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Lift Heavier Weights to Get Stronger

2 Dec

bench-press[1]If you want to build strength, you’ve got to tax your muscles, connective tissue, and bones.  Incrementally challenging yourself in the weight room is the most important stimulus for building muscle and strength.

Lifting the same amount of weight, every workout, won’t make you stronger.  It’s necessary to gradually increase your loads, as you progress, in order to strengthen your muscles and prepare them to handle heavier weights, over time.

You shouldn’t be able to complete the last few repetitions of your final set as easily as the first few reps.  It should be difficult to finish those last few reps, while maintaining good form and technique.

As you adapt to the training load and repetitions, it’s important to have a progression strategy.  Advancing exercise loads ensures that improvements will continue over time.  It’s also important for you to keep track of your progress and chart each workout.

A conservative method that can be used to increase your training load is called the 2-for-2 rule.  If you can perform two or more repetitions over your assigned repetition goal in the last set in two consecutive workouts for a certain exercise, weight should be added to that exercise for the next training session.  (Baechle, T. and Earle, R.; Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning)

The quantity of load increases, when progression is warranted, should generally be about 2.5-10%.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

What’s the Best Time to Exercise?

30 Nov

gym-weight-plate-clock[1]Generally, the best time to exercise is anytime you can drag yourself to the gym.  Life can be hectic, and most of us have to coordinate and manage schedules that include family, work, school, and other responsibilities and obligations.

However, depending on your training goal(s), there may be some logic to scheduling your workout based on the benefits you wish to achieve:

  • If you have a stressful event scheduled, like a test or meeting, exercising just before it can lessen your body’s physiological reaction to stress by helping your brain turn off its stress response.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, try exercising before bed.  Although some believe exercising before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, new research shows that people who exercise at any time of day or night sleep better than those who don’t (yoga seems to work best).
  • For injury prevention, exercise in the early evening.  If you’re prone to strained muscles and soreness, your “cold” muscles may not be ready to jump out of bed and workout.  Try exercising between 4 PM and 8 PM, when your core temperature is generally at its highest level.
  • If you want to lose weight, get your workout in before breakfast.  People who exercised before breakfast burned about 20 percent more fat compared with a group who ate breakfast first, according to a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
  • If you want to improve your muscle tone, try exercising after dinner.  The increase in core body temperature later in the day can translate to an improvement in exercise performance.  Muscle strength increases slightly, coordination is better, and your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen delivered to muscles) rises.  It’s a small improvement, but these factors my enable you to work a bit longer and harder.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Strengthen Your Core With This Workout

18 Nov

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Swiss Ball Plank

A good core workout should work your entire core (and not just your abs) — front, sides, and back; shoulders through hips — and improve core strength and stability.

Here’s a core workout that’s a favorite of many of the athletes that train at our facility:

You can incorporate this circuit into your workout, or make it a “stand alone” workout by performing each exercise multiple times.  Increase the difficulty/intensity of the workout by adding resistance (bands, weight plates, etc.) to body-weight exercises; progressively increasing weight and/or repetitions; or adding time to the plank.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Challenge Yourself with the Uneven Plank Exercise

4 Nov

Want to work your entire core and triceps with one exercise? Check out this plank exercise from strength and fitness guru, BJ Gaddour, and Men’s Health.

The Uneven Plank is “a core exercise that does double duty as a triceps builder.” To perform this exercise, assume a standard 4-point (low) plank position, with forearms on the floor. Lift one forearm off the floor and hold it in the bottom position of a pushup. This activates the triceps and requires core strength and stability. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then repeat on your other side by switching arm positions.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Fuel Your Body After Your Workout

21 Oct

pGNC1-13512491dt[1]Your muscles do not grow during exercise, regardless of the intensity of your workout.  Exercise is important, but it’s only the stimulus — or trigger — for growth.

You’ve got to rest and refuel your body, following a workout, in order to strengthen your muscles, and post-workout nutrition is essential for growth.

When you eat protein after your workout, your body breaks it down into amino acids, which are used to repair and rebuild muscle fibers, a process known as protein synthesis.  One amino acid, in particular, warrants special mention.

Leucine is a natural amino acid that is found in your body. Leucine and the branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine and valine, make up almost one-third of your muscle protein. Simply stated, leucine triggers muscle growth.  Leucine breaks down faster than other amino acids, and works to stimulate the production of protein and energy molecules in your muscles.  For this reason, synthetic leucine is often used as a food supplement to help athletes rebuild muscle and increase their physical endurance and strength.

When you’re buying a protein supplement, check the label to make sure it has a full complement of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Aim for 30 grams of protein per meal, including post-workout.  As long as you’re eating enough calories overall, you’ll get enough leucine to optimize muscle growth.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Get Stronger, Faster with Triple Extension Training

7 Oct

squat-jump2[1]“Triple extension” refers to a type of exercise training movement used to develop lower-extremity explosive power and force production. Triple extension training involves the hips, the knees, and the ankles. When executing a triple extension movement, all three sets of joints move from a flexed (bent) position to an extended (straight) position.  Thus, triple extension movements involve the flexion and subsequent forceful extension of the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

I am an advocate of triple extension training for the development of lower-body strength, speed, and explosive power, for virtually all athletes. Triple extension training is important for all athletes, as this movement is executed when running, jumping, kicking, swimming, throwing, hitting, blocking, and tackling.  Specifically, jumping in basketball and volleyball: pushing off the back leg to throw in baseball and football; driving through a block or tackle in football; even pushing off during swimming and diving are examples of how this movement applies to sports. Because of its broad application, triple extension training is a great way to prepare and develop the body for such explosive movements by conditioning the muscles and ligaments for these types of movements.

