Posted on Leave a comment

5 Exercises That’ll Make You Faster

Trail running enlists different muscles than road running, which creates different needs for strengthening. The uneven nature of a trail, the ups and downs, and the challenges created by the varied terrain all call for different sources of power. Whether you’re an elite-level trail runner, or someone who just likes to get out on the dirt once in a while, these five exercises recommended by Boulder, Colorado-based physical therapist and accomplished trail runner, Charlie Merrill, can make you stronger, faster, and more comfortable on the trail.

Merrill recommends doing each of these moves two to three times a week, and stopping each exercise when good form is no longer being achieved, or to the point of fatigue, before moving on to the next set.

Ass to Grass Overhead Squat (OHS)
WHY: Trail runners need a lot of power—through a large range of motion—to run fast and efficiently. This is especially true when the terrain heads uphill or is very technical, requiring maximum agility. The overhead squat is a time-tested exercise requiring full-body range of motion. It takes some practice to get the OHS right, but there is no better exercise to encourage maximal gluteal and hamstring activation. You will gain strength and neuromuscular power you could never hope to achieve on a squat machine or with a typical half-depth standing squat.

HOW: Do this with a partner to help analyze your form, if possible. Stand with heels as wide as shoulders, toes pointing slightly out, and arms overhead, elbows locked. Squat down as low as you can, encouraging gluteal contraction, and keeping your back as straight as possible.

If you can’t do a full squat at first, hold on to something stationary at shoulder height. Start by doing three sets of 10 this way, and work up to doing three sets of 10 with your arms overhead.

PAY-OFF: You’ll notice yourself flying up large steps and steep climbs, and, your ability to do this movement well also predicts a much lower injury risk.

Single-Leg Half Squat
WHY: Running is a series of jumps from one leg to another. There is never a time when both feet are on the ground at the same time (unless the hill is very steep or you are very tired and, therefore, walking). Each time you land, one leg absorbs multiple times your body weight at impact. So, small deviations in your biomechanical alignment can add up to big performance losses and even pain.

HOW: Pay close attention to your form and use a mirror to monitor your alignment. Standing on one leg at time, keep your pelvis level, your spine vertical, and your knee tracking slightly wider than your foot. Initiate movement from your hip as you sit back into the squat. Your shoulders will lean forward a bit, but keep your back straight.

Start off doing three sets of five, and work up to three sets of 10.

PAY-OFF: When you can do these movements well, every step will be more predictable, more powerful, more accurate, and will propel you further with less chance of soft tissue strain.

Single-Leg Balance
WHY: Trail running is a dance. Watching a runner negotiate a rocky trail without faltering is a beautiful sight. Graceful trail running requires excellent proprioception (a sense of where the body is in space), coordination of foot placement, and accuracy of each step. On the trail, our eyes are two to three steps ahead of our feet. That means our feet need to step where we looked seconds earlier. At that point, our eyes are already looking down the trail seconds into the future. So, learning how to “feel” where you are in space, rather than see it, is an important trail running skill.

HOW: The starting stance is similar to that of the single-leg half squat. Stand on one leg, keeping your pelvis level, your spine vertical, and your knee tracking slightly to the outside of your foot.

Start off standing on firm ground with five sets of 30-seconds per leg, and work up to five sets of 60-seconds per leg. Advance to an unstable surface, like a soft mat, inflated disc, or BOSU ball, first for five sets of 30-seconds per leg, then five sets of 60-seconds per leg. Advance to doing this on the unstable surface with your eyes closed, again for 30 seconds at first, then for 60 seconds.

PAY-OFF: Doing most balance or agility exercises with your eyes closed can provide benefit to a runner hoping to improve trail agility and prevent dreaded ankle sprains. It will also help you negotiate technical sections faster.

Pull Ups/Push Ups
HOW: While most runners (and endurance athletes in general) avoid upper body strength like the plague for fear of lugging around a bunch of useless muscle, the reality is that our arms are a critical piece of our strength in running. This is especially true when running uphill or over technical terrain. The trunk and arms act as a counterbalance to our legs and also provide much needed power transfer down through our core to our legs. If you can gain strength in your upper body without gaining appreciable mass, you will be faster. The goal is to get functionally strong while staying light. Pull ups work your forearms/hands, biceps, posterior delts, lats, back muscles, and scapular and shoulder stabilizers with one exercise. Push ups, in turn work your triceps, anterior delts, pecs, abdominals, and scapular and shoulder stabilizers.

