Texans Fitness Corner

Welcome to Dan Riley's latest installment of Texans Fitness Corner. The response continues to be overwhelming. We will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

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*NOTE: Before engaging in any new physical activity, always consult your physician.*

I again wish to give props to the Master Designer of all Web sites, Carter Toole. If Dick Vitale had the chance to introduce Carter he would say, "Yo baybeeeeeee! Carter Toole baybeeee! He's the M.D. ……. the Master Designer of all websites baybeeeeee!"

Carter continues to add the juice to the Fitness Corner. He's also got some great ideas to use once our players arrive. Should you be interested in any of our past Fitness Corner installations, click the "Fitness Corner Archive," link located at the end of this installation. This is where Carter has stashed our past segments.

I can't answer all of your questions personally. I do take the questions you send to Carter and answer as many as I can. Should you have any fitness questions, or suggestions to improve the Fitness Corner, please send them to Carter at, fitness@houstontexans.com.

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I'm a junior in high school. Last year I started at defensive end on the junior varsity. I stopped growing last year, at 5'11" and 160 pounds. I competed by using my speed and quick reflexes. On the varsity squad these assets aren't good enough to get me by at defensive end and I've been switched to the secondary.

I've lifted regularly for the last two years but have been discouraged by my lack of progress. Can you think of anything I should be doing to improve my progress and increase my weight?

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-- Drew, Chicago

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This is one of the most commonly asked questions we receive from young male athletes. The expectations many young athletes have for adding lean body mass, usually exceeds their genetic ability to add that much muscle. Hard work, dedication, and commitment will not overcome a low, or average, genetic predisposition for adding muscle. Most of us are average people and can only expect modest results.

There are three options you have for gaining weight.

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1. Maturation: The maturation process continues until you are approximately 25 years old. Your bones will continue to grow and thicken. You will naturally add muscle and strength. You can't speed up this process. With the same effort and amount of work, you will generate better gains when you are 17 years old, than you did when you were 16 (more mature physically at 17). This process will continue each year until your body reaches full maturation.

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2. Add Fat: You can overeat and gain bodyweight in the form of fat. Don't do this! Your body composition is more important than your bodyweight on a scale. What percentage of your bodyweight is lean body mass and what percentage is fat. Any excess fat can hinder performance and is a detriment to your health now, and in the future.

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3. Add Muscle: The only other way to add muscle is to engage in a strenuous total body strength program. How much muscle you can ultimately add is predetermined by your genetic predisposition for adding muscle. The average person is capable of adding some muscular bodyweight via lifting, but few people have the genetic potential to significantly increase lean bodyweight from a lifting program.

Your ecto-mesomorphic frame (long and linear) will allow you to generate modest gains, but don't expect the same gains as a person possessing greater mesomorphic (thicker frame, wider shoulders, denser muscle mass) qualities.

Some people have better developing potential than others. For example, our wide receivers use the same routines as our linemen. The job description of a lineman dictates the type of body (size and mass) they must have to excel in the NFL. The same is true for the wide receiver.

The lineman has better developing potential to add size and strength when compared to the body type of an NFL receiver. Our receivers will work just as hard as our linemen. The only difference is how each responds.

Developing potential will also vary within each group of players. All of our linemen will possess some of the same physical qualities yet each will respond differently to the same workouts. Some will have better developing potential, which allows them to generate better gains in strength and size.

Your goal Drew, should be to capitalize on the work you are performing. You can maximize the benefits you receive from your strength program by adhering to a few suggestions.

