6 Ways to Get Stronger

23 Jun

Every athlete can improve his or her performance by getting stronger.  Whether your sport involves running, jumping, hitting, throwing, or kicking, strength training can help you do it better.  Your sport-specific skills aren’t going to be enough if you’re the weakest, slowest player on the court or field.

Here are 6 ways to get stronger:

  1.  Get in the weight room.  I know this one sounds like a “no-brainer,” but I also know a lot of athletes who aren’t getting their work done in the weight room (you know who you are).  Strength training is not about having time to workout, it’s about making time.  Conditioning, and playing and practicing your sport, are not enough.  In order to get stronger, you’ve got to lift, push, and pull heavy “stuff.”  As I mentioned in last week’s article, you won’t get stronger by grinding out 3 set of 10 reps.  Building strength and power – for most exercises – requires that you work with a weight that challenges you for 4-6 repetitions per set.
  2. Set a goal.  What do you want to accomplish?  Maybe you want to run faster or jump higher.  Perhaps you want to throw, hit, and/or kick with more force or velocity.  Setting a goal for yourself is the first step.  You have to know where you want to go before embarking upon your journey.
  3. Have a plan.  Once you determine your goal, it’s time to develop a plan.  Your plan should include action steps that lead you from point A (the present) to point B (your goal), including exercises, repetitions, sets, intensity, volume, and frequency.  Make sure your plan is SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound).  And remember, your action steps must be consistent with your goal.
  4. Work your entire body.  Forget about “body part” training, working only certain parts of your body on specific days.  You should train like to work, play… and live.  That means it’s important to work all your major muscle groups, every time you workout.  Your body is meant to work as a functional, interconnected unit.  Make sure your training is functional, and reflects the demands of your sport, by training movements and not just muscles.
  5. Rest and refuel.  Every time you workout, you break down muscle.  Allowing yourself some time (48 hours is a good gauge) to recover, following your workout, helps your muscles to rebuild and recover in preparation for your next bout of strength training.  Nutrition – including post-workout nutrition — is important.  Active individuals should aim for 0.6-0.8 grams of protein, per pound of body weight, per day, including 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of strength training.  Athletes may need as much as one gram of protein, per pound of body weight, per day.
  6. Get some help.  Consider enlisting the help of a reputable, qualified, and experienced certified strength training professional, at least to get you started.  He or she can guide and instruct you through exercise selection, proper form and technique, appropriate sets and repetitions, injury prevention strategies, nutrition guidelines, provide motivation, and more.


Your thoughts?

Effectiveness of Pre-Activity Foam Rolling

21 Jun

Repeated foam rolling is beneficial for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity (strength and conditioning, sport practices and games, etc.), according to research from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Fascia is a component of connective tissue.  Myofascia (which resembles a spider web or fish net) is a dense, strong, and flexible tissue that covers all muscles and bones, from  head to toe.

When normal and healthy, the fascia is pliable, relaxed, and soft.  It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction.

When fascia becomes tight and restricted, it can compromise mobility across the entire fascial chain.  This can be caused by physical trauma and inflammation — such as the “normal” micro-tears that occur in muscle — as a result of strength training and sport-specific activity.

Myofascial Release is an effective, hands-on therapy (think massage) that focuses on relaxing the deep tissue of the body, which can directly change and improve health of the fascia.  The purpose of myofascial release is to break down scar tissue, relax the muscle and fascia, and restore mobility.

Although foam rolling is associated with subjective and objective improvements in range-of-motion (mobility), these effects were not necessarily seen within the first exposure.  Consistent (repeated) foam rolling did, however, produce positive results.

Add foam rolling to your dynamic warmup regimen, prior to your training, practices, and games.  You can incorporate it into your post-workout/practice/game routine, too.


Your thoughts?

Dangers of Heat Illness Reduced by Following Proper Guidelines

19 Jun

With summer upon us and temperatures soaring, here’s a timely article, authored by David Csillan, MS, LAT, ATC, and published by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS.org).

The article – titled, Dangers of Heat Illness Reduced by Following Proper Guidelines – discusses exertional heat illness and exertional heat stroke (EHS), its myths and realities, and prevention strategies.  It’s a worthwhile read for athletes, parents, coaches, and trainers.

Outside temperatures are on the rise and will be in full force just in time for athletes to participate in their summer and preseason practices. For this reason, it’s important for athletic trainers, coaches and school administrators to get a tune-up on potentially what lies ahead. With a little advance planning, the risk of your athletes experiencing a catastrophic event due to exertional heat illness will be significantly decreased.

There are various degrees of exertional heat illness with exertional heat stroke (EHS) being the most serious. Many athletic injuries are a result of bad luck or overtraining; however, EHS is 100 percent preventable if the nationally recommended heat acclimatization guidelines are followed and schools are prepared to initiate appropriate care if an emergency occurs.

