Monday, November 29, 2010

A College Christmas

Congratulations – you are just about ready to complete the fall semester of college – hopefully you did not get kicked out in a matter of 16 weeks. You managed to make it through the exams, papers, midterms, more papers, quizzes, social life, and soon enough - finals. Not only that, you managed to make it through the fall ball season – oh boy, spring baseball is right around the corner. That’s right, official team practice will start before you know it.

Let me make a couple recommendations – albeit highly recommended. You have worked extremely hard this past semester – even if it was by default. You had to go through morning running sessions, REALLY long practices, weightlifting sessions, study hall hours, tutor sessions, and many other social events that probably did not aid in fueling the body for baseball:

- Get some rest – for the next month or so, you are a faux “professional athlete.” You might have time to sleep in a little, recover from your training sessions (which you still need to be doing), and refuel your body from the fall semester – I am sure your parents are looking forward to feeding you again, trust me.

- Continue to train – the spring season is about 70 days away. I am not talking about the first practice – that’s the first game of the season. So you need to keep/prepare yourself for the season ahead. You don’t have the luxury of a big league spring training starting up just about 70 days from now.

- Fuel your body – take the time to eat right. I’m not going to go into detail about how much, what, and when you should eat – I will leave that up to Kim, the dietician on staff – but you are now at home and don’t have to stop at the Munchie Mart or the campus sub shop to get your food. Like I said before – most of the time, your parents actually enjoy you being home and will help you out as much as they can.

- Mentally prepare yourself for what is ahead – it’s a long season. You hopefully will be playing baseball games from February 18th until June 29th – and it will be a roller coaster ride. Remember, the game of baseball is laced with failure – getting hits 3 out of 10 times is pretty good. Think about making 3 out of 10 free throws – you won’t be playing too much, unless you happen to be Shaq.

With all that being said – enjoy your time around the holidays and be careful. We all consider baseball a very big part of our lives, but time around the ones you love is crucial for your overall well-being – even if it’s your dog. They tend to be your best fans and your worst critics, but they are why you are where you are and they will try their best to be there when you need. So give your family a hug, thank your mom, dad, and grandparents as much as you can and enjoy your time at home.

Everyone have safe travels and Happy Holidays.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Top 5 Program Progression Mistakes

The goal of any training program should be the improvement of strength, power, and work capacity. Without an increase in training loads positive adaptations will never occur. However, the training stimulus should be adjusted in a gradual and progressive manner to avoid overtraining which can result in lack of energy, poor performance, fatigue, depression, aching muscles and joints, and injury. This week’s article will attempt to address my top 5 areas of attention to insure improvement and limit the risk for injury.

#5 Perform a Proper Warm-Up

Muscular stiffness and lack of joint mobility result in greater muscle damage after exercise. A dynamic warm-up increases the body’s global core temperature, as well as, the localized tissue temperature for the specific muscles that will be active during sports movements. When the muscle tissue is “warm”, it becomes more elastic, more flexible, and less stiff. This greater elasticity means less tissue damage and less potential for injury. Aside from the overall increase in tissue temperature, an active warm-up prepares the muscles and joints for performance by “turning-on” the neuromuscular (brain-to-muscle) connections that will be utilized during training.

#4 Monitor Technique

Emphasis should be placed on “quality” over “quantity”. Often athletes will sacrifice movement technique for 5-10 pounds of resistance. Improper exercise form can lead to injury when the exercise pattern exceeds the limitations of a joint or muscle. Mechanical errors that create inefficient movement sequencing and timing will lead to a decrease of transferred energy and subsequently an increase in the torques and joint stresses produced. By stressing the importance of proper technique, not only will you limit this potential for harm, but the brain will ingrain and store more accurate movement patterns for future use. Ultimately, the use of proper technique can lead to more accurate programming of motor unit activation and much greater improvements in exercise performance.

#3 Adjust the Training Load

The amount of training load applied is very important. Too little exercise will have no effect on training. Yet, too much may cause injury. The Overload Principle states that the training stimulus must be greater than the normal level of function for the athlete’s body to adapt. The amount of the stimulus will depend on the athlete’s current fitness level. When working with the less experienced a lower intensity should be utilized. However, the more experienced athlete can use a greater stimulus. The training load should be adjusted in a gradual and progressive manner. One technique that can be used is to highlight the “Sets and Reps” scheme. For example, if the session or movement outlines “3 sets of 10 repetitions”, choose a resistance or weight that will allow for the performance of the designated number of repetitions (i.e. 10). If the athlete is unable to perform the 10 reps, then the resistance is too great and needs to be adjusted to a lighter weight on the next set. If he is able to perform more than 10 reps, the load is too light and needs to be adjusted to a greater weight on the next set. When progressing from session to session, begin with the training load used in the second set of the previous workout and adjust accordingly.

#2 Master the Fundamental Pre-Requisites

Choosing the proper initial movement “level of difficulty” is important. Too often, coaches and trainers choose an exercise or movement because it has “sizzle”. When in reality, the athlete may not have the proper functional platform of strength, stabilization, or mobility to perform the activity. An easy illustration is the athlete who cannot perform a Body Weight Squat without significant foot pronation and inward collapse of the knees. Yet, for some reason, his coach has him performing Resistance Band Jump Squats. Training progression should be viewed as an Inverted Pyramid. Without the mastery of the fundamental pre-requisites, the pyramid will topple over and fall. The end-result movement pattern can be broken down into smaller, simpler “building blocks”. Proper movement sequencing should progress from the improvement of isolated muscle strength to the more complex movement. In the Jump Squat example, initial focus should be placed on strengthening of the gluteal and hip abductors muscles. Next, the athlete may perform a Wall Squat exercise progressing to a Body Weight Squat followed by a Free Weight Back Squat. Once the athlete, can perform a proper squatting movement with external load, then he may progress to a Jump Squat and ultimately the Resistance Band Jump Squat.

#1 Allow for Rest and Recovery

Training is the application of stress. The constant exposure to physical stress results in a lack of energy, poor performance, and fatigue leading to eventual tissue breakdown and injury. Repair and regeneration occurs between training sessions. This cycle of stress and recovery progresses the athlete’s fitness level. The more fit the athlete, the greater the training stimulus needed for adaptation. Greater intensity or stress increases the need for rest and recovery. Monitoring the athlete’s training loads, performances, and his physical and mental responses can help to identify the need to adjust daily plans and stresses for maximal training efforts and optimal results.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Best Energy Booster - Breakfast

One of the best decisions an athlete can make is to start the day with breakfast. Why you ask? Because your body is actually in a starvation state when you get up in the morning. Your metabolism has slowed to an almost stand still because it has not been fed in 8 to 12 hours or so, it acts to conserve energy by slowing all metabolic processes down. If you don’t fill your gas tank with some nutrition and energy you won’t be able to run your machine (your body)well. Your body and your brain need fuel to get it revved in the morning and prepare for thinking and the demands of physical activity. Between 10-30 percent of people head out the door in the morning with a low tank of gas because they skip this important meal. Omitting breakfast is a favorite practice of teenagers and gets worse with age. Amost 60% of teens in high school skip breakfast more than 3 times per week! Don’t be a statistic…learn how to eat smart.

There are some tangible health benefits to eating breakfast, according to research, so consider this:

Breakfast eaters...

...Are healthier. They are more likely to get more nutrition and essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, in their diets.

...Tend to have better control of their weight. Studies show that breakfast skippers often overeat the rest of the day because of excessive hunger so they are more prone to being overweight.

...Do better in school because they have improved concentration, longer attention spans and they achieve higher test scores.

...Have better school attendance (and are tardy less).

...Have better hand to eye coordination, which is a critical element of success in sports.

...Fuel their sports training and practices better because they are supplying their muscles and liver with the right fuel (carbohydrates) to perform their best.

I often hear comments like, “I’m not hungry when I get up” or “I don’t have time to eat breakfast” in the morning. To that I reply, do not expect or wait to feel hungry when you get up in the morning. And breakfast doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes. Cereals are a great choice if they are not sugar-laden ones. Choose those with 3 or 4 grams of fiber (bran cereals like Fiber One, Oat Bran, Bran Flakes and Raisin Bran are even higher in fiber) and less than 9-10 grams of sugar per serving. Always look for whole grain on the box and select fortified or enriched cereals that provide iron, an important mineral for athletes. Here are some quick and easy grab and go breakfast ideas along with some others that will combat breakfast boredom at home!

-Bagel with peanut butter, 100% fruit juice
-Dry cereal like bran flakes with a banana and skim milk
-Breakfast burrito (2 eggs scrambled in microwave oven for 1-2 minutes, stirring) made with eggs, sprinkle of shredded low fat cheese and topped with salsa. Roll and go!
-Fresh orange, low fat mozzarella stick, dry cereal in a Ziploc, hard-boiled egg, applesauce, low fat chocolate milk.
-Carnation Instant Breakfast made with low fat milk (I like to throw a banana in and whirl in the blender, with a few ice cubes for a healthy milkshake before a tough workout!)
-Homemade smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit, low fat yogurt/low fat milk or instant dried nonfat milk powder.
-Low fat cottage cheese with pineapple (no sugar added) with a whole wheat English muffin.
-Omelet with spinach, mushrooms, low fat cheese, tomato juice, and whole wheat toast
-Oatmeal (instant works!) with a handful of craisins and almonds on top, low fat milk
-One of my favorites: Low fat yogurt and fruit (think berries) parfait with a scoop of grape nuts or healthy granola in a plastic cup to go.
-Apple smeared with almond butter and topped with raisins, cereal bar
-Canadian bacon (or lean ham) and low fat swiss cheese on a whole wheat English muffin for a breakfast sandwich
-Clif bar (in a pinch) and 100% orange juice

If you want to be on the fast track to better health and performance, include breakfast in your nutrition game plan. Check out the Eat Right Tips from the American Dietetic Association’s website at for simple, speedy and good-for-you breakfast ideas and power up with breakfast!

Kim Larson, RD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do You Know Where You Stand?

Where do you stand?

Do you know where you stand as far as your talent or potential as player goes? I have been working with baseball players for 13 years as a coach, and have been playing the game for 30 years, and this still seems to be a problem no matter where you go. Understanding where you are in your development can help you as a player set goals and have a realistic sense of what the future holds. Knowing where you are usually comes from experience, you have to get out of your little bubble and see what else is out there. I currently live in a cold weather state, being Colorado, and have found that many players have no idea where there talent really stands and in many cases think of themselves to highly, without real evidence. Let me give you a little personal example. When I was in high school and looking to go to the next level I was setting up tryouts with all sorts of programs and coaches from D1 to NAIA. I had been in my little bubble and had not really got out and tested my talent too much. Some of it had to do with the fact that my family did not have a lot of money, but I worked really hard and wanted to play. On my way to a try out for a D1 school in Kansas I decided to stop at some smaller schools as well. The first school I stopped at was a NAIA school that was very competitive in their league and region. I went through the tryout and felt like I did very well, I was excited to see what the coach would say. The coach started out by saying that I would probably not be playing at his school, I was instantly disappointed, what was I going to do; I was on my way to a D1 school to test my talent. Well before the disappointment set in, I think the coach could read my face and said, you will probably not play here because you are better then any player I have on my team now. Of course he was more then willing to take me, but this is fine example of not knowing where I really stood, so I could make the right choices of schools to visit. The D1 tryout went well and I was offered the chance to go there, but that is another story. As a player you need to get out and play with, or against some players from around the country or at least your region. You have to see how they play, how they look and perform. There are also many so called recruitment tryouts and camps. I use, so called, because you need to look at these with a grain of salt, is the tryout really a way to make money or is it really a talent camp for coaches. As a basic rule of thumb if the tryout camp is really expensive it is probably a fraud. As a player you should look for local camps, or schools that are having camps and tryouts. A program that we have started this year is providing players with a free evaluation camp every summer, the camp is free so no player has an excuse that they could not come. We cover everything from strength and conditioning to fielding, hitting and pitching. Each player receives a full evaluation or there skills as well as some tips on how they can improve. This has evolved into the winter evaluation camp where we bring in other professionals to also evaluate. These camps are more in-depth, and so have a small fee, but the fee is for paying for the professional evaluators and their travel to our location. Finding a good competitive team might also be a great way to help establish your talent and raise it to the next level. The experience of playing with players you have not grown up with and getting to locations you might not have gotten to without this team will help you as a player develop and be ready for the next stage. The challenge of the blog this week is to really evaluate where you are as a player and where you want to go. Be honest with yourself, and you will become a better player then you thought possible.

Brian Niswender

Monday, November 1, 2010

Puppy Training: Trusting the Process

Like a majority of American families, I have a dog to take care of and teach some house etiquette in order to keep my sanity. When he was a puppy my wife and I had to potty train him just like any other puppy. Yeah, he had his share of accidents on the floor and we picked up a lot of poop on those days. It was a process teaching him to wait and go outside. We rewarded him and praised him every time that he went outside. My wife and I trusted that process of potty training and things have worked out.

One can say the same thing about resistance training, corrective exercises, rehab, weight loss, golfing, hitting a baseball – well you get the picture. I am an athletic trainer (would rather be called a movement therapist) and I do have some treatments that will have an athlete feeling pretty good going into a competition, but the results of the treatment don’t typically last. Modalities that are listed as “treatments” are really just band-aids on a ruptured aorta. I am talking about oral NSAIDS, cortisone injections, ice, massage, knee straps, physical therapy, and surgery - all reactive modalities. My athletes wait for issues to reach their threshold and its then when they start to perceive it as a problem. To be blunt – there will never be any modality or treatment that will overcome a dysfunctional athlete with a warped sense of reality with a few weeks or even days before their next competition.

When I would brag on my dog as a puppy he would end up whizzing on the carpet – I would be mad for a minute, clean it up , and take him outside. I made the time to help him out with the process of potty training and guess what - he’s a good dog. I know that if we all had the time (and the commitment of the athletes) that we could make some major adjustments in movement patterns. It’s a process – the runner that has been running for years is probably not going to fix an overuse injury in a matter of a few days. The same can be said about a pitcher with a sore shoulder. Trust the process!!

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball