Fitness

When Should a Young Athlete Begin Strength Training?

When Should a Young Athlete Begin Strength Training?

This season with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, we experienced challenges communicating with parents when the appropriate time for an athlete to begin strength training would be, and how this process was best undertaken.  I think the 6 points in this article can apply not only to ski racing athletes, but to all athletes, so I decided to blog it!

Dr. Ryan Oughtred, ND

Sports Medicine and Conditioning Doctor at Whistler Ski Club (again!)

Sports Medicine and Conditioning Doctor at Whistler Ski Club (again!)

I will be working with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club this 2014/15 season to assist with physical assessments, fitness and dry-land programming, transitional support and other sports medicine related initiatives.  The first assessments have been completed and the athletes are ready to get to work on their fitness and workouts. 

Fitness: How to Avoid Overtraining

Many athletes fail because they think that if they just work harder and do more workouts than the next athlete, they will succeed.  True, working out harder and more often leads to better fitness, but there comes a time when this strategy can cause harm.  When training too much causes harm, we call it overtraining; this is in contrast to overreaching which occurs from the intentional, planned overloading that occurs as part of a well designed exercise program.  Overreaching is mainly a short term phenomenon (days to weeks) that sometimes leads to small amounts of fatigue and decreased performance; overtraining usually causes more severe and longer term symptoms that can be present for a month or more. The primary cause of overtraining is usually a lack of rest and recovery in the training program.  In our training program, we purposefully try to overreach for at least one week each month.  During that week, you may find that you experience fatigue, muscle soreness, and other symptoms that would suggest your body is not performing optimally.  The following week when the training volume is lower, you should notice those symptoms subsiding and your fitness will gradually improve as your body adapts to the high training stimulus the week before. This adaptation phenomenon is call Super-compensation, and it is the foundation upon which all of exercise methodologies rest.

Training too much, with too high intensity, or without proper variety is certainly the leading cause of overtraining, but other factors that limit recovery can also lead to overtraining.  For example, chronic psychological stress can limit the body’s ability to heal between exercise sessions.  Hormone imbalances created by a poor diet or medications can lead to an imbalance between catabolic and anabolic hormones which decreases the body’s ability to recovery from stressful workouts.  Poor sleep is a very common complaint, and people who don’t sleep well are notoriously weak and tired when they show up for the workout sessions.

So how do you prevent overtraining?  The old adage about listening to your body applies.  Athletes will go so far as to keep a training journal in order to monitor various physiological parameters.  If they start to become abnormal for any sustained period, then they would change their exercise program or focus harder on enhancing their recovery.  Signs and symptoms of overtraining are:

  1. General Fatigue, lack of motivation and even depression and other mood changes.
  2. Poor performance in workouts or on key measurements.  For example:
    1. Decrease vertical jump or leg power
    2. Poor grip strength
    3. Muscle stiffness
    4. Joint Pain
    5. Skin complexion and presence of acne.
    6. Athlete gets sick easily.
    7. Changes in the resting heart rate.
      1. A common practice among elite athletes is to take your resting heart rate every day at the same time – usually in the morning.
      2. Higher and more variable resting heart rates are signs of overtraining.

The better you get at monitoring these aspects of your health, the better you can match your training with your goals.  You may start to notice that you never experience any of these signs and symptoms, and that you may not be pushing yourself hard enough.  Or, you may notice that you get many of these symptoms and you realize that you don’t vary your workouts enough.  Quite often the reasons for the symptoms are obvious, but you never would have noticed them unless you forced yourself to take a look!  Its very difficult to be objective about yourself.

Some of the general methods for avoiding overtraining are similar to those that provide for good health:  Eat well, sleep well, avoid chronic stress and have some fun once in a while.  For those that train really hard, you will benefit from extra stimuli to the body, like massage, hot/cold applications, nutritional supplements and active recovery.

In summary, “Whatever doesn’t kill you will makes you stronger.”  Both in exercise and in life, the optimal doses of stress seem to be right in the middle – not too much or not too little.  Because we live in a sedentary society, we don’t pay much attention to overtraining in exercise, because most people don't push to the point where overtraining is an issue.  However, many people push too intense with their exercise when their body is not ready - this is a type of overtraining that is becoming more common now, with the gaining popularity of Crossfit and other intense types of workouts.  The solution to this is to perform lower intensity exercise in higher quantities at first, then build up to doing lower amounts of activities at higher intensities.   This allows the body to be prepared to do high intensity activities, and helps to prevent injury.

Finding that sweet spot where you get the least down sides and the most upsides with your exercise routine is both your job and your health care provider’s job.   I hope you found this article helpful and good luck finding your sweet spot this month!

