All Strength Training Core Challenge July

July Challenge: The Core Challenge

As easy as it is to write off “core training” as just another trendy way to get personal trainers to add another certification to their wall and a few extra letters on their business cards, it’s also not enough to treat core training as another name for abdominal training.  Also, while we often hear that big exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are great for developing core strength (and they are), that only works if you know how to use your core muscles during those types of lifts.

For our purposes, we’re going to define “the core” as anything responsible for stabilizing the lower spine, the hips, and the pelvis.  More than just the visible abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, if you’re fancy), it also includes the external obliques, the transverse abdominis (the deep abdominals that you can’t see), your erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and the glutes – medius, minimus, and maximus.

Why Should You Do Core Training?

The primary benefits we’re going to be aiming for during the Core Challenge are going to be:

  • Improved breathing patterns, including better use of the diaphragm
  • Better posture
  • Reduction in back and hip pain or discomfort
  • Stronger glutes and abdominals
  • Better integration of the core into larger lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses

What Is the Core Challenge?

The Core Challenge involves training these muscles 6 days per week, with one full day of rest, using short workouts and steady progressions.  Instead of doing longer workouts less often, training muscles that you struggle to use well allows you to practice more often and retain the patterns better, no differently than practicing a golf swing, playing an instrument, or learning a new language.

Want to get started? Download the Core Challenge program here.

You can find the video demonstrations for each movement on our YouTube page on our Core Challenge playlist.  Videos will be added one week at a time.

 

 

injury tips

4 Tips to Stop Hurting Yourself

Many people will experience some sort of an injury from exercise, and a lot of the common injuries that come up during our consultations can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions.

#1 – Stretch & Foam Roll (With Purpose) Before Training

I used to be the queen of not stretching before training.  I would walk into the gym and hit the weights.  Well, I don’t know if I can blame it on getting older, or just taking my training more seriously, but those aches and pains that shouldn’t be there started following me around day in and day out.  I finally made a change and now spend 15-20 minutes before each training session just rolling and stretching.  When I have legs, I am loving on that foam roller like you wouldn’t believe, practically crying from how tight my legs have become just since the day prior.  I pull out my lacrosse ball from some extra glute work when needed, and then always do about 5 minutes of various hip stretches.  When I walk towards the weights, I am feeling good and able to get more depth with my squats and deadlifts, push a little heavier, and always end up with a much better workout, and most importantly, a pain free workout.

Takeaway: Budget 15-20 minutes to prepare for your lifting session

#2 – Know the Difference Between Good Pain & Bad Pain

When you go to the doctor and try to explain a stomach ache, they always ask if the pain is dull, achy, stabbing, etc.  Thinking about these things during training is also valuable.  If the pain is burning (think about your quads during Bulgarian split squats), then that is good pain.  Feeling sharpness in your knee during Bulgarian splits squats, however, is bad pain.

Here are some keys to know whether the pain is good or bad.  Are you feeling a burning pain in the muscle you are trying to work?  This is good and likely from lactic acid buildup.  How about sharp pain – sharp pain anywhere is not a good thing.  For me, I run across this when doing particular shoulder movements (I have some long-lasting issues from playing water polo in high school and college).  So, I don’t fret, I just make a change – I could change the weight, change the movement, change the hand position – there are multiple things I can do to alter the movement and still get a great workout that’s free from the wrong kind of pain.

Takeaway:  Listen to your body and be adaptable.

#3 – Don’t Try to Compete in the Weight Room

Is the person next to you deadlifting 50lbs more than you?  Well, good for them, but don’t try to copy them.  I had this conversation with a friend of mine the other day and they told me how much the squat.  It was a lot more than me, and I told them no way, no how could I squat that much and I wasn’t about to try.  Why?  Because I know my body and its limitations.  I also know that this friend weighs more than me which usually means that they have the capacity to lift more than me.

Worry about you, not someone else.  Lift what you can lift and always work towards your own personal PR’s – forget about the person next to you and their PR.

Takeaway: The only person you should be trying to out lift is yourself.