HOW: Using a pull-up bar or assisted pull-up machine at the gym, place hands facing away from you. Tighten your abs to keep your back from arching too much. Focus on setting your shoulder blades down and together, and pull up so your chin is over the bar. Lower slowly, and repeat.

Even starting off with just one pull up is beneficial. Work up to three sets to fatigue (as many as you can do). Three sets of 10 is a great goal for some.

For push ups, start off on your knees, if necessary. Start fully extended through your elbows and reach with your shoulder blades so that your trunk lifts as far away from the ground as possible. Slowly lower until your nose touches the ground, then push up, remaining in a straight plank position.

Do three sets to fatigue. Work up to three sets of 10, not on your knees.

PAY-OFF: These two “old-school” exercises are an efficient way to improve your functional upper body strength. This will help you run with more balance, and faster, overall.

Foam Roller Pectoral Stretch and Thoracic Mobilization
WHY: Posture and flexibility of the upper body and trunk are often overlooked parts of a runner’s performance plan. Strong, but relatively flexible legs can help your running. But you may not know that poor posture and stiffness in the upper body and trunk can translate into decreased breathing and lung capacity, poor core muscle function, and ultimately, performance losses below the waist in the legs. With a simple 6-inch foam roller, you can undo much of the damage caused by extended sitting, computer work, and years of slouching.

HOW: Pectoral Stretch—Lie down so your head and hips are supported on the foam roller. Knees are bent with feet on the ground. Slide your arms up overhead, dragging your fingers along the ground. Stop at tight spots and hold.

Thoracic Mobilization—Lie with the roller at your neck, and your feet on the floor with your legs bent. Support your head in your hands, and let your head drop back toward the floor. With hips just off the floor, push with your legs to roll out your back from your neck to halfway down your spine.

PAY-OFF: Your running form will look better and be more efficient. And improved posture will help you feel better day-to-day. Plus, the bonus is that you’ll likely set a PR up your favorite local peak, or in your next race.

Special thanks to Charlie Merrill and Alta Physical Therapy of Boulder, Colorado, for this article.

Posted on Leave a comment

No Gym? No Problem: 5 home exercises for football players

In my many years as a certified strength and conditioning specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of some of the world’s finest sports performance technology and equipment.

While much of the advances in strength and conditioning equipment have dramatically improved current athlete’s strength, speed and agility, there are still basic bodyweight movement exercises that can improve an athlete’s performance. Bigger and more expensive is not always better.

This article will focus on five bodyweight resistance exercises that will train the entire body. No membership, travel or fancy equipment is needed for these exercises.

1. Push-Ups

An “oldie but a goodie.” This exercise, when performed correctly – with the elbows close to the trunk and no arching of the lower back – is a great upper body and core strengthening exercise. To build increased muscles size, perform four to five sets of 15 reps. If power is desired, more weight than your body might be needed, so a weighted vest may be used to increase the intensity of the movement. To improve power, three to four sets of five to six reps is the target. There should be total fatigue at the fifth or sixth rep. If there is not, increased intensity/weight will be needed.

2. Sidelye Up

This exercise may look easy to execute, but it is a challenge for your hip muscles. This exercise targets the hip muscles that assist in lateral speed and agility. To perform this drill, lie on one side and separate the legs from each other (about a foot). Then, only using the lower forearm that is in contact with the ground for support, lift the hip off the ground and rise up as high as possible. Then return back down to the floor in a slow, rhythmic fashion. Furthermore, maintain the one-foot distance between the legs consistent throughout the entire movement. Perform three sets of 10 reps on each side.

3. Matrix Multi-Angle Lunges

The matrix multi-angle lunge is a combination of three different lunges. This exercise will strengthen the leg muscles to help improve movements in all directions. First is a lunge to the front, then to the side and then lunge backwards as if you’re turning to chase someone. Perform six lunges in each direction for three sets. If bodyweight is too easy, grab some dumbbells or use a weight vest.

4. Single-Leg Squat

This drill will develop leg power to help improve speed on the field. Begin by standing on one leg in front of a sturdy chair then slowly lower the hips down to the seat of the chair. Gently touch the chair with the hips and then return back to the starting standing position. Attempt three sets of eight reps.

5. Tricep Chair Dips

This exercise will strengthen the triceps, which are critical in football because they assist in blocking, throwing and many other fundamental skills. In this exercise, start with your hands on the chair, knees bent and feet on the ground. Gradually lower the body down toward the floor while bending the elbows. Then, while pushing into the chair, return back to the starting position. Attempt three sets of 10 reps.

Bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to safely and effectively strengthen your muscles. Many times, being able to control one’s own bodyweight first before going to traditional weights is one of the most important foundational steps in a proper strength program.

Even though “well-adorned” workout facilities are full of equipment, do not forget the best original strength building equipment is your own body.

– Brett Fischer is the owner/founder of the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to get fit? Check out NFL Up! for workouts and tips and the NFL Up! Instagram feed for quick images and videos

This article was originally posted on

Posted on Leave a comment

Thinking of Doing an Obstacle Course? Read this first

The Wall Street Journal claims obstacle course racing (OCR) “may be the fastest-growing participatory sport in American history.” As of 2008, the sport was virtually unheard of, consisting mainly of small, local races and events, but as of 2012, more than 2 million participants flooded the booming industry, with as many as 4 million expected to take part in 2014.

As a fitness professional, I’m always excited when races and events draw crowds. Anything that gets people up and moving is generally considered a good thing. But there are risks that arise when sports go from zero to 60 in a matter of months – an exponentially exploding industry opens up itself, and its participants, to problems.

Understanding Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)

Given the dynamic growth of the OCR industry, it’s a little tricky to positively define OCRs. In general, they’re exactly what they sound like: Races, during which participants come across, and overcome, specific obstacles (for example, crawling through mud pits, climbing over walls, or jumping over fire).

OCRs are held all over the country, typically in large, open parks or outdoor spaces where the racing companies have room to build their obstacles. Races vary in length and time, but most range from a 5k to half-marathon distance (roughly 3 to 13 miles), and most can be completed within one to four hours. They typically take more time to complete than a standard road or trail race because it takes participants longer to overcome the course’s obstacles.

Because of the boom in participation, you can expect several hundred to several thousand participants at any given OCR event. And because many of these races are designed to encourage teamwork, there are usually options to join either as an individual or as a team. Sometimes races even offer discounts to those registering as part of a team. If a typical race entry ranges in price from $60 to $200, team registrations might receive a 5% to 10% discount for each person registering as part of the team.

There tend to be two types of OCR races: those focused on competition, and those focused on fun. Hardcore OCR racers want this difference to be more defined, drawing a clear line between races designed to get participants dirty, such as The Original Mud Run, and those focused on creating better athletes who are capable of facing tough, daunting obstacles. Some of the most well-known OCRs include Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Rugged Maniac.

Advantages of OCRs

There’s a lot to be said for obstacle course racing, and I see no reason most interested parties shouldn’t try one out. These are many of the reasons I’m an overall proponent of the sport:

Enhance Cardiovascular Fitness. Obstacle course races are races typically ranging in length from 1 to 13 miles, depending on the event. Participants must train to be able to walk or run the full distance of the course.

Encourage Strength and Flexibility Training. Unlike traditional road races, where you simple travel the distance of the course powered by your heart, lungs, and legs, OCRs introduce difficult obstacles that require additional training. To be able to effectively climb over a 10-foot wall, you must develop upper body strength. To be able to climb up a 30-foot rope, you must develop full-body strength and coordination. To be able to climb through some obstacles, you must develop greater flexibility. Allin- all, OCRs require greater total-body fitness than your standard race.

Challenge Mental Toughness. It’s one thing to run for three miles – but it’s another thing entirely to run, jump, and crawl a total of three miles. For individuals looking for a new challenge, or those wanting to test the boundaries of their body and mind, OCR racing is a great place to start.

Encourage Teamwork. Most OCR courses are designed for promoting teamwork. In other words, there may be some obstacles you can’t get through without a little help – you may need others to help you crawl up a 30-foot cargo net, or to help you out of a mud pit. The industry as a whole is community-focused, with a desire to help participants achieve and feel accomplished.

Draw More People to Fitness. Because there’s a focus on teamwork, and because many OCR races seem novel, more people are drawn to the sport. Any time people sign up and train for events is a step in the right direction for overall community health.

Options for Every Level. Whether you’re a total beginner or an elite athlete, there are obstacle course races perfect for your experience level. For instance, women can sign up for the Pretty Muddy OCR – an un-timed race that’s perfect for anyone just starting out, or as a fun race for the more competitive athlete. Likewise, those who want to earn a living running OCRs can sign up for the Spartan Race, where it’s not uncommon for top competitors to be supported by sponsors as they race for generous prize purses from the racing company. Spartan has awarded more then $200,000 in purse money.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Disadvantages of OCRs

Unfortunately, not everything about the OCR industry is good. When any industry experiences a boom, there’s an inevitable bust that may take place before the industry normalizes.

