Our 2014 Summer Sports Training Schedule

We will once again expand our youth training class times once we get to the end of the school year, which is only a few more weeks away!

You can find our full summer athletic development schedule here:

SUMMER ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT CLASS SCHEDULE

 

Here are some of the highlights:

We are putting a much greater emhasis on speed development.  Morning speed academies and semi-private speed training lessons are found throughout the week.

 

-  Our morning Speed Academy is a very low cost option for speed development.  Just $20 per month for current members.

 

Our 30 minute Semi-Private Speed Training classes are a new way to help you get faster.  With groups of just 2-4 athletes, this class will entirely dig into sprint mechanics and how you can correct your own specific areas of need.

 

- Champion classes are varied by age throughout the week.  We’ve kept our Tuesday at 5 and Thursday at 6 classes, but added an all-age morning class and another Age 10-13 class on Friday afternoon.

 

Overall, we have 47 weekly class times to choose from.  Still plenty of strength & power development classes as always (now called ‘Group Personal Training’), but now have 11 weekly times dedicated just to speed development.

If you are serious about becoming a better athlete this summer, we are ready to help you improve no matter what your development need may be.

 

 

 

3 Key Injury Prevention Tips For Throwing Athletes

Spring is the season for throwing athletes, particularly in baseball and softball.  And with throwing season in full bloom, elbow and shoulder pain are guaranteed to come along with it just as predictably as the days starting to get longer.

Rotator cuff tears, torn labrums, Little League elbows and other joint problems are about to be in full bloom across America as a whole new set of unprepared arms break down under the strain of the throwing motion.

Coaches and leagues everywhere have wisely focused on improved mechanics, better warm up techniques, and tighter restrictions on how much throwing can be done as excellent preventative measures for our kids.

But even with all of that, an understabilized and restricted arm is still a major candidate for plysical issues.

Here are 3 simple but powerfully effective ways any throwing athlete can further reduce their risk of shoulder and elbow injury problems through lower-intensity training activities.

Tip #1 – Use A Foam Roller Regularly

Your shoulder is designed to move free and easy throughout a full range of motion.  A high volume of throwing will create tightness in the muscles involved which limits your shoulder’s ability to move as freely as it previously did.

Foam rolling is a simple way to loosen up those tight throwing muscles.  It is essentially a self-massage mechanism and can dramatically relieve tension in any soft tissue if used regularly.  (Our full foam roll article can be found here.)

Working through a routine where the forearms and every muscle around the shoulder are rolled out is recommended, along with any other muscles you have that get tight.

Tip #2 – Stabilize Your Shoulder With Band Resistance Training

If you’ve ever gone to physical therapy you know band reistance is a key piece of the rehabilitation puzzle.  And for all the same reasons, its a great tool to use for preventing injuries, as well.

Bands develop end range of motion strength because that is where a stretched band provides the most resistance.  This is where many people are weakest and susceptible to breakdowns.

Bands, unlike weights which can only use gravity for vertical loading, can provide horizontal and diagonal loading forces that are much more similar to the strains incurred from a typical throwing motion.  Matching the plane of motion in which injuries occur is a typically overlooked aspect of injury prevention training.

And finally, bands can improve flexibility at the same time they add end-range strengthening.  This critical two-for-one aspect makes an even more unique and beneficial resistance tool.

Tip #3 – Use A Modest Amount Of Closed-Chain Strength Drills

With a controlled amount of volume, some strength training can still be beneficial to a thrower while in-season.

For exercise selection, make sure you are focused on closed-chain exercises.  Closed chain exercises for your upper body are the ones where your hands are in a fixed position.

A pushup is a closed chain drill because your hands stay on the ground, but a bench press is not.  There are many more examples of each.

The reason these drills are better for throwers is because they strengthen the critical rotator cuff muscles that connect the shoulder joint to the scapulas.  And of course the reason why you have probably heard of the rotator cuff is because you know or heard of someone who tore theirs….likely when throwing or doing some other overhead movement.