The EHS death of Minnesota Vikings’ offensive tackle Korey Stringer during football camp in August 2001 elevated the discussion and action with regard to physical exertion in the heat.

The NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee wrote a position statement and created an online course entitled A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) developed several position statements and published Preseason Heat Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics. The Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) was established to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death in athletes. The University of Georgia’s Climatology Research Laboratory released heat safety thresholds for specific regions throughout the country. These thresholds are currently being applied in the Georgia High School Association’s heat illness policy.

Now that we have the evidence-based data, we may ask ourselves “Why and how do we apply it”? In order to acquire a better understanding of EHS and its management, we must first debunk a few common myths.

Myth Busters 101
Myth #1: EHS can only occur when ambient temperatures reach 100 degrees F.

Truth: Evidence suggests that the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be the measurement of choice to determine safe environmental conditions for physical activity. The WBGT provides a reading of ambient temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and radiant heat (from the sun). Why is wind speed important? It allows for better evaporation of sweat leading to more effective cooling. Environmental conditions are constantly changing over the course of practice. As opposed to listening to the weather report prior to practice, the athletic trainer should monitor environmental conditions on site in real time. Utilizing a WBGT device and establishing activity modification guidelines such as work-rest ratios, hydration breaks, equipment worn and length of practice significantly decreases the risk of EHS.

Many coaches still refer to their area’s heat index when determining how practices will be conducted. Heat index refers to the ambient temperature and relative humidity measured in the shade and was originally used to determine if outdoor conditions were safe for the young and elderly. Since athletes are exercising in the direct sun, heat index readings are deemed inappropriate.

Although dangerous conditions most commonly occur during the hot summer months, EHS can happen at any time and in the absence of high environmental temperatures. EHS is not a 100 degrees’ issue. Geographical location plays an important role.

Generally speaking, athletes residing in the Northeast part of the country are accustomed to cooler temperatures compared to those in the Southeast or Midwest. As a result, participating in an environment of 85 degrees with high humidity for those living in the Northeast presents equal risk of EHS to those living in the Southeast and Midwest participating in temperatures reaching 100 degrees with high humidity. It is also important to understand that direct sun is not the sole contributor of heat deaths. Exercise intensity and environmental conditions are the primary factors associated with EHS.

Myth #2: An athlete must be severely dehydrated for EHS to occur.

Truth: While dehydration may predispose an athlete to, or exacerbate, EHS, dehydration does not always have to be present for EHS to occur. EHS can result in as little as 20 minutes after the beginning of exercise before severe fluid loss is prominent. The days of over-hydrating are gone as we’ve found this may put the athlete at risk for hyponatremia – another potentially catastrophic event.

During activity, athletes should be instructed to allow thirst to be their guide. Athletes should weigh themselves prior to, and immediately after, every practice. The weight should be recorded on a chart and strictly monitored by the athletic trainer or coach. A weight loss of two percent or more for any athlete should be made up prior to that athlete participating in the next practice. Otherwise, the athlete will be competing at a deficit and increasing their risk.

Myth #3: An athlete stops sweating during EHS.

Truth: We’ve been taught that heat stroke yields hot, dry skin on the victim. However, since EHS occurs during intense exercise in the heat, the athlete is almost always profusely sweating upon collapse. This is perhaps the most widely misunderstood sign of EHS and may lead to mistreatment and death. It’s important to review the current literature published by the NFHS, NATA and KSI in order to be updated on EHS signs, symptoms and management.

Houston, We Have a Problem
If EHS is suspected, it’s advised for the athletic trainer or coach to: remove the athlete’s equipment and excess clothing, contact EMS, determine vital signs and initiate rapid cooling by immersing the athlete
chest high in a tub of cold (39 – 59 degrees F) water. Core body temperature may elevate as high as 106 degrees F so it’s important to lower that as fast as possible. The typical rate of cooling in an immersion
tub is about ONE degree F every three minutes. On the average, it may take 15 minutes to cool the body five degrees. If an athlete is not cooled prior to transportation, the risk of developing complications or losing the athlete to EHS increases. Even though the EMS vehicle may be air conditioned, it’s not sufficient enough to lower the athlete’s core temperature during transport.

The Reality
Twenty athletes died as a result of EHS from 2010 to 2015. This five-year block was greater than any five-year block in the past 40 years. It’s two times the five-year block average for EHS deaths since 1975. The five-year block average over 35 years is 10.5 deaths. We must ask ourselves, “Things are getting worse, but why”?

The warmer climate, coupled with the fact that today’s youth spend more time than ever before in air conditioned facilities, sets them up as potential victims. Coaches need to remember that young athletes comprise this population and not everyone will be reporting to preseason camp acclimatized and in shape. The research and education is available but the application continues to lack. Unless we understand the nature of EHS and utilize best practices in emergency management, these statistics will continue to climb.