1. Too Many Races

First, the industry has been saturated with hopeful entrepreneurs starting races with the goal of becoming the “next big thing.” But putting together big events isn’t cheap – you have to have the space, the insurance, the online presence, the obstacles, the staff, and the marketing to draw competitors in. According to Obstacle Racer Magazine, a typical obstacle course race costs between $130,000 and $420,000 – that’s serious cash. Some entrepreneurs are realizing their work isn’t generating the rewards they predicted, and are being forced to close their doors.

I actually experienced this myself. About a year ago I was signed up to take place in a 5k Run for Your Lives obstacle course race. Several weeks prior to the event, I received an email stating that the company had filed for bankruptcy and no further races would be held. There was no recourse for those who signed up and spent money on the event. Luckily, another race company stepped in and took it over, so those who signed up were still able to compete.

If you’re going to spend $60 to $200 on a race entry fee, you want to be sure the race will be held. Check for races that: Start Small. If it’s a new race you’re signing up for, it’s a good idea to choose a company that’s only starting in one or two locations. If a new company is trying to organize 10 to 12 events nationwide, there’s a good chance they’re overextended. Have a Good Reputation. You can be fairly certain that the well-known national names in the industry, such as Warrior Dash and Spartan Race, are going to hold their events and put on a good show. Check to see how many years the company’s been around, and ask friends and family for recommendations before signing up.

Clearly Spell Out Locations. It’s a red flag if a race company hasn’t nailed down the specific location of the event. It’s one thing to say “Austin, Texas,” and an entirely different thing to say “Williamson County Regional Park, Cedar Park, Texas.” If the location is nailed down, you can feel confident that the race company has done the work necessary to secure the race date and time.

2. Poor Regulation

As a whole, the OCR industry has grown too fast for regulations to keep up. In fact, the industry is largely unregulated. This means there aren’t standards for staffing, obstacle type, obstacle safety, or even course length. There are three main problems with the lack of regulation: Companies Can Implement Obstacles Without Standardized Safety Testing. Almost any company can come in, open up shop, and create whatever obstacles they want without any real guarantee that they’re safe or reasonable. In fact, many companiesstart up with the hopes of making bigger, better, wilder obstacles to draw participants, but there’s no way for participants to be sure they’re safe.

Course Safety Can Be Compromised With Crowds.

The number of participants and the lack of regulation can lead to otherwise safe obstacles becoming unsafe. Take, for instance, the drowning death of Avishek Sengupta in a 2013 Tough Mudder race. While a wrongful death suit is still pending in court against the racing company, the speculation is that there were too many people on the course that day, which made normal regulation of the obstacles more difficult to maintain. Without standardized regulation for how to handle crowded courses, this type of tragedy is more likely to take place.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Professionalism as a Sport Is Difficult Without Standards & Regulations.

For individuals who want to seriously compete in the sport, the lack of regulation prevents the industry from seeming professional. Compare it to any other sport – running, for instance – and you know there are standards to follow. A marathon is a marathon, no matter where you run it. A 5k is a 5k, no matter where you run it. There are records to break, rules to follow, and governing bodies to make sure athletes are participating appropriately. However, the OCR industry is all over the place when it comes to standards and regulations. For instance, there are no standardized obstacles or race distances, and there’s not a governing body to enforce athlete drug testing. There are associations trying to increase the regulation in the industry – the Obstacle Racing Association and USOCR, to name two – but the only way they’ll see success is if they’re widely accepted by the racing companies already ruling the industry. The jury’s still out on this matter, and only time will tell.

Deciding to Race

Generally, there’s no reason you shouldn’t decide to race in an OCR – but you should understand the risks involved and take steps to minimize your own risk.

1. Train Appropriately

Don’t sign up for a race and then show up on race day completely unprepared. Racing companies want you to be successful and free from injury, so follow their suggestions for training and nutrition. In general, give yourself a minimum of one month to prepare, and incorporate strength and flexibility training into your workout regimen.

2. Ask Questions

If you’re in doubt about what you should do to prepare for a race, don’t hesitate to communicate your questions to the racing company. If they’re slow to answer, or don’t seem equipped to answer your specific questions, you may want to consider canceling your registration and signing up for a different event.

You may also want to seek out a trainer or coach to help you prep for your event. A trainer can walk you through specific exercises that will mimic the type of work you’ll need to do during the event.

