Human Performance 23.2 – GBC Intensification

Its time to intensify our German Body Composition program for continued results

As human performance professionals, we’re always on the lookout for effective and efficient programs to help clients achieve their fitness goals. In last month’s training block we introduced a German Body Composition training (GBC) program.

GBCT is a unique and scientifically-backed workout program designed to help you build strength, improve your cardio conditioning, and enhance your body composition.

This month we build on that by moving from an accumulation phase to a (mixed) intensification phase.  We say mixed because this is not a typical intensification phase that moves to higher speeds and/or higher percentage of percent RepMax. 

Instead, it starts to do that only in the main strength exercises, and also by adding some higher velocity explosive movements.

So if you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level, or just want to try something new and effective, the GBC program is the perfect fit.

Get ready to challenge yourself and see the results you’ve always wanted.

The Workouts

The workouts are comprised of compound strength movements, high-rep kettlebell exercises, and intense cardio intervals.

The combination of these elements creates a program that is not only challenging, but also highly effective in;

  • raising your heart rate
  • increasing lactate accumulation
  • boosting your metabolism

The program is structured to allow you to perform more total work in each session and to keep your heart rate elevated for maximum calorie burn.

Getting Stronger

During the 1st superset, this program differs from traditional high repetition schemes.  Instead, we are using heavy weights and lower reps.

One of the key elements of this program is autoregulating the weight for your main compound strength movements.

Each week, you’ll perform a rep test set to determine the correct weight for the following week. This allows you to continually increase the intensity of your workouts and to see continual improvements in your strength and fitness.

Work Density

One of this month’s goals is to increase the total amount of work done.  More work in the same time equates to more work density.  Density

In addition to the strength and cardio components, the program also includes a high-intensity cardio interval in the second superset. This helps to further raise your heart rate and lactate accumulation, leading to even greater calorie burn and fat loss.

Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or just starting out, this program is designed to be highly effective and challenging, with results you can see and feel.

The Program Structure

The program consists of three full-body strength training sessions per week, with each session lasting approximately 50-60 minutes.

Block A is structured around compound exercises including front squats, deadlifts, and bench press, with a focus on building strength.  This block utilizes autoregulated rep tests on the main compound strength movement, allowing you to continually adjust the load to maximize gains.

In Blocks B & C, you’ll increase the repetitions in compound exercises are paired with high-intensity cardio intervals, designed to increase heart rate and lactate accumulation, leading to an increase in growth hormone, a key hormone for fat loss.

The program also incorporates the use of supersets, pairing upper and lower body exercises, allowing for a higher heart rate and more total work to be done in a workout.

Nutrition for GBC – Based on Your Goals

Nutrition plays a crucial role in any fitness program, and this GBC program is no exception. The right combination of calories, carbohydrates, and macronutrients can make all the difference in helping you achieve your goals.

Protein

For everyone, adequate quality protein is a good start. A protein shake can be a useful strategy for this GBCT program, whether the goal is mass gain or fat loss. Here’s how:

Mass Gain: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle, so consuming an adequate amount of protein is crucial for those looking to gain mass. Drinking a protein shake after a workout can provide the body with the necessary protein to fuel recovery and promote muscle growth.

Fat Loss: Consuming a protein shake before or after a workout can help increase satiety, reduce cravings, and improve overall calorie control, which can support fat loss efforts. Additionally, drinking a protein shake post-workout can help promote muscle preservation, which can help maintain a higher metabolism and support long-term fat loss.

For Your Goals

You can also alter your nutrition based on your goals.

For muscle gain:

  • Increase total calorie intake: Consuming a surplus of calories is necessary to support muscle growth. A moderate calorie surplus of 250-500 calories above maintenance level can help increase muscle mass.
  • Increase carbohydrate intake: Carbohydrates provide energy for intense exercise and support muscle growth, so increasing carbohydrate intake may be necessary to support muscle gain. Aim for a diet that is 40-60% carbohydrates, with the remainder split between protein and fat.

For fat loss:

  • Reduce total calorie intake: Consuming a calorie deficit is necessary to lose body fat. A moderate calorie deficit of 250-500 calories below maintenance level can help achieve fat loss.
  • Moderate carbohydrate intake: While carbohydrates are important for energy, reducing carbohydrate intake can help create a calorie deficit. Aim for a diet that is 30-50% carbohydrates, with the remainder split between protein and fat.

It’s important to keep in mind that individual calorie and macronutrient needs can vary, so it’s best to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to create a personalized plan that supports your goals.

Upgrading Your Results

We’ve already talked about the importance of proper nutrition, but there are other factors you can consider to maximize your progress. Optimizing both your recovery and supplements can boost your results.

Supplements for GBC

There are several research-backed supplements that can help improve fat loss and support your muscle growth during this program. These include caffeine, green tea extract, and creatine among others.

Caffeine & Green tea

Caffeine and green tea have been shown to have thermogenic effects, meaning they can increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation.

Consuming caffeine has been shown to boost metabolism, increase thermogenesis and enhance physical performance. Green tea contains a catechin called EGCG, which has been shown to increase fat oxidation, boost metabolism and decrease body weight.

So consider having that cup of green tea before your next GBC session..

Creatine

Most people think of creatine as a muscle building supplement. However, it can be used as a supplement to support a healthy weight loss. Creatine supplementation can help increase muscle mass and strength, which can increase overall metabolism and contribute to fat loss as part of a calorie-controlled diet and exercise program.

Additionally, creatine can also improve high-intensity exercise performance, allowing for more intense and effective workouts, which can lead to improved body composition and potentially, fat loss.

Lifestyle

Additionally, there are other lifestyle habits that can boost the effectiveness of this program. Getting sufficient sleep, staying hydrated, and reducing stress are helpful. Things like meditation, red light or yoga are all great examples of ways to support your training and help your body recover faster.

23.2 Summary

In conclusion, this GBC program is a comprehensive approach to getting lean that takes into account both strength training and cardio to help you reach your goals.

Whether you’re looking to lose fat, build muscle, or improve your overall fitness, incorporating this program into your routine is sure to provide you with noticeable results in a short amount of time.

With proper nutrition, supplementation, and supportive lifestyle habits, you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals in no time!

The Power of Lactate: How Accumulating Blood Lactate Can Benefit Your Body Composition

accumulating blood lactate

When athletes and coaches talk about accumulating blood lactate, they are generally focused on the work and conditioning aspects of exercise. It’s not usually thought about in terms of fat burning.

However, in this article we’ll explore a different side. How accumulating blood lactate during a workout can stimulate the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH) and promote fat burning.

blood lactate test
coaches and athletes often test blood lactate during workouts

What are Lactate and HGH?

Lactate is a byproduct of exercise that forms when your muscles use glucose for energy. As you exercise harder, your muscles produce more lactate, which accumulates in the blood. HGH, on the other hand, is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It plays a crucial role in regulating growth, metabolism, and body composition.

The Benefits of Lactate and HGH

Studies have shown that accumulating blood lactate during exercise can stimulate the secretion of HGH. This is great news for those looking to improve their body composition.

