Dry Needling and Acupuncture: What’s the Difference?​

If you are or have been a patient at Parabolic, chances are you have received dry needling or have seen one of our physical therapists utilize it as part of a patient treatment plan. Parabolic also offers acupuncture to promote a more well-rounded and holistic experience for our patients. A popular question asked by patients is “What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?” That is a loaded question where the answer is not always so cut and dry. Imagine a Venn diagram. Acupuncture is one circle and dry needling the other, with a shade of gray in the middle. There are elements of both within each other to some degree, especially when it comes to musculoskeletal problems. Dry needling is also called “trigger point dry needling” or “trigger point acupuncture” hence the potential for confusion, however they are not entirely synonymous. First and most, it’s important to mention when a licensed physical therapist performs dry needling they are by no means performing acupuncture, unless they also have a license in acupuncture with additional schooling and a separate license or degree. It may look the same from the outside view as similar needles are used in both practices. Nevertheless dry needling and acupuncture are two separate treatment approaches. Personally, I think one of the biggest differences between dry needling and acupuncture is the intention and the thought process behind the needling technique and needle placement. When a physical therapist performs dry needling, they are aiming to release a trigger point in a muscle, create a lesion in the tissue to improve blood flow, and promote healing. Dry needling can be very effective for releasing a deep trigger point where traditional manual therapy has trouble getting without causing discomfort to the patient. It is very beneficial for musculoskeletal problems, including tendonitis, myalgia and nerve pain. Dry needling targets the muscle, nerve, or tissue level and does not go beyond that. Acupuncture on the other hand is looking at the bigger picture in your body, deeper than the superficial muscle layer. Acupuncture is looking at the body through a much different lens. The intention of the acupuncturist is to address the meridians of the body to influence your Qi or “energy flow”, blood, and fluids. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg and there really is so much more to acupuncture than that. Acupuncture is just one part of Eastern medicine that has been around for thousands of years. Acupuncture has been known to treat a wide variety of ailments. It is not only useful for musculoskeletal problems, similar to dry needling, but can also help with digestive problems, infertility, allergies, and on the list goes. Acupuncturists also address trigger points that occur in what are called “tendinomuscular channels” that are separate from traditional meridians lines. In essence, a licensed acupuncturist can address trigger points for musculoskeletal pain, like the PT does with dry needling, in addition to also addressing other problems in the body. In short, when comparing dry needling to acupuncture it is helpful to think about dry needling addressing your local muscular layer whereas acupuncture is addressing you systemically. Both are very beneficial treatments and complement each other greatly during the rehabilitation process. A prescription is not required to receive acupuncture and it is covered under some insurance policies. New Jersey is a direct access state for physical therapy, meaning a prescription from an MD is not required. A prescription from an MD however is required for Medicare patients. It is under the discretion of your physical therapist to determine if dry needling would be beneficial for your condition. ​

How Giants' LB Devon Kennard shed injury-prone label in 3rd season​

CLIFTON -- After  during his first two seasons,  linebacker Devon Kennard devised a game plan last offseason. In addition to his work at the Giants' facility, Kennard visited  1-2 times per week during the season for massage therapy and physical therapy sessions. "It's part of the game plan I created for myself to make sure I was healthy and feeling my best throughout the whole year," Kennard said in an interview with NJ Advance Media on Monday after instructing some local  Draft hopefuls that are training at Parabolic. "I really believe in what they're doing in some of their PT stuff." The plan worked, as Kennard appeared in all 17 games this season. The only time the 2014 fifth-round pick even appeared on the injury report was Week 6 . The visits to Parabolic were part of a proactive approach to treating his body."In the past, something might linger and if it wasn't really hurting I'd just leave it alone or maybe I'd get a little treatment here or there," Kennard said. "But I learned to listen to my body. It's my third year and if anything was bothering me even the tiniest bit, let me get a little treatment on it. What's wrong with icing it down, getting it rubbed on, getting it acupunctured? I got a lot more aggressive about listening to my body and hearing what it was telling me."

