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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?

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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?

Build More Strength With These Strategies

18 Mar

superman[1]Here’s a nice article from Men’s Health titled, 5 New Rules of Super Strength.  The five training “secrets” discussed in the article echo our training philosophy at Athletic Performance Training Center.

Getting stronger means not only working hard, but also working smart.  These five strategies can help any athlete take his or her training — and results — to the next level.

  1. Fuel your body with fat.  High-quality fats are a more efficient source of energy than carbs.  (please see, Fat is not the Enemy)
  2. Quality trumps quantity.  A longer workout is not necessarily a better workout.  Keep your intensity level high by minimizing rest intervals and using supersets (we favor agonist-antagonist paired sets).
  3. Learn to react faster.  The ability to react and respond quickly can be a game-changer, and can be developed and improved with practice.
  4. Add contrast training.  As stated above, high intensity workouts are best.  Follow a strength exercise with an explosive movement (e.g., perform a set of squats, immediately followed by a set of squat jumps) to recruit more motor neurons and trigger a surge of muscle-building hormones.
  5. Finish fast.  You won’t build fast muscle-memory by moving slowly.  Finish your workout with speed work.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Speed Development 101

18 Feb

Here’s a nice article from STACK expert, John M. Cissick, titled, Get Faster With 3 Essential Speed Training Strategies.  John’s article echoes the same advice and guidance we’ve shared with our athletes, over the years.

STRENGTH

Strength training provides the foundation so, first and foremost, get in the weight room.  As stated in a previous blog post, Speed Development Starts in the Weight Room.  You’ve got to get stronger in order to improve your ground reaction force and, ultimately, your speed.  Lower extremity strength exercises that focus on the hips, quadriceps, and hamstrings should be a part of each and every workout.

POWER

Plyometrics are exercises that “teach” your muscles to generate force quickly.  They are the most effective way to build lower-extremity power.  It’s important for young athletes to build a strong foundation, first, before proceeding to plyometric exercises.

SPEED

Speed training is an important part of the process, because you have to learn how to use the strength and power you’ve developed.  Quality repetitionstechnical correctness, and adequate rest intervals should be factored into your training plan.

For more information, please refer to Speed Training and Development (get faster!)Key Elements of Speed Training, and Maximize Your Speed Workouts.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Jump-Landing Training for Female Athletes

11 Feb

Vertical jump performance is important in several sports — basketball and volleyball being two team sports that come to mind.

Previously, I’ve discussed jump performance in my articles, 6 Ways to Jump Higher, and Improve Your Vertical Jump Performance with Jump Training.

Additionally, I’ve established that Jump Training Should Include Landing Mechanics.  This is especially important since jump landings are associated with high ground reaction forces.  Incorrect landing technique, insufficient muscular strength, and lack of balance place the lower extremities at risk for injury.

Female athletes are known to have a higher risk of injuring their anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, while participating in competitive sports. The chance of ACL tear in female athletes has been found to be 2 to 10 times higher than in male counterparts.

Recent research points to differences in the biomechanics (the way our bodies move) of male and female athletes.  Although it’s impossible to prevent every injury, the good news is that we have the ability to change the likelihood of ACL tear, and jump-landing mechanics/training is at the top of the list.

Jump-landing training should focus on the following areas:

  • Optimizing movement efficiency
  • Building foundational muscular strength
  • Development of balance and coordination
  • Plyometric exercise technique
  • Proper hip, knee, and ankle alignment
  • Sport-specific jump-landing ability
  • Injury prevalence reduction
  • Performance improvement

An effective jump-landing program starts with education, and — as shown above — includes a variety of components.  Additionally, to ensure athlete compliance, the training program should be designed to equally address performance and injury prevention.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Is Strength Training Good for Endurance Athletes?

4 Feb

Most experts recognize — and relevant literature supports — that endurance athletes benefit from both heavy resistance and endurance training.  Maximal strength and power training have recently gained attention as a potential strategy for increasing endurance performance.

A recent review of the literature concluded that concurrent training (the simultaneous training of resistance and endurance exercise) has a positive effect on endurance performance.

One determinant of sport performance is the ability to appropriately and effectively exert force against the ground (e.g., running, jumping) or an apparatus (e.g., cycling).  When all other factors are equal, the athlete with a greater ability to exert force will perform the best, as they will cover more distance per muscle action.  Therefore, even endurance athletes benefit from increases in force production.

