Blog

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

04 October 4:36 pm

In this edition of my blog, I am going to look back on the regular season and the best highlights of my team -- and some of my own.

I am going to talk also of the playoffs push for our last for games of the regular season.

It has been a long season and we are now in the last two months of it and it is all very close in the standings.

But let’s start from the beginning. First home opener at PPL Park and my comeback in this beautiful stadium playing in my favorite jersey. I could not have dreamed of a better scenario than scoring the opening goal in my first game. This moment will be always in my memory because it was a beautiful feeling that I missed the previous year.

We started the season with a loss at home but got back on track right away with our first win in Colorado. Nobody was betting on us to have a great season and make the playoffs this year after losing our home opener against Sporting Kansas City but I think after winning this away game, lots of people were probably surprised and it gave us lots of positve energy to continue playing this way. In my experience, the way your team kicks off the new season always points to how well you do during the course of it, and after three games we had two wins and just one loss.

During the whole season , we always stayed in the top five of MLS' Eastern Conference standings, which as you know are the spots for the playoffs. And what helped us doing this was to be consistent. We had our best result of the year in the month of June. We were undefeated; in four matches we amassed two wins and two ties. One of those wins was against our big rival the New York Red Bulls.

It was a long time since the Union had beaten New York. It was a great game and we beat them, 3-0. I was very happy after this game, of course because of the win but also because I provided the assist on the last goal by Antoine Hoppenot. Antoine sits next to me in the locker room and is a personal friend of mine.  

To see him score his first home goal and be able to give him the assist was fantastic.

This season did not always go the way we wanted, and between the middle of August to the middle of September our results were not the best and we didn't get lots of points. For the first time we lost two games in a row, first in San Jose and the following weekend at home against Houston. Those unfortunate results put us in a bad position and out of the playoffs position.

After the Houston game, the team had a weekend off to recharge our batteries and start the push to finish strong in these last games of the regular season.

And the first of those five games was away in Kansas City. Since our last two bad performances, nobody pictured us winning this game. But all of us in the team knew that we were capable of beating Kansas City on their home field. If we wanted to be a part of the playoffs we needed a positive result here. And that's what we did. We won 1-0. This result put us in the playoff but it is not over yet. There is still a long way to go.

This next home game against Toronto is huge. And after that we are going to D.C. United and Montreal and then the rubber match as it's called at PPL Park on Oct. 26 against Kansas City -- again.

We are going all your support for this final sprint to the playoffs. I know I want to make it and say I helped the Philadelphia Union qualify for the second time.

Talk to you all soon...hopefully at playoff time.

Merci Beaucoup

Sebastien Le Toux, No. 11

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 

24 September 9:19 am

Coming off a home win against D.C. United, we traveled to New York. It is our last meeting with the Red Bulls in the regular season and we needed a great performance against a direct opponent for the playoffs. I thought we had one of our best collective performances on defense against one of the best teams in the league. The final score was 0-0. I had a good opportunity in the second half. I received a loose ball in the air, took a good first touch on top of the box and shot from distance. The ball smashed the crossbar but didn't go in. It was our best chance but unfortunately we share the points at the end.

The next weekend we were again on the road. This time we played in New England. We played a very poor first half and New England was in leading, 1-0. We attacked much stronger the second half and quickly tied the game with a goal from Danny Cruz. This goal gave us more energy to continue to attack and after a shot from Sheanon Williams who hit the post, the ball came back right at my shin and I scored. Unfortunately, I was called offside by a foot. After my goal was called back, Conor Casey scored another one. He got to a loose ball in the box after the goalkeeper and their defender collided and found the net. Surprisingly the referee whistled for a foul on the goalkeeper and didn't allow the goal, which in my opinion was totally a good goal.

This wrong call was the turning point of this game and New England took advantage of our team frustration to score few goals. Final score 5-1, this was our worst result of the season.

Back home against Montreal. It's our second meeting versus the Impact. We lost the first 5-3 earlier in the season so everybody was hoping for lots of goals. But the opposite happened, and the game ended 0-0. We had some good combinations offensively but didn't find the net. The highlight of this game for me, was when the Montreal defender, Hassoun Camara, elbowed me in the face 10 minutes into the game. It is the first time that this happen to me, and I was close to getting a concussion, but luckily for me just my jaw and teeth were touched. I remained in the game but felt sore for few days.

Next game was our last long road trip to the west coast in San Jose. It's never easy to play far away from home with three hours difference but we needed to get points here. We didn't get off to the best start and the Earthquakes took the lead early, courtesy of former Union player Shea Salinas. We didn't have much opportunity in the first half but came back more offensive in the second half. Shortly after the half, San Jose midfielder Baca received a red card for a hard tackle. This call helped us to get more opportunities to score but the woodwork was not our friend this game. Twice we hit the post, first with an effort by Keon Daniel and after a header from Sheanon Williams. San Jose stayed strong defensively and we could not score and lost this game.

This was a disappointing result and we needed a big response at home against Houston Dynamo.

We played a very good first half, answering the physical plays form Houston who decided to make this game ugly. But in the first half we should have been up, 1-0. Keon Daniel took a fantastic free kick which went straight into the net, but the referee deemed there to have been a foul on the Houston goalkeeper. It's not the first time this season that we had a goal called back and it changed this game again. Houston scored a header in the second half, off of a free kick. We were unable to respond and lost this very important game.

We are not in the best position right now, tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference. Everything is still possible, but we need a big reaction in the final five games of the regular season to make the playoffs.

I hope I will give you some great news in my next blog.

Thanks for following me and supporting the team.

Merci beaucoup !!

Sebastien Le Toux No. 11

16 September 3:22 pm

Have you ever suffered a serious knee injury? If so, what steps are you currently taking to ensure that you reduce your chances of hurting that same knee again? The unfortunate part of training and competing in sports is that injuries are a part of the game. Even athletes with the best training program suffer season ending injuries..  A hot topic over the past few years has been knee injuries and in particular ACL injuries. This year alone it’s estimated that 100,000 people will suffer an ACL tear with 30,000 of these people being high school athletes. We often hear how females are six to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury when compared to male athletes. Having worked with several high school female athletes,  I definitely agree that they are at a higher risk due to their lack of stability as well as their overall strength when compared to male athletes. However, I think everyone should make it a point to implement their own program to ensure that they REDUCE their chances of suffering a knee injury.

I stress the word reduce because often time’s coaches and trainers tell players that they need to implement an ACL prevention program. Personally I don’t like to use that phrase because unfortunately there is no way that you can prevent an injury but you can greatly reduce the chances of suffering a season ending ACL injury with a solid training program. I believe Coach Mike Boyle said it best when he said that ACL reduction is simply “good training”. By this what I believe he meant was that a solid year round program is the best medicine for reducing your chances of injury.

When it comes to reducing your chances of suffering an ACL injury here are a few key points that I believe need to be addressed in a solid training program.  The tips and videos below do not cover everything when it comes to ACL reduction but if you follow some of these tips you will see good results in your training and more importantly your performance on the field, court or track.

1. Get an assessment from a qualified coach

I would recommend before you start a training program that you get an assessment to see if there are any exercises that you should not be doing. There are many assessments to choose from. Here are a couple that I recommend that you check out:

FMS (Functional Movement Screen)

PRI (Postural Restoration Institute)

If you live near Sewell, New Jersey I would check out endeavorfit.com for your assessment.  Kevin Neeld and his staff are excellent when it comes to doing assessments.

2. Start every training program with a good warm-up

A solid warm up should include the following:

Do your best to train in a neutral (pelvis) state. I learned these exercises from PRI (posturalrestorationinstitute.com). 

Foam Rolling and movement

Mobility work for your ankles, hips and shoulder

Linear and lateral movements that progressively get faster as you progress the warm-up.

Anterior core training

A good warm-up could be accomplished in as little as eight to ten minutes if done properly. What I tell the athletes and weekend warriors that I work with is that this part of the program sets the stage for the training session. If you have been sitting at a desk all day long and then drive to the gym and jump into a “metabolic class/workout” without a proper warm-up you’re asking for trouble. Spend ten minutes warming up to reduce your chances of suffering a knee injury.

3.  Learn to land and decelerate properly.

Most non-contact knee injuries happen when we stop rather than when we “take off” (Here is a video of a high school girl jumping at her assessment. Watch as she lands and notice her lack of stability as well as her shin angle when landing (Poor landing mechanics-knee).  Before you start any advanced plyometric drills (i.e. repeat box jumps, single leg hurdle hips) I would recommend that you learn to land and stop properly.  Here are three exercises that I teach early on in a training program.

It is very important that you learn to absorb force when jumping and landing. The coaching cues that I use for line hops and box jumps are “land soft” and “stick the landing”.

4.  Improve your overall strength

Most people would see tremendous benefits in their performance by simply implementing weights/bands into their program. I hear it all the time from athletes as well as weekend warriors the reasons why they can’t implement strength training into their program. Excuses like “it makes me sore” or “I don’t have the time because I am playing five travel games this weekend (that’s a problem in of itself and I will talk about in a future blog). I’m sorry I am not buying any of these excuses. Strength training for the average person who is looking to get strong and reduce their chances of knee injuries does not need to be complicated. A solid strength program will include single leg training as well as bilateral lower body movements and upper body movements. For someone looking to start a strength training program here are a few exercises that would lay the foundation for a balanced and strong body.

Knee injuries can change your career in an instant. Even if you have no intentions of ever playing a sport again I would highly recommend that you implement some of the strategies mentioned above. If you are a high school coach or athlete I want to challenge you to take a look at your current training program and see if there are any “holes” in your system.  A key point to remember is that you have to go through the proper exercise progressions when training. Personally, I am always looking for ways to make my programs better for the athlete’s that I work with. I know I can improve and most good coaches are always looking to get better results for their clients.  I challenge you to take your training to the next level and give yourself the best chance to stay injury free.

Good luck!

04 September 2:14 pm

After a good win at home the week before against Chivas USA, we were going to play another game at home against the Portland Timbers. The Timbers are a very good team this year. They had only lost two games before coming to PPL Park, so we wanted to give them their third loss. In what was a hot and humid night, the score stayed at 0-0. We got some chances to score but their goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made lots of big saves, and kept us off the scoring sheet for this game. It was still a good point for us to take and continue to move forward in the standings.

Next was a game that I had circled on my calendar this year. We faced up against the Vancouver Whitecaps, my old team from last year. I was very happy to travel back there for the first time since I got traded to the New York Red Bulls. During my time there I met lots of nice people, and it was nice to see them again. But what’s even nicer is to win against your old team inside their stadium. And that’s what I wanted to do the most coming into this game.

The game started very fast and in the first 10 minutes it was pretty physical. My ex-teammate and friend, Jordan Harvey, tackled me a few times and made me remember that I don't like to fall on turf fields. A red card was given to Whitecaps player Jun Marques Davidson for a head butt on Keon Daniel. I was very close to the play, and after the incident I quickly grabbed Keon before he could retaliate and kept him away from all the Whitecaps players. This red card helped us during the rest of the game. With one man up, we kept the ball very well, making the opposite team run a lot. In the last 25 minutes of the game, Coach decided to put Antoine Hoppenot and Aaron Wheeler into the game. This gave us fresh legs to attack and at the 85th minute, Hoppenot started a rush with the ball from the midfield, did a one-two with Wheeler and blasted a left-footed shot into the net. His goal gave us the win, 1-0, and made the trip even sweeter. It was another great performance away from home for everyone.

The following weekend we were back at home to face the Chicago Fire. The Fire changed a lot since we played them few months ago, adding lots of talented players such as Mike Magee and my ex-teammate Bakary Soumare. We started this game very sleepy, and after 10 minutes, Chicago took the lead, 1-0. This goal made us wake up and play better. We came back in the second half with more desire and created opportunities to score.

At the 60th minute, I took a free kick on the right side of the field. I tried to deliver a strong ball in the six-yard box, and Sheanon Williams met my cross and scored a goal in a fantastic acrobatic way. This goal put us back in this game and with the help of our fans, I felt that we could win this game. But Chicago continued to give us problems, and after a loose ball in the midfield, they counterattacked and Magee scored in the 75th minute. This goal really took us by surprise, because we were putting lots of pressure on them and were close to scoring our second goal. But their goal really cut our legs out from under us and we were unable to respond and tie the game. This was our first loss at PPL Park in a while, and we knew that we had a quick turnaround for the next home game against D.C. United. A win was the only thing we thought about during the preparation for this game.

The day after the Chicago game I was back at PPL Park for the Le Toux Sweepstakes with PPL EnergyPlus®.I met lots of incredible kids and we all played games and worked on our technical ability on the field of PPL Park.It was a gorgeous day and I had lots of fun doing it. Playing with those kids that day made me remember how lucky I am to be a professional soccer player, and the fact that I love sharing this with them. I try to be a good example.

The D.C. United game was a must-win for us to stay on top of the standings and in playoff contention. This team had nothing to lose, so it was pretty hard to play against them at the beginning of the game. It took us a few minutes to be totally in this game, but at the 35th minute, Sheanon Williams received the ball on the right side and put in an early cross. I was on the top of the box, and the ball came in my direction. I sprinted a few steps to beat my defender, flicked the ball and it went right at Conor Casey. He took a great touch and scored, 1-0 Union.

Our second goal took a while, but at the 75th minute, I passed the ball to Fabinho on the left side, and with his first touch he crossed the ball to the second post. Conor was at the end of it again, and hit a nice volley in the back of the net. We practiced this action a lot with Fabinho during the week and I am glad it paid off. We won 2-0 and I added my 11th and 12th assists of the year. I am very glad to participate in the goals my team scored.

San Jose is next, but we have lots of big games coming up against Eastern Conference teams. Hopefully, in my next blog post, I will have lots of good results to report on.

Talk to you soon.

Merci beaucoup,

Sebastien Le Toux, No. 11

PPL EnergyPlus, LLC is an unregulated subsidiary of PPL Corporation. PPL EnergyPlus is not the same company as PPL Electric Utilities. The prices of PPL EnergyPlus are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. You do not have to buy PPL EnergyPlus electricity or other products in order to receive the same quality regulated services from PPL Electric Utilities.

 

04 September 6:43 am

I recently gave a survey to clients that I have trained in the past asking them what are some of the biggest challenges they face when it comes to sticking to a training plan. The number one reason why people fail to stick to a plan, according to this survey, was their inability to find the time to exercise. After reviewing the results I can’t say that I was surprised. Our lives are busy. Between parenthood, work, school, social obligations as well as the stressors of daily life it can be difficult to find the time to fit in training.

This week I would like to share with you one of my favorite ways to train if you are pressed for time. This type of training is fantastic for both athletes as well as people looking to lose some fat. The type of training I am talking about is resistance band training. I was introduced to this type of training a few years ago from Dave Schmitz of Resistancebandtraining.com  

As a parent of three children I have limited time to train so I was looking for some new ideas when it came to my own training. I enjoy lifting weights as well as running but I was looking for something that could offer both the benefits of strength training as well as provide a metabolic training effect for me.  That is when I came across some videos showing the benefits of resistance band training. After watching several videos from Dave I decided to purchase my own set of bands to give this type of workout a try.

After a couple of workouts I was instantly drawn to this type of training. I immediately saw the endless ways that you could incorporate resistance band training into your own program. I also began to feel more athletic with this type of training.  The bands that I was using are not your ordinary bands that you see at the gym with plastic handles and thin tubing. These bands are of the highest quality and they offer a training effect that, if you have never used them, will challenge even the best of athletes.

After using the bands for a few weeks I realized that this type of training offers the following benefits. Click the link below to watch the videos for each exercise:

1. The benefits of strength training without having to go to the gym every day.

2. The ability to train at your house, track or park.

Video: Band assisted push up

3. You can perform multi joint strength training movements with just one band.

Video: Band squat and row

4.  Fantastic tool for total body power training.

Video: Band front squat

5. Bands offer several ways to incorporate metabolic training into your program.

Video: Band Mt Climber

6. Easy on the joints.

7. Instead of sitting down on a piece of equipment you can perform exercises while standing which will force you to learn to stabilize and move more efficiently.

