This is part V in a series titled Training the Modern Athlete. To read part IV, click here!
John Wooden: You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better
After listening to an interview with former United States gymnastic coach Chris Sommer, one thing really stood out to me. He talked about the difference between being an immature athlete and being a mature athlete. The immature athlete is one who wants instant gratification. They don’t want to wait around. They lack patience in their programming. A good example of this is an athlete who is not willing to work on the fundamentals of their given sport. They want to progress to the more advanced drills and they want to do it now. This athlete might achieve some early success, but in the long run, the immature athlete will begin to falter. They will be passed by the competition. The mature athlete will pass them by. The characteristics of a mature athlete are the opposite of the immature one. The mature athlete has patience. They can see the big picture. If the goal is to peak for the Olympic games in 4 years, they understand that where they are right now is not where they will be in the future. They trust the coaching and are willing to learn.
When I listened to this interview, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago titled Mindset by Carol Dweck. In it, she discussed two ways to views things: one with a fixed mindset, the other with a growth mindset. The immature athlete has a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is believing your qualities are carved in stone. They believe a person’s potential is non-malleable. In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail- or if you’re not the best- it’s all been a giant waste. If you need an example of an athlete with a fixed mindset, look no further than tennis player John McEnroe. If he lost, there was a tantrum. He blamed others. He berated judges. He didn’t hold himself accountable for his actions. There was nothing ever to be learned from defeat. On the flip side, the mature athlete has a growth mindset. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. They believe that a person’s true potential is unknown; that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. A great example of this is NBA Player Tim Duncan, who at age 40, is chasing his 6th NBA Championship. NBA writer Tom Ziller described him like this: "His work ethic has long been lauded. He keeps himself in impeccable shape. He's possibly the most coachable superstar in NBA history, which helps him fully accept Gregg Popovich's lessons. He's one of the smartest players in the NBA." This is what the growth mindset is all about!
You cannot expect that all of the athletes that you coach will be mature. They may not even show any characteristics of the growth mindset. This doesn't mean you say, "Oh this child doesn't have it so I won't waste my time trying to teach them". Too many teachers and coaches hide their own lack of ability behind statements like that. It is the perfect example of a fixed mindset. Instead of teaching, they are judging. If you portray this fixed mindset as a coach, then that is the mindset that your athletes will adopt. It is important for you to remember one thing: expanding skills and knowledge is the goal. Having innate talent is a wonderful thing but only if you have the mind to support it!
The following is based off a conversation I had with Marisa Kalmar, owner of Cornerstone Farm located at 210 Wassergass Road in Hellertown, PA.
A few years ago, I was working as a personal trainer at a gym in Easton. One morning I had an appointment with someone new. Her name was Marisa Kalmar. During these sessions I really like to assess their strength levels and try to get a better understanding of where they are at physically. I asked this woman, how many pushups are you good for? I was thinking somewhere in the 6-8 range. She hits the floor and bangs out 20 of them. My first reaction was obvious, I was impressed. My second reaction was like, what the heck is going on here? Later I learned where her strength came from. She explained to me that she owns a horse farm and has been working with horses her entire life. Hitting a few sets of pushups were the easy part of her day compared to doing barn work. Since then, I got to know her very well and I have to say, I don’t think there is a harder working and more caring individual on the planet.
For as long as Marisa could remember, horses have been a part of her life. She began riding as a four year old taking trail rides with her father and later began lessons. As she got older, she continued to ride and began competing. For those in the horse world, you all know this is not a cheap hobby. Marisa spent a large chunk of her childhood working at her barn to help offset some of her expenses. It was not uncommon for you to see young Marisa feeding horses, cleaning their stalls, and taking them out to their fields. Keep in mind, she began doing this around age 8. Riding was the fun part and she was willing to work for the opportunity to ride. Because of this, she got a tremendous amount of experience riding multiple horses a day.
As she got older, the riding continued and so did her success as a rider and trainer. She took her talents to Virginia Tech where she was captain of the equestrian team. After graduating with a dual major in Animal Science and Business Management, it was time to enter the real world. It was time for her to get a "real" job. Unfortunately, the real world wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. After commuting to New York City for an office job, she realized this was not the way she wanted to live her life. She was not outside. Her fitness level began to deteriorate. She missed the animals. During this time, she knew that working with horses was what she needed to be doing.
