How to Stretch for Improved Speed & Endurance

Stretching, when implemented correctly is an actual preventive tool – it reduces the risk of injury by increasing the circulation to your muscles and joints, relaxing your muscles and allowing for greater range of motion.

Soft Tissue Maintenance

As stated by Michael Boyle, soft tissue goes by many names depending who you are speaking with. Physical therapists use the term soft tissue mobilization; chiropractors use the term Active Release Technique; and massage therapists call it deep tissue work. Regardless of what you want to call soft tissue, the common factor is the goal of optimizing the range of motion within the muscle and surrounding joint(s). Though beyond the scope of this article, soft tissue manipulation is actually an irritating stimulus manually created which produces a chemical response within the soft tissue. The chemicals produced are what actual begins the healing processes and a cellular level. This is why soft tissue work is often painful during treatment and can leave you sore and achy for a couple days following treatment.

Stretch Reflex

Your body is equipped with a stretch reflex know as the myotatic stretch reflex which prevents a muscle from stretching too far and/or too fast, this mechanism protects the surrounding joint from becoming injured.  This stretch reflex is mediated through the muscle spindle cells and is constantly evaluating both the speed and length that muscle is going through.  When a muscle lengthens either too far or quickly, the spindle cell is stimulated and reflexively causes the muscle to contract, resisting the lengthening and preventing overstretching of the joint.

An additional component to the stretch reflex is a concept known as the Inverse Stretch Reflex.  This reflex engages the golgi tendon organ which monitors the amount of stress being placed on the tendon at the attachment.  It is the combination of the myotatic stretch reflex and the inverse stretch reflex that causes the muscle to relax, lengthen and ultimately increase your range of motion.

Trigger Points

When you picture a muscle, small dense areas develop within the muscle tissue creating small “knots.” Visualize a rope with small knots in it, if you pull on each end hard, then knots get tighter – this is exactly what happens when you try to stretch without untying the knots – you only make the trigger points “tighter” which results in a reduced range of motion (i.e. flexibility).

Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle

When a muscle develops a “knot”, it falls into a Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle. The muscle begins to get tight, the tightness creates pain (usually at the attachments) and because of repetitive use, becomes progressively tighter which eventually resulting in a limited range of motion or ultimately a locked position where it hurts to move at all (and keeps you from maintaining optimum biomechanics and efficiency).

Proper Warm Up

Step 1: Roll your major muscle groups – click here for a series of foam rolling videos for your lower body.

Step 2: Sport specific activity at a low heart rate (until the body is sweating and the muscle temperature is optimized).

Step 3: Isolate and stretch your primary and secondary muscles – click here for a series of videos for isolating & stretching your lower body muscles

Step 4: Implement dynamic movements to optimize your range of motion before adding the velocity of the bike

Step 5: Begin your sport specific workouts to improve your strength, endurance and/or lactate tolerance.

Top 5 Nutritional Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Over the last 33 years, I have seen nutritional mistakes that have resulted in weight gain rather than weight loss. Here are the top five mistakes and how to correct them.

Not knowing your sweat rate

You may ask how your sweat rate relates to nutritional mistakes; the reason is associated with how your body stores water relevant to what you eat. Fruits in vegetables are high in vitamins & minerals, but they are also high in water and natural forms of electrolytes (what you lose in through sweat). Also, for your body to store one gram of sugar for energy, it stores 2.5 grams of water. If you want to improve your pre-hydration levels, eat more raw fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to sweating, your goal is to lose between 1-2% of your body weight in a given workout – no more or less. If you lose more than 2% of your body weight you are officially dehydrated, if you lose less than 1% you are over hydrated. This is a very fine line that needs to be evaluated on a regular basis with the following variables being factored in: air temperature, humidity, intensity and duration.

To help you calculate your personal sweat rate, please email me at and I will send you a simple to use Sweat Rate Calculator. It will provide you insight into your sweat rate along with inform you if you’re eating habits are helping or hurting your weightloss efforts.

Not eating enough high quality calories

As mentioned above, fruits and vegetables are high in water, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. However, fruits and vegetables are not high in calories. This means that you must eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (along with lean protein sources) for your body to perform at an optimal level.