 

A strong and healthy shoulder has the added benefit of reducing strain on the elbow joint, as well.  It is the critical link in the chain for pitchers and all other throwers.  By taking action to keep them functioning at peak capacity, you’ll drastically reduce your injury risk this spring and summer.

The Daemon Vs The Resistance

‘Linchpin’, written by Seth Godin, is a book I wish every high school and college student in America would read.

It talks about how to achieve greatness in any field while navigating through the challenges of our 21st Century world.

In one critical part of the book, Godin talks about how we all struggle with the internal battle between the daemon and the resistance:

“The Daemon is a Greek term (the Romans called it a ‘genius’).  They believed the daemon was a separate being that lived inside of us.  The genius living inside of us would struggle to express itself in art, writing , or any other endeavor.”

The daemon’s enemy is the resistance.  It will invent stories, illnesses, emergencies, and distractions in order to keep the genius bottled up.  

The resistance is afraid.   Afraid of what will happen to you (and to it) if your genius gets out, if your gifts are received, if the magic happens.

You know the resistance is there.  You’ve felt it.

The resistance is nefarious and clever.  It creates diseases, procrastination, and most especially rationalization.  Lots and lots of rationalization, some of which you may be experiencing right now.”

I’m sure you can relate to this as well as I can.

Everyone has some type of genius skills within them, whether they be academic, athletic, artistic, or any other form.

And it can be scary to let it out, because we are all hard wired with this ‘resistance’ feeling deep inside of us.  For millions of years it was necessary for human survival.

When taking this concept specifically to athletic development, it is my firm belief that for every 1 athlete who reaches an elite level in their sport, there were at least 100 others who could have been just as good.

So what happened to everyone who didn’t make it?

They all gave in to the resistance.

They allowed it to create endless distractions in their lives.

It made them consistently take time off to attend to an endless series of minor ailments & illnesses for months and sometimes even years.

It let others cause them to lose faith in themselves.

It told them it was OK to put off until tomorrow, next week, next season, next year, what they should have been working towards right now.

And then it rationalized all these decisions so that it all made sense in their head, that never letting their genius shine had a perfectly defensible explanation.

If you know you have something better inside you than what is currently showing today, and you only need to continue developing that genius skill in order for it to flourish, then stand up to the resistance

Fight through all the things that knock everyone else off course, despite that powerful voice telling you its OK to give in this time.

Because once you start standing up to the resistance some of the time, it begins to weaken.  And before you know it, the daemon starts winning the battle.

And you will have overcome the largest obstacle on your way to reaching your true potential.

(‘Linchpin’  can be found at many online bookstores, including here: Amazon.com )

Filters To Athletic Success

Back in my college days I remember one of our engineering labs using this giant machine to filter sediment.

Essentially what it did was, after we’d pour a mixture of dirt and rocks into the top of the machine, separate the pieces by size.  It did this by falling through a series of grated trays, each one with progressively smaller holes than the one above it.

The bigger rocks would catch and stay on the top filter, the next biggest pieces would catch on the next one, and so on.  So the only sediment that made it through all the filters were the finest grains of sand.

In many ways, this is similar to how athletic development sorts itself out over time.  Each level of success seems to have its own key filters as kids go from youth leagues to high school, college and beyond.

Not every sport is exactly the same, but there are some clear filters to athletic success that span over a large number of them.   There are certain ‘big rocks’ that need to come first for early success, with a series of more refined skill sets that are necessary as you climb the ladder over time.

Parents and coaches who are drowning in the sea of athletic opportunity for their young athletes these days should keep in mind that what your kids need at different age levels will vary, but those needs are often more predictable than you think.

 

The Biggest Rock – General Coordination and Movement Skills

Go to any youth sports league and watch the kids who rise above the rest.  Almost certainly it will the the ones who have the best coordination.  They can shoot balls or pucks with more accuracy, square up on fastballs better in baseball or softball, and do many other skills that require basic coordination better than their age-level peers.

