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Cons to All-Year Sport Specialization

It’s been a while since I last posted!  This summer has been crazy. We moved our facility to Gametime Sports and Fitness in Lowell, merged with SLS Fitness, increased the amount of space that we had available and as a result increased the amount of athletes we were able to work with.  It was a super fun transition and definitely a learning experience.

With all of these new changes, we were exposed to a number of new challenges with our athletes.  It seems like not so common sense that kids shouldn’t be playing the same sport all year round especially at the younger ranks.  Early sport specialization has been an uphill battle in the world of physical therapy and strength and conditioning, but the only thing we can do is urge kids not to do it.  Often times when I present to parents for our in-house workshops I say something along the lines of, “…I strongly encourage kids to play a different sport once baseball is done kind of like a strongly encourage you to wear a parachute when jumping out of an airplane.”  That will get a few chuckles, but the kid is in pitching the next day anyway.

What could possibly go wrong?

Good question.  Maybe we are being too conservative?  Maybe your kid is a freak athlete like the character “Spike” in the movie “Little Giants”?  Unlikely.  It isn’t just anecdotal, conservative babble either.

Lacrosse is a prime example.  In this area it has begun to take shape and kids are running around town with their “twigs” trying to be the next big star.  Awesome!  I love all that lacrosse has to offer in terms of it isn’t hockey and it gets kids outdoors.  The problem resides in how the kids will hit the ground running and play all year round.  They have their school teams in the spring, their club teams in the summer, fall ball in the fall, and indoor in the winter.  Here is a movement screen I did recently with one of my high school lacrosse players who has committed to play for a good, Division I college.


See anything wrong?

While playing club over the summer, he had a tear in his Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL).  The first thing I thought when I heard this was, great it isn’t your ACL.  Nonetheless, the PCL is a necessary component to knee integrity and checking movement of the tibia (shin bone) on the femur (thigh bone).  His first big request like all other kids is to be able to accelerate better.

Plan of attack:  We finished the FMS and did some other non-ballistic testing to see where he was at.  Next we programmed foundational exercises so that his movement quality was up before we started giving him the big strength and power exercises.  It is truly amazing how quickly the strength and power numbers go up once you develop a good foundation!  As a side note, and I can’t express how crucial this is, I couldn’t have performed a movement screen or any other tests on this athlete without the okay from his physician.  Even as a DPT, it is paramount that I follow the wishes of the M.D. so that I stay within the scope of my practice.

To this point we have just begun working on sprint technique and form, but have remained semi-conservative with our strength-speed/power work.  Do no harm is the mantra, and in this case, don’t hurt that athlete more than what they are presenting to you with.  It may not be sexy or sleek to perform planks, KB deadlifts from a raised platform, or corrective exercises.  But, if it gets them safely to their goal without causing further damage, that is what we will do.


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In-Service Presentation

Recently, I had the pleasure of reciting an in-service presentation to a host of physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and physical therapy aids as well as occupational therapists.  It was a great experience and well received which is why I’m sharing it here.  Take a couple of minutes to check it out and leave any feedback that could help in the future.


PNS presentation

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One Size Does Not Fit All

This is a guest blog post from Kaylie who is finishing her undergraduate work at Cornell as well as a collegiate athlete as a gymnast.  Kaylie is a phenomenal co-worker, a super intelligent up-and-comer, and a great team player.  Enjoy!

“If this diet worked for her, shouldn’t it work for me?“ “Why am I performing poorly eating the same diet as John who is full of energy?”


As a competitive gymnast and nutritional sciences student, I am always attending nutrition lectures and team nutrition meetings. Often times, I come out of the nutrition session more confused and frustrated than when I entered the room. One nutritionist will say “eat this, not that” and the next one will turn around and tell you the complete opposite. One of the most frustrating aspects of nutrition, in my opinion, is that there is no magic bullet “right and wrong” diet that works for everyone equally. Food and nutrition articles are becoming an increasing trend in the media and people are often left misinformed and overwhelmed with all of the contradicting information.


I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Julie Burns—current sports nutritionist for the Chicago Blackhawks and founder of SportFuel, Inc, an integrative wellness and consulting firm and Eat Like the Pros ®, a customized local and sustainable organic meal delivery service. Ms. Burns takes a holistic approach to nutrition and considers a client’s sleep, daily life stressors, and gut microbiome composition in her personalized nutrition plans. Her lecture was different from typical sports nutrition sessions. She was up front and honest in saying that there is no “one-size fits all” diet. Despite all of the nutrition researchers and professors in the audience, she confidently explained how sometimes a diet should not work for an athlete according to the hard science, but for some reason they perform and feel their best on it and that is fine with her. Her recommendations were refreshingly realistic and open for personal customization. I felt I could actually use her guidelines to improve my performance and overall health without feeling like I am cooking and eating all the time, which has often been my experience with other nutritionists.

