The Garth

In my time of training and coaching on occasion we come up with a workout that is incredibly hard, but fun. Now don’t mistake training with stupid high intensity as a means to increase performance is a great thing to maintain for long periods of time. This only leads to burn out and/or an increased risk of injury. Instead on occasion a very hard workout is a great way to test yourself physically or mentally (sometimes both). So without further ado, here is a stupid hard conditioning method that my friends and I came up with one day.

The set up

When I was working on my masters I was training at a great gym in Saint Louis called Eagle Gym. They have lots of equipment for just about any type of training. The place is worth visiting just for the seeing some of the custom equipment that they have and the old school machines (second generation nautilus stuff). Tweak, Garth, and myself were wrapping up and decided to do some sprints with a prowler at the end of the workout. We set up in the parking lot using about a 100 foot section and loaded up the sled with 180lbs. We then pushed sled using a system where tweak pushed it to garth, garth pushed it to me, and I pushed this back to tweak. We did this back and forth for quite some time. The brutal part of it was twofold in that the low handle push is much harder and then as you get tired and other people aren’t getting tired your rest period gets shorter while theirs get longer since it take you longer to push the sled compared to your partners.

After doing who knows how many sprints with the sled, Garth proceeded to do a rainbow yawn in the parking lot and we called it a day. This is why the workout was named after Garth since he was the one who suffered the most from it and he gave it his all. Just to be clear I’m not glorifying the “working until you puke” mentality, but that is what occurred.

How this could be used

When working with athletes doing this “two people rest while one person works” rotation can be useful for general conditioning and to keep athletes busy along with helping them encourage each other. You can do this with larger groups so the rest periods get longer compared to the work periods like you have in sports like football. Sports where you have little to no rest having them actively following the sled and alternating can be very useful. You can do this also with shuttle runs, sprints in general, and just about anything else you can think of. This won’t develop maximal power or speed, but can be a useful way to put in a competitive part to conditioning with your athletes.

Summary

This is one of the many brutal training sessions that I have done with friends. If you liked this I will be sure to post more like these and maybe bring up the two most brutal workouts I have done with Tweak and Hop back in Saint Louis. I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you have any questions please let me know thanks for reading.

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The Athlete Said: I Want To Win*

But the reality is:

* = No you don’t

When working with athletes I often find athletes that tell you how they “want to win”. This makes sense since no one wants to admit they just want to be mediocre. However, I find it important to pull back the comfortable blanket of denial and ignorance so they can be embraced by the brutal cold winds of reality. I’m very lucky that I get to work with a variety of athletes in different sports, but every sport has a number of things in common that are required to be successful. Here are a few questions that should guide an athlete to find any potential faults in their training of why they might not be successful on the level that they want to.

Do you work hard?

Showing up is easy, getting after it and working hard when you are there is a different story. Don’t get me wrong, showing up is the first major obstacle for a number of people who think they want to win, but when you get there do you warm up immediately? Do you work hard the entire practice or training session? Do you take time off to play on your phone or let yourself be pulled away by different distractions? If you aren’t familiar with hard work, don’t waste your time by trying to learn this by watching youtube videos. Pay attention to your teammates at practice, to the people you see in the gym. Who is giving it their all and putting in more to their training than you are? This is hard work. It is easy to think you work hard if everyone around you is loafing, but when you meet someone who works truly hard it makes it obvious the effort that you are putting in to your work.

Do you keep from complaining?

There is nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, but are you just complaining? Letting your coach and teammates know useful opinions of how things can be done better is useful. Complaining about how you wish things were is just wasting everyone’s time. Getting better is always uncomfortable and often in a number of ways. You are going to suffer some bumps and bruises so learn the line that separates being hurt from being injured. If you train when you are hurt you are making yourself and your team better, if you train while you are injured you risk not only making your injury worse, but potentially getting your teammates injured. This takes time and understanding, when in doubt work with an athletic trainer or other health professional that can assess you and let you know when you are ready to roll.

Do you do more work outside of practice?

Practice is great, this is where you can increase your skills as a team. Now let’s assume that in order for you to be a true master (in Ericsson’s research which is not a hard and fast rule) you need to practice for 10,000 hours deliberately. So this means if you are practice hard and focused (not loafing like was brought up earlier) each hour adds to this total. So if your team practices for 6 hours per week over the course of one year you will have put in 312 hours towards mastery. So now you just need to practice with your team for just about 30 more years and ta da you are a master. This is why you need to be training outside of practice, working on the parts of your craft or sport where you are the weakest. If you truly want to be the best this requires a huge time investment.

Do you make sacrifices so you can win?

The best teams and people make sacrifices to be that way. This can be in the form of not going out on the weekend to party. This can be never drinking. This can be missing different functions and holidays so you can train and compete. In some sports this can mean using substances that will potentially shorten your lifespan (PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)). Are you willing to make any of those sacrifices to be the best? Lots of people say they want to, but they aren’t willing to miss out on their social lives to be the best. I for one, am not currently willing to do steroids to be a better lifter though they would likely greatly enhance my recovery and subsequent performance.

Do you eat correctly for success?

This plays in to the sacrifices so you can win section. Your body is constructed out of what you eat. If you don’t eat enough you aren’t going to recover well and then perform better. If you eat too much you are going to gain the type of weight that won’t often help you. The food choices you make all impact your performance and recovery. If an athlete is not willing to look at and improve their diet they are missing out on a major magnitude of effect on performance. Don’t tell me how you want to be lean while you are eating cake or how you want to gain weight when you haven’t eaten breakfast or packed any food to eat that day. Bodybuilders are some of the most regimented people you will ever meet because they know it is diet that makes a huge effect on their ability to gain muscle mass and increase their performance.

Do you recover as hard as you need to?

This means are you sleeping enough? Do you take time to stretch and roll out in between or after practices? Are you doing active recovery like going for an easy walk or doing a light session? If you want to be the best athlete you can be and you are only sleeping 4 hours each night you are not going to be making great progress. Get off your phone and quit watching TV at night to let your brain unwind. Don’t just sit on the couch and vegetate at the end of the day. If you want to be the best you might have to start taking ice baths to enhance recovery or do other forms of recovery to help yourself come back faster.

Do you have the genetics for this sport?

This is a brutal reality of sport in that you can have the best work ethic, but if you are only 5’ tall you aren’t going to be a center in the NBA. This can also be useful in that it can show you how you do need to work that much harder than others since you aren’t blessed with the genetics that other people are. This is also what allows other athletes to seem like they are loafing compared to you due to their better genetics for performance.

Summary

Aside from the last question you can control each other question’s answer to a certain extent. If your goal is to be the best you have to do what others are often not going to do to improve. Be disciplined in your approach and make the sacrifices you need to in order to be successful. Most athletes aren’t willing to do everything that it takes to be truly successful. That’s ok, but simply know at the end of the day you are only lying to yourself.

Acute to Chronic Training Load Tracking  

Recently with sports training an interesting component to follow with performance is the total volume of training the athletes are experiencing. One way to quantify this is to examine the acute to chronic training volume. Volume is the amount of work done, think how many reps you did with a weight (10 reps at 100lbs. is 1,000lbs of total volume for that set) now add up all the work you did in the session to get the session volume. The acute training volume is the total amount of work performed by the athlete over the week. Chronic volume is the average training load per week over the past 4 weeks. You can also think of this as the amount of training the athlete does over the microcycle compared to the mesocycle.

Research comparing injury rates with increases ratios of the acute to chronic training volume

In rugby players any time the acute training volume was greater than 1.5x the chronic training volume per week there was a significant increase in the rates of injuries for the athletes. Overall these athletes still were getting hurt even when the training volume didn’t massively increase. Also, these are rugby athletes which means there is collisions in the sport which those risks of injury are going to be higher than sports like golf. However, it is an important point to track increases in volume above what an athlete typically has to recover from since this increases their risk of injury.

Ways to track this on a budget

Having methods to track total athlete training volume especially in ball sports often requires accelerometers that can cost thousands of dollars (per year) along with doing the analysis of that data. Another method is to video tape every single practice and game to find out how far the athletes move and at what velocity they move and change direction. This will take a crazy amount of time. The best bet is to simply track the total amount of time practice lasts and have the athlete’s rate how hard they thought the practice was on average. Then multiply those sums together and track the total perceived volume load the athletes did over time. Research shows that this tends to be a close estimate in trained athletes of total training load. As you do this, track and see how increases in volume over what the athletes normally do has any relationship to the amount of non-contact injuries on your team. If you are just working with weight lifting based sports then you can literally track the sets and reps of the loads the athletes are lifting to get an idea of the training volume.

Implications for coaches and athletes

Every person adapts to the total amount of work their body typically has to perform if given enough time. Any time you rapidly increase this amount of work you massively increase your risk of injury. On the opposite side of the equation, any time you decrease the total amount of work an athlete is doing they are going to decrease performance and fitness. When this can become an issue is when athletes don’t train all summer and then show up for fall sports their risks of getting injured goes through the roof. Starting up your practices with lower intensities and ramping up with time will decrease your risk of getting folks hurt. Also making sure that you have your athletes in some type of summer training and conditioning program so they are adapted to training volumes before the practices start. If an athlete gets hurt, getting them to do all the training they can without slowing injury recovery is important to keep them adapted to handling significant volumes of work. This is why I like sled work if I am dealing with an injury to help keep up work capacity.

Implications for personal trainers and people getting back in shape

If you or someone you work with has been completely sedentary one set of any exercise equals a massive increase in training volume over what they were adapted to. So it is always important to start them off with less work than you would think they need to be doing. Having them build up with 3-5 total sets of an exercise and only one heavy set initially will be more than enough for them to adapt to over what their body was prepared for before then. Apply this same logic anytime you add is something new like different exercises or intensities (walking is a lot easier on the body than running).

Summary

Tracking the amount of work your athletes do is very important to get an idea of what they can tolerate without getting injured. An athlete that is injured can’t play for you, so you want to make sure that you keep them healthy. The goal is always to have productive training and if you have an idea of what someone is used to you can then write them better recommendations of what to do to make progress while minimizing the risk of injury.

