Training In-Season

You poured on the effort over the previous four months, added 10-pounds of lean muscle to become a faster, more powerful athlete. The season is about to begin and it’s time to prove yourself on the testing ground. There will be long days and travels. Life outside of your sport will remain busy. It will be easy to lose most of what you gained in the off season. What can you do?

Well, don’t completely stop training!

Your in-season training will not be ideal. It will probably be inconsistent require some planning and effort. But it’s worth it. basics

There are a handful of decent studies that document the typical decrease in strength and power that does indeed occur as the season progresses. What they have found is that nearly any effort helps mitigate this de-training effect. Training even once per week is much better than nothing at all. Abbreviated routines completed three times per week were even better. But I think twice per week, done well, is much more realistic.

Here are a few guidelines for In-Season training.

  1. Avoid training the day of or the day before competition. Recovery is key for all athletes, and training on or before game day is likely going to be more of a hindrance than a help. How foolish would it be to beat YOURSELF up, even a little, right before facing the opponent?
  2. Keep it brief. Spend at least 10-minutes on warm-up corrective exercise and 20 to 35 minutes on the big lifts that matter. It should not take long to complete a thorough warm-up and 2 to 4 total body exercises, if you follow all the guidelines.
  3. Keep it simple. This is not the time to try complex splits or body part specialization. Most athletic endeavors promote asymetry in one form or another, and unilateral movements are key because they reveal and work against asymmetry. Read below for a great place to start.
  4. Keep the reps low and weights moderate. Remember that you are not training for general fitness or merely burning calories.  You want to maintain strength and size while not cutting into recovery.  Go heavy but use a resistance that your are certain to complete, even when fatigued from games and practices.  Your top sets of 3 to 5 reps should be loaded with 75-80% of what you were able to do in the off season. Sure, go ahead and take a 90 to 100% attempt if the weight feels light and you’re feeling great. But don’t expect it. Don’t make PRs the top priority.
  5. Nothing grinding. This has a lot to do with #4 guideline (above). You do not want to grind out high rep sets of anything. Again, you are an in-season athlete who needs to load the muscles and prime the nervous system. You do not need generic conditioning, fitness, or weight loss marketed to the masses. This is not the time for fitness competition (i.e. Crossfit style) workouts. This is not the time for my beloved 20-rep Squats or sled pushes. Moving a moderately heavy resistance for a handful of reps keeps the total time under tension relatively low. Hit 3 to 8 reps in total body power movements (like med ball tosses or plyometric jumps) and call it a day.

Here’s an example of an In-Season Training Split that cover most of your bases with minimal time invested:

Day 1:

Athlete- and sport-specific warm up

Push up variation – challenge yourself and focus on the plank to maintain a neutral core, 3 to 4 sets

Deadlift (or hip thrusters) – 2 warm-ups and 3 sets of 2 to 5 reps

Single leg box squat or step-ups – 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps

Rotational core exercise (example med ball tosses, tubing or cable rotations, etc) 3 sets of 6 to 8

Day 2:

Athlete- and sport-specific warm up

Landmine shoulder press or shoulder care – 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps coupled with split stance lawn mower (dumbbell) rows

Squats – 2 warm ups then 3 sets of 5

Chin-ups with core engagement -or- shoulder care 3 sets of 5 reps

Lateral lunges or resisted skater hops – 3 sets of 5 reps

My Doctor Said I Can’t Do Squats (Everybody Squats)

The doctor said that you can’t do squats? You sought the help of a trained medical professional with over a decade of collegiate education and years of work experience. You wanted a diagnosis and specific guidance for your situation, and left with a simple can’t and maybe a steroid injection.

“Doc, it hurts when I do this.”
“Well don’t do that.”

At the clinic, when a client tells me they cannot do squats, I ask them if they are willing to try some “Sit to Stands.” ; )

One major problem with “Don’t do squats” is that everybody squats. Squatting is everyday function. Have you ever risen from a chair or car or stooped to lift something off the ground?  The problem is that many people, including athletes and fitness enthusiasts, squat poorly. Squats done well and in moderation are usually (but not always) well tolerated and helpful for establishing strength, motor control, and mobility at areas that take stress off the lower back and knees!