That’s because HGH promotes fat burning and helps to build lean muscle mass. When you exercise at high intensity and push yourself to the limit, your body produces more HGH, which can lead to better body composition results.

How to Accumulate Lactate

You need to exercise intensely enough to accumulate blood lactate

To accumulate lactate, you need to exercise at a high intensity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to achieve this. HIIT involves short bursts of intense activity followed by rest periods. This type of workout allows you to push your muscles to the limit, producing more lactate and stimulating the secretion of HGH.

Another way to do this without high-intensity intervals is to use supersets with higher reps.

Superset training involves performing two or more compound exercises back-to-back without any rest in between, leading to an increase in heart rate and lactate production. A German Body Composition training program is an example of using this strategy.

These training methods create a high-intensity workout, allowing you to push your muscles to the limit and stimulate the secretion of HGH, leading to improved body composition results.

Benefit from Accumulating Blood Lactate

In conclusion, accumulating blood lactate during exercise is a great way to stimulate the secretion of HGH and promote fat burning.

This can lead to better body composition results, including an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in body fat. So the next time you hit the gym, push yourself to the limit and take advantage of the benefits of lactate and HGH.

References:

  • Bishop, D., & Turner, P. (2016). Influence of acute lactate and hydrogen ion accumulation on growth hormone and cortisol secretion. Sports Medicine, 46(6), 825-836.
  • von Schulsenger, J., Verges, S., Vieux, N., Salleron, J., Barbier, B., Le Gallais, D., … & Sagot, J. M. (2013). The impact of high-intensity intermittent exercise on lactate and growth hormone responses. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 12(2), 314.

Athletes Guide To Improving Muscle Pliability

Guest Blog from Vive Recovery Centers

In the quest to improve movement quality & efficiency, as well as reduce the risk of injury, pliability has become a popular topic.

This guide will help you with ways to improve muscle pliability.

What Is Pliability?

Pliability describes the quality of muscle tissue. Function focuses on effective/efficient movement.  It’s not just about how much muscle, how much range of motion, or how much force.

Pliability is an underlying tissue quality that improves those things.

Sports medicine and tissue professionals use the term to describe muscle tissue.  Three components that they incorporate into the concept of pliability include;

  • Elasticity – has spring after yielding and while absorbing force
  • Smooth – layers of tissue glide freely, without adhesions
  • Supple – muscle may be dense but it is adaptable and unrestricted

Those are great descriptions of the qualities we want in the muscle of any active person or athlete. So improving muscle pliability is a worthwhile goal.

“Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” — Lao Tzu

Is Muscle Pliability the Same as Flexibility?

No. Muscle pliability is not the same as flexibility. 

Flexibility is the ability of joints and tissues to move through a full range of motion.  Its just a quantitative measure of passive motion.

Pliability, on the other hand, involves the tissue’s ability to move, and the quality it moves with. 

You might be able to move through a specific range of motion, but you can still lack pliability. Without pliability, that motion could come unevenly, with added stress, or lack of elasticity to spring back well.

So how far you can move and stretch a muscle, doesn’t entirely reflect if it is pliable.

Why Is Improving Muscle Pliability Important?

Movement and muscle contraction transmit forces through connected chains into the tissue of your body.

These forces can be dissipated effectively across tissues and joints or overload them. 

The forces can be used elastically like a new rubber band, or damage tissue like ones that are ragged and worn out.

The question of whether you can use that force effectively is answered by whether your muscles are adequately pliable.

The most important ability for an athlete is availability.  Injuries are the greatest setback for anyone who wants to be fit, active, and do the things they love.

 Pliability is key to your body remaining resilient when you go out and push it hard playing, training, and living.

Is Pliability Only a Muscle Quality?

No.  In humans, you can’t anatomically or functionally separate the muscle from connective tissue completely.

Muscle is surrounded by layers of fascia and connects to bones through tendons.  Fascia also is a tensional network transmitting forces through the body (Schleip ed. 2012).  It’s interwoven with-in your muscles like a web helping to give it structure and affecting its elasticity.

So while people commonly refer to “muscle” pliability, in fact, its “tissue” pliability that includes muscles, tendons, and fascia.

Is Muscle Pliability Based on Science?

Muscle pliability is more than just a term used by professionals, its a valid physiological construct (Science Direct) although there can be some confusion in popular media. The elements making up pliability are measurable and based in science.

First of all, the elasticity (Uffmann 2004) and compliance (Simons 1998 ) of myofascial tissue can be measured.

Secondly, muscle tone (Gubler-Hanna 2007) and stiffness (Prune 2016) can be measured in several different ways.

Furthermore, MSK ultrasound imaging visually shows how much fascial layers are sliding and it can be measured (Soares 2021).

So, pliability is not be universally defined or used appropriately in some social media posts. However, these are real, measurable qualities of muscle, tendinous, and fascial tissue.

How Do You Improve Muscle Pliability?

Pliability is key for movement, and it has scientifically measurable qualities. Therefore, improving muscle pliability is important. So, what can you do to make it better?

Move

Movement is key to tissue pliability.  “Motion is lotion” is a saying that emphasizes a scientific fact.

The contraction, relaxation, and stretching/sliding of muscles, tendons and fascia does in fact lubricate the joints and tissues.  Forceful contractions positively influence the hydration and chemical composition of muscles.

Lack of movement causes both functional (Campbell 2019 ) and physiological (Williams 1984) changes to tissues.  Furthermore, pliability gets worse when you don’t move enough (Cowman 2015).

Moving through a full range of motion helps prevent adhesions from developing in the fascia.  Additionally, it helps to prevent the densification of tissues.

Here are few things to consider to move well;

  • Train with full motion:  Training in multiple planes of motion (up/down, side/side, rotate, front/back) is a great step.  Too many athletes start using the same motions again and again.  That is to say, it’s also important to work through a full joint range of motion.
  • Different speeds of movement:  Grinding out slow heavy lifts or steady hikes are great.  However, sometimes you need to be moving faster, and bouncier.  Muscles need to move in different ways to stay pliable.
  • Active mobility work:  Mobility (both flexibility and stability) needs to be trained with specific intention, not just left to chance.

Hands-on Tissue Work

If you want to improve muscle pliability you can take a page from elite athletes and teams and focus on professional tissue work. 

IASTM muscle recovery
“Tooling” is one of several Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization techniques used for improving muscle pliability.

We aren’t talking about a relaxing Swedish massage (although they can be great!)

The changes in tissue compliance and elasticity before and after tissue work (Jędrzejewski 2020, Costello 2016) are measurable.

Trained therapists use the skill of their hands along with specialized tools to get the results you need. These approaches can be highly targeted to specific tissues, structures, and myofascial chains. 

Tissue work targets both physiological structures and nervous system function.

In short, for improving muscle pliability, skilled hands-on tissue work is the gold standard.

Hydration

Hydration is a crucial factor in muscle pliability. Muscles that aren’t hydrated begin to look and feel like beef jerky instead of Grade-A steak. Consequently, they can’t absorb the forces thrown their way.

Proper hydration is critical for just about every biological process, including performance, recovery, and overall health. 

