Technique Trumps All

December 12, 2017

Adam Linens, MS, CSCS, ATC, PES, CES, is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Oregon, working specifically with the men’s basketball team. He has also worked with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Below he answers questions on training speed and agility.

What’s your overall philosophy regarding speed and agility?

Linens: In my experience, all athletes want to do is go fast. But speed and agility training is not about how fast a player can accelerate, it’s about how fast they can stop and then reaccelerate multiple times. When NBA players get to the final years of their careers, they have no problems starting—they have problems stopping, landing, and changing direction. Those skills require the most eccentric strength, so I try to instill them early in my players’ careers.

That being said, much of what I teach is based on linear speed development. Although basketball athletes don’t need a ton of linear speed training—since they play a change-of-direction sport—good technique for linear speed will transfer to change-of-direction work and other movements.

How do you improve speed and agility?

Linens: I like to use ladders and hurdles to instill proper balance, body positioning, linear speed, and lateral quickness. We start with specific ladder drills to teach forward-to-backward change of direction, hip rotations, and pivoting. Then, I’ll get into more advanced drills with hurdles and cones. After that, we progress to reactionary training, where I use numbered cones, colored cones, or pointing in different directions to get athletes to react. During these sessions, I also like to use lateral resistors around their ankles to strengthen their hips.

What role does technique have in speed and agility training?

Linens: Technique trumps everything. Some coaches overload athletes with repetitions or resistance when their movements aren’t correct to begin with. This only ingrains bad habits.

Instead, I’ll teach a drill and make sure athletes have good technique before moving forward. After they’ve gotten proficient in the drill, we’ll add some resistance. However, I don’t add so much resistance that it makes the movement look sloppy. My general rule is: The more sport-specific a drill, the lighter the resistance.

How do you make speed and agility training sport specific?

Linens: I take the sport, break it down into different movements, and then teach corresponding pieces of it through a drill. I’m not teaching basketball skills, but our speed and agility training can focus on footwork related to an open step or crossover step that will help players drive to the basket or shuffle on defense.

What role does strength training play in your speed and agility work?

Linens: Strength training enhances speed and agility, and speed and agility enhance strength training. If you think of different concentric and explosive speed movements, they all require triple extension. We focus on triple extension in a lot of the exercises that we do, such as squat variations, dumbbell variations, kettlebell swings, arm dumbbell snatches, and clean variations.

To enhance change of direction, we emphasize single-leg exercises in the weightroom. I try to get athletes comfortable with balancing, exploding, controlling, and decelerating on one leg. Some of our exercises include variations of step-ups and lunges, single-leg Romanian dead lifts, and rear-foot elevator squats, as well as dumbbell split jerks.

 
December 8, 2017

At the end of every volleyball season, the coaching staff at Emory University holds a special dinner for senior players. During part of the night, departing players are given free rein to say whatever they want about the program, the team, and the coaches.

“I ask them to tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly about the past four years,” says Head Coach Jenny McDowell. “For me, that’s always an opportunity for self-evaluation.”

About a decade ago, one of McDowell’s players shared something during that annual dinner that shook the coach to her core: You pay more attention to the starters. “That hit me right in the face,” remembers McDowell, who has led the Eagles to the NCAA Division III Tournament each of her 21 years at the helm. “Even though I thought I was treating everyone equally, there was a perception that I wasn’t. Today, I work hard to communicate effectively with every single player, and I have not heard that complaint again.”

Successful coaches tend to agree that, when it comes to developing a strong team, effective communication must be a top priority. Without it, nothing else matters.

“People have to know you. They have to understand where you’re coming from,” says Beth Launiere, longtime Head Volleyball Coach at the University of Utah, with more than 500 wins to her name. “The key to successful coaching is understanding who you are as a person and basing your communication on that. You have to be confident in what you believe in and effectively share that with the people around you.”

The most important communication plan is the one that relates to players. This starts with being honest and consistent. Many coaches then develop a specific strategy for ongoing interaction.

