The warm up…
Many think it is unimportant and skip it all together, others tout it as the most important part of your training program and end up spending 30 minutes on it.
While I am in the camp that a training session is either set up for success or failure based on your warm up (this doesn’t mean a 30 minute warm up though), we often overlook and fail to achieve one of the most basic purposes of the warm up.
What is it?
One of the main goals of the warm up is to increase your core temperature as well as the temperature of your tissues.
I mean it is called “The Warm Up” for a reason, so we should get warm!
While quite a few athletes explain to me that they are always hot (I’m looking at you ladies 🙂 ), just because you feel like you are never cool enough does not mean that your core temperature and the temperature of your tissues is as the optimal point for training and performance.
When your core and tissue temperatures are elevated it makes it easier for your muscles and joints to move more freely.
When they are not, getting in to positions such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. are much more difficult. And if you are trying to prepare your body for sprints, jumps, cuts, etc. cold, stiff muscles and joints are not going to work out too well.
So with this in mind, what are the three easiest ways to ensure you are elevating your core and tissue temperature to a sufficient level?
Eat or drink something hot (and with caffeine if you can tolerate it).
When you consume warm food or liquids, the temperature of the food/drink helps to increase core temperature. Seems pretty simple, and well, it is!
But I know that many of you cannot eat directly before training because you feel that you will definitely become reacquainted with it a few minutes into training (I on the other hand can eat a whole cow and be fine…weird I know).
Even if you cannot eat before training, most of us are pretty good with liquids.
So try some hot coffee, tea or other drink you enjoy hot.
Just try to refrain from the sugar laden cookie flavored hot chocolate or whatever ridiculous beverage is available nowadays.
And if you can tolerate caffeine, opt for the caffeinated version of coffee or tea as the caffeine will transiently increase metabolic rate. This will also help increase core temperature.
2. Put on layers.
Maybe another “Duh” statement (I make them a lot), but the more clothes you have on the warmer you will be.
Try starting by putting on a sweatshirt and athletic pants that you can strip off as you warm up.
You don’t have wear a snow suit, hats and gloves…even a long sleeve shirt and pants will suffice.
And you don’t have to wait until you are pouring sweat, just long enough to get a little “clammy” so to speak.
This may be the easiest way to help you increase your core and tissue temperature, but it is one that is often overlooked, especially during the warmer times of year.
Just remember that most facilities have some sort of air conditioning. So you don’t have to wear your gear to the gym, just throw it in your bag for when you get there…it is likely pretty cool inside.
3. Go “old school” warm up first.
While science has shown time and again that a dynamic warm that utilizes more specific patterns such as high knees, butt kicks, lateral shuffles, etc. is superior to simply jumping on a bike, treadmill, elliptical, etc,, getting on the bike (or other equipment) for a few minutes prior to the start of your specific warm up can help.
Getting your temperature up before getting on the foam roller, stretching out and doing some mobility drills helps to enhance the outcome of those drills.
To reiterate, going from the machine of choice directly into your high intensity working sets is not suggested, but getting a few minutes in before a more specific warm up is warranted.
Combine all three of the tips above by sipping on some coffee on your way to training, throwing on a sweat shirt and pants and jumping on the bike before you get to your specific warm up and you will be well on your way to a more productive training session.
Stay tuned for the next article where I will go over what constitutes a quality warm, and how to consolidate the warm up so you don’t spend the first 30 minutes of your session warming up.
Help spread these simple steps to a better warm up by sharing it with your friends, family and everyone else you care about!
To your health and performance,
Your goals are what is actually holding you back!
Or at least the way you think about your goals.
There was a study done a while back (1979) where Harvard students were asked if they had clear written goals for the future and a plan to achieve them.
84% didn’t have specific goals at all
13% had goals but they were not written down on paper
That leaves 3% who had clear, written goals and a plan to achieve them.
10 years later the researchers again interviewed the students and discovered some astonishing findings.
The 13% who had goals but had not written them down made, on average, twice as much income as the 84% who had no specific goals.
And even more incredible, the 3% who had clear, written goals and a plan to accomplish them, well they were earning 10x…that’s right 10 freakin’ times more than the other 97% combined.
Well not really.
This study shows is that when we write our goals down, and are specific about them, we have a greater chance to reach those goals and be successful.
