4 Benefits of a Warm Up

Soccer Warm Up Pic

 

A Waste of Time?

There are many athletes that view the warm up as a waste of time.  It’s unfortunate that they view it this way.  They obviously don’t understand the true benefits of a properly designed and performed warm up.

So what are the benefits?

1. Increased Flexibility & Mobility – A good warm up can help to improve an athletes flexibility.  Of course this is important for the workout that is about to be undertaken, but it’s also important as part of long term flexibility development.  If an athlete doesn’t take part in activities that increase flexibility, they will lose it.  This includes stretching post-workout and warming up pre-workout.

2. Improved Performance – Warming up helps to increase muscle temperature, tissue flexibility, heart rate, and breathing rate.  All of these physiological responses to a warm up are meant to get your body ready for exercise.  It’s kind of like taking time to warm up your car on a cold morning.    Can you just hop in your car and drive off?  Yes.  Is it going to work as well when you do that?  No.  The same can be said for your body.

3. Decreased Injury Risk – Every time an athlete trains, practices, or competes, there is a chance of an injury.  A warm up is the first thing that an athlete can do to decrease this risk.  The primary reasons behind this are discussed in #1 and #2 above.

4. Improved Mental Focus – How focused are you without a little effort to forget the stresses that filled your day?  After dealing with customers, co-workers, emails, phone calls, traffic, family, etc, most of us are a little bit rattled and unfocused.  Even though many of our athletes may have different stresses, do you think that it’s much different for them?  Even teens have school, jobs, family issues, and social issues.  A warm up helps them to get focused.  It can help them to forget the issues they faced during the day and help them to remember why they are training.  If the workout is in the AM, the warm up can help to wake them up a little bit.  This can lead to improved performance and attitude.

While it’s important to take your athletes through a warm up, it’s also important to be able to tell them why they need to do one.  That can help them to give better effort during the warm up instead of just going through the motions.

 

Mark

 

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Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 2

2012-13 Calendar Pic

 

Yesterday we started a list of Sports Upgrade’s top 10 most popular posts of 2012.  In case you missed it, you can see # 6 – # 10 here.  Today we give you # 1 – # 5.  Be sure to read any that you may have missed during the year.

Enjoy.

5.  Post Season Recovery For Athletes – How? – Want some ideas for what to do with your athletes during the post-season recovery period?  Here are some that you can use.

4. Post Season Recovery For Athletes – Why? – Why do athletes (especially teens) need a chance to recover after their season is over?  Here are 3 reasons.

3.  Gentle Reminders From Coed Softball – What did I learn from playing a season of coed softball?  Find out here.

2.  How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries? – What can you do to help your athletes prevent ACL injuries?  Work on their landing skills

And now, for the top post from the Sports Upgrade Blog during 2012…..(insert drumroll here)…..

1.  Concussion Prevention For Football:  Strengthening The Neck – We’ve always believed that it was important to strengthen the neck to help reduce the chance of cervical spine injuries.  It may also help to help prevent concussions.  This post tells you how to effectively train the neck.

There you have it:  our top posts of 2012.  We’ll be bringing you more insight and info in 2013.  Be on the lookout for more blog posts, more newsletters, and more video posts.

Here’s to an awesome 2013 for you!!!

 

Mark

 

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Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 1

2012-13 PicSorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’m finding out that having a new baby in the house tends to make things somewhat hectic.  It also tends to alter any type of normal routines that you have.

Since we’re at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some previous posts from Sports Upgrade.  In case you missed any of them or want a second look, here are our most popular posts during 2012.  Today we’ll give you # 10 – # 6.  Check back tomorrow for # 5 – # 1.

Enjoy!

10.  More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining – How can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few methods that you can use.

9.  Female Strength Training –  Why is it important to get high school female athletes into the weightroom?  Here is a list of reasons.

8.  Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists – The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  But it still happens.  Why?

7.  Good Nutrition is 24/7 – What can be done to help your athletes to eat smarter?  Here are some ideas.

6. Don’t Skip The In-Season ProgramWhat happens to an athlete if he doesn’t lift weights during his/her sports season?  Here are 2 big negatives.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the top 5.