#4 – Move More on a Daily Basis

This one seems so simple, yet is so often neglected.  There is a reason that the term “Desk Jockey Syndrome” has become so popular.  We, as a population, sit  . . . a lot.  Some of this is because of our work, and some is because of habit (where’s the remote?).  Regardless, this hunched over, unsupported lower back, sitting on our ass all day phenomenon has created poor postures, weak glutes, weak core, rounded shoulders, and aches and pains where there shouldn’t be.  We are seeing it more and more with standing desk stations now, or the fitbit that tells you to take a quick lap around the office.  The theme is the same  – stand up, walk some, move your muscles so they don’t get so tight and stiff.  If you don’t have the option to use a standing desk (say you are a driver for a living), then take the opportunities you do have to move.  Park farther away at the grocery store and walk, use the stairs instead of the elevator, be active while you are watching your favorite night-time show, whatever.

Takeaway:  This one is simple, MOVE.

NEAT challenge

March Challenge: The NEAT Challenge

Tomorrow we will be starting a new challenge for the month of March – our NEAT Challenge! It’s free, it’s simple, and it’s open to everybody.

For this month’s challenge, we wanted to take a step back from a focus on our training.

It’s extremely easy to get wrapped up in how much we train – how often we lift weights, how often we do cardio, how much ab work we do – IT’S IN OUR NAME, for Pete’s sake.

But, particularly in the winter months, we can get so wrapped up in our training and exercise that we forget about our activity levels. It’s cold out, so you stop biking or walking to work and start taking the train, you walk your dog a little less, you don’t go to the park or get involved with a weekend rec league; instead, you replace those things with an extra half an hour on a warm couch, in front of a fireplace… why it’s not called “Netflix and warm” I will never understand.

Yet when our activity levels dip down like that, it can require other changes to offset it – maybe a little less food, or another workout each week. And with those reduced calories or increased training stress comes a reduction in your ability to recover. You ache a bit more, you get hungrier more quickly, you feel a bit more sluggish in the middle of the afternoon.

What we want to do is increase something called NEAT – short for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. What does that mean? It means, the calories we burn just by doing things that don’t require any recovery – it’s not exercise or training, it’s just activity. Neat, huh? (I AM THE BEST AT PUNS)

In fact, it’s been shown that increasing your NEAT will actually help you recover more from your training and allows you to keep your food intake higher with no loss of progress. It’s not stressful on your body, it’s just… moving.

Here is the plan:

Week 1: Using a pedometer (you can buy one to keep on your hip, or you can use one on your phone – provided your phone is always on you, which may not be the case), you’ll track the number of steps you take each day. After 7 days, you’ll find the average number of steps you take in a given day.

Each week, your goal will be to increase the number of steps you take each day by 1,000. If your average was 2,000 in Week 1, your goal is 3,000. Pretty simple step. (HA!)

By the end of the month, that should put your daily average a full 3,000 steps (or more) higher than where you started.

Note: I personally would suggest not keeping your pedometer on you when doing any of your training or existing exercise – lifting, running, cycling, etc – the things you’re already doing. We’re not trying to cram in more workouts; remember, it’s Non-Exercise Activity we’re monitoring here, and I don’t want to stack more and more onto your recovery ability.

Are you in?

Are You the Person I’m Looking For?