The reason is, when you set a vague or broad goal such as “I want to lose weight,” “I want to gain muscle,” “I want to sprint faster,” or even something such as “I want to make more money,” we do not have a strong connection to that goal.
When we get specific about our goals, we have a much stronger connection and are more likely to keep those goals in the forefront of the mind throughout our day.
Not only that, but having broad goals is like trying to hit a moving target at 100 yards with a spit ball.
You know that the goal is to hit that target, but you are far from the target and your weapon (tools and plan of attack) is less than optimal.
And worse, even if you got Uncle Willis to supe up your spit ball gun, right when you are about to fire, the target moves!
Good luck with that!
The point is, the more specific your goals are, the more Chris Kyle like you become when trying to hitting your target…warning: some swearing, some blood, but one of the best movies ever.
And it is not just that the goal is specific, but that with a specific goal you can then reverse engineer a specific, actionable plan on how to get there.
Once you lay out the plan, the path to your goals gets that much easier.
Let’s take a look at a common example.
“I want to lose some fat” vs “I want drop my body fat percentage from 20% to 15% by December 1st”
Fat loss is an extremely common goal, and also a commonly vague goal.
You can see that the latter goal is much more specific, and gives a defined deadline to reach the goal.
In this case you can reverse engineer a plan to reach your goal, and be able to “chunk” down the process. When fat loss in general is the goal, it is much harder to do this.
So in this case, you could say you have 12 weeks to reach your goal. That would equate to a little over a .5% (.42%) drop in body composition per week.
Some weeks will be less, some weeks will be more but on average it should be a little under .5%.
In order to create an environment for fat loss, you have to create a caloric deficit (consume less calories than you expend).
In general I like to go between higher calorie days and lower calorie days so it doesn’t feel like you are always hungry and being deprived.
I suggest 4 low calorie days and 3 high calorie days for fat loss.
For the low calorie days you would multiply your bodyweight by 10-11 and that would be your caloric intake for that day.
For the high days you would multiply your bodyweight by 12-13.
For example, lets say you weigh 180 pounds.
Your low calorie days would be between 1800 and 1980 calories.
Your high days would be between 2,160 and 2,340 calories.
If you don’t notice the changes you are looking for you can manipulate up or down accordingly.
It would be best to make your high calorie days the days in which you train and your low calorie days the days that you condition and or rest.
And it is easy to track your calories using an app on your phone. You shouldn’t have to do that for ever, but it is always a good start until you start to better understand what a portion looks like.
In order to stay within your calories necessary to reach your goals it would be best to choose high nutrient low calorie foods such as quality meats (chicken, beef, pork, turkey, etc.), veggies (spinach, broccoli, asparagus, peppers, onions, carrots, etc.), fruit (apples, bananas, kiwi, peaches, etc.), quality carbs (rice, potatoes, quinoa, sprouted grain breads, etc.) and if you are not allergic, high quality dairy (cheese, greek yogurt, whey protein, etc.).
These foods will help you feel full for longer and stay away from the overly deprived feeling that many experience when trying to diet and lose weight.
Also, sticking with low calorie drinks such as water, tea and coffee as your primary sources is key.
So you if you have a specific goal of 10 pounds and 2 inches in 8 weeks, you can then relate that goal to every choice you make when it comes to your nutrition.
Having these specific numbers to remember will make it easier to say no to that double fudge brownie that grandma made you.
And when it comes to your training and physical activity there are certain methods you need to consider making your focus.
If your goal is to lose fat, trying to become the next world’s strongest man likely will not be the best and quickest way to do so.
Don’t get me wrong, you still need to strength train in order to make the best progress, but if your goal going into the gym is to be the strongest S.O.B. around, it is going to take longer to reach your fat loss goal.
Your overall volume will need to be lower than what is optimal to create a high caloric expenditure, and your rest periods would need to be longer…too long for an optimal metabolic response.
Strong as hell, but not so lean…just don’t tell him that!
Instead, I would encourage a couple sets of strength sets followed up by a metabolic focus.