To determine if you are consuming enough calories to fuel your exercise,  you need to evaluate exactly what and how much you have eaten, when you have eaten and then evaluate the quality of your workouts. This is very simple to do by maintaining a daily food log (Note: if you don’t have a simple to use food log, please email me at and I will send you a copy of our food log that is easy to use and maintain on a daily basis).

There are two typical realizations that come from maintaining a food log; one is the quantity of food that comes out of a box and/or a can; the amount of total calories consumed on a daily basis is not enough to fuel your efforts. By maintaining a daily food log and evaluating your energy levels/performance results you will develop a personalized nutritional plan in less than two weeks.

Not eating enough high quality fat

Fat has gotten a bad rap in the media, but the fact of the matter is that your body needs high quality fat on a daily basis for your body to perform at an optimal level. Typical symptoms of insufficient fat intake include: fatigue, delayed recovery, depression, over eating, constantly hungry and more.  It is imperative that you consume the following unsaturated fats on a daily basis: extra virgin olive oil, avocados and fish oil.

These fats are either used by your body as energy or passed as waste – which means no stored body fat! This is a win-win situation for you: improved performance and decreased body fat. When you increase your clean fat intake, there are two things you will notice within two weeks: improved endurance and not hungry all of the time. The reason for this is because most individuals don’t consume enough high quality fat – simple fix with huge benefits.

Not eating immediately after a workout

When you work out your body gets the majority of its energy from stored sugar from your muscles (your brain gets its sugar from your liver); the longer and more intense your workout the more you “empty” your stored muscle sugar. When you are finished with your  workout you have a 20-30 minute window to replenish these depleted stored sugar levels optimally. During this short post exercise window, you have an enzyme (glycogen synthase enzyme) that is highly activate within your muscles cells that helps increase the replenishment of sugar within the muscles (and liver).

The longer you wait to consume high quality food after your workout, the less effective your replenishment will be and your recovery window will take longer as a result. Ideally, you want to consume food in a 4:1 ration between carbohydrates and lean protein. Simple solutions include fruit smoothies made with Greek yogurt or chocolate milk.

Not drinking enough water

The average human body contains 96 pints of water – 64 of these are found inside the body’s cells. Your brain is 75% water, your blood is 85% water, muscle is 70% water, and you see how important being hydrated is literally from the inside out. Please don’t confuse hydration levels with sweat rate discussed earlier; hydration levels are strictly relevant to maintaining proper fluid levels within your body for optimum health and ultimately performance. Your sweat rate is relevant to how much perspiration you are creating as your body attempts to rid itself of internal heat.

As a general rule of thumb, your need to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water – for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you need to consume 75 ounces of water on a daily basis to maintain proper hydration levels. Any activities that you perform on a daily basis: exercise, work, leisure, etc. has to be factored in addition to your daily needs.

There are two simple indicators of proper hydration levels: urine color and urination frequency. Regarding your urine color, the lighter your urine the more hydrated you are. Please note, if you are taking a multi vitamin that contains B vitamins, your urine will be a tad darker as a result. As your body absorbs and purges the B vitamin, the color of your urine will become lighter in color. In regards to your urination frequency, you should be visiting the restroom once an hour. Though this can be an inconvenience at time, the health and performance benefits are definitely worth it!

The Truth About Stretching

Stretching…if there is one subject that carries constant controversy, it would have to be the discussion of stretching and whether it beneficial to an athlete’s performance program or not.

To those athletes who have endured a substantial injury and/or surgery will attest to the benefits of stretching and how important it is in re-establishing the optimum range of motion with the muscle(s) and surrounding joints. For other athletes, there is a mindset that stretching actually causes more strain on the muscle and even feels like the muscle shortens during stretching. So how can both correct?

To explain both sides of this controversy, let’s begin by looking at the physiology of how muscles move and the associated reflexes associated with range of motion. There are two types of muscle contractions: isotonic and isometric. An isotonic muscle contraction is a voluntary contraction that causes movement. Under the umbrella of isotonic contractions, there are two types of contractions: concentric (where the muscle shortens as it works) and eccentric (where a muscle exerts force while being lengthened by an outside force). An isometric muscle contraction is a voluntary concentric contraction where there is no joint movement and the length of the muscle is unchanged. Please don’t get frustrated with all of these concepts. Instead realize that before you can focus on stretching a muscle, you must first understand how they function so that you can effectively (and without injury) lengthen them for improved range of motion.

