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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
*I am a police officer in London UK who instructs other officers in self-defense/safety techniques. I totally agree with your assessments of supplements and I am totally shocked with the proliferation of steroids amongst young people. There are no quick fixes! *
We do not have such a well-established fitness culture over here. I truly believe football strength and conditioning principles are ideal for police work. We are the home of rugby but it has only recently professionalized and is still coming to terms with the strength and conditioning aspect (rather than sinking 14 pints of beer). My question is do you have any recommended websites that provide some sound information?
-- Gareth Tomlinson, London, England
Now that both of my sons have grown up I am unaware of the current trends with today's young athletes. It is disappointing to hear that steroid use may be popular among young people.
I agree with your stance on steroids. I published articles and spoke out against steroid use in the 1970s. During this era some coaches sold steroids, and others condoned or encouraged the use (any use is abuse). There is no justification for a healthy athlete (or non-athlete) to use steroids to benefit physically.
I find it repulsive when an athlete uses steroids in an attempt to gain a physical advantage over athletes not willing to use steroids. Steroids are illegal and in my opinion immoral. It is a gross form of cheating.
As a parent I provided my sons with information regarding the perils of using steroids. I encourage all parents to do the same. It is an older book but one of my favorites regarding the perils of steroid use. It is titled, "Death In the Locker Room, by Dr. Bob Goldman.
The advice I gave my sons was to train hard, develop good eating habits, get adequate rest, and work hard at improving the skills used to play their sport.
Below is a list of websites I have used.
American Dietetic Association: www.eatright.org
Consumer Lab: www.consumerlab.com
American Council on Exercise: www.acefitness.org
National Council Against Health Fraud: www.NCAHF.org
Gatorade Sports Science Institute: www.gssiweb.com
Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter: www.healthletter.tufts.edu
American College of Sports Medicine: www.acsm.org
Human Kinetics Publishing Company: www.humankinetics.com
Best of luck with your police work and your workouts.
I am a high school strength and conditioning coordinator. I often need to suggest to coaches proper times to perform strength training during the in-season. With time constraints such as school hours and practice sessions, sometimes-optimal conditions are hard to find. For maximum gains to be made during the season, when should the strength training sessions be scheduled? Before or after practice, and why?
-- Ed Cicale, Oak Hills High School, Cincinnati, OH
During the season time is tight for all coaches, to include strength coaches. I always joke with our head coach Dom Capers that games, practice, and meetings, get in the way of weight workouts.
Each strength coach must decide how to most efficiently utilize his/her facility with the time available. You are better prepared in your situation to decide what is best for your players. You may be forced to train players in conditions that are less than ideal.
During the season my personal preference is to train our players before practice. After practice players can be fatigued. This may force a player to place a lower priority on exerting a maximum effort.
I have mentioned many times how important in-season strength training must be. Strength is lost rapidly if a near maximum effort is not exerted each time a player works out. During the season our players use the exact same workouts that they used during the off-season.
Our games are on Sunday. Our entire team performs a total body workout on Monday. Training the day after the game helps reduce and eliminate stiffness and soreness. It also allows enough recovery time to perform a second workout later in the week. All weight workouts on Monday are completed before our team looks at the game film in the afternoon.
During the week on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, most of our players lift in the morning before meetings. We have some veterans who prefer lifting after practice.
I am fourteen years old and do not have any access to weights. So I do push-ups and an ab workout before I go to bed. How should I perform my pushups to make the best strength gains?
(Name not included)
When using bodyweight to perform an exercise (push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, pull-ups, chin-ups, dips) people often become more concerned with "how many" reps they perform rather than "how" they perform each rep.
For example when performing sit-ups (or crunches) athletes often jerk their body upward (incorporating momentum) and allow the upper body to effortlessly fall back to the starting position, allowing the muscles to perform little or no work during the lowering phase. We call these throw-ups and fall downs.
The same can be observed when performing push-ups. The lifter drops to the floor rapidly, performing little or no work during the lowering phase and then bounces his chest off the floor using some momentum to help recover to the starting position. Some athletes do not even recover to the starting position. They are basically performing half-rep pushups.
Perform any exercise with your bodyweight in the same manner as you would any other exercise. We ask our players to observe four rules while performing a repetition of any exercise (to include push-ups).
- Eliminate momentum during the raising phase. Force the muscles to do all of the work.
- Pause momentarily in the muscles contracted position. More muscle fibers are recruited at this point than in any other position.
- Emphasize the lowering of the weight (take longer to lower the weight). The same muscles are used to lower the weight. Significant strength gains can be developed from lowering a weight if more weight is used or more time is taken.
- Raise and lower the weight through the muscles full range of motion. If you are not getting an adequate stretch, elevate your hands off the floor (place a some pads under each hand) to prevent your chest from touching the floor.
Using a persons bodyweight for resistance can create problems for some people. A person may not be strong enough to handle his/her own bodyweight. This forces the person to abstain from performing certain exercises, or it forces them to use terrible form in an attempt to complete a set. If you cannot properly handle your own bodyweight while performing push-ups we suggest the following:
- Perform modified push-ups by dropping to your knees (only the hands and knees touch the floor).