According to an article from the Strength and Conditioning Journal, strength training improves motor recruitment patterns, which lowers energy expenditure at any specific submaximal intensity because fewer motor units (and therefore muscles) are activated. Any adaptation that allows an athlete to use less energy at a given speed will decrease the oxygen requirement and should therefore increase athletic performance. Moreover, less muscular contraction leads to less blood flow restriction, which allows greater delivery of fuels and removal of waste products. High-intensity power training (such as plyometrics) offers extra benefits, as it enhances efficiency of elastic energy by increasing musculotendinous stiffness (a measure of how readily tissue reforms after being stretched, compressed, or twisted). This shifts energy production from active (muscular contraction) to passive (elastic rebound) sources.  (Martuscello, Jason MS, CSCS, HFS; Theilen, Nicholas MS)

Please see related article, Plyometric Training Benefits Distance Runners.

The addition of strength and power training should be done with caution, in order to avoid overtraining.  Strength and conditioning professionals need to be aware of proper periodization principles and specifically control volume and frequency throughout the training cycle to reduce this risk.  The relationship between strength training and endurance training should be inverse.  The addition of strength and power training should be countered with the subtraction of some endurance training, and vice-versa. For example, replacing approximately 1/3 of endurance volume with explosive strength training has been shown to improve leg strength, speed, power, anaerobic capacity, running economy, and – most importantly – 5k running time.

Strength and power training has many benefits for endurance athletes, including improved force output, musculotendinous stiffness and elastic energy efficiency, running economy, and race performance. In order to minimize the risk of injury, proper monitoring of program design and exercise technique should be closely observed.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Happy New Year! (it’s resolution time)

7 Jan

Happy New Year, once again, and welcome to the end of the first full week of 2016.  Although I’m not a big proponent of annual resolutions, this time of year certainly lends itself to that process for lots of people.  If you’re one of them, here are some considerations in your quest for self-improvement:

  • Upgrade your pantry and fridge.  Replace the high-sugar, refined, processed, and fried foods and snacks with healthier options like nuts, fruits, and veggies.
  • Schedule your workout.  You’re more likely to commit to a regular workout if you schedule it as part of your day/week as you would any other appointment or obligation.
  • Train with a buddy to keep you motivated and accountable.  Research shows that you’re more likely to stay on task if you workout with a partner, especially if he or she is more fit than you.
  • Try new foods.  Experiment with new recipes and try to avoid stuff that comes out of a bag, package, or box.
  • Get your sleep.  You’ll feel and perform better when you are well-rested.  Aim for 7-8 hours of shuteye per night.
  • Try a new activity.  If your current routine is getting stale, move on.  Finding an activity you enjoy increases the likelihood that you’ll make it a priority.
  • Take a break.  Set aside time in your daily calendar for two 15-minute breaks — one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  Go for a walk, listen to music, or grab a healthy snack to improve productivity.
  • Get more color in your diet.  Try to include at least three colorful fruits and vegetables on your plate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Colorful meals are packed with antioxidants and nutrients to help fight illness and decrease inflammation.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Increase Time Under Tension to Get Stronger, Build Muscle

17 Dec

There are lots of strategies for getting stronger and building muscle.  One such strength- and muscle-building strategy is a concept known as time under tension (TUT).  The rationale for this approach is that the longer you can keep tension in your muscles during a set, the more you’ll exhaust them, forcing them to get stronger and grow to adapt.

How to Increase Time Under Tension

There are a few ways to increase the amount of time your muscles spend under tension:

  • Do more repetitions
  • Increase the amount of time you take to lower the weight
  • Pause an exercise at some point in its range of motion and hold it for time

(also see related articles: Get Stronger with Isometric ExercisesAdd Isometric Exercises to Your Training Regimen, and Take the Negative Chinup/Dip Challenge)

How it Works

Doing a lot of repetitions — 12-15 or more — is great, but there are also some potential problems that accompany this approach.  The more reps you perform, the more likely it becomes that your form and technique tend to break down, increasing your risk of injury.  More repetitions also forces you to use lighter weights, sacrificing muscular tension.

Time under tension can be increased, for virtually any exercise, by increasing the time of the eccentric (lowering) phase of the exercise, or by incorporating isometric “holds” (pausing during a movement), effectively creating a longer-lasting set.

For example, when doing the squat or bench press exercises, you could lower the weight to a six-second count, for each repetition; or you could pause at some point during the eccentric phase of the exercise and hold for 3-4 seconds before continuing the movement.

Try to incorporate this strategy into your workout routine and you’ll see how more tension in your life can actually be a good thing.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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