This may look something like this:
1a. Plank Holds 3x30s
1b. Trap Bar Deadlift 3-4×5
1c. Flat DB/Barbell Bench Press 3-4×5
2a. Side Plank x20s/side
2b. Goblet Squat x8
2c. TRX Row x10
2d. Push Up x10
(go through 2a-2d as many times as possible in 15 minutes)
3a. Sled Push x30s on 30s off for 5 minutes
So again, just as with nutrition, if you have a specific goal with a specific deadline, you are more likely to choose the training method that is more conducive to get there.
You are less likely to go to the gym and do what you feel like doing that day.
And when it comes to being physically active, knowing that you have 8 weeks to reach your goal will help you get up, go for a walk, play with the kids, etc. rather than sit down on the couch when you have free time.
Those specific numbers, with a specific deadline, will help keep you accountable throughout the day.
No matter what your goals are, whether that be in health, fitness, finances, relationships, etc., take a few minutes to write them down.
And not just any vague goal.
Put a deadline on it…just make sure it is realistic (please don’t think you will lose 20 pounds in the first week of any program, unless you are doing it the wrong way).
Every decision throughout the day you can always think back to your specific goal. If the action you are about to take doesn’t help you move closer to that goal, then think again.
If it does, then hell yah, you are working towards that goal.
When you have definite goals, the target does not move and makes it much more likely for you to succeed and hit that target.
And if your goals include losing fat, the above plan and tips are a good place to start.
If you enjoyed what you just read and found it helpful, please pass it on!
To your health and performance,
When you are physically active, train and/or play sports, you unfortunately have a greater chance to experience pain.
And no, pain is not “just a part of it,” or at least it should not be!
One of the goals of training is to reduce the risk of pain and potential injury, not exacerbate it.
But if you are training in suboptimal positions, and/or placing too much stress on a specific joint or tissue, you are setting yourself up to experience an overuse injury.
One of the most common areas to experience an overuse injury is at the hips. More specifically, the anterior hip (front of the hip), which becomes compromised and is often the site of pain.
Many times it feels like the front of the hip is just “wicked tight” and that it simply needs to be stretched out. But no matter how much stretching you do, the front of the hip never seems to be able to “loosen up.”
And further, it is common to experience a pain or pinch in the front of the hip (and many times into the groin region) when performing squats, lunges, step ups or any other movement that requires good a deal of hip flexion (when the hip is folding and the upper leg is moving toward the chest).
So really, what the hell is going on?
It would be nice to sit here and tell you exactly what the cause is, but as with almost every situation, it really depends.
But there are a couple big players that may be causing you to experience a decrease in performance, hip discomfort, or worse, set you up for an unwanted injury…so ya, even if you are not in pain yet this is a must read!
Hip Pain Reason 1) Sorry, you were born that way!
When we look at the hip joint, you can see that it is a ball (head of the femur) and socket (acetabulum). And when we observe the hip move into flexion, you can see how the neck/head of the femur moves up in the socket.
Well for some of us, the socket is rotated more to the front (anteversion) or the back (retroversion). In either case, when we descend into hip flexion with our feet pointed straight ahead as most of us are coached, we run out of room in the socket and the neck/head of the femur bumps into the top of the socket.
This bone to bone contact impinges (or pinches) the structures between them causing them to degrade. Over time the structures can fray or tear and result in injury and chronic pain.
But in the short term, we are likely to feel a pinch or “tightness” in the front of the hip.
So does that mean that if we are born with hips that are not completely “normal” or not “aligned normally” that we can not train or play sports?
No, of course not!
But it does mean that we must be aware of our position when doing exercises or movements that require deep ranges of motion into hip flexion.
The best way to know whether or not you need to implement a modified position or depth is too have a professional assess your hips. This is something we do at TOP Fitness and I do with my online clients when we hear of pain or discomfort at the front of the hip.
But what happens when you don’t have access to a pro?
Well this is a “Duh” statement, but the biggest thing you can do is to move according to how it feels at the hip…if it hurts don’t do it that way!
If you squat with your toes straight ahead and it pinches in the front of the hip, try squatting with your toes pointed out slightly (retroversion), or you may have orient your foot more towards the midline of your body (anteversion) for example. One way will feel worse than the other.
Whichever direction feels better and you can achieve a greater depth without the pain, then that is your new stance. Obviously if it feels worse, don’t squat that way (or lunge, or step up, etc.).