Dr. Ryan Oughtred, ND

Sample Vancouver Group Fitness Session

Here is a quick video demo of one of our small group personal training sessions in Vancouver, BC.  These clients are new to the program, so the exercises use fairly light weights, involve the whole body, and there is very little rest provided from one set to the next.  Notice this is a small group - only 3 people - so the session is like a personal training session but much more cost effective.  Almost all of our fitness programs will involve several components of fitness, such as balance, strength, endurance, agility, or flexibility training.

Lactate Testing - It's That time of Year Again

DrO's Lactate Test
DrO's Lactate Test

It's that time of year for lactate tests everyone:

Dr. O just had his lactate test done, see the attached graph.  I was surprised to see that I was fitter this year, because it sure didn't feel that way during the Peak to Valley Ski race!  The test shows how useful lactate testing is - I pushed to the same max wattage and my perceived exertion was similar to my test from last year. Without the lactate I wouldn't get to appreciate all of that hard work I put into my fitness this year.

Stop playing small everyone, lactate testing is for everyone that exercises, not just elite athletes!

Dr.O Whistler and Vancouver BC

Build Maximum Strength: December Fitness Theme

The emphasis for December is to build maximal strength.  Hopefully after last month you are noticing that you have a little more muscle bulk than you had before.  This increase in muscle doesn’t necessarily make you stronger however, because muscles still rely on the nervous system to make them contract.  Lifting heavier weights stimulates the brain to talk to your muscles and causes more muscle fibers to contract at once.  For athletes, this is the holy grail of strength training; the more muscle fibers you can use at once, the stronger you will be and the faster you can move.  Lots of muscle means nothing to an athlete unless they can use it quickly and forcefully, and this is why they follow muscle-building programs with maximal strength training programs. For non-athletes, training for strength can be enjoyable because there are usually longer rest periods and the exercises are usually fairly simple and satisfying by nature.  Women like strength training because it makes them very strong but it doesn’t make them bulky or puffy looking.

So how do we train for strength?  Whereas last month our focus was on taking each set to the maximum amount of repetitions, this month you should focus on trying to lift as heavy a weight as possible without losing your proper form.  This means that advanced trainees will perform sets of very low reps (4-5) and very high weights, and during week 2 and 3 they will shoot to complete 5 sets of these exercises.  Less experienced athletes will perform sets of 6-8 reps and will shoot to complete 4 sets of everything on our high volume weeks.  In order to facilitate maximal exertion, we will allow more rest between sets this month, and you will notice the use of balance exercises following intense lower body movements in order to allow your heart rate to come back down before moving on.

I have also introduced a suggested strength workout that you can perform on your own each week if you aren’t making it in for a second strength session with us.  It is outlined below.

As always, please show up on time or early for week 2 and 3’s sessions because they are busy weeks, and you will be pushed very hard during those sessions.

Good luck and see you soon!

Dr. O

Fitness: Grow Your Muscle

November Fitness Theme – Muscle Hypertrophy

Muscle Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is a common and well-founded workout goal for many people.

Health Benefits of Muscle:

Some of the health benefits of having the right amounts of muscle mass are:

- It increases your metabolism and helps you keep those unwanted pounds off your midsection. - Muscles that are bigger are usually stronger, and stronger muscles help you perform better physically, prevent injury and maintain mobility into old age. - Athletes that have more muscle can store more energy in their muscles, and they can use it for powerful movements such as jumping, throwing, lifting, pushing, pulling etc. - People who have more muscle also have stronger bones, which means their bones are less likely to break if they fall. - Having more muscle and body mass may help you weather a sickness better than someone who is unusually thin. - As you age, you steadily lose muscle mass – thus, maintaining your muscle mass can be thought of as an anti-aging treatment. - Having more muscle is associated with an increase in ‘insulin sensitivity’ – this helps to prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases related to poor blood sugar control.

These are some great benefits, so why doesn’t everyone want to put on muscle? Some women think that having too much muscle makes them look too masculine, and unfortunately many men feel the same way. I say unfortunately because women in general probably benefit more from building muscle than men do. This is for several reasons:

- Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis (weak bones) than men do. - Women naturally have less muscle relative to men, and maintaining it into age is important to maintain mobility and independence. - Women typically have slower metabolisms than men do, and thus it becomes hard for them to keep their weight under control. Especially with the larger meal portion sizes that are available these days. - Women who have more muscle and are stronger are often more confident, especially in scenarios where they might feel physically intimidated.