Body Comp Tracking, Special Situations

In October I was lucky enough to be invited to present at the great lakes regional meeting of the national strength and conditioning association. This was fun and I got to talk about doing body comp tracking with athletes and how you can use this data to help you program with your athletes more effectively and to help them be more successful. There were a few special situations with changes in lean body mass that I wanted to bring up that honestly I ran out of time to get in to. First I will give some basics on body composition.

Two compartment model

This is where the body is divided in to lean mass and fat mass. This is a simple divide and inside of the fat mass you have not only the fat that makes you feel self-conscious on occasion, but you have your bone marrow and nervous system which are both mostly made up of fat. On the lean mass side you have not only your muscle mass, but most of your internal organs, skin, bone (sometimes separated in the three compartment model), connective tissue, and even things like your hair. Since there are so many things that go in to each bucket it is important to know a few special situations with changes in lean mass and fat mass

Massive weight loss

Folks that lose a considerable amount of fat mass tend to have extra skin that with time tends to shrink down. This on a body comp scan could freak out your client or athlete since they think they are losing their lean mass when in reality muscle mass can go unaffected while their skin component decreases.

Atrophy and hypertrophy of your GI

Literally when you calorie restrict for longer periods or eat much heavier for a periods of time you change the size of your intestines (GI for short). This shows up as lean mass during any body comp scans. Part of that lean mass lost when you aren’t eating as much is due to your GI actually shrinking a bit and the antithesis is true when gaining weight. This is why having limb lean mass is important because you can truly tell if your muscles are getting bigger or smaller since those don’t have other organs inside them that will change in size.

Body Hair changes

For the other incredibly hairy guys out there, your hair is part of lean mass. So if you cut your super long hair or remove your large amount of body hair that will count as lean mass loss. Yes you don’t think about this too much, but if you lost half a pound of lean mass through hair loss and you think this is muscle mass change this will throw you off.

Summary

There are a few subtle ways that you can lose or gain lean mass that isn’t the muscle mass that people are really going for. Make sure that when you are tracking you need to use multiple methods and be sure the changes you are seeing are the ones you truly want to occur. I hope this helps and if you have any questions please let me know.

Leave a Dent On the World: Transitioning to Olympic lifting

I’ve been working with a student at Eastern that is trying to transition from power lifting to weight lifting. Before everyone who has actually witnessed my Olympic lifting technique start laughing, then gagging, and stop reading this give me a moment. This person is a good general athlete (meaning good body control and coachable). They have potential, but it will be interesting to see what happens since this is a hard road to go on. Let’s lay the framework where we are starting from first.

Foundation

This athlete has a good base. Yes, they are a powerlifter but in a lower weight class. This is good for two reasons; since they have a good aerobic base for a powerlifter, so they will be able to recover from exercise faster than if they were a full blown SHW (super heavy weight) powerlifter that has to waddle up to the bar and waddle back to their chair after each set. The other reason is obviously they have a good base of strength in general for total body, specifically with squatting and deadlifting. Furthermore this person is just athletic in general so teaching novel movements is not too much of a struggle and they haven’t been taught much in the Olympic lifts previously so they have few bad habits that need to be fixed from the start.

Limitations

The big limitation is mobility. Specifically in the hips and ankles to fully sit in to the bottom of the squat. This is an issue since with powerlifting you just need to hit parallel, but Olympic lifting requires you to drop lower. Also, her shoulders are a bit tight from benching so mobility to loosen up the shoulders is required. Specifically her ability to hit thoracic extension and to allow her lats to release so she can hit a better overhead position.

Programming

This is training for Olympic lifting, not Crossfit. So the first rule is that no set will have more than three reps. Why? Because our goal is movement quality not quantity. Think about if you were to do a very precise movement say for example a cart wheel if you don’t have much gymnastic experience. If you try and throw thirty of them in a row without taking a break the first few might look good, but by the end you are more likely to screw yourself up than anything else. With fatigue your movement quality is always going to decrease.

So after warming up with general stretching and barbell complexes (I use a variation of the Bergner warm up and the JTLC from Justin Thacker), the first set with actual weight will be for a set of three and possibly so will the second. After that the goal is doubles (two reps) ascending to where technique starts to decline and then either drop back down for more high quality reps or switch to singles and do a bit more work there. This is the slow cooker approach where we will slowly increase her training weights, but do so without sacrificing technique. I like to slowly add load to the point where we start to have some technical issues. If you only work with an empty bar for your Olympic lifting when the weight gets heavy you will find you are having huge problems with technique. As the bar weight gets closer to your body weight and start to exceed it, not only does your margin for error decrease, but the technique you have to employ moving around the bar also changes.

Altogether I only let her do 25 total training reps each day. This is based on a bit of Prilipen programming, but also the fact that once again the goal is perfect technique. So by having a cap of how many reps she can perform limits rushing the attempts and increases focus on each repetition.

This Friday her programming for snatch went as follows: 3×3 warm up weights followed by 3×2 and then 10×1 taking about a minute to two minutes between each set. Altogether this gives her a total of 25 completed reps in which she increased her PR in the movement. In the future we will likely decrease the total number of reps. This will not go lower than only 15 reps per session, and I’m wary of going over 25 just due to that volume will likely see a decrease in technique. Keep in mind that she is in shape, if she wasn’t in as good of shape I would have her do less reps per session.

Movements

The goal with Olympic lifting is mastery of the snatch and clean & jerk. For now we have a number of mobility flaws and lack of mastery of technique that I’m working around trying to build good habits. So she is doing the classical movements, but they are slightly modified. For example on the snatch we are doing one good pull from the ground and then she hang snatches the weight followed by overhead squatting it. This is for a number of reasons. She simple pulls the weight with good technique so we don’t rush her pull from the floor and get her out of a good position. This allows her to be aggressive on her hang snatch which she then catches aggressively. Her overhead squat is still shaky and needs work so hence no matter where she catches the snatch I have her pause there and then squat down and stand up. This helps build that technique in the portions of the movement that are lacking. Eventually she will snatch from the floor, but only after her pull from the ground becomes clean enough to move forward with (if you can’t do it right slow, is going faster with a movement going to solve your problems?).

For the clean and jerk she is cleaning from the ground since her movement is good here. She then hits a hang clean and does one front squat. Her front squat and catch position is good, it is her bar turnover and catch that needs help so hence we do two catches (sometimes three). From there her jerk catch is good, but her leg drive needs work (knees buckle), so she does two jerks and really focuses on jumping the weight up.

Summary

So this is a basic approach of taking a powerlifter and then working them in to being an Olympic weightlifter. We will slowly progress this basic frame work not really aiming to max out each time, but allowing her to move up as high as she can before technical failure. I hope that this makes some sense and is useful for anyone reading this. Another aside is that fact that for the sake of both of our schedules we do all of this work on one day. In a perfect world I would like her to be training this three or four times per week as a way to get more exposure to the movements and hence learn them faster. That would require decreasing the volume of the movements though so we don’t over stress the athlete. If you have any questions or anything you want me to elaborate on please just let me know. Thanks again for reading.

The Kids Are Alright: the Students at EKU

I’m lucky enough to work with great students at my university and teach exercise physiology along with other classes. This past week I gave them a take home pop quiz to perform in groups. It was relatively simple asking a few questions about principles of training (individuality, progressive overload, reversibility, specificity, and variability), but to make it take a bit longer and add in a bit of fun I wrote it out then printed it out in the microsoft word font of “wingdings”. This is how one group answered on their quiz:

wingdings quiz
The quiz answers from the group.

I can honestly say they not only did a great job answering their question, but this made me laugh for a solid minute. I’m proud of these kids and they do a great job. Point them.

Thanks as always for reading, and I hope this brought a smile to your face.

Fatigue Masks Fitness With Athletes (Really Everyone)

Fatigue Masks Fitness With Athletes (Really Everyone)

A graduate assistant coach for a team that I work with here at EKU came in and asked me about why the athletes were slower, less powerful, and fatigued faster in training since they started lifting weights in the athlete’s weight room this fall. The head coach was a bit upset and thought the athletes might just be being lazy and she wanted my opinion. This is a good question and this deserves a good explanation of what is occurring with athletes or really anyone during hard training. This comes down to a basic statement:

Fatigue masks fitness

Any training is designed to stress the body in a way that causes an acute decrease in performance, but when given time to fully recover leads to an increase in athlete performance. Sounds simple, but people can forget that a hard lower body training workout can still be negatively effecting athletes (or anyone) for up to a week afterwards if it was severe enough. Once you let them fully recover you will see improvements, but this can take long periods of time. There are a few points that lead in to this that I want them to consider:

Amount of fatigue

Fatigue is cumulative. Your athletes are going to get this from your practices, weight training, recreational activities, and so on. The more that they apply the greater the body has to overcome. Understand that if you are pushing everything hard it is safe to say the athletes are going to have issues with recovering and giving you maximal efforts every time that you work with them.

Amount of recovery

This is not just how much you are sleeping, but how good is your diet? Are you getting in enough calories? Protein? Are you using recovery modalities like massage, normatech boots, ice baths, etc. to speed up the recovery process? If your athletes aren’t eating enough and sleeping enough (which happens to college athletes all the time) they won’t be recovering as fast as you’d like (or they would like). Take time to educate them on the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene along with the basics of a good diet since a number of them are at the mercy of college cafeterias where healthy options can be difficult to find or the athletes have never had to really think about food and meals on their own since their family gave them their meals to eat each day and prepared them for them.

Acute to chronic training loads

How much the athlete already trains will affect how quickly they recover (and potentially their risk from injury from the training). If an athlete is completely sedentary and then start a hard block of training they are likely to get injured and at the least be very sore so their performance declines significantly. This can be the case when coming back to training in the fall after a less than stellar summer training (i.e. they sat on the couch). If any athlete is used to doing lots of work having them perform less work or the same volume you will see them recover quickly and be ready for more. This comes down to the chronic (average training load over the past month) and the acute (training load in the past week). Any time you massively increase the acute training load compared to the chronic you increase your risk of injury and illness.

What can you do to get a better practice out of them?

Aside from the recovery aspects, total fatigue induced, and their acute to chronic training loads, you can manage the timing of this fatigue. If you want your athletes fresh for practice try to do practice before they do their weight lifting or conditioning. Schedule the harder practices after they have had a day off or two. You can organize the stressors so they will be fresh for the things they need to be (skill training) and have some fatigue before things like conditioning, that while important, athletic skill comes first.

Summary

Fatigue masks fitness and with high level athletes you have to apply more and more fatigue without allowing for full recovery to increase their performance. This is the nature of the beast and you can do your best to control when it is applied, how much is given, and how much time you have between sessions. Think through your practice and training schedule for what will give you the best mix of performance in practice and overall training effect. This is both an art and a science and requires practice and experimentation, but hopefully these points will help guide you in this endeavor. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please comment below.

Reasons to do cardio outside

Recently I was talking with some students about how I still have my habit of taking walks at night. They saw a somewhat large guy walking around at night in Lexington and were wondering if that was me. Turns out that it was, and I sound real shady when I write it like that. So I then gave them some of my reasons for why I like to do cardio outdoors. Let me start by saying that if you like running on a treadmill or otherwise go for it. If you can’t handle cold or hot weather for one reason or another (like Raynaud’s disease) then please stay in climate controlled areas, but if you can go outside I thoroughly suggest you do so and here are some reasons why:

Pick a direction and walk

When you do cardio outside and either run a loop or simply head off in one direction, you have to come back at some point. Yes, this is a simple idea, but if you are running on a treadmill you can simply stop at any moment and you are done. If you run two miles from your home you then have to travel back two miles to get home. This is an easy way to force yourself to get more volume in since you have to get home somehow. That being said if you apply this logic with things like biking, make sure that you pack a spare tube and other parts in case you get a flat. Back when I skated I learned how far I could walk in socks when I blew out wheels and had no way to change them.

hiking in denver a lynx maybe.JPG
hiking in Colorado seeing what looked like a Lynx in the distance.

Change up your stimuli

Every time that you head out you have a huge number of choices of which way to head. By switching up your route you will get to see different places and really learn the lay of the land where you live. Thanks to all of my walking around my neighborhood and the adjacent ones I have found some neat homes, parks, and even a 300+ year old oak tree. If you ever come out to visit me and the wife I will happily take you on the gazebo loop, meditation pond trek, or the mod house hike. All of which are in different places nearby and are very neat to see. If you run indoors you might just only see the wall in front of you, or the same screen showing whatever media you already see. You get to feel the weather, to really know what it is like to be hot in the summer, to walk in the rain, to feel the snow under your shoes and feel the bite of winter. What you also get while you are out and about is not only the sounds of your environment which is neat, but you get the smell. You get to smell the seasons as they progress, smelling the life and pollen in the spring, smelling the barbecue in the summer, the leaves as they turn in the fall, and finally the smell of smoke from fires in the winter. Bonus you get to figure out which of your neighbors have a smoker and or have hobbies like working on sweet muscle cars or are in to wood working. You don’t get that if you just stay indoors.

Meet your neighbors (or at least they know who you are)

One thing that I enjoy is that I get to meet my neighbors while walking around the neighborhood. This is much easier if you have a dog with you. I’m to the point now that when I walk around I will meet people and they say they recognize me since they see me walking around. This has happened more than once, so it is safe to say that people around the neighborhood know who I am from their homes even if I have no clue who they are. This has also led to the wife and I making friends that we walk our dogs with and enjoy chatting with. Building a sense of community and knowing the people that live around you is an important component to have in your life (or at least it is in mine).

Summary

Overall doing cardio outside gives you a reason to do more work, gets you to experience different stimuli, and helps you feel like you are a bigger part of your community. Obviously if you are running, biking, or otherwise going at high speed you might not strike up a conversation with other people, but you can still get to the take advantage of the other points. So do yourself a favor and get outside and experience the area that you live in.

Ounce of Prevention worth a pound of the cure: Concussions

Fall has returned and we have our athletes back at full steam. This means it is time to start practicing hard skills and there will be mistakes. People will fall, and sometimes they will hit their head or get hit in the head. I have written about my concussion (and some of my continued issues with post concussive syndrome), the goal of this post is to help with avoiding concussions. This is drawn from literature and conversations with experts that I have had a chance to talk with. There are a few key ways we can decrease our risks of getting a concussion.

punch in the face
Don’t get punched the in the face is a big one.

Training

The first way that you can avoid getting a concussion is with your training in general. Turns out if you never risk a head injury you likely won’t have one. There are a number of things that you can do in training to help you decrease the risk of injury. The biggest key to this is technique. By making sure that the athletes know about proper technique, what the skill requires, and what the risks and common faults are you can decrease the risk of head injury. When people are confused, not fully informed, or not paying attention is when they can get hurt. Make sure that everyone knows the expectation of their roles and what to do if something goes wrong.

Wearing the appropriate equipment will also decrease the risk of concussion. This can mean wearing a helmet, scrum cap, mouth guard, or other protective device. I personally would like my athletes on the cheer team to wear a scrum cap or other simple padded helmet and a mouth guard at practice to decrease these risks, but that will take some time. It is easy to not want to wear protective gear for how ridiculous it can make an athlete look, but when it comes to keeping them safe it is worth maybe not being “cool” momentarily to protect your head.

The next piece of the puzzle that you can do with your training is to work on your neck strength. The neck helps work as a shock absorber for the head. By strengthening all of the actions of the neck you can potentially decrease risk of concussion. Take your time to work the neck strength in all angles, and be sure to use a full range of motion and very light loads when you start training the neck. Manual resistance and band resistance are good options and you can find videos online for ways to train your neck. This can be a hard sell for female athletes, but avoiding a brain injury is worth maybe having a slightly larger neck.

Nutrition

A balanced and healthy diet will do wonders for health in general, and obviously brain health is a piece of that puzzle. Getting in enough calories will always help with the recovery of the body as whole, and after maintaining a healthy diet with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (which I have talked about previously and other resources are available online easily) look at your micronutrients to make sure that you take in enough of your vitamins and minerals. If you aren’t getting in everything your body needs especially if you are a hard training athlete you are going to have issues. Things like getting in enough protein, fiber, and minerals like magnesium can help with maintaining good brain function through structural integrity, microbiome precursor for neurotransmitters production, and electrolyte/cofactor levels for optimal functioning. Try to solve your nutritional problems first through making better food choices, but once that has been leveraged to its greatest exent it is time to take a look at supplementation.

Fish Oil (omega three fatty acids)

Omega three fatty acids are important in the body for helping mediate cholesterol production, inflammation, and is highly incorporated in to the cells of your nervous system. By being building blocks and typically the rate limiting fatty acid it is important to get in enough of it each day to help support brain function and health. There is research out there suggesting that 2 grams (2000mg) of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per day can work as a prophylactic against concussion in athletes (specifically in football and soccer players). This is pricy, but having your athletes start with just taking a general omega 3 fish oil supplement each day can be a good start. You pay for quality here so do your best to buy the highest quality you can. Aim for capsules and liquids that are clear, if they appear milky they are going bad. Read the labels and look to see how much DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid another important omega 3) is in each serving to see how far your dollar goes.

Creatine

The next supplement to potentially use is creatine, which works not only as an energy source in the muscles, but is utilized in the brain. So taking about 5 grams per day can work to help with being an energy supply in the brain incase anything happens. Now this recommendation is for taking creatine monohydrate and taking creatine will cause weight gain, specifically through water weight which can be a difficult thing to use for athletes (in weight classes or need to be small for their team role). Things like creatine HCL and ethyl ester might be good choices here instead, but with all supplements do your own research and don’t just trust the label or someone selling this to you (including me).

Minor Supplements

The following supplement might help, but this is still not fully elucidated, so take it with a grain of salt and if you have the funds potentially try one of them, but that isn’t fully necessary.

Citicholine (CDP-choline)

This is a choline and uridine donor which works as a precursor for neurotransmitters and incorporated in to other components of brain function. This taken chronically can help work to improve memory and attention span (most all of the research is in rats, but this is fascinating). Since it seems to help with cerebrovascular issues and there are a number of those that occur when you have a concussion. Once again worth looking at, but still science needs time to show the efficacy of a compound like this.

There are likely more supplements that will be shown with time to have a positive effect, but this is a good starting point to work from and then really have folks focus most on their diet to start. Be careful that what you buys is of high quality and the better investment to start will always be to take in more fruits and vegetables.

Recovery

When your brain is overstressed in general your performance decreases, and a brain that has had a subconcussive event can recover and not have major issues. If you have a subconcussive event and then another one before you can recover from the first one you very well can suffer a concussion (straw that breaks the camel’s back). This recovery is done when you are sleeping. Each of us has an optimal amount of sleep for us to get each day depending on how hard we are training and how high the other stressors are in our lives. Try to get in as much sleep as you can in one shot (google sleep hygiene if you need some ideas to help on this), but if you have to make up with some naps during the day so be it.

Potentially meditation can also help the brain with changing some structures in there for the better. Take some time each day to practice some mindfulness, prayer, or whatever iteration of meditation that you prefer. With that being said just spend some time unplugged from all of the stimuli that we are bombarded with each moment to give your brain a break in general.  There might even be a time and a place for cardiovascular training that is of a lower intensity held for long periods of time which can have a positive effect on hormones related to neuronal health and growth (BDNF).

Summary

Protect your brain. As someone who still suffers from post concussive disorder, learn from my mistakes and do your best to avoid concussions. Take your time to protect your brain, especially when you are a student athlete and need to spend large amounts of time learning new information. With the current information on CTE in ex professional football players, it is important to protect yourself now so you have higher quality of life when you are older. You get one brain, make sure that it will function as highly as possibly for a long as possible. Thanks again for reading, and have a great day.

