Soccer Culture

22 January 2:08 pm

So you finally did it?  You have been on the fence about giving up gluten for a few months but today is the day that you have marked on your calendar as Day #1 to go gluten free. Maybe you decided to give it up for medical reasons and you think this will improve your overall health. If that is the case, I wish you the best of luck. Maybe you just wanted a change and your coach/trainer or coworkers are all talking about the benefits they have seen from giving up gluten. Either way you have decided to throw out all of your bread and pasta and have embarked on a new lifestyle.

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Before I share some tips with you, the reason I am writing this is because I decided to give this a shot. I read the book "Wheat Belly" by Dr. William Davis and I understand the potential risks to gluten. I have also read books by Robb Wolff "Paleo Solution" as well as Dr. Loren Cordain "Paleo Answer" on the potential dangerous of gluten for some people.  I wanted to try this nutritional change because I wanted to see for myself how I felt after eliminating gluten for a period of time.  I would like to make it very clear that I am NOT a nutritionist. Everyone responds differently from nutrition so what may bother one person may not affect someone else. The tips and suggestions listed below are nothing more than observations that I made while trying this new routine. 

Remember, if you have a specific medical condition you need to speak to an expert and decide if a change like this is good for you.

So what exactly is gluten anyway? It is the naturally occurring proteins in wheat, barley and rye. It helps the elasticity of the dough in breads, baked good and several processed foods.  When you walk down the aisles of most food stores you can bet that the majority of products contain gluten. It is even in products like soy sauce as well as salad dressing.  If you are planning to make this change your normal food shopping routine is about to change as well.

Being from Philadelphia I love bread. Everyone knows that the roll makes the sandwich. So going gluten free for me is tough. I love to eat sandwiches as well as several other products that contain wheat (i.e. cereals, pizza, pasta). I understand that there are gluten free breads and pizza but let’s not kid ourselves, I have yet to find a really good gluten free roll or pizza. I decided to do this more as an elimination diet to see if I have any food sensitivities. My plan was to eliminate gluten for a period of time (15-30 days) and then reintroduce it back into my daily routine and see if I have any effects like the following:

  • Digestion discomfort
  • Brain fog
  • Increase joint pain
  • Slower recovery from training

To gauge my recovery, I used Heart Rate Variability each morning to see how my body responded to the change. This is a simple test that tracks my “readiness” to train and gives a quick snapshot of my central nervous system. Each morning I would track my heart rate to see how it would fluctuate over this trial period. The product that I used was from Bioforce HRV.

Here are five (5) tips that I believe you need to know if you decide to give this a shot.

1. You have to like to cook

If you are someone who likes to go out to eat 2-4 times per week I don’t think this diet is for you. Why, because gluten is found in so many foods and sauces that going out is going to be both expensive and very hard to go gluten free.  Sure, you can eat gluten free products but in my opinion it’s very hard to eat out a few days a week and improve your health.  You have to learn to cook basic meals if you plan to make this switch.  Keep things simple. Learn to make 8-10 basic meals ranging from eggs in the morning to simple dinners with a lot of vegetables, proteins and quality carbohydrates.

2. You have to plan ahead

If you work in an office you will have to wake up early and make your lunch for the day. You will also need to make breakfast and have some healthy snacks during the day. You can kiss your bagel with fat free cream cheese goodbye. Planning is critical if you expect to follow this lifestyle change.  I would make sure that you always have some snack options with you when your foods cravings hit because trust me those cravings will hit you hard around days 1-3. Examples may include homemade trail mix (raw nuts/seeds/dried fruit) or energy bars that you either made or purchased.

3. I hope you like salads

At least 4-5 times per week you will most likely be eating a salad with a lot of vegetables and protein (chicken, fish, steak, nuts, etc.). Bread contains gluten so unless it is gluten free bread you will be giving up the delicious rolls that Philadelphia has to offer. This will be one of the hardest changes for you.  Salads are great so make sure that you load them up with several kinds of vegetables and mixed greens as well as quality sources of protein and fat to get the nutritional benefits of eating salad.

4. You will be eating more fat

When you give up grains you need to make up the calories somewhere. You can only eat so much protein and fiber. What worked well for me is an increase in fat. The proper fats when eaten at the right time can really improve your health and make you feel comfortably full.  Examples include the following:

  • Avocados
  • Coconut milk
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Raw nuts (macadamia, pumpkin seeds, walnuts)
  • Lean high quality meats.

5. Your energy will probably drop the first few days.

Most of us eat far too many processed carbohydrates. Our blood sugar is always up and down. We feel good after a bagel and coffee and then 1-2 hours later we crash and reach for a bag of Cheetos.  When you give up grains you will most likely feel sluggish days 1-3. By day four I felt really good. I believe my body started to work more efficiently (I still ate carbohydrates) and began to utilize fat as an energy source along with quality carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, plantains, berries).

The reason I wrote this post is because I think some people just jump right into a total overhaul of their nutrition without understanding some very important details. Some people eat a bagel two days into going gluten free and then get frustrated and then give up and go back to their old routines. You need to understand that going gluten free takes some work in the beginning and changing old habits can be very hard. Give yourself a break and don’t be so hard on yourself. Tell a friend you are doing this because you will need the support when those cravings hit.