This went out to all of our newsletter subscribers and clients a few days ago, and now I’m opening it up to all of our social media readers. I am writing this because I have something special to share. If you’re reading this, I think it COULD apply to you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I would rather let you make that decision instead of me, as I have been wrong more than once. As some of you may or may not know, I recently began competing in Physique competitions (which I have been thoroughly enjoying, by the way). But this isn’t about me. 52544-zach-trowbridge-11_final It IS about the fact that I am looking for TWO people with similar interests. I am looking to take two people to the stage within the next 12 months. Why? Because it isn’t enough for me to do it myself – if I can’t reproduce the results then it doesn’t really help me continue to grow even more as a coach. So, who am I looking for? I am looking for one client to work with one on one with me personally, as a private client, 4 days per week, for an hour at a time. This person, male or female, should be highly motivated to get into more than just good shape – they need to want something more. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re already a client at All Strength Training or not – it’s open to anybody! I am also looking for one person to work with remotely. This person probably won’t live close enough to train with me one on one, but you’ll get the next best thing. Customized nutrition, programming, and weekly Skype consult, and more. Now, the good part. I am not going into this with a particular set cost in mind. I would rather have the right people who will do what’s needed, rather than just those with the most disposable income. So I’m not putting a price tag on it yet – if you’re the person for the job, we can work that out later. 12 week transformation So what do I get out of it? 1. Promotion. Yes, I will use you to promote our services. On our website, through social media, in print, etc. Consider it a trade for offering this at well below what I would typically charge. 2. Data. You’re a beta tester for all of my nutrition, training, and supplementation protocols. So we will keep lots of records together, you and I. Workouts, pictures, measurements, consistently and regularly. How Do You Apply? Reply to this e-mail or send an e-mail to me personally at Zach@allstrengthtraining.com. In about 500 words (a few paragraphs), describe what you want from me. How you want to look, what competition you would like to do, who you would like to look like, and tell me why I should pick you. Please, also specify if you want to be considered for one on one or remote training. Lastly, tell me what inspires you. People, places, activities, anything. I want to know what drives you to be a better person and motivates you to get out of bed each day. If you read this and think this isn’t for you, I understand. Not everyone wants or needs to go to the level I’m asking for this project. I would ask, however, that if you know someone who fits the bill, that you share this with them so that they might have the opportunity to be considered. Until Next Time, Zach Trowbridge

3 Warmup Templates for Optimizing Performance

As the temperatures (at least here in Chicago) are dipping consistently below freezing every night, it’s time to start putting a little more thought into your warmups than during the hot and sweaty summer months. No longer can you get away with 30 seconds of jumping rope, a couple of high knees, and be off to the races – not unless you would like to help contribute to your chiropractor or orthopedist’s next BMW purchase.

However, as usual, we understand that time is at a premium, and that some of the more drawn-out warmups out there may not be feasible, or even necessary.

What follows are three different warmup templates based on the most common training goals that we work with – fat loss, muscle gain, and strength.

Fat Loss

There are a few things we know about most effective fat loss programs – rest periods tend to be limited, the movements tend to be big, compound lifts that work a lot of muscles at once, and setting personal records on weight lifted is not a primary aim (or at least, it shouldn’t be).

With that in mind, a good warmup should prepare you for an elevated heart rate and warm up all of the major muscle groups and joints, since many fat loss programs use full body workouts each day (or at the very least, varying combinations of upper and lower body exercises).  We’re going to want to include the following three components:

  • two dynamic stretching movements to raise the heart rate (one for the shoulder girdle and one for the hips)
  • some soft tissue work on chronically tight or stiff muscle groups
  • one or two bodyweight strength exercises to prepare the joints and muscles for training

Here’s an example:

Dynamic Stretching

A1.  Shoulder dislocates with PVC pipe or a band – 10-12 reps

A2. Leg swings, forward/back and side-to-side – 10-12 reps each way

Soft Tissue

B1. Piriformis with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

B2. IT band with foam roller – 30 seconds each side

B3. Upper pecs with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

 

Strength Warmup

C1. Bodyweight squat – 20 reps, 2010 tempo (2 seconds down, no pause, one second up, no pause)

C2. Medicine ball slam – 10 reps, X0X0 tempo (fast movements)

Estimated completion time – 8 minutes

Muscle Gain

Training for muscle gain, also called hypertrophy training, typically requires more of a focus on training individual muscle groups with more sets per workout, usually resulting in splitting the body up over multiple workouts.  Therefore, the warmups put more emphasis on preparing individual muscles for a higher workload.