In 2002, as she was contemplating her career choice in New York, she slowly began to start her business. It began very small. She boarded 1 or 2 horses, owned an additional 4, and was giving lessons to a few clients each week. Two of her clients were Lehigh University students. These girls rode for the Lehigh University Equestrian team and leading up to the season, they needed a coach. They asked Marisa if she would be interested. The year before the Lehigh team only had 4 or 5 girls on it. Marisa figured she'd be able to handle that. She decided to take the job. Soon after, she learned that the team was going to be bigger than it was previously. Instead of the 5 girls she thought she'd be coaching, there were 25 girls on the team! After that first year of coaching, she realized that this is what she wants to do with her life.
Before I get to the riding part, I want to talk about the horses at Cornerstone Farm. Over the past few years, I have gotten to know some of them quite well. Some of these horses were brought in as babies and they continue to thrive on the farm. But others were brought to the farm as older horses in need of care. Over the years, Marisa has rescued dozens of horses from abusive homes. I have two stories that I would like to share quickly. One is of a horse named Hamish (pictured left). I remember when Marisa learned about this horse from her best friend. Hamish was malnourished, had a terrible skin infection, and was in poor health. He was in bad shape. After some love and care, Hamish is well-fed, happy, and everyone loves riding him. He became the barn favorite for a lot of riders!
The other is of a male horse named Hershey (pictured left). The people around the barn know him as the "old man" as he now 31 years old. What they don't know is where he came from. When Marisa was 13, she met a very scared and skittish horse. He was abused at his previous home and was hesitant around humans. He just couldn't trust them. Marisa took a liking to this horse and purchased him. She rode him competitively through high school and college and achieved great success with him. With a little love and patience, these animals were able to overcome any previous issue and are now living healthy and happy lives!
Ever since the day I met Marisa, she has been trying to get me on a horse. After putting it off for a few years, I finally decided to give it a go! The horse I would be riding was a male named Ari. Marisa purchased Ari as a gangly and awkward 5 month old. He was kind of the ugly duckling that nobody wanted. Things have changed since those early days. Ari is now 10 is a very nice "show horse" that has achieved success at upper level horse shows.I got to know Ari while I was preparing him to ride. To those who think all you have to do is throw on a saddle and hop on, you will be mistaken. The horse needs to be prepped and cared for before you even think about riding. It is amazing how dirty they are able to get themselves, especially on days when you have to ride them. During this time cleaning and prepping, it gave me an opportunity to get to know Ari a little better and get comfortable with him. As you can see in the photo above, Ari is no small pony. He is a pretty big dude. During the prep time I had to make sure he was cool with me and I was cool with him. Lucky for me, Ari is no different than a dog. Except for the fact that he weighs 1000 pounds more.
Now, for the actual riding lesson, we started nice and easy. Marisa instructed me on the basics of riding and we began walking around the ring. The next step was learning how to make a turn. You have to take charge and give clear and direct instructions. The first thing I realized riding Ari was how sensitive he was to my movements. Everything you do up there with your hands and legs tell the horse something. A subtle move of the arm might tell the horse to start moving in a direction, even if you don't want them to do that. So after getting comfortable with moving Ari and making a few turns, we decided to try something new. Marisa taught me a little technique known as posting. To explain this as simple as possible, as the horse begins to move at a faster pace, the rider begins to move their body up and down. It almost looks like you are bouncing in the saddle. It is important for you to get in sync with the horse as your movements should match theirs. For my first time riding, this was tough for me to figure out. At times it felt like I was just hanging on up there as I bounced around. It was tough for me to find his rhythm and get in sync with him. I think with a little more practice, I will be able to get this figured out! It was a fun experience and I am glad to finally learn how to ride...albeit not greatly!
This summer, Cornerstone Farm will be running a few riding camps. The first camp will be with nationally known judge Karen Immerman. During this camp, riders will learn what horsemanship is all about and how the judges score riders. They will then practice these skills and get feedback from Karen on the positives and negatives of their trip. The other camp will be with United States Equestrian Team member Laura Chapot. Laura is an internationally known rider and one of the most decorated riders in the United States! Dates and times are still be worked out for these camps.
