The exact moment I saw the impact strength training had on sport performance

It was a wintery night in Ottawa in 2004 and I was playing indoor ultimate in the bubble at Lansdowne. Other than my moment of epiphany, this was a perfectly ordinary night of ultimate. In fact it was so ordinary that I don’t recall anything about the night other than that one play made me go “Whoa!” The funny thing is that the play that made me realize how much of an affect training had on my game” was actually a screw up on my part. I was cutting for a disc (also known as a Frisbee by non-ultimate players and veteran ultimate players) that was thrown to me. The disc was thrown a bit high, so I jumped for it, but instead of catching it, the disc hit my arm just below the wrist. After a moment of disbelief at not having caught it – I don’t usually drop – I grinned as I realized what had happened. That was the only time in my ultimate career that I was happy about missing the disc.

I missed the disc because I jumped too high. I jumped. Too. High. :)

Thankfully an athletic body can adapt to a new normal relatively quickly, and I was soon able to adjust my timing to match my new vertical, and no more discs were missed.

I had always known intellectually that strength and power training was a good idea for sports performance before that moment, but after that play, I really knew it. And since that moment, I have known that as long as I continued to have any athletic ambition, that I would continue strength and power training.

At the time, my training involved primarily squats, Romanian deadlifts, rows, and hang cleans. Since then, the details of my training have changed, but fundamentally it is still built around some type of squat, some type of deadlift, some type of rowing (pulling), and some type of power exercise (including hang cleans).

The modern version of my training (and my clients’s training) has a few more layers:

  • In 2004, I did a simple dynamic warm-up that was based on a Mark Verstegen (owner of Exos). Today my training is similar but includes a few specific exercises to address issues with my movement (versus a generic warm-up).
  • I used to train partial range bilateral squats primarily, but I also used to get hip pain for a couple of days after. The concept for partial range to train for sport was that one doesn’t typically get into a full squat depth in sport, so why do it in the gym. When my trainer at the time explained that, it made sense to me, but since then I have changed my perspective on that and believe that parallel squats makes more sense.[1] I also switched to single leg squat variations for myself because of the hip pain I used to get. Switching out bilateral squats for split squats, lunges, single leg squats, step ups, and skater squats yielded significantly less hip pain for me. I remain a fan of bilateral squats for many people but now believe they are not ideal for everyone.
  • I continue to do Romanian deadlifts for periods, but more often I do single leg Romanian deadlifts, or conventional deadlifts instead. I think each of these three can provide the posterior chain development we want for sport performance.
  • I continue to train Olympic lifts (hang cleans or snatches) for power, but now also use kettlebell swings for this purpose as well. I continue to get feedback from clients telling me that they can jump higher on the field than before. I hate to have to narrow it down to one exercise as there are many elements of sports performance, but if I had to do only one thing to develop vertical jump in someone, I would probably choose cleans. For another perspective on that, take a look at the video below that shows a track and field athlete, a free runner, and an Olympic weightlifter in a vertical jump competition. The video is in Russian, but you don’t need to know what they are saying to enjoy and learn.
  • I have added more upper body work to my training. I still do some variety of rowing, as do all of my clients, as this is a great way to build a strong back, but I also balance this out with some upper body pressing, like push-ups and cable presses. There is research that suggests some upper body strengthening has an impact on vertical jump and speed, but it does not seem to be a strong relationship. Some is still something, though, and most of the upper body exercises I use tend to have a core training element that makes it worthwhile.
  • The sport performance training that I do and that my clients do includes some specific core training, including something like planks for the front, glute bridges for the backside, and Pallof presses or similar for the side. Most sport performance involves both the upper and lower body, which means that most performance will be enhanced by being better able to transfer energy between the upper and lower body. When an athlete is on the field, the ice, the snow, the court, or the links, this is the core’s job. The core is also important in keeping the back healthy. Those are both compelling reasons for me to include core training.
  • Most sports also require a level of cardio-respiratory fitness (aka cardio). There are many theories on how best to develop this: once it was all about the jogging; then it became all about intervals; and now it seems to have settled somewhere in between. I tend more toward intervals for sports performance, but most of the strength training we do is done in circuits, which I believe yields some jogging-like cardio-respiratory effect, which suggests our training respects the current “somewhere in between” research on cardio.

If you are an athlete who does not work out (regularly and effectively), think about how cool it would be if you could jump a little higher and run a little faster? If you’re a masters aged athlete, the cool factor of this prospect is infinitely higher. Next year you can be a year older and you can be faster. You can be a year older and have more vertical. Ya, I figured that would make you think.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc, CSCS, and her team train athletes of all types at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada.