Sure you can just buy all gluten free products but honestly, I don’t think that is the way to go. The reason being most of those products are very expensive and I think some of them offer little nutritional value over products that contain wheat. I personally like to cook so for me this was an easier switch but I will tell you that it can be difficult.

I only tried this for 15 days. So by now means was this long experiment.  Over the course of this short period I felt really good and did see an improvement in my digestion, energy, as well as my heart rate variability scores. I also felt that my sleep improved due to these changes.  I decided to reintroduce gluten in the form of pizza and I did not have any effects in how I felt. So the good news is that I do not think I have sensitivity to gluten.

In the future I am not going to give up gluten forever. If I want a sandwich I will eat bread. If I want a slice of pizza I will eat one. I will limit my exposure because I honestly did feel better without gluten over this short period of time.  Was it the gluten? I can’t say I am 100% sure but I really did not change anything else in my routine. I still did the same exercises and kept the rest of my day the same for the most part.

If you decide to give this a shot I would recommend reading any book from Sarah Fragoso. She is an expert in the area and has several cookbooks that can help guide you along the way.  Right now when you go food shopping most foods stores have one aisle dedicated to gluten free products. I believe in the near future you will see more and more products becoming gluten free. Is this a fad or is it real? Honestly, I am not sure. I do believe after reading a few books on the topic that medically there can be benefits from eliminating it from your diet.

What I tell the athletes and other clients that I work with is to give it a shot and decide how you feel. Nobody knows your body like you do.

As I stated before, as long as you do not have any medical issues what’s the harm in giving this a shot?  You may surprise yourself and your performance on the field or in the weight room may just improve.

Good luck with whatever nutrition plan you follow in 2014.

“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog (http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc) on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: philly.com/philly/health

 

06 January 1:15 pm

You just finished a great workout at the gym.  As you finish up your last “rep” you feel so good about yourself. You made it to the gym today and everything felt great. You were able to keep up with the rest of the group with the workout and you can’t wait to get back to the gym tomorrow. You have decided that this is the year that you are going to fit into your “skinny jeans” or compete in your first adventure race. You have taken the steps that are necessary to get you off to a good start. You have joined the gym and have told all of your friends that this year you are going to improve your lifestyle and change your “bad” habits.  As you drive home you start to think about what you are going to eat for dinner. As you head into your house you open the fridge you notice that all you have is a bottle of hot sauce, a pizza box with two pieces of pizza left over from the weekend and three bottles of sugar filled sports drinks.

Does this sound familiar? I think it is pretty common for people to neglect their nutrition plan when they start a new training program. You have good intentions but you have no idea where to start in terms of your diet. Knowing where and how to start can be confusing. One day you hear from a coworker that you must follow Paleo. The next day your girlfriend/boyfriend says that you need to become a Vegan. You get my point. It can be frustrating to say the least. I am going to make this very simple for you.

Here are TEN (10) foods that you should always have on hand just in case you come home and you need to make a quick nutritious meal.

Because we all know that your nutrition plays a pivotal role in your progress towards a healthier life.

1. Avocado

These should be in every house unless of course you are allergic to them. Why, because they are packed with vitamins and nutrients and can be eaten with breakfast, lunch or dinner.  As we continue to learn fat is vital for optimal health and avocados are at the top of the list in my opinion. Add them to a smoothie or simple eat them solo in order to reap the benefits of this fantastic food.

2. Meat (beef or chicken)

I am not going to get into the difference between corn fed and grass-fed beef in this blog. When I talk about beef however, I am talking about the BEST beef that you can afford. I always recommend grass-fed from a farmer/butcher (I personally do not like store brand grass-fed). Meat offers several nutritional benefits (protein, omega 3 fats, B vitamins, etc.) that are hard to beat.

3. Kale

Kale is packed with Vitamins A and C and offers several   benefits to people who consume it on a daily basis. Personally I like to throw kale in a morning smoothie with coconut oil and some fruit because I do not like the bitter taste of kale. With that being said it offers a host of benefits that I recommend you look into. If possible I would always recommend that you buy organic kale.

4. Coconut oil

Coconut oil has been called by many a true “superfood”.  It can have a positive effect on brain function as well as weight loss.  It’s a medium chain fat that when taken before a workout can provide a tremendous boost of energy.  Also, it is great to cook with since it can be heated to a high temperature. 

5. Frozen berries (raspberry/blueberry)

If you like to make smoothie than berries (frozen or regular) are a must. Berries are high in antioxidants and vitamins. They also taste great so make it a point to add these to your plan. If you have frozen blueberries, leave them out and let them defrost for 15-20 minutes to get added nutritional value when thawed out.

6. Sweet potatoes

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap by many people over the past year. If you are looking for a great way to fuel up after a workout add in a sweet potato with your meal.  It will slowly raise your insulin while providing nutritional value. They also provide B6 as well as Vitamin C as well as a host of additional nutrients.

7. Eggs (organic or free range)

Eggs provide 13 essential vitamins. Most people throw away the best part, the yolk. If you want to get lean and feel energized start to add eggs to your weekly plan.

8. Macadamia nuts

When you need a quick snack these work great. They provide Vitamin A, iron as well as zinc and magnesium. They are also easy to digest so they make the perfect snack or an addition to a salad or meal.

9. Kefir

I started to implement Kefir into my plan this last year and I love the way I feel after eating this fermented dairy. It helps strengthen the immune system and is a great way to add probiotics to your diet. Make sure that you purchase this from a trusted source and I would recommend that you buy this from a farmer or a reputable health food store. Most store brands have added sugar that you could do without. It’s a great addition to a post workout or breakfast smoothie.

