Squat Smarter with the Goblet Squat

22 Feb

goblet-squat-2[1]The Barbell Back Squat is a very good exercise, but it’s not necessarily for everyone.  Proper form and technique are important for any structural exercise (one in which you directly load the spine), and the barbell back squat requires knowledgeable coaching to ensure safe execution.

For an effective, safe alternative to the barbell back squat, try the Goblet Squat.  I like this exercise, especially for novices and youngsters, once we have mastered and move beyond body-weight squats.

To perform the goblet squat exercise, hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) “goblet-style” (pictured), vertically and at chest level, with the heels of both hands cupping the dumbbell’s upper head, as if it’s a large goblet.  This provides counter-balance, helping you avoid the upper-body forward lean that can be a problem with the barbell back squat, enables better form and technique, and makes the exercise easier to perform.

Start with at least a 25-pound dumbbell (although you can go even lighter), performing the exercise as you would any other squat-type exercise, and challenge yourself by increasing weight and/or repetitions as you are able.


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Improve Your Life with Core Training

20 Feb

side-plank-mel-1-crop1First of all, understand that when I refer to your core, I’m not only talking about your abs (although your abs are certainly part of your core).

Everybody thinks they want six-pack abs… I get it.  You may be one of those people who suffers through endless sets of planks and situps to achieve your dream of washboard abs.  Good luck with that.

Actually, your core musculature extends from your shoulders through your hips, and contributes to sports performance, balance, posture, strength and power, mobility, and longevity.

Here are some of the benefits of core training – and a strong core:

Be a Better Athlete

Core training can improve your performance in virtually any strength or speed sport.  A strong core allows you to transfer more power to your limbs, which translates to more powerful throwing, kicking, running, jumping, etc.

Better Balance

A strong core is important – whether you’re an athlete or not – because strong core muscles keep your torso in a more stable position whenever you move, whether you’re playing sports or just doing everyday activities.  Core strength helps you avoid injury by making your movements more efficient.

Alleviate Back Pain

Core training can both prevent and control lower-back pain, according to Canadian research.  For individuals with back pain, core exercises that emphasize isometric contraction (exercises that keep you still, like planks, side planks, etc.) are good choices.  At our facility – in addition to those types of exercises – we also favor rotational and anti-rotational exercises.

Better Posture

Stop slouching! Simply stated, core training can help you stand up straight by improving your postural stability.

Improve Your Agility

Research shows that core training – and improvements in core strength – translates to better performance on agility tests (acceleration, deceleration, change of direction) than traditional body-building moves.  At our facility, we focus on training movements – not muscles – for all of our customers, athletes and non-athletes.

Reduce Inflammation

Scientists have found that core training can reduce inflammation markers by as much as 25 percent – not far from the result you’d get from anti-inflammatory medications – including enhanced recovery, well-being, and general health.

Live Longer

Mayo Clinic researchers concluded that increased waist circumference is associated with an increased risk of premature death.  In a review of several studies, they found that men with waists of 43 inches or larger had a 52 percent greater risk of premature death than guys whose waists were 35 inches or smaller; and each 2-inch increase in waist size was associated with a 7 percent jump in death risk.


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The Relationship Between Preparation and Performance

17 Feb

589031400-300x200I am blessed with the opportunity to work with hundreds of athletes, teams, and organizations, ranging from young boys and girls to elite professional athletes.

Obviously, the work I do with athletes is primarily performance training – Strength & Conditioning, Speed & Agility, etc.  Other areas of performance training, such as sport-specific skill development (e.g., basketball ball-handling and shooting), are equally important.

In addition to training these athletes, I try to get out and watch them (as many as I can) compete.  Watching them play provides me with invaluable insight into two key areas:

  • The impact our training has on their performance, and
  • Areas of improvement where we can enhance/modify our training to further improve performance

But there’s also something else I’ve learned from watching these athletes in a competitive setting: The attitude, effort, and work ethic they bring to our training sessions is directly reflected in their performance.

Recently, I had the opportunity watch several, high-level club volleyball teams play, all of whom participate in our organizational team training.  These opportunities are rare, since most of these teams travel considerable distances to compete – regionally and nationally, and don’t participate in many local tournaments.

As far as I’m concerned, there were no surprises, regarding the level of their performance.  The teams that routinely bring a high level of effort and work ethic – and a positive attitude – to our training sessions played well, even against top competition.  The teams that bring a less-than-desirable attitude and effort to our training sessions did not fare as well.