Some prefer the informal route, arriving at practice early to casually chat with players during warm-ups or making sure to walk out of the gym with one or two of their athletes afterwards. Others have more formal sit-downs at scheduled times.

Launiere does some of both. “We’re pretty relentless in the number of touch points we have,” she says. “For example, during individual video review sessions, we take time to also ask players how their lives are going.”

And then she pays close attention to their responses. “I think listening is something that often gets lost in the communication process,” Launiere says. “We need to be open to hearing about players’ ideas and challenges.”

McDowell holds individual, face-to-face weekly meetings in her office with every first-year player to check on how they are adjusting to both the school and team environments. “When they’re freshmen, they’re not always very comfortable with these meetings,” she says. “But they have no choice. By the time they’re juniors and seniors, I can’t get them out of my office—they’re in here all the time.”

That’s a problem McDowell doesn’t mind having, because it proves her communication efforts work. The awkwardness her players may feel as freshmen slowly evaporates and they learn that being open with her is a positive process.

Brennan Dean, Head Volleyball Coach at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, and the 2015 California Interscholastic Federation and California State Volleyball Coach of the Year, uses the calendar on his cell phone to remind himself when to check in with his players. He keeps his one-on-one talks fairly casual, asking players about anything from college applications to family matters.

Mary Jo Cerqua, Head Coach at Baker High School in Baldwinsville, N.Y., who notched her 500th win in October, is also a fan of frequent in-person conversations, both with players and their parents. She tries to avoid talking on the phone, as she feels it’s important for both parties to read each other’s body language in order to reduce misunderstandings. She also makes it a point to include an assistant coach or another person in those meetings, regardless of the topic.

“I’m old-school that way,” Cerqua says. “I want to show I’m committed to these athletes, and that takes more than 30 seconds. And I’d rather have a face-to-face conversation so nothing can be read between the lines. Having honest, upfront and in-person communication takes the second-guessing out of everything.”

One of her meetings is an interview with each player and her parents following every season. During these sit-downs, the discussion is about the season’s highs and lows, as well as offseason goals and what’s next. For example, she stresses that just because a player will be a senior doesn’t mean she will become a starter. These meetings used to be optional for players, but starting five years ago, she made them mandatory. They help players understand what’s expected of them and have increased her player-communication success. 

December 8, 2017
By Susan Kundrat
Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a Clinical Associate Professor of Kinesiology and the Nutritional Sciences Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

For athletes who are vegetarian, food made from soy can be a great way to get the protein they need. But what are the best sources? Soybeans are formulated into so many foods these days that it's a challenge to keep them all straight while traversing the grocery aisles. Here's a sampling of many available soy foods, with their specs.

Canned soybeans: Soybeans that are cooked and ready-to-eat are easy to use and provide a good source of quality protein. They can be thrown into soups, chilis, bean dips, salads, burritos, etc. 
• 1/2 cup supplies 13 grams of protein and 150 calories.

Edamame: These large green soybeans are harvested when sweet and can be frozen (either in the pod or out). They taste great salted and make a healthy snack for athletes on the go.
• 2/3 cup out of the pod supplies 9.5 grams of protein and 105 calories.



Frozen meals: More and more companies are utilizing soy as a form of protein in non-meat frozen meals and entrees, and these are a good option for a healthy, fast meal.

Jerky: In many natural food stores, "soy" jerkey is available for a quick snack option. Most jerkeys are flavored concentrated forms of soy protein and provide 10 or more grams of protein per serving. 

Meat analogs: Soybean-based meat alternatives combine soy protein or tofu and other ingredients to simulate various kinds of meat. Many of these products look like meat and have flavors very close to meat. 
• 1 soy "sausage" patty supplies 7 grams of protein and 55 calories. 
• 1 soy "chicken" patty supplies 9 grams of protein and 150 calories.
• 1 soy "hot dog" supplies 11 grams of protein and 62 calories.

Miso: A smooth paste made from soybeans, a grain (such as rice), salt, and a mold culture, then aged in special cedar vats for one to three years, miso is traditionally used in Japanese cooking to flavor soups, sauces, dressings, and marinades. 

