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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.


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.


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Train Like an Athlete for a Better Physique

5 Jul

Training with a focus on performance, instead of aesthetics, will help you build a lean, functional body that will feel better, look better, and perform better.

Here are a few tips:

Lift Heavy.  Instead of using weight that you can easily lift, push, or pull, opt for heavier weight that challenges you for your desired number of repetitions, each set.  Your last few repetitions, of your last set, should be a struggle, if you can complete them at all.

Keep Moving.  Turn your workout into a metabolic circuit by reducing rest intervals between sets.  Proceed from one exercise to the next, allowing as little rest as you can manage while maintaining proper form and technique.

Train Movements, Not Muscles.  Incorporate exercises like burpees (squat thrusts), medicine ball slams, dumbbell squat to press, and jumps to your regimen.  Try to avoid machines and use free weights whenever possible, since machines tend to restrict movement to a very narrow range-of-motion.

Upgrade Your Diet.  Eliminate (or at least reduce) sugars from your diet, and make protein and produce the centerpiece of each meal.  Avoid big meals, instead aiming for 5-6 small meals and snacks throughout the day — advance planning and preparation is the key.


Your thoughts?

Effectiveness of Pre-Activity Foam Rolling

21 Jun

Repeated foam rolling is beneficial for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity (strength and conditioning, sport practices and games, etc.), according to research from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Fascia is a component of connective tissue.  Myofascia (which resembles a spider web or fish net) is a dense, strong, and flexible tissue that covers all muscles and bones, from  head to toe.

When normal and healthy, the fascia is pliable, relaxed, and soft.  It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction.

When fascia becomes tight and restricted, it can compromise mobility across the entire fascial chain.  This can be caused by physical trauma and inflammation — such as the “normal” micro-tears that occur in muscle — as a result of strength training and sport-specific activity.

Myofascial Release is an effective, hands-on therapy (think massage) that focuses on relaxing the deep tissue of the body, which can directly change and improve health of the fascia.  The purpose of myofascial release is to break down scar tissue, relax the muscle and fascia, and restore mobility.

Although foam rolling is associated with subjective and objective improvements in range-of-motion (mobility), these effects were not necessarily seen within the first exposure.  Consistent (repeated) foam rolling did, however, produce positive results.

Add foam rolling to your dynamic warmup regimen, prior to your training, practices, and games.  You can incorporate it into your post-workout/practice/game routine, too.


Your thoughts?

Dangers of Heat Illness Reduced by Following Proper Guidelines

19 Jun

With summer upon us and temperatures soaring, here’s a timely article, authored by David Csillan, MS, LAT, ATC, and published by the National Federation of State High School Associations (

The article – titled, Dangers of Heat Illness Reduced by Following Proper Guidelines – discusses exertional heat illness and exertional heat stroke (EHS), its myths and realities, and prevention strategies.  It’s a worthwhile read for athletes, parents, coaches, and trainers.

Outside temperatures are on the rise and will be in full force just in time for athletes to participate in their summer and preseason practices. For this reason, it’s important for athletic trainers, coaches and school administrators to get a tune-up on potentially what lies ahead. With a little advance planning, the risk of your athletes experiencing a catastrophic event due to exertional heat illness will be significantly decreased.

There are various degrees of exertional heat illness with exertional heat stroke (EHS) being the most serious. Many athletic injuries are a result of bad luck or overtraining; however, EHS is 100 percent preventable if the nationally recommended heat acclimatization guidelines are followed and schools are prepared to initiate appropriate care if an emergency occurs.

The EHS death of Minnesota Vikings’ offensive tackle Korey Stringer during football camp in August 2001 elevated the discussion and action with regard to physical exertion in the heat.

The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee wrote a position statement and created an online course entitled A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) developed several position statements and published Preseason Heat Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics. The Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) was established to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death in athletes. The University of Georgia’s Climatology Research Laboratory released heat safety thresholds for specific regions throughout the country. These thresholds are currently being applied in the Georgia High School Association’s heat illness policy.

Now that we have the evidence-based data, we may ask ourselves “Why and how do we apply it”? In order to acquire a better understanding of EHS and its management, we must first debunk a few common myths.

Myth Busters 101
Myth #1: EHS can only occur when ambient temperatures reach 100 degrees F.

Truth: Evidence suggests that the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be the measurement of choice to determine safe environmental conditions for physical activity. The WBGT provides a reading of ambient temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and radiant heat (from the sun). Why is wind speed important? It allows for better evaporation of sweat leading to more effective cooling. Environmental conditions are constantly changing over the course of practice. As opposed to listening to the weather report prior to practice, the athletic trainer should monitor environmental conditions on site in real time. Utilizing a WBGT device and establishing activity modification guidelines such as work-rest ratios, hydration breaks, equipment worn and length of practice significantly decreases the risk of EHS.

