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Improve Performance With Single-Leg Exercises

6 Oct

Bulgarian Split Squat (down)

Bulgarian Split Squat (up)

At Athletic Performance Training Center, we know it’s important to incorporate single-leg exercises into an athlete’s training regimen.  We alternate, weekly, between bilateral and unilateral exercises, to improve strength, power, mobility, and balance/stability.

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that all athletes might need to do more single-leg exercises.  In the study, researchers discovered that both jumpers’ (e.g., basketball, volleyball) and nonjumpers’ legs were not equally strong.  The natural tendency is for athletes to shift their weight, to some degree, to their dominant leg.  According to the study, that contributes to a strength imbalance that can hurt performance and lead to injuries.

Try different single-leg exercises, like lunges (stationary or walking; forward, backward, or lateral).

At APTC, we favor the single-leg squatsingle-leg pressstep-up, and Bulgarian split squat (rear foot elevated).  Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10 repetitions with a weight that is challenging but reasonable.

As you might imagine, the same principle applies to upper-body strength training.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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How Protein Becomes Muscle

29 Sep

Protein consumption, following a workout, is an important component of the muscle and strength building process.  But how, exactly, does the process work?

Here’s a terrific resource from Men’s Health titled, How Protein Becomes Muscle.  This animated video explains the process from ingestion through each subsequent stage — transportresponserepair and growth; and construction.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Strength Training Isn’t Just for Athletes

20 Sep

At Athletic Performance Training Center, we specialize in helping athletes improve athletic performance through the development of strengthspeedagility, and athleticism.  But the benefits of strength training are not limited to athletes (or even active individuals, for that matter).  Everyone can benefit from a well-designed strength training program.  Strength training can benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, help you lose weight, and make you look and feel better.

Benefits of strength training include:

  • Protects bone and muscle mass.  After puberty, you begin to lose about 1% of your bone and muscle strength every year.  One of the best ways to stop, prevent, and even reverse bone and muscle loss is to add strength training to your exercise regimen.
  • Increases strength, improves fitness.  Not just for sports.  Strength training can enhance performance of everyday tasks like lifting, carrying, and walking up stairs.
  • Better body mechanics and posture.  Improved coordination and balance.
  • Improves flexibility.  Exercise muscles through a full range of motion and improve overall body flexibility.  Increased flexibility reduces the risk of muscle pulls and back pain.
  • Decreases likelihood of injury.  Strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments are less likely to give way under stress and are less likely to be injured.  Increased bone density and strength reduces back and knee pain by building muscle around these areas.
  • Aids in disease prevention.  Risk reduction and prevention of arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stress and anxiety, cold and flu… and the list goes on and on.
  • Boosts energy levels, improves mood.  Strength training will elevate your level of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain), which will make you feel great.  It has also been shown to be a great antidepressant, improve sleep quality, and improve overall quality of life.
  • Helps burn more calories.  You burn calories during and after strength training.  Strength training can boost your metabolism by 15% — that can really jumpstart a weight loss plan.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The “Get Back in Shape Fast” Workout

13 Sep

When it comes to exercise, there aren’t a whole lot of shortcuts — you have to put in the time and do the work.  But there are some strategies that can accelerate the process, and interval training — short bursts of high-intensity activity that build strength and endurance more effectively than moderate activity — is the way to go.

Don’t have time to go for a long run?  Can’t get to the weight room?  No problem.  There are plenty of “no-equipment required” exercises that can be performed anywhere.

Here’s the simple but effective strategy (adapted from Johnson and Johnson’s 7-Minute Workout): Alternate among exercises that work your total bodyupper bodylower body, and core.  Perform each exercise, working as hard as you can, for 30 seconds.  Allow a 15-second rest interval between exercises.

To start, try these four exercises:

  • Pushup
  • Plank
  • Jumping Jack
  • Squat

Perform each exercise, as described above (30 seconds on, 15 seconds off), as a circuit.  Do as many circuits as you are able.  As you progress, add more circuits or more exercises (in groups of four).

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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These Basic Exercises are Still the Best

8 Sep

Do you want to get stronger and more powerful?  Build more lean muscle mass?  Improve your muscular endurance?  Achieve a better level of overall fitness?

Regardless of your goal, strength training is the way to go, and some of the best exercises are the tried-and-true, old standards, like the SquatDeadliftRomanian DeadliftBench PressRowShoulder Press, and Pullup.

