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5 Things to Know Before Practice Starts

We are now in August and the fall season for High School sports is about to kick off if it hasn’t already. Here are a few things you should know before you start:

 

  1. Your coach will test you on the first day. It will be made very clear who is in shape and who isn’t after the first day of practice.
  • As a strength coach at the High School level I salivate waiting for the first day of practice because I want to see what my athletes can do. Not to punish them but to test them and create a baseline for where I need to take them to win a title. The better shape the athletes are in on day one the higher their ceiling is for the end of the year.

 

  1. Sometimes injuries are a freak accident but more often they also mean you need more conditioning or more strength.
  • Injuries tend to happen during deceleration rather than when accelerating. The ability to decelerate requires strength (particularly eccentric) because the body has to be able to absorb force. The stronger the athlete the less likely they will get hurt while cutting ort changing directions. Also, injuries tend to happen late in a game when an athlete is tired. When form breaks down particularly in your core is when you get sloppy on the field and put yourself at risk for injury.

 

  1. Urine Color is the easiest way to determine hydration levels.
  • When you go to the bathroom before and after practice take a quick look before you flush. Your urine should be lighter in color if you are properly hydrated. A good way to think about it is that it should look more like lemonade then apple juice.

 

  1. Food equals energy.
  • In its simplest form food is fuel for your body. The higher quality of food that you put in your body, the better your body will feel. Stay away from junky processed foods and eat real food. If you are not sure what that means remember this. Real food will go bad if you don’t eat it. If it can sit in a cabinet for a year and taste exactly the same what do you think it will do in your stomach? That includes things like protein bars that often are processed and have lots of chemicals and / or sugar.

 

  1. If it were easy everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
  • In all of my years as a coach I have learned that there are two types of athletes. The ones who enjoy being challenged and the ones who run away from it. People make mistakes so that they can learn from them and grow. Sports are a grind and if you don’t love the grind of getting better then you will never be successful. So next time you go against a better team or are asked to do something you don’t think you can do. Embrace the challenge and learn from it. Talent is overrated. For every naturally born athlete there are ten more grinders who work their way to greatness.

 

 

  • Joe Lopez CSCS

Strength and Conditioning Coach Precision Sports Performance

The rise of boutique fitness classes and gym culture.

As a CSCS I am good at what I do which is prepare athletes for their sports. I know what progressions need to happen for youth athletes and I know what programs need to be implemented for older athletes.   That doesn’t mean that I am not still learning and implemented new principles as situations arise. It also doesn’t mean that I am not open to new ideas and suggestions. As a fitness enthusiast I have run several marathons, half marathons, obstacle races, and the like. I have done kickboxing, yoga, and boot camp classes. I currently do CrossFit and enjoy it quite a bit. I love the fact that there are so many classes for fitness enthusiasts such as myself to choose from.  However, as a strength and conditioning specialist all of these specialty classes that keep popping up create mixed messages for athletes.   Sometimes the messages come from YouTube and social media where everybody is an expert. Sometimes the athlete’s parents go to a class and love it so they influence their children to attend. We happen to live in an area where there are lots of high process fitness optons. Things like Barre Mathod, Bari, Soul Cycle, CrossFit, SLT, OrangeTherory, Pilates, PowerFlow Yoga,, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying these are not great classes for general fitness. I am saying that they are not for athletes. Athletes need to train for a purpose with a specific goal in mind. Most often that goal is a combination of strength and/ or speed. Strength and Speed are the two most important factors in determining overall athleticism. At Inception not only will they get the program in place to help them reach their goals they will also get a program that reduces injuries. If an athlete is not on the field then nothing else matters and with the rise of year round sports injures happen at a higher and higher rate among youth athletes.   There are things that can be implemented to help reduce that risk. I incorporate ACL tear reduction drills as part of my warm up for all my athletes.   When baseball players come in I always work on arm care. The shoulder is such a complicated joint that you need to give it specific attention in order to reduce the chances of an injury. The one thing that the entire specialty classes have in common is they are group classes. When you have a group setting you automatically will not get the attention you need because everyone in the class is doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you are a baseball player, a soccer player, or someone coming off an injury. If you are an athlete it is in your best interest to find a qualified CSCS to work with to get better for your sport and not just rely on general fitness classes or personal trainers.

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Strength Coaches vs. Personal Trainers

I have been in both industries.  I have worked with clients whose goals were to look good, lose weight, drop body fat and I have also worked with athletes looking for performance on the field.  I can honestly say that I feel like strength coaches can venture into the personal training world a lot easier than personal trainers can work as strength coaches.  I feel like it is a totally different work environment.  Strength coaches have a lot more to focus on.  They have to make sure they periodize properly as well as provide adequate recovery.  They also have to think about which exercise that particular athlete should not do based on his or her sport or body type.  They also have to think about what position the athlete plays within a sport.  A Football lineman is going to train a lot differently than a wide receiver.  So experience, education, and science play a large part in what a strength coach does.  While being a personal trainer has it’s own unique set of demands as well.  I have worked with a lot of clients with mobility issues.  These issues force you to be part physical therapist before you can begin a weight loss or a fat loss program. When you get someone who is not in very good shape the reality is anything they do will work in the beginning.  It is after that initial plate where the hard stuff begins.  Each field does have it’s own unique set of demands however, I feel that if you can train athletes you can also train general fitness.  In fact, I often used athletic protocols with my general fitness people and they saw great results.

In the past I have written about the dirty little secret of the fitness industry.  https://jerseystrong.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/why-certifications-matter/   There are so many different “certifications” out there.  Some are take home that you can send in and as long as you pay the money you are a certified personal trainer.  The industry is filled with personal trainers who don’t know and don’t use one shred of scientific evidence in their programming.   Another thing to be aware of is trainers who are more focused on being celebrity trainers than trainers who are celebrities.  Obviously we have to be market ourselves and drive business but as Martin Rooney said when I met him last year.  “The moment my career changed was when I realized that I was training athletes and that I wasn’t the athlete.”  If your trainer is more focused on his or her own success than yours you should get a new trainer.

As a strength coach I read everything and anything on the subject.  I attend conferences and clinics.  Not only do I read what my colleagues put on Twitter and their own personal blogs but as a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association I read the journals every month.  Yes people there are scientific published journals from actual research that we as strength coaches are supposed to use in our programming.  Now, some of what we do is art and not science and some is based on things like the athlete’s training age and even the space and equipment available.  That being said, if your trainer is not keeping up with up educating themselves then they are doing you a disservice.

Another difference between a personal trainer and a strength coach is the ideal body that the client is after.  As a personal trainer everyone who stepped in my door said the same things.  I want to lose weight.  I want to drop body fat.  I want to get ripped.  Or for the ladies I want to get toned and not be too big.  (More on how much I hate that later)  There is no such thing as toned ladies.  For the athlete the body ideal is often very different.  For one it depends on what sport and what position your play.  To go back to the same example I gave before a Lineman in football will have a very different body type than a wide receiver.  A lineman might aspire to become as strong as possible and not care about storing body fat as long as he can still move quickly.  The wide receiver on the other hand will need to focus on top speed, acceleration, and the ability to jump to get a ball at its highest point.  I have never once talked to my athletes about defined abs or quad separation.  If you as an athlete go to a trainer who is focused on any of those things walk away immediately.  Athletes are not bodybuilders.  An athlete should never aspire to be shredded.  Instead, the programing should be focused on performance only.  Often with this approach the athlete will get the body he or she wants or more importantly needs for their sport.

Of course I am a little biased but I believe that the National Strength and Conditioning Association is the cream of the crop when it comes to strength and conditioning and personal training.  The CSCS is the certification standard in the NCAA.  You will not find a college strength and conditioning coach without one.  Also, there is the NSCA-CPT for general fitness population which is also a great choice. Go to NSCA.com to find a qualified coach in your area.

How to pick the right gym for you. (The athlete)

In order to be athletic you have to train athletic. Training at or near your 1RM all the time doesn’t develop explosiveness or athleticism.   While maximal strength is important and is a prerequisite for power as an athlete I would not stay in that phase for too long. Instead spend a good amount of time around 60-80 % of your 1RM and think about exploding out of the amortization phase of a lift into the concentric phase. I would also choose exercises that allow you to display athleticism in a coordinated manner. Things like cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, box jumps, plyometrics, agility work, and clapping pushups allow you to be fast while using your body in an efficient and coordinated way. These exercise because they are fast and explosive also require a great deal of core stability, which translates into on-field movements.

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As an athlete I would look for the following things when choosing a gym.

  1. Open Space: The more cluttered the gym is with fixed range of motion machines the less likely it is to produce any sort of athleticism. You are not in physical therapy. You are training for sport performance. Agility work is a skill that can be taught and developed and you need space to work on it.
  1. Qualified coaches: CSCS is the top of the line when it comes to programming and exercise selection. Pick up any magazine or read any article on sports performance and the writer is most likely to have the CSCS credentials after his name.
  1. Bumper plates: In order to attempt cleans and snatches you have to be willing to fail at an attempt. If you are always worried about dropping the weights you will never get out of your comfort zone and never grow.
  1. Kettlebells: The Kettlebell is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. Give me a kettlebell and I can give you a total body workout that will have you out of breath and lying in a pool of your own sweat.
  1. Energy: If the gym feels like a place where people are miserable you don’t want to be there. The gym should be fun. People should be pushing themselves and each other. There should be music and there should be a palpable energy inside the walls.

Yoga for dummies

The single best athletic activity that athletes can do is yoga. Athletes put their bodies through grueling tough stress on a daily basis. Often they are doing the same movements over and over again. Imagine a baseball player who swings from the right hand side. He can develop an imbalance in his obliques, hip flexors, and lateral rotators of the hip. The largest and most often used of these is gluteus maximus. Sticking with the baseball theme, have you ever noticed that baseball players only run in one direction? Tightness in the hips can lead to not being able to change directions as quickly. A tight hipped athlete is a slow athlete. When you study any sport you will find areas where overuse injuries hinder athletic performance.
Yoga can also be used as part of a strength program. Especially for the older athlete who has spent many years developing their base with lifting weights. There is only so many times you can keep increasing the weights before something has to give. Take a look at my last post, “Mr. Universe doesn’t have a Jump shot”, to find out how I feel about single joint exercises and athletic performance. Anyone who has held a warrior 1 or a chair pose for a minute can tell you how tough yoga can be on your legs for muscular endurance and strength. One of the NBA greats Kareem Abdul Jabaar started doing yoga way before it was trendy in the 1970’s. He only played NBA basketball at 7 Feet tall until he was 42 years old. He ended his career as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Another more current NBA player is also a big fan of yoga for his workouts. Baron Davis of the Clippers is also a big fan of yoga. In 2007 Men’s Health magazine voted him as having the best body in professional sports. He has started kind of a trend among other NBA players by bringing in his personal coach Kent Katich to help his teammates understand the benefits.
A lot of times when someone brings up yoga the immediate response is not good. Men overall and athletes tend to think of yoga as not being too manly. Kent Katich has countered this with blaring hip hop music during his yoga sessions with the NBA’s Clippers. He also doesn’t refer to poses as their traditional yoga names such as fish pose and Crow pose. He instead just told the players how to place their bodies in the positions. Bend forward and touch your toes sounds better than swan dive to professional athletes.
Another person I am a big fan of is Mark Vergesten of Core Performance powered by Athletic Performance in Arizona. Mark is the director of player performance for the NFL player’s association. He has helped countless athletes get combine ready at his facility. His website has a section called Movement Prep. If you look at all of the videos you would realize they are all yoga poses. Taking your body through it’s full and natural range of motion will help stretch and lengthen tight tight areas that are in need of a makeover. Movement prep shows your body how it should be able to move. Most often for people who have never done it they quickly realize that their bodies don’t move that way. Competitive athletes should wonder why and try to fix these postural alignments. Once again for whatever reason the word yoga can bring about fear and hatred at the same time. Movement prep sounds more scientific. Athletes don’t have a problem doing movement prep.
A lot of people work out constantly. What makes some of them elite athletes and others just a step slower to react in athletic situations? Posture may be a key factor. Your body was designed a certain way. Throughout our lives this posture breaks down over time. Every day life can lead to a hunched and rounded upper body. It also can lead to a pelvis tilt which can be caused by tight hamstrings and can lead to lower back pain. In the time I have been sitting here typing this article I am hunched forward with my shoulders rounded toward the computer and an unnatural curve in my lower back. Many people spend their lives at desks writing or typing on a computer. Imagine what this does to our bodies. People who drive for a living and spend hours in a car often have short and tight hip flexors. This inhibits the ability of the glutes to fire properly which can stretch the lower back to a point of chronic pain. Athletes break down their bodies even more by their performance but everyday people also have postural issues as well. If you have pain in your lower back or you have limited movement in your shoulders behind your head you need to try yoga. Most elite athletes have their shoulders drawn back and a nice natural S curve in the spine. This represents a balanced athlete whose body is in it’s natural state and ready to perform. Our ancestors were hunters. They needed to run to get food to feed their families. When we bring our bodies back to that of our natural ancestors we can best perform. Yoga is something that every person should try and especially athletes should do on a regular basis.

athletic yoga

Don't think this is athletic?