AIM SMALL, MISS SMALL: HOW TO FOCUS YOUR IDENTITY TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS​

With the year’s official fresh start quickly approaching, carving out the time to goal set for the New Year is upon us. Consider goal setting through a lens of stamina. It’s easy to align stamina with a physical approach, but let’s take it a step further and recognize that stamina throughout the year to achieve your goals is built on habit. Generally, if you are lacking in your capacity for stamina, you tend to quit. You may have habituated yourself into quitting at that same time in different categories of life, such as, physical ability or weight loss, emotional relations, financial stability, educational attainment, etc. Now is a great time to think about and understand your personal values. What are your dreams? What is your personal mission statement? What type of person do you want to be? What do you think is realistic in achieving this week, month and year? To help sidestep deserting your stamina and to focus on not allowing goal setting fatigue to set in, here are some quick tips to turn your curiosity in improving yourself into your 2017 actually improved self.​ Identify the type of person you want to be and perform the behaviors and responsibilities of that identity.Choose the right goals that are important to you and add value to your life.Create a compelling vision of what that life may look like and how you’ll perceive yourself moving forward.Devise a plan that will help you navigate your destination point through a series of checks and balances that are challenging yet manageable.Stick to your plan, but stay focused on the behaviors of that identity and overall achievement outcome.Celebrate all types of wins—especially the small wins when you’re starting out—so you feel connected with your goals and desire to change.Regularly reassess your current mood, strengths, talents and abilities to help keep you motivated and in support of yourself to reach your goals. If you take the time to define the type of person you want to be, your goals will be more identity-based through behaviors of that identity rather than performance-based or appearance-based goals. For example, if you want to be a person who becomes stronger or faster, then you have to never miss a workout. Someone who never misses a workout and trains consistently for strength or speed will become stronger or faster eventually due to the nature of the process. More often than not, people write a list of the most important things they want to achieve within a year. Rather than that approach, I would recommend writing down that list and then crossing off the most important statement or goal, for the time being. This seems counterintuitive, but if you can complete the least emotionally driven task or goal, you build your own confidence and self-efficacy into your identity. Once you prove to yourself you can complete one of your goals and continue with it as it becomes a part of your character, you can then feel more armed to move onto your more emotionally charged goals. Take your personal values and personal mission statement and live it and breathe it daily. Become the type of person who you want to be and believe you are that person. Build those habits today and if you continue daily the results will come later.

A Rhythm to Coaching​

Introducing new movements to clients can be tricky. There are many pitfalls a coach can run into that can leave both the coach and, more importantly, the client feeling unsuccessful and frustrated. The main issue coaches tend to have is “over-coaching” a new movement. That is, pouring on the instruction until the client is either flailing hopelessly or paralyzed with confusion. The likelihood of this occurring increases if the exercise has many moving parts and transitions (i.e., chops, get-ups, and deadlifts), or if the particular client is not very coordinated in general. The main strategy I use in order to avoid an over-coaching situation is to wait for the client to settle into a rhythm with the new exercise before I intervene.  Let’s use a half-kneeling chop for example. There are numerous components a coach needs to consider: the position of the hips and thorax, center of gravity, lead foot placement, and the smooth execution of the movement—just to name a few. Obviously, this presents a challenge as there are many technical details that need to be conveyed to, and understood by, the client. Here’s a typical scenario set up:As the client performs his first few reps, his pelvis is going one way, his ribs are going the other way, his front foot is sloppy, and it’s anyone’s guess as to where his center of gravity is. On top of this, his execution of the chop action itself is all over the place. He’s pulling when he needs to be pushing, reaching instead of rowing, and performing the movement in two parts when it should be four. All of this coupled with the coach’s desire to have the client be successful with this exercise. Needless to say, the client’s cognitive efforts are probably not going toward thinking about his positioning, but rather toward the dynamic movement itself. “How am I doing this?”“Where is this top hand going?”“Am I supposed to be going down now?”“What the hell do you mean by ‘reach my arm long’?”   At this point, the client obviously doesn’t have a dynamic rhythm, his movement is at a point of instability, and he’s using the cognitive actions of his pre-frontal cortex to attempt to manage the instability—rather unsuccessfully. Now, it’s true that, at Parabolic, attention to sound biomechanics is vital, and position is often our primary point of emphasis. However, there are times when an exception is in order. In the example we’re talking about here, if position remains the leading concern, the client is probably going to get more confused and frustrated, and the coach is going to start wondering why he or she didn’t pursue a business degree.              So, here’s an alternative: work towards a rhythm first. Take the client’s hands and physically guide him through the exercise if need be. Break the movement into chunks and emphasize each part. Provide for him a sense of stability and confidence in the movement, as well as his ability to execute the pattern. This allows his system to self-organize and let areas of the brain, like the cerebellum, take control of the rhythmic, dynamic movement. His pre-frontal cortex is now open to receiving and processing coaching cues like “belt buckle to chin”, “exhale and bring these ribs down”, “front foot towards the middle”, or “drift your weight forward.” Ultimately, the decision of what to coach first is going to depend upon the coach, the client, and their relationship. However, considering the rhythm of the movement may not only help clients feel stable, confident, and successful, the rhythm also enables a coach to address other aspects of the movement more effectively.