10. Mixed green salad (organic preferred)

A fantastic way for you to eat some raw food is to make a salad every day. It’s simple. Add some mixed greens, peppers, avocado, cucumbers and olive oil. Make sure that when you eat your salad you stay away from fat free dressings. You want the fat because many of the vitamins are fat soluble so this helps with the absorption of these nutrients.

There you have it, ten foods that should ALWAYS be in your house. In a pinch you can make a great meal with these foods. Good luck with your new plan for 2014!

“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog (link: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc) on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/ 

05 November 12:22 pm

In a few weeks thousands of people will participate in the Philadelphia Marathon. Runners from all over the U.S. will head to starting line on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to test their endurance, mental capacity as well as their will power. For months these people have been logging long hours in an effort to reach their goal of crossing the finish line. For some runners their goal will be to finish. For others they may be aiming for the coveted entrance time for the Boston Marathon. Whatever their personal goal is the race is ultimately decided by their preparation and mindfulness. Before they embark on the 26.2 mile journey I would like to share some tips for them to help them along the way. Below are 26.2 things you should do before the gun goes off. These tips are in no particular order. 

No. 1:  Get a massage before race day.

No. 2: Make sure you know exactly what you want to eat the morning of the race. DO NOT try any new foods the morning of the big race.

No. 3: Recruit friends and family to watch you along the route. A great place for them to cheer you on is when you are coming out of Manyunk.  Why?  Because after Manyunk it gets pretty quiet for a few miles. This is where you will need some help.

No. 4: In your mind break the race up into three (3) parts. Part 1 is the first 10 miles (start slow, don’t get caught up in the excitement). Part 2 is the second 10 miles (remember to hydrate as needed, enjoy the fans along the route) and part 3 is the final push the last 6.2 miles (dig deep, the finish is near).

No. 5: Take a few days off to allow your body to rest up. Don’t push yourself to hard leading up to the race. Most of the hard work has been done!

No. 6: Give your friends your bib number so they can track you (via text alerts) during the race.

No. 7: Have your name somewhere on your chest or back so anyone can cheer you on. This will help a lot around mile 22.

No. 8: Make sure your nutrition plan the week leading up to the race is good.  

No. 9: Bring extra toilet paper with you to the race.

No. 10: Have a heavy sweatshirt and sweatpants the morning of the race. Be prepared to donate them about 15 minutes before the race starts.

No. 11: Bring peppermint tums for you in case your stomach gets upset.

No. 12: Use body glide between your thighs and on your chest as well as those "hard to reach places." This tip alone will save you pain both during and after the race.

No. 13: Make sure you TAPER the week of the race. Maintain some high intensity very short runs but dramatically reduce the volume of your training.

No. 14: If you struggle with sleep have a plan in place and work on your sleep hygiene.  Magnesium is a great supplement to help you calm down before bed.

No. 15: Get a really good pair of socks for the race. Good socks can make a big difference.

No. 16: Buy a nice light coolmax hat/headband and gloves for the race.

No. 17: Make sure you are hydrated going into the race. Balance your hydration between water and a high quality sports drink.

No. 18: Look at the route map before the race. Know that there is a decent hill between mile 9 and 10 (right after the Philadelphia Zoo).

No. 19: Arrange a place for you to meet your family after the race.

No. 20: Run with a pace group if you are running for time and have a specific goal in mind.

No. 21: Go to the expo early and take in the atmosphere.

No. 22: At the expo once you get your race bag check to make sure that you have the correct bib number.

No. 23: Wake up about three hours before the start of the race and eat your normal breakfast.

No. 24: The meal the night before is very important. Eat a good balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates.

No. 25: Cut your toe nails a little lower than normal.

No. 26: Make arrangements to have some alone time after the race when you get home (especially if you have kids). Block off 3-4 hours to nap and start the recovery process.

No. 26.2: Before the race starts take a few deep breaths and know that you have prepared yourself to have a great run.  Realize that you are doing something pretty amazing and you should be proud that you have made it to the starting line!

Good luck to all the runners! Have a great race!

“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc  on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health www.philly.com/philly/health

14 October 4:11 pm

Have you ever been to a high school game, whether it was on a field or on a court, and watched an athlete run past the rest of the players and make them all look like they were standing still? If you are a parent or a coach of a field or court athlete I am sure that you have witnessed a few athletes make it look easy when it comes to running. The ability to accelerate and change direction is one of the most sought after traits that all athletes (male and female) are looking for. Millions of dollars are spent every year by parents trying to have their son or daughter “improve their first step” and become faster.  As a coach I have stopped counting how many times I have had parents tell me that they want me to help them improve their child’s “first step."  

In all due respect, I understand what they are talking about however, speed development goes way beyond improving their first step.

In this article, I would like to share some tips that I have been able to learn over the past several years by some of the top coaches when it comes to speed and power development for both court and field athletes.  Charlie Francis is considered by many as one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to developing athletes for improvements in their speed and power. Although he spent the majority of his time training track and field athletes I believe his philosophy on training can have a profound effect on high school athletes looking to improve their overall speed and acceleration. In his book, The Charlie Francis Training System, he states the following “sprint training should underline the initial and long term development of virtually every athlete.  The truly great team players are able to accelerate explosively both in defensive and offensive maneuvers."