An example for a chest & back workout:

Dynamic Stretching

A1.  Shoulder dislocates with PVC pipe or a band – 10-12 reps

A2. Medicine ball slam – 15-20 reps

Soft Tissue

B1. Lats/upper back with foam roller – 30 seconds each side

B2. Rotator cuff with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

B3. Upper pecs with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

Strength Warmup

C1. Shoulder width pushup or flat dumbbell press – 2 sets of 10 with 50% of max weight, 4010 tempo

C2. Dumbbell pullover – 20 sets of 10 with 50% of max weight, 3210 tempo

Estimated completion time – 12 minutes

Strength

Strength workouts typically involve fewer reps per set, with longer rest intervals and a higher percentage of intensity than other types of training.  The dynamic components and soft tissue work are similar to the other two templates, but the strength warmup works a little differently.  Also, rather than being split into bodyparts, workouts are usually grouped based on movements, with some variation of either the three power lifts (bench press, squat, or deadlift) or a variation of an Olympic lift (clean & jerk, snatch) as the primary focus for the session.

Along with dynamic and soft tissue movements, the strength warmup typically involves multiple low-rep sets of the first one or two movements being trained that session.  For example, on a day devoted to the bench press, the warmup might look like this:

Dynamic Stretching

A1.  Shoulder dislocates with PVC pipe or a band – 10-12 reps

A2. Medicine ball slam – 15-20 reps

Soft Tissue

B1. Lats/upper back with foam roller – 30 seconds each side

B2. Rotator cuff with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

B3. Upper pecs with lacrosse ball – 30 seconds each side

Strength Warmup

C1. Close-grip barbell bench press (lifter’s current max is 250lbs) – 95×5, 115×3, 135×3, 155×1, 4010 tempo

C2. Close-grip weighted chinup (lifter’s current max is 100lbs) – bodyweight x5, 25×3, 40×3, 50×1, 4010 tempo

Estimated completion time – 15 minutes

Knee Pain Part 1: You’re Doing It Wrong

Knee pain seems to be far and away the most prevalent nagging, reoccurring injury in recreational athletes and trainees that I have worked with, probably more than lower back and shoulder issues combined.  There are a few reasons for this.

First, there is a trend of promoting “knee-friendly” training routines in fitness magazines and blogs, including exercises such as partial squats, Smith machine squats, leg presses (partial range), and leg extensions.  The problem with this is that in reality, most of those exercises do more harm than good, for a variety of reasons.  Let’s break it down.

Partial Squats

Partial squats – a barbell squat to no more than 90 degrees.  Two problems here – the first is that you are shortening the range of motion, which essentially puts more demand on the thigh muscles to decelerate the weight faster because of the shortened movement.  Here’s a good analogy – would you rather have 1000 feet to brake from 75 miles an hour, or 500 feet?  Your brakes are working a lot harder to slow down a ton of weight (it doesn’t help that most people can squat up to 2 or 3 times as much weight in a partial squat vs. a full range squat).

The second downside is that the vastus medius oblique, or VMO, which is your knee’s major stabilizer, is most active during both the first 15 degrees and last 15 degrees of a squat.  It is least active at or just above parallel.  So you’re using more weight, requiring more work from your joints, without the help of the muscle designed to keep the knee safe.

The answer here is just to squat through a full range of motion.  Ideally, a squat should be below parallel, with the hamstrings making contact with the upper part of the gastrocnemius (upper calf).  In conjunction, the lowering stage of the squat should be performed under control, taking three or four seconds to lower the weight, and the overall load should be reduced to ensure correct technique.

Smith Machine Squats

Smith machine squats are usually the quickest substitute for conventional barbell squats that you’ll see recommended in training articles.  “Oh, your knees hurt?  Okay, squat on this”.  If you’re not familiar with a Smith machine, it is essentially a barbell set on two guided supports that allows the bar to move in a single plane of motion – straight up and straight down.

A major problem here is that when you squat, you don’t only go straight up and down, there is horizontal movement of both the hips and the barbell, so having the “safety supports” inhibits the natural mechanics of the movement and actually places significantly more shearing stress on the patella (kneecap) than a conventional squat performed correctly.  And again, as with partial squats, the leverage you gain from the machine usually encourages more load on the bar, making things even worse.