And for some of us, we may have to squat to a slightly shallower depth…we just might not be built to squat to a low position.
Just because you can’t hit an ass to grass squat, doesn’t mean you are weak and worthless.
Better to reduce the range of motion a little than crutch yourself around after going under the knife (and surgery is no fun, I promise).
Hip Pain Reason 2) You are starting in a bad position!
Thinking about the hip, you can imagine that if the hip socket was tipped forward (anteriorly tilted) that the neck/head of the femur would not have much room to move before it came into contact with the socket.
Yet this tipped forward position is exactly where many of us live, play and train from.
Our “normal” position is one that is tipped forward, shutting down the hip socket before we even begin to move.
So when we do squat, lunge, step up, sprint, etc. it is much easier for us to run the neck/head of the femur into the brim of the socket, and impinge the structures between them.
So the goal is to achieve a neutral position at the hip before we do anything else.
For those of us that walk around with the anterior tilt, this means that we must rotate our hip backwards slightly (posterior tilt).
This is achieved by the contraction of the deep abdominal muscles (obliques for example), and is a huge reason why you will always hear us coaching up the core before anything else.
You can think about it as if you were to pull your zipper up towards the ceiling.
If we do not set our hip in a good position, and keep it there via our core, we will end up more easily impinging at the front of the hip.
The key here is setting the hip in a neutral alignment. We have to be careful not to over correct and end up looking like your 80 year old Grandpa Steve (no offense to any true Grandpa Steve out there).
An easy way to help you understand where you should be is to turn sideways to a mirror and rotate your hip forward and backward until your hips (waistband) are level and your low back has a slight curve to it. This position is what you need to try and achieve throughout the day, as well as with training before and during every movement.
Hip Pain Reason 3) Your ass isn’t working.
Lastly, a very common reason for the anterior portion of your hip to be bothering you is the fact that your ass isn’t doing the work that it should…you have a lazy ass!
OK, so maybe not a lazy ass, but an ass that doesn’t turn on at the right time and with enough force to do its job.
During hip extension (straightening of the hip…think standing up from the bottom of the squat) you have muscles that are working to produce the hip extension. These muscles include the glutes (your ass), hamstrings and adductor magnus as the prime movers.
While all three need to work to produce optimal function and force, many times we rely on one or two over the other. And commonly, we use our hamstrings and adductor more than our glutes.
The issue is that the glutes are not only a huge force producer which will allow you to squat more weight, run faster, jump higher, etc., but they are also a stabilizer for the head of the femur in the hip socket.
The action of the glutes actually provides a “suctioning” force on the head of the femur which keeps it centered in the socket…a good position and very good thing when it comes to moving!
When we are not firing our glutes at the right time and with enough force, our hamstrings are likely to take over.
And while the hamstrings can do a pretty good job of producing force, they also create a pull on the femur that results in the head of the femur gliding forward out of the hip socket (anterior glide).
You can imagine this is not a good thing as the front of the hip has structures such as the anterior hip capsule that should not be pressed on, or worse, through.
This produces the tight/pressure feeling in the front of the hip that many of us think is do to a tight hip flexor, when in fact, it is actually our femur pressing forward out of the joint.
Overtime this can result in degradation of the anterior hip capsule and chronic pain.
Your goal needs to be to focus on using your glutes, or in everyday terms, your ass, to help you get up from the bottom of the squat, deadlift, lunge, step up, etc.
If you can create and strengthen the pattern by which you utilize your glutes like you should during training, this is more likely to cary over to sprints, jumping, etc. and will help you not only stay away from hip pain and other injuries, but will also help you perform at a higher level.
Some simple exercises to help with this are glute bridge variations, and this is why you will find many of these variations within TOP Fitness programs as well as my online clients’ programs.
The glutes are not only nice to look at, but they are a huge factor in preventing unwanted hip pain and injury…so get your ass to work!
Hip Pain…No Thanks
There is no question that training is essential for health, fitness goals and performance.
But in the same token, when training is performed without consideration for structural limitations (if there are any), performed from a bad starting position or performed using faulty movement patterns (wrong muscles as the wrong time), training can easily lead to more issues than positive outcomes.
The above concepts should be understood, and the tips should be implemented in order to continue to progress your fitness and performance without running into hip pain and injury.