Your body is equipped with a stretch reflex known as the myotatic stretch reflex which prevents a muscle from stretching too far and/or too fast protecting the surrounding joint from becoming injured. This stretch reflex is mediated through the muscle spindle cells and is constantly evaluating both the speed and length that muscle is going through. When a muscle lengthens either too far or quickly, the spindle cell is stimulated and reflexively causes the muscle to contract, resisting the lengthening and preventing overstretching of the joint. An additional component to the stretch reflex is a concept known as the Inverse Stretch Reflex. Though this component is beyond the scope of this article, this reflex engages the Golgi tendon organ which monitors the amount of stress being placed on the tendon at the attachment. It is the combination of the myotatic stretch reflex and the inverse stretch reflex that causes the muscle to relax, lengthen and ultimately increase your range of motion.

The Two Types of Stretching

Ballistic stretching (also referred to as dynamic stretching) is completed by using rapid bouncing movements to the isolated muscle. This type of stretching has a tendency to invoke the stretch reflex leaving the muscle shorter than its pre-stretching length. The negative side effect of ballistic stretching is that it creates twice the tension within the isolated muscle and in turn increases the risk of tearing the target muscle(s) due to the fact that the rapid bouncing doesn’t allow enough time for the inverse stretch reflex to be engaged and relax the muscle.

Static stretching occurs when the isolated muscle is lengthened slowly (to inhibit the firing of the stretch reflex) and held in a comfortable range for 15 to 30 seconds. As the stretch is maintained, the tension within the muscle diminishes due to the inverse stretch reflex and the depth of the stretch is increased. This is the range of motion that is advised and taught here at

How to Effectively Increase Your Range of Motion & Reduce Your Risk of Injury Utilizing the Stretch Reflex

  • Actively lengthen the muscle to be stretched (i.e. the target muscle) to its maximal pain-free range of motion. As you feel the muscle “tighten”, back off slightly to avoid the antagonist (the muscles opposite of the muscle that you are attempting to lengthen) muscles from contracting. If excessive demands are put on the antagonist muscles, they will contract to shorter position which could lead to spasms, or the firing of trigger points within the target muscle.
  • At the point where you feel the muscle “fire”, this is where you have to actively focus on breathing deeply (i.e. through your diaphragm) and staying relaxed.
  • Through this deep breathe, your nervous system has the chance to prepare for the next phase of lengthening. Keep in mind that a change of direction too fast may cause the muscle to spasm and tear at the point of attachment.
  • Maintain the stretch for 3-5 seconds, back off, take a deep breathe and then repeat the same stretch. Repeat the stretch of the same muscle 3-5 times in the same manner.

When to Stretch for Optimum Results

This is another discussion point that creates a lot of controversy in the world of human performance: should you stretch before exercise? For the context of this discussion, lets just say that both sides of the table are correct, as long as there is an integration of both sides. For example, static stretching can be productive to increase the temperature within the muscle as long as it is done patiently and with good form. Failure to pay attention and overstretching a cold muscle can over load the muscles and associated attachments (as discussed above). An ideal scenario would be movement at a low intensity and range of motion.
Take swimming for example, moving your arms in circles slowly and smoothly will help facilitate the blood flow into the shoulder and chest region which is beneficial prior to exercise. Then swimming for 5-10 minutes easily will warm the specific muscles which then would benefit from muscle specific stretching. For all forms of exercise, think movement, sport specific activity and then isolated muscle stretches.

Note that stretching post exercise is beneficial due to the fact that the temperature within the muscle is at it’s highest level; however, remember that sudden movements and overstretching fatigued and slightly dehydrated muscles can lead to spasms and possibly tearing at the attachments.

Let’s recap the benefits of flexibility & stretching – when and how:

Benefits of Stretching

  • Stretching re-establishes the muscles normal range of motion and in turn increases the power output.
  • By re-establishing your range of motion, your body is able to implement proper biomechanics which leads to more efficient movement.
  • More efficient movement translates into increased endurance.
  • The greater the range of motion within the muscle, the less susceptible the muscle and associated joints are to injury.
  • Post exercise stretching improves recovery by lengthening the “warm” muscles to their normal range of motion. This results in less stiffness and improved range of motion at the beginning of your next workout.

When Should You Stretch?

  • After a short bout of movement and sport specific exercise of five to ten minutes, then implement your stretching exercises.
  • Immediately after exercise while the temperature within the muscle is optimized, dedicate 10 minutes to sport specific stretching exercises.

