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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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