[1] I believe in full (parallel) squats now because I think that even though it is not part of every play, we do end up in positions of more than partial squat positions on the field and being strong enough to deal with them seems smart. I also believe that the level of core stability required in a lower squat is desirable to train, and lastly, I think that only training the top half of the squat can lead to relatively overdeveloped hip flexors, which I think can contribute to inefficient hip movement.

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7 real world tips for healthy eating

The path to eating well and exercising is rarely a straight one with the level of meandering and the time it takes to achieve progress varying tremendously from person to person. There are people out there for whom the road is straight as an arrow. For others, the road doesn’t exist yet. The rest of us live somewhere in between. Some of us have healthy habits most of the time with occasional lapses; while others enjoy periods of food debauchery interspersed with weeks of guilt-induced dieting.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in an environment where physical activity was as common as reading and television, and where the food we ate was relatively healthy. Not everyone grew up with that privilege and sometimes I wonder if it is harder to stick to regular exercise and healthier eating for those who grew up without it.

My healthier living path meanders but not drastically. My normal involves relatively healthy eating, which for me means that I eat primarily home-cooked meals with consideration given to vegetable and protein content, quantity, and taste. My normal also includes alcohol and “unhealthy” foods in smaller quantities. My normal includes either working out or physical activity that I love (currently tennis and skiing are my favourites) three to six times per week. My normal results in feeling great most of the time, which makes it easy to stick to it most of the time, and to get back to it if I stray. My childhood healthy environment privilege probably contributes to this ease.

Despite my preference for healthier living, I still struggle with it at times, especially in the presence of stress. I think most people do, regardless of how healthy they seem. I’ve been living outside my normal for almost a year. Since shortly after I learned that my dad had pancreatic cancer. He passed away from the disease last month. I’m comfortable enough to admit that I use alcohol, and to a lesser extent food, as a way to deal with emotions. Or more accurately, I use them as a means to not deal with my emotions. I have no idea how much weight I gained this year as a result. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s noticeable. Or at least it’s noticeable to me.

Throughout the year there were many times when I told myself it was time to get back to my normal, but each time it only lasted a day or two. I just wasn’t in the right place to get back to normal. This made me think about some of the realities of healthier living that health and fitness professionals don’t often talk about. We talk about what people should do for exercise, and what they should and should not eat; but we rarely talk about whether the person is in a place where change is viable; how much change is viable; and whether there is even an interest in change. With that in mind, I would like to share the following 7 real world tips for healthier living:

1. You have to be ready. Can you wrap your head around the idea of eating more healthily? Around the idea of more physical activity than you currently do? Or do walls pop up in your mind as soon as you start to think about it?

If you have a combative internal dialogue as soon as you think about a new eating or exercise habit, then you’re either not ready to change, or you’re not ready for that change. If you’re not ready, that’s okay. Keep thinking about it and at some point you will be. Or you will be ready for a different change.

2. Choose the right amount of change for you. My favourite healthy living quotation is from Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and goes something like: “live as healthily as you can reasonably enjoy.”

Choose habits you will adopt instead of ones you think you should adopt. No matter how small the change, something you can do it is always a better option than a bigger change you won’t do.

3. Understand that life is about choices, and nobody gets to judge yours. Adopting a healthy habit almost always means displacing a less healthy habit. The problem is that we often really like that displaced habit, which means becoming healthier requires you to choose. Sometimes it’s a hard choice. In some cases the short-term gratification from the less healthy choice is such that your brain sends loud signals telling you, for instance, to EAT THE CAKE.

That can be a very convincing argument when the cake is right in front of you and the benefits of not eating the cake may not be felt for weeks. Sometimes you may want to adopt healthier habits but aren’t in a place where you feel you can. And lets face it; some of us just don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t involve eating cake.

Unfortunately you may know some people who think their opinion about how you should eat matters more than yours. It doesn’t. Nobody gets to make these choices for you, and nobody gets to judge you for your choices. Your family and friends get to care about you, love you, and even be concerned about your health; but they don’t get to judge you.

4. If you are judging yourself for your choices, then you haven’t made the right choice for you yet. If the choice you are making about lifestyle habits is leading to a place where you can’t imagine fulfilling that change, but you also can’t accept yourself without making that change, it’s time to get help. I think that for some of us, the most important person to help with healthier habits is not a nutritionist, but a therapist.