How Should You Stretch?

Keeping the Inverse Stretch Reflex in mind, isolate your target muscle and move slowly until the tension within the muscle and tendons begin to approach the “pain” mode; at this point back off a tad bit and focus on deep breathing to facilitate the oxygen uptake within the blood.

The key to effectively increasing your range of motion is to remember that flexibility isn’t a “test” to see how far you push the muscle into an enhanced range of motion. This mindset will have you pushing through the Inverse Stretch Reflex and ultimately shortening or even tearing the muscles and associated attachments.

To further enhance range of motion and improve your overall wellbeing, look into a consistent massage/chiropractic program. When you realize that muscles move bones and misaligned bones create tight muscles (due to the pulling on the muscles attachment), this cycle needs to be interrupted and a combination of massage and chiropractic care is the ideal combination. One word of caution, you need to go to a physician that is an athlete and has extensive exercise experience to ensure that your specific needs can be correctly identified and addressed.
For more information on this and other fitness related topics, visit

Establishing Goals and Objectives

What is a Goal?

Goals are those achievements (personal or athletically) that you find personally important and incredibly satisfying. In the world of psychology, it is frequently mentioned that a goal should produce a sensation that you want to experience over and over. Goals should literally excite you because they are the things that allow you to achieve your highest level of true potential – frequently referred to as self actualization.

As you are establishing your goals, you may feel that committing to significant goals requires taking big risks and you are correct! Individuals that reach their full potential, by their nature, are educated risk takers and are aware of the fact that following a sequence of accomplishments makes the goal a reality within a specific period of time. Ironically, accomplished individuals understand the inherent risk of failure associated with not having a definitive plan which motivates them even more to establish specific goals, objectives and timelines. In a research report published by the International Journal of Sports Psychology, “the clearer and detailed the goal, the greater the individual’s tolerance of fatigue and distractions”.

When you establish you 3, 6 and 12-month goals, you will notice that the number of goals decreases as the duration increases. The reason for this is to eliminate spreading your efforts too thin which will only increase your frustration and failure to obtain your goals. Remember, you want to dedicate your time, energy and resources to tasks that will yield the highest level of your personal improvement and achievement.

What is the Difference Between a Goal & an Objective?

Objectives are the individual tasks that you need to complete to make your goals a reality. In order to be successful, your objectives need to be outlined in a sequential order that builds upon the previous objective. There are two things to keep in mind when you are establishing your objectives. First, establish objectives that are measureable and quantifiable. The goal is to strip the emotions associated with accomplishment. If a client tells me that he or she wants to get faster, there is no way to measure “fast”. However, if you tell me that you have a specific elapsed time for a specific distance, we can retest after six weeks of consistent training to see if your elapsed time has improved. If it has, you know that your nutrition and training is developing positive results. However, if the elapsed time isn’t faster, then you know that something specific has to be adjusted in you nutrition and training protocols. There is no emotion associated with setting objectives – you are either getting fitter and faster or you are not. Second, you don’t have to fill out every objective in the provided outline. You will notice in my example below, goal number three doesn’t have all five objectives filled in. The key is to establish objectives that effective in helping you achieve the goal. The focus needs to be on Working Smart, Not Hard!

There are five easy steps to setting goals and objectives:

Data Dump – Stop and review your biggest frustrations over the last six months. Write all of them down. Don’t organize or rationalize, just get them written down. Note: give yourself a week to finish this first step.

Organize – Take all of your frustrations that you have written down and rank them based on which frustration will provide you the greatest return on the effort that you put in. For example, if you are 25 pounds overweight (specific to your sport or activity level), losing this unwanted weight will immediately improve your strength and endurance. Be careful not to choose task that you would “prefer” to focus on, but rather stay focused on where you can get the biggest return on your investment of time, energy and resources.

Establish Timelines – Establish realistic time lines to accomplish each goal. Using the above example of losing 25 pounds for optimum health and performance, you would want to put the total goal of 25 pounds over the next six months (four pounds a month, one pound a week is realistic). If you were to put this 25-pound goal under the three-month timeline, you are simply setting yourself up for failure.

