Archive for November, 2011

Training for Winter Sports: Best Exercises for Soccer and Basketball Players

The weather is getting colder and the seasons are changing.  With these changes comes the beginning of new high school and college sports seasons with two of the biggest being soccer and basketball.

I have had the privilege of training both soccer and basketball athletes this past offseason and we have used many different training protocols to make sure they are strong, agile and more resistant against injuries going into their seasons.

Both soccer and basketball share similar movements in their sports; stop and go running, deceleration, cutting and acceleration and jumping components.  In this article I am going to share with you some of my favorite training exercises I use to get these athletes ready for their season.


There has been a timeless debate in the “strength and conditioning world” regarding which exercise is better to build strength, size and game speed; the squat or the deadlift.  Both exercises are great and should be used but if I had to pick one over the other for soccer and basketball players it would be the deadlift.

Like the squat, the deadlift is a highly effective movement to train the hips to extend.  Most sports are dependent on the athlete’s ability to extend their hips, whether it is to sprint, change direction or jump.  Being able to move and accelerate and object from the ground using one’s hips leads to great strength and power development essential in sports.

The one advantage that the deadlift has is the ability to train starting strength which is the ability to move the body quickly from a dead stop.  Many athletes, parents and coaches ask how they can improve their child’s “first step.”  This first step development comes from training to move deadweight quickly and effectively.

Forward Lunges

This is one of those exercises that I had used in the past, forgotten, came back to it while training at Cressey Performance.  When doing forward lunges again, I realized how weak I was at it and then realized the huge value it has.

I have had many of my athletes primarily performing reverse (step-back) lunges because I felt they were able to get into proper position easier and they could use the back foot explosively to train the first step.  This movement was great for that however I was neglecting one huge component necessary in both of these sports: deceleration.

Most deceleration during soccer and basketball comes when the athlete is moving forward and the front leg needs to slow the body down to change direction.

Forward lunges require the front leg to decelerate.  The forward lunge trains the hamstring muscle group to slow the body down through the eccentric contraction much like it needs to do when playing a sport like soccer and basketball.

During sports the body must decelerate loads greater than the body weight alone due to the acceleration of the body creating a greater force vector.  When doing this lunge variation with added resistance the body learns to deal with forces great than body weight alone much like what occurs when playing sports.

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing has several advantages when it comes to training for soccer and basketball; namely training the posterior chain (primarily hamstring and hip muscle groups) for power production, it can also be used as a conditioning tool.

Many strength and conditioning coaches utilize Olympic lifts (clean and snatch) to train the power element of sports; while these lifts may be great for power generation, they take much longer to learn the technique when compared to the kettlebell swing, and they are good for maximal power production whereas soccer and basketball are sports that utilizes repetitive bouts of sub-maximal force production.  Sports like soccer and basketball consist of a series of repeated sprints and stops; not an all or nothing explosive movement.

Kettlebell swings can be done within a strength program for repetitions if training posterior chain power production is desired or it can be done for time intervals if training for conditioning.

Core Stability

Core stability for soccer and basketball are crucial for the athletes to perform optimally.  Not only must the core be stable for the athlete to perform their dribbling and shooting skills effectively they also must have a strong core to be able to fend off all of the knocks and fouls that opponents will perform to steal the ball or disrupt a game winning shot.

Training the core for stability is quite simple and I recommend a variety of core stability exercises within a particular training program.  Plank variations, ball or wheel rollouts, strap fallouts, Pallof presses are all great exercises to train the core through stabilization.

Conditioning Circuits

This is one component that is not used frequently enough in strength training protocols.  It is one thing to make your athlete strong and perform well in the weight room, but if they cannot perform better at their sport then the job you’ve done is not complete.

In my article, Get with the Circuit, I touted the need for solid conditioning programs for athletes that needed both strength and endurance.  Adding a conditioning circuit into the program once a week will greatly enhance your soccer and basketball athlete’s strength transfer from the weight room to the field and court.  It is important that these athletes gain the strength endurance necessary to perform repeated measures of sprinting, stopping jumping, and cutting.  The athletes who are able to maintaining this strength endurance cycle will most likely be in better shape and perform the best at their respected sport.

Some of my favorite exercises to include into circuits are jump rope, kettlebell swings, pushups, body rows and the Prowler.  Time should be suited close to what would be done during a game situation.  I like circuits of 4-6 stations doing 20-30 sec. of work and resting for 10-20 sec.


Soccer and basketball players are just like any other athletes in respect to the fact that they need to be strong, stable and conditioned.  The details within a program should be tailored for each specific sport and specifically designed for the individual athlete for optimal success.

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Monday, November 28th, 2011 Sports Performance Training 1 Comment

Five Tips to Press a Heavy Kettlebell

One of the most challenging strength movements for me is overhead pressing; it is just one of those lifts that progresses slow and steady for me. Even with my limited success, I still enjoy performing this movement and constantly challenge myself to get better at it.

When a movement is difficult to progress with, it is very important to analyze how the movement is performed, what the optimal technique is and how to make adjustments to make the movement optimal for you.

I have received help over the years from some great kettlebell coaches and I will share a few tips to help you press a relatively heavy kettlebell.