Soy crumbles: This product is found in the frozen food aisle and can be used to replace ground beef or turkey in recipes. It works well in foods like chili, spaghetti sauce, "meat" balls, lasagna, and tacos. 
• 2/3 cup of soy crumbles supply 10 grams of protein and 70 calories.

Soy flour: Made from roasted soybeans ground into a fine powder, soy flour is at least 50 percent protein. It comes in three forms: natural or full-fat, which contains natural oils found in the soybean; defatted, which has the oils removed during processing; and lecithin-added. It can be substituted for up to half of the wheat flour called for in recipes. 
• 1/2 cup supplies 21 grams of protein and 164 calories.

Soy milk: When soybeans are soaked, finely ground, and strained, soymilk is produced. Soymilk is generally fortified with calcium and is an excellent source of protein. 
• 1 cup supplies 9 grams of protein and 120 calories.

Soy sauce: Made from fermented soybeans and heavily salted, soy sauce can be a great condiment for athletes needing to replace sodium losses from heavy workouts.

Soybean oil: A natural oil extracted from whole soybeans, it's the most widely used oil in the United States. Many oils are blends of soybean oil and other oils. It's also used in many margarines and is high in monounsaturated fat, a "good" fat.

Sports bars and shakes: Many sports bars and shakes utilize soy protein isolates or soy protein concentrates (70 to 90 percent protein) as their protein source. These are both highly-digestible forms of protein.

Soy nuts: Whole soybeans that have been soaked in water and then baked until browned become soy nuts. They are packaged ready to eat and make great on-the-go snacks. They are higher in protein and lower in fat than most nuts.
• 1/4 cup supplies 10 grams of protein and 136 calories.

Soy nut butter: Made from roasted soy nuts that are crushed and blended with soybean oil and other ingredients into a spreadable form, soy nut butter is similar to peanut butter but lower in fat and higher in protein. 
• 2 tablespoons supply 8 grams of protein and 170 calories.

Soy yogurt: Made from soymilk, soy yogurt has a similar texture to milk-based yogurts. It's found in many flavors and is often calcium-fortified. 
• 8 ounces of soy fruit yogurt supplies 6 grams of protein and 150 calories.

Tempeh: Whole soybeans (often mixed with another grain) are fermented into a dense cake with a smoky or nutty flavor. High in protein, this product can be baked or sautéed, used in casseroles or soups, or added to a stir-fry. 
• 1/2 cup supplies 15 grams of protein and 160 calories.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP): Perhaps the least-expensive way to incorporate soy, this product is a dried form of processed soybeans. Sometimes known as "soy chunks" or "soy flakes," it can be found in bulk in many stores and when rehydrated, can add a boost of quality protein (70% protein) and fiber to soups, stews, and sauces. 
• 1/4 cup supplies 12 grams of protein and 80 calories.

Tofu: Also known as soybean curd, tofu easily absorbs the flavor of foods mixed with it. It comes in three varieties: firm tofu (can be cubed and used in soups or stir-fries); soft tofu (softer texture and good for recipes where a creamier texture is needed); and silken tofu (creamy and great for smoothies or to replace sour cream or cream cheese). 
• 1/2 cup supplies 10 grams of protein and 97 calories.

Training for Speed & Agility

December 8, 2017

Potential for and limits of speed development

Although speed can be improved, it is inaccurate to suggest that everyone has the capacity to become a sprint champion. A genetic ceiling exists for the top speed an athlete can reach, therefore limiting the ability of the vast majority of people to become an Olympic 100-meter champion. However, while this ceiling exists, it is likely that few people actually reach their ceiling. This is clearly demonstrated by the improvements that elite sprinters make throughout their careers. If top sprinters, with their training aimed specifically at speed development, do not always reach their full genetic potential, then clearly, the likelihood of athletes involved in other sports reaching their speed ceiling is much lower. Therefore, a majority of athletes have a great potential for improving speed, and speed development programs are fundamental to any total performance enhancement program. It is hoped that as speed training methods improve and are used by more and more athletes, more people will approach their ceiling and reach their full speed potential.

