’t Settle for Average

24 Oct

Average.  Mediocre.  Usual.  Middling.  Run-of-the-mill.  Ordinary.  Common.

No, thank you.

It’s easy to fall into the “path of least resistance” trap.  Sometimes, it seems like that’s what everyone around us does.  It may feel safer to fit in than to stand out.

When we don’t meet our own (or others’) expectations, we tend to try to justify the result to ourselves.  We settle.

Nobody’s perfect — at least not at everything they do, all the time.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fall short… we fail.  But if you strive for perfection and fall short, you can still achieve excellence.  You can still be great.

The key lies in our mental approach and work ethic.  Our willingness to pursue greatness.

Work toward your personal best in your daily endeavors, whether that be as an athlete, student, employee, or otherwise.  Try to improve upon the things that are important to you, every day.  Keep your focus internal and don’t worry about competing with others.  Strive to be better today than you were yesterday, and the rest will eventually fall in place.

Believe in you.  You’re better than average.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Focus on the Process, not the Outcome

16 Oct

I recently read an interesting article about the Boston Red Sox organizational philosophy.  Hitting Coach (and former big-leaguer), Chili Davis, stressed the importance of his hitters’ approach for each and every at bat.

“What we try to do is have a good approach at the plate.  We are process-oriented. As long as you go up there with a good game plan and execute that plan the best you can, we’re good.”

I really like that because, when you think about it, that philosophy applies well to just about everything.

It’s not that outcomes – goals and results – are not important because, of course, they are.  But goal achievement is rarely possible without consistent and diligent attention to the process.

No one improves their strength without putting in the appropriate work, over time, in the weight room.

Success – excellence – in sports is the result of days, weeks, months, and years of practice and preparation.

Good grades in school are a product of attendance, homework, and studying.

Rewards – promotions and raises – at work are a by-product of long-term effort.

Coach John Wooden was a big proponent of focusing on the process, and not the outcome.  Coach Wooden didn’t focus on winning.  He focused on the character of his team, key fundamentals, daily improvement, effort, potential, and selfless teamwork.  As a result he won… a lot.

Take care of the process – practice, prepare, and work hard – and the results will inevitably follow.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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