Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley has compiled a list of the Top 10 most frequently asked questions from his Fitness Corner column. Hopefully, this can provide a quick reference for everybody who visits HoustonTexans.com's Fitness section.
Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by clicking here.
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.
10 Most Frequently Asked Fitness Corner Questions
1.Who is the strongest Texan?
2.Which Texan bench presses the most weight?
3. At what age should I start my son/daughter lifting weights?
4.How can I gain weight?
5.Will you send me your program?
6.How can I lose weight?
7.Which supplements do you recommend?
8.How do I start a strength program without getting too bulky?
9.How can I increase my quickness and speed?
10.I want to become a strength coach. What advice do you have for me?
**1. Who is the strongest Texan?
Strongest to do what? Pass protect? Run block? Bench Press? Push a truck around the parking lot?
Define strength. The researcher defines strength as the ability to overcome a resistance one time. This is convenient for the scientist in the laboratory but not practical in our athletic setting.
Functional football strength is the key for a football player. Our scouts ask that question all the time. Does he play strong? Who cares how much he can lift if he can't transfer the strength gained in the weight room to a position specific task on the field? Our goal is to find good football players and get them strong.
The actual act of lifting a weight is a meaningless task for a football player. It is a means to an end. For many years we used the act of lifting a weight as the means. This encouraged players to become preoccupied with the act of lifting the weight and usually at the expense of good form. A lack of good form may allow an athlete to "lift" more weight at the expense of better results.
Muscles are an energy system. Muscles store energy for future use. Properly performed exercise depletes energy from a muscle and the muscle adapts by storing more energy.
How effectively this additional energy (strength) can be used in a sport specific task is the end result. It doesn't make any difference how much weight a player can bounce or throw around in the weight room.
We've observed players who look like body builders and can lift mega pounds, yet play weak. When they put the pads on they get pushed all over the field. They have good "weight room" strength, but they can't transfer it to the playing field.
There are some known (and probably many more unknown) physical qualities an athlete must possess to lift a very heavy weight on a particular exercise. Some of these traits include:
1. Favorable lever (bone) length.
2. Favorable insertion points (where the muscle "hooks up" to the bone).
3. Neurological efficiency (how effectively the nervous system is connected to the muscular system). An efficient neurological system is probably the one trait that separates good athletes from great ones.
4. Muscle belly length.
5. Quality and quantity of fiber types.
These are inherited traits. They can't be changed or altered. We tell our players to thank (or blame) Mom and Dad, for good (or bad) plumbing.
Check out one of the World's Strongest Man contests on ESPN. You will observe strongmen demonstrating a wide range of physical feats that require a great deal of strength to perform. Some of these feats include lifting big heavy round stones, flipping heavy tires, carrying a heavy weight up a flight of stairs, and many others.
Does it require a great deal of strength to perform each of these feats? Absolutely! Why does one of the contestants win one event and then perform poorly on another? If he's strongest on one event why doesn't he win them all?
The same thing happens in weight-lifting meets. In a power-lifting meet seldom does one lifter win each event (squat, dead-lift, bench press).
This same phenomenon is true in the weight room. There is a specific genetic predisposition you need to lift a heavy weight on any given exercise. Each exercise requires a specific combination of physical traits to lift a significant amount of weight. These traits are inherited. You can't change them.
Each of our players will get stronger if they adhere to our basic training guidelines. Some will eventually lift significantly more weight on a given exercise than others. Eventually one player will be capable of lifting more weight than the rest of his teammates.
It is not because one player is working harder than the other. Most of our players work equally hard. A player must have the right combination of physiological, neurological, biomechanical, and anatomical advantages, needed to lift the most weight on a given exercise.
Most coaches have inherited their training philosophy from weight lifters. We've used the "core" lifts of the Olympic lifter and power lifter to measure and compare the strength of our football players. This information is no more valuable than comparing our players when they try and bend a steel pipe, or lift a heavy stone, or flip heavy tires.
I'm not aware of a fair, valid, scientific, or reliable, way to measure functional football strength (other than actually playing the game). Each workout we keep accurate records for our players. We don't compare one player's strength data to another. It's meaningless. We compare each player's effort today, to past, and future efforts.
When someone asks who is the strongest Texan, we must ask, "Strongest to do what?"
Is he really the strongest or does he have a physical advantage to perform well on a given exercise or task?
Our players perform many different exercises. If we tested it would only make sense to test each and every one of them. Due to their genetic assets (or limitations) some players will perform well on some exercises and not so well on others.
Testing in the weight room is just like the strongman contests on ESPN. One strongman is physically hooked up to perform well on one event and then perform poorly on another.