3 Ways To Make Pushups More Challenging With No Equipment​

When it comes to bang for your buck exercises, it’s difficult to beat the pushup.  Nearly every client who walks through the doors of Parabolic will, at some point during his or her time with us, learn to execute the pushup with a high level of technical proficiency, and an understanding that it is as valuable a tool as there is in the quest for a bigger, stronger, healthier and more resilient upper body. The benefits of a well-executed pushup are numerous.  They include strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance throughout the entire upper body, as well as the ability to control and stabilize the thorax, which sets the foundation for scapular stability, mobility, and optimal shoulder function.  Additionally, the pushup engages serratus anterior and the entire anterior core, which allows us to inhibit the lats, paraspinals, and other posterior chain muscles that are often overused for respiration and movement and pull people into a sagittal plane extension dominance. While the conversation may go on in some circles as to the best ways to “strengthen” the rotator cuff and develop shoulder stability, the ability to move the posterior aspect of the ribcage back to the scapula so that the scapula can slide and glide through a full range of motion on a curved, congruent surface is critical to shoulder health.  The pushup is a fundamental horizontal reaching exercise that both teaches and challenges the individual’s ability to properly position the scapula on the thorax, then protract and retract the scapula in a movement that requires both strength and reflexive stability.  When it comes to building healthy shoulders, don’t overlook the importance of mastering the pushup, as it is the base upon which all other upper body pressing exercises and patterns are built.    In addition to being a high return on investment exercise, the pushup requires no equipment. It is perfect for busy individuals who are short on time, have to travel frequently, or lack equipment/access to a gym.   Learn The Intricacies of The Pushup Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ajqMFfWT78  Admittedly, there comes a time where the basic pushup alone is no longer a significant challenge to many of our clients.  Despite the fact that many people come to us and have to essentially relearn the pushup with proper mechanics, most active, healthy clients can perform pushups to our standard within a short time after learning the position and control we emphasize. Once an individual is proficient in the skill of the basic pushup without excessive compensation -- and once we have challenged their ability by adding volume -- we need to find ways to challenge the pattern further to drive the person to continue to adapt. Some might add weight in the form of a vest or chains.  Some might add a power component and perform plyometric or explosive pushups.  Others might even discard the pushup altogether, and move permanently to some sort of externally loaded pressing or reaching exercise like a floor press or bench press. While these are all viable options, there is another route—keep the pushup in the program, but challenge the individual’s stability and control.  This requires no extra equipment, and in most cases involves very simple alterations to the basic pushup that make it exponentially more challenging.   The goal of these pushup variations is to maintain respiration, a neutral alignment of the pelvis and ribcage, and full protraction of the scapula on a flexed ribcage in more complex and unstable positions -- as well as under conditions of fatigue.  When many people think of increasing the difficulty of an exercise, they consider only variables like weight, volume, velocity, etc.  Adding complexity once a basic pattern has been mastered is just as valuable a way to increase the difficulty of an exercise while continuing to develop the basic ability to control and sense position of one’s own body in space. These variations are a great way to challenge core and shoulder stability, and can be added to any workout where pushups would be performed.  However, my favorite place to use them is as accessory work after heavy lifting to get in some additional upper body volume with a focus on movement quality.  Push-Up + Breathing The pushup + breathing is often the first exercise I’ll go to after a client has shown the ability to execute the fundamental pushup for relatively high volumes without a breakdown in technique.  It involves performing a normal pushup, but instead of flowing continuously from one rep to the next, the top position is held for a full breath cycle.   This accomplishes two things:  First, it increases the time the individual is under tension by a large margin.  Spending longer at the top of each rep while holding an isometric reach will make it much more fatiguing than a regular pushup.   Second, it forces the individual to own the top position of his or her pushup and find an optimal position in which to breathe.  It just so happens that to get good breath – breath that expands the ribcage 360 degrees -- we need to align the pelvis and ribcage and inhale from a position of full exhalation.  The top of a pushup is a phenomenal place to do that. By holding the top position of each rep, we are creating an environment where the individual has to focus on protracting the scapula, a full exhale to draw the ribs down, in, and back, and then an inhale with active abdominals to try to expand the upper back.   This is a deceptively hard exercise, and challenges shoulder and anterior core stability to a far greater degree than a typical pushup.  In order to focus on achieving a quality breath on each rep -- and because time under tension is greatly increased -- we usually start people with 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps performed as a secondary or accessory exercise for the day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5msYqdGC1c Push-Up To Single Arm Support This is a personal favorite of mine.  The pushup to single arm support is a great way to add a unilateral component to the pushup, challenge reflexive shoulder stability, and train triplanar gait of the thorax.   Perform a pushup as usual finishing with an exhale and a full reach.  Then, holding the reach throughout, lift one arm off the ground and reach across the body and touch the opposite ribcage.  Imagine the shoulders are headlights and keep both headlights facing directly towards the floor.  More importantly, keep the pants’ zipper line facing directly towards the floor.  Pause in this position and resist the tendency to want to rotate away from the down arm for 2-3 seconds, then place the hand back on the ground, perform another pushup, and then repeat with the other arm. By removing one hand from the floor we can greatly increase the challenge to the individual’s ability to reflexively stabilize the shoulder of the arm that remains in contact with the ground, as well as the ability to control the pelvis and the ribcage in all three planes of motion. The goal of the exercise should be to keep the pelvis as neutral as possible, minimizing rotation.  