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Developing Athleticism in Youth Athletes

5 Feb

Athleticism is much more than just being an athlete.  According to Rick Howard, CSCS,*D, “Athleticism refers more to the ability to execute fundamental movements, in either a specific or unpredictable movement pattern at optimum speed with precision, with applicability across sports and physical activities.”

So, how can the development of athleticism be incorporated into youth development?  Howard offers the following suggestions:

Focus on Movement Patterns

The development of movement patterns in youth athletes should be fundamental in nature, and not necessarily sport-specific.  Additionally, the development of physical capacities — balance, coordination, flexibility, agility, control, precision, strength, power, and endurance — should be incorporated into activities from a young age until the athlete reaches physical maturity, at which time the context can shift toward sport-specific physical attributes and long-term athletic development.

Provide Opportunities

All youth should be encouraged to reach the recommended daily amount of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.  Therefore, it is necessary to introduce them to a wide variety of movements in multiple settings, in a combination of structured and unstructured settings.  Encourage participation.

Recognize Achievement

Recognition is encouraging.  Explain and demonstrate appropriately, correct when necessary, and praise generously.

Coaching is the Key

Coaching awareness and education is a critical component of the process.  Coaches need to understand how specific training methodologies fit into the development of physical attributes and fundamental skills.

Create the Proper Environment

It is important to create the proper environment for youth to develop athleticism while continuing to have fun, for both physical and psychosocial well-being.  Positive youth development has been shown to lead to positive adult development.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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You Can’t Train a Skill to Fatigue

8 Jan

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi

Whether you’re practicing a sport-specific skill or performing speed and agility drills, fatigue will adversely affect your performance.  Adequate rest and recovery are necessary to perform at 100% effort (or close to it) and with optimal technique.

In short, optimal performance requires adequate rest.

“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.” – Unknown

Success results from the ability to repeat maximum effort many times.  In order to perform with maximum effort and technically correct form and mechanics, you must allow adequate rest intervals between repetitions and/or sets.  As a general rule, there should be a correlation between the intensity level of the activity and the associated rest interval, with higher intensity exercises and drills followed by longer rest intervals.

I’ve seen drills at basketball practices where players run high-intensity sprints or shuttles followed by free-throw shooting, to simulate game conditions, when they must be able to make foul shots when fatigued late in games.  While there is merit to these drills, players must master the skill —  in this case, free-throw shooting — and develop appropriate muscle-memory before progressing to game-like situations.  Same goes for any other sport-specific skill.

Please note that this strategy does not apply to conditioning, which is another activity, altogether.  If you are performing high-intensity exercises and drills without allowing adequate rest between repetitions and sets, you are not doing skill development or speed and agility training.  There’s nothing wrong with conditioning, as long as conditioning is your goal.

Remember, fatigue prevents skill development.  Learn the skill. Practice the skill with technically correct form and mechanics. Develop the appropriate muscle-memory. Master the skill. Once you’ve accomplished this, then it’s time to progress to game-like simulations and situations.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Getting Stronger is the Foundation

26 Dec

Are you an athlete who desires to improve your performance?  Are any of the items, below, part of your improvement plan?

  • Run faster
  • Jump higher
  • Better agility
  • Throw harder/farther
  • Hit harder
  • Kick harder/farther
  • More powerful
  • Generate more explosive force
  • Improve your sport-specific skill technique
  • Move more efficiently
  • Reduce the potential for injury

If you answered, “yes,” to any of the above, you’ll need to get stronger, because research says, overwhelmingly, that strength development is the common denominator — the foundation — for improvement in any and all of those areas.

Consult with a strength and conditioning professional and develop a well-designed, total body strength training program that the reflects the demands and movement patterns of your sport or activity.  Perform complex exercises that engage multiple muscles and joints — and all major muscle groups — each and every time you workout.  Challenge yourself by increasing the intensity, gradually, at regular intervals.

You’ll still need to invest the time and effort necessary to develop your sport-specific skills.  For example, if you’re a baseball player or golfer, a knowledgeable coach can help you with your swing mechanics and timing.  Strength training will help you to drive the ball.

And you don’t have to be an athlete to reap the benefits of strength training.  Getting stronger improves the body’s efficiency for performing everyday tasks like walking up stairs or carrying groceries, while reducing the incidence of aches, pains, and injuries.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Key Elements of Speed Training

25 Sep

It would be inaccurate to suggest that everyone has the capacity to become a sprint champion, but every athlete does have the ability to improve his/her speed.

Running speed is an important component of athletic performance.  Equally important is gamespeed — the application of speed in a sport-specific context, which maximizes sport performance (Ian Jeffreys; Developing Speed).