Pain sucks, believe me! Train hard, but first and foremost, train smart!
Pass this info along and reach out for any questions.
To you health and performance,
Should I have eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?
A protein shake sounds good too.
Even Greek Yogurt and berries would be really good this morning.
But wait, how about pancakes or waffles?
Or maybe one of those frozen baked goods I have in the freezer.
And after breakfast maybe I’ll do some sprints.
Or maybe I’ll lift some weights.
Do some yoga?
That Crossfit thing down the road seems like something I’d be in to…maybe.
Or maybe I’ll just stay right here and finish the 101st season of The Walking Dead.
When it comes to your health, fitness and performance goals, it is not a lack of information or lack of options that is holding you back.
If fact, it is usually the exact opposite that causes the problem.
When we have too many options (and no plan), we run into what has been termed decision fatigue.
What happens is when there are too many choices, there is a longer sessions of decision making and we may experience decision fatigue.
When this happens have a greater likelihood of choosing something that is less than optimal for our goals.
Decision fatigue plagues those of us that have too many choices and no plan.
Because I hate getting caught in this trap, I have limited my choices when it comes to meals, and to a lesser extent, training.
Sometimes I catch quite a bit of flack for this, and sometimes I can (and should) be a little more flexible with my food and training, but the majority of the time this has served me well.
You may get made fun of for “having the same thing every night” or “training at the same time every day.”
“Dude, that is so boring!”
But believe me, if you limit your choices it makes it much easier to stay on task with your nutrition and training. I’ll take someone calling me boring when I am one of the more athletic guys in the crowd, and knowing I won’t scare off the ladies when beach season rolls around.
With that in mind, I wanted to share how I approach my meals and training to limit decision fatigue.
On 95% of the days during the year you will find me consuming 1 of 3 breakfasts. Each of the three provides me with the nutrients necessary to support an intense training regimen, an active lifestyle and my performance and aesthetic goals.
Oh ya, and each are delicious and something I look forward to every day and never get sick of…maybe I’m just weird.
Option 1: Veggie omelet with baked sweet potatoes, 1 medium banana, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 1 cup of coffee with a splash of whole milk.
Cut up 1/2 green/red pepper, 1/4 sweet onion, 1/2 cup mushrooms and sauté them in a pan. Scramble 2-3 eggs and add to pan. Let eggs cook until you can flip and cook the other side. Add a pinch of shredded cheese and salsa if you desire.
For the sweet potatoes I cut up a sweet potato, add cinnamon and bake at 400 degrees for 23-25 minutes in the beginning of the week. I then reheat a portion of the potatoes at 350 for 5-10 minutes while I am cooking my omelet.
Plate the omelet and potatoes and have a banana and peanut butter on the side if desired and it fits your caloric intake for the day.
**I cut my veggies the night before and cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge so all I have to do it the morning is throw them in the pan…another way to avoid decision fatigue.
The total time it takes me to make my omelet is roughly 10 minutes once the veggies hit the pan.
Option 2: Protein Shake (mainly whole food)
Using a blender (a personal blender such as the Ninja single serve cups works great), add 1/2 to 1 cup of frozen berries and 1/2 frozen banana to the blender cup.
Add 1-2 handfuls of spinach, 1-2 tbsp peanut butter, 1 scoop of protein and cinnamon to taste.
Add your liquid, about 8oz of almond milk, regular milk, green tea, water, coffee, etc…I prefer unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Blend until desired consistency…if you want it thicker add a few ice cubes or reduce the amount of liquid next time. If you want it thinner add more liquid.
For many of us this will be enough for the meal. Because my goals are to gain quality weight I need a few more calories. Therefore I have a piece of Ezekiel bread, 1/2 cup of green beans with hot sauce and a handful of mixed nuts on the side.
**I know the green beans with hot sauce sounds weird! One day I didn’t plan very well and all I had left to have with my shake were green beans. I didn’t want plain green beans so I added hot sauce and voila, the sweet and spicy back and forth between the green beans and shake got me. Ever since then this has been my combo.
Option 3: Loaded Oatmeal
For my oatmeal I pretty much take what I put in my shake and throw it in oatmeal. Recently though, my wife has introduced me to carrot cake oatmeal and it is definitely my favorite. A little more involved so it is usually a treat for me on the weekends.