This can be accomplished by trying to imagine keeping the belt buckle facing straight towards the floor.  While the pelvis remains neutral, by reaching through a single arm and exhaling, we are creating rotation through the thorax. This is created primarily by the serratus anterior on the side of the arm we are reaching through, which abducts the thorax to the opposite side in the frontal plane and creates rib internal rotation on that side with rib external rotation on the other.  To use a concrete example: reaching with the right arm abducts the thorax to the left, creates left rib internal rotation, and right rib external rotation. Here is where the ability to keep the pelvis neutral and not let it rotate along with the thorax becomes critical. Many sports, especially rotational sports, require the ability to disassociate movement of the thorax from movement of the pelvis in all three planes of motion in order to optimize biomechanical efficiency.  By keeping the pelvis neutral and driving rotation through the thorax via a unilateral reach, we are training this disassociation with active abdominals and control of both of these structures in three planes of motion.  This is the real function of the so-called “core” and makes this pushup variation an all-star for any athlete whose sport demands rotation. If, however, we allow the pelvis to rotate along with the trunk, we are no longer rotating the trunk. We are just rotating the entire body.  The inability to disassociate movement of these two key structures is at the root of many movement dysfunctions and mechanical inefficiencies in sport. To truly be a beast, try to hold the reach with a neutral pelvis and take a full breath cycle.  By inhaling with rib internal rotation opposite the side of the reaching arm, we create trunk rotation to the same side as the reaching arm.  In essence, we are training the mechanics of the torso during normal human walking.  Again, to employ a concrete example: after reaching and exhaling with the right arm, inhaling with the left ribs internally rotated will drive trunk rotation to the right.     While this all sounds very complex, this exercise is great because it allows an individual to feel exactly what he’s doing improperly.  Most people will try it the first time and find themselves rotating away from the down arm uncontrollably while also shifting their center of mass too far towards that same arm.  The individual will then have to find a way to stabilize in order to avoid losing control of the position.  My advice — continue to exhale until the tank is empty and reach further.   Performing this variation demands and develops triplanar core control, reflexive shoulder stability, and the ability to inhibit posterior chain muscles like lats and paraspinals, all while building muscle mass and localized endurance.  In my experience, it’s one of the most effective and time-efficient upper body accessory exercises we have at our disposal.   Begin with 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps each side.  This may seem conservative, but if the movement is performed properly with a focus on quality over quantity, this will be more than enough.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZqBGIlXXKQ Push-Up With Mountain Climber Breathing There is one commonality that all field and court sports share—locomotion, often in the form of sprinting.  Even on ice in the game of hockey, the mechanics of skating fast are not as different from sprinting on land as many people think.  In all of these cases, locomotion involves the ability to “split the hips” or rapidly move one hip into extension to put force into the ground while the other hip moves into flexion.   While this action occurs at the hips, the abs work to help control the pelvis and ribcage in three planes of motion.  The ability to achieve proper sprint mechanics for optimal efficiency and speed demands that athletes not just be able to produce a great deal of force into the ground and do it quickly, but that they are able to get into and maintain an alignment that affords them the ability to express full ranges of motion at distal joints like the hips and shoulders and produce force in the right direction to propel themselves forward. This is why physical preparation practitioners like Ty Tyrrell and Mike Robertson of IFAST preach the importance of training core stability in positions of hip extension and where the pelvis is “split.”  The ability to control the trunk and pelvis in a position where one hip is extended and one is flexed is essential to executing proper acceleration mechanics, which has application to every team-based sport imaginable.  If we hope to teach athletes proper sprint mechanics, we need to give them context and stability in positions associated with sprinting.    Enter the pushup with mountain climber breathing.  This is an advanced pushup variation that involves moving one hip into flexion while the other stays in extension as the individual presses himself up from the floor.  As the knee is driven forward into a position of hip flexion, exhale and reach through the floor, blowing out as much air as possible and drawing the ribs down, in, and back.  Hold the position and inhale, maintaining active abdominals so that the air fills and expands the upper back.  Fully exhale once again, then bring the flexed hip back into extension and repeat the process on the other side.   Not only does this variation involve a ton of time under tension and is, therefore, brutal on the upper body, it also trains the anterior core in a position that is similar to the posture seen in the acceleration phase of sprinting.    By flexing one hip, we increase abdominal activity, which, coupled with a full reach and exhale on each rep, will allow us to inhale and drive air into the posterior ribcage, which sets the foundation for scapular and shoulder stability. While it is very beneficial for athletes to learn to control their bodies while holding a position that resembles the lower body mechanics of gait, this is also just a great way to train core stability for anyone who has mastered the basic pushup and is looking for a very challenging variation. Once again, quality is more important than quantity, and we usually start with 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps each. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9Z4kIfDFd0   Too often, we cast aside the basics, believing that once we’ve reached a certain level they can no longer offer us benefit.  This is the furthest thing from the truth, as mastery of fundamental movement can benefit us at any level.   Even if the pushup alone is no longer a challenge, simple additions that require no equipment at all can continue to develop quality mechanics while building strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance, making the pushup a highly adaptable and valuable tool in any athlete or fitness enthusiast’s arsenal.  These three variations enhance the effectiveness of the pushup and create an awesome full-body training effect that also fosters movement quality for those who are ready for the next step.​

How to “Hug” Your Clients​

I know what you may be thinking, “Is this guy actually about to tell me how to hug my clients? What does that have to do with training?” Don’t worry. This article is not actually about literally hugging your clients, but rather about showing them just how much you care about them. It’s hard to have the continued opportunity to train anyone if they never know how much you care. At Parabolic, we try our very best to let each and every client know that we care and that they are special from the minute that they enter our doors. As a performance or fitness professional, you’re going to meet a lot of people. Your goal should be to build a trusting relationship with each and every one of them. Whether you’re new to the field or a veteran in the game, it’s important to remember that our main priority is and always will be the client. Here are a couple of simple ways to get that accomplished.​ 1. Greetings: As a client walks through the door they should instantly feel like the most important person in the world. It’s at this moment that you show them just how excited you are to see them. Use this time say hello and greet the client BY NAME with a smile and a firm handshake or high five. Ask them about their day and what’s going on in their lives. Get them excited about being here and hype them up for a great workout. However, keep the conversation short because they’re here to train, not to socialize. Action: Say every client’s name at least 3 times during the training session. 2. During the Training Session  It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the training floor. Whether you’re coaching a large group or a semi-private class, every client should be given equal attention and care. It may not always be in the form of cueing, but be there to encourage even the most self-sufficient people. All it takes is a simple “great job” to make them feel like their hard work is being rewarded with success in the eyes of their coach. While it’s important to correct, it’s just as important to recognize your client’s accomplishments. There’s a reason why they choose to work with you and it’s not to be ignored. Treat everyone like today is his or her first day with you. This will be further discussed in my next article. Action: For every correction made give 2 positive forms of feedback to each client. 3. After the Workout.  Now that the training session is complete, it’s time to check in with the client before they leave. This time is crucial for leaving a lasting impression that will keep the client coming back to you time and time again. Ask them how they’re feeling and how their workout went. Tell them they did a great job, accentuate how much you appreciate their effort, and highlight any accomplishments they may have made during the training session. This is also an excellent opportunity to give your client a sense of control and a voice in the training process. Ask them for feedback about how YOU can improve as a coach for next time. Take the time to listen to what they have to say and take action to make real change based on the feedback they give you. Simply by listening to what he or she has to say and demonstrating that you care enough to act on their feedback is a powerful way to build trust and forge a lasting relationship. Before they leave, take the time to understand who your clients are outside the gym. Ask about their plans for the remainder of the week or weekend and take a genuine interest in learning more about them as a person. Finish by telling them just how much you look forward to seeing them again. Action: Pick out one thing that the client did well that day and give them a compliment about it. Ask for one piece of feedback about how your performance and what you can do to make their experience more enjoyable. Then give them a goal or focus for their next training session.   

6 Steps to Designing Big Power Programs​

One of the most important aspects of training that can be improved in the weight room is power, however all power is not created equal. There are different types of “power” that go by many different names amongst physical preparation coaches and sports scientists, however I will summarize them into two categories for the sake of simplicity. Let’s call them reactive ability and power. Reactive ability refers to how well one utilizes stored kinetic energy in their tissues to increase power on the subsequent concentric contraction. This is also called “Fast SSC power” and is indicative of very fast athletes who appear very springy and quick off the ground. You know these athletes when you see them. They may not be the strongest or most powerful athletes, but they have an un-canny ability to get off the ground as quickly as possible because they do such a great job of storing elastic energy in their tissues.​ Power refers to how much force one can generate in a short amount of time. There are certainly many different classifications and sub-categories of power along the force velocity curve, but let’s keep it simple and call it what it is; force divided by time. Powerful athletes are usually much stronger than reactive athletes but they do not necessarily do a great job of storing energy and springing off the ground. Instead they have to rely on purely mechanical energy produced by their muscles to create high levels of power. Coaches and athletes alike all know that being more powerful can lead to improved sporting performances, but it is important to train in a way that is tailored for the athlete instead of just taking a one size fits all approach to power development. Many coaches and athletes see various power exercises and blindly fit them into an athlete’s program with no consideration of what sporting qualities they are impacting. Instead of starting with the exercises and randomly compiling them into an athlete’s program, we as physical preparation coaches should follow a more intelligent and scientific approach to prescribing plyometric and power training programs for our athletes. This should be one that addresses the specific qualities we feel need to be developed to help the athlete achieve his/her goals. Here I introduce a 6 step process that we use to help write programs, check our work, and hold ourselves accountable: Step 1: IdentifySport/ Sporting DemandsPosition/Position Demands We need to start with identifying the sport and sporting demands. For example, a football player’s power needs vary widely from a golfer’s. Additionally, a defensive lineman has very different needs than a cornerback in the context of speed and power demands. Training for a quality that is not needed can at best be an inefficient use of the athlete’s precious training time, and at worst can actually hinder sport performance by interfering with coordination. Step 2: AssessPowerDifferent qualities I.e. reactive power vs accelerative power The next and possibly most important step is to assess your athlete’s power producing abilities. I do not want to list too many specific tests because there are many options depending on available time and budget. Instead, I will give the principles behind the testing and will give several options that I have used. The overall theme is that coaches need to be able to distinguish an athlete’s reactive abilities versus their power abilities by comparing a power test (non-continuous jump test) to a reactive test (continuous jump test). There are many ways to do this. Several middle of the road budget options are the Just Jump Mat and the Push Strength Bands. On the Just Jump mat, you can have an athlete perform a vertical jump test and a 4 jump test to compare one’s power producing capabilities to their reactive abilities. There are more options available with Push Bands, including three variations of vertical jumps and two measurements of the Reactive Strength Index of the athlete. I highly recommend both options if one has the budget for them. Both of these options are great, but what can coaches do if they do not have access to such tools? Do they just have to assume an athlete’s results based on what they look like? Not so fast. We can still perform the assessments we need without any fancy equipment. A really simple way to do this is to compare an athlete’s triple jump test to their non-continuous jump results. Simply have an athlete perform a standing broad jump. First, see if they can jump their height in inches, and then multiply it by three. Next have them then perform three continuous broad jumps for distance. If they cannot jump their height in inches, they are not very powerful. If their continuous jumps are very close to their broad jump multiplied by three, then they do not do a very good job of utilizing stored kinetic energy during the SSC and therefore are not very reactive. If their continuous triple jump is much further than their broad jumps with a stick, then reactivity is not a problem for this athlete. SpeedAcceleration vs Maximum Velocity Different components of speed are actually very important to test to determine which plyometric or power exercises to prescribe to athletes. Jumps or plyos can and will improve power production, but perhaps their most important benefit comes from their ability to transfer to certain speed qualities. Exercises that transfer to the acceleration phase in a sprint will look very different to exercises that will lead to increases in maximum velocity sprinting speed. In the acceleration phase, we want as much force produced as possible during a longer period of time in a more horizontal orientation. During top end speed, we still want high force but it must be performed as rapidly as possible because ground contact times are much quicker in maximum velocity sprinting. If technology allows it, you can use a breakdown of splits of a 30 or 40 yard dash to assess an athlete’s speed profile. If their 10 is slow in comparison to their 30 or 40, then they might be more reactive and thus need more acceleration/power specific jumps whereas if their 10 is very good but their 40 time is not where you want it, they might need more reactive plyometric training. Below are some guidelines for Acceleration power exercises versus maximum velocity exercises: AccelerationLonger eccentric phase or a possible pauseGreater hip, knee, and ankle displacementNon-continuous natureCan be performed with loadMore horizontal natureLonger ground contact times Maximum VelocityQuick eccentric and amortization phaseLesser hip, knee, and ankle displacementStiff ankleContinuous natureMore vertical orientationShorter ground contact times Step 3: DecideWhich qualities you want to improve This part should be simple, but there are several important considerations. The first thing is that power and reactive ability are not mutually exclusive. They are different qualities, so some athletes that are very powerful might not be very reactive and vice versa. Also, do not just rely on what the testing data tells you your athletes are weak at without considering it in context. For example, a lineman’s reactive ability might be very low when compared to the their power, but here is where it’s important to consider both their needs/weaknesses AND the demands of the sport. How often is a lineman reaching maximum velocity in a game? Instead, we should compare our athletes to the norms of their position to see where they fall into place. I expect a marathon runner to have very different power measures than a linebacker, so it would be foolish to decide that a marathoner needs more power if we compared him to strength and power athletes. I do think power is important for a marathoner, however we need to compare our athletes to the norms in their sports and positions rather than in totality. The marathoner could look like he needs much more power if we compare him to all athletes, but he could be above average compared to other marathoners and if we just went off the overall data, we would be wasting precious training time that could be spent on more specific training. Step 4: PrescribeThe correct progression of exercisesThe correct progression of volume and intensity It is important to have a systematic way of progressing athletes through various plyometric and jumping exercises. It is essential to build quality jumping and landing mechanics before transitioning to higher level power or plyometric exercises. Toe drops, box jumps, and hurdle jumps with a stick are all excellent options to train jumping proficiency. If power is the goal, these can be progressed to various weighted jumps such as KB Squat Jumps, Med Ball Hug Vertical Jumps, etc. Low level extensive plyometrics are excellent options to build a base and prepare the tissues for higher levels of reactive drills. Skipping and jump rope are great places to start, but I also love aerobic plyometrics. Often I will start an athlete with one day of hurdle jump with a stick to train landing proficiency and one day of aerobic plyometric hurdle hops to build some low level elasticity and then slowly blend the two. The first day takes care of the intensity and quality of movement, and the second day prepares the athlete to handle increasingly progressing levels of volume and intensity. The second month could be hurdle jumps with one bounce and some higher volume or intensity aerobic plyos, then the third month true continuous hurdle jumps on one or both days. Some coaches shy away from the necessary volumes of plyometric drills because they fear repeated ground contacts can lead to increased risk of injury, but I would argue that shying away from landings can lead to unprepared athletes when they take the field. Also, if we truly want to create the reactive adaptations we desire then we need to build up sufficient levels of volume. 2 days of plyometrics or jumps is a sufficient frequency, and athletes should be built up to around 50-60 contacts per session to improve the qualities we wish to improve. Step 5: Train and MonitorAdjust the program on the fly if needed One of the best ways to consistently track and measure progress with jumps is to build it into the athlete’s programs. Training to increase vertical jump and have access to a Jump Mat? Great, just build in Vertical Jumps on the Jump Mat as part of the program and track progress over time. Building the testing into the program kills three birds with one stone. We get a training effect, we can measure trends in progress over time to make sure we are trending in the right direction, and it gives us an easy way to auto-regulate our athletes. If you’re training to improve power and their vertical jump numbers are way down on one particular day, this may be indicative of an athlete that is highly fatigued and may be unprepared to execute high-intensity or high volumes of training on that day. In this case, consider dropping volume to allow them to recover. I would probably cut volume to about 60% of the planned volume if they were a little run down, or make it an aerobic recovery session if they were way down. You can also auto-regulate if you’re using the Reactive Strength Index testing to improve reactive abilities. The RSI stiffness test with Push Bands can be used to assess the athlete’s readiness for the day and make modifications as needed just as you would with a vertical jump test. Step 6: Re-testDid the athlete get better in their tests that you were seeking to improve?Was there a spillover effect into other tests?Did the athlete decrease in other tests? Re-testing is obvious, but not everyone does it. We need to make sure the program we wrote worked. We should obviously re-rest the specific tests or adaptations that we sought to improve, but we should also re-test other tests to see if there was a spillover effect on other outcomes. Lastly, we should check to make sure we didn’t’ decrease performance in other categories. We can never be too sure. When should we re-rest? There is no hard and fast rule and logistics will come into play here, but we should give enough time to actually create adaptations. In a perfect world, I would perform a battery of tests every three months. But remember that we can test every session if we build it into the program. SummaryUnderstand power versus reactive abilityFollow a systematic process to determine if an athlete has greater power or reactive abilityWrite a darn good program to improve either power or reactive abilityExecute and monitor the program to make sure things are trending in the right directionRe-test whatever adaptations you sought to improve to check your own work and make sure the program achieved the desired results!   