Prepare for Success – It is imperative that you plan for your success. We say with all of our clients that your success can not be accidental. Success and performance is created by establishing definitive goals and then breaking them down into incremental steps (known as objectives) with each step building on the previous. The key to maximizing this step is to gather all of the resources (tools, equipment, etc.) necessary PRIOR to beginning your achievement journey. For example, if you plan on adding fruit smoothies to your increase your intake of vitamins and minerals, you will need a blender. Though this may sound odd, it is this simple hurdle that will keep you from adding smoothies to your program – you don’t have the necessary “tools”. The same thing happens with the desire to eat real, raw food, it is the lack of purchasing, cleaning, prepping and packing the food items that keeps you from taking them with you when you leave the house. If you don’t have your real food with you and you are hungry, you will pull into a drive through. Planning ahead is the key to accomplishing any and all goals that you have established.

Train with Focus – Before heading out the door to train or race, review your personal goals and objectives; remember that there is a reason why you are not good at something: you don’t like it! However, if you take your daily training protocols and run them through your objectives (what you have to do to make your goals a reality) filter, you will crystal clear focus and a completely new level of motivation. Ironically, when you want to improve on something, all it takes is a dedication to identify what it will take to improve, create the time to train correctly in your personal schedule, collect all of the resources necessary and dedicate all of your energy to making your goals a reality. Once you achieve your three month goals, you can now move onto your six month goals and then onto your 12-month goals. Repeat this process indefinitely with bigger goals and aspirations than you ever thought possible. Over the last 33 years I have seen this process produce results that are literally in the history books of various sports and human accomplishments.

Let’s get focused, organized and start working towards your true potential!

Mental Blueprint of Success

Creatine Supplementation & Dehydration

The Effects of Creatine

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the effects of creatine. The truth of the matter is – creatine does do exactly what it claims to do: FOR SOME ATHLETES. However, before we discuss if creatine supplementation is beneficial as an athlete, it is imperative to evaluate its role in your everyday health.

First, the human body produces creatine daily to sustain the demands associated with exercise. Creatine is regenerated through your body’s normal bodily functions (assuming you are eating a sufficient diet and complementing this with 7-8 hours of sleep daily). However, if your body senses the presence of creatine on a regular basis, it will stop producing it within your body. This internal evaluation system cannot be “tricked”.

Second, creatine has been shown in endless amounts of research to cause dehydration among athletes of all sports backgrounds. Muscle cramping and spasming along with feelings of nausea are not uncommon with an athlete that reacts negatively to the supplementation of creatine. Keep in mind that even the slightest level of dehydration causes the contractile strength within the muscles spindle cells to diminish – not an ideal scenario for athletes. To make the situation worse, athletes that are training and racing in hot parts of the country are at a disadvantage in regards to dissipating the negative effects of internal heat (created by working muscles and internal body systems like digestion and respiration.) The scientific term for this is the Endothermic Process: your body’s ability to rid itself of heat. The only way that your body can rid itself of heat is through sweat at the skin level.  If you happen to be riding or racing in a highly humid environment, your ability to cool down is hampered again because water can not evaporate against another molecule of water. This causes you to overheat internally which ultimately slows down your internal bodily functions which manifests itself in the form of slower speed.

Side note, in clinical studies, creatine has been documented to increase the contractile strength of a muscle; however, the additional lactic acid (a by-product of burning carbohydrates) that is produced due to the higher levels of output has resulted in larger than normal levels of blood lactate. This surplus of lactic acid can not be effectively cleared from the circulatory system through the blood vessels and, in turn, becomes counter productive.

Bottom line: should athletes supplement with creatine: NO. Instead, they need to spend more time developing a comprehensive training and nutritional program that will provide the human body the elements it needs to perform at an optimal level.

Avoid Injuries Through Strength Training

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of strength training for athletic performance and how to incorporate it into your weekly training regimen. There are numerous professional opinions on whether or not strength training should be an instrumental part of an athlete’s training program. Overall body strength will help prevent the effects of cumulative fatigue and allow for proper efficiency for swimming, cycling and running. Also, full body strength is a complement to the other elements of a complete performance training program: endurance, flexibility, nutrition and mental preparedness.

Let’s take a look at three direct benefits of strength training from a physiological stand point and how it relates to athletic performance. First, strength training will increase the amount of force your muscles can exert on a particular object. As an athlete, moving your body weight through multiple disciplines plus offsetting external resistance factors like wind and hills to the working muscle, force (the by product of strength training) is the key component for finishing a race as strong as you started. [Note: this is especially true for females.]