  1. Train every major muscle group in your body. The neck muscles must be your number one priority and then place equal emphasis on all other body parts and exercises. Don't ignore any muscle group.
  1. Keep accurate records. Every workout record the amount of weight you use, and the number of good reps you complete. Every workout you must continue to try and increase the amount of weight you use and/or the number of reps you perform. However, don't sacrifice good form to use more weight. Remember, at some point you (and everyone else) will level off.
  1. Eliminate non-productive exercise from your routine. Once you've warmed up make every set count. Sub-maximal efforts will produce sub-maximal results.
  1. Perform as little exercise as is necessary to produce the best results. Find out how little exercise you need to stimulate maximum gains. Many athletes associate progress with more work. This usually leads to over-training and inadequate recovery. If you're ever in doubt, always perform less exercise, not more.
  1. Inject some variety into your routine. Change the order of exercise, perform the same exercise with different equipment, etc.
  1. Get plenty of rest and eat a reasonably balanced diet.

Do not become frustrated with your results. Don't compare your results with anyone but yourself. There are too many physiological, biomechanical, and neuro-muscular differences, between and among people that allow some individuals to respond better than others.

You may have some friends that generate better gains than you do, not because they work harder, it's because they have better genetic potential to add strength and size. I'm sure you also have some friends that don't have the potential you have and wish they could get the same results you get.

You should be proud of what you have accomplished. Hopefully you will continue training and develop a life long interest in muscular fitness. Strength training will have a greater impact on the quality of your life when you become an adult. Too many young people (and some adults) stop training because they don't look like Mr. or Miss America. There are many other benefits to strength training besides adding bodyweight.

Best of luck! God bless America! Go Texans!

I'm a junior offensive lineman for a high school team in Saskatchewan, Canada. I have done some strength training before, but I know that my strength training and conditioning must improve 110% by next year. What is the best way to do this "fast"?

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-- Chad

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Thank you for your question Chad. Congratulations on being the first Canadian to respond to our Website. Hopefully you'll spread the word up there about the Houston Texans.

I always tell our players that it's impossible to give more than 100%. You will generate the fastest gains if you are willing to give 100% each time you work out. However, it will take time. Improving strength and conditioning levels is different than studying your opponent on film, or practicing a skill.

You can watch film for hours seven days/week. You can practice new techniques day after day. The learning curve is expedited because of this.

Physical preparation (running and lifting) will take more time. You can't lift and condition seven days/week. If you did, you wouldn't recover, and eventually you would begin to regress.

There is no way to get stronger and more fit "fast." My advice to you is the same advice I gave Drew, in the last question. Be smart with your program organization. Especially avoid over-training. This will delay your ultimate goal of improving fitness levels as quickly as possible.

To promote recovery, I would encourage you to run and lift no more than four days a week. Allow three days to recover. In the past our players used a Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Friday, format. We adjusted this routine as we got closer to summer camp.

Under ideal conditions I would expect you to increase strength and fitness levels significantly in a 12-week period. Your gains will gradually grow smaller and eventually level off. As you grow older and mature you will continue to experience gains until the maturation process is complete. From my experience training male athletes, most men experience the greatest growth rate (muscle mass and strength) between the ages of 18 and 20 years old.

At Penn State I inherited young 18-year old athletes with good (and some very good) developing potential. Many generated significant gains in strength and body weight. Most athletes experience their best gains when they leave high school. Be patient and hope you have a good predisposition for adding strength and muscle.

Don't be disappointed if your gains aren't as much, or, as fast as you want them to be. The gains you do make will be well worth the effort.

Good luck! Go Texans!

I found a neck machine at the local high school. It's the type where you sit and push forward; turn your body and do it sideways and backwards. How would you recommend using it? I was wondering how often would you recommend training to exhaustion?

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-- Curtis

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Congratulations on finding a neck machine. Extended congratulations to the coach responsible for purchasing that neck machine. Hopefully it is the most coached exercise, and the most frequently used piece of equipment, in the weight room.

We attach a bottle of disinfectant (Iso-quin or Matt Clean) and a towel to each neck machine. We instruct our players to spray and wipe the face pads before each use.

We consider the traps (trapezius) part of the neck muscles. Our players will complete a set of shrugs before performing each exercise on the four way neck machine. Upon completion of the neck flexion (forward), the neck extension (backward), and lateral flexion (to the right and left), our players will perform another set of shrugs.