Our players know better. The question they ask when a new player arrives is, "Can he play?" More important than how much weight a player can lift on a given exercise is the following:
1. Does a player train hard enough to develop maximum strength levels on a wide range of exercises we use in our program. Does he reach these maximum strength levels before the first day of summer camp?
2. During the season does this player train hard every workout from the first day of summer camp until the last game of the season to try and maintain these maximum strength levels?
We keep accurate records every workout. These records are for the individual player to use each time he performs an exercise. It will prevent him from performing non-productive exercise. We do not compare how much weight one player can lift to another. It is irrelevant.
Our only concern is how hard each player works and can they sustain these work habits for an entire season. How much weight a player can lift on any exercise is not a predictor of functional football strength.
2. Which Texan Bench Presses the most weight?
We do not test our players on any exercise, to include the bench press. The bench press is one of six different pushing planes used in our strength program. Our players perform the bench-press with a variety of different equipment to include a barbell, dumbbells, and a variety of different machines.
Excluding exercises for the neck and muscles surrounding the shoulder capsule, the bench-press in no more important than any other exercise our players perform.
Some players possess the genetic predisposition to perform well on the bench press and some don't. For example, players with shorter arms and a thicker rib cage have a distinct leverage advantage. They will bench press more weight.
A player with longer arms has a distinct leverage disadvantage when bench-pressing a weight. He is forced to move a weight through a greater range of motion. If both players bench-press the same amount of weight the player with longer arms will perform more inch pounds of worker than his teammate with shorter arms.
A player with longer arms has a distinct leverage disadvantage when lifting a weight. However on the field his longer arms become a distinct advantage when performing position specific tasks.
The bench-press is simply one of many productive exercises our players perform. Too much emphasis is placed upon this exercise. We tell our players when someone asks them how much can they bench press, they should politely respond by saying, "I don't know but I can tell you how much weight I use for my rotator cuff, my rear delt, and my neck."
3. At what age should I start my son/daughter lifting weights?
I have two sons. Both were successful high school and college athletes. I had them both wait until they were fourteen years old to begin any structured weight program. I also had a little advantage over most parents because I personally supervised their training. I didn't have to rely upon someone else to train my children.
Understand that properly performed strength training isn't bad for anyone at any age. It is simply not something younger children will enjoy. Youngsters soon realize lifting weights isn't any fun. It is tedious hard work. It's hard enough to get adults started and even more difficult to get them to sustain for any length of time.
The hormonal balance in young children is too low to stimulate significant muscular changes. They will work very hard yet stimulate little change in body composition and strength. Starting your children too early may be the reason they refuse to participate when they are older and capable of more meaningful gains.
Unfortunately childhood obesity is currently at the epidemic level in our country. Technology has allowed us to live a physically inactive lifestyle. Parents and parents alone must assume full responsibility for fat children.
Rather than torture your kids with a rigorous strength program, encourage more fun-filled activities. Lifting weights isn't the answer for adolescents. Instead of personal trainers and tedious weight sessions, get them off the couch and away from the television and video games.
Instead of a structured weight program we suggest you educate your children about the long-term perils of bad eating habits and inactivity. Refer kids to the website www.spinet.org. Encourage them to participate in organized sports and instead of lifting weights, invest time improving the skills to play these sports.
We also understand parents may have few options. You may have a physically and emotionally mature twelve year-old who wants to perform some exercise. If the option were no exercise, or a properly organized and supervised muscular fitness program, we'd prefer the latter for your child too.
Therefore in a future Fitness Corner we will begrudgingly provide parents with some training ideas and specific guidelines for your child.
4. How can I gain weight?
This is the most frequently asked question by young men between the ages of fourteen and nineteen.
Our first piece of advice regarding weight gain is to immediately consult the services of a Registered Dietitian (R.D.). You can be assured the nutrition information you receive from an R.D. is scientifically sound and reliable.
The Texans are fortunate to have our entire nutrition program coordinated by Roberta Anding, R.D. When a player has any nutrition question we immediately defer to Ms. Anding.
There are three ways to gain weight.
1. Maturation (newborn to a mature adult).
2. Overeat (add fat).
3. Strength training (add muscle).
Mother nature controls the maturation process. You can't speed it up. Adolescents gain weight each year due to the normal process of maturing. Most adults are physically mature before they turn twenty-five years old.
The physically immature fourteen-year old must wait for time to pass to capitalize on the future benefits of his maturation process. Teenagers mature at different rates. Some fifteen year-olds are fully mature with facial hair and a deep voice. They have a tremendous physical advantage over the fifteen year-old with peach fuzz on his face and a high-pitched voice.
It is important for parents and coaches to educate young teenagers on the perils of trying to speed up the maturation process. Young teenagers are impatient. Many want to lift more weight and add more muscle than they are physically capable of doing. Some turn to drugs and a wide array of supplements to help compensate for their youth.
