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Is Flexibility Overrated?

12 Aug

USA Basketball Senior National Team Training Day 1Is there a relationship between flexibility and athletic performance?  And, if there is a relationship, is more necessarily better?

Flexibility and Performance

There’s a difference between movement quantity and movement quality.  Speed, strength, power, balance, and stability are qualitative aspects of movement.  For functional movements, i.e., sports performance, quality of movement is more important than quantity.

Most elite athletes have extraordinary levels of strength, power, endurance, or balance.  And, while there are elite athletes with exceptional flexibility, there are others with only average flexibility.  Ultimately, it’s less about the extent of your range of motion (ROM) and more about how you use (what you do with) what you have.

The average person probably has the necessary range of motion to execute most sports movements.  Their deficiencies usually have little to do with range of motion.  The issue is typically attributable to strength, power, mobility, or coordination, not flexibility.

Iashvili (1983) found that active (dynamic, movement-based) ROM and not passive (static) ROM was more highly correlated with sports performance.  Arguably, any further passive static ROM developed through passive static stretching will not provide any extra benefit.

There is a considerable body of research that discourages pre-activity static stretching — due to its potential to reduce strength and power output — in favor of dynamic warmup.  Studies show that flexibility in the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) is related to slower running and diminished running economy.  Interestingly, it has been shown that stiffer leg muscles in endurance athletes may make them more economical in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-max speeds.

Flexibility and Injury Prevention

The relationship between flexibility and injury prevention is mixed, at best.  Two studies involving soccer and hockey players revealed that players with more flexible groins do not suffer fewer groin injuries, while players with stronger adductors had less strains.  There is actually more evidence to support that lateral imbalances in strength and stability are a better predictor of injury than lack of flexibility.

There are some studies suggesting that musculoskeletal tightness may be associated with an increased likelihood of muscle strain injury.  Other studies, including Knapik, J.J. et al. 1992, found that subjects in the least flexible and most flexible quintiles were equally likely to get injured — 2.2-2.5 times more than subjects in the middle quintile (average flexibility).

The reality is that sports injuries are produced by a lot of different factors, and flexibility (or lack thereof) is only one of them.  It would be inappropriate to assign a level to the importance of flexibility as it relates to injury prevention.

For most athletes in most sports, there is probably little to be gained by increasing flexibility or range of motion.  Athletes are better off developing additional strength and stability within a particular range of motion.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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How “Hip” is Your Workout?

22 Jul

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Barbell Hip Thrust

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Barbell Hip Thrust

Hip drive, which initiates the triple extension movement, is important for virtually every sport, regardless of whether it involves running, jumping, throwing, swinging, or kicking

Here’s more support for adding “hinge” (hip flexion and extension) exercises to your training regimen:

Strong hips can help you become strong all over, according to a Men’s Health article.

Researchers in New Zealand and the U.K. found that, as you increase the weight in lower-body exercises like the squat and deadlift, the muscles around your hips carry a larger proportion of the load.

“Your hips are the most powerful part of your body, so they take over as exercises become strenuous,” according to the study’s lead author.  “Working them directly can enhance your overall strength.”

In addition to “hinge” exercises like squats and deadlifts, kettlebell swings and barbell hip thrusts (pictured) are great additions to any workout regimen.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Improve Speed and Power with Posterior Chain Exercises

15 Jul

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Glute-Ham Raise, with Spotter

Improvements in athletic performance begin with lower-body strength and power development.  Hip/quad exercises, like squats and leg presses, are great but, if you’re not working the muscles of your posterior chain, you’re only doing half the job.  (please refer to, Don’t Neglect Your Glutes and Hamstrings)

Your posterior chain includes the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings.  Your glutes are responsible for hip extension, while knee flexion is a function of the hamstrings.

Why is it so important for athletes to perform exercises that focus on the glutes and hamstrings? Here’s the deal: The glutes are a primary muscle group involved in virtually every sports movement — including sprinting, jumping, throwing, kicking, and swinging. The hamstrings are important for eccentric muscle movements, like decelerating when you slow down, stop, or change direction; or land after jumping.

Glute-ham exercises should be incorporated into your training regimen, every time you workout.  Working these two important muscle groups can help athletes improve speed and power; enhance balance and stability; and reduce the risk of injury.

Two of our favorite glute-hamstring exercises are the Glute-Ham Raise and Romanian Deadlift (RDL).  We like our athletes to perform them as an agonist-antagonist paired set (superset), combining them with a hip/quad focused exercise like a squat or deadlift.

A typical superset might look something like this:

  • Barbell Back Squat, 6 reps at about 80% 1RM
  • Body-weight squat jump, 6 reps (more advanced athletes can hold dumbbells at their sides when doing this exercise)
  • Body-weight Glute-Ham Raise, 6 reps (focus on lowering movement; lower body to a 4-second count; assist to upright position; this exercise can also be weighted, for more proficient athletes)

All three exercises should be performed consecutively, with little or no rest between them.  Rest for 10-15 seconds between sets (after Glute-Ham raise).  Perform 3-4 sets.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strengthen Your Core With Anti-Rotational Exercises

1 Jul

DSCN1370Since strength and power are generated “from the inside out,” improving core strength and stability is important to athletic performance.