Second, strength training will permit your muscles to reach a maximum output of force in a shorter period of time.  Weight training will increase and facilitate the balance of strength in all working muscles and the resulting motor units (which include motor nerves and muscle fibers). One nerve impulse can charge hundreds of fibers at once; a rapid series of multiple fiber twitches can generate maximum force quickly and for a long period of time. Weight training will “teach” your nervous system to recruit a wide variety of fibers. As one group of fibers fatigue, another group will be prepared to relieve the fatigued group. Without getting to complex, think about nerves as messengers from the brain which control every physical response. If motor nerves don’t “tell” the muscle fibers to twitch, your muscles won’t contract. The entire concept behind physical training is to teach your nervous system, with repeating particular muscular movements, to get the correct message to the working muscles. With a diversified strength program, you will initiate a message to include the number of fibers to be recruited, type of fibers used (fast twitch A or slow twitch B) and frequency of contractions. Remember, a diversified training program will recruit all of the fibers and the types of fibers needed for the required physical demands. This is the purpose behind sports specificity and related workouts – the more specific the more productive.

Finally, the duration of time your muscles can sustain the level of force before exhaustion is extended. The overload principle is based on the concept of subjecting the muscles to slightly more load levels than it has incurred in the past. With incremental load levels, the muscles will increase the fiber solicitation and corresponding recruitment. With proper rest, the muscles will grow stronger by developing new muscle tissue as an adaptation to the load levels. With increased muscle mass, the muscles are able to exert higher levels of force and for extended periods of time before exhaustion. To capture a better idea of this concept, imagine you have muscles that fall under the category of primary and secondary muscles. The primary muscle groups are the obvious muscles that are responsible for assisting movement. The secondary muscle groups are also referred to as “assisters” for primary movement. However, once the primary muscle groups fatigue, the secondary muscles are required to step up to finish the task at hand. Strength training makes this task familiar to the secondary muscle groups at both the muscular and neuromuscular levels.

Three indirect benefits of strength training include stronger tendons and ligaments, greater bone density and enhanced joint range of motion. Concerning tendons and ligaments, weight training will increase the size and overall strength of both which will increase the stability of the joints that they surround. Bone density will increase as a by product of tensile force being placed on the bones. Without this tensile force, the bones will actually become brittle and susceptible to breaking. An increased range of motion at the joint is due to the increased strength and size of the tendons and ligaments. This increased strength will enhance the ease of mobility within the joint due to tendon and ligament strength and resulting efficiency. When you look at all three of these components collectively, they address the concern of every athlete – muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the muscles and a self protecting mechanism called the Golgi Apparatus are to keep the bones from being taken outside the normal range of motion. If your have a strong muscular system (accompanied with good flexibility), you have established a foundation for optimum fitness because your body has the proper mechanisms to protect itself.

Now that we have justified the reason for incorporating strength training into your performance program, let’s take a look at how to incorporate strength training into your weekly training regimen.

The first variable to look at is where you are at in your race season. If it is early in the season, your focus is to prepare your body for the upcoming demands of your pre-competitive season (low priority racing). During this time frame, you are also looking to enhance your aerobic function to keep the stress from becoming too stressful, the amount of weight is kept to a moderate level and three workout sessions a week. During the competitive racing season, the strength component of your program needs to be reduced to two sessions during the week to allow for ample rest for high intensity training and competition. For this article, we will assume that you are well into your competitive cycle and looking to peak at one or two key events during the summer.

It is important to take the time and evaluate the weaknesses of your current fitness through regular field testing. As athletes, we tend to work on the elements that we like to do and usually are very good at. However, to complete yourself as an athlete, you have to identify your weaknesses and address these variables specifically. With our athletes, we have pre-determined field testing dates to evaluate if the training programs we are implementing on a weekly basis are addressing the identified weaknesses of the athlete. So if your field testing results show that you are not lacking in the strength department, your approach in the gym will be different to an athlete who lacks overall physical strength.


The subject of strength assessment has had a lot of varying opinions on what is the correct format to assess strength as it relates to racing. We incorporate two elements into the assessment equation: sport specific and gym specific load levels. Please keep in mind that the implementations of testing protocols are established based on the individual athlete and his or her backgrounds, along with age and racing capabilities. The following outline is merely an example of what can be used for assessment purposes within the gym.

