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Boost Your Performance with Contrast Training

19 Apr

There are various differences in the physical demands of sports, based on factors such as the sport, itself, and positional differences among and between athletes.  Different sports require athletes to move through unique movement patterns which, for training purposes, can be categorized into vertical, linear, and lateral.  Exercises that focus on strength and power development, in these three areas, should be at the forefront of every athlete’s training program.

One of the goals of athletic performance training should be to increase the athletes’ work capacity while improving (reducing) their recovery time.  Contrast training is a highly effective method for improving many physical attributes involved in athletic performance, including strength, power, speed and agility — if implemented properly.  Contrast training involves performing a set of a heavy resistance exercise, immediately followed by a set of a biomechanically similar power exercise (for example, a barbell back squat, immediately followed by a squat jump).  Complex training is a similar approach, which involves performing 3-4 sets of heavy resistance training followed by 3-4 sets of the biomechanically similar power exercise.

The benefits of contrast training include:

  • Effective in producing results
  • Highly efficient
  • Allows for high work density
  • Time effective
  • Allows athletes to complete fewer training sessions in order to yield the same or greater results
  • May have implications for injury prevention

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Vitamin D and Muscle Strength

17 Apr

Vitamin D is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin.  It is an important hormone with a wide range of functions.  Among the biological actions of vitamin D metabolites is regulation of protein synthesis.

In addition to getting vitamin D from food sources, the body also synthesizes it from sunlight exposure.

I live in northeast Ohio, where year-round sunlight is not as ample as some other parts of the country.  Vitamin D supplementation is often recommended for people living in the northern and midwestern states, especially during the non-summer months.

Now, there is evidence to support vitamin D3 supplementation in athletes (and active individuals) to improve muscle strength.

In the article, Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Muscle Strength in Athletes: A Systematic Review (Chiang, et.al.), published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “vitamin D3 was shown to have a positive impact on muscle strength.”

“In 2 studies, strength outcome measures were significantly improved after supplementation.  In the studies administering vitamin D3, there were trends for improved muscle strength.  Specifically, improvements in strength ranged from 1.37 to 18.75%.”

“Trials lasted from 4 weeks to 6 months and dosages ranged from 600 to 5,000 International Units (IU) per day.  Vitamin D2 was found to be ineffective at impacting muscle strength in both studies wherein it was administered.”

Please also refer to related article: Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Caffeine Reduces Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness

10 Apr

There is considerable documentation touting the beneficial effects of caffeine on aerobic activity and resistance training performance.  Less, however, is known about caffeine’s effect on post-exercise muscle soreness.

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of caffeine on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  In the study, individuals who ingested caffeine one hour before resistance training reported that this strategy “resulted in significantly lower levels of soreness on day 2 and day 3,” compared with individuals who did not ingest caffeine prior to working out.  (Hurley, et.al.)

The study corroborated previous findings that caffeine ingestion immediately before resistance training enhances performance.  “A further beneficial effect of sustained caffeine ingestion in the days after the exercise bout is an attenuation of DOMS.  This decreased perception of soreness in the days after a strenuous resistance training workout may allow individuals to increase the number of training sessions in a given time period.”

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Dynamic Warmup is the Most Effective Pre-Activity Strategy

5 Apr

You can add another study to the overwhelming and growing mountain of research supporting dynamic (movement-based) warm-up — and not static stretching — before engaging in competitive power sports.

This study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, sought to compare and quantify the effects of static stretching and dynamic warm-up on jump performance in NCAA DI female college volleyball players.

As expected, dynamic warm-up was found to result in a significantly higher level of jump performance than static stretching, especially when performed closer to the time of competition.  Athletes’ subsequent jump performance was better when the dynamic warm-up was done within 5-10 minutes preceding competition compared to 25-30 minutes prior to competition.

Hundreds of studies corroborate dynamic warm-up’s similar impact on strength, power, speed, and agility performance.  Athletes, coaches, trainers… get with the program.  Improve performance by eliminating pre-activity static stretching and implementing a dynamic warm-up that reflects the demands and movement patterns of the activity – before workouts, practices, and games.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Squat Deeper, Jump Higher

3 Apr

Want to improve your vertical jump?  Don’t cheat your range of motion when doing the squat exercise.