Set it up Right

Before you can press a big kettlebell it is important that you are set up to succeed. Getting the kettlebell into the proper rack position allows the kettlebell to be stable so you can get a good initial pressing movement. If the kettlebell sits loose in the rack position, not only will it be tough to make the initial press successful; it will also take more strength to stabilize the kettlebell in the right position, therefore wasting valuable strength needed to press the kettlebell overhead.

The right rack position varies from person to person depending on body structure. The kettlebell should sit comfortably close to the body and be able to remain there without effort to keep it stable. When I train people on how to set up the rack position, I tell them that the forearm should follow the angle of the ribcage.

Wrist angle in the rack position is also crucial for a successful press; you want the wrist to be strong and as vertical as possible. It is very common to bend (gooseneck) the wrist which makes your pressing platform weak.

Squeeze the Sponge

Squeezing the Sponge is a direct tip I got from Master RKC Mark Reifkind which helped my strict press tremendously. This metaphor is used by Mark to get people to activate their Latissimus dorsi muscles to press. Too many trainees consider the press to be done with the shoulder muscles; however Mark advises that the Lats should be the primary mover and great stabilizer of the weight.

Once the weight is in the racked position, before you begin the press, squeeze the arm into the side of your body as if you are trying to squeeze all the water out of the sponge that is between your arm and the side of your body; this will prime the Lats for assistance with the movement.

Create Tension

Tension is a killer of efficiency and endurance but it is very useful when you want to move a heavy object. The sponge tip above is a form of tension building, along with this you will want to grip the kettlebell handle firmly, tense the mid-section and glutes, feet should be strong and driven into the ground and also tense the non-working side (if you are using a single kettlebell).

Push Against the Contact Point

The biggest question I get from my athletes about overhead pressing is how the shoulder should move. I tend to avoid flaring the arm outward into external rotation because of safety reasons due to the weight displacement on the shoulder joint; keeping the arm in can be confusing until I got a second eye opening tip from Mark Reifkind.

His tip was to press against the contact point of the kettlebell where it meets your wrist and forearm. Keeping this contact seems to move the kettlebell through a smooth and proper groove, keeping the shoulder inward, the weight over the hip and in a position where the Lats can assist effectively.

Be Patient

This last tip may seem self evident, however if you are used to pressing lighter kettlebells with ease overhead and you try a heavier one that seems not to budge, you might quit too early. Pressing a heavier kettlebell may take up to three seconds to get overhead so as long as you are safe and stable, stick with it until it locks out overhead.

There you have five tips to help your strict kettlebell press. Enjoy.

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Monday, November 28th, 2011 Kettlebell Training, Videos No Comments

How Sweet is Sugar? The Hidden Dangers

This article might seem a little clichéd due to the holidays coming up as many authors like to write about the dangers of all of the fun holidays treats.  I know I have a very intelligent and practical audience who understand the common dangers that sugar can have on our health so in this article I wanted to focus on some of the lesser known health risks associated with sugar so you can keep them to moderate levels during the year and be able to splurge a little more during special holiday occasions.

Sugar: Getting up to Speed

One of the biggest problems with the attempt to keep sugar consumption to moderate levels is that sugar can be found almost everywhere.  Even if you think you are avoiding the obvious locations like candy and soda there are many other products that have sugar as an ingredient that you might not be aware of.  Ketchup, energy bars, specialty coffee, dried fruit and even common lunch meats all have added sugar.

It’s not enough to avoid the obvious, we have to check the labels and see if the other unassuming products that we consume have unnecessary sugar in them to enhance the taste and texture.  With all of the consumption of sugar from different sources it won’t take long for our total daily sugar consumption to reach astronomical levels.

Lesser Known Health Risks

  • There are some common diseases associated with over-consumption of sugar including: obesity and type II diabetes but there are several other lesser know health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption; enough of which should make anyone want to keep consumption to an absolute minimum.
  • Sugar disrupts the mineral balance in the body by disrupting the pH levels in the blood.  Several different minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper and chromium are used to correct this imbalance, however when they are used for this function they are not utilized for their intended use like proper bone and muscle building and function.
  • Too much sugar increases the rate of aging of the skin causing the decrease in skin elasticity.  Skin requires healthy collagen to maintain its shape and structure.  Too much sugar in the blood decreases the use of the minerals necessary to build and maintain healthy collagen in the body.
  • Testosterone can decrease in the blood up to 25% with the consumption of sugar because of the high insulin levels associated with excessive amounts of sugar in the blood.
  • One of the most alarming correlations is found in a recent US study where cancer cells use sugar (fructose) to fuel their division and proliferation.  With cancer being one of the most prominent diseases facing mankind and with the average American consuming about 100-120lbs. of sugar per year who knows if cutting down on sugar consumption would also decrease the risk of cancer.


It’s a shame that we can’t simply just trust the food that we consume to be beneficial to our health and well being.  We must take it upon ourselves to truly understand that what we eat can have either significant benefits or repercussions towards our health.  We must also dig deeper beyond the basics good and bad foods and truly know what is in the other sources we are consuming.  A healthy and balanced diet comes down to the decisions we make and the dedication we instill.


Cancer Cells Slurp up Fructose

Effects of Sugar on Skin and Aging

Shocking: Sugar Content of Common Food Products

Sugar: A Sweet Invitation to Disease

Sugar Kills

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Monday, November 28th, 2011 Nutrition No Comments


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