The Best Squat You’re Not Doing​

The squat is arguably the most important movement pattern there is to athletic performance and overall health. It requires the ability to express and control full range of motion at your ankles, knees, and hips while maintaining a stable trunk position. These qualities are vital to any number of sport movements, such as sprinting, cutting, jumping, landing, and driving into an opponent to make a block or tackle. Additionally, when loaded, the squat is one of the best exercises there is for developing power, strength, and muscle mass in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings as well as stability throughout the entire body. The problem is that many people struggle with the squat pattern. They may feel “tight” or restricted, their depth may be limited, or they may be unable to control their joints during the lowering portion of the movement. Often, the person’s first reaction is to blame a lack of mobility… Not so fast. Often, we can make improvements in a person’s squat pattern simply by altering the individual’s center of mass using an offset load, effectively giving them more control of their trunk and pelvis. The ability to maintain a “neutral” relationship between the trunk and pelvis throughout the squat is critical to not only expressing a full range of motion, but to loading and driving the movement with the legs as opposed to the back. Enter the offset plate squat.                      Why It WorksReaching a plate out in front of your body allows you to practice or relearn a more upright squat pattern through a full range of motion without sitting back excessively, pitching forward at the trunk, or feeling like your going to fall over backwards By shifting your center of mass forward, the plate gives you the ability to sit straight down with more control of the trunk and pelvis Reaching activates the abs and moves the ribcage back, which aligns the torso over the pelvis, while helping to turn off overactive back muscles that may limit our ability to express a full range of motion. How To Do ItBegin by holding a light plate (5-15 lbs) at chest level. Exhale fully and tuck your belt buckle to your nose. You should feel your abs turn on. Bend your knees slightly and push your entire foot flat into the floor. Reach the plate out in front of you and squat by sitting your hips down and back as you simultaneously push your knees forward. Your knees should track straight ahead over the middle of your foot, not inward towards your big toe or out by your pinkie toes. Be sure that your entire foot (big toe, little toe, and heel) remains in contact with the ground throughout. Push the ground away from you with your entire foot and stand up as you exhale and bring the plate back into your body. Finish each rep with your ribs down and your belt buckle tucked to your nose. Repeat for 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps. The offset plate squat is a great warm-up activity to use before a squat training session because it rehearses a quality squat pattern while specifically preparing and activating the tissues we are going to need for higher intensity squatting. Whether your goal is to improve athletic performance, get bigger and stronger, or just to move well and feel good, the offset plate squat can help you improve your squat pattern and get more out of your training!        ​

It Could Be Holding You Back!