Coordination in running technique will also allow them to move better too, making the need to develop more fluid and athletic movements the first filter to reaching success in sports.

The early years where this dominates will last somewhere until around 10-12 years old.

 

The 2nd Biggest Rock – Bodyweight Strength & Its Impact On Speed

At the next level you’ll find that most every top player has passed through the coordination filter, so now the ability to cover more ground will take on greater importance.

Passing through this filter is a bit trickier, because it could be a need for strengthening, weight management, or both.

Poor nutrition habits or a lack of activity outside of their sport may lead to problems with excess weight gain.

Alternately, some kids grow taller at a rapid rate but their strength levels do not keep pace.  This creates a scenario where they will appear to play slower in relation to peers who used to be equal or behind them speed-wise.

These concerns typically first maifest themselves during the middle school years, and based on sports dropout and obesity rates for this age level, it is the hardest filter for young athletes to pass through.

 

The 2nd Smallest Rock – Technical Movement, Strategic, and Sport-Specific Skills

With initial speed, strength and coordination needs met at this point, most kids will find that the technical side of athletics begins to take on more and more importance.

Team strategies and playing beyond oneself become more essential as athletes seek to thrive in the systems of established high school or AAU programs.

More refined sport-specific skills (puck handling, dribbling, passing, etc), forged through countless hours of practice are necessary to separate a player from all the other coordinated, fast kids at this stage.

And as the game once again speeds up, more advanced speed & agility technique provides another critical advantage for those who wish to slip through to the next filter.

 

The Smallest Rock – Body Composition & Power Maximization

Regardless of sport or gender, the clear trend in athletics over the last 20 years is for bigger and stronger athletes to reach the pinnacle of success.

What makes this such an elite challenge is that getting bigger and more powerful cannot interfere with the coordination, flexibility, or speed skills previously built.    This is an incredibly fine line to walk.

And when you add in that you’ll have to have your nutrition and recovery streamlined as well, succeeding at this stage requires an almost round-the-clock commitment to success.

 

Keep in mind that none of the previous filters ever go away completely, in fact often times they require advanced strategies too as you reach higher on the ladder of athletic success.

But the biggest takeaway for coaches and parents is that every piece of the athletic puzzle has its time and place, and there are different areas that are most likely to cause challenges for your kids to be addressed at each level.

Those who take a smarter long-term approach are far more likely to see the ultimate success they dream of.

Is It Really Speed That You Need?

In talking to prospective new participants in our youth training programs, I’d say about 90% of the time they immediately mention speed as a skill they want to improve on.

Without a doubt speed is a critical piece of the puzzle in most sports.  Typically it is one of the bigger factors in players moving up the ladder of athletic success as they get to high school and beyond.

But is speed development as it is typically understood (“Go run sprints!”) what you should focus your time and energy on?

In many cases there are other ways for younger athletes to get faster.

Unfortunately being fast is a more complex skill to develop.

If you want to be more flexible, you stretch.

If you want to get stronger, you lift weights or something else that provides resistance.

But for speed, there is a set of ‘puzzle pieces’ that have to be put together.  And without all the pieces in place, you’ll never see the complete picture.

The Speed Puzzle Pieces:

  • Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber Ratio.  There are different types of muscle fibers (Type I and Type II plus some subcategories), Type I designed for endurance and Tyle II for faster, short duration movements.  People have different percentages of each, and much of this is genetically determined.However, there is much evidence now to support the fact that explosive training exercises (Olympic Lifting, plyometrics, quickfoot drills, etc) can expand your Type II fiber capability, improving your ability to accelerate.
  • Strength To Body Mass Ratio.  By either getting stronger without gaining more size, or by getting leaner without losing strength, you can make yourself faster.   In pro sports you typically see the ‘get leaner’ side of this equation when players come back faster, but in younger athletes it is usually the ‘get stronger’ side that has the greatest impact.
  • Foot skill Technique.  There is a definite technical element to sprinting and cutting most effectively.  Often times there are a handful of mistakes a slower athlete is constantly making that limits their ability to cover more ground.  By identifying and eliminating these footwork errors, speed improves.
  • Being Active.   Sometimes it is as simple as getting out and running, either in a team setting or practicing on your own.  History has shown that the most active people, especially when younger, grow up to be faster than those who are less active.
  • Flexibility.  This helps in two main ways.  First, it will allow you to maximize the distance you cover with each stride so you get from Point A to Point B in fewer steps.  Second, it allows you to better position your hip level to create a ‘load & explode’ aspect to your change-of-direction ability.
  • Stability.  Probably the most overlooked part of speed development, and likely why youth sports injury rates continue to climb, as well.  Being stable in your ankle and hip joints, plus being able to control your upper body movements with a stable core, will let you maximize the speed and power you currently possess.
  • Coordination.  An athlete who can skip well is almost certain to have great arm drive in their sprint technique, while those who struggle with skips and other basic coordination skills are most likely going to play unathletically, too.This is compounded by the fact that when kids are growing their limb lengths constantly change, making coordination come and go.  But consistent work on many basic movement skills can accelerate the coordination development learning curve.

Can you see where your current gaps are?

Every athlete who knows they need to improve their speed is deficient in at least one of these areas, possibly even a majority of them.

For some people it will be as simple as going out and running sprints, but in many cases there are other pieces to connect that will provide much greater impact.

Many of these components require a lower amount of energy to develop, like coordination, flexiblity, footskill technique and stability.  They are things you can work on year-round even if you are already active and playing sports most of the time.

Just remember that with the complexity of speed development it is important to understand that patience and persistence are critical to long-term success.  There just isn’t an overnight solution to it.

However, when you find your real needs and begin hammering away at them, you’ll see progress that can’t ever be taken away from you.  And all the kids who only went out to run some sprints (or did nothing at all) will be left scratching their heads at how you can now blow by them on the field!

Important New Feature For All Of Our Athletes

We are always looking to give our athletes the greatest advantage in their workout programs compared to their competition, and recently we’ve added a new feature that we believe will do exactly that.

 

This past week we have concluded our first season of performance combine testing in our group personal training classes.  Using tests commonly run at college and pro prospect combines held around the country, we now have a system in place to accurately track changes in both our middle school and high school athletes.

 

Testing can be time consuming and a bit boring, but the benefits are just too great to pass up.  Consider all that our athletes will gain from this new system:

 

  • It allows us to accurately track your improvement in a range of skills (balance, flexiblity, speed, agility, strength, power) over time, to see where you are getting better and where you have hit a plateau.

 

  • We can use this information to create even more targeted workouts for each participant in our program, speeding up your results on the field, ice, or court.

 

  • With such a large part of our population in the growth spurt stage, we can see how movement skills change and stay ahead of some common issues that cause injury at the high school and college levels.

 

  • Since we took commonly used tests, it gives our kids a window into where they rank vs. elite competition from around the country.  As an example, if one of our athletes runs the Pro I agility test in under 4 seconds they will know they have developed elite level speed and cutting skills compared to anyone, anywhere, in any sport.

 

  •  It will teach our kids that talent is earned, and nothing stays the same over time.  Hard work and smart programming will lead to improvements in specific areas of need, while a step back in intensity or poor planning can show you very quickly that there is no guarantee you’ll become the complete athlete you hoped to be.

 

Between this tracking system and our Champion skills development system, I am very excited to tell you that every single athlete working with us now has a clear and comprehensive road map for their long-term development.

 

How To Become A Complete Athlete

Kids come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.

Some make huge progress in their sports over time, but others do not.

Many have the drive to succeed but get frustrated over time because they don’t see progress in their performance.