Somehow I managed to avoid self-judgement for my habits over the past year and for having gained some weight as a result. I’m proud of myself for that. I think this was possible because I knew deep down that it was temporary for me. In fact just last week I came to a “now I’m ready to treat my body to healthier foods and cut back on the booze” state, and I’m happy to report that I am following it. Not perfectly, because perfectly isn’t how I roll. I’m not quite at my normal, but I’m pretty close and feel confident I’ll be ready to go there in a couple of weeks. Despite ending this period of emotional eating and drinking, I’m still looking for a therapist. I know emotional health is important, and I know that even though I’m in a pretty good place, I’m still not in the best place emotionally. I will be; but I think I need help to get there. Maybe you do too?

5. Aim for healthier instead of healthy. Healthy living can be a daunting goal, while healthier living is relatively available. Consider that you can make one change to your lifestyle and that will improve your health, instead of trying to make all of the changes. It doesn’t even have to be a big change. Not having “fries with that” once per week could be your one thing. Having a fruit instead of cake one time per week could be your one thing. Drinking water instead of pop one time per day could be your one thing. Walking instead of driving partway one time per week could be your one thing.

You may be thinking this is essentially point 2 restated, and you’d be right. Consider that a reflection of how important this is.

6. Celebrate your achievements. A small change made successfully is a big deal. Respect and celebrate that. Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong with celebrating with food, but I do suggest you consider whether there are other ways to treat yourself. Maybe a visit to a local spa? A morning on the links? A bubble bath? Tickets to a football game? Take the afternoon off work and pull your kids out of school for an afternoon of play? Or take the afternoon off and leave the kids at school for an afternoon of play?

7. Once you adopt one healthier habit, you may find you want to adopt another. People often talk about a spiralling effect in a negative way, but the opposite of the downward spiral also exists, although I have no idea what it’s called? Adding a healthier habit to your life often leads to adding another healthier habit to your life down the road. And maybe another. And another…

I was talking about this with a client last week. After she mentioned that she can’t change, I suggested she pick 1% of the changes that are being proposed and that she do that. She then commented that after a while she might want to do another 1%. Indeed! So we started to contemplate 1% per month. In two years, that would add up to approximately 24% change (despite my high geek quotient, I opted to stick with linear instead of a net present value equation with discounting). Either way you calculate, it’s very clear that it adds up.

If you find yourself thinking “I want to adopt another healthier habit”, remember to apply the tips you followed to succeed the first time. Keep choosing habits you will adopt, keep the judges at arm’s length, get help with your inner judge if you need it, and celebrate your accomplishment.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa who loves working with real clients with real strengths and weaknesses, and thinks it is just fine to not have six pack abs as a goal.

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I just walked into the gluten-free section at the grocery store

Last week I did something I thought I’d never do: I went to the gluten-free section at the grocery store. And not for any sinister reasons. I went there to actually contemplate purchasing gluten-free food-like products. In the end I chose not to get anything because the stuff either didn’t look great, contained ingredients I don’t recognize, contained other ingredients I’m temporarily avoiding, or were things I’d be better off making.

So phew – I’m still me. But why was I there? Because I recently started an elimination diet. I’m not usually one for diets – unless you count my daily pizza diet. I’m not trying this as a means to lose weight. (Side note: I’m mortified that I felt a need to say that. Like somehow if a person changes their eating it must be because they aren’t happy with how they look. And apparently on some level I share that thought or I wouldn’t have written that sentence. Sigh.)

I’ve started this elimination diet because I have noticed what I think are a few allergy-like symptoms. I’ve recently realized that I’ve been slightly congested for a good six months – maybe even longer. Not enough that it prevents me doing anything, but noticeable when I breathe during exercises like kettlebell swings. For years I’ve had what I think is considered a winter allergy: If I use skin products with any scent in the winter, that area of skin becomes red and feels hot. Easy to fix by just not using scented products in the winter. But this past winter that problem turned ugly: I started getting red-faced after drinking red wine or beer. (side note #2: The appropriate response to this as a reader is to place hands on cheeks and let out a loud “noooooooo”. Or just visualize that. Either or.) As you can imagine, the obvious solution did not appeal to me, so instead of cutting out red wine and beer, I experimented with different beers and wines. While the hoppier beers were worse, I sadly can’t say that other beers were fine. Thankfully my problem went away as the weather improved before I tried to replace red wine with white.

I’ve long thought that elimination diets were a great option for people with digestion issues affecting them. It just makes sense. But I never felt any need to try one because I always felt great, and it never for a moment occurred to me that my winter allergy (sensitivity?) to scents (scentsitivity? – sorry, my repressed familial habit of punning comes out on occasion) could be related to food. Until it spread to wine and beer, which suddenly had a more direct link to my digestive tract. That’s also when I realized I had mild congestion that had been hanging around a long time.