There are lots of exercise fads, gadgets, and gimmicks on the market, and a seemingly endless array of commercials and infomercials touting them as the “next best thing.”  And, while there is probably some merit to anything that gets people moving, you can’t do better than weight-bearing exercises that engage multiple joints and muscle groups using complex movements.

Squat

You can perform this exercise with dumbbells or a barbell, or using only your own body weight.  Single-leg squats are also an excellent, change-of-pace, variation.

Deadlift

Although this exercise is frequently performed with a barbell, we favor the trap bar.  It allows for safer execution, through better ergonomics, while not sacrificing any of the strength and muscle-building benefit.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

One of the best exercise for the muscles of your posterior chain — lower back, glutes, and hamstrings (We also really like the glute-ham raise).  Also try the single-leg RDL.

Bench Press

Perhaps the best upper-body strength and muscle-building exercise.  We also like the dumbbell bench press — done simultaneously, alternating, or iso (single-arm).

Row

The bent-over row, using dumbbells or a barbell, is a great “agonist-antagonist” (opposing muscle group) complement to the bench press.

Shoulder Press

The vertical version of the bench press, this exercise will also engage your core.  All the same variations apply.

Pullup

Wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, or underhand — this exercise will challenge you.  The lat pulldown exercise is a suitable variation if you’re not yet able to perform the pullup.

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!

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You Can’t “Out-Train” a Bad Diet

30 Aug

Some of the athletes with whom I work are under the impression that, because they are active and workout regularly, they can eat whatever they want.  The truth is, the quantity, quality, and timing of your diet can make a difference in your training results and your performance, over time.  Your nutrition has a bigger impact on your body than you may realize.

Eating the right foods, in the appropriate quantities, at the right times, can complement your strength and conditioning efforts, and improve your body’s effectiveness and efficiency — as well as your overall health and wellness.  Here are some diet and nutrition tips that go “hand-in-hand” with your training:

  • Eat more frequently — 4-6 small meals and snacks per day — to stay satisfied and avoid hunger-induced binging
  • Snack on foods like fruits and veggies, Greek yogurt, and nuts and seeds
  • Reduce portion size to about the size of your fist
  • Choose lean proteins – tuna, salmon, egg whites, lean beef, turkey breast, ground turkey
  • Increase your daily protein consumption to about 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of body weight
  • Avoid sugary beverages and drink more water
  • Opt for healthy (unsaturated) fats, like those found in olive oil, nuts and nut butters, and salmon
  • Eat whole-grain, high-fiber carbs
  • Know your ideal, daily caloric intake and manage it, accordingly
  • Track your daily calories; you may be surprised

Eat healthy — don’t let your diet sabotage your training efforts and performance results.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Work with a Trainer for Better Results

28 Aug

Have you ever wondered if working with a strength coach or personal trainer is right for you or your children, or worth the money?  Well, according to research from UCLA, a personal trainer can help make you much stronger than exercising on your own.

In the study, individuals who worked with a strength/fitness coach gained more muscle and 10% more endurance than those who chose to follow their own program.  They also gained six times more leg power than the “do it yourself” group.

The reason for the difference?  A qualified, experienced strength and conditioning professional can provide an expert-guided plan, helping you to stick to your workout and do it right.  Most individuals lack the experience and expertise to develop a personalized plan that incorporates appropriate exercise selectionintensity levelrepetitionssets, and rest intervals.  Additionally, a coach can motivate you to train harder and help keep you accountable.

Even if working with a trainer is not in your long-term plans, it can be a good idea to start there.  A trainer can better point you in the right direction, providing instruction, demonstration, and making your workouts more focused and effective when you do them on your own.

And, for you parents of student-athletes, be wary of the teacher or coach acting as your child’s trainer, or your school’s weight room attendant.  Typically, these folks are no more qualified than you are when it comes to developing well-designed and -supervised, safe, and effective strength and conditioning programs.

When looking for a strength coach/trainer, do your homework.  Since basically anyone can “hang a shingle” and call him/herself a trainer, it’s important to find one with a certification such as CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) or CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) through a nationally/internationally accredited organization like the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association).  If you’re in or around the greater Cleveland (OH) area, check us out at AthleticPerformanceTC.com.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The Problem with High School Strength and Conditioning Programs

25 Aug

I am blessed with the opportunity to work with several area high school sports programs as a Strength & Conditioning coach/consultant, in the areas of program design, instruction, and supervision.  I have also observed dozens of area high school Strength & Conditioning programs.