If you were to have a conversation with a track and field coach as well as a football coach you would get several opinions on how to develop speed. The great thing about coaching is that everyone has their own philosophy and ways to train their athletes. For the purpose of this article I am going to focus on the court and field athlete.  Below are some of the key points that I feel must be addressed if your goal is to develop the following:

  • Linear speed
  • Transitional speed
  • Power
  • The ability to decelerate and accelerate

Tip No. 1  What is your starting point?

In a perfect world every high school athlete would first have an assessment or screen from a qualified coach. The reason this is important is before you start a training program you should establish a baseline to know where you are and where you want to go. I would recommend that you seek out the advice of someone who can perform the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) or Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) assessment   on you so that you can determine what exercises may cause problems down the road and provide a road map for your success.  

Tip No. 2  Develop your aerobic system

When most athletes or coaches hear aerobic system they think of skinny marathon runners logging 40-50 miles a week.  As a coach, I don’t want my high school athletes pounding the pavement in an effort to “build their base”.  If you have ever read anything from Joel Jamieson (www.8weeksout.com) he recommends that instead of running for 30-60 minutes, athletes incorporate some circuit training into their off-season program to build the overall capacity and strength of their heart. The best way to do this is to wear a heart rate monitor and stay in the 120-150 bpm (beat per minute) range. By doing this early in the off-season athlete’s will have a better chance to perform “repeat sprints” during their season. As I stated earlier, I am not talking about track and field but rather the ability for an athlete to perform multiple sprints during a game.  Here is an example of one type of circuit you could do with your athletes (Note, make sure they have perfect form when lifting weights and jumping):

Tip No. 3  Master body weight strength

When you sprint you have to be able to demonstrate good posture (i.e. relaxed shoulders, high hips, and proper hip extension).  The majority of high school athletes that I work with do not have the proper strength to hold themselves in an upright posture. Here are a few exercises that they must master before heading over to the squat rack.

Videos:

Tip No. 4  Hit the weights

When done properly, strength training can have a dramatic effect on your speed and your ability to change direction. One of the key factors in speed development is the ability to put force into the ground. One of the best ways to do this is by implementing a total body strength training program that teaches safe and effective progressions. In my opinion strength training is underrated when it comes to developing an explosive athlete.  Charlie Francis defines agility as “a form of special strength in combination of body awareness." Here are a few exercises that I would include in a speed training program.

Videos:

Tip No. 5  Implement transitional speed and power exercises

Court and field athletes hardly ever run in a straight line. They must learn how to stop, change direction and accelerate. Keep the volume of these movements low but the intensity high. Here are a few examples.

Videos:

Note that one of my favorite speed training exercises is hill sprints. Keep it simple when doing hills. Find a good hill and sprint up for 20-30 seconds and then walk back slow. Repeat for 8-20 reps depending on how you feel for that particular day.

Tip No. 6  Don’t confuse speed training with conditioning

This is a common mistake among coaches. I admit that I have made this mistake in the past. So many coaches say that they want to make their athlete’s faster, however, instead of working on short bursts of speed they think by doing gassers their kids will get faster. There is a time and place various type of conditioning methods however 300 yard shuttle runs is not speed training. In order to develop speed athletes must be alert and fresh. Their CNS (Central Nervous System) must be firing on all cylinders. True speed training will take between 15-20 minutes of work. Also you must allow for a FULL recovery between sets. I would recommend that the volume of running be kept between 400- 500 yds. of speed work. An example could be a workout that looks like this:

  • Warm-up and form running drills: 15-20 minutes
  • Low level plyometric work: 8-10 minutes w/ full recovery
  • Sprints: 3 x 10 yds, 3 x 20 yds, 10 x 30 yd. fly in sprints
  • Strength Training work: 30 minutes
  • Cool down and go home

Tip No. 7  Adequate flexibility

When it comes to flexibility I am not talking about the ability to sit down and touch your toes. The flexibility that I am interested in involves your ankles, knee, hips and shoulders. A great time to work on mobility is during the warm-up portion of an athlete’s training.  Here are two exercises that you can implement today to improve your speed.

Videos:

The tips and suggestions above are by no means a complete guide to speed training. Several factors go into the ability to run fast, jump high and change direction all while not breaking stride.  However if you implement some of the suggestions above and follow the proper progressions I am confident that you will improve your speed on both the field as well as the court. Good luck!

Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health

30 September 4:08 pm

Athletes know that in order to play at their highest level they need to focus on nutrition, strength training, speed, skill, and staying healthy. An often overlooked part of an athlete’s ability to play at their peak level is sleep quality.  About a month ago I was working with a female athlete and I could tell right away that something was not right. I asked her what time she went to sleep the night before and she replied "3 a.m., that is about the time I go to sleep every night."  Keep in mind, the workout we were doing was at 9 a.m. the next day. So, at best, she got 5 to 5 ½ hours of sleep the night before.

Let me start by asking a few questions:

  • Are you able to wake up every morning without an alarm clock?
  • Do you get outside every day for at least 30 minutes?
  • Do you feel more alert in the evening in comparison to how you feel in the morning?

Athletes and weekend warriors are spending millions of dollars every year on supplements to improve their performance to gain the competitive edge that they are looking for. As a coach I support the use of some approved supplements however, one of the best things you can do for your health and performance is free and most of us don’t take advantage of it.