The farm will also play host to three horseshows in the upcoming year. The first, is a Marshall & Sterling show. The Marshall & Sterling Insurance League is a grassroots organization dedicated to providing competition for up-and-coming Children and Adult Hunter, Jumper and Equitation riders. This show provides an opportunity for riders to compete and qualify for the prestigious Marshall & Sterling Insurance League National Finals. The next show will be hosting the Lehigh University Equestrian team competition. During this show, college teams from all over the state will be on the farm competing for their respected schools. The third show is a fun one. It is the Lehigh University Alumni vs. Undergrad competition. During this show, former Lehigh riders strap up the boots and compete against the current Lehigh team. This competition is a fundraiser for the current team. I attended this event last year and it was quite entertaining. For the record, the Alumni squeaked out a victory last year and will be looking to do the same again this year!
After talking to Marisa, I asked her what made these animals so special to her. She answered by saying that these animals just let you be yourself. There is no judgment when you are hanging with them at the barn. For some children and adults, working with horses provides a great outlet for them as these animals provides solitude in a crazy world. They are such peaceful animals that rely on you for more than just food. They need companionship. They need friendship. They need love. This is much more than just a business at Cornerstone Farm.
This is part IV in a series titled "Training the Modern Athlete". Click here for Part III!
"It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential." Those words are accredited to Bruce Lee, one of the greatest martial artist to ever walk the earth. The first time I read these words was in a book titled Easy Strength. The premise of the book was getting the most out of your training by doing the least amount of work. Now, this might sound a little counter-intuitive but let me explain. Your time is valuable when you train. Working with high school kids, you do not have an endless amount of time to spend in the weightroom. We get anywhere from 60-90 minutes to get everything in. This time gets cut down on days when sport practice is going on. This means we need to hack away some of the unessential lifts and focus on the big bang lifts. If we get really strong in the clean, we are probably going to be fairly explosive. If we get really strong in the squat and deadlift, we probably don't have to focus on doing a ton of other leg exercises. The same is also true for pressing and pullups. Improvements in these areas will carry over to other characteristics that your sport may require.
With genetics being taken out of the equation, there is a reason that some individuals can achieve a high level of success and others cannot. It is because they do the little things better than others. When you rely on the basics, on your fundamentals, you can have a lengthy career doing the things you love. In the sport of boxing, it is the boxer who can parry shots because of great defense. It is why a guy like Bernard Hopkins can fight well into his forties. He didn’t rely on his reaction time and athleticism, those two traits will diminsh as you age. He relied on the one thing that he could do at age 20, 30, and 40: have technically sound defense and avoid taking unnecessary shots. In comparison, you can look at the career of someone like Roy Jones Jr. Super fast, super agile, and super quick, he fell in love with those traits and used them to storm the scene and become one of the greatest fighters in the world. When those traits began to whither due to age and punishment, his career began to take a turn for the worse.
The same could be said for strength & conditioning training. I had an athlete ask me about some crazy ladder drills that he viewed on the internet. He said, “what does that do for you?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I had no freaking clue.
One of my favorite coaches Dan John wrote that "Everybody has the same basic body and needs, and we have to have the courage to train the fundamentals, the basics, at least 80% of the time. Sure, add some spice in there now and again, but focus on the basics." Making a commitment to the fundamentals can be quite hard. Working on the flashy new drill or technique might be what you want to do, but that should not make up part of your 80%. After you get the work in that is required, the 80%, then you could spend some time working on things that you think might be the key to your future athletic success. If you think calf raises will make you jump higher, then go ahead and do them. If you think you need bigger arms for your sport, have fun hitting some biceps curls after the workout. If you think ladder drills will improve your short area quickness, work them into your program. But just remember, these types of things should only occupy the 20%. The 80% should be focused on improving strength. Which will then boost power and speed. Two attributes that every athlete can afford to be a little better at!
This is part III in a series titled "Training the Modern Athlete". Click here for Part I or here for Part II
There is an old saying that goes, you should use everything in moderation, including moderation. This is true regarding training. If you train at moderate levels, you will get moderate results. The body needs to be pushed to its limits on occasion to enable the athlete to reach higher levels. Just think about it, you go to the gym every day with a goal to lose a few pounds. You do the same routine every week. You workout at the same intensity level every day. You eat the same type of foods every day and the scale doesn't budge. You are training moderately and therefore your results are minimal. You do not challenge yourself to accomplish greater things and this leaves you in your current situation.