Here are a few takeaways from her lecture that I found to be both helpful and easy to follow as a collegiate athlete. Whether you are a serious athlete, an active adult, or someone looking to revamp your diet and exercise before bathing suit season, I hope you find these tips as helpful, user-friendly, and customizable as I do.


  1. Aim for 3 colors in each meal and fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, salad greens, squash and tomatoes.


  1. Aim for 6 handfuls of veggies per day.


Some ways to accomplish this:

  1. Location is everything! Place vegetables in convenient locations; replace the candy bowl with a bowl of veggies.
  2. Add greens to smoothies; if it is not convenient to buy fresh greens often, you can buy powdered greens at grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Wegmans.
  3. Add spinach, tomato, and cucumbers to sandwiches or wraps.
  4. Bulk up breakfast with veggies and eggs; simply sauté some veggies and make an omelet, or even easier, an egg scramble.
  5. End dinner with greens tossed in vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Spiralize squash and zucchini for a pasta alternative; again, to save time and energy, Wegmans sells pre-spiraled veggies in their produce department.
  7. Eat a combination of raw and cooked vegetables; lightly cooking or steaming vegetables can unlock extra nutrients and increase the amount of nutrients the body can absorb.
  8. If you don’t like vegetables or tend to have intestinal troubles, try fresh pressed juice—you can add fruits such as apples to drown out some of the vegetable flavor and the smaller amount of fiber in the juice is gentler on the intestines than raw vegetables.


  1. Include healthy fats to maximize absorption of vitamins and minerals. Some foods with healthy fats include:
    1. Wild cold water fish such as salmon
    2. Avocado
    3. Chia seeds or ground flax
    4. Sprouted nuts and seeds
    5. Raw pumpkin seeds
    6. Good olive oils: unrefined, cold pressed, dark bottle, refrigerated
    7. If you do not eat cold water fish, include a clean essential fatty acid supplement


  1. Eat clean protein.
    1. Sprouted nuts and seeds
    2. Full fat, organic cultured dairy; full fat leads to better glucose control, but only if organic because toxins are stored in fat
    3. Cold water wild fish
    4. 100% grass fed foods
    5. Pasture raised eggs, turkey, and chicken


  1. Select whole food carbohydrates instead of heavily processed and refined carbohydrates.
    1. Winter squash (acorn, butternut), white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, spaghetti squash, beets, and berries


  1. Eat fermentable fibers.


Fermentable fibers are beneficial for improving gut health. They stimulate the production of good bacteria in the colon and inhibit inflammation by improving the protective layer in the lower gut.


Fermentable fiber foods include garlic, onions, artichoke, asparagus, beets, celery, kale, spinach, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, apples, avocado, berries, pears, and mangos, among others.


Lastly, a few general reminders:


  1. Drink water!! Without proper hydration, your body cannot perform at its highest level!
  2. Calories are the #1 priority for athletes before the composition of the diet; you need to be eating enough to have energy for your sport!
  3. Avoid food shaming; focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t


For more information on Julie Burns visit: &

Sports nutritionists get Stanley Cup rings, too! It’s heavier than you think!
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Recovery Strategies

In many conversations with clients/athletes it has become clear that once they’re done with the training session, they are done thinking about training in general.  They may be motivated to eat something “healthy” to stay consistent with the day, but that really is the extent of it.  As a performance coach, it would be reckless and lazy if recovery weren’t addressed with the population I am working with.  As such, here are some of the tools that I use generally.


For most of my adult client groups, I will use different breathing strategies towards the beginning of the workout.  This will allow them to leave the workday at work and not bring it into the gym.  For the general population you can start to program different tempos for breathing, but that may be a little overkill for someone who doesn’t know how to engage their respiratory diaphragm in the first place.  Belly breathing is quite simply done by lying down on your back, placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, then trying to fill only the hand on your belly without letting the hand on your chest rise.  This is a little bit of isolation type movement, but it is pretty effective at getting people out of their overly sympathetic tone from work or life.  If someone is having trouble doing this, their is a pretty cool trick that I learned in PT school that is called the “sniff” test.  Simply ask the individual to sniff as if they were sniffing like a dog.  You will get raised eyebrows and questions, but once they get what it does it becomes rhetoric.  You can progress the belly breathing series by rolling over and doing “crocodile” breathing or play around with tempos to get different reactions.