Outside of the high school weight room, I train scores of student-athletes, at my facility, who are “products” of their high school Strength & Conditioning programs.  Unfortunately, most of what I observe is subpar – “under-strong” kids (given their size, age, and training experience), poor technique, and lack of appropriate supervision and direction.

Based on my experience and observation – and discussions with hundreds of high school athletes, parents, and coaches – here are some of the problems with high school Strength & Conditioning programs:

Lack of Knowledge

Strength & Conditioning is not rocket science, but it is (or should be) exercise science and training should be evidence-based.  A background that includes foundational exercise science and practical application/exercise technique should be a requirement.

Lack of Credentials/Qualifications

Most of the folks working with our high school athletes, in the area of Strength & Conditioning, do not have the experience or expertise required for the job.  Qualified individuals should have an educational background that includes exercise science; and certification, such as Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), from a nationally/internationally accredited organization like the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Inadequate Program Design/Management

Designing and managing a high school Strength & Conditioning program requires more than YouTube, Google, and other programs’ training templates.  There are several factors – including energy systems, demands and movement patterns of the sport, etc. that must be taken into consideration.  I know of a program that chose athletes’ exercise loads based on their ages.

Inefficient Time Management

Too little work and too much rest.  Lots of standing around watching, waiting, and socializing.

Inadequate Supervision/Instruction

Ratio of trainers to athletes is way too low, especially for sports with big numbers, like football.  Last year, I was in a high school weight room working with the girls basketball team (about a dozen players), and the freshman football team was also training – 40 kids, one coach (who spent the entire session sitting at a desk reading the newspaper).  I think I spent more time instructing, demonstrating, and correcting the football players than I did working with girls basketball players.

One Size Fits All

This one, admittedly, is a challenge, but it’s possible to develop an appropriate and productive program for all the sports programs at a school.  I’ve known of programs who use stuff like P90X or Insanity to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  This would be a great strategy if the high school football team consisted of adult men and women trying to improve their level of fitness.

Lack of Proper Warmup

Very little time spent doing programmed, dynamic (movement-based) warmup exercises.  Too many programs still warming up by stretching, and even doing very little of that.

Inadequate Periodization

Very few programs take into account training phases (off-season, pre-season, in-season) and, if they do, their training plans rarely address the needs (and challenges) of these phases.  Many programs have no plan whatsoever for the in-season (maintenance) phase.

No Real Plan for Progression

Most programs don’t have a good plan for making their programs progressive (increasing intensity) because they don’t understand the rules and guidelines that govern this process.  The NSCA has a “2 + 2” rule that is physiologically appropriate and can simplify the process.

Poor Understanding of Energy System Training

The energy system demands of the sport must be taken in to consideration when designing a Strength & Conditioning program.  Power sports require programming that incorporates short bursts of high-intensity activity, while endurance sports programs have different needs.  I know of several area basketball and volleyball programs whose cardio-metabolic training and fitness testing consists of a mile run.  Think about the demands and movement patterns of those two sports (especially volleyball) and let that sink in for a moment…

Inappropriate Exercise Selection

I’m not sure how some of these programs choose their athletes’ exercises.  Most of these programs pay little attention to areas like joint stability, landing mechanics, and overall injury prevention.  Focus on opposing muscle groups is often overlooked (for example, many programs love exercises like squats and leg presses, but pay little attention to posterior chain – glute/hamstring – development).

Poor Technique

Unfortunately, you have to know and understand (and be able to instruct, demonstrate, and correct) proper technique to be able to appropriately coach it.  I train lots of athletes who come to me with poor exercise technique (arching the back on the bench press, poor squatting mechanics, etc.) – which can be dangerous – who tell me their form is taught and encouraged by their coaches.

Poor Nutrition Education and Monitoring

Strength & Conditioning and nutrition should be connected.  Sports nutrition should be taught and viewed as something that complements and enhances the athletes’ training.

Adversarial Relationship

This is one of the most troubling aspects, for me.  It’s almost as if the coaches don’t – or refuse to – acknowledge that we are on the same “team.”  Our goal – to create a better student-athlete – should be aligned.  It’s disappointing to me when coaches disparage my training and discourage their athletes from participating in it.  Sadly, I think control plays a large part in this situation.  Communication and collaboration can improve this process.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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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.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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