Through conversations with my clients and friends, I suspect that a lot of people have at least slightly unhappy digestive systems. It turns out a lot of people experience (what I think are) obvious symptoms like bloating and what I’ll politely refer to as intestinal distress. I wonder how many are reading this and thinking, ‘huh, maybe I should try this.

I did what everyone does when they think they have a health issue: I turned to Dr. Google. She did not disappoint! There is a lot of information “out there” about elimination diets and as it turns out, many different versions exist. I had initially settled on a version from Precision Nutrition, because I find them to publish science-based information. I went to the grocery store to pick up foods that would fit the diet: fish, fruit (but not citrus), vegetables (no nightshades), rice cakes, rice cereal, and coconut milk. I was going to grab some lamb and turkey as well but they were both more expensive than I was hoping, so I skipped that momentarily.

Rice cereal, coconut milk and fruit
Rice cereal, coconut milk and fruit

The day before I was planning to start, I baulked. I was thinking about what I would eat for the next two days and I didn’t have enough options ready. I decided to wait a few days and pull together more recipes. In searching for recipes, I came across several other elimination diet options, including this phased approach from, Phase one offered a removal of gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs for 21 days. Huh, that seems very doable. I’ll be honest, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the Precision Nutrition one. I couldn’t even find a salad dressing recipe that would fit the diet, as vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, yoghurt, and lemon juice are all out. I guess olive oil with salt and pepper would work, but I have a hard time with that. Maybe the Oil & Vinegar concept has been hammered into me for too long. I was also looking ahead to my birthday and then Canada Day thinking that I either have to drastically change how I typically celebrate one of them, or wait until July 2nd to start. I really didn’t want to wait, making the phased approach even more appealing.

Salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. And lots of other delicious bits.
Salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. And lots of other delicious bits.

Seeing that there are so many different versions of the elimination diet also told me something: It told me that the specificity of the science behind them probably doesn’t exist. And that’s okay. But it does suggest to me that the evidence supporting one version over another is probably not strong. And thus I steered myself to the phased approach over the more restrictive approach. For a moment I felt badly about that – that it was somehow cheating. Until I realized that I was very confident that I can stick to the phased approach for the prescribed duration without cheating, but I did not have that confidence for the restrictive one. As a coach, I know that the program you will stick to is always superior to the one you won’t. I should probably apply that to myself as well. Thus I happily made the decision to go with the phased approach. In fact I was so excited about it, I decided to go ahead with my original schedule of starting the next day.

Day 1 dinner: Salmon with rice, brocoli, and a cucumber avocado salad
Day 1 dinner: Salmon with rice, brocoli, and a cucumber avocado salad

I’m writing this on day 12 and I have a number of observations:

  1. Overall I’m amazed at how easy this is. I thought I might seriously crave cheese, but I haven’t really. The guacamole has probably helped there. And the fact that I can eat rice, corn, and potatoes makes creating a meal quite manageable.
  2. I need to eat fish more often. Its healthy, delicious, and easy to prepare.
  3. Tilapia with mango salsa, rice, and a bunch of veggies.
    Tilapia with mango salsa, rice, and a bunch of veggies.
  4. Indian food fits the bill quite nicely. I was happy to reach for the notes I had made when my friend Neena gave me a Punjabi cooking lesson. This time I tried an East meets West variation by making a curried Venison chop with red lentils, zucchini and broccoli, and rice.
  5. Curried deliciousness fit the bill
    Curried deliciousness fit the bill
  6. Social breakfast is a different story. I went to a friend’s cottage last weekend and it was while discussing breakfast for Sunday that I suddenly realized that eggs are a component of bacon and eggs. Seriously. It was a terrible realization. But whatever, I had some tasty cereal with fruit while my friends had waffles with maple syrup. It probably wasn’t that good anyhow. At least I had the side of bacon.
  7. Side of bacon; side of fruit salad. Okay.
    Side of bacon; side of fruit salad. Okay.
  8. As I sat on the dock drinking a gin and tonic and eating potato chips, I pondered how silly it is that many people assume a gluten-free diet is by definition healthy.
  9. I love most Asian cuisine, so I searched long and hard to find something that didn’t have soy in it. Eventually I came across a recipe for pad thai that is allegedly “the real thing”. The sauce is fish sauce, vinegar, tamarind paste, and sugar. I just skiped the egg and went ahead, with rice noodles. So yummy!
  10. A Pad Thai variation. No eggs for my elmination diet, and a few other changes based on what I had in the kitchen.
    A Pad Thai variation. No eggs for my elmination diet, and a few other changes based on what I had in the kitchen.
  11. As the week progressed, I realized that preparation was key to success with sticking to this diet. The option to just grab take out is much trickier without gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy. Social events can also be tough. I went to my tennis club bbq and had a steak and some coleslaw. Everything else was dairy-licious.
  12. Mexican food is a good friend when avoiding these foods. Which thankfully is one of my favourites.
  13. Thank you corn tortillas and guacamole for making last week delicious.
    Thank you corn tortillas and guacamole for making last week delicious.
  14. After eleven days of this, I realized I had not noticed any difference, which suggests to me that none of the phase 1 foods are problematic for me. Because of this, I decided that I would go off this approach for my birthday (day 12) because, well, I wasn’t interested in trying dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free cake. Had I noticed any changes, I might have been convinced to stick with this for 21 days straight, but I have a hard time buying that 20 of 21 days will be a failed experiment while 21 of 21 days would be scientific. If someone has a compelling argument (preferably fact-based) as to why I am wrong about this, please do share.

Over the weekend I had a chat about food with a friend at the tennis club, who quickly noted that dairy is evil. I disagreed and within a short time he rephrased his comment to dairy is evil for him and likely others, but not everyone. He also noted that he thinks everyone should try going without dairy for a few weeks to see if in fact it is evil for them. I agree with that completely. In fact I really think everyone would be well served to take some time to remove foods from their regular diet and see if they notice a difference. I will qualify this with the suggestion that if you have medical concerns, you really should see you actual doctor instead of Dr. Google. I do intend to see my doctor if this congestion doesn’t clear up.

Thoughts? Your own elimination diet experiences to share? Let’s chat below in the comments.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa.

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Training for tennis domination

For the first time in years, I am pumped about a performance goal. So pumped that I just contemplated having a hard boiled egg as a snack. I didn’t. But I did read through some research journals to help me create a new tennis conditioning workout to add to my tennis preparation plan. I know that ultimately the quality of my game is going to be the biggest determinant of how well I perform on the court this summer, but I also know that I can significantly up my game by being strong and fast enough to get to more shots, and by being fit enough to do so throughout the match. This is the stuff that training provides. Training also has a side-benefit of reducing ones risk of injury.

I am working on improving my tennis ability with a great coach and depending when you talk to me, I’m either excited or frustrated by my progress. I do seem to be getting better, which is cool because I want to start playing tournaments this summer. In fact I’ve even got eyes toward playing in the Canadian Senior Nationals toward the end of the summer, which is conveniently located in Ottawa this year. I haven’t committed to that yet as I want my forehand to be more consistent. What I have committed to is training as though I’m going. Both on the court and off.

What does that entail? What does one do to train for tennis domination? How does one train to be able to return those shots that seem unreturnable? What does a training plan include that allows one to be as fast and reactive in the last point as in the first? Here’s the plan that I am following:

Strength, power, and movement

For the past few months I have been working out in the gym three times per week (up from two) for between 45 minutes and an hour. My workouts start with a dynamic warm-up designed to address movement limitations as well as to get my body ready for the job ahead. Then it’s time for a combination of power and agility. There are a lot of options I program in this section, but most recently I’ve been doing single leg lateral hops, medicine ball slams, and power cleans. After that, I move into the strength section where I build the foundation of strength that will support my body on the court. Currently I’m doing rear foot elevated split squats, one arm kettlebell rows, Pallof presses, deadlifts, cable presses, and single-leg lowering. You can read more about gym training for tennis players in this previous blog article. I either finish with a few stretches, or I do some tennis-specific intervals for conditioning.

That’s what I was doing for the off-season, but now that the outdoor courts are open and I’m playing more, I’m about to drop down to 2 days per week in the gym and adjust my focus from a bit less strength (although it is still a big part) in favour of more core and power work. The reason I’m dropping to 2 days per week is because I’m spending much more time on the court than I was, and I need to be sure that I still give my body adequate time to recover. This is important for everyone, but even more so for those of us who are over forty.

Tennis specific intervals for conditioning

This is the stuff that I developed from reading about game statistics. More specifically, I found an amazing analysis of tennis match play in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Here are the points that I found to be particularly relevant to the development of a conditioning program for tennis:

  • Points are typically 4 to 10 seconds long with 10 to 20 seconds of recovery, with longer recovery bouts in the 60 to 90 seconds range
  • The work to rest ratio is between 1.7 and 3.4, which I interpret to mean 1:2 is a good approximation. Note: this is where many people err in building their conditioning programs. They don’t provide adequate rest. That seems like a good idea to some as it seems like you work harder. But do you? Or do you just work slower? More is not always better, but better always is.
  • 80% of strokes are within 2.5m of ready position, and there are 4 direction changes in the average point.