Unfortunately, becoming what we refer to as a ‘Complete Athlete’ has many facets.  It’s not as easy as everyone going out and taking a few more shots or doing a few more pushups to reach the top.

But if there is an overall formula for excelling in athletics over time, it would be this:

STEP 1 – Honestly assess what your strengths and weaknesses are as an athlete/teammate

STEP 2 – Work diligently do shore up all of your weaknesses

STEP 3 – Continue to work on growing your strengths, especially those that will allow you to achieve high levels of success in your specific sport or activity.

Simple, right?

No one can do Steps 2 & 3 for you, but to complete the first step you’ll need to know all the variables that come together to create the Complete Athlete.

So here is your comprehensive checklist, broken down by category, of all the attributes you’ll need to become elite in almost any sport.

PERFORMANCE SKILLS
The more glamorous category of physical skills typically advanced through training.

STRENGTH –Just about every sport these days emphasizes getting stronger more than ever before.  Why? Because strength leads to being faster and more powerful, plus it will help you play a more physical game.

POWER – Explosive bursts are what sports are all about – kicking, throwing, shooting in stick sports, and many other movements require a potent combination of speed and strength.

SPEED – The faster players and teams cover more ground and make more plays.  This is the most coveted skill by scouts and coaches, although it is important to remember it is still just one of many pieces of the puzzle.

AGILITY – Cutting skills, often going hand in hand with speed but has more technical parts to it than simply sprinting.  Not to mention you can add defensive footwork skills like shuffling, crossover runs, and backpedals here too.

BALANCE/COORDINATION – An underlying group of skills that is best described as being ‘athletic’ in your movements.  Balance and coordination are key factors in helping you make jaw-dropping moves while also keeping you injury resistant.

SPORT SPECIFIC CONDITIONING – You need to be in good enough shape to play a complete game consistently throughout the season.  This varies widely by sport, as a soccer player needs more continuous conditioning compared to the stop and start sports like baseball and softball.

 

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The actual skills you need to express your athleticism.

GENERAL – Running, skipping, jumping, throwing, catching, kicking, spinning and all the other fundamental movement skills.  This wide range of general skills is best developed by age 13.

SPORT SPECIFIC – The skills you’ll need to put your 10,000 hours of practice in to as you get older.  It could be chipping if you’re a golfer, taking slap shots for hockey, or free throws for basketball.  There are too many to list here.

 

INJURY RESISTANCE
Does it really matter how good you are if you’re always hurt?
(Likely the most neglected category in sports right now at all levels.)

MOBILITY – Can your arms, legs, and upper torso move through full ranges of motion?  If not you may be susceptible to deceleration injuries as you become more powerful, as your body has less time to ‘brake’ before coming to a complete stop.

TISSUE QUALITY – Muscles and other connective tissue lose their elasticity due to intense exercise, which can come from workouts or the demands of in-season game/practice schedules.  Any type of soft-tissue massage, typically from a foam roller or massage specialist, allows joints to continue to move through full ranges of motion and receive the vital nutrients they need to regenerate.

STABILITY – Sometimes you need to be able to resist motion in order to avoid moving too far.  Particularly through your midsection, lower legs and shoulders, creating maximum stability without sacrificing mobility will lower your injury risk.

SYMMETRY – Other than having a previous injury, the greatest predictor of your future injury risk is an imbalance of strength and/or flexibility from one side of your body to the other.  Imbalances are trainable when workouts are designed properly.

 

MENTAL PROFILE (definitions from Jeremy Boone’s Athlete Mindset course)
The intangible category that is impossible to improve unless you are willing to confront your weaknesses.

SELF CONFIDENCE – Do you believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals?

FOCUS – How well do you maintain concentration on the details of the task at hand?

COMPETITIVE FIRE – Is your desire to succeed greater than your fear of failure?

SELF DISCIPLINE – How well do you adhere to a practice and training routine to control your behavior and desires in order to achieve your goals?

SELF MOTIVATION – What is the quality of your present desire to improve?