Leg Press

Truth be told, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the leg press.  In fact, for bodybuilders and those only interested in looks, it’s a solid leg exercise, when done right.  However, most of the time you’ll see people going through an incredibly shallow range of motion with far too much weight.  The problems and resolutions are essentially the same as for the barbell squat.

Leg Extension

The leg extension is a bit of a different beast than the others.  Its primary function is indeed to strengthen the VMO, which, as mentioned earlier, is one of the main ways to stabilize the knee.  So what’s wrong with the leg extension?

First, the leg extension is what’s known as an open kinetic chain exercise, meaning the foot isn’t stabilized and the stress isn’t applied the same as a squat or leg press.  The issue with that is that the angle of pressure from the shin pad can create undue stress at the knee joint, so while it’s sometimes a useful exercise for developing the VMO, the trade-off is that it can inherently damage the joint.

The other problem is that I have had problems fixing poor motor patterns with people who have done a lot of leg extensions in their training lifetime.  What does that mean?  It means that the leg extension conditions the muscle to fire exclusive of any other thigh muscles, so the body gets strong operating in isolation.  But when an individual begins squatting or lunging, they can’t apply that leg extension strength to the new movement, putting them at a disadvantage again.

So What Do I Do?

In the next part of this article, I will go over what changes to make to your leg training to spare your knees, as well as why all the training in the world may not save you from knee pain if you neglect these other variables.

Common Misuses of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release (SMR) if you’re fancy, is widely accepted as a useful tool for correcting postural dysfunction and alleviating muscle soreness and stiffness.  However, just like anything, there is a right way and a wrong way to apply it.  Here are some of the more common mistakes that I see when it comes to soft tissue work, and how to fix it:

Working in a Haphazard Order

Particularly when used for corrective exercise and treating posture dysfunction, there are specific patterns you should follow when foam rolling.  Instead of just jumping around to whatever feels the tightest,follow steps to ensure that as you release tension in one area, it preemptively releases tension in other areas along what are called the myofascial lines.  here are a few simple guidelines to follow to get the most out of the least amount of time:

  1. Always, always start with the feet (plantar fascia) first.
  2. Work from the pelvis outward.  If you need to release tension in my calves and my glutes, start with the glutes and work toward the calves.  If it’s the lower back and the traps, start with the lower back and work along the vertebrae of the spine until you arrive at the traps.

Rolling Stiff and Lengthened Muscles, Not Tight and Short Ones

Here is the best example of this scenario – somebody will walk into the gym, grab a lacrosse ball or foam roller, and start attacking the area between the shoulder blades.  Why?  Because the area feels stiff and sore.  Logically, this would make sense; however, in application all it does is make the problem worse.  Here is why.

In corrective exercise, there are typically two types of muscles, usually situated opposite each other.  There are muscles that are loose and lengthened (and often weak, but not necessarily), and muscles that are tight and short (usually stronger than their loose and lengthened counterparts, but again, not necessarily).

If you look at your typical desk jockey, you will usually see rounded shoulders, a hunched upper back, and a forward head tilt.  This usually results in tight and short anterior delts, pecs, and traps, with loose and long scapular retractors (rhomboids, teres major and minor, posterior delts).  If all I roll is the upper back complex, all that serves to do is release even more tension, which makes the muscles even looser and longer, and allows the opposing muscle groups to get tighter and shorter.  A better approach would be to open up the chest and shoulders with soft tissue work first, and then briefly work the upper back to increase blood flow.

Ignoring Trigger Points

The point of foam rolling is to find the areas that create the most discomfort, and apply generous amounts of pressure until the scar tissue that has built up in that area begins to break up and release muscular tension.  However, human instinct is to run away from the pain, so what normally happens is that if I spend 2 minutes rolling my IT band, I’ll spend 1:45 rolling the areas that aren’t too awful, and just sort of pay passive attention to the intense pain that comes from the areas that are in need of the most attention.