From that study, I created two conditioning workouts for myself: one is brief and I do it after one of my gym workouts; the other is a bit longer and I do it as a separate workout on the court after doing a tennis-specific dynamic-warmup (below this paragraph) and a few serves. Having two different conditioning workouts makes sense to me, with one focusing on the short points, and the other focusing on longer points. Although relative to the intervals I program for other sports, neither is long. Here are the two conditioning workouts:

Day 1: Post-gym workout
6 bouts of 5 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest
60 seconds rest

I do this on the slideboard and focus on trying to get as many strides in as I can. It’s easy to look at this and think 5 seconds of work is nothing. But look at it another way: how important is it to explode with those first two steps? Short bursts where you push yourself to be as fast as possible (which means you need rest) are huge helpers with that.

Over the course of May and June, the 6 bouts increases to 8 then 10, then 12.

Day 2: On-Court Conditioning
8 bouts of 10 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest
90 seconds rest
repeat two more times (3 rounds)

I set up one cone at the middle of the baseline, another 3 meters toward the sideline, and another on the sideline (singles). Of the 8 bouts, I do 3 moving to the forehand and shuffling back, 3 moving to the backhand and shuffling back, and 2 moving in for a short ball then back-pedalling. I finish each bout by going the full distance from the ready position to the sideline instead of just the 3m. Over the course of May and June, I increase from 3 to 4 to 5 rounds.

Skill training and practice
Currently I am on court three to four times per week, with one lesson each week and then playing and/or practising with other players two to three times per week. I’m trying to balance enough tennis time to improve, with enough non-tennis time so that I don’t end up with an overuse injury. I am also going through some “inner game” issues, which I will share in a separate post – the brain really is amazing in both a good and bad way!

Rest and recovery
If you add up all of the training in my plan above, you get to 7 training sessions per week. I am a believer in a day of rest, which means in order to get my full training plan in, I will need to double up at least one day per week. So far I find this very doable, and will often either do a workout at noon and then play in the evening, or I will play twice on a weekend day. Given that of the time I only get 45 to 60 minutes of court time at the club, booking two games in a day will theoretically give me a taste of tournament play where matches may be longer.

For me the day of rest doesn’t have to be completely without activity, but I believe it should be with low intensity and different activity. I typically go for a bike ride or a nature walk on my recovery day.

I eat relatively well most of the time, and maintain a body fat level that I think provides a good balance between performance and enjoyment. I may change my tune over the next month and tighten up my diet a bit to include fewer indulgences, but for now that is not part of my plan. I do, however, take a post-workout recovery drink during my gym workouts, and between tennis games if I am doubling up. I mix water with a powder that is 2:1 carbohydrate to protein and has just under 200 calories per serving.

That’s my game plan for the summer. I’ll be sure to update this post at the end of the summer with my progress. Or at least if I do well, I will. :)

If you’re a tennis player in the Ottawa area and have been contemplating adding in-gym training to your week, shoot me an email and let’s discuss. We have openings for semi-private training where you’ll get programming and coaching that are specifically developed for your body, your sport, and your ability; or join one of our training for sport group sessions for a lower-cost but higher-fun option.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer specializing in sports performance and training around injuries.

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Maximalist is the new minimalist: The absurdity of fitness trends

I saw my first pair of maximalist running shoes in a store last summer and I had to do a quick self-check: is it April fool’s Day? Nope, it’s August. This was the shoe I saw on the shelf in a reputable running and triathlon shop:

I was there waiting to pick up my bike but I had to ask about the shoe. And that’s when I learned about the new maximalist running shoe trend. Apparently extra cushioning is what we need to prevent running injuries in 2016. That’s one mighty big pendulum swing when you consider that in 2010 we learned that we need minimalist running shoes to prevent injuries.

Aside from putting an amused look on my face, the Hoka (the clown-like shoe above) brought me back to two conclusions that I have often hold:

  1. Scientists and/or companies claiming that “this is the one true answer” is your first sign that you should be sceptical of everything else that person or organization says. Science is rarely that certain, and it is never that certain before the science has had a chance to be vetted by other scientists. This typically takes years, which means by the time there is evidence that it is “the one true answer”, it’s probably not that exciting any more so nobody is talking about. So pretty much if you’re talking about an amazing new scientific discovery, understand that it may or may not be true at this point. This is not a dismissal of the scientific process. That is sound. It’s an accusation that most of the science that makes it to the mainstream has cut corners out of the scientific process.
  2. There probably isn’t a “one true answer”, but rather there are different best answers for different people and different scenarios. Minimalist running shoes may be the best option for you; so may maximalist. Heck, maybe the running shoes that got run out of town in 2010 are the best option for you. Or maybe running isn’t great for you. How can you tell? Great question. I’m not an expert in running shoes, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that trial and error is probably your best bet.