For the oatmeal, cook 1/2 to 1 cup of old fashion oats…the serving depends on your goals. I use 1 cup so you may want to go a little less to start.
Once the oats are cooked, add 1 scoop protein powder and cinnamon to taste. If you are using chocolate protein powder you can also add a little cocoa for enhanced flavor. Stir in evenly.
Next add 1/2-1 cup of berries, half a banana chopped and a small handful of mixed nuts.
Stir in, dump into a bowl and enjoy!
On days where I know I have a heavier resistance training session planned I typically lean more towards the oatmeal as it provides me with a little more carbohydrate for energy.
On my lighter days and off days I will go for the omelet or protein shake.
For training it is more about the time of the session, and the overall plan for that day/week.
If you have the choice to train at 6am, 12pm, 5pm or 7pm, and don’t plan on which time you are going to train, the day could easily go something like this:
5am: Alarm goes off in time for you to get up and get ready for 6am session and work…you push the snooze button and training is put off until lunch.
12pm: Instead of training you decide to go out for lunch with a co-worker…so you will train at 5pm after work.
4pm: Your significant other (or your kids…or both!) want you home for dinner. This is not a bad thing but pushes your training off until 7pm after everyone is fed and settling down for the night.
6:45pm: Not only are you tired, but you have to get ready for work/school for the next day, and therefore, training is pushed off until tomorrow…where your schedule is the same as it was today!
Now I know life is busy, but if you have chosen to train at a certain time every day, it is much less likely that you will fall into this trap.
Also, the mode of training is a key choice as well.
If you could resistance train, hit a bodyweight ciruit, sprint, jog, play some basketball, or simply go for a walk each and everyday, you may find yourself spending an entire week walking the dog.
This isn’t going to be enough if you want to get stronger and more defined…and could lead to some other problems ↓
Or you may find yourself throwing heavy amounts of iron around the weight room every day…a quick way to burn out or get injured.
Having just one (maybe two) choices per day as to the mode of training you are going to perform limits your chances of picking a suboptimal choice.
With that, a couple things you can do to prevent decision fatigue from working its way into your training:
- Choose a time of day to train, every day!
This doesn’t mean you have to train at the same time on every day of the week, but each individual day should be the same, 90% of the time.
Maybe that is 6am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 12pm on Tuesday and Thursday and 9am on the weekends.
Whatever time works best for that day, but make sure to stick to that choice.
2) Choose your training method for each day.
Like the first point, choosing which training method you are going to perform on each day helps you stay on track.
That could be resistance training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then sprints on Tuesday and Saturday. And on Thursday and Sunday you could perform a light circuit, go for a jog or enjoy a long walk.
Of course depending on your level of fatigue you can (and probably should) modify the original choice to prevent any unwanted injuries.
The point is, when you have an overall schedule that you have chosen, you are more likely to see greater progress.
You could say that this is any good program that is drawn up, and I would agree, but I am saying that you still have to choose to follow that program.
If you want some more help with your program, fill out the online coaching application if you are not in the Nashua NH area.
If you are in southern NH, stop by TOP Fitness in the Conway Ice Arena and we can help you out.
Make the Easy Choice
We all have choices to make, and each choice we make has a direct effect on our health, fitness and performance goals.
By limiting the available options, you have a greater chance to select a choice that helps you move closer to your goals…not further away.
Not only this, but when you don’t really have to decide on something each and every day, you reserve more energy (predominantly mental energy) to use for other areas of your life (school, work, relationships, sports, etc.).
Prevent decision fatigue from plaguing your nutrition and training efforts by implementing tips above.
And don’t worry when someone wants to call you “boring” or “predictable”…they are just mad and tired of fighting decision fatigue so they are taking it out on you!
Share this with your friends and family, and anyone else you think could use this info to help enhance their life and performance!
To your health and performance,
One of the most common questions we are asked is what is the difference between in-season training and off-season training for athletes.
While our training philosophy doesn’t change much, what does change are the constraints on our athletes.
They have less time to dedicate to training as they are practicing or playing 5-7 days per week.
In playing 5-7 days per week, they also have less time to recover and energy reserves available.
