Archive for January, 2012

Six Stretches Most Athletes Need

When I design a training program for a specific athlete’s sport, there are many areas to focus on including: strength, conditioning, speed/power, mobility/flexibility and recovery.   It is very common to focus on the areas that seem like they are the most beneficial for athletic gains.  In the case of sports performance training, it’s the training for the sport itself and the speed and power work which are usually most attractive to the player while the mobility, flexibility and recovery modalities take a back seat.

This approach may work for a short while, especially if the athlete is young, injury free and plays a sport that is not completely single-side dominant.  When the athlete starts to mature, the accumulation of years of the same sports stress combined with postural challenges, like sitting in the classroom and doing work on the computer, can cause many problems.  The neglected areas of mobility and flexibility may lead to muscle soreness, lack of movement, decrease in athletic performance, or even result in injury.

Let’s face it, stretching is not fun or exciting but a small venture into the dullness a few times a week can vastly improve your performance, recovery and keep you off the sidelines and in the game.

Below are some of the most common areas I have found to be tight on athletes and the mobility and stretches that correspond to the assistance of relieving the tight area.  When performing these stretches be aware of proper body alignment and be prepared to hold the stretch for more than the commonly proclaimed “30 seconds.”  It can take up to two minutes for tight muscles to release so hold on to those stretching positions a bit longer.


This area of the body cannot actually be stretched because the ankle is a joint.  However, the ankle can be mobilized.   The ankle is the foundational structure for support and movement for the entire body.  In sports, movement begins from the ground and then generates power upward and in the applied directions.  If the ranges of motion of the ankles are not optimal, structural alignment of the joint and limbs will be offline.  Off-alignment makes the body absorb and distribute energy in inappropriate directions therefore decreasing the maximal power generated and possibly setting you up for a joint injury.

To mobilize the ankles and stretch the muscles of the calves: have your front foot flat on the floor with your toes three to six inches away from a wall.  Place your hands on the wall and gently pulse your lower leg and knee forward keeping the knee aligned with the toes.  The ankle mobility should increase and you can judge this by how close your knee gets to the wall.


Hamstrings are the collective group of muscles of the back of the leg that are used to extend the hip and flex the knee.  In sports the hamstring muscles are important for: generating the quick first step, jumping, stabilizing the knees for cutting and deceleration of the body to stop quickly and change directions.

With their numerous functions it is common for these muscles to get tight due to their overuse.  If they stay tight for too long optimal use of these muscles decreases, stiffness of the legs and low back can occur and possibly a muscle pull or injury occurs that will keep you out of the game.

To stretch the hamstrings: I like to lay supine on the floor and use a long strap for leverage.  Loop the strap around the ball of your foot and bring your leg to its end range of motion where you feel tension; making sure the non-stretched leg is flat on the floor and not popping up.  Once I’ve established my end range position without straining, I then begin to contract my thigh muscles and hold the contraction for a few seconds and then release the muscles along with my breath and gain a few more degrees in the range of motion.

There are variations to this stretch that you can check out more in depth in my article: How are your Hammies

Hip Flexors 

The hip flexors are the muscle group that pulls the knee towards the chest.  In sports they are used for running and jumping.  These muscles get tight really easily.  As a student athlete I remembered going to early morning practice for soccer and then sitting in classrooms for the next five hours and then going to afternoon practice.  After all of the training in the morning and then all of the sitting at my desk, my hip flexors would tighten up tremendously.

All of us sit more then we should for our body’s health and the hip flexors are tight because of this.  If they get too tight not only will optimal performance be decreased but they can pull the hips out of alignment and this can lead to sore lower backs, postural changes and even injuries of the surrounding muscles.

There are several ways to stretch the hip flexors and you may have to perform more than one way to get them loose.  In my Sports Performance Series I talked about the role of the hip flexors in sports, how to test their length and what movements strengthen the hip flexors.

