Most of the athletes (and their parents) who I work with want to improve their physical attributes toward a certain sport or activity.arrow not linear

The whole exercise and fitness thing is a bit overwhelming to some of them.

“Where do we start in order to improve his speed?”

To others, it’s overly simplistic.

“She just  needs to hit the weights.”

I do my best to meet the athlete and their families where they are. But I truly don’t know what’s best for a given athlete until I interview them and run them through a basic assessment. Some athletes need to focus on flexibility, movement quality, and conditioning. But most middle- and high school athletes truly  benefit most from increasing their strength, size, and power.

There are athlete- and sport specific details. But I pull no punches on what is best for improvement. I don’t pretend that better strength, size, and speed is some elusive goal.

Running cross country will not improve your power and agility (unless the athlete is very unfit to begin with). Doing three sets of ten reps on the weight machines at Planet Fitness will offer little improvement in terms of functional strength and power. Yoga and Pilates will increase flexibility and strengthen your core. But if your sport requires acceleration with feet on the ground, you will need to transfer that mobility and core strength into athletic endeavors expressed on the playing field.

So, to keep things simple, getting bigger and faster and stronger is rather easily attained with the following:

1. Resistance training with heavy weights. Heavy is relative to each athlete and their sport. But loading is definitely an issue. If the athlete is doing Insanity of P90X type circuit workouts, they are getting a LOT of reps, but the loading is insufficient to elicit a strength and power response.

2. Resistance training with adequate time under tension. On the other hand, low repetition weightlifting protocols that demand herky jerky use of momentum are less than optimal for building strength and size. For example, the Olympic lifts like the Power Clean and Clean/Jerk offer heavy weights but extremely small time under tension. They are technical movements that typically require heavy loads to be moved rapidly with precise form. But these are not the best for making a raily or weaker athlete into a strong and resilient one.

Big powerful dudes do the clean and jerk (video below). But don’t be misled into thinking that this is great for BECOMING powerful and strong. There are better ways.


     3. Food. You could do everything -perfectly- in terms of training and miss out on progress due to inadequate nutrition – eating too much junk food and/or not enough healthy food. Don’t complicate this. Just eat a lot of relatively healthy, minimally processed foods.

     4. Recovery. Likewise, while training gets emphasis and easy buy-in, recovery is almost universally neglected. Recovery does not make for a great Nike commercial. But it is every bit as important. You would think that this should be simple. But in the real world, it is definitely not. Should we be surprised when injuries pop up and progress stagnates when we train and compete in our sports for seven days a week? Serious athletes (and their parents) should quite thinking that time off is time wasted or time to fall behind what everyone else is doing. My soap-box issues is to change the culture of club sports, dance, and even band  for that matter, from…

“They don’t go year ’round…they must not be serious about it.”


“They don’t go year ’round…they must really be serious about it.”

Taking time away from the primary sports does not mean sitting on the couch eating Twinkies every day after work or school. It does not mean that you can’t play or practice to stay sharp. But it does mean truly respecting recovery, and the idea that we function best when there are seasons and rhythm in all things, including sports. It means time devoted to something else beyond the sport, like body maintenance and repair. Like specific strength training and conditioning that is conducive to the sport but does not place the same demands on the body. Here’s a suggestion for a high-level soccer player:

Sunday – off. Leisurely ride a bike, climb a tree, or pick up trash along the roadway. Take a nap. late fall 2015 072

Monday – Weight training – core and lower body strength emphasis

Tuesday – Soccer skill work

Wednesday – Weight training – upper body strength and lower body power emphasis

Thursday – off

Friday – Speed / agility

Saturday – Soccer practice, indoor league, etc.

Schedule a few months of this type of “away” from the sport, and just see how much this pays off towards coming back as an absolute beast in the sport.


Consider the Scapula!

Many people suffer with shoulder, upper back, and neck issues. They blame the arm, neck, or an assortment of tight muscles in their upper back. Very few of them consider the scapula.

The scapula (shoulder blade) is definitely an “out of sight, out of mind” part of the body. But it’s relevant to many upper body aches and pains. A more posturally aware person may ask if having a “low shoulder” is part of the problem. What they are really referring to is the position of the scapula and rib cage.

Go ahead and look closely at your own shoulders.

