Archive for October, 2010

The 4C’s:Commitment

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

When considering the 4C’s of sports psychology the easiest to understand but perhaps the most difficult to develop is commitment. Ones dedication to athletic competition is very much innate. Most likely an athlete is devoted or they are not. However as a coach or an athlete one can cultivate a stronger level of commitment by increasing the level of intrigue. This can be achieved through the setting of goals. Often the result of not having objectives leads to complacency and to the athlete becoming bored with the sport or competition. The athlete should have both short term and long term goals to help keep them inspired and not allow their focus or level of commitment to wane.

Commitment-Ones continued effort towards a consistent goal.

The commitment of the athlete is something which can be effected by certain circumstances both inside and outside the sporting arena. Such issues which challenge ones enthusiasm are:

  • Injury to the athlete
  • Not agreeing with the game plan or objectives of the coaches/teammates
  • Teammates lacking commitment
  • Not performing well
  • Not enjoying the competition or sport any longer
  • Outside distractions (friends, family, jobs, or school work)

For the reasons above it is imperative that the athlete find new challenges and sets additional goals which constantly allow the inner “Drive” to remain strong. An enthusiastic athlete needs to incessantly perform self evaluation to make sure their goals are being met and new loftier, yet reasonable ones are being developed. If these goals are not met one needs to assess their performance and decide what they can do to allow themselves to achieve these objectives.

The 4C’S:Control

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

An athletes ability to maintain self-control throughout training and competition is of the utmost importance. A mentally strong competitor will be able to display command over their emotions even in the face of adversity. While competing there is no doubt that the contestant will have ups an downs. As the level of competition increases so does the degree of pressure. The mentally tough athlete will be able to remain focused to the task at hand and positive especially during times of difficulty. Mental toughness is often what separates the champion from the also ran.

Control- Ones ability to maintain control over their emotions and free from distraction or outside influences.

Anxiety and anger are the two key components which most often cause the athlete to lose their self control and make it difficult for them to manage their emotions.

Anxiety can manifest in two different forms:

  1. Physical Anxiety – Nausea-upset stomach or butterflies, sweating.
  2. Mental Anxiety – Losing focus or lack of concentration, thinking negative thoughts, worrying about the task or outside issues.

Anxiety although completely natural can be lessened by teaching the athlete relaxation techniques. The athlete can practice breathing methods to help relax and bring down their heart rate. A second skill to help bring down the level of anxiety is through the practice of positive visualization. The athlete can visualize themselves in situations in which they succeed or learn how to cope with circumstances which may occur.

Anger is another emotion which can cause the athlete to lose control. Often times anger or frustration arises in an athlete do to outside influences such as an officials call or from a mistake made by a teammate. These are both common issues in athletics and something a competitor must learn to deal with. The athlete must recognize that he/she is not totally in control of every aspect of game, and must not allow events (such as a poor call, or turnover by a teammate) to effect their concentration and to cause them to lose control.

The 4C’s:Confidence

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

When it comes to sports performance, what separates the ordinary from the elite may have less to do with physical ability and more to do with psychological differences. Self-assurance during sporting events or in the training setting has been shown to yield greater results in competition. Research has indicated that confidence is the most important psychological factor which differentiates between “star” and average athletes. Athletes with higher levels of self confidence have demonstrated greater tolerance to fatigue and adversity during competition when compared to that of competitors with less conviction.

Confidence- Ones belief in themselves and their abilities. (In team sports success can also be determined by ones belief in teammates or coaching philosophies.)

In his book The Perfection Point, sports scientist and author John Brenkus retells the story of Roger Bannister’s quest for a sub-four-minute mile. Up until 1954 it was believed by many that the sub-four-minute mile was simply impossible for the human body to achieve. This mark stood since the beginning of racing and showed no evidence of being broken. After Bannister broke four minutes by six tenths of second it only took forty-six more days until the mark was pasted again, in fact within the next three years a sub-four-minute would be surpassed by 336 different people.

This story helps illustrate the power of the human brain and the importance of self confidence. When a physical activity is believed to be impossible, it becomes impossible. Once individuals begin to trust in their abilities many barriers (within reason) can be broken. Saying it is important to build ones confidence is one thing. Learning how to do it is another.