COACHABILITY – How well do you take instruction from those who can help you raise your game?

GAME INTELLIGENCE – How well do you understand the tactical aspects of your sport, and position?

MENTAL TOUGHNESS – Do you have the ability to cope with the present in order to accomplish your future objectives?

TEAM PLAYER – Do you put the team’s needs ahead of your own when necessary?

PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY – How well do you face up to and address your personal strengths & weaknesses?

 

PHYSICAL PROFILE
Often times the hardest to change, but can be adapted to better fit your sport and position.

HEIGHT – Other than nutrition factors in your younger years, this is pretty much out of your control.  But it should match the demands of your sport.  If you’re 7’ tall your odds of excelling in basketball are much better than in gymnastics.

WEIGHT – Through proper eating and training you can gain or lose weight to match the needs of your sport and position.  However, some of this is genetically determined…not everyone can become an NFL lineman.

BODY COMPOSITION – Going hand in hand with weight is the ratio of muscle to fat that you carry, and is also adaptable based on nutrition and training.  Most roles in sports, but not all, require you to be lean in order maintain your speed and conditioning.

 

Do you see where your strengths for your sport & position lie?

These are the things that are fueling your current athletic success, but for now they should not be the primary focus  of your training and development time.

 

Can you identify 3 to 6 areas from this list where improvement would raise your game?

Be honest and face up to those needs.

Then go out and start working on them!

Excellence Or Mediocrity?

We will relentlessly chase perfection, knowing we’ll never reach it,
because in the process we’ll catch excellence
.’
- Vince Lombardi

Training programs for young athletes have certainly caught on nationwide, fueling not just programs like ours but also team-wide and even school-wide development programs.

This can add another advantage for athletes who have the opportunity and desire to use it for improvement.

But with the onslaught of coaches at all our local schools trumpeting the ‘you better get in the weight room!’ approach, it might be a good time to step back for a second and ask what is being accomplished by it all.

More specifically, is your program leading to excellence?

It’s easy to say yes to that question with teams or schools touting the number of wins they had last season, or the weights their kids can lift, or how many kids are ‘voluntarily’ taking part in off-season training.

But developing excellence is about far more than winning records, or a 300 lb bench, or anything like that.

Excellence is a habit, a way of approaching everything you do in order to maximize the opportunities at hand. And because it’s a habit, it spreads to other aspects of life, like academics and job performance.

Training programs, for all their physical benefits, are even more effective at instilling the habits of excellence.

  • They can teach you to find a way to get a little better today than you were yesterday, and give you a blueprint to know how exactly you can do it.
  • It can help you develop an almost obsession-like approach to perfecting every last detail of a skill..
  • They can teach you to become fully immersed in the task at hand.
  • It can show you immediate benefits to being receptive to coaching advice from those whose experience can speed up your path to the top.
  • They can help you find the courage to work on the things that are hard for you, taking risks by stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your abilities.

 

Having been a strength coach for over 16 years, my biggest concern with teams and schools implementing workout programs right now is not that kids will get injured, because weight training is a relatively safe activity compared to most sports.

My concern is that these programs are instilling the habits of mediocrity in our local athletes, when so many have the potential to reach far, far higher.

Based on feedback from hundreds of kids over the years (and having coached in high school weight rooms for many years myself), typically they are more about:

  • Training with friends while ½ focusing on training and ½ focusing on social issues.
  • Following workouts targeting just a small handful of skills (guaranteed to revolve around bench pressing and squatting while avoiding the other 95% of athletic needs)
  • Athletes not taking small steps forward every day. Or worse, taking too big of a step forward too quickly in the pursuit of instant gratification.
  • A complete lack of attention to detail in the execution of lifts.

Every coach, athlete and parent wants to experience success, to be on top. But very few actually achieve it.

With the ups and downs of a sports season it can often be hard to tell if a team is on the road to greatness, or not.