Exertional heat stroke is not exclusive to football. It is non-discriminatory. EHS can occur regardless of male/female, football/field hockey, varsity/freshman or outdoors/indoors. As athletic trainers, coaches and administrators, we owe it to our athletes to provide them with the safest environment to compete. And, we must start now.


Your thoughts?

Plyometric Training Benefits Distance Runners

16 Jun

Plyometric training is great for developing explosive strength in athletes whose sports require short, intermittent, powerful bursts of movement.  But what about endurance athletes — specifically competitive middle- and long-distance runners?

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that plyometric training has a beneficial effect on endurance and explosive strength performance in distance runners.

The plyometric training regimen was carried out for six weeks, and included depth jumps and squat jumps20-meter sprint and 2.4-kilometer run times were measured before and after the explosive strength training.

The runners participating in the plyometric training showed a significant reduction in 2.4-km endurance run time and 20-m sprint time, and an increase in squat jump and depth jump explosive performance.

The authors (Ramirez-Campillo, et.al.) concluded that “properly programmed concurrent explosive strength and endurance training could be advantageous to middle- and long-distance runners in their competitive performance, especially in events characterized by sprinting actions with small time differences at the end of the race.”


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6 Ways to Build Stronger Arms

14 Jun

If you want to build stronger arms (and what athlete doesn’t?), you’ve got to work from the inside out.  That means your focus should start with your core and work through your shoulders and arms.  Keep in mind that to build strength and power – for most exercises – you will want to work with a weight that challenges you for 4-6 repetitions per set (and may require a spotter).  Maintain good form and technique, perform the exercises with a full range-of motion, and allow adequate rest between sets.

Here are 6 ways to build stronger arms:

  1. It all starts with your legs.  Yes, I know this article is supposed to be about arm strength, but don’t neglect your core and lower body (more on this in an upcoming article).  Whether you want to improve your jump shot, throwing velocity, or bat speed, strong arms can’t compensate for a weak core and legs.  Exercises like squats and deadlifts will help you build the leg drive necessary to hit those three-point shots, throw fastballs past the opposing hitter, or drive the ball over the outfielders’ heads.
  2. Hit the bench.  The bench press exercise is a gold-standard upper-body exercise for a reason.  At Athletic Performance Training Center (APTC), we like the barbell flat bench press as our preferred bilateral, upper-body exercise.
  3. Work both sides.  Unilateral exercises help to ensure that your “weak” side is working as hard as your strong side.  Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and perform the dumbbell flat bench press exercise.  For variety, you can do this exercise simultaneously, alternating, or iso-laterally (one arm at a time).  Alternate with the barbell bench press so that one week you perform the exercise with a barbell, and the next with dumbbells.
  4. Row your boat.  Agonist-antagonist paired sets – pairing exercises that work opposing muscle groups – are a great way to build strength and reduce the incidence of injury by strengthening the muscles around a joint.  Exercises like the bent-over barbell row, dumbbell row, and seated cable row should be included with the bench press exercises.  Dumbbell and cable rows can also be performed unilaterally.
  5. Push it upShoulder presses, with a barbell or dumbbells, work the muscles of the upper-body and arms differently (in a different plane) than the bench press – vertically instead of horizontally.  Perform this exercise standing, and not sitting, to get more of your core involved.
  6. Pull it down.  Like bench presses and rows, shoulder presses can be paired with lat pull-downs (bilateral or unilateral), chin-ups, or pull-ups.  Chin-ups and pull-ups are challenging, but you can start by doing them with a band or spotter.

Here’s a bonus.  Don’t overlook good old-fashioned pushups.  You can do them anywhere, and there are about a million variations.  We still incorporate them into our training regimen at APTC.


Your thoughts?

You Have to Do the Hard Things

12 Jun

I found this gem, posted by a friend on Facebook.  It’s a blog post that was shared by an organization with a commitment to continual self-improvement.  The original author is Dan Waldschmidt.

19 Hard Things You Need To Do To Be Successful

You have to do the hard things.

  • You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.
  • You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.
  • You have to give more than you get in return right away.
  • You have to care more about others than they care about you.
  • You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore.
  • You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.
  • You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.
  • You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.
  • You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.
  • You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.
  • You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.
  • You have to search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts.”
  • You have to make mistakes and look like an idiot.
  • You have to try and fail and try again.
  • You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath.
  • You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.
  • You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.
  • You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.
  • You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you.

You have to do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on.

Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

The hard things are the easiest things to avoid. To excuse away. To pretend like they don’t apply to you.

The simple truth about how ordinary people accomplish outrageous feats of success is that they do the hard things that smarter, wealthier, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do.