Did you know that muscles are ~75% water?!

Water is needed for lubricating the tissue of fascia and muscle as they slide freely.

Therefore, if you aren’t sufficiently hydrated, your muscles won’t perform, respond, or recover optimally.

a Mediterranean diet is one startegy to reduce inflammation which helps when improving muscle pliability
A Mediterranean diet is one strategy to reduce inflammation which helps when improving muscle pliability

Reduce Inflammation

Nutrition is also a crucial factor after hydration in ensuring muscle pliability. What we put inside of our bodies has a direct impact on our muscles and in particular, our bodies’ inflammatory responses to certain foods.

A good diet is important for improving muscle pliability because ongoing inflammation in your tissues can lead to the degeneration of those tissues (Howard 2020).

As a result, if you do this long enough, your tissues will lose elasticity. Firstly, this occurs by changing the extracellular matrix composition and fiber alignment.

Secondly, instead of aligned and sliding collagen fibers in your connective tissue, chronic inflammation can stimulate crosslinks that restrict motion

Stretching is Not Enough to Improve Muscle Pliability

Stretching is a piece of the puzzle to gain or maintain your muscle pliability, but it’s not enough on its own.  Movement through a full range is more effective because it stretches the muscles along with contracting them which has a greater effect.

For one thing, stretching helps more with the neurological control of muscle tension, not the actual physical muscle pliability (Ylinen, 2009).

Additionally, stretching doesn’t create the same stimulus for changes to the extra-cellar matrix in your connective tissue that influence pliability.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has become one of the go to practices in the fitness world as a way to “release” muscle adhesions. However, in recent years its taken some criticism as the pressures applied aren’t enough to actually deform fascial tissue or adhesions.

foam rolling for muscle pliability
Foam rolling is something everyone can do to help maintain tissue pliability

While true, this criticism may be missing the bigger picture.  Foam rolling can aid in an individual’s awareness of muscle pliability. It increases their neurological input to the brain.  Accessing the nervous system can help “release” muscle tension and trigger points neurologically, not structurally.

So along with moving, and between tissue work sessions, use that foam roller to help maintain your tissue quality!

Start Improving Your Muscle Pliability Today

Muscle pliability is a term that describes optimal muscle qualities. Pliable tissue is elastic and yielding. Furthermore, it is unrestricted, smooth, and supple. 

Pliability is about more than muscle. It includes complete myofascial chains of muscles, tendons, and fascia.

If you want to move better, stay healthy, and enjoy the things you love more, then focus on improving your pliability with these basic strategies.

Human Performance 23.1

To kick-off 2023 the Strength program is based on German Body Composition Training methods to burn fat and build lean tissue

German Body Composition (GBC) training is a style of training that focuses on building muscle mass and increasing strength through the use of compound exercises.

The German Body Composition method has a background in the former Eastern Bloc Sports System. 

According to the story, a defecting sports scientist brought it to Germany in the 1980s.  It was popularized by Charles Poliquin and has become a mainstay of Hollywood trainers preparing starts for roles where they want to look good naked.

GBC Program Methods

Here are some of the main methods used in this month’s GBC program.

  1. Super-setting compound exercises of the lower and upper body – this generates significant work but limits fatigue.
  2. Short rests of :30-:60 sec – helps to build lactate and stimulate hormonal responses
  3. Mid to high volume (20-24reps total per exercise) and total time under tension – to stimulate lactate build-up, and increase caloric burn
  4. Bonus high-intensity cardio exercise – increases lactate production and calorie burn

Changing Body Composition

Body composition refers to the percentage of fat, bone, and muscle in your body. It is important to fitness because it can affect your overall health, athletic performance, and appearance.

Having a healthy body composition is important because excess fat, especially abdominal fat, can increase the risk of a number of health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. On the other hand, having a high amount of muscle mass can improve metabolism, increase strength and power, and improve athletic performance.

In terms of appearance, having a healthy body composition can help you to achieve a lean and toned physique. This can improve self-esteem and confidence, and contribute to a positive body image.

There are two main strategies to improve body composition in GBC. Burning fat and increasing metabolically active muscle.

Burning Fat

One way in which German Body Composition training may help to shred fat is by increasing metabolically active muscle mass.

As muscle is metabolically active tissue, having more muscle mass can boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories, even at rest. This can contribute to fat loss over time.

Another way in which German body composition training may help to shred fat is by increasing the density of your workouts.

There are a few different ways that total exercise density can be increased in a German body composition program:

  1. Short rest periods: By limiting rest periods between sets and exercises, you can increase the density of your workouts and increase the overall workload.
  2. Supersets: Supersets involve performing two exercises back to back without rest in between. This can increase the density of your workouts and allow you to accomplish more work in a shorter period of time.

It is worth noting that in order to maximize fat loss, it is important to combine German body composition training with a healthy diet and regular cardiovascular exercise. This will help to create a calorie deficit, which is necessary for fat loss to occur.

Building Lean Muscle

Exercise density and time under tension are two factors that can influence muscle growth and contribute to the development of lean muscle mass.

Exercise density refers to the amount of work that is accomplished in a given period of time, typically measured in seconds or minutes. By increasing the density of your workouts, you can increase the overall workload and intensity of your exercises, which can stimulate muscle growth.

Time under tension refers to the amount of time that a muscle is subjected to tension or resistance during an exercise. By increasing the time under tension during an exercise, you can increase the stress placed on the muscle and stimulate muscle growth.

Together both of these are used in our 23.1 GBC program to increase the total workload.

The greater overall workload leads to a better hormonal response post-workout, specifically through anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone.

Testosterone is a hormone that plays a key role in muscle growth and development. It helps to stimulate protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue. Higher levels of testosterone can promote muscle growth and increase strength.

Growth hormone (GH) is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays a role in growth, metabolism, and the breakdown of fats. GH can stimulate muscle growth and increase fat loss, especially in combination with exercise.

By increasing the density of your workouts, you can stimulate the release of testosterone and GH, which can help to promote muscle growth and improve body composition.

Human Growth Hormone

Boosting your natural human growth hormone (HGH) production helps with both increasing lean muscle and reducing fat.

HGH is released in pulses throughout the day, with the highest levels occurring during sleep. Some studies have suggested that HGH may help to increase fat loss, especially in combination with exercise.

One way in which HGH may help to burn fat is by increasing the breakdown of fat cells, particularly in the abdominal area. HGH may also stimulate the liver to produce insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which can help to increase the utilization of fat for energy. In addition, HGH may help to increase muscle mass, which can boost metabolism and contribute to fat loss.

One way in which HGH may help to build lean muscle is by stimulating protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue. HGH may also help to increase muscle mass by stimulating the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which can help to promote muscle growth and repair.

It is worth noting that HGH from GBC training is not a magic bullet for weight loss or muscle building and to see the best results, nutrition, sleep, and lifestyle need to be dialed in.

Supporting the GBC Program

If you want to maximize your gains during the 4 weeks of 23.1, you should support it with lifestyle strategies.

Sleep

Sleep is an important factor in overall health and wellness, and can support fat burning and the release of human growth hormone (HGH).