With the same amount of work and effort, a teenager will generate better gains from one year to the next. They will lift more weight and gain more lean weight when they turn sixteen than when they turned fifteen, simply because they are more mature.
Over fatness and obesity are currently huge health concerns. Having a teenager gain twenty pounds of fat over the summer to make his parents and coach happy is criminal. Young teenagers are preoccupied with bodyweight. They must be taught weight (on a scale) is not the issue. The only issue is how much is lean bodyweight and how much of the weight increase is fat.
If anyone (to include a young teenager) consumes more calories than he burns off, it will be converted to fat. Adding any extra fat is foolish. He will soon become a fat teenager and eventually a fat adult. He will then join a large group of fat adults who have health problems and are currently trying to lose weight (fat).
As a parent or coach it may be difficult to tell a frustrated young teenager he may never weigh more than 150 pounds in a lean muscular condition. We encourage all young athletes to work hard but they must realize everyone has physical assets and limitations. We can't change our genetic profile. Very few people have great potential for adding a significant amount of muscle, especially young and physically immature teenagers. We can't make our body add ten pounds of muscle if it is genetically limited to adding five pounds of muscle.
When we give advice to young athletes we ask them, "Are you doing everything necessary to generate the physical gains you are capable of making?" Many young athletes want the best results but aren't willing to sustain the long-term discipline needed to reach their physical potential. We stress the following:
1. Balanced Nutrition
2. Balanced Strength Program
3. Adequate Rest
Seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian. Have a food analysis done to determine any deficiencies and to also determine the number of calories needed daily to generate the best muscular gains.
We have observed many young athletes that have poor and inconsistent eating habits. They skip meals, don't eat breakfast, sleep in on weekends (miss meals), don't eat a balanced diet, and consume fewer calories than are needed to generate potential strength gains. They complain about not making good gains yet are not willing to sustain the discipline to stimulate maximum gains.
We have used a formula to help young athletes establish a starting point regarding how many calories need to be consumed daily. For some it may be too much and others not enough. It is a starting point until you can have your resting metabolism measured, and visit with a Registered Dietitian.
Formula for how many calories should be consumed each day:
Multiply bodyweight x 19 calories.
Example: Bodyweight = 150 lbs.
Calories = x 19
2850 calories to be consumed each day
Balanced Strength Program
We divide the body into five major segments. Each major muscle group within these segments must be developed to its maximum. The five major segments include the following:
2. Hips & Legs
4. Upper Body
Equal emphasis must be placed on each exercise. Too often young athletes over-emphasize one area and ignore other areas. Imagine the impact on bodyweight by adding an inch to the arm and adding an inch to the thigh.
Multi-joint exercises and isolation exercises must be performed for each major muscle group. Utilize lifting methods and techniques designed to stimulate the best results in the safest and most efficient manner possible.
One half of the fitness formula for increasing strength and muscular bodyweight is exercise. The other half of the formula is rest. Many young athletes over-train at the expense of minimizing or preventing potential gains.
Most hard-working athletes perform more exercise than their body can recover from. This will prevent maximum stimulation and growth.
Many athletes perform too many sets and too many exercises. Our goal is to have our Texans perform as little exercise as possible to stimulate the best gains. Some athletes continue adding more exercise until they stop making gains or actually begin losing strength.
If a young athlete is not making the kind of gains he thinks he should, our advice is to start eliminating sets and/or exercises from the workout.
We tell young athletes to be reasonable about their expectations for adding muscle. Some expect more physical development than their genetic potential will allow.
5. Will you send me your program?
I always wanted to answer this request with the following response. "Which program do you want? The Dallas game? The Titans game?"
It would certainly be easier for us to send a Game Day Program, than it is to send a "Program" with enough information for a person to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of how we implement our "Program" with our players.
Our Texans Strength and Conditioning Program is composed of the following fitness components.
2. Muscular Fitness
5. Speed & Quickness
6. Skill Development
Each one of these components encompasses a large amount of information. It takes us an entire year to expose our first year players to all of the information they need to develop an understanding of our Texans approach.
It is impossible for us to provide a reader with enough information to use our system in the same manner we do. We spend a large amount of time teaching and individually supervising our players while they exercise. It is an ongoing process. Reading about how our players train and actually experiencing it is something completely different.
We've made available our Texans Strength and Conditioning manual on our Texans website. Instead of asking for our Program, we would ask that you first download our manual and read it. This will provide you with some basic concepts.
It will also allow you to ask a more specific question than, "Will you send me your program?"