 

Mark

 

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They Can’t Run

One of the problems that I see when watching youth sports is that many of the athletes have poor fundamentals.  The major thing that many of them lack is the ability to run effectively and efficiently.  Obviously Strength and Conditioning Coaches notice things like this.  What gets me is, why doesn’t anyone else notice it?  Don’t the sport coaches see it?  What about the parents that sit at every practice and game?  It may take an expert to fix the problems, but it doesn’t take one to recognize that there is a problem.  When I watch young athletes run, I see arms flying in all directions, bodies out of control, etc.  Nobody notices this?  Even if the coach can’t fix it, he should realize that there is a problem and refer the kid to someone who can.  Or he can ignore it and let the kid continue to use poor movement patterns.  This leads to inferior performance and injury issues. So why doesn’t someone do something?  I guess it would make too much sense.

Mark

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Teen Athletes: Extra Recovery Needed?

sleeping teen pic

Is your teen athlete getting enough recovery time?

One two separate occasions recently, I have had some sort of discussion about recovery for teen athletes.  Once was with a coach and once was in response to a comment on my blog.  Both of these got me thinking about the demands that we tend to place on teenage athletes.  I don’t think that we always account for all of these when we plan out our training programs. As coaches, we often think that the athletes are only practicing or exercising when we see them.  However, that isn’t always the case.  So what does the “average” teenager do in a normal day?

  • School
  • Homework
  • Chores at home/job
  • Social time
  • Eating, showering, and other necessary things

So what about their sporting activities?

  • Practice for sport #1
  • Practice for sport # 2 (if applicable)
  • Travel time necessary for away games/practices
  • Strength training/conditioning
  • Miscellaneous sports activities – pick up basketball, PE classes, etc

While not all of these apply to every teen, this isn’t that uncommon for some teens.  I have talked to many teens who are involved in multiple sports for a large portion of the year.  They try to squeeze in as many practices, games, and strength & conditioning sessions as they can in the course of a year.  So where does that lead?  It leads to athletes who are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  It leads to athletes who aren’t happy, who suffer academically, and who end up a physical mess due to never getting enough breaks and recovery time.

So what should we do as a coach to help?

  • Get to know your athletes – Do they play other sports?  When?  How often do they practice/play?
  • Try to coordinate – I’ve seen too many times that a coach tries to keep their athletes going year round and never give them a break.  Try to work things out with the athlete and their other sport(s).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out too often.  Usually it’s because the ADULT EGOS get in the way.
  • Give athletes ample recovery time – Plan it into your season and your training.
  • Educate your athletes – I realize that athletes (and parents) won’t always listen to you.  Regardless, you should still make every effort to educate them about recovery and overtraining.
  • Don’t be afraid to make an athlete take a break – The best thing for them may be to send them home for a few days and make them take a break.  Of course, you can’t control what they do during this time off, but hopefully they actually rest.

We can’t control everything that our athletes do, especially when they are away from us.  Also realize that we haven’t even touched on nutrition, sleep, the growth state that teens are in and how they affect recovery.  As a coach, we know that all of these things work together and drastically affect how our athletes recover and perform.  However, coaches need to focus on what they can control.  Make sure that you know all of the demands placed on your athletes, plan appropriately, and attempt to educate them.  Even though many things are out of our control, hopefully taking these steps will help.

Mark

 

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Female Strength Training

Barbie Pic

The cover says it all.

One of my favorite magazine/journal covers ever comes from an old issue of Training & Conditioning.  I love the title “Barbie Doesn’t Play Sports”.  To me, it promotes a hard working, tough image.  To me, that sums up my feelings about successful female athletes.  They aren’t afraid to work hard.  They aren’t afraid to work hard on the court or the field.  They aren’t afraid to work hard year round.  However, as important as it is, sometimes it is hard to get these same females into the weightroom.  Why is this?  I think that this is largely because of it being an area that they are unfamiliar with.  Strength training is scary for a lot of females.  Many of them have been bombarded by images from female bodybuilders.  These pictures always depict some lady who is loaded up on every supplement (legal & illegal) that she can pump into her body.  Unfortunately, this is the image of strength training that gets burned into many females minds.  They quickly decide that if lifting weights makes you look like that, they don’t want any of it.  Unfortunately, females need to be in the weightroom.  Why?