One way in which sleep supports fat burning is by regulating the hormones that control hunger and appetite. When you are sleep deprived, your body may produce higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which can increase hunger and cravings for calorie-dense, high-fat foods. On the other hand, getting enough sleep may help to increase levels of the hormone leptin, which can help to suppress appetite and promote fat loss.

In addition to regulating hunger hormones, sleep can also support fat burning by helping to maintain a healthy metabolism. Poor sleep quality has been linked to a slower metabolism, which can make it more difficult to lose weight and maintain a healthy body composition.

Sleep is also important for the release of HGH, a hormone that plays a role in growth, metabolism, and the breakdown of fats. HGH is released in pulses throughout the day, with the highest levels occurring during sleep. Some studies have suggested that HGH may help to increase fat loss, especially in combination with exercise.

It is important to prioritize sleep and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night in order to support fat burning and HGH release.

Nutrition

Here are a few simple recommendations for nutrition to use with German body composition training:

  1. Adequate protein intake: Consuming adequate amounts of protein is important for building and maintaining muscle mass. Aim for 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Good sources of protein include chicken, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, and tofu.
  2. Plenty of vegetables: Vegetables are an important source of nutrients and can help to support muscle growth and recovery. Aim to consume a variety of vegetables, including leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and colorful vegetables such as bell peppers and tomatoes.
  3. Carbohydrates for energy: If trying to gain significant muscle mass you need to give yourself enough energy. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for muscle building. Choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, and consume them around your workouts to fuel your muscles and support recovery.
  4. Recovery nutrition: Consuming a quality protein shake within an hour after your workouts can help to support muscle recovery and growth. Good options include a protein shake with fruit, Greek yogurt with berries, or a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread.

It is important to note that everyone’s nutritional needs are different and it is best to work with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to develop a nutrition plan that is tailored to your specific needs and goals.

YOUR TOURNAMENT NUTRITION PLAN TO FUEL PERFORMANCE

Tournaments are a big part of sports for athletes young and old.  For younger athletes, they are important scouting opportunities for college, national teams, and juniors programs. For older athletes, these recreational tournaments may be the big event annually, so they want to play their best.

Athletes looking to gain a competitive edge for their next travel tournament should take a closer look at how they’re eating.

When athletes travel, they lose out on many of the advantages of playing at home, including meals.  Meals have to be eaten while traveling by car, bus, or plane to and from tournaments. 

Then they have to eat meals in hotels, restaurants, and on-site.

All in all, this is a major change from their normal routine at home. Add in team demands of group meals and a lot of athletes’ control over their nutrition is affected.

Making a nutrition plan before hitting the road will help athletes make better choices.  

Better food choices can lead to more fuel for the games, better recovery, lower injury risk, and a better chance to play their best.

Remember, eating choices is one place a player can exert a lot of control, but its going to take some planning.

2-3 DAYS BEFORE THE TOURNAMENT

Most athletes aren’t really starting to prep in the days before leaving for a tournament. Properly tapering training volume and getting extra sleep is a start.   

But starting your tournament nutrition plan a few days early is a bonus. The addition of eating high-quality foods and hydrating fully is also a good strategy to get an advantage over others.

Fill your water bottle several times per day and eat a balanced diet the week before. This will help you to show up to a tournament weekend fully fueled, hydrated, and ready to play.

What your plate should look like during tournament week:

  • 1/3 carbs: pasta, potatoes, whole grain breads, rice, oatmeal, whole grain cereal, corn, peas, beans, tortillas)
  • 1/3 protein and healthy fats (fish, turkey, chicken, beef, eggs, Greek yogurt, Tofu, tempeh, nuts, fish, etc.)
  • 1/3 vegetables/fresh fruit.
Eating well consistently is the foundation for game-day performance.

TRAVEL FOOD TIPS

One of the most dangerous times for healthy eating is during travel.  Whether it’s the stops at fast food while driving, or limited airport options, travel is challenging. So your tournament nutrition plan needs to adapt for you travel.

Packing some non-perishable snacks is a good way to save money and avoid buying unhealthy foods on the road. Fill your bag with items that are a good choice, instead of being stuck with only bad choices.  Some of the foods you could select for travel include:

  • A large water bottle
  • Bagels or bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Trail mix/mixed nuts, dried fruit
  • Apples/oranges/bananas
  • Granola bars
  • Beef or turkey jerky
  • Tuna packets, and
  • whey protein & a shaker bottle

You can also find some healthy snacks and meals on the go, but it’s always good to have good choices on hand.

EATING THE NIGHT BEFORE YOUR TOURNAMENT

Top off your fuel stores by eating a high-quality carb-rich meal the night before your first game.

Remember – carbs are your body’s main source of fuel during high-intensity exercise such as team sports.  That means you’ll want to eat a healthy and balanced meal with several servings of starches and a serving of healthy proteins. 

Basically, it should look like your pre-game meal.

When eating out on the road, there are some things to avoid;

  • Unfamiliar or extra spicy foods might be great to expand your tastes but be careful trying new foods before a competition.
  • It is also a good idea to avoid high fat/fried foods that can add a lot of calories and leave you feeling heavy.
  • Many fast-food choices will contain high amounts of sodium.  This can leave you retaining extra-cellular water and feeling bloated.

Search the menu for options like these:

  • Simple pasta dishes with red sauce.  A side of chicken breast and a side salad
  • Grilled chicken or beef with sweet potato and vegetables
  • Burrito / bowl with grilled chicken/steak, rice, grilled vegetables, and avocado – skip the cheese and sour cream
  • Deli turkey sandwich or sub with lettuce, spinach, and tomato – Go light on cheese or mayo
  • Grilled chicken sandwiches with an apple and yogurt
  • Rice and grilled white fish or salmon

PRE-GAME MEAL

This is the part many people focus on in their tournament nutrition plan. They have to figure out where the meals are going to be while on the go.

Your pre-game meal is going to provide the major source of fuel for your effort in the game, so make it good.

If you have an early morning game, you have the choice to get up and eat early (3-4 hours before game time) or rely on the meal the night before and top it off with morning carb & protein snacks. 

This varies a lot based on individuals, so you should try to experiment ahead on some early practice days if possible.

You can usually find healthy carb options at the hotel breakfast such as toast, oatmeal, cereal, whole fruit, and juice. Pairing carbs with protein, such as eggs, yogurt, milk, and peanut butter/nuts will help hold you over throughout your first game. Eating this healthy breakfast is vital to topping off energy stores as you prepare for a long day of games.

If you have a late morning or early afternoon game, breakfast will be your pre-game meal.  If not, then it will probably be lunch. Food options are generally a bit broader later in the day.

The starchy carbs are your source of fuel so you should search for:

  • Pasta dishes without cheeses or cream sauces
  • Rice or noodle dishes
  • Baked white potatoes or sweet potatoes
  • Whole grain breads

There are also some things to avoid pre-game.  They are foods that take too long to digest or can upset your stomach.