Mostly, I’m too hard headed to accept simple cant’s. Straight-up cant’s are usually unnecessary. They often reveal ignorance of the topic matter. Cant’s are usually blanket statements that enable the doctor to quickly move on to the next patient.

Does your doctor allow for partial depth squats? Would he rescind the decree if you do time working on the strength and mobility of your trunk and hips and ankles and feet? Does he allow you to squat down to lift a bag of groceries, or would he prefer that you do the spine-mangling bend and twist? What if you have to poop in the woods? Or carefully lower a saucer of cold milk to your kitten?

If you don’t -squat well- you will simply function in the same old manner that has been chewing up your knees and lower back all along.

No one is exempt from time. At some point, our knee cartilage erodes and we simply can’t squat -heavy-, jump, and vault.  At some point athletes will move on to more appropriate and noble deeds than being physically awesome. But if they are alive, they will still have to squat.

So long as we have to squat, let’s do it WELL!

Deep squats (including single leg pistol squats) are generally not good for the ACL or the cartilage on the back of the knee cap, whether or not you had surgery. If a person tore their knee meniscus from crappy form while squatting and they still have crappy form, then by all means, that person should not squat until they make some major adjustments.

Proper squats and variations are useful for establishing the strength and stability that protects the ACL, patella, as well as your ability to be awesome! Seated leg extensions, pilates, the recumbent bike, and other non weightbearing exercise are inadequate for establishing resiliency for the times when you must accelerate or leap or catch yourself from a stumble.


So let us replace Can’t with 3 Rs.

  1. Rest – Lay off, take the medicine, injection, or whatnot. Use ultrasound, foam rolling, brace, manual therapy, and whatnot to manage the pain.
  2. Rehab – Find and specifically work on what specifically causes your poor quality squat.
  3. Revise Expectations – Maybe you should never really “go heavy.” Maybe that Insanity 2 million squats in 30 minutes DVD is indeed, well, insane.

You should not perform thousands of crappy low resistance reps, or heavy reps piling on the weights in the traditional barbell squat if you have…

  • huge thoracic kyphosis (humped upper back posture)
  • minimal lumbar lordosis
  • core (mid back, lower back, abdominal) weakness
  • hip inflexibility (and aformentioned weakness) that causes your lower back to round
  • hip weakness (especially gluteus medius – the side butt muscles)
  • ankle inflexiblity

Revising your expectations also usually means changing exercise selection. Have you tried Goblet squats, box squats, single leg variations, lunge variations, or bowler squats? All of these can be seriously challenging and serve as corrective exercise.

If squats hurt and you really want to squat, I’m nearly certain that I can get you there. You may not set a new world record. You may have to finangle around a touchy meniscus or patellar chondromalicia (worn out knee caps). But you will function better. You will become stronger in ways that protect your joints and deepen your awesome bucket.

I’m going to be stubborn with this, having seen helped many people smash through their can’t.

Because everybody squats…some time…hold on!

The Best Abdominal Exercise for Hottness


Guys and gals – if you truly want to make an impression on your significant other, you’re going to have to dig deep and push beyond your comfort zone. Here it is, THE exercise machine that will give you a rock solid core and gushing irresistableness.

But remember…no pain, no gain. Feel the burn.


Guys: apply to floor, 3 sets of 30 to 90 reps should wow the ladies.
I could describe how an intense vacuum session burns far more calories and demands more of the core muscles than the typical gimmicky crunch and twist machines. I could ramble on about our misguided notion that extensive gear or a highly refined and unique movement of the torso is required to have sharp abs. It’s fun to explain the irony behind the idea that ab machines are unnecessary at best and may even possibly hinder real progress.

But this is not about any of that. This is not about your abs, your training, your nutrition plan, your workout today, or last weeks personal record. Don’t get me wrong. Having a passion (not only for fitness) and a well maintained body is attractive, as are a sense of humor and good teeth. Looking good or at least putting your best foot forward definitely does have its place. But the point right now is to be more mindful of others and to think less about yourself.

A  posture of service is where it’s at, hott with two or even three “Ts.” For many men young and old, that includes a sporadic vacuum session.