Gym Testing Assessment

Take each of your gym exercises and take the average weight amount that you have been using over the last two weeks. Complete as many repetitions that you can complete with good form (no swinging – no momentum) until you can not complete any more repetitions. Using a load level calculator (there are many of these calculators on the internet), you can determine what your max strength level is for each muscle group. The idea behind this test is to determine what load levels and repetitions you should be using during your time in the gym. Remember, our goal with strength training is to optimize your time in the gym to enhance your overall body strength as it relates to swimming, cycling and running.

Together with your sport specific assessments and gym assessment numbers, you have the foundation to create your own individualized strength program. If you have questions about your testing results, please feel free to email the testing data to us at and we will provide you with some training protocols to enhance your strength program.

How Do I Determine What Muscles Are Weak?

To keep things in perspective, we are analyzing the athlete’s body in three planes: front and back top and bottom left and right side. The more in balance we can keep the strength levels in the related muscle groups found within each of these two planes, the higher the overall strength levels. For example, we would like to see similar strength levels in the quadriceps (front of leg) and the hamstrings (back of leg) to avoid unnecessary strains around the knee. We would like to have the chest muscles as strong as the back muscles to avoid any strains to the shoulder capsule. Though there are typically some strength discrepancies amongst muscle groups (front and back of the body for example), we are constantly striving to develop functional integration of all muscle groups to avoid unnecessary injuries.

What Muscle Groups Do I Need to Work On in the Gym?

The answer to this question is all muscle groups! If you can identify one muscle that is not used during a race, then you have found a muscle that you don’t have to train during your strength workouts. From head to toe, we are looking to enhance your overall body strength. As a rule of thumb, the muscle groups that you identify as weak based on your load level calculations, need to be put under more load levels and lower repetitions than the established strong muscles (which would need moderate load levels and higher repetitions). Remember, once we get your weaknesses to match your strengths, then your overall program has risen to the next level of capability and performance potential.

What Exercises Do I Need to Complete in the Gym?

There are three key weak links in an athlete’s overall strength program: 1. Lack of core body strength 2. Lack of balance between prime movers and antagonist muscle (i.e. biceps and triceps in the arms and the quadriceps and hamstrings in the legs) 3. Lack of flexibility in all muscle groups

While in the gym, we prefer to use stretch cords and individual dumbbells for all strength work for one main reason – the solicitation and development of the stabilizer muscles around each joint versus the machine doing this work for you. Please consult a qualified personal trainer at your gym to help you determine which exercises you will be doing to develop strength and show you the proper form with all of your lifting exercises. Keep in mind that it is better to have quality lifting exercises than to have quantity. Also, don’t be afraid to change up the program every four weeks to avoid getting bored and allow the muscles to get stale with your program.

Creating A Championship Mentality

There is no secret that during training your efforts are 90% physical and 10% mental and on race day your results are 90% mental, 10% physical. Ironically, most racers are aware of this; however, in my 34 years of working with athletes, not one has ever presented themselves to my office with a mental program in place. As I frequently say, “Your success up to this point is completely accidental and your future success is not guaranteed”. The reason why I say this is because they don’t know what they did to achieve the success that they have enjoyed, nor do they understand why their performance results have begun to suffer. Let’s take a look at the science of fear and then create some strategies to get you to front of it and stay there.

The Science of Stress on the Brain

The part of your brain that governs your response to anxiety is call the amygdala, or your fear center. This segment of your brain reacts quickly to fear and threats. For example, if your brain perceives that you are going to be attacked by a bear, the amygdala relays a message to your adrenal system to release adrenaline and cortisol. Additionally, more blood and sugar is diverted to your muscles for oxygen and energy. Another by-product of stress is that your amygdala shuts down your immune and digestive systems so your body can focus on running from the bear (this is where your hierarchy of needs come into full swing!). When you stop and review how the body responds to stress, if harnessed properly this can be used to your full advantage on race day meaning more oxygen and sugar to the muscles.

The complex issue within the brain is that the amygdala can also influence another part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of decision making and reins in impulses and emotions, according to Dr. Michael Lardon, M.D. The negative long-term effects of consistent stress levels can result in the form of interrupted digestion (meaning less energy for racing), suppressed immune system (you become sick more frequently) and interrupted sleep patterns (delayed recovery after racing). Having less energy, consistently sick and delayed recovery quickly disrupts your motivation which ultimately leads to mental burnout and frustration.