Work ethic is not a “sometimes” thing.  You can’t work hard some of the time and say you have a strong work ethic.  It would be like studying only some of the time, but claiming to have good study habits.  It simply doesn’t work that way.

You can’t go through the motions and half-a** your way through your performance training sessions and expect a high level of success when it’s game time.  My observation of hundreds of athletes and teams, over time, has corroborated that.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no guarantee of success, even for those athletes who do consistently demonstrate a high level of effort and strong work ethic.  But I sure like the odds, and so should you.


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If It’s Important, Do It Every Day

15 Feb

michael-jordan-game-winning-shot-1[1]Lots of athletes dream of sinking the game-winning shot, scoring the game-winning touchdown, or getting the game-winning hit.  It’s easy to be enamored with the romantic idea of being the hero.

But that doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes a lot of practice and preparation to put yourself in the position to perform well in a pressure situation (heck, it takes a lot of practice and preparation to perform well in normal game conditions).  That means, if you’re a basketball player with a desire to excel, you should be practicing ball-handling and shooting, or doing something to improve your strength, speed, agility, and athleticism… EVERY DAY!

And that, I think, is where there is a disconnect.  It’s one thing to express a desire to play well.  Anyone can do that… that’s just talk.  It’s quite another to do what’s necessary to play well.  That takes time and effort and commitment and dedication and focus and purpose and motivation and persistence and perseverance and… well, I think you get the point.

And, while this all may seem somewhat overwhelming, it doesn’t take a 24/7/365 commitment.  Focus on the quality and consistency of your efforts, and not necessarily the quantity.  If you’ve got 10-15 minutes to practice your ball-handling, make it purposeful and give it the best 10-15 minutes you’ve got.  Know and understand your areas for improvement and direct your efforts, accordingly.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, since you only have limited time, improving your physical or sport-specific skills is not worth the effort.  Trust me, the cumulative effect of quality repetition will steadily improve your game.

Devote yourself, daily, to self-improvement.  Make it happen.


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Try This Chili Recipe

13 Feb

chili[1]A few months ago, my daughter and I made our first batch of chili of the season (I’d offer to share, but it’s already gone).  Anytime is a good time for chili, but we especially like it when the weather begins to cool.  This is one of my favorite chili recipes, one which I found several years ago.  I’ve modified it, a bit, over the years (feel free to do the same, based on your own taste preferences), but it’s still a delicious, healthy, nutritious, and easy-to-prepare dish.  Try it and let me know what you think.


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with jalapeno peppers
  • 1 can (10.5 oz.) each chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp each salt, cumin, and cinnamon
  • 4 tsp chili powder
  • hot sauce to taste


In a pot, heat the oil on medium-low.  Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the turkey, and brown for about 5 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes with juice, chickpeas, beans, crushed tomatoes, and spices.  Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Makes 6-8 generous servings (freeze the leftovers and save $5 by eating them for lunch).

Nutrition Information (per serving)

  • 300 calories
  • 30 grams (g) protein
  • 30 g carbohydrates
  • 5 g fat (0 g saturated)
  • 10 g fiber
  • 700 mg sodium


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Injury Rates Higher for Athletes Who Specialize in One Sport

10 Feb

1407870284000-xxx-concussions-hdb2641-421535871Here’s an article – and a worthwhile read – from Bruce Howard and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) titled, Injury Rates Higher for Athletes Who Specialize in One Sport.

No new news here, just more support for multi-sport participation and cross training as an injury prevention strategy.

Please also see related article:

Should Kids Play One Sport Year-Round?


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Mental Preparation is the Key

8 Feb

joey-votto-smi2[1]Every athlete knows that physical tools are important.  Strength, speed, agility, and athleticismand the commitment to the development of each — are integral to success in virtually every sport.  Factor in sport-specific skill development (for example, basketball ball-handling and shooting), and you’re on your way to building a strong foundation.

Equally important is your mind, and its ability to drive your body.  Mental preparation, focus, and confidence are all implicated in your success and attainment of your goals.  Generally, your limits will be those you set for yourself.  Here are some tips to improve performance and push through those self-imposed limitations through mental preparation.

Have a plan

I’m always surprised by athletes, especially at the higher levels, who “just play.”  That is, they don’t really have a game plan.  Situational preparation leads to successful execution.  A baseball player should go to the plate with a plan, depending on the score, inning, opposing tendencies and trends, number of outs, baserunners, pitch type and location, etc.  Having a plan — and working your plan — will help build your confidence, which fuels a positive mindset.

