Fitness Corner -- Electronic Coach

Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley is back for another installment of his Fitness Corner column.

Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

Here is an archive of past columns. Dan and Ray have also made the club's strength and conditioning manual available. Click here to download it. And here is an abridged one for the fitness enthusiast.

Here's Dan…

We use the Electric Coach to document our player's workouts. The Electric Coach is a computerized program designed by Mike Gittleson. Mike is the long-time strength coach at the University of Michigan.

Our players' choose from a Menu of workouts. Each Menu is called a Roster. A Roster can hold up to seven workouts. We currently have two Rosters, the Players Roster, and the Texans Roster. The Players Roster is filled with seven workouts. The Texans Roster currently has four workouts. We will add three more workouts when we purchase new equipment.

Listed below are the workouts our players currently have in their file:

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Players Roster

         </u>

Day 1- Lower Body (Every exercise for the hips & legs are located on this computer sheet) and we substitute equipment to create variety).

Day 2 - Barbell Routine (3 x 6)

Day 3 - Dumbbell 10 - 8

Day 4 - Dumbbell Elevator

Day 5 - Hammer Indy 10 - 8

Day 6 - Hammer MTS 10 - 8

Day 7 - Free Weight Combo Platter

Texans Roster

Day 1 - Smith Machine 10 - 8

Day 2 - Smith Machine Elevator

Day 3 - No Hands

Day 4 - Push - Pull

One of the more popular questions we receive is, "Can you send me a routine?" We tell young athletes there are no magical or mysterious workouts that will suddenly transform them into a massive chunk of muscle.

We can show you our routines but the equipment you have available will dictate which exercises you perform. We are constantly looking for variety. If your facility is limited, we recommend you look for ways to create some variety in your training. There are many ways to "amp up" a workout regardless how limited your facility is.

The key factor to generating maximum gains is the quality of each rep (how each rep is performed) and the intensity of each set (how each set is completed).

We can give you our routines but we can't give you the supervision we provide our players when they train. Experienced supervision is critical for maximizing the potential benefits available. There is a significant difference when Ray, Everett, or myself, train our players, and when they work out alone.

Athletes can go out on the practice field and practice without the supervision of coaches. Players know the drills and the offensive plays and defensive calls. However, practices would soon reach a non-productive state without the constant motivation, supervision, teaching, critique, and constructive criticism, of our coaches. Supervision in the weight room is equally important.

We recommend training with a partner. A competent well-skilled training partner can make the difference between getting just good results, or generating maximum gains.

The repetition is the foundation of our strength program. Whenever possible we critique each rep our players perform. They must strictly adhere to our rule of "Rep Reproduction." We ask our players to perform each rep in exactly the same manner. Each rep should look the same. Raise and lower the weight at the same speed. When we indoctrinate a new player we spend a significant amount of time teaching rep execution.

A lack of consistency between reps makes it difficult to monitor reliable strength gains from workout to workout. Did the athlete get stronger from one workout to the next or did he sacrifice form to lift more weight or do more reps?

We suggest all coaches establish criteria for performing a rep regardless of the techniques or equipment used. It is human nature to make an exercise easier, especially when the exercise becomes progressively more uncomfortable. The need for supervision is greatest at these times.

When teaching rep execution to a new player we emphasize three points. These are the teaching points we stress while our players train. It is a never-ending and on-going process during each exercise of every workout.

Texans Points of Emphasis

* *

* *

  1. The Raising Phase

  2. The Contracted Position

  3. The Lowering Phase

Point #1 - The Raising Phase - Raising the weight is one-half of the exercise. The muscle contracts concentrically (shortens) during this phase. It is also called "positive" work.

During the raising phase it is the goal of our players to raise the weight in a manner to recruit every available muscle fiber (moto-neuron). Doing anything that detracts from this recruitment process lacks logic. Our players lift weights to get stronger. The more muscle fibers recruited and exposed to overload, the greater the strength gains.

The brain will only recruit those muscle fibers needed to raise a weight, no more, no less. Curl a 25-pound dumbbell and you'll recruit 25-pounds worth of muscle fibers. Incorporate any momentum and fewer muscle fibers will be recruited.

Any sudden or jerky movements can contribute to the lifting process. A player lifts (throws) more weight, but recruits fewer muscle fibers.

We ask our players, "Which muscle fibers are most important to you on game day?" They learn to respond, "All of them."

It is important to recruit and strengthen every available muscle fiber if injury prevention is our primary concern for building strength.

Poor technique during the raising phase will leave many muscle fibers undeveloped. Stand on a scale while you lift a 25-pound dumbbell. If you weigh 150 pounds and the dumbbell weighs 25-pounds, the needle on the scale should register 175 pounds. The needle on the scale should remain steady while you raise and lower the dumbbell.

Any major deviation of the scale needle while raising or lowering the weight is an indication of impact forces or momentum. If you raise the weight fast enough you will see the needle drop to 150 pounds. The dumbbell is literally being thrown in the air. How many muscle fibers are being recruited now?