3. Practice Defensive Racing

When you arrive to a race course on race day, understand that you’re in charge of your own safety. It’s reasonable to assume a course management team has created safe obstacles, but you shouldn’t assume that they’re being managed or monitored appropriately. Think of your racing as “defensive racing,” much like defensive driving. Keep an eye on what’s happening around you, and never feel pressured to attempt an obstacle that seems unsafe. Final Word The obstacle course racing industry has a lot going for it: It’s fun, exciting, and widely available. But just because OCRs look pretty on paper, it doesn’t mean the reality is perfect. In the words of water safety, “Look before you leap” (both literally and figuratively) into OCR events, and always be your own safety advocate.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mind, Muscles and the Movies

Mind, Muscles and the Movies.

How many good athletes do you know who have stopped short of realizing their full potential? They were the baseball players who should have consistently hit .300, but never exceeded .275. Or the pitcher who has the potential to throw 95mph with sink but only hits 90mph consistently. Or the sprinters who had the potential of breaking the 100-meter dash under 10 seconds, but was stuck at 10.3. Or the basketball player who never exceed a 70% free throw percentage. May be you can relate, you had room to grow athletically but couldn’t break through. Too often, we see athletes get frustrated with their performance, accept that their performance is second tier and eventually give up.

But how does the mind influence the body so powerfully? It’s simple, go to the movies. Your central nervous system cannot tell the difference between real and imagined images or performances. For example, imagine yourself making solid contact with the ball and driving a line drive to the gap or kicking a field goal through the uprights. When you see yourself doing the athletic task, your nervous system responds as if its really happening. Sharp mental images are produced which all senses are involved, this action ‘preps’ the body for the movement. During this phase, it creates a connection between the mind and body that promotes a smoother and effective pathway for your body to perform the athletic movement. So when you arrive on the field, your body already went through the ‘dress rehearsal’ and has a ‘blueprint’ of every movement that it should make. Your body already knows what to do because it has already done so from the response to your imagery.

Our beliefs activate our subconscious thought processes, which prompts us to act with the truth as we see it. It’s your choice – it can enslave you or serve you. So, what you think, you become. Psychology has taught us that our actions follow our thought and images that we process. For example, if you tell yourself, “I can’t strike out” and then make eye contact with the pitcher – you just programmed your mind to strike out. Inning over…go walk yourself to the bench. Your mind will remember your most dominant thought. Basically, your mind is more efficient when you’re telling it what to do instead of what not to do.

That’s great – but how?

  • Old School: Practice makes perfect: Uncomfortable and Awkward. Yes, that’s how it will feel when you first start. Just like starting something new, it’s going to be a struggle at first and that’s normal. It’s the same concept of training your muscles, it’s a skill that develops over time.
    • Consistency: 10-15 minutes / day and around the same time of day.
  • Stay Positive: Do what works for you. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ template to follow. It’s will be trial and error until you adjust and get comfortable. You will have ups and you will have downs. Remember what works for you, might not work for your teammate.
  • Visualize what you want, like really want. One of the most impactful effects of doing visualizations is it’s programming your subconscious brain. Your subconscious brain dictates your path. If you feed your subconscious with negative thoughts or images, it will direct you down that path. If you visualize positive obtainable and realistic images, your subconscious will make mini adjustments along the way to take us the right way.
  • Take it up a few notches. Visualizations are important, don’t get me wrong. But what is more important (after you get comfortable doing this) is the feeling it creates not only in your mind but also physically. Doing visualizations without feelings is comparable to fishing without a pole. Feelings create emotions and emotions fuel performance. Visualize powerful emotions and you’ll create those powerful performances.
    • It’s in the details. The more details you can add to the visualizations the more realistic that image will be to real life. You want to activate all of your senses – sight, smell, hearing/noise, feeling, and taste. (Yes, taste – you slid into the base and got a mouth full of dirt.)

My recommendation is to take a 3×5 index card and write your personal keys to success on one side and on the other write your performance keys to success (what are you doing when you’re really bringing your A game? And how do you do those things? – stay balanced, drive with the lower half, etc.). By reading those you can change how you think and you can change your performance. So if you don’t like what you are watching…switch the channel.

Once you shed your self defeating beliefs about yourself, everything will begin to click, you’ll be able to achieve your inner excellence and reach your maximum potential. You will reach a peak in every part of your life, an emotional high, a physical high and eventually, everything comes together. It’s almost like being possessed.

So, go to the movies already.


This article was written by Kalee Patterson of Mental Edge+ see more articles similar to this by visiting their website