Breathing can and should also be done at the end of a training session.  Recovery happens in a parasympathetic state.  All this means is that if you’re stressed, high-strung, ready to go postal, you will not recover very well.  If after a training session we sprinkle in some breathing techniques, it should help to facilitate that relaxed, parasympathetic tone.


This is such a basic tool that everyone can use, and yet, most don’t or at least don’t do it well.  There are a number of supplements on the shelf that come with a varying amount of integrity attached to each brand.  These are just as the name implies: supplements.  This means if you’re not getting enough in your diet then use it.  You can usually find out what the recommended daily intake (RDI) is for each micro/macro nutrient by simply going on the internet machine and searching.

That being said, depending on who you are you can time your nutrition appropriately with the right content to get the result you want.  For recovery purposes, usually getting in some protein after a workout is a pretty simple start. If you dive into different resources, they will tell you that you need a certain amount of grams of protein per kilogram of body mass every certain amount of hours, but let’s get real.  Just eat some protein or take some sort of protein supplement to aid the recovery process along.  You can also add in any other micronutrient source that you may require (vitamins, minerals, creatine, etc.).  It also can’t be stressed enough, eat veggies!  If you refuse to eat veggies then you refuse to reach your goals.  Kind of a blunt truth, but it is the truth.  When asked I usually recommend the more colorful types of vegetables.

Based on some of the above reading, we know that the real recovery happens when in that relaxed state.  So nutritionally, how can you influence relaxation?  Simple.  There are a number of different things that can be done to aid the recovery process.  My favorite is to have some sort of chamomile based tea at the end of the day.  This helps to relax the system and also has been shown to bring individuals to a deeper sleep which is the ultimate relaxation.  Melatonin also helps to achieve that deeper sleep in individuals, and can be purchased at virtually any health store.

Water may be one of the most paramount nutritional ideas to recovery out there.  When you’re dehydrated you run the risk of increased inflammation, decreased blood volume (carries all those important nutrients), increased cramping, decreased affect (mood), decreased nerve conduction velocity, decreased short term memory, etc.  These are all pretty important for the athlete or the professional adult.


This is probably the number 1 recovery tool and the easiest/cheapest.  There are so many mechanisms at work when you sleep.  As mentioned previously, this is the ultimate relaxation tool, again, where we recover.  Hormonally, we see a surge in anabolic hormones (the ones that make you recover).  Interestingly too, there are some mechanisms at play that weren’t all that known previously.  The fluid that encases the spinal cord and brain, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), normally is produced and recycled at a constant rate, however, when you’re sleeping the process actually speeds up helping to clear the system of toxic metabolites.  What does this mean?  Well the nervous system (brain and spinal cord being mega players) is what sends messages to the muscles to move.  When those metabolites build up they create a toxic environment for the system and can create a whole host of issues.  The resulting inflammation has been correlated with many chronic diseases which ironically are also usually stress related too.  The magic number of sleep hours appears to be about 8.  That means eight hours of sleep, not 8 hours lying in bed, so watching the television while in bed doesn’t count.  Also, there is some new research coming out saying that obesity is associated with greater than 10 hours of sleep per night.  I don’t even understand how you can have that amount of time to sleep and am completely envious of whomever has that kind of time.


There are also some pretty cool tricks that you can do to influence your environment to aid in the recovery process.  Different scents and oils can be used to get a better night sleep or even just relax.  Lavender oil appears to have the ability to do this and if you don’t want to invest in essential oils you can simply buy the airwick with lavender oil.

Also, as mentioned above, watching T.V. in bed doesn’t count as sleep.  How can we eliminate this potential distraction?  Remove the television from the bedroom if possible.  Seems like a simple answer, but when you confront people on this it is amazing how much resistance you run in to.  Television, tablets, computers, and especially smart phones display via blue light.  Blue light stimulates the wake cycle in the old noggin and has negative consequences for sleep quality.  If it is a must to use these things before going to bed, invest in some cool orange safety glasses at your local hardware store.  This is a neato trick that I learned at a conference a year ago from a pretty smart individual.

Take a nice warm shower roughly 10 minutes before bed.  This has also had a very positive influence on achieving deeper sleep in individuals.  If you are one of the sick and twisted individuals who enjoy cold showers, disregard this information.