Instead, pay attention to the two or three areas in each muscle that create the most tension – especially the ones that cause any sort of radiating tension in other muscle groups.  There are your trigger points for that area.  Spend most of your time here and don’t worry about the rest.

Soft tissue work has a plethora of benefits to everybody from word class athletes to busy executives to the senior citizen who is just trying to maintain mobility, but it only works when it’s applied correctly.  Take these three tips and make the appropriate adjustments to get the most out of the least amount of time.

Quick Tip: Stretch Your Hips & Quads to Help Back Pain

One natural reaction to back pain, or pain in any particular area, is to focus all of your attention on where the pain is, not necessarily addressing the things that might be causing the pain in the first place.  Often, back pain is brought on by excessive tightness or poor mechanics in other, opposing muscle groups and movement patterns.

With back pain, usually there is some sort of problem with the pelvis, typically presenting in what’s called an anterior pelvic tilt (to visualize, put your hands on your hips, and picture “pouring” your pelvis forward).  Your butt will usually stick out and an excessive amount of lumbar arch (called lordosis) results.  This is usually caused by muscles that connect to the front of the pelvis being unnecessarily tight, specifically the psoas (one of the hip flexors) and the rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles).

As part of your daily routine, simply apply a mix of foam rolling and stretching to the hips and quads.  It’s best to begin with foam rolling the quads, then the hip flexors, before stretching.  If done pre-workout, do your foam rolling first and static stretching after a training session, as studies have shown that static stretching pre-workout can limit power output.

Fix Your T-Spine to Improve Your Posture & Your Press

When it comes to improving posture and preventing injury, it’s best to start by working from the inside out.  This is why core training has become so popular over the last few years – the idea that your center of mass has to be strong to control what’s going on in your extremities makes a lot of sense.  When it comes to generating power, the same theory holds true.  Ask any well-trained martial artist how much power a punch can generate when combined with adequate breathing, hip rotation and core control.

But what if there was a limitation in your movement that made all of that extremely hard, to the point where other, more vulnerable parts of the body had to start picking up the slack?  This is what can happen if the spine is not properly aligned.  Because as much credit as the core gets for being the center of the body, in reality, without the spine, the core means nothing.

The spine is divided into 3 major sections – cervical (upper, including the neck), thoracic (the mid-back), and lumbar (the lower back).

Much of the motion in the cervical and lumber areas is controlled by how much movement is available in the thoracic, or t-spine.  Try this to see what I mean:

Stand up in your typical “slouched” posture – shoulders forward, back rounded, shoulder blades apart and chest sunken in.  Now, without changing your body position, try to reach overhead.  If you don’t change your body position, two things will happen:

1) You won’t be able to reach up overhead very far at all.

2) To compensate, you’ll start leaning backwards and letting the lumber spine shift into an arched, or flexed, position.

Now, try the same drill standing as tall as possible, with the chest up and shoulders back.  You should get a lot higher without much compensation at the lower back.

But here’s the problem – unless you were able to get your biceps right beside your ears without having to shrug, lift your shoulders, lean back, move your hips, or arch your back, you’re still compensating.  And most likely, the problem is restricted movement in the t-spine.  This restriction can come from bad posture, previous injury, overworking the front of the torso (chest, shoulders, biceps) while ignoring the back of the torso (upper back, lats, triceps), poor flexibility, etc.  With so many possible restrictions, it’s necessary to take a multifaceted approach to fixing it.

Step 1 – Mobility

The first thing you have to do is get movement back.  I like to use more than one mobility drill for any given bodypart just to hit it from a few different angles.

Step 2 – Stability

Stability is simply the ability to control movement in a given range of motion, big or small.  Stability and balance are not synonymous, so being able to stand on a circus ball and squat with dumbbells over your head does not make you stable, just insane.

Step 3 – Strength

The last piece of the puzzle, think of developing strength as the piece that makes the first two steps stick.  You can increase flexibility and mobility, but if you don’t strengthen up the right areas to hold that new position, the body will revert right back to where it was.