Identifying and Dealing with Stress & Fear

To prevent stress from having a negative impact on your racing, you need to identify physical responses associated with stress and fear such as an elevated heart rate, upset stomach, irritability, short attention, etc. – and turn them into a positive context and not panic when you experience, them according to Greg Norman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. High levels of excitement indicate that you are fully engaged with racing and the associated challenges.

Using Stress & Fear to Create Great Racing Results

As you get ready to race, stop and think about the amount of time that you have invested into your racing –both sport specific and cross training wise. Think about the self sacrifices that you have endured (eating real, raw food verses junk food, going to bed early, etc.). These thoughts will literally put your brain into a positive environment and you will enjoy the challenges of racing because you know you are prepared and more importantly, you understand how you got there.

According to Norman, putting a positive spin on your racing related mental anguish results in better results at the end of the race. Research indicates that elevated stress hormones can improve performance in the short term or diminish performance (and overall health) in the long term. Which situation will be the result depends on whether you enjoy or dread the activity that is creating your mental stress. Racing in an environment that you enjoy will result in a more enjoyable experience; however, racing in an environment that you don’t enjoy will only lead to more negative thoughts, frustrations and poor race results.

So how do you make your stress hormones benefit your racing? According to Dr. Lardon, you need to strike a balance between your selected race, skill set, energy and focus. If you are doing races that are too easy based on your skill set and speed, you will become bored quickly and left with a feeling of being unfulfilled. However, if your selected races are far above your ability level, skill set and speed, you will become overwhelmed, frustrated and shift into a mode of pain and fear.

The key to preparing your brain for the “stress” of racing is to trigger your body to produce a hormone called dopamine, commonly referred to as a feel-good neurotransmitter that is released when the body experiences something new and/or risky, according to Steven Kotler, a neurobiologist of peak performance. Activating this stress-reward (stress – dopamine release cycle) neuro-chemical system in a positive manner is the key to achieving your full potential. Racing at a new venue, changing up your training efforts, wearing new race kits, or even training with different athletes can all contribute to a “new” experience and positive results.

Mental Tools to Stay Calm and Perform Optimally

Racing & Training with a Strategy: As I mentioned in a previous article What Motivates You – Joy of Victory or the Fear of Failure, the key is to follow what you have proven works in training. By focusing on your strategy of implementation, you override the fear of failure.

Visualization: By following the mental movie that you created from your training notes, you can create an exact strategy from start to finish to literally creating the success that you have worked so diligently to produce. Why would you be surprised to get on the podium when you aspire to be a top profession one day – it is all part of the process.

Environment: You would be surprised how many athletes have people around them on race day but have no idea the negative effect that person is having on the outcome of the race. The same applies to eating the wrong food, listening to the wrong (or old music), etc. All of the elements that create your race day environment either have a positive or negative impact on your results. Identify what works for you and then create that environment every day that you train and race.

Belly Breathing: Another name for belly breathing is diaphragm breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward while the muscles in your chest contract to expand your rib cage. This increases the volume in your chest cavity and draws air into your lungs. Working your diaphragm to its fullest potential allows your lungs to expand to their greatest volume and fill your lungs with the greatest amount of oxygen to fuel you working muscles.

Many racers underuse their diaphragm relying too much on their chest muscles and therefore take in less oxygen. Teaching yourself to rely less on your chest muscles to breathe, and more on your diaphragm requires practice and attention to details. To start the process of learning how to breathe through your belly verses your chest, lay flat on your back and put one hand on your belly and one on your chest. As you inhale, strive to raise your belly button hand first then feel for the fresh air moving up and into your chest. Hold for two seconds and then exhale until you feel your chest completely deflated. Repeat 3-5 times and then relax and focus on your normal breathing except now engage your breathing through you belly and not your chest. Note: because there is a tendency to hyperventilate when you first attempt. Do not attempt this skill unless you are lying down.

As you become more familiar with this breathing technique while lying flat on your back, move to a sitting position and strive to fill up your belly before your chest. To make things a little more difficult, place a straw in your mouth and breathe exclusively in and out of the straw – you will feel the diaphragm doing its job.