7. How can I lose weight?
Before beginning a weight loss (fat loss) program we suggest you consider the following:
1. Get a complete medical physical to insure there aren't any health risks.
2. Consult the services of a Registered Dietitian (R.D.).
3. Get your body composition measured, preferably with a Bod Pod.
4. 95% of all diets fail without some form of regular aerobic exercise as part of the weight loss process.
5. Incorporate a total body strength-training program.
6. Do not attempt to lose more than one pound of fat/week.
7. Modify eating and exercise habits for the rest of your life.
Registered Dietitians form a group of professionals called the American Dietetic Association. To become a Registered Dietitian you must successfully perform the following:
1. Complete a rigorous four-year nutrition curriculum at an accredited university.
2. Complete a practicum in a clinical setting.
3. Pass a standardized test.
Registered Dietitians are the only credentialed professionals you are guaranteed of receiving sound nutrition information. Roberta Anding, R.D., is the Texans nutrition expert. She coordinates our entire nutrition program.
Losing weight is easy. Losing body fat and keeping it off permanently is a difficult task. You can sweat, dehydrate, and lose five pounds of water real easy. Muscles are primarily composed of water (approximately 72%). Fat has only a trace of water. It is a gooey, oily substance.
Using a scale to monitor weight loss does not reveal how much of the weight loss is lean body weight (LBW) or fat. It is well worth the money to have your body composition measured. During your weight loss program you should periodically have your body composition measured to accurately determine how much weight loss is body fat.
Skin calipers are not real accurate and under water weighing presents some problems not experienced with a device called the Bod Pod. We have a Bod Pod we use to measure our players body composition. It is accurate and user friendly. If you can find a facility with a Bod Pod we strongly encourage you check it out.
If you are involved in a strength program, you can expect some increase in muscle. A scale used to measure bodyweight cannot differentiate between muscle and fat. You might lose five pounds of fat and add five pounds of muscle. A periodic body composition test is necessary to reliably chart fat loss.
One thing we do know. One pound of fat equals 3500 calories. To lose one pound of fat you will need to deduct 500 calories per day, from the number of calories you need to maintain your current bodyweight.
At the end of the week you will have lost approximately one pound of fat. Visit a Registered Dietitian and get the scoop.
*7. Which supplements do you recommend to your players? *
The only supplement I recommend to our players is a multi-vitamin. I am not qualified, nor are most coaches, athletes, doctors, personal trainers, or "fitness experts," to prescribe anything but normal foods.
There are no magic pills or potions available that give you energy, make you run faster, jump higher, think better, or improve position specific skills. Having the long-term discipline to eat a balanced diet of normal foods is the only "secret formula."
The term "balanced diet" is often misinterpreted. It is not a computer-generated menu of organically grown beans and sprouts. It is simply the proper amount of normal foods purchased in your neighborhood grocery store.
Supplements are not more effective than the food you eat. If they were, scientists would publish this information for all to see. Unfortunately few athletes review the scientific literature. Muscle magazines, literature handed out in the health food store, and opinions of other athletes are not reliable sources.
In the 1990's we've all become experts in the area of nutrition and supplements. We visit the health food stores and buy potions like there's no tomorrow. Yet when we're sick we don't randomly take medicine to cure the illness. We visit the doctor and he or she prescribes the appropriate medication.
If your vision becomes blurry you do not go to the department store and prescribe your own bifocals. You visit the optometrist and let a specialist test your eyes. You're given a prescription to correct your vision deficiency.
Before taking any supplement you should visit a Registered Dietitian. In the phone book they have an R.D. after their name. Registered Dietitians are members of the American Dietetic Association. Registered Dietitians are the most qualified nutrition specialists available. They have the education, expertise, and information necessary to prescribe a supplement if you need one.
Ms. Roberta Anding, R.D., coordinates our Houston Texans nutrition program. If a player needs a supplement, Ms. Anding identifies the deficiency and prescribes a reputable product in the appropriate amount.
Beware of some Nutritionists. Nutritionists are people with an interest in nutrition. In most states there aren't any professional standards or credentials required to be a nutritionist. Nutritionists number in the thousands. Their advice might be reliable. However their advice could also be unsound. You can eliminate the possibility of unsound nutrition information.
How? Listen to the advice of a Registered Dietitian. They are certified and rely upon scientific facts.
Let an expert administer the appropriate tests to determine if you have any deficiencies before taking a supplement. Few people have deficiencies and most can be corrected with normal foods, not pills and powders.
Don't expect supplements to replace the need for a daily balanced diet. Some athletes eat poorly, drink too much, don't get enough rest, and assume taking a supplement will compensate for their poor habits.
Most athletes lead a very disciplined life. They prepare themselves physically with a demanding regimen of exercise. They practice hard and study the game. Yet when it comes to one of man's most basic instincts, eating, some lack the discipline to eat a balanced diet.