Ultimately, triple extension exercises build lower-extremity strength and power, increasing the amount of force you are able to generate against the ground, providing the means to run faster; jump higher; and accelerate, decelerate, and change direction more quickly, effectively, and efficiently.

The following exercises are a few examples of movements that employ triple extension:

  • Olympic lifts, such as cleans and snatches
  • Plyometrics, such as squat jumps and box jumps
  • Traditional strength training exercises such as squats and deadlifts
  • Non-traditional strength training exercises, such as  kettlebell swings and tire flips

Because these exercises are higher intensity and require greater energy expenditure, they should be performed at the beginning of your workout, after an appropriate warm-up.  Don’t go overboard with the amount of weight you use to perform these exercises. The benefits of triple extension exercises can be realized with relatively light weight. The key is to employ a full range of motion and try to execute each rep under control. Any of the exercises (above) performed with light-to-moderate weight can improve your strength and power.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Don’t Let the Scale Define You

23 Sep

weight-loss[1]While I realize (statistics indicate) the average American can stand to lose a few pounds, the scale doesn’t always tell the entire story.

Your body weight is not a reflection of your worth.  It’s more productive to focus on eating clean (and not overeating), exercising, improving strength and mobility, increasing energy, and NOT a number on a scale.

There’s not necessarily a definitive relationship between body weight and overall health.  A person can have a healthy body weight, yet eat (qualitatively) poorly and be relatively physically inactive.

I don’t do a lot with scales and body weight at our facility.  I would rather concentrate on how people feel, function, and perform.  Keep in mind muscle takes up less space but weighs more than fat.

“Healthy” is not limited to any particular shape, size, or weight.  At least some of that is determined by genetics, anyway.

Part of the problem is our referent.  We try to compare ourselves with others  — unfairly and unrealistically —  instead of aspiring toward self-improvement: being better today than we were yesterday.

We all want to look and feel good, but the fads and gimmicks we chase to get there are not the answer.  In simple terms, eat cleaner, eat less, be more active, and exercise more.

An examination of ounces and pounds shouldn’t start your day any more than it should end it.  Don’t let the scale deflate your efforts if you know you’re on the right track with your nutrition and exercise plans.

Even if weight loss is part of your plan (and it’s okay if it is), detach the number on the scale from how you feel about you.  Be fair to yourself, eat well, stay active, and stay on track.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Post-Workout Recovery — The Right Way

26 Aug

TruMoo-Choc_Protein-Plus-350[1]Whether you’ve just finished strength training, speed training, or a rigorous sport practice, recovering smart should be part of your plan.

Since high-intensity training tends to break down muscle, the recovery process is important to ensure that you come back stronger next time.  Here are some tips for a productive post-workout recovery:

REFUEL

Avoid junk food and opt instead for whole foods and drinks.  We like low-fat chocolate milk.  It boasts high-quality protein, several important nutrients, and an ideal 3:1 carb to protein ratio.

REST

Give your body — and your mind — some time off to rest before your next bout of exercise.  Keep in mind rest phase = growth phase.

BEGIN GRADUALLY

Don’t jump into a high-intensity workout right away.  An appropriate and effective warm-up can improve your odds of staying injury-free.  Build your volume and intensity, gradually.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY

When you’re training, listen to the feedback your body gives you.  If you feel like you’re getting sick, run down, or injured, reduce your training load or take the day off.

HAVE A GOAL

Don’t just train to train.  Give yourself something to train for.  Develop a plan that is aligned with your goal and stay on track.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

Improve Mobility: Make Your Workouts More Functional

19 Aug

functional_training3[1]

Physioball Weight Roll

We focus on functional training for our athletes.  That means movement-based — and not muscle-based — exercises make up the majority of every athlete’s workout.  In addition to developing strength, speed, agility, and athleticism, we want our athletes to improve mobility, balance, coordination, and stability.  All these components contribute to a more powerful, capable athlete.

Ultimately, the athlete’s training should reflect and support the demands and movement patterns of his or her sport.

Better mobility helps athletes reduce the incidence of injury, and also gives players a considerable advantage on the court or field.  Hip and ankle mobility are important for explosive movements like sprinting; accelerating and decelerating; changing direction; and blocking and tackling.

  • Unilateral exercises (those which load one side of the body at a time), like single-arm presses and single-leg squats, are probably more reflective of sports performance than traditional bilateral exercises (loading both sides equally).  We like alternating between unilateral and bilateral exercises, for a specific movement or muscle group, every other week, to build a stronger, more balanced musculature.
  • Perform more exercises standing, including standing on one leg.  When you sit or lie down to do an exercise, you’re not supporting your own weight and, as a result, you’re compromising the development of core strength and stability.
  • Get away from training on machines that “lock” your body into exercises that don’t require balance or stability, and those that don’t work multiple joints and muscle groups from different angles.  Opt instead for free-weight exercises using dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, or even sandbags.
  • Move through different planes of motion when you workout.  Lateral, transverse (diagonal), rotational, and anti-rotational exercises are great additions to any training regimen.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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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