Lastly, and most importantly, when our athletes are in-season they are usually also in school and overly stressed.
With many of our athletes taking Advanced Placement classes, participating in the student advisory board and being captain of math team, stress levels are at an all time high, exacerbating the lack time and recovery.
Also, many of our athletes will get into (or stay in) the habit of staying up all night long
watching Netflix doing homework , and lack of quality sleep becomes a big issue.
With these factors in play, we can not place as much volume, intensity, frequency and overall demand on our athletes during the in-season as we can during the off-season. If we do, it will likely result in decreased performance, and even worse, can place them at a greater risk for potential injury.
The goal is to keep them as healthy as possible, moving well and to maintain strength and power output throughout the season (although with proper programming we have seen many of our athletes continue to improve strength and power as well!).
While we are talking about competitive athletes in the middle of a season, this is not unlike our everyday athletes who work a full day, worry about paying bills, taking care of the kids (if they have them) and who are training to be healthy, strong and look damn good naked.
The following tips for training in-season athletes apply to the competitive athlete as well as the everyday athlete…let’s do this!
Maintain tissue quality and proper movement.
When high loads of similar patterns are placed on the body the body adapts to those patterns, likely decreasing the efficiency with other movements.
The stiffness in certain tissues (muscles, fascia, etc.) is lost while the stiffness in other tissues is gained, which is most of the time going to cause problems down the road if left unaddressed.
Let’s just take a look at a quick example: the calves.
During the off-season most athletes will not compete at the level they will during the in-season and will not do so as frequently. For most this means less overall volume with jumping, sprinting, cutting, etc.
While we address these components in our off-season training, there is just no way to truly mimic the demands without actually playing the sport.
So once the in-season rolls around, more frequent stress is applied to the calves via increased jumping, cutting, sprinting. Therefore the tissue is likely to become more stiff. A stiff calf can lead to decreased ankle range of motion and/or an achilles that is pissed off…and a pissed off achilles is never a good thing.
In case you don’t get this reference, that is Achilles in the movie Troy…a must see!
If this happens, overuse injuries to the calf or achilles itself, or unwanted movement compensations can occur, leading to overuse injuries further up the chain.
So the number one goal is to maintain tissue quality and range of motion within the calves and ankle complex. We can do this via placing an even greater emphasis on foam rolling or other soft tissue work paired with some ankle mobility work.
Again this is just ONE example and one area that we need to be aware of with our athletes…there are many others.
Certain segments of the body are more at risk for different sports, or even within the same sport in different positions, so an individual approach is warranted.
And putting this into an everyday perspective, if we are spending increased time at the desk because we have a big project to complete at work, or are taking part in a video game weekend tournament, we are will experience tissue changes in our hips, upper back, pecs, neck, etc. that will all have to be addressed.
Once tissue quality and range of motion are taken care of, we then work on maintaining quality movement through an extended warm up that targets all of our major patterns: squat, lunge, hinge, lateral movement, rotational movement, etc.
This is goal number one, which allows our athletes to stay healthy and work more efficiently with the next goals.
2. Prioritize your strength and power
While we all want our athletes to be the biggest, strongest and best conditioned athletes this planet has ever seen, if we train our athletes for all of these qualities during the in-season you will burn them out.
When energy reserves are low and recovery is likely to be compromised, the goal is to reduce the volume of training first and foremost.
While we can also reduce the intensity if necessary (amount of resistance used), keeping the intensity high and dropping the volume is the best approach. This allows the athletes to obtain the training effect we are looking for without completely draining their bodies.
This means placing a heavy (pun intended) emphasis on strength and power.
Strength and power movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench press variations and heavier single leg movements such as RFE split squats and front squat grip reverse lunges are the big players for strength.
When it comes to power development, we want to reduce the amount of impact stress as athletes are undergoing high volumes of impact forces in sport. This means replacing jump variations with movements such as KB swings, DB push presses and utilizing bands as a form of resistance with the intent to move quickly and explosively.
Completing 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with a few of these exercises should make up the bulk of the lifting program.
Although putting a number on total sets will vary, staying at or under 20 total sets for a session is usually enough stimulation for the athletes. A quick example would look something like this.