In terms of their recovery and resting length: one of my favorite stretches has you put your back leg on a bench and front foot on the floor.  Tilt your hips forward as if you are tucking them underneath you.  Maintain this position; sink the hips downward letting gravity assist.  When the hip flexors begin to release you may sit your hips back towards the heel of the elevated foot to increase the stretch intensity of the quadriceps muscles.

Hip Rotators 

These muscles can get really tight much like the hip flexors do when sitting all day.  The hip rotators are primarily the glute muscles and their function is to stabilize, rotate and extend the legs.  All of these movements are necessary for sport applications and if they don’t respond well then neither will your playing ability.  These muscles also tend to be tighter on one side than the other which can throw off hip and leg alignment which may cause low back tightness and pain.

To stretch the hip rotator muscles:  find a box or a table that is around the height of your hips.  Turn your foot inward towards the middle of your body and have your knee outside of the body.  Rest the outside of the leg on the surface finding a position that is comfortable and does not aggravate the knee or ankle joints.   My left side likes to tighten up more than my right and if it is really bad then I cannot rest my knee on the surface.  When this happens I place a mat or pad under the elevated knee so it has something to rest against and therefore will want to relax and stretch.  As it begins to release I take the pad away and let it rest on the surface

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine or T-Spine is the area of the upper back around the level of the shoulder blades.  Much of the movements we perform during sports and our daily lives involve going forward or dealing with objects right in front of us.  Sports, driving and even while I sit here and create this article for you, my shoulder blades are being pulled forward because of the position I am in.  The chest muscles get really short and tight and mobility of the thoracic spine becomes limited due to the tightness.  For rotational sports like tennis and golf this can inhibit the range of motion needed to perform well and for the rest of us this tightness and lack of mobility can lead to the rounded back posture.

A great way to keep the T-Spine mobilized is to use a roller:  Lie on the floor and place the roller on your back near the bottom of the shoulder blades.  Keeping the hips down and the body aligned properly, let the upper back extend backwards over the roller and then, when stretched, bring it back to the neutral position.  It is important to think about only moving the upper back and not the entire spine, this is not a crunch.


Lat Stretch

The Lattissimus dorsi muscles are the big wing shaped muscles of the back just below the shoulder blades.  The muscle inserts into the upper arm and is used to bring the arm towards the body for action and support.  The muscles are anchored at the shoulder blade, ribs, spine and the hip.  With all of these attachments if any of them becomes too tight it can throw off alignment of many areas of the body therefore causing its function to decrease and soreness and pain of the arms and back can occur.

One of my favorite stretches to maintain proper alignment is the lateral bend with support:  I like to use a squat rack; however a doorway can work just fine.  With one arm, reach across and over your head, with the near arm keep it lower, by the hip for support.  When you get your grips make sure the hips are rotated and aligned.  When aligned, slowly move the far hip away and you should feel a stretch in the area where the lats insert.

There you have six stretches to help you perform at your best.  Best to choose a few that you need to do and perform them a few times throughout the week.

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Kettlebell Lunge Variations

In my latest video I discuss several Kettlebell Lunge variations that are great for soccer and basketball athletes. I then explain the different progressions; double low, single low, double racked single racked, double overhead single overhead. Finally we go into the lunge variations. Forward, reverse, front foot elevated, rear foot elevated, lunge with a pass.


Why I Became a Trainer

I do get asked a variety of different health, fitness and training questions almost every week.  How can I get faster, what should I do to jump higher, what is the best exercise to (fill in the blank)?  One of the most common questions I have been asked by my middle and high school athletes is, “So what made you decide to become a trainer?”

I take this question seriously because I still like to believe in the innocence of youth, that they are in the formidable years where they are looking for roll models while they ponder what they want to be when they grow up.  Maybe I am giving myself too much credit, however I do get asked that question often so I will answer it here in this article.

The Early Years

As you readers may know, I have a great drive towards participating in as many sports as I could.  All day every day I just played and played.  I could even remember my mom telling me to get into the house to stop playing and get my summer reading done.  Of all the sports I played, soccer was my favorite, and as I got older my passion for the game grew.

In my years leading up to high school I remember practicing and playing about five days a week.  We didn’t have all of the specialty club teams like there is now so most of us played AYSO and then winter club soccer.  Our training consisted of practicing 3-4 times a week and playing one match on the weekend or going to a two-day tournament.  I was in great shape and had plenty of soccer skills training but that was the extent of my training (more on that later).

I went to my dream high school, Junipero Serra, known for being the home of some great athletes including: Lynn Swann, Greg Jefferies, Barry Bonds and Tom Brady.  I made the soccer team my freshman year and continued through my sophomore year.  I was having a blast making new friends and competing against some of the best high school soccer teams around.

The summer before my junior year my club team went to Germany to participate in a summer soccer tour.  My second week on tour, in my third match, I got kicked in my leg and felt the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life.  My knee was injured and my summer play overseas was done.

I remember getting it checked out at a German hospital, something I hope none of you have to go through, and they ruled out that nothing was broken so I just had to get the swelling down and then I could start playing again.  Little did I know I had a much bigger problem on my hands.

I slapped on a knee sleeve for support and started training again; some days were better than others but I could tell my knee was not like before.  I tried to play my junior year and my knee was giving out on me every time I cut laterally.  It turns out my problem was not the knee joint but the ligaments of the knee; an MRI revealed an ACL tear.  At the time I had no idea what it was but I was told it would require surgery and I would miss the season.

Rehabilitation and Education

I had the surgery and began my physical therapy program and it was then that my interest was peaked in the intricate workings of the human body.  I had a great physical therapist and I learned a lot about the rehabilitation protocol for the knee.  I gained such insight that I decided to pursue a degree in physical therapy starting first with kinesiology at the University of San Francisco.

While obtaining my undergraduate degree in kinesiology, I had to get to school early to find all day parking so I hit the gym at 6am.  It is then I began to learn about weight training.  I never really lifted weights in an organized manner before, though I wish I did while I was playing soccer.  I felt the proper strength training program I developed not only made me stronger but more balanced.

Upon graduating I got a job for a year at a local physical therapy clinic where I worked closely with physical therapists helping patients with their rehabilitation modalities, strengthening programs.  Also, because of my weight training program knowledge I was asked to write post PT programs for the patients so they could increase and maintain their strength after their therapy sessions were finished.

My education in both kinesiology and my personal learning for strength and conditioning led me to achieve my goal into getting into a physical therapy graduate degree program.  My first year of physical therapy school was eye opening in more ways than one.  The academic classes were intense and highly educational and I gained much more knowledge in anatomy and physiology but I began to realize that I enjoyed the strength and conditioning aspect of physical health rather than the rehabilitation component.

First Personal Training Job

I left PT school after a year and headed home to finish my graduate degree in Kinesiology all the while I was racking up more personal training knowledge and certifications.  I started a job at a local commercial gym and began to hone my training skills during the day while going to school in the evening.  As I began to gain experience in personal training I also began to learn more about specialized forms of training. I gravitated towards types of training used to enhance athletic performance.  I saw the need to meet the physical and performance demands that athletes have to play at a high level while minimizing their risk of injury.  An injury cut my high school career short and hurt my chances of playing in college, however if I could help other athletes achieve their goal of playing high school, college and beyond that would make me feel better.

The Sports Performance Era

Along with working in the commercial gym, I started training a few athletes in my apartment garage and when I got big enough, I studied up on basic business skills and decided to go for broke and open up my own small commercial space: Rise Above Performance Training which is where I am to this date.

You will hear people in your life say to find a job that you love to do so you will be happy while doing it and I could not agree more.  Most days are great and there are plenty of challenges but at the end of each day I truly feel that I am contributing a small piece of the puzzle towards helping people achieve their goals and dreams whether it be in life, sports or simply to answer their curiosity.


Sunday, January 29th, 2012 Business No Comments


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