Video: Band chest press (split stance)

8. A wonderful tool to teach young kids (as well as adults) to learn to decelerate and then accelerate properly.

Video: Band lateral step and decelerate

9. Offers the best way to do pull-ups if you are unable to currently do pull-ups. Video link:

Video: Band pull ups

10. Tremendous tool to use if you need to work on your mobility and flexibility.

Video: Band single leg lowering

Resistance band training offers so many benefits to both athletes as well as weekend warriors. However, like any form of training it’s a “tool in your tool box”. I still love lifting weight as well as doing other types of training but bands offer a nice change of pace. If you are pressed for time adding resistance bands into your training can offer some unique challenges to your training. If you are just getting started I would recommend that your start off with the single band training package that will provide you with four bands for $52.00 (Click here to purchase the bands: https://rbt.infusionsoft.com/go/bd/kevinm/).

Good luck with your training and if you have any questions or comments feel free to send me an e-mail at kmiller@philadelphiaunion.com

“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: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/

27 August 9:36 am

If you were to ask most people what are some of the key factors that determine whether or not their body will respond to their particular type of training you will often get several answers. The majority of individuals would we say that you need to focus on the following:

  • Strength training
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Aerobic training
  • Nutrition
  • High intensity intervals
  • Supplements

I am sure we could add a few more items to the list above but you get my point. I agree that the items that are mentioned above do play a pivotal role in your training as well as your ability to improve your health and transform your body.

However, one of the key areas that is often overlooked by most athletes as well as people looking for peak health is RECOVERY. Over the past couple of years there has been a greater emphasis among coaches to find the best recovery techniques for their athletes.  For years athletes have implemented recovery techniques like cold plunges or contrast baths. Runners as well as multisport athletes have reaped the benefits of receiving post workout massages by skilled therapists.

In my opinion, having a strategy that addresses your recovery for every session is just as critical as the workout itself.  When we are in the gym we are imposing a stress (i.e. weights, running, etc.) on our body in an effort to change the way we look or feel. Once we leave the gym or finish the workout we often neglect our recovery because “we have to get to work” or “I don’t have time to stretch because I need to get to a meeting”.  All of us are guilty of this and at times it’s okay to allow this to happen however, if you really want to maximize your results it’s time to implement a recovery plan.

Here are a few of my favorite recovery strategies for both athletes as well as weekend warriors.

Post workout breathing: Instead of using every minute of your workout to spin on a bike or run that last interval cut your workout short by five minutes and perform 10-15 deep diaphragmatic breaths at the end of your workout. The goal here is to go from a sympathetic state (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state before you jump in your car to head home. By doing this simple task you will kick start your recovery process and allow your body to return to homeostasis.

Video: Supine breathing /alligator breaths

Have a post workout drink/smoothie: This is a topic that continues to be debated by coaches and athletes. Does drinking a protein shake immediately after a workout speed up the recovery process? For me, I believe the benefits of having a quality protein and carbohydrate shake after a workout (10-20 minutes post workout) does have benefits in terms of carbohydrate recovery as well as hydration. I also believe it has psychological benefits as well. A simple way to implement this is to either make the smoothie the morning of the workout or make one the night before and freeze it if you prefer to have it cold. Either way the smoothie is a much better option than ice coffee and a muffin on the ride home.

Massages: I am big believer in manual therapy. If you listen to experts like Patrick Ward (www.optimumsportsperformance.com) he will tell you that tissue quality is critical to recovery and performance. If you have ever had a massage you know that there are several different kinds to choose from. For starters, I would recommend that you find a skilled manual therapist who can determine what state your nervous system is in (i.e. sympathetic or parasympathetic) and decide what type of treatment is best for you.  Most professional athletes have the ability to get a massage 2-3 times per week. If you are on a budget, like most people, try and block out a massage once a month if possible. Another good option is to contact a local massage school and ask if their students have to do clinical hours. This option can be a great way to get a massage once a week.