The following video shows one of my favorite progressions for improving shoulder mobility through the thoracic spine:

Suggested Pre-Workout Corrective Program
A1. Foam Roller Thoracic Extension – until improvement is seen
A2. Quadruped Thoracic Rotations – until improvement is seen
A3. Wide-Grip Pullup Static Hold – start with a moderate band for assistance, when 30 seconds is achieved, decrease band assistance. Ideally you will be able to do it with bodyweight or with additional resistance from a chinup belt in the long term.
A4. Prone Cobra – 8-15 reps, stopping several reps short of fatigue

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give when it comes to the flexibility and stability pieces is not to get hung up on sets and reps. Work it until you feel noticeable improvement, then move on to the next movement. Even with the strengthening exercise (the prone cobra), you’re using it as a warmup, so don’t kill yourself on it. Get some work done, make it difficult, but keep it clean and be safe. Good luck!

Overspecializing Young Athletes is a Mistake

As a kid, I remember playtime well.  We did everything from play sports basketball, football and baseball (although I was never very good at any of them), to riding bikes and skateboards, to climbing trees and hills.  Even during Iowa winters, my brothers and I would amuse ourselves (and likely our parents) by going into the pasture behind our house and sledding/tobogganing/sliding down the giant 300-yard hill on our butts, only to have to begin the slow march all the way back to the top to do it again.  Sure, we had video games, but those were usually reserved for when the weather was bad or when the sun was down.  When we could, we played, and we did a TON of different things.

Now, as a father of two quickly-growing boys, my job is to make sure that they receive that same experience.  The problem is that it’s significantly harder to give kids that time nowadays, for several reasons.  First, I live in the city limits of Chicago, so I am in no way able to just let my kids roam free without worrying about them the way my parents could in a rural Iowa farm town.  Second, the rapid growth of entertainment-oriented technology is way, WAY above what I can ever remember.  My not-even-4-year-old son Ethan can work my smartphone, turn on our computer and find his computer games, and operate our Netflix all by himself.  With all of those temptations, who wants to have to go outside and move?

Combine that with extreme budget cuts for most schools that have required the reduction or complete elimination of most physical education programs, and young athletes (and young adults in general) are not being exposed to as wide of a variety of stimuli as in years past.  That is why I am a firm believer that kids younger than high school have no business in being single-sport athletes.

I’ve seen it a lot lately, talking with parents when they come into our facility looking to have their son or daughter train with us to improve their sports prowess.  “But,” they’ll say, “we don’t have a lot of time, because Johnny plays soccer year-round, and this summer he’s going to a soccer camp where they’ll have him do conditioning drills for 7 hours a day for six weeks, then he’ll start his fall league where he’ll practice 5 days a week and have 2 games a week, usually double-headers, then he’ll play indoor soccer during the winter, then in the spring he’s back in an after-school soccer camp and then he has to practice 500 kicks before he goes to bed.”

“Oh, and his ankles always hurt.  I think it might be genetic.”

Really?  It’s a miracle his feet aren’t detachable at this point.

Even worse, beyond just being single-sports athletes, I’m seeing lots of kids who are now single-sport, single-position athletes, at the ripe old age of 9.  “My son Billy is going to be a pro pitcher some day, give me some drills so he can throw faster.”  What he really means is “give me some drills so I can destroy his rotator cuff so badly that it’ll look like melting swiss cheese left out on a hot summer day.”

There is no way around it – overspecialization at a young age increases the risk for injury.  10-year-olds should not be capable of tearing a hamstring, yet they occur in dramatic numbers now.  There needs to be balance in activity, and it’s not happening anymore.

I have a simple request for parents who might read this: please, PLEASE, make your kids play more than one sport.  I don’t care if it means you go out into your driveway and play H-O-R-S-E with them every night after soccer practice.  I don’t care if you take your kids to the park and let them climb the jungle gym and the monkey bars.  Just don’t pigeonhole them into one activity or sport and set them up for potentially life-altering problems down the road.  Let your kids be kids.

Of course, it never hurts for parents to get involved with their kids’ activities, too.