Waits for your return to read on…-

The far majority of you will see that the dominant side does sit lower than the other. This is a sign of serious scapular discombobulesis, and requires physical therapy minimally 3 times per week for 70 X 7 weeks.


Seriously though – is a low shoulder truly an issue when it comes to neck, shoulder, or arm pain? There is much to be said regarding differential diagnosis of common posture problems and corrections, all the way down to the pelvis. But here are the basics of what you need to know.

Having one side sit lower than the other is usually not a problem. It’s quite normal and I have yet to read a satisfactory explanation as to why this happens.

There are exceptions, of course. One shoulder may appear elevated when there is severe spinal scoliosis or a pinched nerve in the neck. The muscles reflexivily shorten, pulling the scapula upward in order to allow more room for the nerve. Patient’s with this pattern often feel tight in their neck and upper shoulder. When they try stretching the muscles it makes their nerve symptoms worse. The muscle is not tight but in protective spasm, and in this instance it is important to treat the nerve issue and postural motor control issues before trying to lower the scapula by stretching it “down.”

scap1Know your scapula!

Uneven shoulders should be observed in a few planes. Movements of the scap include:

-elevation (gliding up) and depression (gliding down, this is normal on the dominant arm)

-upward and downward rotation

-internal and external rotation ( as in pinching the shoulder blades together forward and backward)

-flexion and extension (tilting forward and tilting backward)

The main point is that shoulder blade flexion with downward rotation is a very common pattern causing what appears to be a “low shoulder.” Sooner or later, this type of “low shoulder” is likely to cause problems at the shoulder joint, the neck and mid to upper spine area. A few of the most common causes of this flexed, downward position include:

-habitual, chronic sitting postures

-repetitive stress up that is due to asymmetry of the pelvis and spine

-repetitive stress through our arms, as in throwing or reaching

Each of these  low shoulders would obviously be treated differently.

Here is an example of scapular depression (almost universal and usually not a problem) :


This guy has some serious upper body size with fairly even shoulder blades. His dominant arm sits in depression and this is likely not an issue.






Here is an example of scapular downward rotation (commonly problematic):

The black line indicates where the medial border of the shoulder blade should sit, and the red line indicates how it is sloping down and forward. scap3This fellow better get some essential oils right now, because it’s just a matter of time before impingement of the rotator cuff or shoulder bursa, or muscle strain takes place. Seriously though, this athlete should address his scapula position and mechanics (the photo does not show what happens when he moves the arm) prior to:

Repetitive throwing or striking overhead

Repetitive rotation of the arm back behind the body.

Resistance training with overhead movements such as shoulder presses.

Both images display a “low shoulder” and are only subtly different. But the treatment and expected outcome are not the same.There are other sub-types of scapular position and dysfunctional movement. But for now, those with neck, upper back, and arm pain need to at least consider the role of the scapula in these problems.

Biomechanical eggheads may be interested in this.

And Gru has some serious postural issues. scap4

Old School Training



“What’s the best gym that rocks2 you have ever trained in?”

World Gym of San Francisco? Cressey Sports Performance?  IFAST of Indianapolis? The Slippery Rock Barbell Club? The Bonny Lane Club?  All of these are some pretty big names in sports performance.  ; )   But the hands-down best is none of those.

My childhood friend Keith lived approximately three miles from my parents. His parents still live there, with a patch of huge boulders and rocky crevices less than 50 yards from the front door, and another similar “facility” less than one mile away.

How could anyone forget the remarkable features? Well, I recently had the opportunity to visit and saw countless objects that I forgot that I had forgot. It was like a reunion with old friends.

“Oh, there’s the slanted rock that appears to drop into an abyss, but it’s really only a four foot fall into lush mossy fern gully.” IMG_4196

“…And over here is Bear Cave. Still with no evidence of any bears.”

“This rocky formation is called The Grill. We undertook great risk and adverse condition in order to cook hot-dogs and Steak-Umms back here.”

I could go on. But suffice to say, I had the opportunity to dwell among the ferns, mountain laurel, and briars, experience the damp coolness of deep crevices on a hot day in June, splash in small springs that hold tadpoles and newts, and scale rock walls using hickory trees that had been pushed partway down from the above forest floor…all with my kids.

This was my time, far better than Hershey Park. I’m still processing this, cannot think of a better way to irritate my 40-year old knees.