History shows us who has mastered the habits of excellence with their teams, and where it took them.

Football coach Vince Lombardi, quoted earlier, certainly did. So did legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

Wooden won 10 NCAA National Championships in just a 12 year period. Yet his focus was always on attention to detail, running highly structured practices that were all about habit-building.

As Coach Wooden said himself,

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. 

Every practice, training session, game, or other performance-related event we ask our young athletes to take part in should always be judged on one simple question:

Did that lead me and our team closer to excellence, or mediocrity?

When you can honestly answer ‘excellence’ to that question on a regular basis, good things will happen over time.

When Sports Drinks Help & When They Don’t

Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc) have become so popular, especially among kids, that to some they are part of their daily diet.   This is an incredible transformation for a beverage that was originally created for performance under the most extreme circumstances.

Certainly there are times that its use is critical for both performance and energy levels.  Hopefully the recommendations below will help you see when it is the right time to turn to a sports drink, and when it isn’t.

When Sports Drinks Help  

Sports drinks are essentially a supplement, something you add to your diet when you are running low on a specific nutrient.

For example, if you lack Vitamin B12 in your diet, a B12 supplement will give you more energy.  If you don’t eat enough protein, a protein shake or bar will speed up recovery and growth.  But without the deficiency, the supplement will do absolutely nothing for you.

Sports drinks are a supplement that quickly re-stocks your glycogen (i.e. sugar) and electrolyte (mostly sodium) supplies when you are exhausted.  Used at the right time, it can re-energize an exhausted athlete or exerciser.

Those times usually happen when:

- You exercise or play a sport for more than 60 minutes straight.

- You exercise or play a sport multiple times in the same day (sports tournaments are a perfect example)

- You are outside on a hot, sunny day for an extended period of time.

When Sports Drinks Do Not Help  

They are not a substitute for fresh fruit or even juice (fresh fruit is better), as it has no other nutritional value.

You will not become super-hydrated by drinking them in excess.  Your best bet to stay fully hydrated is to eat right and drink the real ‘sports drink’ (see below) all day long.

More simply, sports drinks do not help AT ALL unless you have already been active for a long period of time, and/or are in extremely hot weather.

Which means consuming a sports drink usually does nothing for you other than add more sugar and sodium to a diet that is likely too full of both already.

Why?  Your body is already excellent at converting food to glycogen, and as Americans our diets are already filled with sodium.

The only remaining ingredient in a sports drink is the liquid part, which is the part you should be consuming instead of that sports drink…

Water  (If you’ve trained with us before, I’m sure you saw that coming…).

Can You Touch Your Toes? Why It Matters

‘I’m not flexible at all, I can’t even touch my toes!’

There are many facets of total-body flexibility, but this one example seems to have become the universal test for whether a person is or is not flexible.  It is so common that most people reading this probably already know if they can touch their toes or not.

Why should you care?  I mean, many great athletes struggle to do it.  Many very out-of-shape people can without any problem at all.

Well, it definitely matters, but not quite how you think.

WHY TOUCHING YOUR TOES MATTERS FOR ATHLETES

One of the tests we use in our initial assessments is the Active Straight Leg Raise, where you lie on your back and raise one leg without letting the other move at all.  This is essentially touching your toes, except you bring your toes to your hand instead of the other way around.

Strength coach Jared Woolever explains the value of this test very well.

He says, “The Active Straight Leg Raise is looking to see if you can control your spinal position while you flex (bend) one hip with the opposite hip staying in extension (straightened). This is exactly what running is, except on the ground. When we run, one of our feet will strike the ground, apply force into the ground, and finally transfer the force from the ground into speed by extending through the ankle, knee, and hip simultaneously. In order to be fast, we need to be able to flex one hip while keeping the other in extension without moving the spine.

If the athlete has a straight leg raise dysfunction, they will have a difficult time moving from the hips without losing energy through the lumbar spine. This wasted energy will slow them down, increase the likelihood of an injury, and limit them from using the true potential of their current strength level.”

