Don’t Warm-Up with a Stretch

4 May

static-stretching1[1]Most of us grew up being told that we should warm up for physical activity (exercise, sport practice or game) with a stretch.  Pre-activity stretching has been (and still is) a preferred strategy to help athletes get “loose,” strong, and avoid injury.

But the field of exercise science has generated a large body of research providing evidence that disputes that idea.  Instead, researchers have discovered that static stretching can reduce strength and power output, especially in the short-term, resulting in decreasing jumpers’ heights and sprinters’ speeds, without substantially reducing people’s chances of hurting themselves.  And two new studies add to a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.

The impact of this information, especially for competitive athletes, is compelling.  Static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles, and the impact increases with the amount of time the stretch is held.  Stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.

Stretched muscles are also less powerful, as measured by the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions.  Muscle power generally decreases after stretching.

This information has broad implications for competitive athletes, given that static stretching is associated with a significant decrease in explosive muscular performance.  The impact of pre-activity stretching can impair a sprinter’s burst from the starting blocks; a tennis player’s serve; a weightlifter’s Olympic lift; or a basketball player’s attempt at a blocked shot.  Their performance, after warming up with stretching, is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.

Although this information primarily applies to people participating in events that require strength and explosive power — more so than endurance — research also speaks of static stretching impairing performance in distance running and cycling.

Ultimately, a warm-up should improve performance, not worsen it.  A better choice is to warm-up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be employed in your workout, practice, or game.  In other words, your warm-up should include movements that reflect the demands of your activity, whether that be physical training or sport participation.


Your thoughts?

Summer Camp Thoughts and Tips

2 May

camps[1]Summer is right around the corner (although you’d never know it by the weather in northeast Ohio), and that means it’s time to start thinking about summer camps.  Many athletes use summer camps as an opportunity to learn and further develop skills that will help them improve their performance in the sport(s) they play.

Summer camps may focus on sport-specific skill development (like ball-handling and shooting) or physical development, like the Speed & Agility Camp we offer at Athletic Performance Training Center.  We encourage athletes to talk with parents and coaches, following their sport season, to create an action plan and determine “next steps” for continued development.

Here are some things to think about as you begin the summer camp selection process:

  • Is the camp the right fit for you?  Consider factors like how well the camp’s offerings reflect your needs, what age groups will be participating, staff to player ratio, and whether the camp will provide you with adequate attention and repetitions.
  • Who is running the camp?  What are the camp director’s qualifications, with regard to experience, expertise, certifications, etc.?  If possible, check with others who have previously participated in the camp or worked with the director.
  • Who will be assisting?  Does the camp employ qualified assistants or just a bunch of high school kids.  Assistants should be expected to explain and demonstrate skills, evaluate and correct technique, and effectively communicate with campers.
  • Safety first!  All camp staff should be first-aid and CPR certified by an accredited organization like the American Red Cross.
  • Are they insured?  Liability insurance is not cheap, but it’s a must.  It protects both camp staff and camp participants.  My experience is that most camps/organizations are not covered, and that is potentially a big mistake.

Do your homework to ensure that your camp is a positive, productive experience.


Compete Every Day

29 Apr

be-the-best-version-of-you[1]“It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What is tough, is being good every day.” – Willie Mays

Don’t worry about being better than “the other guy.”  Compete against you, every day.  Be the best version of you that you can possibly be!

Challenge yourself in the classroom.  Be the best student you can be.

Challenge yourself at work.  Be the best boss, supervisor, co-worker, or customer you can be.

Challenge yourself in the weight room.  Be better today than you were yesterday.

Challenge yourself in the gym or on the field, at practices and games.  Be the best athlete or teammate you can be.

Challenge yourself at home.  Be the best dad, mom, son, or daughter you can be.

Challenge yourself in life.  Be a leader.  Be the best person you can be.

“The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” – Steve Young


Your thoughts?

Shorten Your Running Stride to Reduce Injury Risk

27 Apr

Steve Prefontaine of Oregon set a U.S. record in the 3,000-meter race on Saturday, June 26, 1972 in the Rose Festival Track Meet at Gresham, Oregon. His time was 7 minutes, 45.8 seconds. Profontaine will run 5,000 meters in the U.S. Olympic Trials which get underway on Thursday in Eugene. (AP Photo/Clark)

If you’re a runner — or if running is part of your training — shortening your stride can reduce your injury risk, according to research from Iowa State University.