Most sports require rotational movement (swinging a bat or hockey stick, throwing a baseball or football, etc.), so the development of rotational strength and power is an important consideration when training the core. Rotational exercises – e.g., medicine ball twists and lateral throws, kettlebell swings, and other “twisting” exercises – are training program components of virtually every athlete with whom I work.

Anti-rotational exercises require athletes to resist rotation when executing a specific movement while the application of an external force attempts to push or pull them laterally (rotationally).  Anti-rotational exercises are important because, in many sports – especially contact sports (football, basketball, soccer, and hockey come to mind) – it’s necessary for athletes to be able to maintain directional movement while resisting opponents’ contact forces that have the potential to “knock them off course.”

At my facility, I use the TRX Rip Trainer for most of the anti-rotational training. It has a safe and simple design, and is very user-friendly and versatile.  However, there are other exercise equipment options, and you can even make your own.

I incorporate a different anti-rotational exercise into every athlete’s training program, each week. Typically, my athletes perform 1 or 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions, from each side.

Here are a few sample exercises, with instruction and demonstration:

Anti-Rotational Press

Anti-Rotational Straight Arm Squat 

Standing farther from the anchor point increases the resistance and, subsequently, difficulty of the exercise. Moving the anchor point higher or lower helps the trainer target different areas of the core, and can also simulate a more “sport-specific” exercise (e.g., lower anchor point for hockey; middle anchor point for baseball; and variable anchor point for lacrosse).

Exercise selection can be varied, as many exercises can be performed with the addition of lateral resistance (there are also lots of TRX Rip Trainer exercises you can find on their website and elsewhere, online). Other examples are the standing row, military press, and straight-arm lunge; as well as “swinging” and “chopping” exercises.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Get In the Weight Room, Ladies

24 Jun

spartacus-workout_1[1]At Athletic Performance Training Center, our fastest growing client segment is female athletes and women interested in improving their fitness.

There’s virtually no difference between the way we train women and their male counterparts, and lots of relevant research supports this approach.

Forget all the myths and misinformation, and get the facts.  Strength training won’t make women “bulk up” — it can’t happen without lots of testosterone, which the female body doesn’t have.

The benefits of strength training, for men and women, athletes and non-athletes, are compelling.

Here’ a good read from Women’s Health titled, 6 Reasons Women Should Strength Train Like Men.

Check it out.  Then, get in the weight room, ladies.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Every Day is Leg Day

3 Jun

Prowler[1]Leg strength and power are important components of athletic performance for virtually every sport.

And, while strong, powerful legs can help any athlete to be faster and more explosive, you don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from incorporating leg exercises into your training regimen.

Performing leg exercises like squats and lunges, and building stronger legs, can help you reduce your risk of injury; burn more calories and increase your metabolism; improve balance and stability; improve muscular endurance; relieve lower back pain; and improve your mobility. (please see 9 Reasons Not to Skip Leg Day)

Leg exercises that focus on hip/quad and posterior chain (glute/ham) should be a part of every training day.

And, forget about body-part training.  Even if you workout for aesthetic reasons, each and every workout should be a total-body workout.  It’s more functional and better reflects the demands and movement patterns of sports and everyday tasks — Train Like You Live, Work, Play.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Avoid These Strength Training Mistakes

15 Apr

too-much-weight[1]Of all the mistakes athletes make in their quest to get stronger and faster, most can be attributed to lack of education and awareness.

There are lots of mistakes I see, especially when I travel “off-site” to work with athletes, groups, and teams at high school and college weight rooms, and recreational facilities.  This list is not intended to be all-inclusive, but here are some of those mistakes:

  • Too much weight.  It’s important that athletes challenge themselves with heavy weight.  That’s one of the ways to engage fast-twitch muscle and build strength and power.  And, although we don’t encounter this very often with our female athletes, it’s a common issue with the guys.  The result is poor technique (which could be added to this list) — bad form and biomechanics — and an increased risk of injury.  Lifting a challenging weight with proper technique, through a full range-of-motion, is more effective and safer than overdoing it.
  • Not enough total-body training.  Once again, more of a problem with the guys (sorry, gentlemen), who are enamored with exercises that focus on their chest and biceps (in fairness, we also work with some females who are more than a little preoccupied with exercises that focus on abs and butts).  Think of your body as one, big, interconnected (and inter-dependent) functional unit.  More of your training should be movement-based, as opposed to muscle-focused.
  • Lack of variation.  Traditional, iron-pumping exercises are still some of the best for building strength and power, but we also use tools like kettlebells, medicine balls, stability balls, TRX suspension trainer, Rip Trainer, Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) bands, and balance-focused equipment like the Airex pad and BOSU.  Diversify your program by performing different exercises — using a variety of equipment — for similar movement patterns.
  • Overtraining.  This includes too much frequency; too much volume; too much focus on the same muscle groups; and too little rest.  The result is often an increase in the potential for injury.  Be smart.  The goal isn’t to do as much as you can; the goal is to do as much as you need to in order to achieve your goal.
  • Bad nutrition.  Another area of improvement for most of our athletes.  Virtually everything we do is fueled by nutrition and adequate hydration.  Quality, quantity, and frequency of meals and snacks are key components of performance nutrition; and dehydration is the primary cause of fatigue-related performance decline.
  • Inadequate rest/sleep.  Remember, it’s the “rest” phase that provides working muscles the opportunity for regeneration and growth.  You need to be training hard, eating right, and sleeping right to ensure continuous improvement.