Sports psychologists suggest mental imagery as one way to improve self confidence. The athlete can visualize prior successful performances which help reinforce positive experiences. They can also imagine various scenarios that may arise throughout their event and how they will cope with these situations. A second tool is goal setting. The goals should be challenging yet realistic. Athletes can set both long and short term goals. Each success builds self-belief along with self awareness in the athlete.

The 4C’s:Concentration

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

To succeed in sports not only does an athlete need to be well prepared physically but also mentally strong. As mentioned in my previous blog, when it comes to mental toughness sports psychologists refer to what is known as the 4C’s. The 4C’s are the main qualities required for success in sports performance. The first of these qualities is concentration.

Concentration- Ones ability to remain focused to the job at hand.

Athletes who have high levels of concentration are proficient in gathering necessary peripheral information such as an opponents movements or the changing environment. These individuals are capable of computing this information, adapting, and applying it successfully to their objective. The pinnacle of mental awareness in the sports arena is to reach a state where conscious thought is not made, rather the athlete reacts on a subconscious level and their performance just flows. This state is often referred to as the “Zone”.

When an athlete lacks concentration they are not able to efficiently or effectively apply their physical abilities to the task. These athletes are easily distracted resulting in a compromised performance. An athletes concentration level can be affected by such internal distractions as: anxiety, fatigue, dwelling on mistakes, or negative thoughts. They can also be distracted by external stimuli such as: coaches, peers, playing surface, or weather.

Each person will react differently to distractions and strategies to improve ones concentration is unique to that individual. While preparing for competition goal setting is one strategy known to help athletes maintain focus. Setting realistic goals will help the athlete focus on specific aspects of their task which will result in better preparation for the overall competition. Reaching these goals will help the athlete to feel more at ease with the task and will develop a level of confidence.

It is believed that developing routines while preparing, competing, and post-competition is a tactic which will help competitors minimize distractions and help to center their focus. The more stability both on and off the practice field will help the athlete’s attentiveness.

The 4C’s: Concentration,Confidence,Control,Commitment

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

When two athletes have prepared for competition in the proper manner, trained equally as hard, and possess the same athletic ability; what separates the winner from the other guy? In athletics a term which is often thrown around is “mental toughness”. Although many people refer to someone or other as being mentally tough, few complete understand what it means to be mentally strong or how an individual becomes this way.

Mental Toughness: Having the natural or developed psycholgical edge. This entails:

  • Being able to handle with greater ability the stresses placed on you as an athlete both physically and mentally better than your opponent.
  • Remaining more resilient than your opponent while maintaining a higher level of focus, determination, confidence, and control throughout competition.

What makes an individual or athlete mentally tough is what is referred to by sports psychologists as the 4C’s: Concentration, Confidence, Control, and Commitment.

Concentration-Ones ability to remain focused to the task at hand.

Confidence-Ones belief in themselves and their abilities. (In team sports success can also be determined by ones belief in teammates or coaching philosophies.)

Control-Ones ability to maintain control over their emotions and free from distraction or outside influences.

Commitment-Ones continued effort towards a consistent goal.

In my next blog I will explain in further detail the 4C’s and how an individual can obtain these qualities.

“Working Out Made Me Feel Athletic Again”

Monday, October 18th, 2010

For todays blog I would like to share with you a story told to me by a college friend about how training has changed his life.

Working Out made me feel Athletic Again

By David Hawkes

I played every sport imaginable growing up.  I was always obsessed with playing sports.  I loved to compete.  I excelled in basketball and tennis.  I was captain of the tennis team in college.   Unfortunately after  I graduated college I started having trouble with my balance and coordination.  Like anyone would do I went to my doctor to see what was wrong.  8 years later, about 8 neurologysts,  1o MRI’s, spinal tap, and many more uncomfortable tests I was diagnosed with a very rare hereditary neurological disorder called HSP.  HSP – Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia refers to a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by progressive weakness and spasticity (stiffness) of the legs. Early in the disease course, there may be mild gait difficulties and stiffness. These symptoms typically slowly progress so that eventually individuals with HSP may require assistance of a cane, walker, or wheelchair.  I couldn’t run anymore.   I have difficulty walking because my legs are so tight and stiff.  I lost one of the most important things in my life – The joy of competing in sports and feeling athletic.  I would have done anything to feel athletic and healthy again, like the way I felt after playing tennis for 5 hours or playing pick up basketball all day.  The problem was simple, what can I do safely to feel athletic that doesn’t require running, jumping, kicking etc…  The answer  I came up with was lifting weights.  But, I had no experience with weight training.  I was a skinny kid who never thought about  the many positives weight training can give you.  Luckily I had a few close friends who brought me into the gym and showed me many lifting exercises and more importantly showed me the proper form.  I even learned a weight training program where I worked on a different muscle group to target each day.  I would do chest, bi’s and tri’s, shoulder’s, and back followed by 15 minutes of stretching 5 days a week for 10yrs.  I would write the  name of the exercise , number of set’s, and number of reps for each exercise I did in a notebook after every workout so I could make goals for myself and see improvement.  I have been working out like this consistently five days a week for the past ten years.

At first it was very hard.  I was extremely sore and I wanted to quit everyday I was in the gym, but I kept at it.  I got every ounce of stress, frustration, and anger I had that was built up because of my illness out in the gym for an hour five days a week.   After time, I didn’t get as sore anymore and really became obsessed with working out.  I loved the way it made me feel.  I admit it was nice to see myself with muscles that I grew because I worked so hard in the gym, BUT the best benefit about working out was the way it relieved all my stress and anxiety.  I never thought in a million years I could feel  so good physically by just sticking to a routine in the gym and make sure I eat and sleep well.  Other than than the psychological benefits,  working out makes me sleep better, increased my immune system (I am rarely sick), and in time it changed the shape of my body.  I can honestly say I am no longer angry or frustrated because I can’t play tennis or basketball anymore.  Infact, I am very thankful because going through it all caused me to find my new love – Physical Fitness.  I plan on taking care of myself and going to the gym five days a week for the rest of my life.  And if anyone is reading and is going through an illness like HSP or knows someone who is, please start a weight training program.  It will change your life…….

Cognitive Benefits of Training

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Research suggests a link between physical exercise and cognitive function. The implementation of a regulated exercise regiment in midlife or later appears to lessen the risk of mild cognitive impairment. Evidence also indicates that the physical activity performed for a six month period or longer, at close to the anaerobic threshold (AT) is the most advantageous for cognitive benefits. (The anaerobic threshold is the level of oxygen consumption at which there is a rapid and systematic increase in blood lactate concentration. This is also referred to as the lactate threshold). Exercising at a high-intensity may even improve cognitive function in those individuals already displaying signs of mental deterioration.

The exact reason for the improvement or stability of cognitive power may not be fully known, however, it has been theorized that physical exercise may protect against mild cognitive impairment because of the increased blood flow to the brain. Along with enhanced blood flow there is also an amplification in the production of nerve protecting compounds, improved development and the survival of neurons, and a decrease in the risk of disease to the heart or blood vessels.

Given this information it would seem ideal to train at your AT level. Such methods of training which could help place you at this level would include; kettlebell work, circuit training, or interval runs. Untrained individual’s AT would be approximately 55%of their VO2 max, where as an elite endurance athlete may be as high as 80-90% of their VO2 max. As you continuously train at such an intense level your body will become better at processing lactate because of the greater development of aerobic enzymes. Because of the improvements made your level of training must increase to stimulate a response.

Indeed more studies will need to be performed in the future to verify the hypothesis given; however reports thus far have given doctors and scientists hope as to the possibilities of such training. Regardless, high intensity training does produce positive responses to muscle and bone density, along with heart function. If you are interested in high-intensity kettlebell training to help develop your VO2 max I recommend Kenneth Jay’s Viking Warrior Conditioning. This book can be purchased at www.dragondoor.com

Balancing Your Core

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

I just finished reading an interesting article in the October 2010 edition of Strength and Conditioning Journal. The article was titled Overtraining the Rectus Abdominis and was written by Dr. Ellyn M. Robinson. In the article Dr. Robinson discusses the over emphasis athletes and gym goers place on training their “six packs” and how they tend to neglect the muscles used for extension and stabilization. I couldn’t agree more with the points made by the author and in fact have discussed such issues in blogs I have posted in the past. In the gym a balanced core is important to everyone especially when performing overhead presses and Olympic lifts. For athletes who want to run fast, jump high, or make quick cuts without increasing the vulnerability of their lower limbs; core symmetry is also vital. Dr. Robinson makes excellent observations and highlights the importance of stabilizing muscles such as the transverse abdominis during the finishing portion of the snatch or jerk.