Unfortunately the “this not that” mangling of the scientific process is also prominent in the nutrition world. I just read an interesting article about how “leptin resistance is the main reason people gain weight and have such a hard time losing it.” Some of you will remember that not long ago “The real reason that you may have struggled to lose weight is insulin resistance.” It would seem that leptin is the maximalist shoe of the nutrition world.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is an engineer turned personal trainer who is both amused and annoyed at the inadequacy of what often passes as science.

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3 Minute Gym Warm-up

If you’re in a hurry, or just don’t want to spend a lot of time on your warm-up at the gym, and you know how to do a Turkish Getup (TGU), then I’ve got a great option for you. It takes 3 minutes. I call it either the deconstructed TGU or the 3 stop TGU. It’s kind of cool that one rep of one exercise does such a great job of warming up your joints and your cardio respiratory system.

If you’re not familiar with the TGU, then instead of using this as a warmup, use it as practice for your getup.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who is a big fan of efficiency.

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A variation on a new glute bridge variation

Last month I saw a great video posted by Bret Contreras showing a variation on a bodyweight glute bridge that very effectively targets the glutes. The reason it’s effective is that he basically fires up the whole body in a manner that prevents some of the typical “cheats” that people often do when trying to do glute bridges.

While glute bridges seem like an easy exercise (lie on your back, lift your butt up. how hard can it be?), the reality for many is that they feel glute bridges everywhere but their butt. When I ask clients where they feel a glute bridge, I often get some combination of hamstrings, back, quads, and abs. This is not everyone – some people do glute bridges and feel their glutes – but it is more than the minority.

This glute bridge with frog pumps that Bret posted struck me as a great option, so I gave it a try. And it was indeed a great option. Check it out here.

Essentially it’s a glute bridge but with feet flat against each other, flatten the lumbar spine, push the elbows into the floor, and bring the chin to the chest.

I did like it, but I opted for two minor changes:
- instead of chin to chest, I went for a neutral neck alignment, which looks like a packed neck, or what I call “ugly neck”. Take a look at my chins in the video and you’ll see why I call it ugly neck. I opted for this because I know some of my clients would have a hard time with holding the chin to chest position.
- Instead of feet flat, I went for feet angled to each other. Many people will be fine with the feet together position, but I personally found it irritating for my hips as I don’t have great hip mobility. I also have a few clients whose knees didn’t like the feet together position. So the angled feet position was a nice alternative for those with either hip or knee stuff.

Here’s a video of this modification:

If you find you have a hard time feeling your glutes when you do do glute bridges, try out Bret’s variation instead, and if your neck, knees, or hips don’t love that variation then try my variation to the variation.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, owns a personal training studio in Ottawa that specializes in getting people stronger and moving better.

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Wear and tear from repetitive movements

I noticed something cool at my gym (Custom Strength) this morning. Take a look at this photo:

Shawshank redemption rope?
Shawshank redemption rope?

What you’re looking at is the anchor point for the battling ropes that we use for conditioning. If you’re not sure what that means, take a look at this video:

I love it as a conditioning exercise. That’s not quite accurate. I love it as a conditioning exercise for my clients. ;)

So back to that picture above. Take a look at the concrete around the attachment point. You can see a deep groove in the concrete at the bottom, and a shallower groove to the right. This is damage to the concrete from the ropes hitting it. The deeper groove at the bottom was made between March 2014 and Dec 2015, and the shallower groove on the right is from the position the ropes get used in since we changed the gym layout over Christmas – so not quite 4 months of use. A piece of rope being moved up and down by humans can make a hole in concrete, given enough repetitions. That’s pretty cool!

Here’s a photo of our other rope.

Rock dust for the yard
Rock dust for the yard

Note the concrete dust? The white ropes (previous image) haven’t been used since the cleaners were in on Sunday, but the black ones (this image) have been used by about 10 people. That strikes me as an impressive pile of concrete dust from 10 people, each using the ropes for about a minute. 10 minutes of human-powered rope movement left a pile of concrete dust and thus presumably a bit deeper of a hole than was there last week.

