Add Isometric Exercises to Your Training Regimen

27 Feb

squat-a-ex_0[1]Want to accelerate your strength and power gains — and add some variation — in the weight room?   Incorporate isometric exercises into your training regimen.

The term “isometric” actually comes from two Greek words meaning “equal measure.”  There are a number of ways to define the word isometric but, basically, an isometric exercise is one in which there is muscle contraction without movement (muscle length does not change during contraction).

Here are some examples of isometric exercises:

  • Holding a pushup in the “down” position for some pre-determined period of time (or, as long as possible)
  • Holding a squat in the “down” position
  • Holding a chinup/pullup in the “up” position

Isometric exercises may also involve a pause (shorter hold) between the eccentric and concentric (up and down, or push and pull) phases of the exercise.  You can increase the intensity level of isometric exercises by adding time to the “hold,” or adding weight to the exercise.

How can athletes benefit from isometric exercises?

Every athlete wants to be able to generate a lot of explosive force.  Isometric exercises, when added to a training regimen, have been shown to help athletes produce more power.

Isometric exercises can help athletes improve their ability to absorb impact and resist force.

Isometric exercises are useful in helping athletes build muscle and joint stability.

Because of the “mental toughness” required to hold an isometric exercise for as long as possible, athletes can learn to improve mental focus and overcome fatigue.

Beginners may benefit from isometric exercises when they are unable to perform an exercise (like a pushup or chinup) with technical correctness through a full range-of-motion.  The strength built, over time, by doing the isometric version of the exercise can improve their ability to perform the traditional exercise.

When performing isometric exercises, athletes should strive for perfect form and posture.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

The 5 Worst Things to Do After Your Workout

24 Feb

Here’s an article by Susan Paul for Runner’s World, via Men’s Health.  In her article, Paul advises readers not to “sabotage your sweat sessions with these post-workout mistakes.”

It’s a pretty good resource, and applies equally well to strength or speed training.

While going to the gym can become routine after a certain amount of time, there are definitely ways you can mess up your fitness efforts if you engage in bad habits immediately afterwards.  From my experience of working with athletes over the years as an exercise physiologist, here are the top 5 worst things you could do post-workout.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #1: YOU STAY IN YOUR GYM CLOTHES

Get out of damp gear immediately.

Even if you didn’t sweat that much, worn or soggy clothing is an environment bacteria love to cling to, and it can also give you a deep chill that is hard to recover from.

Regardless of whether you can shower right away or not, change your clothes, socks, and shoes immediately to keep your muscles warm and loose.

This promotes good circulation, which aids the recovery process after a workout.

It always feels good to get out of sneakers after a tough workout, but be sure to put on a supportive pair of shoes or sandals if your legs or feet are feeling especially spent.

The muscles in your feet also get tired, so your post-workout shoes need to have adequate support.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #2: YOU BECOME A COUCH POTATO

It’s easy to feel like you’ve earned a day on the sofa binge-watching Netflix when you’ve spent the last two hours at the gym.

Don’t succumb to this.

Light activity is a great recovery tool because it keeps blood moving, aiding your recovery by repairing and refueling your body.

Plan some light activity throughout the day, even if you are headed to work. Get up, walk around, do some gentle stretches while standing, and breathe deeply.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #3: YOU DON’T REFUEL RIGHT

Plan to drink and eat after your workouts, preferably within 20 to 30 minutes of finishing.

If you are headed right to work, or have other commitments immediately after a workout, pack a cooler with some healthy snacks beforehand so you can grab and go—possibly even eating in the car.

Be sure your snacks include protein, a little fat, and some complex carbohydrates for replenishing energy needs. Good options include low-fat chocolate milk, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, almonds, fruit, or yogurt.

Keep plenty of water on hand, too, so you can rehydrate throughout the day.

And as easy as it is to do, avoid the other extreme of pigging out after a hard workout.

Don’t rationalize that you can eat anything you want because you exercised today.

Replacing the calories that you burned during your workout is all too easy, so don’t undo all your gym time by overeating.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #4: YOU DO HEAVY CHORES

It sounds good at first: While sweaty, why not do the yard work when you get home before getting cleaned up?

You could mow the lawn, pull weeds, shovel snow, or do other heavy chores.

But this can be very tough on tired muscles, especially when you are partially dehydrated and/or undernourished from your workout.

Doing things like bending over, stooping, climbing ladders, or picking up heavy equipment when your muscles are already tired can be a recipe for injury.

If at all possible, put these chores off just one day or give yourself several solid hours of recovery time.

While all this sounds like the perfect excuse to get out of getting those leaves out of the gutter, it’s much better to do these tasks when you are at full strength.

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POST-WORKOUT MISTAKE #5: YOU SHORTCHANGE EASY DAY RECOVERY

Don’t minimize your accomplishments.

Thinking that you don’t need recovery because your workout was “too short” or “too easy” is misguided thinking.

Treat your body with respect—just like the elite athletes do—regardless of how long or hard you worked out.

You will reap the rewards of your training and your body will thank you if you take care of it and recover properly.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

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

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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?

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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