Epsom salt baths: When I tell most adults about this the first thing they say is “My grandmother use to tell me to do this”. The reason your grandmom knew about this is because chances are she was a lot healthier than we are right now and she knew the benefits from a warm Epsom salt bath. The benefits we receive from this are an increase in magnesium (this is good since most of us are deficient) as well as a calming effect to our body. A great time to implement this strategy is before you plan to go to bed. This will help you relax and I can almost guarantee that you will have a great night’s sleep by implementing this simple strategy.

Mobility circuit: The majority of men reading this could benefit tremendously from this tip. Instead of heading to the gym and jumping on the treadmill for 45 minutes I want you to focus on a total body mobility program. Chances are if you sit all day at a desk you have back as well as neck pain. I can also guarantee that your hamstrings feel tight all the time. A good mobility circuit can take as little as 10-15 minutes. Here is a sample routine

Warm up with 10 deep diaphragmatic breaths (prone or supine)

Performing a good mobility circuit is a great way to speed up the recovery process as well as reduce DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness).

Meditation: If you had told me a couple of years ago that meditation could help you speed up your recovery I probably would have laughed at you. However, having done a better job of being open to new ideas and educating myself, I now believe that mediation can have a big impact on your ability to recover. Most of us are always on alert. Our minds are always racing from one idea to the next (myself included). In her book Mind Over Medicine, author Lissa Rankin M.D is quoted as saying “When our beliefs are hopeful and optimistic, the mind releases chemicals that put the body in a state of physiological rest, controlled primarily by the parasympathetic nervous system, and in this state of rest, the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms are free to get to work fixing what’s broken in the body”.  If you speak to an expert on mediation I am sure that his/her idea of mediation may be different than mine. I am new to the process and like anything it takes time to master this type of treatment. What I would recommend is start with 1-2 minute segments both in the morning as well as the evening before bed. Do your best to focus on your breathing and try clear your head of any negative thoughts. At first this will be very hard to do but as you become more comfortable with your breathing you will start to see the benefits and you can than increase the time spent meditating.  The best time in my opinion to do this is first thing in the morning before your day gets too hectic.

A final point to remember is that your body is very smart. It will adapt to the stress placed upon it. So, you need to switch up your recovery techniques every couple of weeks. If you get a massage every day using the same technique although it will feel good it may start to lose some of its benefits. I always recommend that you cycle through your favorite techniques every couple of weeksI realize that some people will read this and say “Recovery is for wimps, all you need to do is work harder”.  I honestly use to think that as well, however, trust me when I tell you that having that mindset was one of the worse decisions I ever made. Your body will eventually shut down and if this happens you may eventually find yourself in a deep hole and your chances of injury and illness skyrocket. Be smart with your training. A key phrase that I live by now is “Train hard when your body is ready and rest hard so you can reap the benefits of your hard work.”

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: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/

19 August 12:39 pm

When it comes to your training you should always be looking to finds ways to improve.  Many of us who train have a tendency to get stuck in the same old routine. We do the same exercises day in and day out and wonder why we stop seeing results. This week I want to share with you TEN WAYS that you can improve your training.

1. GET TO SLEEP BY 10:30

When I ask most people when they fall asleep the majority of people respond by telling me they are unable to fall asleep before midnight.  It’s very common for people to tell me that they are unable to fall asleep before 2 a.m. This is a growing problem for a lot of people today. Research has shown that when we sleep our body begins the process of repairing itself. If we are unable to get an adequate night’s sleep how can we expect to feel alert and energize for the next day?

2. FOCUS ON POST WORKOUT RECOVERY

One of the easiest ways in my opinion to improve your overall training as well as your body composition is to put an emphasis on your post workout nutrition. A simple way to make this a part of your training plan is to have a protein smoothie already made for when you finish your training session. You can either bring it with you to the gym (freeze it before you come) or have one made when you get home. Whatever you decide adding some protein, carbohydrates and fat to your post workout nutrition will give you a leg up on your competition. I would recommend that you try and drink your shake within 15-30 minutes of completing your workout.