Downsides to Increased Muscle Mass:

There are a few downsides to having too much muscle mass, especially when that muscle mass becomes extreme. For instance, when muscles become very large, it puts excess stress on the heart – after all, the heart has to supply all of that muscle with blood. And because bodybuilding types of exercises can be very anaerobic, or ‘non-cardio’ in nature, this means that individuals with lots of muscle often have an imbalance between their cardiorespiratory fitness and their anaerobic fitness which may put them at risk of a heart attack. Increased muscle can also lead to less flexibility – this is easily kept in check by exercising with a full range of motion and stretching when necessary to prevent excess tension in key muscle groups like the hip flexors, hip extensors, latissimus or chest muscles for instance.

How to Hypertrophy your Muscles:

It’s easy! Work extremely hard anaerobically, anywhere from 30-120 seconds, taking your muscles to the extremes of exhaustion, take a short break of about equal or slightly more time, and do it again!

For strength training, the typical recommendation for promoting hypertrophy is to perform anywhere from 8-12 repetitions per exercise, at a medium to slow tempo, for 3-5 sets, taking 60-120 seconds off between sets. If you were to alternate muscle groups, you would perform 10 bicep curls for instance, then 10 Tricep presses without taking any rest, followed by a 60 second break before redoing both exercises. Your workouts should never be too long when trying to gain muscle (>45 minutes) to avoid increasing any stress hormones in your body that would cause the breakdown of muscle tissue. However, this means that you have to perform more workouts during the week also!

This 8-12 rule is not steadfast. Many people advocate much heavier weights for less reps, others advocate doing hundreds of bicep curls until you can’t even lift your arms. The most important factor seems to be whether or not you push yourself to complete failure. A set of 40 squats to complete failure will stimulate more muscle growth in the legs than a set of 8 squats with much heavier weight, but wasn’t performed to the same level of fatigue.

So there you have it, now you know the ins-and-outs of muscular hypertrophy. Now go watch Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger and have a few laughs!

Looking forward to seeing you ‘get pumped’ in the gym this month everyone!!

Dr. Ryan Oughtred, ND

Fitness: Sport Specific Conditioning

Monthly Theme:  Sport Specific Fitness

Probably the single biggest mistake that fitness professionals can make is to choose the wrong type of exercise for their client.  Whether you are an athlete or not, everyone needs to do a minimum of 600 hours of exercise every month – that’s a lot of time!  In order to make the most of that time, you need to utilize the proper quantity of exercises, the proper frequencies, the proper intensities and perhaps most importantly, you need to choose the proper types of exercises that will help you reach your goals.  In the end, a runner needs to run, a skier needs to ski, and a golfer needs to golf to get good at what they do.  If you.

Improving your fitness will help you reach your physical goals, but only if the fitness activities you choose mimic the demands of your sport.  For example a golfer needs to be strong, stable and flexible for full body twisting movements and in the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders, spine and hips.  Exercises for a golfer should be focused on these movements.  Tiger Wood’s old trainer is popular for having him run and workout with a weighted vest – this gave him strength endurance in the lower body and hips for tasks like running, jumping, and climbing hills but it did very little for his golf game in my opinion.  In fact, it may have even done harm by increasing wear and tear to his knees and other lower quarter joints.

So what types of exercises should you choose?  Here are some examples of how strength exercises can be made more specific for different sports:

-A runner would strengthen their legs with primarily lunging and stepping movements, not squatting movements

-A golfer would strengthen spinal rotation with cables and they would ensure a complete range of motion so that the exercise preserves or enhances their flexibility.

-A footballer would put bands around their feet or other resistance to their lower legs to create endurance and strength in their hip stabilizers.  They would also utilize high-speed foot work drills combined with power drills like jumping and sprinting.  All of these fitness components would have to performed in high volumes to create endurance for playing long periods of time.

The sport specific principle can be utilized for everyone:

- A mom could perform deadlifts, squats and upper body strength exercises to aid in their ability to lift things and manage active children at home.

- A fireman would stop doing bench press and start doing more full body pushing activities like resisted push ups or cable presses that require more stability in the shoulder.  They would train with ropes, dumbells, kettlebells or other devices that challenge grip strength, shoulder stability and strength at the same time.

- If you are someone who wants to gain weight and build muscle, your exercises should focus on using large muscles groups, and several muscle groups at a time.   Bicep curls will not get you quick weight gains - squats, Olympic lifts, lunges, step ups, sprints, jumps, dips, pull ups and the avoidance of aerobic activity will help you build muscle without having to quit your day job.

Hopefully this discussion of sport specific training has helped you think about how you can choose better types of exercises.  You don’t have all the time in the world to work out and take care of your health, so make sure you make the most of it with exercises that suit your own specific needs and make the most of your precious time!