As a coach, it is my job to constantly monitor how the athletes I work with are feeling. On a daily basis I will talk to them about their sleep patterns. I will often ask questions like:

  • What time did you fall asleep last night?
  • What was the quality of your sleep like?
  • How did you feel when you woke up today?

According to Dan Pardi, who is the CEO and founder of Dan’s Plan (www.dansplan.com), people who are not getting adequate sleep are in perpetual jet lag. Reaction times as well as body composition are directly linked to the quality and the amount of sleep that we get in a daily basis.  As an athlete, reaction time and body composition are extremely important to your game day performance. If either of these two things are off your performance is going to suffer.

A comment that I often hear from people is “I can’t fall asleep before midnight” or “I wake up every night at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep." If this is happening to you then your athletic performance as well as how you function the next day is going to suffer.

Our body cares about one thing and that is survival. If we develop poor sleep habits our body will slow down and conserve energy. Fat stores in our body will increase making it harder to lose body fat. Our metabolic system will slow down in order to meet the lack of sleep demands. Our bodies will age faster and our sympathetic nervous system will start to increase which will have a hormonal effect on our body that we do not want.

The good news is that we can reverse all of the negative effects of poor sleep with some simple changes to our lifestyle.  With the addition of technology our minds are always on alert and our circadian rhythm is out of balance. People are glued to their phones as well as their computers. By doing this we may be contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle.

 Here are 15 simple solutions to improving your sleep patterns

1. The amount of light we get every day from the sun has a dramatic effect on your sleep. Make it a point to get outside for at least 30 minutes every day. First thing in the morning when the sun comes up get outside for a couple of minutes and let the sun hit your face. This will start your circadian rhythm.

2. Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume after 2 p.m.

3. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink daily.

4. Instead of staying up late to watch TV, tape the show or watch online. With things like Netflix there is no reason to stay up late to watch a show.

5. Exercise during the day and if possible exercise outside.

6. As the day goes on reduce the amount of time that you spend in from of a computer screen. The light from the screen tells the brain that you should be awake so reduce the amount of time in front of the screen.

7. When you go to bed don’t bring your computer or cell phone into bed with you. This will stimulate a response in your brain and will throw of your timing.

8. Take a warm shower or bath before bed. Also, if you add Epson salt to the water this will have a calming effect on your body due to the addition of magnesium.

9. Make the room as dark as possible.

10. Turn off as many electronics as possible near your bed. According to Dan Pardi light can penetrate our eyelids which reduces melatonin (Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and controls the quality of your sleep).

11. Change the light on your computer. As the day goes on there are programs that can dim the screen to match the time of the day.

12. Make it a point to spend seven to eight hours in bed.  If you have to wake up at 6 a.m. than you need to be in bed by 10 p.m.

13. Eat your last big meal approximately three hours before you plan to go to sleep. Growth hormone is released in the evening and if your digestion has to work overtime this may affect the quality of your sleep.

14. Make your room as cool as possible. This time of year [Fall] is fantastic sleeping weather. Keep the room around 65 degrees.

15. As you get closer to bedtime start to dim the lights. Instead of leaving all of your lights on at 7 p.m. start to turn off certain lights and dim others.

Athletes need to make fast decisions. If their ability to “think fast and react” is compromised their performance will suffer. I’m sorry to say that I think sleep habits for people will continue to suffer and people will continue to lower their immune system. If you want to stay ahead of the game and improve your performance you have a choice and the simple solution is to improve your sleep quality.

For additional information on improving your sleep I would recommend that you read experts like Dan Pardi and Brian St. Pierre.

“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog (link: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc) on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health 

12 August 2:01 pm

Each year the number of female athletes who are participating in high school sports appears to be growing. With sports like soccer, basketball, field hockey, crew, lacrosse, track and softball, athletes are now given the chance to play their sport almost year round.  For the past several years I have had the privilege of working with several female athletes and I think this trend towards females playing more sports is fantastic.  However, one trend that I have seen with high school female athletes is the increase risk of injury. It’s very common for me to speak to a parent and have them tell me that their daughter has suffered one of the following injuries:

  • Torn ACL
  • Multiple stress fractures
  • Torn rotator cuff
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Hip/low back pain

The list above is just some of the more common injuries that I see with females. The truth is there is no way to prevent an injury. Injuries are a part of the game. However, I do believe that if athletes are trained properly they can greatly reduce their chance of injury.  If you are a parent of a female athlete one question that I think you should ask yourself is “What steps can I take in order to reduce the chance of injury for my daughter."

Here are a few suggestions on how I believe you can reduce injuries in sports.

1. Stop playing year round: I understand that this may frustrate some parents and coaches but high school athletes need an off-season.  I know there is a desire to increase your skill as an athlete, however, if you play the same sport for 11-12 months a year with a short break your chances of developing soft tissue injuries as well as muscle imbalances increases dramatically.  I would recommend that 2-3 months out of each year females take a step back from their main sport and develop some new movement patterns. A question you have to ask yourself is if professional athletes have an off-season why don’t high school athletes have an off-season?

2. Improve your nutrition: It’s very rare that I work with a female athlete who is eating a well-balanced diet. Most females would benefit by simply adding more protein and fat to their meals as well as focusing on a quality post workout meal.  A typical breakfast for a female athlete looks something like this: plain bagel & a glass of water or orange juice. A much better option would be the following: 2 eggs, banana and a glass of orange juice. Small changes in nutrition can have a dramatic effect on performance.