Do the hard things. You might be surprised at how amazing you really are.


Your thoughts?

Get With the Program: Stop Static Stretching

9 Jun

As I travel off-site to work with athletes, teams, schools, and organizations, I continue to be amazed by how much static stretching is still being done prior to workouts, training, practices, and games.

People… the evidence-based research is overwhelmingStatic stretching decreases explosive force and power production.  Stretching prior to activity because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not good enough anymore.  You’re doing more harm than good.

In their study, Static Stretching Can Impair Explosive Performance for At Least 24 Hours, Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Haddad, et.al. report that, “static stretching of the lower limbs and hip muscles had a negative effect on explosive performance up to 24 hours poststretching…” and “the positive effects of dynamic (movement based) stretching on explosive performance seem to persist for 24 hours.”

Paradisis, et.al. concluded that “static stretching significantly negates sprinting performance and explosive power in adolescent boys and girls.”  (Effects of Static and Dynamic Stretching on Sprint and Jump Performance in Boys and Girls)

Lowery and colleagues warn that “Coaches and athletes may be at risk for decreased performance after a static stretching bout,” in a study that examines the effects of static stretching on run performance.  The authors previously demonstrated that static stretching was associated with a decrease in running economy and distance run.

Your pre-activity warmup should be dynamic (movement based) and mimic the movement patterns of your activity, starting at a low-intensity level and gradually increasing.  Stretched, elongated muscles — resulting from static stretching — will not prepare them to generate the force and power required for training or sport-specific activity.

Coaches and trainers… get with the program.  Most athletes aren’t going to be aware of this information unless you educate them.  It’s not their fault if they don’t know the potential risks of pre-activity static stretching, but it is yours.  You are their source of information and guidance.  Do your homework.


Your thoughts?

Strength Training Improves Change-of-Direction Speed

7 Jun

Regardless of the sport you play, strength and speed are “difference makers.”  And, although linear sprint speed is important, most athletes will need to change direction while moving at high-speed.

This is another area where strength training becomes important to an athlete’s development.

The development of strength and power through the core, hips, and lower extremities has a positive effect on change-of-direction (COD) performance.  Research shows a high correlation between 1-repetition maximum/body mass and COD in exercises like squats and deadlifts.

In addition to the squat and deadlift exercises, the leg press and split squat are also beneficial to the development of hip and leg drive.

Single-leg exercises, like the single-leg squat, step-up, and Bulgarian split squat, add an element of balance and stability to your lower-extremity strength development.

Plyometric exercises, like box jumps and depth jumps, can help you build explosive power, improving the amount of force you are able to generate against the ground.

Since long-term (>2 years) strength training improves COD performance, it is recommended as early as childhood and adolescence.  Consult with a knowledgeable, experienced strength and conditioning professional for guidance regarding an age-appropriate, well-designed, and well-supervised program.


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Switch from Machines to Free Weights

5 Jun

There’s no argument that exercise machines are mostly convenient and easy-to-use.  Hop on, set your resistance level, and go to work.

However, recent research from the University of South Carolina (excerpted in Men’s Health) revealed that men who train with free weights are less likely to have lower back pain than those who use weight-training machines.

“With machines, you don’t have to stabilize your core to do the exercise,” according to Mike Reinold, PT, CSCS, of Champion PT and Performance in Boston.  “Strength without core stability can overload your back and lead to pain.”

Instead of machines, perform exercises in which your back is not supported, like pushups instead of chest press machine, and standing dumbbell shoulder presses instead of the shoulder press machine.  Planks are another good alternative for building core strength and stability.


Your thoughts?

Upgrade Your Workout Gear

2 Jun

Want to be a little more comfortable when you workout?  Ditch the 100% cotton base layer you currently wear in favor of a lighter polyester or wool blend.

According to a Swiss study, a thinner polyester or wool blend wicks away sweat more efficiently than cotton or 100% wool does.

Moisture-wicking fabrics can be made of a variety of materials, including natural fabrics like wool or silk, synthetic and natural blends, or man-made synthetic fibers such as polyester, polypropylene, and other unique “brand” fabrics used by a variety of different companies (for example, Nike Dri-Fit).

Workout clothing made with moisture-wicking fabrics can help keep you cool, dry, and comfortable when you exercise, allowing you to exercise longer and more effectively, whether in a hot or cold climate.  Given their ability to lift moisture from the skin’s surface, wearing moisture-wicking clothes in the summer can provide a drying effect while preventing overheating from occurring.  In the cold winter months, wearing moisture-wicking fabrics are effective for both controlling moisture and providing an additional layer of insulation.

There are dozens of companies that offer moisture-wicking T-shirts, jerseys, and lined shorts, in a price range that will accommodate your budget.


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