  • Injury prevention – Just like male athletes, females need to develop strength to help prevent injuries and limit the severity of those that they do get.
  • Improved performance – A stronger athlete can run faster, jump higher, accelerate quicker, and decelerate more effectively.  These all lead to better sport performance.
  • Correction of weaknesses – Females who haven’t ever taken part in a solid strength training program tend to have various muscular weaknesses.  These then add to injury problems and limit their performance potential.  Strength training can quickly start the athlete down the road to correction.
  • College preparation – Any high school athlete that wants to go on to play in college needs to strength train.  Not only will it help their performance (and therefore their recruiting), it will make them stand out once they get to college.  If the first time that an athlete has ever lifted is when they show up to college, they are already behind.  In my mind, if a female shows up on day 1 and is already comfortable and proficient in the weightroom, she has set herself apart from many of the other incoming freshman athletes.

So, how do you get females into the weightroom?  Educate and market.  You may have to teach them about the benefits and get them to realize that they won’t end up looking like the female Hulk.  You are also going to have to really make a motivated effort to get them started.  Once they start to see some benefits, the marketing should take care of itself.

Mark

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Concussion Prevention For Football: Strengthening The Neck

Football Tackle Pic

Is this a concussion happening?

Concussions In Football

One of the hot topics in sports medicine the last few years has been concussions.  It seems that every where you turn, concussions are being discussed.  Many articles and news stories have been run covering all aspects of concussions – testing, treatment, prevention, even the possible limited lifespan of American football as we know it.  One idea that has received some mention is the concept of neck strengthening to help prevent concussions.  Since football season is underway, I thought that I’d address this topic.

Why is neck strength important?

Almost any type of impact in sports can cause a concussion.  These impacts can come from other players, the ground, or even a ball.  We usually think that you have to get struck in the head to get a concussion.  That’s not entirely true.

Youth Football Tackle Pic

Even a blow to the body can cause a concussion if the forces are great enough

Anything that causes a sudden movement of the head can cause the brain to accelerate inside the skull.  Of course, after it has accelerated, it strikes the inside of the skull which causes a concussion. Having strong neck muscles can help to limit the dramatic forces that can take place when struck in the head or elsewhere.  While not all concussions can be prevented, anything that we can do to keep the head more stable should help to decrease the chance of getting one.  Years ago, I was taught that it was important for football players to strengthen the neck to prevent neck injuries.  It’s also an important to part of concussion prevention.  Some college football programs have placed a renewed emphasis on neck strengthening.  Has it helped reduce concussions?  Several of these colleges have reported about a 50% decrease in concussions.  While these weren’t scientific studies, I think that  we should all take note and realize that include neck training in the programs for our teams.

What To Do

So, what should you do to train the neck?  You should focus on exercises that work the neck in six directions:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion (right & left)
  • Rotation (right & left)

These exercises should be done twice per week for 2-3 sets of 10.  If you have access to one, you can use a 4-way neck machine for everything except the rotation movements.  Other possible methods to complete the exercises include:

  • Manual resistance (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with a towel (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with an exercise band (individual or partner)
  • Neck Bridges

While it is important to train all of these specific neck motions, you must also train the trapezius muscle.  The trapezius helps to extend the neck and can help to add stability if it is strong.  The best exercises to use are shrugs and upright rows.  These exercises should be included twice per week also.  Shrugs can be done for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.  I usually keep upright rows to 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

One more thing that can be done is to add in some perturbation movements.  Many times in football, an athlete doesn’t see a block or hit in time to prepare his body for the impact.  These movements can help  improve neck stability during these unseen impacts.  To do perturbations, have an athlete in a seated position with their eyes closed.  Their neck should be held in a neutral position.  Have their partner suddenly but gently push their head in random directions.  The athlete should respond to the push by attempting to stop the head motion using their neck muscles.  I would suggest doing one set of 20 repetitions.

I have always believed in training the neck to prevent neck injuries.  With the  rash of concussions that seem to be happening in football, it has become even more important to train these muscles.  Make sure to find time in your program to include these exercises.  I know, none of us ever have enough time to fit everything in our strength programs.  Now there’s one more thing to include?  Just remember, while it may be important to do the bench, squat, clean, etc,  there is nothing more important than preventing potential injuries.  Make neck strengthening a priority in your program.

 

Mark

P.S.  While the info in this post was related to football, it applies to many other sports also.  The same program can be used for athletes that play soccer, lacrosse, and many other sports.  It can be especially vital for females to strengthen their necks.  Experts in concussions have begun recommending neck strengthening for females after realizing that they tend to have less neck strength than males.

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Nutritional Supplements & Young Athletes

Supplement Use By Youth For Sports Performance Improvement

I found a news article a few days ago about the usage of nutritional supplements by kids.  The article discusses a study that was originally published earlier this year.  It focused on the use of supplements by children and adolescents for the purpose of improving sports performance.  So what do I think about all of this?

Shocking Findings

So what are my thoughts on the study?  I decided to put my them on video.  Here they are:

 

Help your young athletes to make good nutritional choices.

Mark

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Good Nutrition is 24/7

Fruit stand pic

What do your athletes eat???

As a coach, you have control over what your athlete does for a few hours a week.  You can control what drills they do, how they do them, etc when you are coaching them.  As for what happens the other 22 hours of their day, that is up to them (and their parents if they are young).  Unfortunately, what they eat during that time away from you can drastically affect their recovery and their future performance.  As we all know, the eating habits of the average person in the US are currently lousy.  This includes both adults and kids.  That means that we have an uphill battle to fight.

(As a side note, sometimes parents allow kids to make horrible choices.  A prime example was an 11 year old that I used to train.  He regularly showed up to training sessions with a huge energy drink.  What???  How does an 11 year old do that???  Oh, that’s right.  His mommy let him do it.  When dealing with kids and teens, it is often vital to change the parents ideas on nutrition.  If they don’t change, the kids won’t ever change either.)

So, what can we do?  Here are 3 things:

  1. Get the athlete professional help – First off, we have to leave the diet planning to the Registered Dietitians (RD).  We wouldn’t want them writing our training programs and we shouldn’t try to do their job.  We can however have one speak to athletes and parents.  This could be done as an occasional seminar for all athletes/parents.  It could also involve one-on-one help if needed.  Regardless, it can be beneficial to develop a good working relationship with a local RD who has a background advising athletes.
  2. Have plenty of handouts ready – Having handouts ready on nutrition is a good way to get info to parents and athletes.  Parents are often willing to look through these while their kids train.  There are all kinds of wacky diet plans and concepts that have been publicized.  While someone may believe some of these, it never hurts to present them with good info from trusted sources.  Who knows, it might change their thinking.  Where can you find this info?  Try your local RD or various nutritional sites on the web.  The Gatorade Sports Science Institute also has a lot of valuable handouts on their website.
  3. Become a thorn in the side – Make sure to constantly remind your athletes (and parents) about good nutrition.  Ask them how they ate since their last workout.  Remind them when they are leaving to eat well.  Just mentioning it to them once probably won’t do the trick.  Let them know that even though you aren’t there with them 24/7, what they do during that time still matters.  For older athletes, if you know that they are going to a big cookout or some other event, you might send a text to remind them to keep things in check and not eat everything in sight.

How an athlete chooses to eat when they are away from you is ultimately up to them (or their parents).  While I’m not one that thinks that a kid should never have a piece of cake or pie, I do believe that it is part of a coaches job to impress upon them the importance of good nutrition.  As we’ve seen in the news, most of the teens and adults in the US are missing out on that message somewhere.  Maybe we can help a few of them.  Plus, if they are serious about their training, good nutrition is vital to recovery and performance.

Mark

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Help For The ACL: Correction Of Poor Landings In Volleyball

Beach Volleyball Pic

More on the ACL

While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published.  The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players.  I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.

Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:

The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing.  They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail.  They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso.  The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback.  While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement.  Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.

So, what are the take home points?

  1. Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements.  Remember that some people are visual learners.  Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
  2. The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks.  What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics?  What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them?  What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday?  I’m sure that the results would be more significant.  As they say, “practice makes perfect”.  What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball?  I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.

Here are two other things worth reading:

More of my thoughts on ACL tears in volleyball

Predicting A Torn ACL?

More info on the importance of video analysis:

Wired UK Article on Dartfish 

Mark

Contact us for info on how we can provide a landing assessment for your athletes.

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