3. Learn how to decelerate: Most athletes have no problem running. Sure some kids are much more efficient at running than others, however, one area that needs to be addressed when training females is teaching them how to stop and control their body. This takes time.  However, athletes who are stable and understand where their body is in space (proprioception) are less likely to suffer an injury than those who are unstable.

4. Improve your overall strength: One thing that I tell all of the female athletes that I work with is if you want to reduce your chances of getting hurt improve your overall strength. Most high school females have never touched a weight in their life and they are intimated by the thought of lifting weights. I can respect this but if taught correctly this can be a game changer for female athletes.  An increase in strength will mean a more stable base of support which results in a more stable body. When a female athlete increases her strength so many positive things happen on the field or court. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Increase in speed and power.
  • Improvement in their posture.
  • Increase in their confidence. 
  • Increase in their bone strength.

Note: The off-season that I mention above is the PERFECT time to implement a proper strength training program. You don’t have to stop playing your sport completely in the offseason just reduce the volume and implement strength training 2-3x per week.

Here are a few exercise videos that if performed properly under the proper supervision can reduce the chance of injury. Please note that in each clip I show two exercises. The first exercise is the easier (regression) of the two. Please make sure that the first exercise is mastered before attempting the second exercise.

As an athlete when you step on the field or court you can’t worry about getting hurt. However, you can do something about reducing your chances of getting hurt. I think it’s fantastic that female athletes are playing sports and doing things on the field /court that people never expected them to do. Just make sure that you have built a solid foundation and take a look at the big picture to see what areas you need to improve upon in order to stay on the field and play an entire season injury free.

Good luck.

05 August 1:48 pm

A topic that has been debated over the years by both coaches and athletes is whether or not field and court athletes need to develop an aerobic base for their particular sport. When most people think of aerobic training the first thing that comes to their mind is long slow distance (LSD) running. The majority of field and court athletes that I have worked with despise this type of training (Unless you have a cross country runner that also happens to play field hockey). For most coaches and athletes this means running 4-6 miles at a slow pace.  They believe that if they train slow they will be slow. On one hand I understand exactly what they mean. On the flip side after reading "Ultimate MMA Conditioning" by Joel Jamieson I developed a deeper understating of energy system training and in particular cardiac output training.

 You may be saying to yourself I am sprinter why would I need to increase my cardiac output? All I need to do is sprint for 6-8 seconds, rest and then repeat it again 30-90 seconds later. The reality is your cardiac system is the "power plant of aerobic energy production" (Ultimate MMA Conditioning-Jamieson). The cardiac output method is a method that will improve the amount of blood that your heart can pump for each beat. As a field or court athlete this is critical to your ability to perform repeat sprints as well as have the endurance to play an entire game. A key component that I believe most athletes neglect is their ability to recover from a play or a sprint. In a perfect world I want a team full of athletes that can sprint, rest and repeat another sprint with the same intensity as the first sprint. By developing your aerobic system you will be able to perform more repeat sprints during a match or game.

In order to use the cardiac method you need to follow some guidelines in order to reap the benefits.  Here is a list of what you need to follow in order to ensure that you’re training the right energy system.

  • Maintain a constant heart rate in the 120-150 bpm (beats per minute) range.
  • Each session should last 30-90 minutes.
  • Start with 30 minutes and increase the volume each week.
  • Start with two (2) sessions per week and increase to as many as three (3) sessions per week in the off-season.
  • This type of training should be done in the off-season to help develop a solid foundation to build upon.
  • If your resting heart rate is above 60 bpm you will benefit from 4-6 weeks of this type of training. You goal should be to have a resting heart rate of 55 or lower. If your resting heart rate is under 50 bpm than you can limit this type of training to 1-2x per week in the off-season and progress to more advanced styles of training.

I would highly recommend that you pick up a good heart rate monitor to use. You can purchase a good one for under $125 from a company like Polar (www.polarusa.com)

Note: These guidelines are from the book Ultimate MMA Conditioning (Joel Jamieson)

When most athletes hear about this type of training they instantly think they will be asked to run miles upon miles.  While I personally like to run and I believe every field and court athlete should incorporate some type of longer running in the off-season, there may be some alternatives for athletes. The first type of training that comes to mind for me is circuit training.

The reality is a soccer player needs to train differently than a football player, however, if their goal is to develop their cardiac output in the off-season they could follow a similar plan for 2-3 days per week to develop an aerobic base. The great news for athletes about this style of training is that there is no need to log 45-90 minutes of LSD running. Instead you can set up circuits either in the weight room, outside on the track/field or at a park. You’re only limited by your imagination as long as the guidelines above are followed. Below I have put together a series of videos that can help you get a better understanding of some of the exercises that you can implement into your  training program.

Video exercise clips:

Watch: Cardiac output intro

Watch: Cardiac output ladders/med ball

Watch: Cardiac output thunder bands

WatchCardiac output ropes/bench/squats

Watch: Cardiac output bench jumps/swings

Watch: Cardiac output post workout

Click here if you want to buy thunder bands: https://rbt.infusionsoft.com/go/bd/kevinm/

I personally think this style of training works best in conjunction with 2-3 days of strength training. Remember you are laying the foundation for future more advanced training methods. Without a solid foundation you are setting yourself up for potential injury and disappointment. When it comes to this type of training I personally like to use the following types of equipment.

