Characteristics of Mentally Tough Athletes

25 Feb

kevin-love[1]There are lots of different ways to describe and define mental toughness.  It can be described as the ability, willingness, and discipline to perform effectively and productively, regardless of the situation or circumstances.

Mental toughness involves positive thinking, focus, concentration, persistence, perseverance, and a strong belief in self.  It is the ability to ignore distractions, focus on what is important, and block out what is not.

Mental toughness is working through adversity, overcoming obstacles, and refusing to give up or give in.

And, although the focus of this blog post primarily relates to athletes, mental toughness does not apply only to athletes.  Since we all face obstacles and adversity, mental toughness can be an asset to students, business professionals, teachers, coaches, parents, and any other situation or life experience.

Here’s a list of 10 Characteristics of a Mentally Tough Player, excerpted from the article, Developing Mental Toughness:

  1. Doesn’t let one bad play lead into another. Short memory.
  2. Is able to take constructive criticism from a coach or teammate with the right attitude.
  3. Is still able to be a good leader even when they aren’t personally playing well.
  4. Is able to run offense and execute the correct play even when they are physically tired.
  5. Still shoots the basketball with great form and technique when they are physically fatigued.
  6. Doesn’t check out of a game that they are losing, and looks like there is no chance to win.
  7. Doesn’t complain about something being too difficult, but finds a way to get through it.
  8. Stays patient and is able to run offense even when being pressured by the defense.
  9. Stays in control of emotions and doesn’t let the size of the stage negatively effect them.
  10. Doesn’t put in the bare minimum during conditioning, but looks to try and win every sprint.

Thanks to my friend, Laurel Heilman of STUDENTathleteWorld, for sharing this information.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

When Do You Need a Spotter?

23 Feb

adv_benchpress_03[1]In exercise parlance, a spotter is a person who assists in the execution of an exercise to help protect the athlete from injury.

A spotter can also encourage and motivate the athlete, and assist in the completion of forced repetitions.

Ultimately, though, the primary responsibility of a spotter is to ensure the safety of the athlete being spotted.

Free-weight exercises involving one or more spotters may include:

  • Overhead (shoulder press)
  • Bar on the back (back squat)
  • Anterior “racked” (front shoulders) position — bar on shoulders or collarbones (front squat)
  • Supine, over-the-face (bench press)

These types of exercises, especially when performed with dumbbells, require one or more experienced, knowledgeable spotters.

Power exercises, such as Olympic lifts, should not be spotted.  Instead of spotting these exercises, the strength and conditioning professional must teach athletes how to get away from a bar that becomes unmanageable.

Ideally, overhead, bar on the back, and front shoulders exercises should be performed inside a power rack with the safety bars set at an appropriate height.

When spotting over-the-face barbell exercises, the spotter should hold the bar with an alternated-hand grip, preferably inside the athlete’s grip.  For dumbbell exercises, it is important to spot as close to the dumbbells as possible.

The number of spotters needed is mostly determined by the load being lifted, the experience and ability of the athlete and spotter(s), and the physical strength of the spotter(s).

Appropriate communication, before and during the lift, is the responsibility of both the spotter and the athlete.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

20 Feb

3-benefits-of-lifting-with-a-belt_graphics-1[1]

First of all, if you wear a weightlifting belt, why? And, if you don’t, why not — what is your rationale?

Perhaps you’ve seen others wear a weightlifting belt and you think it’s probably a good idea.

Maybe you have a coach, teammate, friend, workout partner, etc. who has recommended the idea to you.

You may have lower back soreness, and think the belt might help.

Or, you might wear it prophylactically, thinking it’s a good way to protect your lower back from injury.

Here is the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s stance on the use of weightlifting belts:  The use of a weightlifting belt can contribute to injury-free training.  However, its appropriateness depends on the type of exercise and the relative load lifted.  (Baechle, T. and Earle, R., Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; 2000)

A weightlifting belt should typically be worn when performing exercises that place stress on the lower back (squat, deadlift, Olympic lifts, etc.) and during sets that involve near-maximal or maximal loads (1RM testing, etc.).

The use of a weightlifting belt in these situations may help stabilize and reduce stress on the spine; create better body biomechanics; and even improve performance.

Keep in mind that a weightlifting belt only has the potential to reduce the risk of lower-back injury when combined with proper lifting and spotting technique.

No weightlifting belt is needed for exercises that do not stress the lower back or for exercises that do stress the lower back but use light-to-moderate loads.

There are some drawbacks to the (inappropriate) use of a weightlifting belt:  Wearing a belt too often reduces opportunities for the abdominal muscles to be trained — strengthened and stabilized. In other words, it can hinder you from developing your own core musculature. Additionally, weightlifting belts tend to give people a false sense of security, enticing them to try to lift more than they normally (or safely) would.

So, if you’re a competitive weightlifter and/or someone going after your own personal best on the squat or hang clean, buckle up.

But for all your other strength training activities — including your day-to-day strength and fitness efforts — maintain proper technique, use a spotter when warranted, and skip the belt.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

You’re Never Too Old to Exercise

18 Feb

senior_fitness2[1]Advancing age (65+) is associated with a loss of muscle mass, which is due to physical inactivity and the selective loss of Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers.  This reduction in muscle mass is directly related to a loss of muscle strength and power.

Resistance training has the potential to offset this age-related decline in the following ways:

  • Increases muscle strength
  • Increases muscle endurance
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Increases muscle fiber size
  • Increases muscle metabolic capacity
  • Increases resting metabolic rate
  • Decreases body fat
  • Increases bone mineral density
  • Increases physical function

Although the aging process is associated with several undesirable changes in body composition, older men and women maintain their ability to make significant improvements in strength and functional ability.  Both aerobic and resistance exercise are beneficial for older adults, but only resistance training can increase muscle strength and muscle mass.

Before participation in an exercise program, seniors should be pre-screened (physical exam, medical history, risk factors) to determine the most appropriate type of activity.  Additionally, older adults should:

  • Perform an appropriate, low-intensity warm-up prior to each exercise session
  • Use a level of resistance that does not overwhelm the musculoskeletal system
  • Allow 48 to 72 hours between exercise sessions
  • Perform all exercises within a range-of-motion that is pain-free
  • Always exercise under the supervision of a trained instructor

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Avoid Late-Season Burnout

16 Feb

Hitting+the+Wall[1]What do you do when you “hit the wall?”  I’m referring to the wall that suddenly appears at the end of your season, just before the playoffs begin.

If you’ve hit that wall before, then you’re aware of the mental and physical fatigue, performance decline, stress, frustration, and self-doubt that an athlete can experience.

The pre-season and regular-season — practicing, training, and competing — can take a heavy toll on an athlete.  Some athletes deal with it better than others, and are able to avoid feeling “overloaded.”

But even the best athletes can begin to feel like their bodies are shutting down, and they’re too physically and mentally “spent” to push past it.  Here are a few tips to help athletes better manage late-season fatigue:

  • Allow more time for recovery, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the day — before, during, and after activity.
  • Fuel your body appropriately.  Make sure the frequency, timing, quality, and quantity of your meals and snacks complement your activity level.
  • Reduce the frequency, volume, and/or intensity of your activity, especially the stuff you do outside the gym. (strength training, etc.)
  • Focus on technical, sport-specific skills (ball-handling, shooting, etc.), and cut back on high-intensity conditioning activity.
  • Practice strategically, and be efficient.  Don’t just go through the motions — make every repetition count.  Quality trumps quantity.
  • Talk with your coach about how you’re feeling.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Tough Coach? No Problem!

13 Feb

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Matta talks with guard Craft in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los AngelesIt’s important to be a coachable athlete.  As a player you want to flourish under your coach, not flounder.

At some point, you may find yourself playing for a “tough” coach.  Adjectives like demanding, hard-to-please, challenging, and exacting may come to mind.  Hopefully, fair is also a word that describes the coach.

Perhaps you haven’t had much experience playing for this type of coach.  How will you make it work?

Much of the time, it’s a question of attitude.  Additionally, communication and collaboration are very important components in building and maintaining a positive, productive player-coach relationship.

Every player has something to offer, and it’s up to you and your coach to define and develop your role and perform it to the best of your ability.

Sure, it’s a challenge.  But, with a “can-do” attitude and by following a few tips, you might find that making it work is not as hard as you think.

Check Your Attitude

Listen to what your coach has to say, and respect his or her experience and expertise.  Be willing to try new approaches and strategies.  Don’t brood about (what you perceive as) your coach not valuing your contribution.  No one wants to play with an athlete who is dismissive of suggestions or assignments.

Be Positive

There’s a lot you can learn from your coach, if you are open and receptive to learning.  Ask questions and strive to continue learning.  Your willingness and enthusiasm to embrace new ways of doing things will be appreciated.  Recognize that both you and the coach are building a relationship that allows each of you to be successful on the court or field of play.  Absorb the energy and enthusiasm your coach brings to the team.

Build Relationships With Teammates

Connecting with teammates, both on and off the court, can help you foster your relationship with your coach.  Stay appropriately engaged with teammates on common social networks with positive posts.  Forward relevant articles to your coach with a note, letting him or her know that you found it helpful or useful.

Improve Communication

Chances are, you under-communicate with your coach.  Get comfortable approaching and talking with him or her.  And remember, it should be you talking with your coach and not your parent(s).  Topics like playing time and comparisons with teammates are — and should be — off-limits.  Focus, instead, on your own self-development as a player.  Ask questions like, “In what specific areas can I work to improve in order to better contribute to the success of our team.”  Most coaches will make more of an effort to help you once they know you are willing to help yourself.

Don’t Snipe

Avoid making negative comments about your coach to your teammates, friends, etc., and keep the negative stuff OFF social media.  All that will accomplish is to cast you in a negative light, make things awkward for those around you,  and adversely affect your team chemistry.  What happens at practice should stay at practice, unless it involves something that has the potential to hurt you or others.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strength Training Benefits Connective Tissue

11 Feb

Male-ConnectiveTissue-ref06[1]Want to improve the structure and function of your connective tissues?  Lift (heavy) weights.

In addition to its musculoskeletal benefits, high-intensity strength training also results in a net growth of the involved connective tissues.

Exercise of low- to moderate-intensity does not significantly change the collagen content of connective tissue.  Collagen is the main structural protein found in all connective tissues in the musculoskeletal system.

The 3 types of connective tissue are:

  • Tendon – a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone
  • Ligament – a short band of tough, flexible, fibrous connective tissue that connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint
  • Cartilage – a firm tissue, softer and much more flexible than bone; it is found in many areas of the body including joints between bones (e.g. the elbows, knees, and ankles); the “cushion” between bones

Connective tissues adapt to high-intensity musculoskeletal stimulation by growing and strengthening.

Weight-bearing exercise, with movement through a complete range-of-motion, seems to be vital to maintaining connective tissue development.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

How Young is Too Young for Strength Training?

9 Feb

dips[1]We are frequently asked, “Is my child too young/old enough for strength training?

Research now agrees and supports that resistance exercise can be safe and effective for children.  If the child is old enough to listen, pay attention, and follow instructions, he or she is probably capable of participating in a strength training program.  However, it’s important to remember that children are not miniature adults, and should not be trained, as such.

Although preadolescent boys and girls have the potential to significantly improve their strength with resistance training, these gains are less attributable to muscle hypertrophy (growth) and more so to neurological (neuromuscular) factors — improving motor unit coordination, recruitment, and firing.

Potential benefits of strength training for children include increased muscular strength and endurance; improved anatomic and psychosocial parameters; reduced injuries in sports and recreation activities; improved motor skills and sport performance; positive effect on bone density.

Parents should be educated about the benefits and risks of competitive sports and should understand the importance of general fitness for the young athlete.

Children should participate in a year-round strength and conditioning program to enhance fitness, strength, and flexibility.  The program should vary in volume and intensity throughout the year and meet the specific needs of each athlete.

The nutritional status of young athletes should be monitored to ensure that their diets are adequate.

Youth sport coaches should participate in educational programs to learn more about strength and conditioning, sport skills, safety rules, equipment, the psychology of children, and the physiology of growth and development.

A competent — qualified and experienced — strength and conditioning professional can assist in the development of youth strength training programs that stress quality instruction and appropriate rate of progression.

YOUTH RESISTANCE TRAINING GUIDELINES (adapted from Faigenbaum et al. 1996)

  • Each child should understand the benefits and risks associated with resistance training.
  • Competent and caring fitness professionals should supervise training sessions.
  • The exercise environment, including equipment, should be safe and free of hazards.
  • Appropriate warm-up should be performed before resistance training.
  • Carefully monitor each child’s tolerance to the exercise stress.
  • Begin with light loads to allow appropriate adjustments to be made.
  • Increase the resistance/intensity gradually (e.g., 5% -10%) as strength improves.
  • Depending on individual needs and goals, one to three sets of 6 to 15 repetitions on a variety of single- and multi-joint exercises can be performed.
  • Advance multi-joint exercises, such as modified cleans, pulls, and presses, may be incorporated into the program, provided that appropriate loads are used and the focus remains of proper form.
  • Two to three nonconsecutive training sessions per week are recommended.
  • When necessary, adult spotters should be nearby to actively assist the child in the event of a failed repetition.
  • The resistance training program should be systematically varied throughout the year.
  • Children should be encouraged to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strength Training Safety and Specificity

6 Feb

adv_benchpress_03[1]One of the goals of strength training is to reduce the likelihood of injury during training.  Compared with other sports and fitness activities, strength training is actually quite safe — if and when athletes adhere to basic safety principles.

Specificity should also be an important consideration when designing an exercise program to improve performance in a particular sport activity.  Exercise selection should be determined in accordance with the demands and movement patterns of the sport.  A strength training program designed around sport-specific exercise movements can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.

SAFETY

  • Always perform a dynamic (movement-based) warm-up activity — or warm-up sets — with relatively light weight in order to stimulate blood flow to the muscles and improve connective tissue (ligaments, tendons) function.  Avoid static stretching as a warm-up.
  • Perform exercises through a full range-of-motion.
  • When performing a new exercise, or when training after an extended layoff (multiple weeks), use relatively light weight and gradually increase as proficiency allows.
  • Don’t “work through” pain, especially joint pain.  Working through some muscle fatigue or post-exercise muscle soreness is usually okay, but severe and persistent pain may be a warning sign to have the injury examined and treated medically.
  • Never attempt maximal lifts without appropriate preparation, (technique) instruction, and supervision.
  • Avoid “bouncing” at the bottom of the squat exercise, as this type of movement can cause muscle injury.  Observe proper squat mechanics — keep the knee in a vertical plane through the foot and hip.
  • Athletes should build adequate lower-body strength before beginning a lower-body plyometric program.
  • Perform several varieties of an exercise to improve muscle development and joint stability.

SPECIFICITY

  • Exercise selection should reflect the qualitative and quantitative demands and movement patterns of the sport.
  • Joint ranges-of-motion should be at least as great as those in the target activity.
  • Utilize visual observation and video as tools to facilitate exercise selection and determine movements important to that sport.
  • Exercise selection should include the three major planes — frontal, sagittal, and transverse, in order to strengthen movements between the planes.
  • Training should be movement-based, and not muscle-based.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

How to Improve Force Production

4 Feb

revwads18cut-1[1]There are many factors that affect force production (the amount of force produced in a muscle, or muscles).  Improvements in force production can optimize sport-specific skill performance, including running, jumping, throwing, and hitting/striking.

Lift Heavy

Lifting heavy weight (e.g, 65-80% 1RM) produces greater tension in the muscle which, in turn, leads to greater motor unit (neuromuscular) recruitment, which affects force production.  The number of active motor units is directly proportional to the amount of force production.  (It should also be noted that heavy lifting and explosive concentric training [see below] have the potential to activate more fast-twitch muscle fibers)

Preloading

Preloading is the tension developed in the muscle before you move the weight.  When you bench press, deadlift, or squat, you can’t move the bar off the rack or floor until sufficient force is developed in the muscle to overcome the inertia of the barbell.

Overload Eccentric Training

Use very heavy resistance (≥ 100% 1RM) to perform “negatives,” which emphasize the lowering phase/movement of a lift.  For safety reasons, it may be advisable to use a spotter (or spotters) for certain exercises, such as the bench press, to assist in returning the weight to the original (up) position.

Explosive Concentric Training

When training for explosive concentric movements — where the goal is generating velocity — use relatively light resistance.

Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises exploit the stretch-shortening cycle to generate maximum force in minimum time.  This involves “prestretching” a muscle immediately before a concentric action to enhance force production during the subsequent muscle action.

Rest

It’s important to incorporate rest days into your training regimen in order to allow muscles time to recover and repair.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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