Since speed relies on both motor skill development and the development of physical capacities to produce effective ground-reaction forces, a speed development program should include three key elements:

Development of Physical Capacities

An effective speed development program must develop an athlete’s muscular strength and power.  As I’ve stated before, speed development starts in the weight room.  An athlete’s running speed will be determined largely by his/her ability to generate force, effectively and efficiently, against the ground.

Technical Development

Proper running technique — including stride lengthstride frequencyarm action, and leg action — helps ensure that athletes can use their physical capacities to enhance their speed.

Application of Speed

The development of physical capacities and running technique are only beneficial if they enhance running speed in the sport-specific context.  A speed improvement program must address all the elements that affect Performance in a particular sport, including initial accelerationtransition acceleration, and maximum speed.

In order to achieve optimal results, these three elements should be incorporated into a speed development program.  The training should also be adapted to the individual athlete’s characteristics.  The focus of training is different for each athlete, and should address differences in physical capacities and technical proficiency.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Exercise is Good Medicine

1 Sep

Want to improve your overall health and wellness?  Workout every day.

Research shows that exercise can rehabilitate existing problems, and help prevent new ones.  If you want to feel better, have more energy, and perhaps even live longer, you need look no further than exercise.  The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are indisputable.  And you can realize the benefits of exercise regardless of your age, gender, or physical ability.  Here are some ways exercise can improve your life:

  • Weight Management: Regular exercise helps to accelerate metabolism, burn calories, and maintain an ideal weight.
  • Health and Wellness: Regular exercise can help prevent heart diseasehigh blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  In fact, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including strokemetabolic syndrometype 2 diabetesdepressioncertain types of cancerarthritis, and falls, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Improve Mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.  You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost confidence and improve self-esteem.
  • More Energy: Regular exercise can improve muscle strength, boost endurance, and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.
  • Better Sleep: Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep.
  • Ease of Movement: Weight-bearing exercise strengthens muscles and joints, improves range-of-motion, and improves the efficiency with which you move.

Don’t worry about how much you lift or how strong you are, just find activities you enjoy and keep moving.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Youth Athletes More Likely to Be Dehydrated

23 Aug

Dehydration is the number one cause of fatigue-related performance decline in athletes, including youth athletes.  Hydration — during activity (practices, games, etc.) — doesn’t seem to be adequate or effective enough to maintain hydration status. Therefore, it is imperative for coaches and parents to encourage hydration throughout the day — before, during (especially), and after activity.

The body is about 70% water, and small fluctuations in that percentage can make an impact, quickly. As water levels decline, so do the levels of nutrients needed to keep the body functioning effectively, such as salt and potassium.

Fatigue can occur when the volume of blood in the body is reduced as dehydration gets worse. That causes the heart to pump less efficiently. As dehydration progresses, the body has a more difficult time diffusing internal heat, and tension is created through the body in muscles, joints, and organs. That tension often manifests itself as fatigue.

Here’s an article from Health and Fitness News, based on a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, titled, Youth Athletes More Likely to Be Dehydrated.  Thanks to my friend, Niki, for sharing this resource.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Maximize Your Speed Workouts

14 Aug

There’s a reason people say that “speed kills.” It’s the difference maker in nearly every sport, and it can make or break you as an athlete.

Not everyone has the genetic potential to be Usain Bolt, but everyone can get faster. Follow these principles to make the most of your speed workouts:

Observe Proper Running Mechanics

  • Swing arms in line with elbows, not with shoulders or hands
  • Keep elbows bent at right angles
  • Point eyes in front and don’t look down at feet
  • Land on balls of feet and keep heels off ground
  • Pick foot off ground and swing leg forward, so that upper leg is parallel to ground
  • Drive against ground with every stride, and try to minimize ground time; the longer your foot stays in contact with the ground, the slower you will run

Run Fast

You have to train yourself to run fast. That means developing speed “muscle memory.” Perform every sprint at (or close to) maximum speed. You can’t train by performing sprints at only a percentage of your maximum speed and expect to teach your body to run at full speed.

Recover

Sprinting at maximum speed requires proper technique, so you must avoid excessive fatigue. Sprinting when you’re tired results in poor running mechanics and slower speeds.

  • Recover fully between sprints, resting 30 seconds to two minutes depending on the distance
  • Perform no more than three to 10 sprints during one workout
  • Perform sprints at the beginning of your workout after a dynamic warm-up to ensure a high energy level

Strength Training

This one should actually be at the top of the list.  It has been (accurately) said that speed development starts in the weight room.  The amount of force you can generate against the ground is critical to running speed.  Strength training is—and should be—an important component of speed training and development. It’s best to perform lower-body lifts that strengthen multiple muscles at once, such as Squats, Deadlifts, and Romanian Deadlifts. And since they improve acceleration and overall power, plyometrics should be an important part of your workouts.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

You’ve Got to Work Through Some Discomfort

4 Aug

Initially, the working title of this article was going to be, You’ve Got to be Able to Work Through Some Discomfort.  But then, I thought, certainly (virtually) everyone has the ability to work through some discomfort.