  • Sleds
  • Ropes
  • Bands
  • Body weight
  • Jump rope
  • Medicine balls
  • Kettlebells
  • Jungle gyms at a park

 For additional information on cardiac output training I would recommend that you visit www.8weeksout.com

Good luck in your training.

“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: www.philly.com/philly/health/

22 July 11:35 am

When it comes to training, people like to debate about what is the best way to increase an athlete’s power and explosiveness. Some people believe Olympic lifting is the best tool to increase an athlete’s power output. Others believe CrossFit or kettlebell training are the most effective way at increasing an athlete’s power. We can argue this point all day long and the reality is I don’t believe that there is one single way to increase your power. However, I do believe that there is a very effective tool for athletes to use when it comes to increasing power output and that tool is a medicine ball.

Most coaches know that in order to increase power a lot of factors must go into the equation. Here are just a few of the things that we need to do in order to increase power output:

  • Increase your force into the ground.
  • Increase total body strength.
  • Increase the speed of movement.
  • Ensure proper alignment while we train.
  • Focus on ways to properly decelerate our body.
  • Maintain proper breathing patterns.
  • The ability to stabilize under load.

As much as I like Olympic lifting and kettlebell training, I believe the best tool for teaching power output  at the beginning of a training program is to use a medicine ball. A few reasons why I prefer to use a medicine ball at the beginning of an athlete’s training program are:

  • For most people throwing an object comes natural.
  • It’s fun. People like to throw things and this gives them the license to throw an object as hard as possible once they have good form.
  • It’s safe. Instead of lifting a weight over your head with the fear of dropping it on your head a medicine ball is a great tool to teach the mechanics of several more advanced lifts.
  • You can take the medicine ball anywhere and train on your own.
  • With this one tool I can work on speed, power, deceleration, change of direction, endurance, proprioception and mobility.

These are just a few examples of why I like to use medicine balls in a training program. The reality is a number of elite athlete’s use these in their everyday training program. As I stated above, I use this at the beginning of a training program with new athletes, however, elite athletes use these daily for incredible results.

When it comes to training with medicine balls there are so many exercises to choose from. You are only limited by your imagination. Below are five exercise video clips that I have put together for you to review. As always ensure that you use proper form and start slow. If you have any pain (shoulder, back, etc.) back off of these exercises and consult with a medical professional.

Medicine ball introduction

Medicine ball squat to overhead throw-tutorial

Lateral lunge to shotput-tutorial

Skate hop continous w/ medicine ball throw-tutorial

Crow hop w/ med ball throw-tutorial

Regardless of your sport medicine ball training is a fantastic way to increase your power. Athletes from every sport can benefit from the rotational power as well as well the increase in aerobic output that they will see from this type of training. If you have kids this is a great way to slowly introduce them to the world of training. I guarantee that if you start slow and use a very light medicine ball kids will enjoy this type of training. Adults, if you are looking to drop a few pounds or increase your running speed implement medicine ball training into your routine.

Enjoy!

Have a question for Union strength coach Kevin Miller? Leave it in the comments below.

13 May 11:15 am

 

When it comes to training one of the hardest things for people to decide on is what exercises should they include in their program. For example, if you do a search on the internet for exercises for fat loss you will come across thousands of videos. Some of these coaches may guarantee that if you do their program you will see results over night, while others may stress the importance of starting with the basics and progressing to more advanced exercises. This week I have put together ten exercises that depending on your fitness level you can start today.

I have broken down the exercises into two categories for you to choose from.

Group one is for beginners. It’s very common for people to be confused as to where to start when it comes to strength training. The five beginner exercises that I have included will ensure that you are working on a solid foundation for you to build upon. The key to performing these exercises is to start slow and always focus on proper form. As a coach I always stress the importance of mastering the basics so if you are new to training start with the beginner series.

The second set of exercises (group 2) is geared more towards intermediate lifters. These five exercises are perfect if you have built a solid foundation and have already mastered the five beginner exercises. These exercises can help improve your overall power, endurance, speed, strength and mobility. As I stated above, it’s critical that you use perfect form when performing these exercises and if you experience any pain you should stop immediately.

Before I share these videos in order for you to view each one you must click on the link and you will be taken to a separate webpage. It’s there where you can view each clip. Underneath each exercise I have included a coaching cue that will help you when you perform the exercise.  These are the same cues that I give to the athletes that I work with.

Let’s get started!

Five Beginner Exercises

1.       Push up (regular)

Coaching cue: Maintain a flat back, chin tucked and keep your elbows in.

2.       Front plank

Coaching cue: Maintain a flat back, squeeze your glutes and the weight is on your forearms not your elbows.

3.       Bilateral hip hinge w/ PVC

Coaching cue:  Place the PVC so it is in contact with your head, upper back and lower back as you “hinge” at your hips. Do not round your back.

Note: This looks like a simple exercise but most people are unable to do this exercise correctly. If you are able to learn this movement properly this will open up so many opportunities in terms of strength training.

4.       Body weight squat

Coaching cue: Drive your knees out, sit your hips back, chest up and chin tucked. Also, brace your abdominals as you lower down and exhale at the top while you squeeze your glutes at the top.

5.       Supine glute bridge two legs

Coaching cue: Drive your heels through the ground as you rise up and squeeze your glutes.