  • New foods
  • High fat / fried foods
  • Dairy
  • Spicy foods
  • Large amounts of raw vegetables that are harder to digest

The most important thing is to pay attention to what works for you.  Experimenting at home before practices is a good way to learn what foods fuel you best without gastric distress.

PREGAME SNACKS

Depending on your per-game mealtime, or time between matches, you can take advantage of snacking smart.

The intake of a little bit of protein and carbs keeps your fuel tanks topped off going into game time.  You want simple foods that aren’t hard to digest. Some ideas can include;

  • Apple and some almonds or cashews
  • Half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Small Greek yogurt & banana
  • Hard-boiled egg and an apple
  • Small instant oatmeal and blueberries

Don’t ingest a bunch of simple sugars that could spike your glucose. That will then lead to an insulin spike and post sugar crash right before game time.  Simple sugars to be careful of pre-game include;

  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Juice
  • Processed/packaged foods
  • Many granola bars

DURING THE GAME

You want to make sure you stay hydrated and fueled during the game if you want to perform your best and reduce the risk of injury.

When you are more fatigued from low energy stores or dehydrated, your risk of injury can increase.

Not to mention there can be a cumulative effect.  That means depleting your carbohydrates stores completely during one game, can make it harder to refuel for the next ones.

Experiment at practice ahead of time to find some fast digesting carb that can help you maintain energy levels.  

In depends on the length and setting of your sport, but some of the foods you might try at half-time, or between periods/rounds include:

  • Sports drink with electrolytes/carbs
  • A few slices of orange or watermelon
  • Dried fruit or Fruit snacks
  • Energy gel or applesauce packets
  • Fig bars
  • Granola/energy bars
  • A handful of gummy bears

Don’t overdo it!  A small amount can go a long way and too much can upset your stomach. Consuming these during breaks will help keep your energy levels high.

POST-GAME

One of the exciting things about tournaments is getting to play a lot. However, that also puts more demands on your recovery. Thats why your tournament nutrition plan needs to consider what happens after games.

After competing, your energy stores are depleted.  This is primarily the glycogen in your muscle cells.  To refuel you’ll need to get carbohydrates into your body to refill your tank.  But you’ll need more than that.

You’ve also used up various molecules in your body and caused microscopic damage to tissues.  You’re going to need quality protein so your body can rebuild the tissue and restock its biochemistry.

And then there is the most important post-game nutrition need; hydration.  You’ve probably heard that your body is mostly water.  Well, that’s true. 

However, just as important is the fact that the majority of your biological process requires water to operate optimally.  Playing hard dehydrates and even more so in the heat.

So you need to rehydrate.

The 3 Rs approach to post-game recovery is a proven strategy.

  • Refuel with fast-acting carbohydrates
  • Repair (protein)
  • Rehydrate (water/sports drinks)

When To Refuel Post Game

In a lot of circles, the immediate period after exercise or competition is considered the refuel power hour.

Many athletes have been known to focus on their 3Rs within the 20-minute window of finishing play.

The problem is that often you have to cool-down, change, travel back to a hotel, and then go to a restaurant.  The time can add up. 

And if you have another tournament game in less than a few hours, this becomes more important.

If you have more than 4 hours until the next game, you can probably go have that meal.

But often you need to stay onsite, or there just isn’t much time.

Post Game Strategy

So one of the key strategies is to have some quickly available calories right in the locker room, car, or bus. 

Some of the ways to accomplish your three Rs include;

  • Consume 8-20oz of water or electrolyte sports drink
  • Consume a carbohydrate-containing sports drink and a whey protein shakes
  • Chocolate milk is a popular choice for both its quick carbs and protein (plus it tastes good to many)

Then, if you aren’t playing again, go eat a balanced meal you know will sit well with your stomach.

With more than four hours between games you are back to the pre-game meal routine.  Over the course of the tournament, just rinse and repeat.

GAME DAY NUTRITION PLAN

Now you can see that game-day nutrition is more than just the pre-game meal.  A complete tournament nutrition plan starts well before the tournament.

It takes planning to be fueled for your best performance and that’s increased with multiple games at a tournament and travel.

Your plan should be based on your own personal tastes and the experimentation you tried on practice days.

By having a tournament nutrition plan, your chances of success are much higher.

6 Ways Getting Outside Can Help Your Recovery

GUEST BLOG: Vive Recovery Center

Getting outside can help your recovery and be a great addition to your routine.

Over the last several years people have been rediscovering the joys of outdoor exercise and activities. Some of the benefits may actually be related to recovery as much as exercise.

improve sleep with outdoor activity

Getting Outside Improves Your Sleep

The outdoors helps set your sleep cycle. You need enough light to get your body’s internal clock working right. Early morning sunlight in particular seems to help people get to sleep at night.

In contrast, modern living, which is heavy on artificial light, may impair our sleep.

Researchers found that spending time outdoors may improve your sleep.

They found that camping reset the body’s “clock” to be more in tune with nature’s light-and-dark cycle. The result was longer sleep

Vitamin D for recovery

Outdoor Time Helps Your Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D is important for your bones, blood cells, and immune system.

Researchers from The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Salt Lake City found that vitamin D can help with faster muscle recovery after intense exercise It may even prevent muscle damage caused by the exercise.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb more minerals, like calcium and phosphorus.

Your body needs sunlight to make Vitamin D, but you don’t need much. Getting outside can help your recovery with just 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight, 2 or 3 times a week, should do it.

Lower anxiety levels for recovery

Getting Outside Lowers Anxiety

Something as simple as a plant in the room can make you feel less anxious, angry, and stressed.

However, it’s even better if you get outside in nature.

One of the reasons is that sunlight helps keep your serotonin levels up. This increases your energy and encourages a calm, and positive mood.

outside activity connection

Connection

It’s more than just Mother Nature you connect with when you go outside.

You also connect with more people and places in your community.

Human contact and a sense of community are important to your mental health.

Getting Outside Can Help Your Recovery with increased focus

It Improves Your Focus

It makes sense since you’re getting some level of exercise.

But studies show that when you do something outside your focus is increased.

And it’s not just the activity, it’s the “greenness” of the outdoor space.

University of Michigan psychology researchers found memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature.

So, getting outside can help you focus and that lets you do things better.

It Can Provide negative Ions

While the Ions may be negative, they are actually good for you. 

Researchers looking at decades of studies found evidence that negative ions could help improve sleep patterns and mood.  They also found evidence you can benefit from reduced stress and boosted immune system function.

Negative ions exist in nature in places like the beach, and near waterfalls.  So that walk on the beach has more than just the scenery going for it.

Get Outside

When people think about recovery they ignore that the simple act of getting outside can help their recovery.

But it can have a positive impact.

So, makes sure you do it right.

Consider protecting your skin from the sun and using broad-spectrum sunscreen, SPF 15 or higher, even when it’s cloudy.

Get outside, enjoy, and recover better!

The Crossover Step Myth: “Don’t Cross Your Feet”

Is a crossover step bad in sports

Whether it is, basketball, football, or soccer you can easily find coaches extolling the dangers of using a crossover step.  “You’ll get beat if you cross your feet” is still a common mantra for many coaches.