The parallel squat (thighs parallel to ground in “down” position) is more beneficial for subsequent jump performance than the quarter- or half-squat, according to a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The authors suggest that the greater the depth of the squat, the greater the increase in gluteus maximus activation and work produced, which is responsible for the increased jump performance.

The study also cites an increase in postactivation potentiation as it relates to back squat depth.  Postactivation potentiation refers to increased muscular force generation after previous muscular activity.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Improve Muscle Endurance with Battling Ropes

27 Mar

Want to try a new exercise, develop full-body strength and conditioning, and boost your muscle endurance?  Try the battling ropes.

The goal of this exercise is to generate velocity and, ultimately, power throughout the entire duration of the exercise.  Battling ropes workouts can improve lactic acid tolerance, which allows you to work harder and longer, over time.

To perform the battling ropes exercise, maintain an athletic stance, grab the end of a rope in each hand, and swing your arms, vertically and simultaneously (you can also alternate — as pictured — or swing laterally). Swing hard and swing fast.  Start with 3 sets of 10 seconds each, with 30 second rest intervals between sets, and work up to 30 second sets with 60 second rest intervals.

Check out this article and video from STACK Media.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The Importance of Core Stability in Athletes

24 Mar

If you read my blog regularly (and thank you if you do!), you know I’m a proponent of the development of – and importance of – core strength and stability.  Whether you’re an athlete or not, a strong, stable core facilitates everything you do, and every movement you make.

Over the years, I’ve published articles promoting the benefits or core training, including the rationale for core training; core strengthening exercises and workouts; and the implications of core strength, as it relates to virtually every sport movement – running, jumping, throwing, kicking, etc.  (to access more of my Core Strength & Stability articles, simply type the word “core” in the search box at the top of this blog page)

Here’s a nice resource from our friends at Bridge Athletic – authored by Megan Fischer-Colbrie – titled, The Importance of Core Stability in Athletes.  In her article, Megan discusses advantages of core stability for athletes; the role of core training in injury prevention and rehabilitation; and the advantage of building a strong foundation that starts with the core.  She also provides some useful core strengthening and stabilizing exercises.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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4 Biggest Strength Training Mistakes

17 Mar

Here’s a nice resource from our friends at ASD Performance titled, 4 Biggest Strength Training Mistakes.  It’s a good overview for athletes, active individuals, and Strength & Conditioning professionals.

Mistake 1: Focusing too heavily on assistance exercises

Focus on the the core (main) lifts – the ones that activate your largest muscle groups – like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses (there are lots of others).  These exercises are functional (they will improve the way you feel, function, and perform) and yield a high return on your exercise “investment.”  Think of assistance exercises – like biceps curls – as supplemental exercises.  It’s okay to incorporate them into your workout as long as they’re not the primary focus.

Mistake 2: Not addressing weak points

Everyone has strengths and areas for improvement.  It’s easy to avoid exercises you don’t like or exercises that focus on your weak areas.  Not addressing your weak points can lead to functional strength imbalances and an increased risk of injury.  Recognize your weak(er) areas and incorporate exercises that will help turn them into strengths or, at the very least, decrease the disparity between your strengths and weaknesses.

Mistake 3: Skipping the deload phase

Like our friends at ASD Performance, we also refer to deloading/unloading as “active recovery.”  There are lots of different – evidence-based and effective – theories and strategies for the active recovery phase.  The basic concept is this: You shouldn’t train with heavy weight, high intensity, high frequency, and high volume, all the time.  Your recovery phase is crucial to maximize short- and long-term gains, as well as overall physical well-being.  Every so often – and at regular intervals – you should decrease your training intensity, frequency, and volume for some finite period of time (e.g., the last week of each three-month cycle).

Mistake 4: Light weight with too many reps

This strategy may work well for your short-term, active recovery phase but, if you want to get stronger and more powerful, you’ve got to train heavy with low repetitions.  This means working with loads of about 80%-90% of your one-rep max (1 RM) at a rep range of about 3-6 reps per set, while maintaining proper technique.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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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!

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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!

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