All of the features for cooking, climbing, crawling and jumping have depreciated very little in about 30 years. I’m hopeful that a gym hundreds of thousands of years in the making will retain its functionality and wonder for a few thousand more.

There are no instructions or clear pathways, no fake imitations, yellow lines or right angles. There are no rules or competition.

But there is much training. There is jumping, climbing, lifting, carrying, and agility (chasing after and running from wildlife). The concept of exercise form does not exist. You figure out how do it in a way that works for your body.

Some boulders are sloped enough to be navigated only with a heavy lean or on all fours. You haven’t done “speed and agility” training until you’ve stirred up a nest of yellow jackets in rocky terrain. I remember turning over rocks in search of all that slither and creepeth across the land. At one point I observed that connecting my hands and elbows to the ground by way of a rigid torso and leg push was far more effective for moving the larger rocks.

…And thus my very own dead lift “hip hinge” pattern was born.

Image result for PA yellow spotted woods salamander

For claustrophobia desensitization, the gym features abutting boulders that form many insect-lined tunnels. Make yourself small in order to slide directly from one crevice to the next. As a boy I dreamt about narrowly escaping a run in with a huge wolf, diving through the crevice while the wolf peered through, one paw reaching out but not far enough to grab me.

And lastly, are the leaps. There are leaps over narrow crevices approximately 40 feet deep. A small jump is nerve-racking when the penalty of failure is possible death. There are drops from one rock to another, and long leaps over broad boulders. These offer a high degree of difficulty but little penalty of failure. It’s a fairly good way of learning risk:reward.

And the point of this jump/climb/lift down memory lane?

Keith had the opportunity to “train” nearly every day he was home. At most, I visited this facility once or twice per month. Keith outpaced me to the point that I could barely keep up with him. He was familiar with the pushing, pulling, climbing, leaping, and carrying. He was fearless, strong, and agile.

We played nearly every season of sports together. Keith was always an inch taller, stronger and a bit faster. He could dunk a basketball, I believe as a sophomore, a full year before I even came close. Keith and I diversified in sports and in life. From what I know, he had a great soccer career. I do known that he was specifically recognized as having outstanding speed and an extremely powerful leg.

It’s as if he naturally, playfully drew ancient strength right from the soil, wood, and stone, and applied it to the modern world.

And…to think that playground companies now design and construct large plasticJUNE 2015 113 JUNE 2015 122boulders, which feature no right angles or yellow lines, mild holds, cliffs and crevices to explore…for about ~$2000 each.

Those local to central PA can visit Simpson Park in Mechanicsburg for an Old School training experience.

How to train female athletes

Is the title not…laughablgender 3e? Yet in the fitness, rehab, and sports performance world, I see articles like this nearly once per month, many of them written by men. I’m often perplexed by the three ladies under my own roof and yet some single bro in his late twenties holds loads of wisdom regarding the whole of females.

In general, most females do need more encouragement in areas that are in direct contrast to what is typically marketed to them.

Toning. Sculpting. Lose X pounds in Y days. Target a firm Z.

This, versus –

Bullet proof body – Improve resiliency and capability!

Build confidence and healthy, sustainable habits. Your body will eventually improve as well. 

Translates strength into power without wrecking your knees.

By the time that you can climb that rope, run faster and jump higher, you probably won’t give a damn about your weight.


Yes, even these statements infer multiple levels of gender bias. Based on nearly twenty years of experience working with females and males, I can firmly state that it is what it is. Whether through nature or nurture, men and women are different, equal in worth but complimentary in abilities. I’m no young-earth fundamentalist, but I do believe that one way or another, male and female He created them with different strengths, weaknesses and inclinations.

Now, with that being said, how DO you train a female athlete? Here are a few of many points to consider:

-Many but not all females have plenty of flexibility. They gravitate toward activities like Pilates and Yoga when they would benefit most from working on good stability and quality of movement (body control) in various ground based movements.

-Most female athletes lack upper body strength and are predisposed to having traumatic and repetitive overuse knee issues.

-Females will have less absolute strength per body mass than men, but they can repeat near maximal workloads with less fatigue than men.

-Females tend to follow the “rules” of form and progression and generally receive advice and instruction better than men.

q-angle-men-vs-womenStill, these points provide little input on what’s most important when working with an actual female.

You train female athletes by treating them as, ya know…a person.

A person who deserves your respect.

A person who is probably a little or a lot different than other females.