Why? It's too easy, food is so readily available. Open the refrigerator, look in the cupboard, visit the grocery store, stop at McDonalds on the way home; food is accessible everywhere you look.
Keep in mind there are worse things you can put into your body than a protein shake. There are also better things. A new supplement you should try if you haven't already is called discipline. The formula to good nutrition is an easy one. Visit the grocery store and select food from all food groups. Go home and eat those foods.
Today the health food industry is a multi-million dollar business. Why? Money, money, money. More fraud and half-truths exist in the area of nutrition than in any other segment of the fitness industry. We are a gullible public. For years we've been told to take a pill or potion for any ailment that we have. We want a quick fix.
Enthusiasts have discarded the basic food groups for amino acids, vitamins, fat burners, and energy bars. Athletes are the most gullible. Often they have little or no knowledge of what they're taking. Some will try anything if they think it might give them an edge. Unfortunately many players taking supplements are less inclined to eat a balanced diet, and often choose pills and potions instead of eating meals.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn't control food supplements. Laws don't exist to protect the consumer. There's no guarantee that what's on the label is actually in the bottle.
Dr. Bob Goldman, in his book, Death In The Locker Room, refers to a questionnaire he administered to a group of Olympic athletes. One of the questions asked was, "Would you be willing to take a pill that would eventually kill you, if it guaranteed you would win a gold medal?" More than fifty percent of the athletes responded, "Yes."
In real life we don't know if any of those Olympians would have actually sacrificed their life for a gold medal. It is an indication, however, of how strong the will of an athlete is to succeed. The vulnerability of an NFL player is easily exposed. Some are willing to try anything to make the team, play well, and extend their career.
Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author and eminently qualified nutrition expert states, "People who take mega-doses of vitamins and minerals should consider that the practice is similar to pumping your body full of chemicals. It may create imbalances that interfere with optimal health."
Clark states, "A diet with 1500 calories a day from appropriate foods can satisfy the RDA in most categories." She adds, "Athletes who take in 2,000 to 4,000 calories daily increase their chances greatly of getting the proper nutrient amounts. They are also getting things in food, like fiber and other health protective compounds, that supplements don't provide."
Do not be duped into using any supplement or drug not prescribed by a Registered Dietitian or our Texans Medical Staff. You may unknowingly consume a product containing a substance banned by the league. The league drug policy is well documented.
The NFL policy on steroids and the use of supplements is clear. The policy warns players; "You and you alone are responsible for what goes into your body."
Supplements are not monitored or regulated by the FDA. You have no way of knowing if the product:
Contains the ingredients listed on the label.
Contains prohibited substances.
Can actually do what the manufacturer claims the product can do.
Can be harmful to your health and/or performance, or have lingering long-term effects.
The Players Union states, "If you take these products you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK!" The risk is a four game suspension without pay. You are ultimately responsible should you test positive for any banned substance, regardless of your intent or how it ended up in your body. Do not risk your health or good standing in the league by consuming a product not recommended by a Registered Dietitian.
Beware of testimony from another athlete or an "expert." Testimony is an opinion regarding the effect a product has on the individual. It is not based on facts, research, or scientific study. Research often demonstrates that the placebo effect is the cause of these opinions, not an actual change in the physical makeup or performance of the athlete.
The strength of the placebo effect has been demonstrated many times. In one particular study a group of people were given a sedative but were told it was a stimulant. When their bodily functions were measured they responded as if they had taken a stimulant.
Before taking a product athletes often listen to and believe the testimony of another athlete or the sales pitch of a salesperson. Regardless of how ineffective a product is, the athlete already has a preconceived opinion. If a product sounds too good to be true…it probably is.
While with the Redskins we had a high profile athlete endorse a supplement in a muscle magazine. Some of our players posted the advertisement up on the bulletin board and poked fun at this particular player.
He didn't exactly have the best work habits nor was he overly concerned about his eating habits. There was an action shot of the player and a lengthy and detailed quote by the player extolling the virtues of this product.
I asked the player "Did he ever consume the product?" and he said, "Never." I asked, "Did he know what was in the product or how it was supposed to help him?" and he responded, "No." I asked, "Is this your quote?" and he replied, "No." He stated, "My agent arranged the deal and I got $50,000."
Our players have told me that this product has since been removed from the market because it contained an illegal substance.
Are there players who endorse a product, use it, and strongly believe in the benefits of that product? Absolutely.
However, athletes are not a reliable source for sound nutrition information yet their opinions on nutrition are given great credibility because of their athletic feats. Who has a better chance of influencing people in the area of nutrition, a diminutive well-educated Registered Dietitian or a Pro Bowl Player?
Competing as a professional athlete breeds' insecurity among some players. They constantly worry about being replaced by a younger or better skilled player. They are willing to do almost anything legally to keep their job.
I tell our Texans players to measure their words carefully if they discuss supplements with anyone, especially young people. Few have taken classes in nutrition. Athletes are not qualified to give sound nutrition advice.
Most products come and go. Few stay on the market for any length of time. Consumers eventually discover that the claims made by the product are often false or they can get the same results without the product. Research on products often exploits the erroneous claims companies make.
8. How do I start a strength program without getting too bulky?
I've never trained a football player that got "too bulky." The average male and female couldn't get "too bulky" if they tried. It's like me saying to a golf instructor, "I want to learn how to play golf, but I don't want to get "too good."
If I were a golf instructor and someone made that statement to me, I'd laugh and say, "Don't worry about getting 'too good.'" Most people spend their entire life trying to get "too good" at golf, yet they stink.
It's the same with lifting weights. Few people have the genetic qualities needed to add large amounts of muscle. Whenever anyone (man or woman) makes the comment, "I don't want to get too bulky," I ask them, "What makes you think you could?" And then I add, "Don't worry about it, you couldn't even if you wanted to."
What is bulk? Is bulk 'muscle'? Is it 'body fat'? Is it 'bone structure'? Some people confuse getting "bulky" with getting fatter. Lifting weights will not add fat. Lifting weights will not change your bone structure or body type.
With the proper overload, lifting weights will increase muscle size and strength. The increase in size and strength however is directly proportional to the genetic predisposition a person possesses for adding muscle.
Not many people can generate significant gains in muscle size. Go to the local gym and you'll see hundreds of men trying to "bulk up." Keep in mind this is a population that has some potential for adding muscle. There were many who joined the gym and quit because they were unhappy with their ability to "bulk up."
Among these hundreds of men at the gym you may observe a few who have generated significant gains. There may be several more who exhibit modest gains. The majority will appear fit yet not "too bulky."
Very few men can generate significant gains in muscle mass, and even fewer women. Adults have more to gain from a properly organized strength program than any other form of exercise. It can have a greater impact on the quality of life, especially as we grow older.
The average adult loses up to one-half pound of muscle a year due to the aging process. This can be prevented by participating in a total body strength-training program.
Women have more to gain from lifting weights than men. Women possess more fat per pound of bodyweight than men. Most women possess low levels of the hormone needed to stimulate muscular gains. My advice to women is train hard and add as much muscle as you can. The physical benefits cosmetically and physically justify any changes in lean body weight.
Some women fear "bulking up" because they see a few women with very defined and muscular physiques. Realize this is the product of several variables.
These women -
1. Have high testosterone (male hormone) levels (naturally or injected).
2. Follow a very disciplined nutrition and exercise regimen.
3. Significantly decreased their body fat (average for a women is 23% - 30% fat). Very lean women bodybuilders reduce their % fat to a level below 10%.
4. Have inherited the bone structure and body type necessary for bodybuilding success.
Very few women (or men) have the genetic capability of adding large amounts of muscle. There are many other benefits to lifting weights besides adding muscle. The average female (and male) fitness enthusiast has everything to gain from energetically participating in a properly organized total body strength-training program.
Don't worry about "bulking up."
**9. How can I increase my quickness and speed?
We must first ask the question, "Increase your quickness and speed to do what?" Speed and quickness require many neurological and physiological responses that are task specific.
The Motor Learning Experts provide us with the "Theory of Specificity." A task is either neurologically specific or it is not. The number of muscle fibers recruited and the sequence in which these fibers are recruited is very specific (Size Principle). The best way to improve your quickness on a specific task is to practice that task at game speed.
We constantly ask our players to give recognition to their parents (not their Texans strength coaches) for the genetic assets they inherited to be quick and fast. In addition we tell our players to take credit for their discipline and dedication to develop these assets.
Harold L. Klawans, M.D. is a brain surgeon. He authored a book titled, "Why Michael Couldn't Hit." In his book Dr. Klawans discusses in great detail why it was neurologically impossible during Michael Jordan's brief stint in baseball, to be a good hitter.
Michael Jordan is one of the best athletes to ever play any game. While playing basketball, he demonstrated exceptional speed, quickness, great vision, and excellent hand-eye coordination, yet he failed miserably as a hitter in baseball.
The quickness used to perform a particular skill is neurologically very specific. The first step quickness of a baseball player stealing second base requires a specific neurological response much different than:
1. The first step (backpedaling) of a defensive back once the ball is snapped.
2. The first step of a defensive back that has stopped backpedaling and is responding to the changing direction of a wide receiver.
3. The first step of a wide receiver getting off the line of scrimmage trying to avoid a defensive back jamming him at the line.
4. The first step of a wide receiver getting off the line of scrimmage unimpeded.
5. The first step of an offensive lineman stepping backward to pass protect.
6. The first step forward of an offensive lineman run blocking.
7. The first step of an offensive lineman pulling to his right.
8. The first step of an offensive lineman pulling to his left.
9. The first step of a quarterback after taking a snap from center.
10. The first step of a player being timed in the 40-yard sprint.
Each athlete is born with a neurological template for speed and quickness. Reaction time, movement time, and response time, are variables that help determine first step quickness. Each of these is impacted significantly by the effectiveness of the neurological system.
How quickly and efficiently the neurological system makes connections to the right sequence of muscle fibers is a major factor in determining first step quickness.
Ray and I consider ourselves pretty good strength coaches however; we can't change how a player's nervous system connects to his muscular system. We tell our players to thank Mom and Dad.
Reaction time is a chemical process. It can be measured by placing electrodes on the brain and on the muscles involved in performing a task. As the athlete prepares to move reaction time is measured from the first sign of electrical activity in the brain until the first sign of any electrical activity in the muscles involved. The brain has sent an electrical signal down the spinal cord to the muscle(s) involved and told the muscle to get ready to contract. The muscle has not contracted yet and there is no visible movement.
This is an inherited trait. Reaction time cannot be improved once a new task is learned.
Response time is measured as the amount of time taken to respond to a stimulus until the initiation of movement. The stimulus can vary. The stimulus could be the sound of a starters gun at a track meet. It could be visual, the light turning green to signal the start of a race between professional dragsters.
An example of response time is a defensive lineman visually responding to the snap of the ball. Defensive linemen are taught to watch the ball and not listen to the cadence of the quarterback.
The time elapsed from the initial movement of the ball being snapped until the first sign of movement of the linemen is the response time. Some linemen get off the ball quicker than others. Is it because they have better reaction time, better response time, or a combination of both?
A player's quickness is affected by his reaction time and his response time. We can't change a player's reaction time. We can however improve a player's response time. How? Have the athlete practice the exact task(s) at hand.
The specific speed and quickness to perform a task is best improved by performing that specific task … at game speed. Baseball scouts time baseball players in the 60-yard dash. Sixty yards is the distance from first base to third base.
Instead of facing forward or starting from a three-point stance, baseball players are required to start in the same position they would assume if they were on first base and getting ready to turn and run toward second.
Baseball scouts start the sprint by holding a baseball cap in their hand. They signal the start of the sprint when they drop the cap.
It doesn't make sense for a baseball player to waste time and energy practicing his start from a three-point stance. Using the sound of a whistle to practice his starts won't reduce a baseball player's response time to the visual cue of seeing a hat drop.
Athletes waste too much time and energy on tasks that are not skill-specific. Practice the skill of jumping rope to develop the coordination necessary to jump rope. Don't expect the specific skills used to jump rope to transfer to covering a receiver, or running a route, or rushing the passer.
How do you improve quickness? The answer is very simple. Practice the exact skills you want to get quicker at, and practice them at full-speed.
If you want to be a quicker basketball player practice the skills used to play the game at game speed. Playing defense requires a series of rehearsed and unrehearsed neurological responses that cannot be imitated by performing a series of "quickness" drills.
How do you best improve the specific neurological speed and quickness to cover a wide receiver? Don't spend time jumping over bags or performing quickness drills and expect them to reproduce the specific neurological demands of covering a receiver. To best improve the speed and quickness necessary to cover a receiver, practice covering a receiver, and preferably someone with better speed and quickness.
How do you best improve speed? There are some things you can do to improve speed. However we all have a speed potential that is dictated by our genetic predisposition to run fast.
I often use my youngest son T as an example. T currently works at St. John's, a private school in Houston. He had an accomplished high school and college baseball career. He was named Virginia Player of the Year his senior year in high school and was very quick and fast. During his senior year he broke the state stolen base record (39).
He was a scholarship baseball player at James Madison University, where he set school and conference stolen base records. In his junior year at JMU, he finished the season ranked second in the country (Division I) in stolen bases (54). He missed eight games with a leg injury.
T is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer when he was 8 ½. The NCAA has a baseball publication that did an article on T at the end of his junior year.
The purpose of the article was to recognize T for his baseball accomplishments and draw a parallel between some of the same characteristics he displayed to overcome cancer and succeed as a baseball player. The author of the article called to interview me about T.
During the interview he mentioned how lucky my son was to have a father who was a strength coach for the Washington Redskins and aware of the most current techniques used to improve speed and quickness.
The reporter asked me, "What did I do different to help my son run faster?" I responded by saying, "I left him alone." The reporter laughed and asked again, "No really, what did you do?" I responded, "I'm not joking, I left him alone."
I explained to the reporter that T was fast and quick as a youngster. In the fifth grade, he held school records for the short-shuttle, the mile run, and pull-ups. He had no special training or coaching, nor was he in better shape than most of the other kids, yet he was quicker and faster than any other student in the school.
His speed dominance continued through junior high school and high school. He was the fastest player on the baseball team when he arrived as a freshman at James Madison University.
He didn't do anything special as an athlete but lift weights and practice his skills. I had nothing to do with how fast he could run. He didn't spend endless hours performing speed and quickness drills.
In my 30-year career, I have trained thousands of athletes with varying degrees of genetic potential for running faster. I have never claimed I was the reason for improving anyone's speed. You cannot make a person run faster than his genetic predisposition for speed will allow him to run.
We plug all of our players into our running program. Eventually, some will run faster than others. There are no special exercises that magically improve speed. If there was, every athlete would be fast.
You can't alter your genetic pool or the characteristics you've inherited from your parents. But you can develop the potential speed you do possess by exploiting those factors you can control.
Listed below are some items you can control that contribute to your ability to play fast.
1. Eliminate excess body fat.
2. Strengthen the muscles used to run.
3. Develop adequate flexibility.
4. Refine position specific stance/start techniques.
5. Practice the exact skills you want to run fast and quick.
6. Develop a level of conditioning needed to run you're fastest.
7. Practice running your fastest.
Athletes spend too much time and energy trying to improve straight-line speed. The speed needed to play any sport is specific to the demands of each position. The goal of any athlete should be to develop specific speed and quickness used to play a position, and develop a level of conditioning to sustain that speed and quickness for an entire game.
Our running program begins in March and ends with our conditioning test the first day of summer camp. Our goal is to get our players in good enough running shape to allow them to practice and let football get them in shape to play football. We will post our running program in the near future.
We tell our players if they want to improve the position specific speed and quickness needed to play the game, get in good shape and practice those exact skills at game speed.
If we believed a drill or exercise could improve a player's speed we would implement these activities from the first day of summer camp until the last day of the season.
Our season is a minimum of six months long. If a specific drill(s) or exercise made our players quicker and faster, they would lose the benefits of these activities unless they continue to perform them during the season. You won't observe any of our players wasting time and energy doing speed drills during the season. They barely have enough energy to recover from one game to the next.
If a player wants to get better at running fast, quick, and precise routes, we advise him to practice running routes. Our advice is to run routes against a well-skilled defensive back and have a quarterback throw you the ball. Have your position coach help refine your route running skills.
How do you become a quicker and faster athlete? It's pretty simple. Get in good running shape and practice your position specific skills.
It is difficult for some athletes to do this alone. Our players run together during our off-season running program. They help motivate each other.
If you are a parent or athlete from the Houston area, I'd recommend you check out Velocity Sports Performance. Houston Texans offensive linemen Steve McKinney is the owner of three facilities in the Houston area. Velocity Sports is a franchise operated by certified professionals designed to help athletes from all levels reach their potential in the area of speed and quickness.
You can contact a professional at any one of the following Velocity Sports Performance Facilities.
133 W. Parkwood Ave.
Friendswood, TX 77546
- Missouri City/Sugarland
4811 Hwy 6 South
Missouri City, TX 77459
- Cy Fair
10535 Jones Rd
Houston, TX 77065
10. I want to become a strength coach. What advice do you have for me?
I answer this question every week with a young person who shares my passion for the strength and conditioning profession. I am brutally honest with my opinions and blunt with my advice. I have a professional obligation to provide the facts. Most of these young unemployed professionals are optimistic in their ability to obtain full-time employment as a strength coach.
Almost every one of the young people I talk to is better educated and better credentialed than I was when I started my first job at West Point. It is frustrating to tell an enthusiastic young professional that the odds of becoming employed in the near (or distant) future as a full-time strength coach are not very good.
There are thousands and thousands of eminently qualified candidates who will never have the chance to work as a strength and conditioning coach. It is not because they aren't qualified. It is because there aren't many full-time jobs. Year after year the number of qualified and unemployed strength coaches multiplies.
I ask young people to document the number of full-time and assistant strength coach positions available at the college and professional level. They eventually realize there isn't that many positions compared to the thousands of capable candidates.
You may decide to pursue a career in strength training, regardless of the odds against you. To give yourself the best chance of becoming employed I'd suggest you obtain an undergraduate and graduate degree in Physical Education.
It is a must to get some hands on experience at the college level. If you are good (and lucky) you may eventually get hired part-time and possibly full-time. Use the college you are working at as a podium to generate some exposure for yourself. If you are lucky it may lead to something.
My advice to young people interested in pursuing a strength-coaching career is to also consider preparing for an alternate career.