Whether you want to believe it or not, clutter is like a dark cloud that constantly follows us around. This persistent threat impedes our abilities to make strides toward fitness success. For some, this means losing weight, getting more sleep, increasing the amount of daily water consumption or even as simple as adhering to a consistent workout program. Here’s the crazy part; most of us get so caught up with the rigors of everyday life that we don’t even recognize the disorder surrounding us. Clutter can manifest itself physically or mentally. It establishes a gradual presence and becomes so engrained that we aren’t even consciously aware of it’s affects. If you’re new to fitness, have been living a healthy lifestyle for years or find yourself somewhere in between, the presence of clutter will challenge your creativity, zap your energy, productivity and ultimately your health. Physical clutter refers to everything around you in your physical environment. This can be your kitchen, your office, your school, your bedroom, your backyard, etc. Some of us can find these environments to be unorganized or unkempt while others may be much more tidy and orderly. Whichever category you find yourself falling into, it all boils down to a simple concept; we all have way too much stuff to deal with. These demands are draining and potentially life threatening if allowed to spiral out of control. Keep in mind that a clear, focused mind needs a clear, focused environment. Mental clutter is quite the opposite, where you may find certain patterns of thinking affecting your ability to achieve success. This type of clutter tactfully operates under the radar and can strike when we are least expecting it. You may often feel self-defeated, more inferior around certain individuals, and shy away from particular opportunities all because of clouded cerebral highways. The trouble with this type of clutter is complete failure to thrive. You’re blind to options or healthier alternatives. You become stagnant and whatever energy you had in reserves is used up. At this point many of you may be asking yourself, “how do I get rid of something I can’t see?” Try these simple solutions over the next month: TAKE A MENTAL BREAK! In order to effectively identify, you must first recognize. Slow down and take a 5 minute break each day just to gather your thoughts and allow your brain to become consciously aware.  Self-reflect on your daily routines: Morning, lunch, bedtime, exercise etc. What’s working well? What’s not? Do you have destructive habits? Are you inefficient and wasting time? How can you make improvements?  Make a list of 3-4 tasks/week which you have been putting off and execute them by Saturday at sundown.  Achieving new fitness milestones requires being intentional about your environment, your schedule and your habits. This may all sound very overwhelming, but just take one step at a time and start moving toward more deliberate living. 35% of Americans are already exposed to the hazard of inactivity. Don’t let clutter hold you back!​

Tips to Prevent Impulsive Eating​

We’ve all been there. Between running late for work, spending the entire day running errands or just flat out forgetting to prepare for a long day and then suddenly it hits; STARVATION! You are ridiculously hungry and your body starts experiencing every emotion possible. Weakness sets in, you begin to lose concentration, your stomach is in knots and all you can think about is devouring everything in sight. What happens next? You succumb to this overwhelming sensation and start making poor food choices that may potentially weaken your immune system, raise your blood sugar and ultimately contribute to weight gain. For some, this may be a one-time occurrence. Unfortunately for others, this happens too frequently and can severely impact overall health and fitness success. The answer lies in taking a small amount of time to be prepared for emergencies. While this may seem like a daunting task for some of you, it’s actually not as hard as you may think. Start by making a healthy list of on-the-go foods that you actually enjoy eating. This list does not have to be all-inclusive, but make sure that it’s balanced enough with healthy fats, protein and carbs to substitute one item for another if needed. Below are some ideas to get you thinking in the right direction: Unsalted Nuts (Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews) These provide protein and good fat.Vegetables These provide key micronutrients that your body needs.Nut Butters (Cashew, almond, peanut) Pick whichever your taste buds enjoy the most.Boiled Eggs Packed with protein, this is a great option when in a crunch.Water This is essential for life and can’t be forgotten. After you’ve put thought into foods that will make you happy, the food now has to travel with you. Convenience is key when you only have five minutes to grab something to curb that hunger, so here are some helpful tips for ease when you’re in a time crunch: Small Cooler Purchase a small cooler that you can keep in the kitchen and easily grab it on the go.Plates, utensils, napkins Reuse a bag and place a couple of plates, some utensils and some napkins in it. This should be in the kitchen next to the cooler so you can easily grab everything together on your way out the day.Small reusable containers or plastic bags Reasonably sized containers will help you control the portions you take with you for the day.Water bottleDrinking half your body weight in fluid ounces is what’s recommended. Are you getting enough water every day? The key to this process is to make it easy on yourself. Keep things simple. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or not enjoying the foods from your list, simply start over with step one. You must find foods that will make you happy and that are well-balanced. Success lies in the palm of your hands; enjoy every morsel.

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