3. GET A TRAINING PARTNER

Plain and simple, people train harder if they are working out with someone.  Find someone (ideally a friend, coworker or neighbor) who is looking to get in shape and is willing to train with you. Talk about your goals together and make a commitment to train with one another a few days a week. By doing this you will feel a stronger commitment to your training and someone will hold you accountable to your program. Other options include hiring a personal trainer or working out with a small group (i.e. semi-private training)

4. ADD SOME WEIGHT TO THE BAR

If you are currently lifting weights than you are one step ahead of a lot of other people who are missing out on one of the best ways to change your body.  However, I would be willing to bet that the majority of people who are lifting weights right now are happy with the weight they have on the bar. Instead of being satisfied with the weight on the bar, I challenge you to increase the weight on some of your big lifts (i.e. front squat, bench press, overhead press, etc.) by 5 lbs. this week. The following week shoot for 10 pounds. It goes without saying that you should always focus on good form, however, increasing the weight in small increments is a great way to add some strength as well as some muscle.

5. DO A PROPER WARM UP BEFORE EVERY TRAINING SESSION

I see it all the time. I watch people walk into the gym sit down on the peck deck machine  or flat bench and start their chest workout. No warm up just straight into their routine. If there is one thing that I am adamant about it is making sure that all of my athletes and clients perform a proper warm up. The excuse that most people give is “I don’t have time”. I look at them and say a good warm-up can be completed in as little as 5 to 10 minutes if you do it correctly. The warm-up sets the tone for the training session. Ideally I like to see the following categories covered in a warm-up:

  • Alignment (neutral pelvis)
  • Proper breathing

Video: Supine breathing /alligator breaths

  • Foam rolling
  • Movement

 6. ELIMINATE PROCESSED FOOD THIS WEEK

One of the easiest ways to feel better with in and out of the gym is to reduce the amount of processed food that you consume on a daily basis. I am going to challenge you this week to eliminate all processed food this week. I am willing to bet that if you do this you will see an increase in your overall energy as well as your ability to recover from one workout to another.

7. GO FOR A LONG WALK OUTSIDE

One of the best ways to relieve stress as well as improve your cardiac output is to go for a long brisk walk. Ditch the cell phone and headphones and get outside. The sun on your face as well as the fresh air will do wonders for your body.

8. MAKE A POWER SMOOTHIE

Most smoothies you buy at a smoothie store are loaded with sugar as well as fruit substitutes. Instead of wasting your money on high sugar/low protein smoothie try this recipe instead:

  • ½  banana
  • 1 cup of strawberries
  • ¼ cup of beets
  • ½ cup of kale
  • ¼ cup of frozen mangos
  • 1 tbsp. of melted coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. of spirulina (This can be purchased at most health food stores)
  • 5-6 ice cubes
  • Blend for 30-45 seconds and drink up

9. FOCUS ON YOUR HEALTH RATHER THAN WEIGHT LOSS

This week put away the scale and focus on improving your health.  Dropping 20 lbs. of weight does not automatically make you healthy.  Instead, focus on habits that you can sustain. Examples include getting quality sleep, eating a balanced diet as well as finding ways to manage your stress.

10. TRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE

All of us have an athletic side. As kids we use to run and jump; but as we grow older many of us have a tendency to lose our athleticism and ability to generate power.  Training like an athlete will automatically increase your power. Here are three exercises that you can do to help you feel like an athlete:

1. Box jumps - Start with a very low box if you have never done this before land soft.

Video: Box jumps

2. Medicine ball throws - I always recommend that you start with a light (2-4 lbs.) medicine ball.

Video: Lateral lunge to shotput-tutorial

3.  Transition runs -These runs are best done on a track or a turf field.  Start slow and progress.

Video: Shuffle to sprint

If your results have stalled and you want to jumpstart your fitness this month, try adding some of these options to your training plan. You don’t need to all of these recommendations at once. Start slow and progress. Remember proper form and progressions are critical when it comes to your training.

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

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.