However, when we watch many of the best defenders in these sports, we see them cross the feet often.

So are they just doing it wrong?  Or maybe they are just gifted athletes the rest of us mere mortals shouldn’t try to copy?

We would argue that they have developed the athletic movement skills to use their feet, legs, and hips effectively.  They developed a wide enough range of motor programs that they can cross their feet, rotate hips, and reposition efficiently to move well.

The Crossover Step

A crossover step is used when an athlete wants to move a bit faster or cover longer distances, approximately 4 yards or more. If you are doing a crossover to the left, you lift your right leg and cross it in front of your body. Your right foot will land in front of your left foot. (To see this, view the videos below.)

This is the way that the body naturally wants to move because it allows better force production and vector than a shuffle. 

If you watch athletes, you’ll notice that players will do this movement without instructing them.

Defenders and Hips

The concept coaches are trying to teach when they say “don’t cross your legs” may be that they want the defender to stay “squared up” to the opponent.  They want the defenders’ hips facing the opponent so they can go left or right easily at any moment.  

This makes sense.

If a defender turns their hips early, the attacking player can exploit this by changing direction.  With the hips turned one way, the defender is going to be slower because they have to turn their hips 180 degrees to get after the opponent.

So in a sport like basketball, the defender may want to be able to shuffle their feet to move left or right and cut off the attacking player. 

By shuffling, they stay squared up and can quickly react to either the left or right.

Speed and Distance

Let’s imagine we line up two players with the same speed for a race of 5 yards.  However, we let one sprint straight ahead and the other side shuffle.  Who is going to win?

The sprinter.  Running straight ahead is more biomechanically effective than shuffling.  There is a speed limit on the shuffle.

Now, what if we let the second athlete do a crossover run for those 5 yards?  Not a full turn and run, but staying hips square to the other, but letting their legs cross the midline of the body.  

In equal athletes, it is now going to stay really close.

So the crossover run can be effective. When a higher speed or distance is covered and the defender needs to stay square in case the opponent stops or changes direction.

Let’s take this further and make them go about 15 yards.  

The athlete using the crossover run may stay even initially. But they will start to fall behind as the other athlete keeps increasing speed.  Spriting straight ahead is just faster because of better biomechanics.

So at farther distances and higher speeds, the defenders need to turn their hips and run otherwise they will be beaten.

Situational Needs

What those examples highlight is that the “best” way to move depends on the goal.

  • Stay alongside the opponent
  • Keep hips square and ready to change
  • Move at different speeds
  • Cover short, medium, and long distances

That is why we want athletes to develop all of these movement skills.

It’s also why we want them to develop the coordination to effective change between them including opening the hips or crossing the feet.  

They need both linking skills so they can react instantaneously.

When a sport requires athletes to react to changing opponents, ball movement, and tactics it is considered an “open” sport.  The decisions and patterns are open to change.

Any defender in these sports has to possess a variety of ways to cover ground, change direction, and do these things while watching the game in other directions and dodging obstacles.

In the video linked below, watch as Kobe Bryant (recognized as a very good NBA defender) uses shuffles, crossovers, and slides to manage varying speeds and distances.

Training Crossed Feet

In our movement methodology, we develop several movement skills that help an athlete effectively cross their legs.  We teach them to do this to both move and transition between movements.

A variety of carioca drills are used to form a base of coordination with the legs crossing the midline of the body, both in front and in back of the torso and the other leg.

While these are seemingly remedial drills, they are very effective at helping an athlete get comfortable both turning the hips and crossing legs.  While the carioca isn’t a movement pattern they will use in transit during their sport, they give lots of repetition to develop proficiency.

The crossover drills are used both as the crossover run for transit and the crossover step to transition between movements. Crossover drills are combined with lateral or linear movements. The movements include: sprints, shuffles, and backpedals.

Finally, it is critical to use open, applied drills where athletes have to react to opponents, stimuli, or commands to change between speeds and directions.  They have to learn how to combine these hip, leg, and foot positions efficiently.

Building Athletes That Can Cross Their Feet

While the goal of not crossing the feet and staying square often makes sense, the reality of reacting in open sports means the best athletes learn to do it well.  

Instead of trying to coach athletes to stop using these natural movements, we work to make them more efficient and have a bigger skillset.  We want them to become proficient in using a variety of movements and transitions and reacting instantaneously to their opponents.

Training effective crossovers are key in building better athletes in many sports.

3 Ways To Train Like An Athlete And Thrive In Life

Train Like An Athlete

If you have played sports you might have fond memories of training like an athlete.  For many of us, one of the great things about when we trained for sport was how well we felt and functioned.

We were in great shape and felt like we could do anything.

We can take some of the lessons from training elite athletes and apply them to lifelong human performance as well.  If you train like an athlete with these 3 tips you can get more out of life.

Training With Purpose

Workouts are great.  You sweat, get endorphins, share the struggle and energy with the group, and keep your fitness up.

Across your lifespan, you’re going to do a lot of workouts.  A random mix of things in a workout can be fun.  There are times you just want to mindlessly sweat.

But athletes don’t work out.

They train. 

You see, the difference between working out and training is two-fold;

  1. There is a specific goal
  2. Each training session is part of a bigger plan.

We can make the case that workouts can have a goal.  Lift heavy, burn calories, sweat, and struggle.  All of those are could be goals.  But they aren’t part of a specific performance goal. 

Athletes train so they can improve things that help them reach their performance goals.  Build power to run and jump higher.  Get stronger to improve joint stability and reduce injury risk. Improve VO2 max so they can race at a higher pace. And so on…

Planned, Not Random

For an athlete, each workout is designed to be part of the overall plan and progression.  The workouts aren’t just a random collection of hard stuff. They compliment each other to increase your results. 

When you train like an athlete you stop just doing random things that are hard.  You know what you want to get better at and then you follow a plan to achieve that.

This is not just true in sports performance, but human performance as well.  If you want to run the Spartan Race faster or be able to play 18 holes on back-to-back days without pain, you have a specific goal.

Your training should help you achieve that.  It should progress through phases that build the right physical qualities so you can get better.

Having a specific goal, progressive variation exercises, and loading to pursue it, and training sessions that compliment each other is training like an athlete.

Movement Patterns

When it comes to strength & conditioning for sports, the goal is to improve the sport.  Sports are about movement not muscles, so we should train that way.

Yes, it’s your muscles that generate force and make you move.  But if we try to break the human body down into individual muscles, joints, and tissues we are missing the athleticism.

What you need to understand is that the brain doesn’t organize muscle by muscle, it is organized in movement.  When researchers observe brain activity through EEG they recognize that the brain activates by the movement pattern.  The same muscle can light up different parts of the brain in different movements.

So if we want to move and function better, we better make that the basis of our strength programming. 

This wasn’t always the case in strength training for sports.  For many years (and still today), bodybuilding influenced athletic strength training.  One of its basic approaches is a focus on isolating individual muscles to add maximum stress and growth.  That’s great if we are only trying to build muscle.  But if we want to improve movement, we need to train the muscles and the brain.

Isolation work has its place, but most of your workout program should revolve around the 7 foundational movement patterns.

Multi-Segmental Extension

The basis of most sporting movements is the coordinated extension of multiple joints and muscles of the lower body.  Just picture a sprinter simultaneously extending their hip, knee, and ankle joints as they propel their body forward out of the starting blocks.  You can also imagine a volleyball propelling themselves upward by extending hip, knee, and ankle to jump high and make a block.

Single-Leg Stance

Another fundamental human movement pattern is the single-leg stance.  Because human gait involves single-leg support variations, we find this everywhere in sports where athletes are moving over the ground.

Hip Hinge

Another lower body action we see is hinging at the hip.  This might also combine with some extension at the torso. 

In sports, we might see examples in a wrestler bridging, trying to get their shoulders off the mat, or standing trying to throw an opponent backward.  Or if we observe a track athlete sprinting at full speed and focus on how their leg moves backward to hit the track by extending at the hip.  In other parts of life, this might be lifting furniture to help a friend or picking up the kids.

Upper Body Push

When we have a coordinated extension of joints in the shoulder, arm, and wrist, we consider this a push. We can classify these as vertical or horizontal push motions based on the plane of movement. 

In sports, we see athletes pushing against opponents and it’s part of swinging and throwing motions.  It’s also common when we have to put something up on a shelf or push ourselves up off the floor.

Upper Body Pull

This is the inverse of the push and is the coordination of flexion in those upper body joints. While it’s slightly less common than pushing, it’s critical in many sports.  The “pull” in swimming strokes is what we would consider a vertical pull.   It could also be a rock climber or gymnastic pulling their body upward.

Horizontal pulling occurs in wrestling and grappling sports as opponents battle for position.  Another common horizontal pull would occur in rowing, kayaking, or canoe.

Bracing

This isn’t a movement pattern at all.  Bracing is actually an anti-movement pattern.  In their core, athletes need to control and transfer force from the upper to the lower body.  

The efficient transfer of force often means limiting motion so that force isn’t lost.  Resisting flexion, extension, and rotation in the pelvis and the spine is critical for efficient and explosive movement.

This is a key function to bulletproof your back and hips.  Since you experience the transfer of force through your spine in so many activities, it needs to be up to the task.

Multi-Segment Rotation

Finally, we have the coordinated rotational action that builds up from the lower body, through a stable core and transfers into the upper body.  It is easy to picture this in sports from a batter swinging to a quarterback throwing.  Sports such as golf, tennis, and hockey all involve rotation to swing an implement.

Move

Athletes move faster, farther, higher, and stronger.  But most of all they move.

Often in fitness, people keep working out, but they stop moving.  They end up doing a lot of lifting in the sagittal plane of motion.  People end up on spin cycles, treadmills, and machines.  They stay in one place and use cables, bands, and weights repetitively.

There is a place for all those things, but it’s missing athletic movement.

Athletic movement includes moving our body through space.  Coordinating to move faster and slow down.  Jump and land.  Move sideways and twist.  But most of all, to challenge our coordination in dynamic and changing ways.

That’s what we do in sports.  It’s what we should do as humans.

Athletic movements that involve coordination, different speeds and direction of movement, changing orientation in space, and lowering our center of mass have benefits for human performance and heath as well.

This doesn’t mean we have to go full speed into contact to improve performance.  But those who want to improve their human performance and health do need to move dynamically.

Moving at faster speeds, and decelerating is a unique load for our tendons and connective tissue.  Sports science has demonstrated that for optimal tendon health we need to regularly expose our tendons to fast stretch-shortening cycle movements. 

These are movements where we quickly load our muscles and change from flexing to extending or vice versa.  Think of dipping down before a jump in basketball.  Or the backswing in driving a golf ball. 

When we aren’t used to doing those things, they start to cause tendon pain when we go do them.  That’s when people get tendonitis problems like jumpers knee or tennis elbow.  Small doses of fast stretch-shortening movements can help your tendons stay ready for the weekend activities.

There’s also growing research that shows challenging your coordination can benefit lifelong brain health.  Moving the center of mass, changing your orientation in space, tracking moving objects, and coordinating body movements all can contribute to a better quality of life and improved memory and cognitive function.

If you can sprinkle in actual dynamic movement with these challenges, you are training like an athlete. You likely perform better in your sporting activities, have a lower risk of injury, and improve your overall health along the way.

Train Like An Athlete For Human Performance

Whether you want to run a better race, be a weekend warrior, or just feel better and eliminate pain, training like an athlete can help. 

Start by changing your mindset from working out to training with purpose. 

Then makes sure you think about movements and not just muscles when you pick up the weights. 

Finally, move more and move better.  Dynamic, challenging athletic movement will change the way you function and feel.

Strategies To Improve Your Acceleration Mechanics

Strategies To Improve Your Acceleration Mechanics

Athletes and coaches know that you can gain an advantage in just a few steps when you have a better burst of speed.

Getting even a little bit ahead of an opponent means you can get to the ball first or cut the other player off. That helps you dominate the competition and is often decided in the first steps.

For pure acceleration, you need both great mechanics and good power. The Velocity Speed Formula is:

  • Body Position
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

LEARN MORE: The Formula For Speed

You improve your acceleration mechanics so you can apply the components of the formula better.

Here are two strategies that have been successful with elite athletes including top draft picks preparing for the 40 yd Dash at the NFL Combine.

You can use these strategies to improve your acceleration mechanics.

Self-Limiting Exercises

Coaches can give you cues and feedback, but a great drill provides a lot of intrinsic feedback. The feedback that you feel and reinforce when you are doing it right or when your arent.

Drills that have constraints so you have to do them properly to be successful are “self-limiting.” You won’t be able to do it with the wrong technique.

Hill sprints fall into this category. The angle of the hill means your force vector (BIG FORCE and PROPER DIRECTION) will be right. To keep from catching your toe on the ground or falling onto your face, you will use an OPTIMAL RANGE OF MOTION.

Contrast Training

Contrast training is a strategy that takes advantage of both neuromuscular and motor learning.

First, you use a drill that stimulates the neuromuscular system to generate more force. By going uphill you have effectively changed the angle of effect of gravity under your feet. You have to apply more force to get up the hill.

Then you go to a drill that removes that additional force requirement and let your body apply it in a free movement. After the hill sprints, you go and do the sprint on flat ground.

Now your body is primed and applying the same force in a horizontal vector on the ground to propel you forward faster.

Contrast training takes advantage of your physiology and motor control to make faster improvements in your acceleration mechanics.

Check out the video to see it being applied by Velocity’s Global High-Performance Director Ken Vick. Then go use these strategies to improve your acceleration mechanics.

What It Takes To Be An Olympian: 3 Common Myths

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games going, Coach Ken Vick hits an amazing mark.  He’s now had athletes in eleven Olympic Games.  It’s been across countries and sports, giving him a unique view of Olympic athletes.

A Diverse, Global Sports View

Ken Vick started as a performance coach almost three decades ago and worked with his first Olympic athlete preparing for the Sydney Olympic Games. Vick’s first exposure to Olympic athletes was as a coach in the sport of weightlifting.