Here’s the rationale: Reducing your stride length by as little as 5-10% places less strain on commonly injured areas, such as IT (Iliotibial) bands and knees.  The Iliotibial band is the connective tissue (ligament) extending from the pelvic bone to the shinbone. IT band syndrome occurs when this ligament becomes so tight that it rubs against the thighbone. Distance runners are especially susceptible to it.

Because shorter strides are less jarring, they help to reduce and ease the impact on these vulnerable areas.

Shorter strides are also more efficient, helping to improve your overall running economy.


Your thoughts?

Work Your Core, Not Just Your Abs

25 Apr

theplankmain[1]When most people hear “core,” they think “abs.”  Actually, your core includes the muscles of your torso — shoulders through hips (deltoids, abdominals, gluteals, and lumbar spine).  These muscles initiate, generate, and resist movement (running, jumping, hitting, and throwing), strength, and power.  If you’re not strong through your core, it won’t matter how strong the muscles of your arms and legs are, because you just can’t compensate for a weak core.

Exercises that integrate your entire core elicit greater muscle activation than exercises that isolate the abs.  There are lots of exercises that target the muscles of the core, but not all core exercises elicit significant activation in a way that enhances functional gains and peak performance.

Benefits of exercises that active your core musculature include:

  • maximize strength
  • improve endurance
  • enhance stability
  • reduce injury
  • maintain mobility

Here are some core exercises that will help you maximize strength,improve muscular endurance, and reduce injury:

  • Plank (4-point, 3-point, 2-point)
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Medicine Ball Toe Touch
  • Swiss Ball Leg Raise

Rotational exercises, like the one’s listed below, help to strengthen the core through all 3 planes of motion:

  • Russian Twist
  • Lateral Medicine Ball Slams and Throws
  • Kettlebell Woodchopper and Corkscrew

Anti-Rotational exercises — those for which you move your arms and shoulders laterally but do not rotate your hips (for example, the Russian Twist – Bench Holding Stability Ball) — are still another way to effectively strengthen your core.


Your thoughts?

Great Players Have Short Memories

22 Apr

phoenix[1]Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” – Mia Hamm

No one is successful 100% of the time.  No one.  Sometimes… we fail.

In sports, it may be a missed shot or turnover; a fumble or dropped pass; or a strikeout or error.

In school, it could be a poor (or subpar) assignment grade or quiz/test score.

At work, perhaps it’s a missed deadline or ineffective presentation.

In life, sometimes we just don’t handle the art of “human communication and interaction” with our loved ones, friends, and neighbors as well as we could have, or as well as we would have liked.

It’s not the mistake that defines you.  What matters most is how you handle it; how you proceed; what you do next.

One of the keys to success:  Don’t let the past determine your future.  Trust in your ability.  Let go of the past and move on.  Believe in you.

If a baseball player strikes out and continues to dwell on it, chances are he will make an error in the field or struggle in his next at-bat as well.

When a golfer is still upset about a bad shot or a missed putt, he or she will rarely be in the right mindset to make a good swing on the next shot.

Great baseball players are great because they don’t let a strikeout or an error dictate their performance for the rest of a game, or into the following game.

Great basketball players are great because they refuse to allow a missed free throw or turnover adversely impact their future performance.

Great football players are great because they have the ability — and the will — to recover from fumbles and interceptions and confidently carry and pass the football again immediately.

Obviously, purposeful practice, preparation, and repetition play a significant role in the success of any athlete (student, employee, etc.) who achieves greatness.  “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.” – Unknown

Great players have short memories.

What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” – Dean Smith

Please see related post, Your Failures are Behind You — Move on


Your thoughts?

Improve Your Speed and Agility with Jump Training

20 Apr

Lead%20Photo-1[1]Research has shown a definitive correlation between jumping ability and running performance, including speed and agility.  Generally, there is a stronger correlation based on the sprint distance.  The contribution of muscle power may be most important in shorter distance sprints (for example, 60, 100, and 200 meters), although middle- and long-distance running performance is positively impacted, as well.  Development of muscle power — via jump training — should be considered as  a component for training for most sports, including both sprinters and middle- and long-distance runners.

Running velocity, including the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction quickly, has been shown to be a function of force and power production.  The high-power output associated with jumping activities has led researchers to determine that jumping tests could be used as a  predictor of running performance.

Force and power are obvious components of running ability.  Maximal squat strength has been significantly correlated to sprint performance.  So, how do you incorporate strength and power training — including jump training — into your strength and conditioning regimen in a relevant way?