So then, I thought, maybe willingness is the issue.  Maybe when things get tough, some people just aren’t willing to work through some discomfort.  I think this is probably closer to the crux of the issue.

Finally, I thought, maybe awareness is part of the problem.  Maybe some people just don’t know how to work through some discomfort.

Now, from a training perspective, understand that when I refer to “working through some discomfort,” I’m not talking about lightheadedness (yep, that’s a real word), dizziness, and/or nausea.  When that happens, we shut people down.

What I’m referring to is the discomfort – physical, psychological, and emotional – that invariably accompanies a challenging workout.  Muscular fatigue that makes you feel like your brain and body can’t – or don’t want to – continue.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, it can be difficult to push yourself and keep moving forward when that happens.

Here’s a gem from my friend and Yoga instructor extraordinaire, Megan:

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I like that.  I think it’s helpful to consider that a challenging juncture in your workout is a resting point and not a stopping point.

I am also convinced that the problem is more mental than physical.  I think lots of folks just don’t believe they can keep pushing forward.  They lack the mental discipline and intestinal fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough.

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Condition yourself to push through your workout when your body and brain feel like quitting, even if it’s just one more repetition.  Over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Be Flexible With Your Training

10 Jul

I try to exercise six days a week, usually by strength training (3-4 days) and playing basketball (twice weekly).  Since I workout at the facility I own and operate, there’s rarely an excuse to miss a day (not that I haven’t).  But basketball isn’t always an option, since our group plays at the local middle school.  When school is not in session (holidays, summer, etc.) the gym is closed, which means no basketball.

If I can’t play basketball I’ll do something different.  I’ll run some sprints, intervals, or stadium stairs.  I’ll go for a bike ride, jump rope, or swim some laps.  They’re not necessarily my favorite activities, but I’d rather do something than miss exercising.

Your activity doesn’t need to be anything athletic or overtly exercise related, just do what you enjoy.  Walk your dog or work in the garden.  Get started on that home improvement project.  When you shop at your local mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

The point is… just keep moving.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

6 Ways to Run Farther

7 Jul

Increasing the distance they run is a challenge for beginning runners, and can be a challenge for all endurance athletes.  Sometimes the obstacles these athletes encounter are physical, sometimes mental, and sometimes both.  Setting short- and long-term goals can help with the mental challenges of running.  Don’t worry about how large or small your goal seems, just keep moving.  There are several strategies that can help runners safely and effectively push their distances a little bit farther.  For safety, keep your weekly mileage increases to no more than 10%.

Here are 6 ways to improve your cardiovascular endurance and increase the distance you run:

  1. Warm-up.  Always perform an adequate, movement-based warm-up prior to your run.  Forget about the “old-school,” pre-workout static stretching routine – current research overwhelmingly discourages it.  An appropriate, dynamic warm-up can improve running efficiency and reduce potential problems like cramping and muscle tightness.  And, as long as we’re addressing warm-up, always allow time to cool-down following your run.
  2. Get off the treadmill.  Let’s be honest… running on the treadmill can be boring.  Whenever weather conditions and safety allow, get outside and run.  If necessary, invest in some cold-weather running gear.  The great outdoors provides fresh air, great scenery, and an endless variety of paths and routes.  Enjoying your natural surroundings can distract you and help keep your mind off your mileage.
  3. Change speeds.  Don’t worry about keeping an aggressive pace for the entire length of your run.  If and when needed, slow down to a very light jog, or even a walk.  This strategy may enable you to cover more distance, and you’ll still get a great workout.  As you progress, gradually increase your running time and reduce your light jog/walk time.
  4. Run with a partner.  Research supports training with a friend.  There’s nothing like a training buddy to push you, keep you motivated, accountable, and on-task.  If you usually run alone, ask a friend or family member to join you.  If that’s not an option, there may be a local running group you can join.
  5. Add HIIT.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) may be the single-best way to improve your muscular and cardiovascular endurance.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  Try adding this 10-minute HIIT routine to your plan: Run at as aggressive a pace as you can maintain for 30-seconds.  Immediately follow with 90-seconds of light jogging.  Repeat this 2-minute interval, four more times (five total).
  6. Get stronger.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that strength training has become a common thread in my weekly articles.  Running puts stress on your body.  Strengthening your muscles and connective tissue can help to reduce the negative impact of running on your body.  Increasing muscle endurance means going longer – more miles – before feeling fatigued.  Strength training for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week, is all you need to build and maintain muscle mass.  A former business partner, who trains for (and runs) marathons, swears by yoga to improve hip strengthflexibility, and mobility.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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