Read more in this excerpt from Developing Speed by National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Ian Jeffreys, Editor.

Optimum speed gives athletes an advantage

Athletes who can move faster than their opponents have an advantage. For example, a faster athlete may be able to get to a ball more quickly than a competitor or may even outrun a pursuer. For this reason, athletes in most sports value speed highly. Speed is often measured by using linear (straight-line) sprinting over a distance between 40 and 100 yards (37–91 m). However, it is important to remember that in most sports, athletes rarely sprint more than 30 yards (27 m) in a straight line before they must make some type of directional change. Unless an athlete is a 100-meter sprinter, focusing a great deal of time and attention on straight-ahead speed may not result in optimum performance. On the other hand, since most sports require acceleration from a static state or when transitioning between movements, straight-line speed is still a valuable asset that athletes should focus on when testing and training for sports.

Linear sprinting is a physical skill that most people have performed since their second year of life with some level of proficiency. For decades, many coaches believed that linear speed was mostly related to genetics and could not be significantly improved by training. However, appropriate training does improve running speed, even at the elite level. The combination of stride rate (the number of strides per unit of time) and stride length (the distance covered in a single stride) primarily determines linear speed. So, athletes can improve linear speed by increasing stride rate while maintaining stride length, increasing stride length while maintaining stride rate, or doing a combination of both.

Read more in this excerpt from Developing Agility and Quickness by NSCA, Jay Dawes, Mark Roozen.

Year-Round Nutrition Program

By implementing a year-round nutrition program in conjunction with their training program, endurance athletes can reap the benefits of enhanced health, improved performance, and better control of weight and body composition. Remember that the eating program should ebb and flow just as the training does; the athlete’s physical performance will be much more supported when nutrition matches the needs of physical training. The most important nutrients to consume during training are carbohydrate, fluid, and electrolytes.

Some athletes make losing weight and reducing body composition a primary goal during the preparatory training cycle. If an athlete falls into this category, the recommended daily intake of carbohydrate should be reduced to 3 or 4 grams per kilogram of body weight. A higher amount of protein—from 1.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day—should be included; this intake of protein should have a special emphasis on branched-chain amino acids because they have a higher satiety factor (they keep a person fuller), which will help stabilize blood sugar. A person with a stable blood sugar level will eat less throughout the day, so including a good source of lean protein at each meal and snack is important. Continue to keep fat intake around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Read more in this excerpt from Developing Endurance by NSCA, Ben Reuter.

December 7, 2017

The bench press can be a great tool for building upper body strength, but it has still managed to get a bad rap. This is especially the case in baseball. Many coaches are hesitant to let their players do the exercise because they’ve heard about the possible detriments. And while there are definitely times to avoid it, the bench press can still provide a lot of benefits if utilized correctly.

In an article on VoltAthletic.com, Scott Michael Colby, MA, CSCS, Instructor at McKendree University, and former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Puget Sound Collegiate League, dispels many of the myths surrounding the bench press and baseball. He writes that like any tool, the bench press can easily be misused, and this can be especially detrimental for baseball players who already have certain soft tissue restrictions in their shoulders and elbows. But he also recommends that coaches still incorporate this exercise into their training programs—with a few caveats.

For starters, Colby describes how it’s important to use proper periodization and supervision. Athletes should not rush into benching a ton of weight all the time. There needs to be a gradual progression where they build up strength while avoiding overuse. This is a common issue with the bench press, as many people (not just athletes) look to the exercise as a way to beef up their arms and chest. Before allowing an athlete to bench press on their own, make sure they have developed proper technique and modify the exercise when needed.

When it comes to baseball players, Colby does not think it’s necessary to completely avoid the bench press as it provides an effective way to develop anterior-posterior balance. This means training both pushing and pulling motions. Baseball players are often spending more time doing pulling motions in order to strengthen their rotator cuff muscles, which are associated with deceleration of the arm in the overhead throwing motion. So the bench press offers a way to incorporate a pushing motion into their training and prevent anterior-posterior imbalances.

Yet, there are times when the bench press should be avoided. If a baseball player is chronically sore, hurt, or injured they will likely have to adjust or limit their strength training, which could mean cutting out the bench press. In addition, Colby does not suggest doing maximum strength bench-pressing at peak intensity during the season. In season training should focus more on sport-specific power and maintenance rather than increasing maximum strength.

One of the main dilemmas when it comes to strength training for baseball is the number of competitive seasons. Players often reach peak intensity levels during the fall, spring, and summer, leaving little time for hypertrophy and maximum strength development. Therefore, it’s important that coaches focus on incorporating exercises such as the bench press only at the proper times.

All together, Colby does not believe that the risks of bench pressing outweigh rewards.

“If workouts are periodized and programmed correctly, then the bench press and/or a variation of the pressing motion should be incorporated within the baseball strength and conditioning program so as to balance prescribed pulling exercises,” he writes. 

December 7, 2017
By Dr. John Berardi and Ryan Andrews

John Berardi, PhD, CSCS, is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Texas and is trained in exercise physiology and exercise nutrition. He is also the President of Precision Nutrition. Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, CSCS, RD, LDN, is Director of Research for Precision Nutrition.

When an athlete is injured, they're usually eager to follow any protocol or strategy that promises to speed up the rehab process. They'll use specialized weightroom plans, come in for therapeutic massage, and try innovative modalities like light therapy or underwater training if they think it will hasten their return to action.

But one area that's often overlooked is the rehabbing athlete's diet. A growing body of research reveals that the consumption of certain types of foods, supplements, and even spices can influence how the body responds to inflammation and repairs tissue. That may sound surprising, but it makes sense--after all, food provides the building blocks for cells and influences the messages sent throughout the body to regulate blood flow, tissue replacement, and healing.

Here is a plan for athletes to follow while rehabbing:

Frequency: Eat every two to four hours.

Protein: Each meal should contain complete protein, including lean meats, lean dairy, eggs, soy products, or a protein supplement if whole food is not available.

Vegetables and Fruit: Each meal should contain one to two servings of vegetables and/or fruit.

Starches: Additional carbohydrates should come from whole grain, minimally processed sources like whole oats, yams, beans, whole grain rice, or quinoa. Athletes can slightly reduce their intake from this category during rehab, and eat more as soon as they return to active training.

Fats: Athletes should choose from among these "good" fats each day to promote a healthy balance of fat types: avocados, olive oil, mixed nuts, flax seeds, and flax oil. In addition, three to nine grams of fish oil should be added to their daily diet.

Supplementation: A multivitamin or other vitamin tablets can be used to supplement micronutrient intake. Natural supplements with anti-inflammatory properties (such as garlic extract, turmeric extract, or bromelain) can also be considered, but should always be used with caution.

Image by CDC/ Fenley

Weighing the Consequences

December 7, 2017

Injuries come with the territory for many college athletes. However, for a great deal of them, the pain associated with these misfortunes doesn’t always end after an operation, and it doesn’t go away on its own. Instead, there is a good chance they will face chronic injury problems later in life.

This leaves some medical experts wondering whether the benefits of college athletics outweigh the possible restrictions to future physical activity. In an article for Sports Illustrated, Ian McMahan, MA, ATC, PES, sports medicine professional and former athletic trainer for the Women’s World Cup, MLS, and the University of Maryland, discusses the long-term impact that participating in college sports has on athletes. 

For some players, there are few, if any, lingering negative effects. For instance, Gray Garrett played volleyball for UCLA and faced some common injuries, including a bad shoulder and sprained ankle, but is now able to engage in physical activity multiple times a week without any major issues.

“A lot of it has to do with good luck, in my opinion,” said Garrett. “Obviously, there are things you can do to get stronger, but for the most part, I think it is just something you are blessed with or without.”

However, Garrett’s luck seems to be far from the norm. An article for Sports Health reported that in a study of NCAA Division I athletes, “67 [percent] of a group of former Division I athletes who sustained a major injury and 50 [percent] reported chronic injuries, a finding that was 2.5 times higher than that seen in non-athletes.”

One of the biggest chronic issues seen is osteoarthritis. McMahan reports that 40 percent of former D-I athletes were diagnosed with osteoarthritis after college. This number drops to 24 percent for non-athletes.

“I definitely think research indicates strong evidence that injuries during one’s sports career can potentially be associated with adverse health outcomes later in life,” says Zachary Kerr, PhD, MPH, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina and Research Director for the Center For The Study of Retired Athletes. “We have seen evidence of this specifically with concussions in retired NFL players, but there [is] growing evidence that this issue is not specific to professional sports nor to concussions.”

Another chronic problem commonly seen is cardiovascular disease. Former college athletes who discontinued exercise after graduation were found to have a higher risk of this disease than those who didn’t participate in sports.

“Some college athletes end up on an island, without any help for their future,” says Paul Weinacht, a former lineman at Stanford University. “You get a physical on the way in, but there isn’t a physical on the way out. No one asks about your injuries when you leave.”

While college programs work hard to keep athletes active during their career, access to athletic training staff, team doctors, and physical therapists becomes much more limited after graduation. Experts say this is something that needs to change.

“College athletes need guidance on how to make the transition from the intensity of college sports, namely developing programs that educate athletes on the importance of life-long activity and how to find activities which may give them satisfaction and enjoyment,” says Janet Simon, PhD, ATC, Associate Professor in the College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University and lead researcher for the Sports Health study.

The NCAA may not have specific programs like this in place, but some universities and conferences have taken it upon themselves to help athletes’ transition to life after college sports. For example, the University of Washington has implemented educational programs that include opportunities to meet with a sports psychologist or nutritionist. It is also part of a Pac-12 injury surveillance system dedicated to researching athlete health.

Despite the potential life-long risks, Kim Harmon, MD, Head Football Physician for Washington, believes that, for most players, engaging in college athletics is worth it.

“While injuries sustained in practice or games at the high school or college level can result in disability in later life, for the vast majority of college athletes, there is net benefit to participating in sports both physically and emotionally,” she says.

December 7, 2017

While a lot of work has gone into ensuring high school athletes with concussions receive proper treatment, there has been less focus on how to pay for such medical care. Some governing bodies and schools are solving this by offering separate concussion insurance.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) became the fourth state to provide its athletes with insurance specifically covering head injuries earlier this year. “We felt that if we really are concerned about concussions, then we had better put our money where our mouth is,” says WIAA Board of Control President Pam Foegen, who serves as Pupil Services Director at Regis Catholic Schools in Eau Claire, Wis.

Tapping into the HeadStrong Concussion Insurance Program, provided by Dissinger Reed, the cost for the coverage is $1.50 per student per year. The WIAA has chosen to cover the premiums for all athletes in grades 6 to 12, as long as the head injury occurs during participation in a game or practice sanctioned by the association or while traveling to or from a sanctioned event.

“For a lot of families, visits to their primary care doctor and/or specialists for concussion can add up in the form of co-pays and deductibles. We thought this was the right thing to do to help our schools and their athletes and families.”

“We are making this fit within our budget,” Foegen says. “To help with the insurance, we increased regional ticket prices for the coming year by one dollar. We charge no dues or fees to our members, so there is no cost to them.”

HeadStrong serves as secondary coverage, paying for whatever expenses a student-athlete’s primary insurance does not, including co-pays and deductibles. For athletes who do not have their own insurance, HeadStrong will take over as primary. The policy will cover medical expenses up to $25,000.

“For a lot of families, visits to their primary care doctor and/or specialists for concussion can add up in the form of co-pays and deductibles,” says Foegen. “We thought this was the right thing to do to help our schools and their athletes and families.”

On a smaller scale, the Los Angeles Unified School District has implemented concussion insurance at Venice High School. It has partnered with the Play It Safe Concussion Care Program, developed by Wells Fargo Insurance, and uses discretionary funds to cover the cost. Similar to the HeadStrong program, Play It Safe offers secondary insurance and up to $25,000 of coverage, with no deductibles or co-pays. It also provides Venice student-athletes with access to specialists in the neurology department at UCLA, as well as other medical offices.

Trenton Cornelius, Interscholastic Athletics Coordinator at Venice, has found the program to work well, especially since primary care doctors don’t always have the expertise needed for treating head injuries. “Not everyone is trained in concussions,” he says. “So for us, this is more about standardizing the care our athletes receive. Every kid in California has to have primary medical insurance in order to play sports, but this insurance provides them access to specialists.”

Image from CC0 Public Domain
December 7, 2017

Little has been said about how the menstrual cycle impacts performance and injury risk for female athletes, but experts seem to agree that it does play a role. A new app is aiming to help both coaches and athletes understand this relationship better.

"It provides people with an understanding and solutions about what they can do to reduce the impact [of the menstrual cycle]," Georgie Bruinvels, co-developer of the app and a Sports Scientist and Researcher for the Irish sports and data company Orreco, told CNN

The app, called FitrWoman, was launched this summer. To use it, athletes log information about their cycle length, how long their period typically lasts, and the date of their last menses. The app factors in this information to generate daily tips about physiological changes and how to train.

“During my research, I was finding more interesting information around the menstrual cycle,” said Bruinvels. “How it can affect performance and what can be done to reduce that, and what caution should be applied at certain times of the month. Athletes train for every eventuality, but they don’t train for their menstrual cycle.

“I know an athlete who competed in the Sydney Olympics, and she said she came on her period the night before the race, because tapering, which is a reduction in training before big races, and flying can bring on a period,” Bruinvels continued. “She was so underprepared that she didn’t know what to do.”

One caution during certain times in the cycle is that women may be more susceptible to injury, as hormones cause ligaments and tendons to become lax and elastic. Incorporating the information from the app could help prevent injury.

“Risk of injuries, like anterior cruciate ligament or other soft-tissue ligaments, is increased when oestrogen levels are high just before ovulation,” Bruinvels said. “When you have high levels of oestrogen, it means stability is affected. The most important thing is understanding. [Athletes] need to have physiological awareness of why.”

This awareness can lead to changing training programs for the better.

“There are certain times of the month when you are stronger, so you can lift heavy weights, but there are certain times, to get the same benefits, you don’t have to lift those heavy weights,” Bruinvels said. “The best thing we’ve had is athletes saying, ‘If only we had your app, we wouldn’t have the injury problems [we] have now.’”

Along with training tips, nutritional needs may vary during a cycle, and the app can notify athletes of this accordingly. For instance, iron and carbohydrates are recommended during menstruation, while healthy fats are better at the end of the cycle.

“When you’re pre-menstrual, your blood sugar is more likely to fluctuate, so we recommend foods to counter that and eating regularly,” Bruinvels said.

In addition, the app may help with educating coaches and athletes. One benefit that users have seen is the ability to foster autonomy in improving their performance.

“Before the app, I’d just blame work for everything,” Kelly Clark, Captain of the Celtic Women’s Football Club, said. “I’d just think to myself, ‘I’ve worked hard this week, so maybe that’s why I feel tired.’ I didn’t think it could be anything to do with the menstrual cycle. It’s reassuring at times to know that that’s probably the way I should be feeling … I’ve never focused on hydration and nutrition as much as I do now, and this season is the fittest I’ve been. It could be down to the app, it could be down to training, but it’s probably a combination of both.”

Next up for the app is expansion, says FitrWoman co-developer and Orreco's Product Development Manager Grainne Conefrey.

"This is just our first version of it,” she said. “It's about sharing information and giving it to a wider audience. We want to build an app that takes everything into account for the female athlete and will then generate its own data.

"We asked the question whether anyone altered their training and nutrition, and the answer was 'no.' Then we asked do they want to, and the answer was 'yes,’” Conefrey continued. “But if you Google it, there's no information on how to do this. You don't want to go into that quarterfinal thinking, 'Oh crap, I'm on my period'. I definitely want to change that mindset."

Image by Marco Verch
December 6, 2017

Plyometrics are a great way to help athletes increase power, build muscle, and improve performance. However, to get the best benefit, and to avoid injury, they must be done correctly. In a blog for The Athletic Build, Justin Grinnell, CSCS, describes his three favorite plyometric exercises and how they can better prepare your athletes for game day.

According to Grinnell, plyometric training, or jump training, involves exercises that rapidly stretch a muscle (eccentric phase) and then quickly shortens it (concentric phase). These movements help to increase muscular power and explosiveness. But to achieve these benefits, the movements must always be done with proper technique.

 

“If you do not execute plyomtrics correctly, you run the risk of overtraining, and can cause unwanted injuries and pain,” writes Grinnell. “If you utilize them properly, they can help increase your power output in your fast twitch muscle fibers, improve explosive power, activate your nervous system to improve neural output, thus improving your weightlifting techniques, build muscle, and improve strength.”

The first plyometric exercise Grinnell introduces is the broad jump. This jump improves the reaction of fast-twitch muscle fibers and helps build athletes’ neural output during lower-body exercises like the deadlift, leading to more muscle growth and strength. The broad jump is also useful for conditioning, as it requires a lot of work from the metabolic system. Here are the steps to engaging in the broad jump correctly, according to Grinnell:

  1. Stand behind a mark on the ground with feet slightly apart.
  2. Take off on two feet, making sure to bend the knees and swing the arms to create forward drive.
  3. At the end of the jump, quickly flex the hips, knees, and ankle joints while landing as softly as possible in a balanced and athletic position.

Because of the demanding nature of this movement, Grinnell suggests engaging in the broad jump right after warm up. He also recommends doing two to three sets of two to five repetitions, with a two to three minute rest between each jump. To see the broad jump in action, check out this video from Velocity Sports Performance.

Grinnell’s second favorite plyometric exercise is the lateral bound. Similar to the broad jump, the lateral bound enhances the reaction of fast-twitch muscle fibers throughout the body. Since it is a unilateral exercise, meaning it is performed on one leg at a time, the lateral bound also reduces muscle imbalances and ensures that each side of the body is strengthened equally. Follow these steps, laid out by Grinnell, to make sure your athletes are engaging in the correct technique:

  1. Stand on your right foot.
  2. Using your right leg, jump as high and far as you can to your left and land on your left foot.
  3. After landing, hold your position for three seconds.
  4. Using your left leg, repeat the motion to the right.
  5. Hold the position for three seconds.

If your athletes can do this movement completely and correctly, and need to be further challenged, they can move on to rapid response lateral bounds. Instead of pausing, they will immediately jump off of each foot after landing. To make sure your athletes have the energy to do this movement correctly, Grinnell suggests placing it directly after warm ups. He recommends doing two to three sets of five repetitions, with one to two minutes of rest between each.

The last plyometric exercise that Grinnell discusses is the depth jump. However, he stresses athletes should only do this exercise if they can hold proper form during a squat or squat jump, are not suffering from tendonitis, or pain in the knee or ankle, and are experienced in lifting. Once you are certain your athletes are ready, the depth jump can help build a more explosive and stronger lower body.

“The depth jump involves minimal ground contact time with maximum power output,” writes Grinnell. “This in turn activates some deep fast-twitch muscle fibers that cannot be hit with traditional weight training. Due to the depth jumps ability to increase muscle activation, nervous system priming, and improvement in explosive movements, this will also transfer over into the weight room, leading to more weight lifted and increase output.”

Here are the steps to carrying out the depth jump:

  1. Start with a box at 12 inches in height.
  2. Step off of the box, landing on both feet.
  3. Jump off the ground as fast as possible.
  4. Increase the box height to 24 inches as you advance.

Grinnell suggests doing two to four sets of three to five repetitions, with two to three minutes of rest between jumps. Like the other two, he recommends that the depth jump is done after warm up to make sure athletes have the energy to perform the movement correctly. To see the depth jump in motion, check out this video from Wil Fleming, CSCS.

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