Many coaches still refer to their area’s heat index when determining how practices will be conducted. Heat index refers to the ambient temperature and relative humidity measured in the shade and was originally used to determine if outdoor conditions were safe for the young and elderly. Since athletes are exercising in the direct sun, heat index readings are deemed inappropriate.

Although dangerous conditions most commonly occur during the hot summer months, EHS can happen at any time and in the absence of high environmental temperatures. EHS is not a 100 degrees’ issue. Geographical location plays an important role.

Generally speaking, athletes residing in the Northeast part of the country are accustomed to cooler temperatures compared to those in the Southeast or Midwest. As a result, participating in an environment of 85 degrees with high humidity for those living in the Northeast presents equal risk of EHS to those living in the Southeast and Midwest participating in temperatures reaching 100 degrees with high humidity. It is also important to understand that direct sun is not the sole contributor of heat deaths. Exercise intensity and environmental conditions are the primary factors associated with EHS.

Myth #2: An athlete must be severely dehydrated for EHS to occur.

Truth: While dehydration may predispose an athlete to, or exacerbate, EHS, dehydration does not always have to be present for EHS to occur. EHS can result in as little as 20 minutes after the beginning of exercise before severe fluid loss is prominent. The days of over-hydrating are gone as we’ve found this may put the athlete at risk for hyponatremia – another potentially catastrophic event.

During activity, athletes should be instructed to allow thirst to be their guide. Athletes should weigh themselves prior to, and immediately after, every practice. The weight should be recorded on a chart and strictly monitored by the athletic trainer or coach. A weight loss of two percent or more for any athlete should be made up prior to that athlete participating in the next practice. Otherwise, the athlete will be competing at a deficit and increasing their risk.

Myth #3: An athlete stops sweating during EHS.

Truth: We’ve been taught that heat stroke yields hot, dry skin on the victim. However, since EHS occurs during intense exercise in the heat, the athlete is almost always profusely sweating upon collapse. This is perhaps the most widely misunderstood sign of EHS and may lead to mistreatment and death. It’s important to review the current literature published by the NFHS, NATA and KSI in order to be updated on EHS signs, symptoms and management.

Houston, We Have a Problem
If EHS is suspected, it’s advised for the athletic trainer or coach to: remove the athlete’s equipment and excess clothing, contact EMS, determine vital signs and initiate rapid cooling by immersing the athlete
chest high in a tub of cold (39 – 59 degrees F) water. Core body temperature may elevate as high as 106 degrees F so it’s important to lower that as fast as possible. The typical rate of cooling in an immersion
tub is about ONE degree F every three minutes. On the average, it may take 15 minutes to cool the body five degrees. If an athlete is not cooled prior to transportation, the risk of developing complications or losing the athlete to EHS increases. Even though the EMS vehicle may be air conditioned, it’s not sufficient enough to lower the athlete’s core temperature during transport.

The Reality
Twenty athletes died as a result of EHS from 2010 to 2015. This five-year block was greater than any five-year block in the past 40 years. It’s two times the five-year block average for EHS deaths since 1975. The five-year block average over 35 years is 10.5 deaths. We must ask ourselves, “Things are getting worse, but why”?

The warmer climate, coupled with the fact that today’s youth spend more time than ever before in air conditioned facilities, sets them up as potential victims. Coaches need to remember that young athletes comprise this population and not everyone will be reporting to preseason camp acclimatized and in shape. The research and education is available but the application continues to lack. Unless we understand the nature of EHS and utilize best practices in emergency management, these statistics will continue to climb.

Exertional heat stroke is not exclusive to football. It is non-discriminatory. EHS can occur regardless of male/female, football/field hockey, varsity/freshman or outdoors/indoors. As athletic trainers, coaches and administrators, we owe it to our athletes to provide them with the safest environment to compete. And, we must start now.


Your thoughts?

Plyometric Training Benefits Distance Runners

16 Jun

Plyometric training is great for developing explosive strength in athletes whose sports require short, intermittent, powerful bursts of movement.  But what about endurance athletes — specifically competitive middle- and long-distance runners?

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that plyometric training has a beneficial effect on endurance and explosive strength performance in distance runners.

The plyometric training regimen was carried out for six weeks, and included depth jumps and squat jumps20-meter sprint and 2.4-kilometer run times were measured before and after the explosive strength training.

The runners participating in the plyometric training showed a significant reduction in 2.4-km endurance run time and 20-m sprint time, and an increase in squat jump and depth jump explosive performance.

The authors (Ramirez-Campillo, concluded that “properly programmed concurrent explosive strength and endurance training could be advantageous to middle- and long-distance runners in their competitive performance, especially in events characterized by sprinting actions with small time differences at the end of the race.”