I don’t believe that a person can will themselves into transforming who they are.  That, my brothers, requires infinitely more fortitude than Insanity home fitness program, a Spartan Race, or your Team Hercules Chest Workout.

After the physical attraction settles, and sooner or later it always does, a well-balanced, selfless and fun person of integrity is the core of what others are attracted to. And that is what we have been after all along.
Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

An Open Letter to the Seated Leg Extension Machine


leg extension machine

Dear Seated Leg Extension Machine,

I understand where you come from. The mind of your creator Arthur Jones was brilliant. Not only would you isolate muscles or muscle groups individually, but you would also provide variable resistaNautilusCam1ENG-272x300nce through a series of cams. For each and every repetition, where the moving joint had the least leverage, less force was required, and more force was demanded where the joint was strongest.

With regular use of you and your cousin machines, we would all easily achieve previously unattainable levels of strength and muscle size.

But it turns out that the genius of Arthur was really more in the realm of marketing.  In this, he was truly a man before his time, who hired physically massive celebrities and invented an entire training magazine to help sale the idea of you. In truth, Arthur was loose with the facts and crummy as a scientist.

Seated Leg Extension Machine, you exist in the name of health and/or fitness. Yet you are culpable in the needless damage done to hundreds of thousands of knees.

patella jointIt turns out that most muscles are social creatures, and the quadriceps were not designed to function in isolation. Intense, isolated use of the quadriceps in a seated position literally shears some parts of our knee apart, and grinds other parts together. Kneecaps must glide across the femur every time the leg bends and straightens. The only thing that helps them to stand a chance, over time, is co-contraction of stabilizing muscles and fine tuning accessory movement of the tibia and femur that naturally occur in functional movements.

Seated Leg Extension Machine, although your appearance and engineering are impressive, you are cumbersome and expensive. Before the advent of popular programs like Crossfit and P90X, you had generations of us believing that a large room full of big chrome machines was required to be strong and fit. You had everyone taking a lot of time and effort to train body parts individually.

Arthur practiced what he preached. Joy.

Seated knee extension, seated knee flexion, seated hip abduction, seated hip adduction, on it goes. And who has time for that? The body is a unit and almost always benefits more from training as a unit. We recieve more benefit from picking up a pet dog and a few gallons of water and performing a well executed set of lunges.

And as your name implies, Seated Knee Extension Machine, you and the whole lot of your cousins cause humans to…sit. Did you not notice that we already sit for far too long, too often? We have an epidemic of tight hip flexors and poor lumbopelvic control, and yet you entice humans to fill the limited minutes they devote to their health and fitness with…more sitting.

Sure, this is an act of omission, but you are guilty nonetheless. As trainer Daniel John often points out, those older than 55 are statistically more likely to die from complication of a fall than from cancer.

You strengthen a muscle group, and this is likely better than no exercise at all. But the real-world application of such “isolated” strength is limited and does not translate to dealing with gravity and ground reaction forces. Seated Leg Extension Machine, your seatedness provides no natural balance demand, no integrative strength demand, and no proprioceptive-rich environment from which an entire human system may improve its functional strength and sense of balance.

At one point you were recommended for high level athletes looking to achieve an edge in performance. But now we have studies and showed what we’ve known all along: The amount of effort put into an activity nearly always dictates what we get out of it. And only so much effort can be poured into using one joint in a seated position.

A set of well executed single leg squats or hip hinge deadlift with a $50 dumbbell or kettle bell better prepares us for real world athletic performance.  Generating power on the athletic field is a highly coordinated effort of some joints staying stable while other joints generate high force, high speed movement. This must all be fine-tuned by the nervous system. In all of this you are severely lacking.

In summary, you would make a better coat hanger than piece of fitness equipment. I would suggest that your owners move you to the back parking lot or yard in order to allow more…beautiful…free space for movement. But then you’re cluttering up the great cathedral of the outdoors.

Seated Leg Extension Machine, I have beef with you. Your too cumbersome to carry, too heavy to drag, and too wide to use as a hurdle. So I don’t know what to recommend for you.