- Perform negative only push-ups (only lower the weight). Allow 8 seconds to lower the weight and get back to the arms extended starting position position any way that you can. Perform eight to ten reps at eight seconds per rep. Use a stopwatch on the floor to monitor your lowering speed. Do not start counting until you have unlocked your arms. The lowering speed should be smooth and even. If you need more resistance have a spotter apply some manual resistance to your upper back.
- If you reach the point where you cannot perform another push-up (while performing conventional push-ups) and want to perform additional reps have a spotter assist by helping you recover to the starting position.
The next time you perform your push-up workout, get out the bathroom scale and place both hands on the scale in the push-up position. Observe the weight registered on the scale when you are in the push-up position. It is significantly less than your overall bodyweight (when you stand on the scale). Your bodyweight may not be enough to generate strength gains. It would be similar to bench-pressing 75 pounds for fifty reps. Eventually you get tired, it burns, it hurts, yet you did nothing to build additional strength. At some point with a lighter weight, you stop increasing your anaerobic strength and begin improving your aerobic endurance.
Your muscles will quickly adapt to whatever percentage of your bodyweight you are using to perform push-ups. At this point you must find a way to make the push-up harder if you want to continue to gain anaerobic strength. You cannot expect to provide the same overload one workout after another, and expect to get stronger.
The same can be observed while performing sit-ups. The weight of your torso does not change from workout to workout. If you want your abdominal muscles to get stronger they will eventually need more resistance. An exercise can burn and hurt but it does not guarantee strength gains.
You can make a bodyweight push-up more difficult by utilizing one or more of the following techniques:
- Take more time to raise the weight. We call them slow reps. Allow eight seconds to raise the weight.
- Have a spotter apply manual resistance to your upper back. A spotter can push on your upper back while you raise and lower your weight. With a proper spot you should reach the point where you cannot complete another push-up somewhere between 10 and 12 reps.
3. Elevate your feet. Use the stairs in your house to elevate your feet in the push-up position. The higher you elevate the feet the more difficult the exercise. Use your bathroom scale to see how much more of your bodyweight you are lifting when you begin to elevate your feet.
5. Preexhaust your triceps before performing push-ups.
a. For variety we periodically have our players perform an exercise to isolate the triceps (triceps pushdowns) followed immediately with a set of ten push-ups (with a spotter adding manual resistance). We manually add resistance to their upper back. We add enough resistance to allow them to barely complete 10 reps.
Why do football workouts train body parts more than once a week where as regular bodybuilding only train body parts once a week? Aren't football players over-training?
-- Jason Regala
I am not real familiar with the routines employed by modern day bodybuilders so it makes it difficult for me to accurately compare workouts. My guess is that most bodybuilders perform many more exercises and sets per body part than our players do. If the volume of exercise performed is significant, more time is needed between workouts to recover.
Keep in mind our longest upper body routine incorporates a total of twelve sets. The volume of exercise our players perform is very low. Once they adapt to our style of training they can easily recover from two upper body and two lower body workouts in a week.
I have published our routines in past Fitness Corner installations. Below is a sample of one of our 10 – 8 Routines:
Set # Exercise Reps
1 Dumbbell Bench Press 10 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
2 Dumbbell Bench Press 8 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
3 Nitro Pullover 10 reps
4. Lat Pulldown 10 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
5 Dumbbell Incline Press 10 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
6 Dumbbell Incline Press 8 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
7Hammer Rear Delt 12 reps
8 Hammer Seated Row 10 reps (Rest 90 seconds)* *
9Rotator Cuff External Rotation 12 reps (Rest 90 seconds)* *
10Lateral Raise 12 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
11 Dumbbell Seated Press 10 reps (Rest 90 seconds)
12 Dumbbell Seated Press 8 reps
Total # of reps performed = 120 reps
You can observe from the upper body workout listed above, our players only perform four exercises (36 total reps) for the chest, four exercises (42 total reps) for the upper back, and four exercises (42 total reps) for the shoulders.* *
We do not waste time and energy by performing non-productive sets. Our players warm up on the first upper (or lower) body exercise by performing several preparatory sets. Once the warm-up process is complete our players exert a maximum or near-maximum effort on each set performed.
Some workouts require athletes to perform an endless number of non-productive sets (sub-maximal efforts). The body must use some recovery energy on every repetition performed regardless of how light the weight is. Hans Selye tells us that we do not have an unlimited supply of adaptation energy. The ability to recover from exercise is limited. Therefore after warming up our players, every set must have a purpose. And that purpose is an attempt to increase strength on every set performed each workout, until strength maintenance becomes the goal.
In my early years with the Redskins our players performed three total body workouts per week. The volume of exercise was less than our current twice per week workouts, but in looking back I firmly believe I was over-training our players.
I have learned to listen to our harder working players and have made volume adjustments in our running program and our lifting program based upon their feedback.
Dr. Hans Selye (in his book, "The Stress of Life") teaches us that one half of the successful fitness formula is stress (exercise) and the other, and equally important half, is adaptation (rest).
Too much exercise and not enough rest produce an athlete incapable of recovering from one workout (or practice) to the next. During my younger days I was guilty of over-training players. It can only be described as bad coaching.
I am constantly searching for information that can help us better determine how little exercise is needed to produce the best results.
Jason, your question about over-training is a good one. Some day I hope there will be a simple, scientific, and non-invasive method to monitor over-training. Until then we must rely upon keeping accurate records to compare progress from one workout to the next. We must also seek the opinions of our most disciplined workers and make adjustments when necessary.