References for fun:

http://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/pes.2013-0102

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546513517869

http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/47/5/321.short

Building a Better You – Book Release

Kind reader, my long time friend Jeremy Vincent and I have written a book and it is up on Amazon. The book is a self-help book that we wrote collaboratively over the past 3 years. Jeremy has his doctorate in psychology and wrote extensively on different parts of mental skills training and psychology. I wrote sections on training, nutrition, and recovery. Here is the link to the book:

https://www.amazon.com/Building-Better-You-Fulfilling-Overcoming/dp/1547167866/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1505836207&sr=8-2&keywords=building+a+better+you

If you have the money please feel free to buy a copy. The goal here was to write this book in general, not to get rich. Here is a portion that I wrote that didn’t make the final edition since the book was already well over 200 single spaced pages (and is 8×10):

Popular diets (pros and cons)

This section will discuss a variety of different popular diets and the advantages and disadvantages of each essentially serving as a primer. Before embarking on major dietary change be sure to go to a medical professional and get their clearance before you try these. Some can be very drastic nutritional changes which can have consequences on your health if you aren’t doing this with medical supervision until you fully understand the basics of the diet. You can try any of these, but you don’t necessarily need to try any of them. If your current diet is getting you the results that you want, then change nothing and keep doing what you are doing. Be sure to also get a blood panel and body composition testing performed before you start so you can measure the diet for its effectiveness on your health and not just on your cognition and feelings of well-being. Good luck and remember to experiment with these diets accordingly for at least a month if not longer so you can really see if there are any changes that do occur.

Atkins

This diet was popularized in the in the 1990s, but the original text was written in the 1970s where its later edition was written in 2002. The basics of this diet is to eat a very low carbohydrate diet with an acclimation period of no carbohydrates followed by a low carbohydrate lifestyle after that point. The diet can be effective, but any diet that doesn’t allow for certain macronutrients, can lead to issues with food choices that can have health consequences. It is a diet that one of the author’s has experimented with (Mike), but is not a large fan of it. The lack of carbohydrates will make a number of sporting activities much more difficult to compete in.

Paleo

This diet was popularized by the writings of both Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf. The diet requires the avoidance of any types of processed foods such as grains and abstention of any foods that are more recently made (not eaten by Paleolithic man). There are a few cognitive flaws in this argument, but the key with this diet is your food choices by the nature of the beast must be of much higher quality. No pizza, beer, hot wings, bologna, etc. is allowed since those foods are not “paleo”. However, any vegetable (save legumes) is acceptable, along with any type of fruit or meat that is not processed. Within that scope, meats must come from quality sources that were fed their natural diet (grass-fed beef, as opposed to corn-fed antibiotic loaded cows). This diet can be effective, but like anything else it is more about quantity of calories than anything else. You can go over in the calories in this diet like any other, but this diet does have the advantage of typically allowing you to have more than adequate amounts of your vitamins and minerals and coming from good sources.

South beach

This is another popular diet with the goal of weight loss (fat loss). The way this diet aims to do so is through glucose control and only being allowed to eat certain foods. The way to control glucose in this diet is through high fiber/low GI carbohydrates, which is a good way to start off for just about anyone. However, when it comes to labelling certain fats as “good” or “bad” it seems to lose a bit of the plot. Since the diet doesn’t put a cap of caloric intake it can be easy to exceed how many calories you should actually be taking in, but the diet does suggest a workout program with it. This diet might be a sensible choice for you if you like a simple plan that allows you to work within a point system, but the writers of this book are not large fans of the diet.

Mediterranean

This diet was popularized by the longevity of the individuals from the area where they ate in this style. The diet is set to eat lots of fruits and vegetables along with quality meat, healthy fats, and dairy. The goal is to avoid unhealthy desserts and fat sources. This diet is structured mostly around the healthier food choices with some portion control. This can be a good diet for folks, but aiming for more optimization of macronutrients will have better effects on performance than you would get from this diet, but it has some solid healthy food choices like some of the previous diets discussed (mayo clinic).

Slow Carb

This diet plan was popularized by Tim Ferriss, the author of the four hour body (among others). The goal here is to make sure that your carbohydrate choices are low GI carbs and by doing so it will help you lose weight by maintaining the feelings of fullness and to help you make better nutritional choices throughout the day. By utilizing low GI carbohydrate sources you are not going to spike blood sugar levels which can have positive effects on not only controlling blood sugar, but also in the partitioning of nutrients throughout the body. This is a good qualitative diet where you can follow your sources accordingly, but in order to optimize lean body mass and sports performance you will also want to take in some fast digesting carbohydrate post workout to expedite recovery. You also get to have a cheat day each week which can be very useful as a means to giving yourself a mental reprieve.

Ketogenic diet

This diet is traditionally super high fat (approximately 80% of your daily calories) and low carb and protein (together make up the final 20% of the diet) recently this has become a very popular type of diet to partake in. What occurs when the body goes low carbohydrate you simply don’t have as much glucose for the body to use, which just so happens to be the preferentially energy source for a number of tissues in the body (like the brain). Over a long enough period of time the body will start making ketone bodies due to the increased metabolism of fatty acids (they are a byproduct of this process). These ketones will then go in the blood stream and be utilized as energy by the brain and other tissues.

This type of diet (specifically the ketones) has been shown to have a positive effect on cognitive functioning in older adults with Alzheimer’s specifically folks that with the APOe4 genotype (Henderson 2009). This diet has also been recently related to decreased symptomology of individuals with Parkinson’s disease (VanItallie 2005, Gasior 2008). There are also possible positive effects on a wide variety of cognitive functioning from mitochondrial biogenesis (more cellular factories for energy production) to resistance from oxidative stress.