Performing endless amounts of crunches may strengthen your rectus abdominis, but at the sacrifice of athletic performance, and may in fact jeopardize your overall functionality. As Dr.Robinson points out, placing such importance on one aspect of the core and not others can lead to such problems as pelvic tilt or even shoulder tightness and pain. Individuals begin training their cores with the best of intentions but somewhere down the line become misguided by bad information or distracted by the muscles which are visible. When training your rectus abdominis you can see when the musculature has enhanced. Other smaller stabilizing muscles you may not be able to see, yet this does not lessen their value. Train your body to be balanced and to function as one unit. In the course of a week try to execute an equal amount of exercises for the lower back, obliques, and abdominals.  This approach to training will improve health and help build overall strength and athletic performance.

It is also very important to practice compound lifts. These lifts challenge your entire core and place your body under tension for extended periods of time. This highly functional and is of the utmost importance as most back injuries will occur do to a lack of strength/endurance in the core, rather than lack of strength or power.

If you are interested in learning more about compound lifts I strongly recommend Geoff Neupert’s book Kettlebell Muscle:The Secrets of Coumpound Lifting. You can order this book at www.dragondoor.com.

If you want to read Dr.Robinson’s article go to: www.nsca-lift.org.

Alternative Lifts:See Saw Press

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

An excellent alternative to the standard dumbbell or kettlebell press. The see saw press offers both shoulder and core stimulation in an unconventional way. Especially for athletes who may lack flexibility in the shoulders, the see saw press is a first-rate option for overhead presses. Because the exercise does not finish directly overhead this movement may be the best choice for upward pressing.

This lift will develop strength and stamina in your front delts and core. It will also build coordination as you will be moving in multiple plains throughout the exercise. You will build timing and concentration as good form and focus are key for a successful lift.

See Saw Press: Preforming with Kettlebells

  • Clean two kettlebells and hold in the racked position.
  • Turn slightly to the left as you press your left hand upward. While pressing look up and to the left.
  • Pause for one second at the top.
  • Begin to bring your left hand down (I think of almost pulling it down slowly) and turn forward.
  • As the kettlebell passes the top of your head your right hand should begin pressing.
  • While the right hand is pressing begin turning slightly to the right and looking up in that direction. (Try fixing your eyes on a spot on the ceiling).
  • All through the exercise keep your stomach tight. (You should be able to feel the your obliques working during this press).

You can perform the presses for a given time or amount of repetitions. If you do decide to perform for time don’t stop until an even amount is performed. It is important to be controlled all through the exercise.

Alternative Lifts:Hindu Push ups

Friday, October 8th, 2010

In a past blog I wrote about getting back to basics and incorporating different types of push ups into your routine. Push ups are great for all the obvious reasons; they can be performed anywhere, the teach you body control, and the level of difficulty can be enhanced or decreased by how you perform them.

An excellent substitute to regular push ups is the Hindu push up. Hindu push ups build tremendous upper body strength, endurance, and develop flexibility, in the hips, lower and upper back and shoulders. (Regular push ups can not boast of the improvements in mobility offered by this exercise). If you were to listen to conversations in the weight room one of the most common complaints you would hear would be that of shoulder strains and tightness. This is often caused by the constant pressing motions performed on the bench press and other exercises. Hindu push ups offer a great alternative as you are still able to perform a pressing exercise to work your pectorals, yet you will not tighten and decrease your range of motion in your shoulders, in fact you will most likely increase them.

Hindu Push ups:

  • Starting position is the same as regular push ups except that you will take a wide stance. Your feet should be about 5-8 inches outside of the shoulders, depending on the height of the trainee.
  • Press butt high in the air so that your body forms a triangle. Keep head inline with your back. At this point you should be looking at your feet-shin area.
  • Take a deep breath. Sweep down towards the ground (imagine that you are ducking below a stick) stay low, gliding just above the ground in a semi-circular motion.
  • When your head has pasted your arms begin to raise it up towards the sky. Keep your stomach low, so as to perform a back bend.
  • At this point you should be stretched with your hips low to the ground, your shoulders drown back, and your head to the sky.
  • Breath out
  • Push the butt back and up towards the sky as your head comes down. Now you have returned to starting postion

With Hindu push ups it is important to try and get the breathing patterns down. Remember, take a deep breath prior to swooping down and exhale when your head is at the top. It is easy to confuse the Hindu push up with the dive bomber. The difference being with the dive bomber, you are basically reversing the forward and back motion of the exercise. Also with the dive bomber you do not extend fully on the bottom half, therefore the stretch is not as pronounced.