Stay positive

A negative attitude and focus won’t help you or your team.  When I train athletes, we don’t talk about the negative.  Sure, there will be times when you face less-than-desirable circumstances and conditions (inclement weather, an injured teammate, etc.)  Your attitude is contagious and it will impact the people around you.  Do your best to maintain positive words and body language.  Expect to win.

Be adaptable

There’s a lot you can control, but not everything.  You have to practice being adaptable, and believe you can do anything.  Train yourself to overcome obstacles, and not concede to them.  For example, a basketball point guard should anticipate the defense taking away his/her strong hand, and should practice and develop capable ball-handling skills with his/her “off” hand.

Focus on small goals

Rather than focusing on winning the game, direct your focus on each individual at-bat or offensive possession.  Your goal should be to win each inning, quarter, or period.  Successful attainment of each small goal will lead you, ultimately, to your larger goal.  Looking too far ahead to the outcome can dilute your focus.  Do your best to impact the present and the future will take care of itself.

Talk to yourself

Positive self-talk is a strong motivator.  External motivation is great, but it’s also inconsistent — you can’t always count on others to motivate you.  Find quotes, sayings, or slogans that motivate you.  Visualize yourself succeeding (and celebrating).  Learn to communicate with yourself in a way that is positive and motivating.


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Great Grains… it’s Quinoa!

6 Feb

Rainbow_Quinoa_ref.1951[1]If you’re looking for a healthy, nutritious side dish or snack, try quinoa.

Quinoa (pronounced, keen-wa), native to Peru and Bolivia, is one of several grains that dates back centuries and is finding its way into modern diets.  Red or white, quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain, and may help reduce belly fat, lower cholesterol, and protect against cancer and other diseases.  The high demand for quinoa has actually led to a shortage in its native countries.

What makes quinoa — and other whole grains — so nutritious?  Their outer layers (the bran and underlying germ), which are rich in nutrients, don’t get stripped away during processing.  Quinoa is also high in fiber and quick to prepare… it can be on the table in less than 15 minutes.  Serve it instead of rice or noodles.  You can find lots of quinoa recipes and it tastes great hot or cold.

There are several other healthful heirloom grains worth trying, like bulgur, millet, and whole-wheat couscous.


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Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Plyometrics

3 Feb

Power-Plyo%20Box%20Starter%20Set%20-%20Plyometric%20Training%20Equipment%20for%20Football[1]Want to run faster and jump higher? Virtually all athletes can benefit from improvements in — and development of — explosive muscular force.

Plyometric training has a positive effect on neuromuscular performance, increasing explosive performance and, subsequently, athletic performance.

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that two factors are especially impactful and should be considered when designing or participating in a plyometric training program:

  • Training volume
  • Training surface

Plyometric training volume is usually measured in touches (for example, when you jump up on a box and then back down, that counts as two touches).  In this study, it was determined that “a high plyometric training volume (i.e., 120 jumps per session or 240 jumps per week) would be necessary to induce an increase in acceleration sprint.” (Ramirez-Campillo, et.al.)

Plyometric training surface (hard or soft landing surface) was also relevant in the study, with a harder surface — such as a wood gymnasium floor — doubling the efficiency of adaptations in reactive strength.  As a result, “a high volume of training would not be necessary to induce reactive strength adaptations when a hard landing surface is used.”

Study data indicate that “when moderate volume is used during plyometric training, a hard training surface would be needed if fast SSC (stretch-shortening cycle) muscle actions, or reactive strength, are an important objective of training.”


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Can Stretching Help Postexercise Recovery?

1 Feb

429_2[1]Stretching has been a part of most athletes’ training — as a warm-up activity — for as long as I can remember, and certainly well before that.  As stated in previous blog posts, current research does not support a rationale for pre-activity (workout, practice, game) stretching, as it loosens and elongates muscles and does not adequately or effectively prepare them for force generation (in fact, pre-activity stretching reduces strength and power output in the short-term).

Studies have shown that pre-exercise stretching is not effective in reducing postexercise soreness, but what about postexercise stretching?  Can it be considered a valid recovery strategy?

In short, maybe not.  A new study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal concluded that “The emphasis on dynamic movements rather than static stretch positions is important for recovery…”  The authors also determined that “Stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness.”

Light, low-intensity activity that assimilates the movements of the activity, itself — a gradual, dynamic, movement-oriented cool-down — may be preferable for postexercise recovery.


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