1a. Plank holds 2x30s
1b. KB Swings 3×6
1c. 1 Arm DB Push Press 3×5/side
2a. Side Plank Holds 2x25s/side
2b. Trap Bar Deadlift 3×5
2c. N. Grip Chin Up 3×5
3a. Face Pull 2×15
3b. Lateral Lunge Plate Press 2×10/side
While quality over quantity is always the goal, for in-season athletes whose time and energy reserves are limited, this becomes even more paramount.
3. Hit only a couple key accessory movements.
After the strength and power work are taken care of, finishing the session with a couple key accessory movements, not 4,5 or 6 movements is best.
These movements will change depending on the athlete’s needs, but if an athlete is moving well and pain free movements such as face pulls, lateral lunges (these are the two listed in the example above), single arm rowing exercises, KB bottoms up pressing exercises, hip bridge exercises, single leg deadlifts, push ups and even some arm work (those bis and tris) are good choices.
The goal is to work through movements that the athlete may not experience much during sport in order to balance the body as much as possible. And doing this in a fashion with few sets allows the athlete to work through the exercise without accruing too much volume and damage.
Again, these exercises are meant to assist with the main lifts of the program so 1-3 sets is all that is needed.
4. Switch the focus of conditioning.
When we have our off-season athletes our goal is to get them as conditioned as possible before the season starts.
We progress them accordingly and work them up to high intensity repeat conditioning sessions to help them get closer to “game shape.”
With that we sprinkle in some lower intensity sessions to help them recover for the next training day, as well as increase their aerobic base.
When it comes to in-season conditioning, we are not sprinting our athletes. We are not completing interval work or asking them to repeat any other high intensity efforts.
The goal with conditioning is to encourage recovery by increasing blood flow throughout the body as well as maintain a solid aerobic base.
This is accomplished by lower intensity outputs for 10-30 minutes.
This can be a light jog, bike ride, row machine work or swimming. This can also be a lower intensity circuit of lunges, push ups, sled pushes, sideboard touches, etc. The key is to make sure that the effort is appropriate and not to turn this session into a “grind” where they are left fighting for oxygen in a puddle of your own sweat.
I always remind the athlete that a session like this should be a 4-6 on a 10 scale. Above 6 and you are going to hard. Below 4 and you are likely not getting the adaptations we are going for.
And for the most part, these conditioning sessions are performed outside of their training sessions at The Athletic Way. We advise them and give them the conditioning program to complete on off days.
5. Education, education, education…oh and education!
This could (and probably should be) the first point as it is the most important of all, but this is a good “wrap up” point.
If our athletes simply come to training sessions during the in-season (which at most is usually 1-3x/week if we are lucky) and don’t do anything the rest of the week to stay healthy, strong and helping them to recover, the season is going to be very, very long for them!
We have to help our athletes understand that they can and should work on tissue quality (foam roll, lax ball, tiger tail, etc.) and mobility exercises outside of training. A couple 3-5 minutes sessions per day will make a HUGE difference.
We also have to help them understand that the weight room and training program overall is not to “grind them out” as it may be sometimes during the off-season.
We have to educate them on the fact that training during the in-season is meant to help them maintain (and improve) performance, but most importantly keep them healthy and free of injury.
And we must emphasize the hell out of recovery!
Placing an even greater emphasis on sleep, nutrition, hydration and strategies to decrease stress is critical!
Although we do this as much as possible throughout the entire year, athletes have to be reminded even more during the in-season about the importance of recovery and all the components that go into it, and the fact that in-season training is first and foremost meant to keep the injury free and maintain performance outputs.
The Final Word
Hopefully any of my online athletes or the athletes we work with at The Athletic Way realize that in-season vs off-season training (for competitive athletes and everyday athletes) is not that different after all.
The principles are still the same, but certain components get more attention during different parts of the year.
The goal of anytime during the year should be to improve health, performance and to prevent injury. But when time, energy reserves and recovery capacity are limited, the program must be adjusted accordingly.
There is absolutely and individual factor that we take into account, but the principles above are key in each program.
If you want more help in building a program that works around your “season” whether that is in-season or off-season simply reach out and fill out the ATHLETE APPLICATION.
And if you are in southern New Hampshire and want to train with the best athletes and coaches this side of the universe (I may be a little biased), stop by The Athletic Way.
To your health and performance,