Strength Training

Before you start jump training, including plyometrics, you’ve got to be strong.  In order to be safe and effective, high-intensity power training requires adequate strength.  Bilateral, lower-body strength exercises like the squat, deadlift, and Romanian deadlift will help you build a strong foundation.  Unilateral exercises like the stepup and Bulgarian split squat are more functional, requiring strength and stability

Jump Training

Plyometrics are the most effective way to build lower-extremity power.  These exercises, done correctly, are designed to help you generate the greatest possible force in the shortest amount of time.  Jumping rope and jumping jacks are basic plyometric exercises, and a good place to start.  Once proficient at these exercises, you can progress to multiple, continuous box and hurdle jumps.


Your thoughts?

The Effect of Heat Stress on Sprint and Jump Performance

18 Apr

jimmer-fredette[1]Sports like basketball and soccer require frequent intervals of running and jumping, over an entire game.  Additionally, these (and other) sports are often played in warm environmental conditions — both indoor and outdoor.

Research has consistently shown that fatigue leads to a decline in performance, and that higher temperatures lead to even greater declines.  This performance decline is partly to mostly associated with severe dehydration.

So how can you prepare yourself in a way that minimizes the impact of fatigue and dehydration on your game performance?


When it comes to conditioning, your training should mimic/reflect the demands of your sport.  This applies to intensity, duration, and movement patterns.  For most athletes, high-intensity interval training  (HIIT) should be a component of any off-season strength and conditioning program.  This type of training involves alternating high- and low-intensity exercise over a pre-determined period of time.  For more detailed information, please refer to my previous blog post, Add Interval Training to Your Routine.


Adequate fluid intake — before, during, and after activity — is a must for any athlete.  The impact of hydration on performance cannot be overstated.  Inadequate hydration may be the single-biggest reason for performance fatigue and decline.  My STACK Media article, How to Hydrate Your Body, provides basic hydration guidelines for athletes.


Your thoughts?

The Relationship Between Sport-Specific Practice and Achievement

15 Apr

7608808_f248[1]We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” or — more specifically — “perfect practice makes perfect.”  The point is, there’s a high level of correlation between purposeful practice and proficiency (pardon the alliteration).  But, what about cognitive expertise (in other words, sport aptitude or sport IQ)?  How much practice does it take to improve an athlete’s knowledge of and “feel” for the game in a way that is relevant, leading to performance improvement?

A study of over 500 youth athletes (ages 12-16) recommends that “young players dedicate at least 4 hours weekly to training to achieve a significant improvement in cognitive expertise.” (Analysis of the Relationship Between the Amount of Training and Cognitive Expertise; Gil, et. al.)

“There is a strong association between the number of weekly training hours and the achievements attained by deliberate practice.  Athletes who accumulate more deliberate practice hours per week show a higher level of sport expertise.  Sport-specific knowledge and decision-making are both indicators of cognitive expertise.”

“Research has associated the amount of practice with knowledge and decision-making in sport.  It has been established that those athletes who accumulated more training hours in structured (situational) activities showed a greater development of knowledge and greater precision in decision-making.  Knowledge also influences processes such as attention, visual behavior, anticipation, recognition, response selection, and execution.”

Here are some tips to make your practice time more productive:

  • Practice situationally (not randomly)
  • Focus on quality repetitions
  • Practice at game speed
  • Be an active participant, don’t just go through the motions
  • Actively observe teammates when you’re not part of a drill
  • Practice to improve and learn 


Your thoughts?

Improve Your Agility with Balance Training

13 Apr

airex_balance_beam_square[1]Balance should be considered as a potential predictor of agility, according to a new Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study.  The article also cited speed and power development as having an impact on agility; and gender-specific influences  — power development having a greater impact on agility in women, and balance training having a greater impact on agility in men.

Agility isn’t simply how fast you move.  It refers to your ability to accelerate (speed up), decelerate (slow down), and change direction; and how quickly you can recognize and react to a stimulus.  We also acknowledge that agility is contingent upon ground displacement: The stronger you are through the lower extremities, the more force you can generate against the ground.  With practice, increased ground force generation equals improvements in agility-related performance.

Balance training should include unilateral lower-body exercises, such as the single-leg squat, Bulgarian split squat, stepup, single-leg Romanian deadlift; and ankle, knee, and hip balance and stability exercises (pictured).

Speed training should incorporate max effort sprints, and assisted/resisted (uphill, parachute) running.

To increase power production, perform Olympic lifts (for example, the hang clean), squat jump, single-leg squat jump (also incorporates balance), and plyometrics.


Your thoughts?


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