Note: If you have a job where you sit most of the day this should be an exercise that you do daily. This exercise will build a strong foundation for future exercises.

Five Intermediate Exercises

1.       Stability ball roll outs

Coaching cue: Lead with your hips and keep your back flat.

2.       Trap bar deadlift (side view)

Coaching cue: Keep your chin tucked and drive with your legs as you stand up.

3.       One arm split stance DB row

Coaching cue: Keep your feet pointed straight ahead and your back flat.

4.       KB goblet squat

Coaching cue: Push your knees out, brace your abdominals and keep your chest up.

5.       KB Swing-Countdown (10-2-10)

Coaching cue: Hinge at your hips, keep your chin tucked and drive with your hips.

Note: If you are new to kettle bells than start slow wit this one. Instead of 10 reps start with five.  This is a lot harder than it looks. Do not let your back round during this movement.

When it comes to training, there are hundreds of exercises to choose from. There are several great coaches who are getting fantastic results with their athletes and clients. The ten exercises should be used as a guideline to help you get started.  Remember achieving optimal health is a way of life. Listen to your body and be smart with your training.

Good luck!

Have a question for strength coach Kevin Miller? Leave question in the comments portion below.

15 April 11:32 am

 

As a society, we want information fast.  Given all the technology at our fingertips we expect to see instant results. When it comes to your health and fitness I’m sorry to say that it takes time to see results. A good hard workout does not get you in great shape. What gets you in “shape” is a well thought out program and plan done consistently over time. With that being said there are some ways you can help jump start you fitness plan.

Below are five things that you can do this week that will get you headed in the right direction and improve the way you feel.

1. Get quality sleep:  I tell people all the time one of the best things that you can do for your health as well as your body composition is to get quality sleep. What does this mean? Get into a routine where from Sunday until Thursday night you fall asleep every night around the same time. Why is this important? Because when we sleep our body produces growth hormone, which allows us to recover and repair damage that we have done. Over time the better sleep patterns we have the better our body will be able to recover. I would recommend that you strive for 7-8 hours each night.

2. Get some vitamin D: In the book "Athletes Faster, Quicker, Stronger with Vitamin D" the author John Cannell states, “As things stand today, more than three-fourths of all Americans are vitamin D-deficient”.  The reason that having adequate levels of vitamin D is important is that it has been shown to reduce your chances of getting certain cancers, reduces stress fractures and may increase your reaction time.  An interesting fact stated in his book says that 90 percent of vitamin D comes from the sun. Now, I know people are going to say that the sun “causes cancer”.  I’m not ready to say that we should not use sun-screen, however, I believe that 10-15 minutes of daily exposure to sun is very beneficial to our body. If you are afraid of exposure to the sun then I would recommend a good quality supplement because if you think you are getting your vitamin D from the milk you drink, think again. Dr. Loren Cordain author of the book The Paleo Answer states that you would need to drink about twenty (20) eight ounce glasses of fortified milk each day to meet the daily requirement of vitamin D (2000 IU’s).

3. Lift weights:  What’s wrong with being strong? For some reason a lot of people just want to ‘tone’ their muscles. Okay, so you want to tone but you don’t want to get strong? Are you afraid of getting too big and too fast from lifting? I’m sorry to tell you that if you are afraid of getting ‘big and bulky’ from lifting it simply will not happen (Most of us who train regularly wish it were that easy). What will happen by starting a lifting program is that you will increase lean muscle mass, improve bone density, as well as rev up your metabolism.  Implementing compound movements (i.e. front squats, deadlifts, kettlebell movements as well as body weight movements) will leave you feeling refreshed and stronger. So, my advice to you is to hit the weights. However, like anything follow the proper progressions and start slow.

4. Shop the perimeter of the store: When you walk into a food store do you feel overwhelmed? Do you look around and say to yourself where do I start? Here is a tip that I am sure that you have heard. If you spend 90 percent of the time on the outside of the store in the produce, fish, meat and dairy sections you will be well on your way to feeling better. Here is where we find fresh foods that are loaded with vitamins and minerals.  At the checkout counter you should be walking to your car with more clear bags than boxes. Whenever possible purchase the best food that you can afford. If that means organic and grass fed, then fantastic. If you are on a tight budget then look for the freshest food that you can afford.

5. Improve your breathing patterns: As we get older we tend to lose our mobility. We often feel tight and stiff from sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours. If you have a job that requires you to spend 3-4 hours at a time in a car, I would be willing to bet that you have back and/or neck pain. Would you believe me if I told you that by improving the way you breath, you could potentially reduce your pain and increase your mobility? I was very fortunate to take a course by the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) last November at Endeavor Sports Performance and one of the big take home messages from the course was that by implementing diaphragmatic breathing patterns you may be able to increase your mobility, reduce stress and potentially reduce pain. Up until that seminar I always knew that breathing when you run or lift weights was important, but I never realized how big of an effect that diaphragmatic breathing can have on an athlete or a person in pain.  A simple drill to do each day is to take in 10 deep breaths. Inhale through your nose (your belly and sides should expand) and then exhale through your mouth. Try doing this after a workout to speed up your recovery process.

The five items listed above if implemented correctly can kick start your training program. Remember, one workout does not get you in shape. Optimal health is about being consistent with good habits as well as having a balanced plan in place.

Have a question for strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller? Leave a message in the comments below.