Track & Field coach Charlie Francis had a theory on why some athletes don’t perform to their full potential at the big track meets: their lows were too high and their highs were too low. When they were supposed to be winding down in their training (this is low intensity) they went a little too hard and it effected them on competition day. They weren't as fresh as they should have been. On the flip side, when the program called for high intensity, it didn’t quite hit the level that it should have. The highs were too low.
So, if the goal of training for that given day calls for high intensity work, it better be high! If you do not challenge the athlete to push to new levels, they will only see moderate results. Intensity must be increased on these days. After a tough training day, the following day may call for low intensity work. If we train too hard on this day, then our recovery plan gets all out of whack. Our low intensity day became a moderate workout and we do not get the restorative benefits that we hoped for.
This is a delicate balance when developing a training plan. You can’t just go crazy and train like a madman all the time. But you also cannot have mediocre or easy workouts all the time either. There should be a steady ebb and flow to your training. The plan should have some light days, mixed in with some hard days, mixed in with some medium days. This should allow the body to recover from the workouts, to stay healthy, and to allow you to workout to your full potential each and every session.
In the state of Pennsylvania alone, 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese. There are a variety of factors that play a role in this but I am going to focus on one: the modern school day. From a young age, the kids are required to sit around in a classroom all day and do their work. Sitting becomes the norm for them. A good chunk of their time is spent on their butts. This is a health hazard. As you sit, your leg muscles are turned off. This not only causes a problem with the musculature but it also effects your lymphatics. The lymphatics are driven by muscular contraction. When you eliminate that by sitting idle, and you begin a cycle of events that will be detrimental to your health. Combine that with other factors like the tightening of muscles around the anterior hip, hamstring problems, and other issues surrounding the pelvic floor, this will wreak havoc on your posture. The only opportunity these kids get to move around is between classes and during the lunch period. I wonder how their diets are…
The diets match their activity levels: unhealthy. When you look into what kids are eating, it is no wonder the overweight and obesity numbers are high. This pertains to the active kids as well. I work with kids who work extremely hard in the weight room and in their given sport. When you ask them how they are eating, you often hear something like this…
The kid wakes up late at 6:45. They have about 20 minutes to get ready for school and grab a quick bite before the bus comes. After deciding between frozen waffles, cocoa puffs, and pop tarts, the kid makes a decision. He grabs some pop tarts and rushes out the door. Talk about a spike in blood sugar. “Breakfast” was eaten at 7:05. Now, the kid doesn’t eat again until lunch. The lunch period for him begins at 11. And guess what is on the menu today? IT IS PIZZA HUT DAY! This calls for a double, maybe even a triple order, of that nutritious (yea right) lunch. It is now around 11:30 and they are done with their lunch. They finish up the school day then head off to practice. Practice starts at 3:15 so they decide to not eat anything after school. They don't want to feel crappy at practice.. Practice was a tough one today and doesn’t end until 5:30. By the time you get home and shower up, it is already after 6. This kid hasn’t eaten anything since 11:30. This is 7 whole hours of no food consumption. For an active kid, this is way too long. Combine that with the fact that they have eaten nothing with any nutritional value all day!. Lets hope the dinner is a healthy one. After doing a little homework, the kid goes to bed and the process repeats itself all over.
Where are the kids supposed to learn about healthy lifestyle choices? The obvious answer would be at home. But when they spend a majority of their waking hours in a place that is designed to educate, shouldn’t the school be set up a little differently? Are Health and Physical Education programs doing the job they were designed to do? Looking at the overweight and obesity statistics, they are not. The kids may not know learn how to live a healthy lifestyle but they can play a mean game of kickball and badminton. It is not only the teachers but the coaches too. Most male high school students want to "bulk up" so they consume a wide variety of crap that is designed to pack on muscle. We are all failing to inform children on the role diet plays. This is crucial because overweight kids will become overweight adults. It is why it is so important to never let it happen in the first place!
Below I have listed some of the potential outcomes of a child who is overweight or obese. Some of these issues can damage a person for their entire life!
Potential Negative Psychological Outcomes:
This is a bit of an uphill battle as a lot of damage has been done. But like every other great change, it begins with one person. As the Tolstoy quote goes, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." If you are a parent, setting a positive example for your children can change their life for the better. If you are a coach, lead by example and don't demand things "because I said so". Show them the importance of physical fitness by your actions. If you are a teacher, you are with students for the most hours during the school day. Get your classes up and moving more regularly throughout the day. Make an effort to have healthier lunches available to children. Offer support to those who may need some additional guidance. And lastly, live your life in healthy manner so that these kids can see that, and realize that is not a bad way to live!
This is part two in a series titled Training the Modern Athlete. For Part I, click here!
Last summer, I was running a training camp for the local youth football organization. This camp is always fun as we work on a variety of football drills, speed and agility drills, and typically finish the night off with a competitive game with the losing team doing some pushups or bear crawls. I have been fortunate enough to get some high school football players to help me out during these camps. The young kids see these guys play every Friday and love having them around. In between drills last year I asked a few of the guys how their summer training was going. They said it was intense. They were doing power cleans for sets of 10, running stadium stairs, hammering biceps curls until there arms wanted to fall off, and training for 2 hours each morning. I shook my head and said something like "Wow, sounds like they are working you guys hard". They nodded in agreement.
The issue with all of this is that it seemed that the training session lacked a true goal (other than to make kids vomit) and there was little to no variance in the training intensity. What I mean is that there was no "off" button. They worked them to exhaustion each and every day. Training for sport doesn't work like that. There needs to be days of high intensity mixed in with days of low intensity. And intensity is not defined by feeling like you have to vomit or ending a session with 50 burpees. Intensity is defined by the load you are lifting and how close that load is to your maximum. High intensity lifting will probably only allow for 1-3 reps, maybe 5 on a good day. If you can do 8 reps of an exercise, the load is too light. High intensity also means running at speeds near maximum. If you can run a forty yard dash in 4.8 seconds, running under 5.0 would be considered high intensity. Running 5.2 would not. This would be considered moderate intensity (more on that to come in a later post). So why is this important? Working at near maximal loads elicit a specific response in the body that plays an important role in the development of sport skills that apply to just about every sport. Who couldn't afford to be a little stronger, a little more powerful, and a little faster?
In order for these athletes to recover and develop, there needs to be an "off" switch in the training program. This isn't about giving kids a bunch of days off and letting them slack off. This is about going hard when the time calls for it and backing off a little bit when necessary. You might be wondering, how do I know when the time is right to back off? You know it when you see it. Kids weights start to stagnate, speed begins to slow down, they lack the energy for each session, or attendance starts to dip. These are things that we never want to see happen. The best way to prevent it from happening is stopping it before it starts!
Stay tuned, the next post will go into greater detail on how to do just that!
Everyone and their mother knows what hard work looks like (or what they think hard work is). It is the picture of that athlete sweating, breathing heavy, and training at an ungodly hour when the competition is at home sleeping. Working hard is the relentless pursuit towards accomplishing your goals. Resting hard (if that is even a term) is not so simple to define. In our culture, it may be viewed as being lazy. Or not as committed. Or being "outworked" by the competition. But in reality, it is a problem here in America: Our athletes are over-trained and under-recovered.
Legendary Track & Field coach Charlie Francis kept recovery in mind during each training session. Every athlete has a cup that they can fill during training. The cup has limited space. The more you fill that cup with weight training and elongated practice training sessions, the less room you have in that cup for other important qualities that will improve sport performance. There is a delicate balance here. You want to make improvements in the weight room while not effecting your on the field performance. An easy day on the practice field might mean a heavy day in the weight room and vice versa.
Francis created a model that helped him understand the effect each training session will have on the body, and how much of "the cup" was filled for that given day. If his athletes performed a session that included a lot of explosive work (olympic lifts, sprints, etc.), he knew that his athletes used up about 90% of their cup. On those, learning new sport skills would be a bad idea. If the athlete performed lower body lifts, he knew that anywhere between 40-70% of the cup was filled. The variance in the percentages are dependent upon the loads that are lifted. For upper body work, anywhere between 25-40% was used up and for isolation work (think biceps curls and leg extensions), 25% and lower was used. The greater the percentage used up, the more recovery time needed. Also, on those days of 70% and above, it is not wise to learn new skills or use new training modalities. Those will require room in the cup and will detract from their energy to develop more important qualities. Keep in mind, the goal is to become better at their given sport. If you need room in the cup for practice, don't use it all up in the weight room.
This is part one of a small collection of articles that will be posted on the effects of training and how to properly recover. In the next post, we will be looking at one of the most overlooked aspects of training: proper recovery!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!