In addition to how cool and remarkable this is, it makes me think about repetitive movements we do with our body. How many steps in a marathon? How many swings in a tennis tournament? How many strokes in a swim meet? All the more reason to spend a little time getting stronger and moving better, to give your body some support for all those repetitions.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer who loves introducing athletes to smart training as a means for improved sports performance and enjoyment with a side benefit of reduced injury risk.

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Your bones can change

A friend sent me this article that talks about an exercise effect that is rarely discussed: changes to our bones.

The short version of the article is that sprinters tend to develop thicker shins and tennis players can develop a thicker racquet arm, while swimmer’s and cyclists tend to have no such effect. The article also notes that children who walk sooner have thicker shins than those who walk later. The other side is true as well, which is why astronauts lose bone mass while in space.

This is Wolff’s Law in action. In a nutshell, Wolff’s Law states that if the body feels it is not set up to continue to support the pressure it is put under, it will create new bone to help. We can see this in the feet of ballet dancers, and in the pelvic shape of teenage girls who play sports. Sometimes these changes are not the result of exercise, but of daily living. People with obesity develop thicker femoral heads (the top of the thigh). Yet another example of how amazing the human body is!

The article notes that this effect is smaller in older populations, suggesting that studies have not shown large changes in bone mineral density in the elderly. The author suggests this may be because we can’t produce as much force as we age. This is an interestingly timed comment for me, as I just had a client report back to me this week that her rheumatologist reported that her bone mineral density has increased again – the second time she has had an increase since starting strength training with me.

I found myself questioning the conclusion that the effect is smaller in seniors. I followed the link in the article for “elderly people”, which led to this study abstract which makes no mention of smaller effects in seniors. It does mention that “the effects of age and starting age on the osteogenic effects of exercise are not well known. It also appears that exercise interventions are most effective in physically inactive people or counteracting conditions of disuse such as bed rest”.[1] I would argue that suggests that they don’t really know the effect on seniors, but if we’re talking about inactive seniors, the study suggests a big potential impact on bone strength.

In fact this US Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report from 2008 provides a review of studies on the topic. The results very clearly show improvement in bone mineral density (BMD) among seniors, including one to two percent increase in lumbar spine density per year from resistance training. From the report: “Although a benefit of 1 to 2 % per year may seem small, this is roughly equivalent to preventing the decrease in BMD that would typically occur over 1 to 4 years in postmenopausal women and elderly men”. [2]

As my friend who sent me the article said, “Like I needed another reason but really drives home the importance of an active lifestyle for kids- impacts the rest of their lives.”

In other words: walk away from the computer and go run, jump, play, or lift weights. Just tell your boss it’s a crucial medical intervention.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer in Ottawa who loves discussing the geeky reasons for exercising. In fact if you’re a personal trainer on the west coast, consider coming to see me speak at the NSCA BC Provincial Clinic on May 28th. I’ll be talking about structural variations between individuals and their effect on exercise.

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6 Week pre-season training program starts Monday

It is not too late to get yourself fit for summer sport season, although you’re definitely cutting it close.

This is a great option for you if:

  • You usually get yourself to the gym before the season starts, but you have a new couch and there’s stuff on TV.
  • Every year while coughing up a lung during your first game, you promise yourself that next year you’ll spend some time in the gym before the season starts.
  • You never did pre-season training before and you did fine. And in completely unrelated news, you aren’t 25 any more.
  • You do work out pre-season, but you’d prefer a more structured program that is geared toward athletic performance, a fantastic workout environment, and feedback from a coach on your form.

Still reading? Here’s what we’re offering:

  • Two 60 minute group training sessions each week (pick 2 of Mon 530pm, Wed 730pm (FULL), Saturday 10am (FULL). UPDATE: WE NOW ONLY HAVE SPOTS OPEN FOR THE MONDAY SESSION, SO IF YOU REGISTER, IT WILL BE ONE SESSION PER WEEK, NOT TWO.
  • Sessions will address strength, power, mobility, and conditioning.
  • Program lasts 6 weeks, starting the week of April 4th and finishing the week of May 12th (just in time for City of Ottawa field opening).
  • Availability is limited: there are only 10 spots total, and each class is limited to 7 people.
  • All sessions take place at Custom Strength, which is located at 939 Somerset St. W

NOTE: if you are dealing with an injury, please be sure to mention that when you contact us. Depending on the nature of the injury, this option may not be available for you. We do have training options for everyone, but group training is not typically a great option in the presence of an injury. Send in an email though with an indication of what the injury is, and any guidance your physical therapist/athletic therapist/chiropractor has provided in terms of readiness.

Send me an email with the form below to register or if you have questions.

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Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance