NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Three Summer Training Lessons for Athletes

ThinkstockPhotos-491816300.jpgSummertime is in full swing, and whether you are a competitive or recreational athlete, changes are definitely happening to your normal schedule. For high school and collegiate athletes, more time is spent at home and for general fitness enthusiasts, more options are available to you to fulfill your exercise quota (in other words, doing more things outside). These are both extremely important changes that can be used to alter a routine that has lasted for the past 8 or 9 months of your life.

Student-athletes have been juggling class, competition, and training. Amateur athletes have been working (real jobs), training, and competing as well. When early spring hits, most individuals are sick of that stagnant routine and are looking to switch it up, which is why summer is welcomed by most with open arms.

Summer can also be a time when many physical aspects (such as power, strength, and speed) can decline if adequate “maintenance” of those aspects is not applied. The increase in other opportunities during summer can sometimes lead to a leniency of training that might do more harm than good.

Here are 3 things that I have learned over recent years as a strength coach, trainer, and collegiate athlete to hopefully help minimize this detraining effect.

1. Don’t focus on too much at one time.

Every summer when I would go home from school, I had a list of 5 or 6 things that I felt like I had to get better at. Each training session, I would have a ton of thoughts about how I could make those things better. Of course, I had a training packet from the football team, but felt like I had to do even more. I had to get faster, more agile, stronger, more flexible, and in better shape. At some point, I was doing more thinking about what I had to do to get better than just working hard with what I had.

Even today, I send workout packets home with each of my athletic teams. The goal, obviously, is to continue to improve their physical and mental toughness. But for some, I just want to make sure that they don’t totally fall off of the bus with all of their training. I aim to keep workouts short, sweet, but challenging. They usually focus on sport-specific training aspects for each individual team (for example, single-leg strength for runners, and rotational power for softball players). I want to make sure that the “bread and butter” of the sport remains at the forefront.

2. Get creative.

Being creative in the gym during the summer months may be due to two things:

  1. Your gym doesn’t have the equipment you want (or need) to do specific exercises, or
  2. You are looking for alternatives to exercises you already do.

If your gym doesn’t have specific pieces of equipment for exercises that you are looking to do, think about what that exercise is trying to accomplish. For instance, your workout program might call for a kettlebell swing, but your gym has no kettlebells. Think about what the target muscle is for that exercise and plan an alternative. The main muscles in the KB swing are the glutes, so doing a weighted hip bridge or a Romanian Deadlift might suffice as an alternative. Sure, it’s not a perfect match, but it’s better than not doing it at all!

If you are simply looking to get out of the monotony of your 4-day split routine, you have a ton of options. Say Tuesday is considered your “squat” day, but you want to take a break from the barbell work you have been doing. Good news: You can squat with just about anything in the gym. Kettlebells, sandbags, slosh pipes, medballs, and weighted vests are just a few options that can give you that much-needed break from your regular program. Also, try switching up the reps. If you are used to doing 5 sets of 5 reps, try a workout where you do 5 sets of 20 or 3 sets of 50. It will definitely give a little shock to your system.

3. Don’t forget what summer is for!

Every competitive athlete, young or old, constantly thinks about their sport and how they can improve their performance. For most, there is no such thing as an off season anymore. There is never a chance to truly take their mind off of what they compete in, which can lead to burnout after a couple of seasons. Summer is meant for unwinding from heavy workloads, in class or with jobs. Mental and emotional recovery are just as important as physical recovery. If your mind has not recovered from the past year of training and competing, it will be very hard to devote the same amount of time and effort to the next season.

You still need to train for your sport, but post-training activities are a good way to unwind after a hard workout. Go to the lake, go fishing, go golfing: do something that allows you to enjoy the summer. You will only have a few months of opportunities like this. Work hard, play hard!

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This blog was written by Alex Soller, NIFS Athletic Performance Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: summer training strength power speed off-season athletes student athletes

The Importance of a Maintenance Phase for Athlete Training

The NFL season is only three weeks old and injuries are running rampant through the league. Week after week, a star player is lost for multiple weeks, months, or possibly the whole season because of injuries that usually are the result of bad luck or possibly not being as physically prepared as they could have been. Hopefully your team, **knock on wood**, does not or will not have to deal with this at any point during their season. My team, my beloved Detroit Lions, look like a dumpster fire for reasons other than injuries.

The physicality of football increases every year. The players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger in training facilities across the country getting ready for that next season. Guys are always looking to take that next step during the offseason to ensure that they are a better player than they were the preceding year. Countless hours are spent in the gym and on the field trying to achieve this goal. Some training programs start the day after a season is over, whether it be after week 17 in the regular season or if your team wins the Super Bowl. It’s no secret that being a professional or collegiate athlete is a year-round commitment. 

Changing Training After the Season Begins

But what kind of training do players do after their season begins? Do they continue to train five or six days a week like they did in the offseason? Of course not. With large time commitments for practice, watching film, and simply resting, an athlete must shift their focus to making sure all of that hard work is not wasted over the course of the season. The most effective way to salvage the progress that you have made over the past five or six months is to enter a maintenance phase.

A maintenance phase is one phase or “macrocycle” (a large portion of a training year) that you should use during the start and duration of each athletic or competitive season. As mentioned before, this phase is used to preserve the strength, power, and muscle mass that was built in the many months prior to the season. 

What Does a Maintenance Phase Look Like?

Some characteristics of a maintenance phase include the following:

  • 2 (±1) workouts per week
  • 45 to 60-minute sessions
  • 2 (±1) sets per exercise. Main exercises should focus on strength, power (plyometrics, Olympic lifting, core lifts [bench, squat, deadlift]), and functional mobility.
  • Promoting overall health
As you can see, these phases don’t take much time, but could pay huge dividends throughout your season. The ultimate goal for many (if not all) sports, like the NFL, is to make the post-season. The teams that always seem to perform the best in those scenarios are the ones that are the healthiest or freshest. Continuing to lift throughout your competitive season will help you maintain the overall function of your body instead of gradually losing it throughout the season. As a wise man (Dr. Alan Mikesky) once said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Impact on Future Seasons

Don’t underestimate the importance of a maintenance phase, due to the implications that it could have on subsequent seasons. Think about this scenario:

Imagine you start training for your freshman year of college football squatting a maximum (1RM) of 315 pounds. After 4 months of preseason training, your 1RM has gone up to 365 pounds. Once the season starts, you stop lifting weights and focus on football. Three months later when the season is finished, you hit the weight room for the first time. Your 1RM squat is back to 315 pounds. Your body had no reason to keep the neural drive of the muscles because you no longer required it to. You start your offseason conditioning program and increase your squat back up to 365 pounds and exceed those numbers by squatting 380. Once your sophomore season starts, you stop lifting weights once again. At the end of the season, your 1RM squat is back to 315. 

This is a vicious cycle that never allows for any solid progression. You start from square-one every year. Now think about the same scenario with a few changes:

Imagine you start training for your freshman year of college football squatting a maximum (1RM) of 315 pounds. After 4 months of preseason training, your 1RM goes up to 365 pounds. Once the season starts, you begin an in-season maintenance phase. You lift two days per week, making sure your squat loads are significant enough to maintain your 1RM (80-95%). Three months later when the season is finished, you hit the weight room for the beginning of your offseason training program. Your 1RM squat is 355. Although you dropped 10 pounds, it is not as significant as the 50-pound loss from the previous scenario. From your offseason program, your 1RM increases from 355 to 410. Once your sophomore season starts, you begin another in-season maintenance phase. At the end of the season, your 1RM has only dropped to 405. 

***

As you can see, progression of strength (and power with other lifts) has to be maintained year round. This goes for all athletes throughout their seasons. If they want to continue to improve, they must prevent the loss. It is as important of a cycle of training as any. Without a properly structured in-season maintenance phase, you will be starting from the same place every time you start a new offseason training program.

 

This blog was written by Alex Soller, NIFS Athletic Performance Coach. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

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Topics: training weightlifting strength power professional athlete muscle mass

Heavy Metal: Powerlifting Strategies Can Lead to Big Fitness Gains

Being the youngest of six boys is a badge of honor that I wear proudly. Growing up in my rather large family was not always easy. Most of the time money was pretty tight and we were not afforded some of the luxuries that other families may have been. Hand-me-downs and bumming lunch money from friends were standard operating procedures for a great deal of my childhood.

No matter how hard things got, there was always one constant: sport. Football and powerlifting were the two main obsessions in our household. As the youngest Maloney lad, I had many great examples to learn from andbrotherpyramid just as many expectations to live up to. You guessed it, that’s me on top of that pyramid crying my eyes out about something I don’t remember—I’m sure one of my older brothers had recently given me “something to cry about” (a phrase we heard a lot).

Look beyond the cuteness of this photo and you will see one of the messages of this post. Training to compete in powerlifting events provided a foundation on which I built my lifelong fitness. The stronger the foundation, the bigger and more impactful things you can stack on top. Powerlifting provided so many opportunities; we didn’t know it then, but we were solidifying practices that are looked on today as the first best steps in overall fitness improvement. The stronger you are, the more accomplishments are to be had.

I want to share with you some of the huge gains training as a powerlifter has provided me over the years—not all physical, either. These are results I know you can have when you implement powerlifting training ideas into your fitness program.

Discipline

Consistent with most aspects of your life, strong discipline will always lead to strong results. It takes hard work to get better at anything, and it takes discipline to consistently provide that hard work. To follow a specific program and sound plan of attack is not always easy to do. Making the decision to get better at something and taking the proper and consistent steps to get there takes discipline. I’m not referring to only the physical stuff, but also the mental and emotional stuff as well. Those days spent in the weight room filled me with proper etiquette and respect for that environment and the discipline it took to be a part of it.

Rick Huse paints a brilliant picture of the atmosphere of those days in the weight room in his post, Old-School Weightlifting Gym Etiquette. Those rules and concepts set the tone for a strong work ethic in the gym that was ingrained early and often and has served me and countless others well along the fitness path. “There are two types of pain in this world: the temporary pain of discipline, or the permanent pain of regret” is a motto I live by, and it was learned early in life.

Absolute Strength

In this post, I referenced a “bucket” analogy that I have adopted from legendary coach Dan John. Think of absolute strength as a bucket. The bigger the bucket, the more concepts or abilities you can put into the bucket. Building absolute strength will result in gains in many other fitness aspects such as power, endurance, mobility, motor control, and sport-specific skills. The specific lifts in powerlifting, Squat, Bench Press, and Dead Lift, transfer to overall fitness capabilities in many movement patterns and sport skills. We all squat to sit down, we all push something away from our bodies, and we definitely bend over and pick up heavy things. Being stronger in these lifts not only allows you to compete at a high level in this sport, but it carries over to daily life and our pursuit of feeling better, losing weight, and gaining muscle.

I have seen the shirts that read, “Strong is the new sexy,” and it might be, but strong has always been the foundation for overall athleticism and functional capabilities. I am pretty confident that without growing my “bucket” in those early days in the weight room, there are many things I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish down the road and to this day. Get strong, and stay strong! Your tomorrow will thank you for it.

Accomplishment

Implementing powerlifting strategies provides a progressive message to fitness that is so important. Unless you came from the planet Krypton and wear a red cape, it is unlikely you were able to step into a squat rack and get low on a 1,000-pound barbell-bending squat. But for most of us, that is what we wanted: for that bar to bend! We had to work up to that kind of performance or ultimately pay the price of injury. When you see the weight go up after all of the hard work, there is nothing like that sense of accomplishment. Powerlifting is full of those victories, and they can happen often. There are few things more powerful than seeing your hard work pay off in big ways. The motivation and inspiration you feel when you hit a PR (personal record) or when you add that extra 10 pounds you were unable to do last week is so impactful and will keep you striving for more.lifting_picmaloney

If you are just starting out, you can see big improvements quickly, spurring you on to get even better and stronger. Conversely, from defeat comes progress. Not getting a lift in a meet, or dropping out on that last set in the weight room, can be just as powerful as, if not more powerful than, the successes you have. You realize you have to work harder, be more disciplined, and improve that absolute strength.

Strength was stressed early and often in my early years. That has led to an ever-improving fitness level throughout my life, and it can do the same for you. Witnessing huge lifts, like the one in the photo to the right of my brother Andy, fired me up to be better and stronger, and has paid huge dividends in my athletic and fitness life. I look back on those early days in the weight room training with my brothers—the smells, loud music, and the emotions that packed each training session—and I know that because of it, I have been able to succeed not only in the physical realm, but in the mental realm as well.

Don’t miss the First Annual Powerlifting Competition at NIFS coming up on November 8 and see a showcase of strength from your very own NIFS members and individuals from the community. Early bird registration ends Sept 30th!

Compete at this event, or come be a spectator for free. Either way, you will be a part of something pretty special!

get registered for Powerlifting

Tony Maloney is the NIFS Fitness Center Manager and leads Group Training on Sunday through Thursday. Follow Tony on Facebook at ELITE.

Topics: fitness muscles weight lifting weightlifting strength power