Catholic It Up for Lent

The memories usually hit at this time of the year. Some denominations seem to (for lack of a better term) promote Lent more than others. I read that much of this stems from leaders of the Protestant Reformation mistakenly believing that Lent was a Roman invention. That’s a shame. For the first 25 years of my life I experienced Lent in the Catholic church. They make a big deal of it and do it well. It is likely difficult for many outside of the faith to appreciate.

For better and for worse, much of the Catholic faith is about ritual and repetition and the authority of the church. Mass was truly different from everything else in life, “Set apart,” if you will. There was nothing modern or catchy about the responsorial psalms, the quiet, the half-sung doxologies, and intermittent Latin. These were all foreign yet familiar.

But for most children, the ritual aspect only goes so deep.

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have not end…”

“Yeah yeah. I get it.”

Sooner or later, the meaning and mystery behind the ritual is lost. Most of it turns into a lot of waiting. For a boy with an active body and imagination, nearly every Sunday was a palatable exercise of doing time. In the name of the Lord.

Mass was consistent. Even a child can think more deeply when he knows what to expect. Sure, there were simple daydreams about sports and video games. But sometimes the relative quiet and calm provided margin for an examined life. This is meaningful, even in the juvenile form.

I stared deep into the ceiling of the church, imagining the pine knot galaxies spinning and expanding out into space. Was it possible to see the edge of the universe? Did heaven and God exist on the other side of that edge?

It took months to solve the mystery of why some people in front were clearly shorter than others in their pew while standing, but taller when they sat down. “Please stand,” shorter. “You may be seated,” taller. Then one day “poof,” I was able to visualize the geometry behind this. It seemed odd that an eternal soul would somehow exist in these three dimensions.

There was an elderly lady with a constantly circling lower jaw. I theorized as to why a Tourette’s-like “Ehh!” would emerge from her once every 45 to 70 seconds as timed on my Swatch Watch. Did she do it on purpose? Or was it more of a mistake like a burp in the voice box or the brain? I dreaded the thought that her brain was forcing her to do things that she did not want to do.

And yet.

Even with the daydreaming and illegitimate distraction and trips to the bathroom between the second reading and communion, I learned things. Not just that the third communion bell meant that it was 17 to 20 minutes until I would be home playing ball or catching frogs. No, I learned things that mattered. To this day I can easily recite most of the psalms and creeds, mostly good things to know as a member of the human denomination.

Lord Jesus Christ

only son of the Father.

Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sins of the world

have mercy on us.

…Lord God, grant us peace.

I imagine that to this day, the experience would be almost exactly the same.

But it wasn’t just the forced quiet time and doctrine. Another piece of this was having a model.  No, things were not perfect in the family. But my father modeled many things that matter. Like going to church whether or not you feel like it, giving freely even when you’re unemployed, and sacrificially providing for your family. I witnessed my Catholic grandfather as a model of temperance, and sporadically caught glimpses of him literally on his knees praying beside his bed. I never heard either one of them say a single disparaging comment about my mother or women in general. You just don’t talk like that.

Do I wonder what the Catholic church experience would be like as an adult in my particular life and faith journey? Sure. Do I long to bring my kids to climb and play on the giant rock in the parking lot of St. Boniface? Absolutely! Do I want to reconvert? No. While I hold some differences of opinion regarding doctrinal points, harping on theological differences is no longer my primary concern. It would be selfish and unnecessary to drag the family through another major change. It would take at least five years to figure anything out. And I love my current faith family.

The Reformed tradition talks a lot about Depravity, and Lent is like a map to get personally get, truly get there. So…Am I allowed to capture the Catholic feel of Lent? Because that was a good place. It always has been special in terms of things that matter.

  1. Margin for processing
  2. Routine and contemplative meditation and prayer
  3. A model

—And here you have my only piece of remotely training-related advice for this essay.–

Let us be mindful of self ambition, using Lent as an opportunity to somehow get God on our side. The whole “Giving up sweets since I need to lose weight and run faster” mentality. Sure, leaning on God for self improvement is commendable. But this is not what Lent is about, and causes us to miss out on the best part.

Let us be mindful of our weaknesses and intentionally pick at our gaps. Sometimes the least marketable things are what we need most. Let us carve out margin, repent, and attempt real sacrifice, for our own good and for the good of others.

Lord, hear our prayer.