Shrugs can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. To execute the shrug our players will be instructed to stand erect. Do not bend at the waist in an attempt to use the lower back muscles to help raise the weight. Using only the traps, elevate the shoulders in a vertical plane (don't roll the shoulders). Raise the weight in a smooth and controlled manner, and pause momentarily in the contracted position for a count of 1001. An emphasis will then be placed on the lowering phase.

Four exercises are performed on one neck machine. It should take each athlete approximately five minutes to complete all four exercises.

Performing the neck flexion exercise is the most difficult and uncomfortable to perform. If the face pads are worn, use a towel for extra padding to help absorb pressure on the face.

Stabilize the upper body during the execution of each exercise. Do not rock back and forth using the upper body to help lift the weight. Force the neck muscles to do all of the work by eliminating any upper body movement.

The risk of injury will increase as form erodes when performing exercises for the neck. We constantly critique the form on each rep of each exercise. We instruct our players to raise the weight in a very smooth and controlled manner. No sudden or jerky movements.

Once the weight is raised, we instruct our players to pause momentarily in the contracted position. There is no bounce or any sign of momentum contributing to the execution of each rep.

Time and intensity is the key to generating the best gains. I've considered placing a stopwatch on each neck machine and asking our players to start the watch before their first rep, and stop it upon completion of the 12 th rep. With good form it should take at least 60 to 70 seconds to complete each set.

During my tenure at West Point we conducted several neck studies. We observed the best results when 12 repetitions were performed.

Our players will perform 12 reps of each exercise. I don't encourage our players to exercise their neck muscles to exhaustion (unless we are spotting them manually). We instruct them to select a weight that allows them (ideally) to complete the last rep just short of momentary exhaustion.

Remember, you don't have to exercise to exhaustion to generate significant gains. There are some exercises that I prefer our players don't train to exhaustion. Keep accurate records to include; seat height, weight used, number of good reps completed. Each rep should look identical. Add weight when you can perform 12 properly performed reps. Do not sacrifice form to add weight. Our players will perform the following exercises at least twice during the week.

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Neck Routine

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  1. Shrugs
  1. Neck Extension
  1. Neck Flexion
  1. Lateral Flexion (to the right)
  1. Lateral Flexion (to the left)
  1. Shrugs

In the past we included a set of upright rows as the 7th exercise. Several years ago we eliminated the upright row from our routines due to the gradual structural damage to the rotator cuff.

I'm glad you sent in this question about neck exercises Curtis. It gives me the chance to again urge coaches to place an emphasis on this critical area of the body. I've written in the past how most coaches inherited their routines from weight lifters, bodybuilders, and track athletes. Neck development was not part of their training regimen.

It must be the first priority of any athlete risking collisions or trauma to the head and neck. I learned quickly at West Point and Penn State that emphasis on neck development it is not only for the football player or wrestler.

For example, some members of the skydiving team at West Point complained of neck discomfort due to their head being suddenly snapped when their chute opened. Another example was some members of the diving team complained of neck soreness due to the impact forces of the head hitting the water from the higher platforms. Incorporating neck strengthening exercises into their program helped to prevent these problems.

I soon learned that all athletes could benefit from developing the muscles of the neck. I now encourage adults (especially seniors) to exercise their neck muscles. The aging process erodes our muscles. Significant atrophy can be observed in all muscles, especially the muscles of the neck.

Strengthening the neck muscles can help to maintain good posture and help eliminate stress and tension. I've also observed some adults with neck pain, minimize or eliminate their pain, by performing neck exercises at a level of moderate intensity.

Development of the neck muscles for most athletes is a priority. Many athletes experience neck problems later on in life. Our medical staff believes the accumulative trauma to the head and neck is the direct result. They also believe athletes can minimize and possibly eliminate complications to the neck area, by strengthening the neck muscles, especially during the season.

I strongly encourage athletes, non-athletes, and especially adults, to incorporate neck exercises into their routines.

Good luck. Go Texans!

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