We tell our players to raise the weight, as fast as they want provided they eliminate momentum and there are no sudden or jerky movements.

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Point #2 - The Contracted Position

The Sliding Filament Theory provides us with information regarding how a muscle fiber contracts. Each muscle fiber is composed of two filaments. As a muscle (each individual fiber) contracts these two filaments pull themselves toward (and eventually over) each other causing the fiber to fully contract.

This process is important to understand if full-range exercise is to be accomplished. The greatest numbers of muscle fibers are recruited in a muscles contracted position. It is at this point the best gains in strength can be made if…our athletes pause momentarily (stop) in the muscles contracted position (Pat Dennis shows here).

If there is any bounce in this position there are literally thousands of muscle fibers not recruited or developed, eliminating potential strength gains.

The greatest gains in strength can be made in the contracted position if proper form is used. It is this point and those points approaching the contracted position that are more important than any other position throughout the entire range of motion.

Maximum gains in strength will not be attained if an athlete doesn't come to a complete stop in the contracted position, and then leave this position in a smooth and controlled manner.

We require our players to come to a complete stop in the contracted position. Other examples of the contracted position are: lat pulldown, seated row, dumbbell lateral raise, neck extension and the shoulder shrug.

Remember, if there is any visible bounce in the contracted position of any exercise, there will be thousands of muscle fibers left undeveloped.

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Point #3 - The Lowering Phase

* *

Lowering the weight is one-half of the exercise. The muscle lengthens eccentrically during this phase. It is also called "negative" work. During the lowering of the weight significant gains in strength can be generated if our players take more time to lower the weight.

It is much easier to lower a weight. Lift a weight and then let it go. It falls effortlessly to the floor. No muscles are required. Gravity makes it real easy to lower a weight.

It is the goal of our players to recruit and overload as many muscle fibers as possible. To accomplish this our players must take more time to lower the weight.

We require our players to raise the weight in good form and pause in the muscles contracted position. Once our players reach the contracted position we ask them to lower the weight in a very smooth and controlled manner.

The weight should be lowered at the same speed from the contracted position to the starting position. There should be no sudden drop from the contracted position. Separate from the contracted position slowly, not suddenly, and continue lowering the weight in a smooth and controlled fashion.

Observe the typical lifter performing the bounce press, I mean the bench press. As the bar approaches the chest he lets it drop to create momentum and help him bounce (lift) more weight.

When a new player arrives we require him to eliminate the bounce. It becomes immediately obvious how weak the player is through this range of motion. He must decrease the weight and begin to strengthen muscle fibers he hasn't been using.

That's how our players perform each repetition of every exercise. If you want to experience what our player's experience, you must try to imitate how we perform a rep.

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How to Complete a Set

         **

You will never experience what it feels like to go through one of our routines unless Ray, Everett, or myself, take you through one of our workouts. We obviously can't do that. Our goal is to try and provide those interested in experiencing our routines, with enough information to do so.

Now that you know how our Texans complete a rep, let's talk about how our players complete a set.

Our goal is to make each set as hard as possible regardless of the number of sets performed. The Overload Principle is pretty simple and straightforward. If you want to get stronger you must attempt to lift more weight and/or more reps, each set of every exercise, each workout. For maximum gains this process must continue until you stop gaining strength.

If one of our players can lift 100 pounds for ten reps, he will not get stronger by lifting 95 pounds for ten reps. He is already strong enough to lift 100 pounds ten times. To get stronger our player must attempt to lift the same weight (100 pounds) for eleven reps, or add weight, 105 pounds and see how many good reps he can perform.

Common sense and logic dictate, for maximum gains you must lift as much weight for as many reps as you can perform. If you can lift 100 pounds ten reps but stop at eight, you can't expect to produce the same gains developed by continuing to ten reps.

Realistically you don't know how many reps you can perform unless you continue the exercise to the point where you are unable to perform another good rep.

Must you continue the exercise to the point of muscular failure to get stronger? The answer is no. However, to stimulate near maximum gains it is probably necessary to come real close to the point of failure.

During the course of a game our players gradually become more fatigued. They are bringing more and more muscle fibers into play as they grow tired. When they get really tired they have used most of the muscle fibers they have available.

In the weight room they must perform each exercise in a manner that recruits as many muscle fibers as possible. The intensity of the exercise must be high enough to accomplish this. A sub-maximal effort will recruit fewer than all of the muscle fibers available.

We keep accurate records of every rep performed and we suggest you do the same. Once our players are warmed up we select a weight heavy enough to cause momentary failure, or, come real close.

If you perform multiple sets, the first set should be you're heaviest. If you are working your hardest, each succeeding set the weight must drop (if you are allowing 90 seconds between sets).

         Remember,
         it is not the exercises, the sequence of exercises, or the equipment
         used, that is the key to generating maximum gains. The key to
         maximum gains is how you perform each rep and how you complete each
         set.
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