A person who knows their body better than the trainer or PT.

A person with their own present goals and past history of victgender drill sargeantory and defeat. “Cause I got issues…”

A person who probably needs a firm yet safe nudge out of their routine and comfort zone.

A person who probably will be surprised to learn what they are truly capable of, without the drill sergeant mentality.


My hero from the planet Lexicon!

WORD up, it’s word girl!!!

Going Pro in Sports…

there's a chanceResearch clearly shows that the chances of young athlete garnering a professional contract or competing in the Olympic Games are astronomically small. There are also injuries. So even the best of the best should not bank on an athletic career.

But my personal experience seems to indicate otherwise. I mean, I know many people who would say their sports has been good to them…


Only 10% of high school athletes will go on to play in college. I wonder how those responsible for this statistic define high school athlete. Do they include every person on the roster, many of whom are not all in? For example, a given high school track & field roster may have hundreds of athletes, with only about half of them seriously striving for excellence in their event rather than socializing or staying busy during the off season from their main sport.

Of those 10%, only 3% will play under a college scholarship. Again, I wonder if this number includes partial scholarships, work studies, grants, and other indirect breaks given to student-athletes. And a final stat to note: Of the 10% of high school athletes who will go on to play in college, only 1 to 2% will go “Major Pro.” I wonder if “Major Pro” includes those who go pro directly out of high school (extremely rare) or in an indirect route like through the minor leagues or international playing opportunities (fairly common).

Read for yourself. There are numerous credible sources and pieces of journalism on the topic, like THIS from the NCAA. Many of them lack the details that are likely provided in the original research documents. I don’t have time to filter through it all, but something seems a bit askew…

How is it that my next door neighbor is an Olympic caliber wrestler who already reaped the benefits of a scholarship to Harvard? I’ve worked with a family where two of three sisters obtained full D1 college soccer scholarships. Seven of the eleven baseball players who I trained last winter are seriously pursued by major colleges and universities, having issued verbal or actual commitments. In my small physical therapy office and tiny personal training studio basement, I’ve trained or rehabbed over twenty major professionals and national champions (DIII Volleyball and Soccer,  etc). I have three former professional athletes in my family.

2006_nacho_libreI highly doubt that this has anything to do with my own special geographical location or professional skill. More likely, the bottom line is that a lot of somebody’s from all over the country -do- have a shot. I would not argue that anyone should count on making it into the pros. Even playing in college demands tireless work and talent and much good fortune. But the odds may not be so steep for athletes and parents who sets their sites on a collegiate scholarship or other financial assistance.

According to the NCAA, those athletic scholarships average approximately $14,000 per year for men and $15,000 per year for women. But this figure does not include all the student loan debt and interest that’s typically paid by the rest of us non-scholarship people. I mean, I know a husband and wife who had 14 years of combined college, and now in their 40s, are still paying off student loan debt. The interest rate is low and the amounts are tax deductible, but still, it would be awfully nice to NOT have principle and interest of nearly $1000 per month for 15 to 20 YEARS ; (

In this instance,  you’re looking at $240,000 that could have possibly been spared by being a better athlete. This burdensome figure is based off the consolidated debt of two former students, so you could even say $120,000 each. I would call that a nice signing bonus…pretty “Going Pro” to me!

So if you’re anywhere close, do your dead lifts, your hours of deliberate practice, and practicing and playing with good competition… … … [And here’s the kicker] … …

… especially if you enjoy it.

Seriously. all of the time and at least some of the money invested into athletics is justifiable if the kid (and often their parents) enjoys the process. Not just the competing, but the effort and discipline of pushing to be a better player and teammate.. High level athletics are by no means the only worthy endeavor in this regard. But if the kid simply loves a sport, why not make a run at it, fully knowing that his or her academics and character must be in place?

Also of note: The percentage of student-athletes who finish college with a degree far exceeds those who enter college as non-athletes.

I’m not claiming that we should pursue sports at any and all costs, but that we should be less critical of those who do pay the club and equipment and training fees in the pursuit of fun and a route to personal development. Allow the kids to dream, realizing that “hitting it big” doesn’t require “going pro.”  Let the process shape the kids into more stable, hardworking people than they otherwise may have been. And let the parents remain hopeful for tuition assistance and a few more years of watching their kids do what they love.

Dream Big – Work Hard – Stay Humble