So really, it is the ability for one leg at a time to move up towards the hands that is the key skill here.   Done lying on your back, it forces the movement to come from the lower body and not your back.

With good control through your core combined with flexible hips and hamstrings, an athlete will maximize their ability to run and jump.

 

WHY TOUCHING YOUR TOES MATTERS FOR AGING ADULTS

Consider these three common dysfunctions older populations face:

- Sciatic nerve pain
- Lower back pain
- Degenerative hip conditions

As we age, both flexibility and postural stability decrease.  This is particularly true either if we are not active, or if we take part in repetitive movements at our jobs or recreational activities (bending down to pick up boxes and distance running are two common examples).  This can create over-tightness in some muscles that are used all the time, while weakening others simultaneously.

The results is not only the flexibility issue, but the secondary effect of the unwanted motion through the lumbar spine, or lower back.  Repetitive, unwanted motion through the same area eventually leads to a breakdown, typically falling under one of the conditions above.  And one of the simplest ways to determine if you are prone to one of these problems is to perform the Active Straight Leg Raise test.

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU STRUGGLE ON THE ACTIVE STRAIGHT LEG RAISE

Well, you are not doomed!  There are corrective exercises you can do to improve your flexibility and strength in this critical area.

Here are 4 simple suggestions you can do without any equipment:

 

wall hamstring

1. WALL ‘HAMSTRING’ STRETCH
As shown to the left, you’d brace one leg on the edge of a doorway while the other lies on the ground.  Depending on where tightness may come from you could feel this in other places besides your hamstrings.

Keys are to make sure your down leg is fully extended with your toes pointed straight up.  Also make sure you are slowly increasing the angle between the two legs as often as they allow.

You’re looking to achieve 90° of separation between feet…ideally :)

Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds, performing 1-4 times per leg as needed.

 

 

3d hip flexor2. NASM 3D HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
One of my all-time favorite stretches.  Between sitting and walking the hip flexors, small but powerful muscles on the front of your hip joint, often become extremely tight.  Tightness in these muscles alone can lead to low back pain.

Its a complex stretch, so let’s take it in steps.

1. The stretch starts in the 1/2 kneeling position.
2. Reach back with the arm that is on the same side as your trail leg and lean back with your shoulders (more than this picture shows).
3. Then lean to the side away from your trail leg, and finally
4. Rotate your shoulders opening up towards your trail leg.

Hold each leg for 10-30 seconds, performing 1-4 reps per side.

 

swimmers plank3. MODIFIED SWIMMER’S PLANK
Now we get into the stability side of things.  This drill has levels of difficulty, so start where you can and move up when you need a greater challenge.

LEVEL 1 – Hold a basic pushup position for 30-90 seconds focusing on perfect stability through your midsection

LEVEL 2 – Add alternating single leg extensions (as shown to the left) and hold each for 5 seconds.  Perform 6-12 reps per side

LEVEL 3 – Raise both the leg and opposite arm to create a greater level of instability through your core that you must fight.  Again, hold for 5 seconds and do 6-12 reps per side.

 

1 leg glute bridge

4. GLUTE BRIDGES
Hitting the back side is critical to activating the often underutilized hip muscles, which sometimes cause overtightness in the hamstrings or instability through the core.

Here we’ll start with a 2 legged hip lift, looking to get the hips fully extended at the top and held for 10 seconds.  Do 4-8 reps of this version.

Then move to the 2 leg hip lift with alternating extensions of each leg for a second or two.  Same deal, hips up for 10 sec X 4- reps

Finally, move to the 1 leg hip lift as shown to the left.  Hold for 5 seconds, doing 4-8 reps per leg.

 

The old belief that touching your toes is critical to flexibility is true, but in a slightly different way than you may have guessed.

Being able to do an Active Straight Leg Raise with control and full range of motion will lead to more speed in athletics, and more pain-free living in the long run.