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Get With the Program: Stop Static Stretching

9 Jun

As I travel off-site to work with athletes, teams, schools, and organizations, I continue to be amazed by how much static stretching is still being done prior to workouts, training, practices, and games.

People… the evidence-based research is overwhelmingStatic stretching decreases explosive force and power production.  Stretching prior to activity because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not good enough anymore.  You’re doing more harm than good.

In their study, Static Stretching Can Impair Explosive Performance for At Least 24 Hours, Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Haddad, report that, “static stretching of the lower limbs and hip muscles had a negative effect on explosive performance up to 24 hours poststretching…” and “the positive effects of dynamic (movement based) stretching on explosive performance seem to persist for 24 hours.”

Paradisis, concluded that “static stretching significantly negates sprinting performance and explosive power in adolescent boys and girls.”  (Effects of Static and Dynamic Stretching on Sprint and Jump Performance in Boys and Girls)

Lowery and colleagues warn that “Coaches and athletes may be at risk for decreased performance after a static stretching bout,” in a study that examines the effects of static stretching on run performance.  The authors previously demonstrated that static stretching was associated with a decrease in running economy and distance run.

Your pre-activity warmup should be dynamic (movement based) and mimic the movement patterns of your activity, starting at a low-intensity level and gradually increasing.  Stretched, elongated muscles — resulting from static stretching — will not prepare them to generate the force and power required for training or sport-specific activity.

Coaches and trainers… get with the program.  Most athletes aren’t going to be aware of this information unless you educate them.  It’s not their fault if they don’t know the potential risks of pre-activity static stretching, but it is yours.  You are their source of information and guidance.  Do your homework.


Your thoughts?

Strength Training Improves Change-of-Direction Speed

7 Jun

Regardless of the sport you play, strength and speed are “difference makers.”  And, although linear sprint speed is important, most athletes will need to change direction while moving at high-speed.

This is another area where strength training becomes important to an athlete’s development.

The development of strength and power through the core, hips, and lower extremities has a positive effect on change-of-direction (COD) performance.  Research shows a high correlation between 1-repetition maximum/body mass and COD in exercises like squats and deadlifts.

In addition to the squat and deadlift exercises, the leg press and split squat are also beneficial to the development of hip and leg drive.

Single-leg exercises, like the single-leg squat, step-up, and Bulgarian split squat, add an element of balance and stability to your lower-extremity strength development.

Plyometric exercises, like box jumps and depth jumps, can help you build explosive power, improving the amount of force you are able to generate against the ground.

Since long-term (>2 years) strength training improves COD performance, it is recommended as early as childhood and adolescence.  Consult with a knowledgeable, experienced strength and conditioning professional for guidance regarding an age-appropriate, well-designed, and well-supervised program.


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It’s Not Going to Happen Overnight

31 May

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

As the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, reminds us, excellence is not a static event, it’s a process.

There’s no such thing as an “overnight” success.

When we see excellence, what we are actually seeing is just the “tip of the iceberg.”  We rarely, if ever, see the commitment, dedication, time, and effort that invariably contributes to the end result.

Excellence requires hours, days, and even months and years of practice and purposeful repetition.  No one achieves greatness without a significant investment over time.

And it’s not just about sports.  The same applies for school, work, relationships, and life.

My Mom used to preach patience to my siblings and me, telling us, “If it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for.”  I would add “working” to the “waiting,” in that quote, since you can’t just wait for it to happen, you’ve also got to work to make it happen (but, I’m sure my Mom knew that, too).

Frequently, I have parents who bring their sons and/or daughters to my facility — during their sport season — having come to the realization that junior needs to get stronger, faster, and more powerful in order to earn playing time or be competitive in his or her respective sport.  And, with my help, they want their child to accomplish it… now.

I think some of them truly believe (or hope) that strength, speed, and power development works like a microwave oven: Put the food in the oven, press a button, wait a moment or two, and… voila!  It’s ready — finished product.

Self-improvement is a process, as is self-development.

You’ve got to put in the time.  And the effort.


Your thoughts?

Agility Training Improves Cognitive Performance

8 May

The influence of agility training on athletic performance and general fitness is well-documented.  A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that agility training is more effective than traditional physical training for improving cognitive performance, including reaction time, dichotic listening, and memory.

In the study, traditional physical training consisted of calisthenics and running.  Agility training included non-linear exercises and drills that focused on foot-speed, acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, and reaction.

Agility training seems to have the ability to positively affect several regions of the brain, resulting in improvements in cognitive function and performance.

The study authors suggest that agility training be incorporated into existing physical training programs as a way to improve physical and cognitive performance. The benefits of agility training are likely to occur in various populations, and are not limited to any one specific demographic.


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