Originally this diet was utilized as a means to help control drug resistant seizures for people to great success (people who had drug resistant seizures had less events while on this diet over half the time). It has since been utilized for a number of other health problems, and has potential advantages with avoiding diseases like diabetes since the body doesn’t have to worry about carbohydrate meal control. It is strict and requires a great degree of planning and discipline initially.

I would suggest trying a low carb diet for a solid two weeks (takes a bit to get in to ketosis without the use of supplements) to see how your body reacts. Partially as an experiment in mental toughness so be sure to plan other major life modifications or events during this time period. At the end of the two weeks your body should have started to adapt (some folks needs longer) and from there you can make the decision to keep it up. There is a lot of exciting research going on in this area which is going to be worth following.

Intermittent fasting

The basic concept for this diet is to eat food only within certain time windows. This can be done in a variety of ways and there was a great presentation and articles online available by Jon Berardi about his experiments with intermittent fasting on himself and some of his clients. What you are really exploiting here is by abstaining from food (with the added assumption that you are also training), you will likely not be getting in enough calories to gain weight, much less maintain it. Arguably, there might be some advantages to avoiding food for periods of time which allows your body to undergo a process known as autophagy.

This process is where your body naturally “cleans house” or you could say feeds upon itself since no other calories are coming in. Yes, you will lose some muscle, but there is perhaps an advantage to longer fasts where the body has the opportunity to purge precancerous cells and other factors that should not still be floating along in the body.

I’m not the biggest proponent of this diet, but for some people and their schedule (especially college aged males) this diet might work well. This is where you set a time window and only eat within it. This diet is not for people who have busy schedules and have to interact with people (can’t get away with being hangry). By having consistent eating you can control your mood better. This is one to perhaps play with if you are in the point in your life where it is possible to do so without negative social and lifestyle repercussions. Also recent research seems to show that simply limiting the window of which you eat to twelve hours most days of the week has positive effects on health.

Fasting

Taking the intermittent part out, and now you have straight up fasting. This is avoiding food or drink for a few days (maybe even a week or more). This is going to cause even further autophagy (cleaning up your cells (in theory)), and obviously be more stressful on the body. You still need to monitor your hydration and other health metrics (blood glucose, ketones, etc.) so this is not for the weekend warrior or otherwise. You can put yourself at a huge amount of health risk by doing this unsupervised and with little controls, but it is possible to do.

This isn’t a rapid weight loss strategy for getting ripped or lean, this is something you do for the (possible) positive health effects and/or the mental toughness aspects to it. If you have a life that requires you to be busy and productive (and tolerant of others) this is not for you. If you are very active and plan on training while not eating this again is not for you. If you are trying to get as muscular as humanly possible (with or without drugs) this is not for you. Be sure to use this method if you only are hoping for the first two reasons covered in this paragraph.

IIFYMs (If it fits your macros)

This is a diet for college students or douche bags. Most likely both. The goal here is to not care about the quality of the calories you are taking in (think 100 grams of carbs from pixie sticks compared to sweet potatoes), just making sure that you get in your daily goals of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. This is a good short-term diet plan for folks that don’t care about long-term health and otherwise. So if you are young (and dumb or lazy) this just might be the plan for you, but eating like an asshole will eventually catch up to you. This does require time and who knows science might be at a point in the future when this comes back to bite you, to unf#$% the situation you put yourself in. Think it is safe to see our thoughts on this one. YOLO.

In all reality this diet might be a good choice if you are just getting in to counting your macronutrients and then with time start to get those macros in from better sources. By learning how many grams of protein, carbs, and fats you need in a day in order to cause the body compositional changes you want. With time learning nutrient timing and enhancing the composition of the nutrients in your diet will lead to even better performance changes, so this could be the place to start. At the end of the day this is a good short-term strategy for your diet especially when you are looking to change your body composition with the least amount of mental work required.

Blood Type Diet

This is a diet based around the concept that thanks to your genetics you need to eat appropriately for your individual needs. This foundational concept is completely correct, unfortunately is it incorrectly applied. The basic is that due to your blood type you need to eat accordingly for health and longevity. Seeing as how your blood type is only one trait (actually your blood type is more than this, but this diet is based upon just your ABO genotype (really more phenotype)) you aren’t getting the whole information. This chapter has already highlighted a number of genetic traits which can influence how your body handles or might need more or less of certain nutrients. This diet program is inappropriate since it doesn’t get in to the nuances of a wide variety of genetic traits (over 20,000) that makes up an individual. This diet is incorrect, but someone could actually do this correctly and this diet would be called the Genotype diet (I think I’m going to copy right this ahead of time to make that paper).

Gene Type Diet

Well it already has been written (damnit). This one is misguided in over application of certain concepts, but at least it isn’t as bat shit crazy as the blood type diet. The key again is to eat according to what your genetic traits predispose you to. As you have already noticed from our talk on vitamins, minerals, and certain macronutrient subsets there are certain genetic traits that you may or may not have that effect how well you metabolize/utilize those parts of your diet. The mistakes here are the over application of these ideas and losing sight of the effects of calories in to calories out. Learning about your genetics can be useful, but aside from reading our previous recommendations, I suggest that you take some time on occasion to self-study instead of believing everything that someone who is directly profiting from tells you.

Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me. Also if you buy a copy I will gleefully sign it.