“Olympic sports were always a passion for me.  I was a Weightlifting coach for several international level lifters. The intensity and passion of athletes pursuing their Olympic dream is unique,” says Vick.

That passion continued as his career in sports performance progressed.  He’s coached athletes that have gone on to 11 different Summer and Winter Olympic Games.  And it is not just individual athletes he’s had experience with. 

He’s also been the Global High-Performance Director for Velocity Sports Performance overseeing the training of national teams and even entire Olympic Committees.

Team Great Britain Volleyball needed to prepare for the 2012 London Games and Velocity was tasked with helping them in the year leading up to them.  “Starting to see the differences in Olympic systems was revealing,” says Vick

The Chinese Olympic Committee had been a top nation in the medal count, but in 2013 they started working with Velocity in a few targeted sports and several of their provincial programs.  A few years later Velocity had deployed its systems and staff of performance coaches and sports medicine specialists to the other side of the globe to prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Coach Ken Vick reviews training data with an athlete preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“The experience of deploying Integrated Support Teams on the ground in China and advising their teams was incredible.  There were incredible cultural and systemic differences, but we had a unique perspective on the athletes themselves. It really highlighted commonalities among elite performers,” comments Vick.

Velocity has worked with Olympic athletes in 32 different sports from 17 countries.  This has provided Coach Vick with a unique perspective on what it takes to be an Olympian.

Myths About Olympians

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Olympic athletes. A lot of people will assume it’s all about genetics and talent.  While that’s clearly a part, Coach Vick thinks there is much more.

Here are some of the myths he hears when talking about Olympians with others.

To Be An Olympian You Must Specialize Early

During any Olympics, it is common to see videos of the athlete in their sport. These stories of athletes starting their sport at a young age are often equated with early specialization.  Meaning they start focusing on their sport and serious training at an early age.

There is no doubt some do.  They find a passion for a sport they love early on. 

In other parts of the world, athletes are almost entirely developed in national Olympic programs. These usually force them to specialize in one sport from a very early age.  “I’ve worked with athletes in other countries who moved away to a regional training center and started getting paid by the age of 10 years old.  Training day in and day out is almost all they’ve known for their whole life when they hit a high level,” shares Vick. 

This approach derives from a nation trying to be efficient and targeted in building as many Olympic Champions as possible.

It’s also helpful in sports like figure skating and gymnastics where athletes have traditionally peaked at a young age.

The Multi-sport Olympian

However, many Olympic athletes actually play multiple sports for quite a while.  According to a 2012 study by the US Olympic Committee, the majority of US Olympians played multiple sports into their teens. 

What it takes to be an Olympian; Team USA
The reality that Olympic athletes don’t all specialize early is a surprise to most people.

According to Vick, there’s a reason why a diverse early sports experience are part of what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. “There’s a major downside to specializing early.  It limits the overall athleticism of the athlete and puts repetitive mental and physical strain on an athlete early.”  This can lead to injury and burnout.

“One of the very reasons we’ve worked in some other countries is to solve this problem.  They have too many athletes achieving an elite level only to end up hurt and out of competition.  The wear and tear on them from early specialization has been obvious to our sports medicine staff and the lack of overall developed athletic skills is clear to our performance coaches.  They are clearly skilled in their sport, but they made too many with drawls and not enough deposits in their athleticism bank account, so to speak”

THE REALITY:  While starting in the final sport early is helpful, athletes benefit from diverse athletic experiences into their teen years.

Olympians Are Fearless

Imagine walking out into a crowded stadium with the pressure to perform to perfection in a physically demanding event. You represent your family, community, and the nation whose colors you wear.  All after a lifetime of training, sacrifice, and dreams.

For most mere mortals, this would overwhelm our ability to focus and cope.  The stress and anxiety levels would be off the charts.

So to be an Olympic athlete you must not feel this way, right?

Wrong

It’s not that Olympic athletes don’t have these feelings (and more), it is what they do with them.

Returning to sports after covid

Managing Fear and Anxiety

“Where ever I’ve been in the world, and in any sport, the top athletes learn how to manage these emotions.  They have developed a perspective that makes it bearable.  They embrace it as part of the process and maybe even something they can enjoy in some way.”

The training for many Olympic sports is a long grind.  They are physically demanding, have little financial or technical support, and they are seen until the Olympics rolls around every 4 years.

What keeps them going?  Optimism and enjoyment of the process.

“ I remember being in another country where the athletes were selected at a young age and moved away from home.  Sport for them was a job and had been for most of their life.  At the time the US women’s team was there training with them for a joint camp for two weeks. 

On a training day, I was observing our performance coach and physical therapist getting the team ready.  Most of the athletes in the training hall were sullen and lacked energy.  Then we heard some noise.  It slowly built from a low rumble into some music along with the sound of voices laughing and joking.  The energy was clearly high.  You could hear the positive vibes. 

Then walks in the US squad.  They had a spring in their step and smiles.  They were enjoying the process even in the middle of a grinding training camp.  One of the other athletes asked, why are they so happy.  She lost that and though one of the top-ranked athletes in her sport, wouldn’t go on to make it to the Olympics.”

To handle the stress of competition and the grind of training, athletes need to have optimism they can improve and make it.  This comes from their personal outlook and what they’ve experienced along the way.

THE REALITY: A sense of optimism and a belief that they can improve and make it is required to become an Olympian.

Olympians Were Always Great At Their Sport

When someone ends up at the pinnacle of their sport it is easy to believe that they were always good at it.  You’d think they were always the best from a young age and excelled.  Turns out that’s not exactly the case.

“Yes, most athletes had some success at their sport early on.  It’s part of why they decided to do it; because they were good at it or their family’s supported their effort.   But that they were always the best and highest-ranked is false.  In fact, evidence in a lot of sports shows that athletes who were junior champions, don’t make it to be elite or Olympic champions later. ”

Part of the reason is that development is not always linear.  Whether it’s learning techniques, tactics, or physical development, there are periods where most athletes struggle.

Vick agrees, “The struggle itself might be part of what builds Olympians.  Almost every Olympian I’ve know has had plateaus, obstacles, and setbacks.  How they preserve and continue to work and learn, that’s the mark of a champion.”

One of the most common setbacks is injury.  Whether minor or major, injury is a part of high-level sport.  You cant push the human body to its limits of performance without occasionally going too far.

“Coming back from injuries is one of the biggest places we see that resilience is a required quality for Olympic athletes,” says Vick.  “I’ve seen far too many high levels and extremely talented athletes who don’t have the mental, emotional, and physical grit to come back from injury”

THE REALITY: Success is rarely a linear growth path.  There are obstacles and setbacks which require mental, emotional, and physical resilience to become an Olympian.

USA Olympic athlete Maddie Godby works through a strength training session at Velocity Sports Performance.

More Than Just The Obvious

Vick concludes, “I think the biggest myth is that these are just genetically gifted and uniquely skilled athletes who are expressing their go-given talents.  In fact, they are athletes who conquered a challenging path physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

And that’s part of why we are all so inspired by watching these Olympians.