Here’s a related article from my friends at WeckMethod, Functional Training: Top 5 Mistakes.

Get some help.  An experienced, qualified strength and conditioning professional can provide expert advice, guidance, and direction; and make a big difference in your development.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

The Best Body-Weight Exercises

8 Apr

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Pullup

Strength training is an important component of athletic performance improvement, along with sport-specific skill development; nutrition; rest and recovery; and mental preparation.  And, while traditional weight lifting exercises should be part of every athlete’s strength and conditioning program, don’t ignore or underestimate the impact that body-weight exercises can have on your development.

Here are 3 of my favorite body-weight exercises:

  • Pullups work the entire upper body and — performed correctly — lead to improvements in strength.  If you can’t (yet) do a pullup, use a TRX suspension trainer, resistance band, or spotter to assist.  Beginners can also start with the lat pulldown exercise.
  • Pushups are another great upper-body exercise, because they engage the chest, shoulders, back, and arms.  Master the basics first, then modify the exercise by placing medicine balls under your hands, use the TRX, elevate your feet, experiment with different hand positions, wear a weighted vest, or try them inverted (the inverted row is another of our favorite body-weight exercises, performed with a bar or TRX).
  • Lunges target the entire lower body, working the big muscles like the glutes and quads.  This versatile exercise can be varied by doing it stationary; walking forward, backward, or laterally; angled; and cross-over or cross-behind.

If you’re not already doing them, add these exercises to your regimen.  They can be performed virtually anywhere.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Up-Tempo Training is Best

1 Apr

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Seated Cable Row

One of our preferred strategies when training athletes (and virtually every other client) involves minimizing rest intervals among and between sets.  Maintaining an “up-tempo” pace  — keeping the heart rate up during a workout — results in continuous improvement, regardless of fitness level.

There’s no need to be in the weight room all day.  Most of our clients’ sessions are about 45-50 minutes in duration, and there’s very little “down” time.  They get in, get their work done, and get out (and recover).

We’ve found that agonist-antagonist paired sets (working opposing muscle groups — pushing and pulling — e.g., the bench press and row) are a great way to maintain an aggressive workout tempo, improve workout efficiency, and reduce training time, while not compromising workout quality.  In addition to strengthening muscles, this strategy strengthens and stabilizes joints and helps prevent injury.  Our athletes and clients perform the paired exercises, back-to-back, completing all sets with as little rest as they can manage, then rest for one minute before proceeding to the next pair of exercises.

We also vary our training programs, changing exercises weekly, while ensuring that each session is a total-body workout.  Performing different exercises for similar muscle movements is important to keep workouts challenging.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another terrific way to maintain an efficient, up-tempo workout.  HIIT involves alternating high- and low-intensity exercise over a pre-determined period of time.  We like a ratio of 1:3, high-intensity to low-intensity, as a benchmark, depending on the athlete’s/client’s fitness level.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strengthen Your Weaknesses

25 Mar

athletes-collage[1]We train hundreds of athletes, and one of the things they all have in common is that they come to us with strengths and areas for improvement (I like that term better than “weaknesses”).  And, certainly, even their strengths can be improved.

The first step is identifying and understanding the athlete’s area for improvement and developing a plan to strengthen it.  A baseline assessment is a good starting point, and it’s also helpful to watch the athlete play his/her sport of choice.

Typically, we all gravitate toward our own comfort zones, and athletes are no different as it relates to their training.  The average athlete will avoid certain exercises when that should be his/her focus.  We don’t ignore or neglect areas of strength, but we focus on exercises in which athletes are the weakest (exercises they typically avoid).

Some athletes may need more attention to improvements in balance and stability; others may benefit from core strengthening.  They all have areas they can improve.

Regardless of the athlete’s area for improvement, our focus is on training movements, and not just muscles.  Some of the athletes we train are already pretty strong.  We want to help them better leverage and apply their strength in a way that’s relevant to the sport they play.

Our goal is to try and make them faster; more explosive; more balanced and stable; and more mobile and flexible.  And this isn’t limited to just running and jumping.  We want to make all their muscle movements faster and more powerful.

Although we use a lot of “traditional” weight training exercises (sometimes, they’re still the best), we also favor stuff like blood flow restriction (BFR) training, suspension training, anti-rotational training, and body-weight exercises.

The key is to emphasize speed, agility, quickness, acceleration, power, and metabolic conditioning along with strength and flexibility.  All of these aspects combine to create a better athlete.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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