Some recent research also correlates cleanliness with getting better sleep.  Having a clean environment, specifically your bedroom, you have less to think about.  Because you have less to think about, you fall asleep quicker which enables you to get a longer, deeper sleep.

Wrap up

These are just a few options that you can use or pass along, but they’re extremely cheap and efficient.  Most people just need to fulfill one or a few of these steps to see almost immediate results.  Feel free to comment anything else that is simple and works well.

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Program Design

One of the first steps to designing a program for any athlete or client should be to answer the basic questions: Who, what, where, when, why, and how?  If we take the time to critically analyze each of these questions when writing out programs, it takes a lot of guessing out of the equation and makes exercise selection, volume, and intensity much more justifiable.

Who is this new client/athlete? Are they a 10 year old who needs to develop a better foundation, or an IT whiz who is great at what they do but doesn’t understand how to get results at the gym?  Whatever the scenario may be, there are a spectrum of exercises that may not be warranted for either individual in the beginning.  Here, our biggest bang for our buck is going to be exposure to as many simple exercises as we can in a logical manner.  It’s not until we get the college or professional/olympic athlete that we start to get very specialized with our programs, or the individual with a huge training age (consistent number of years training).

What is the client/athlete training for?  This will dictate what you’re going to do and how long your cycles are going to last.  If you’re dealing with a strict weight loss or general health client, there is no real competition to peak for unless they have a particular date in mind for a wedding or vacation for example.  Athletes may warrant a little more planning here based on their test performance in the beginning.

Where?  This question can be asked a couple different ways.  Where is the training going to take place?  Is it going to be at your facility under your guidance?  Or could they be doing this on their own either at their home or at a commercial gym?  This could take some serious critical thinking about logistics.  You may have all the equipment that you need, but their commercial gym may not.  It may require that we make tweeks here or there to make the program work.  The other way to read this question is, where does the client or athlete hope to be at the end of this?  Maybe you have an NFL prospect that expects to be a high draft pick based on the combine that you are helping them prepare for.  Or maybe it’s a 12 year old trying to make the club hockey team in town.

When?  When in the day is the training going to take place?  When in the week?  Will this individual fit in with a similar group of individuals?

Why is a huge question to ask throughout the whole periodization process.  It may seem like a redundant question in some respects, but bear with me.  Why is this client or athlete coming to you?  Why are you going to use a particular exercise?  Can we justify everything that we are going to do with this person or are we just putting in fillers?  Every exercise or task must have a reason.  With our overweight client it could be simply that this particular exercise is extremely metabolically demanding.  For an athlete it could be speed work.  For anyone, the correctives should be placed to achieve an optimal position for the joints in the body.

How are you going to make this come together?  Are you going to use any particular system to make this work?  Sit down and plan this thing out.  I was once taught by someone much smarter than myself to start at the end.  That’s how I personally start my program design and it seems to work.  If someone simply just wants to get bigger, how are you going to do that?  Faster? Skinnier?  Plan it out.

That’s the basic jist.  It helps tremendously to sit down and ask yourself all these questions when you write programs.  KISS-Keep It Simple S… is an acronym that one of my mentors likes to use often and it has been probably one of my best tools in the toolbox.  Putting someone on a physio ball balancing doing squats while performing some Harlem Globetrotter ball spinning isn’t going to make anyone better, but, it will probably get someone hurt.  If not physically then maybe emotionally for the trainer/coach because their clientele isn’t getting better.  I digress.  Keep it simple.


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Exercise Order & Selection Part II

As previously discussed, we need to think about what we are going to do with our clients/athletes based off whatever testing criteria you have used.  This will dictate the corrective exercise selection that we will use to make the movement better.  You can find the discussion here.

After we have done a thorough warm-up and have finished our movement and plyometric series, we can get into the lift.  The questions are: What exercises am I going to put into the lift?  What is the overall training effect I am trying to achieve?  How much volume/intensity/load am I going to place on the individual?  These and in addition to how much rest will I need to provide?  How much time do I have with said athlete/client?  These are all great questions which will hopefully be answered below.


When working with a general population or athletic population that is coming to your facility, the restrictions aren’t as great.  There is virtually an open window of time to work with these individuals depending on their schedule.  Generally speaking, you can take your general population through a balanced session in 45-75 minutes depending on the difficulty of the day.  However, working with a high school or college team the demands are quite different.  If the athletes are in-season, the coaching staff may not even want the athletes to be training in the weight room.  To performance/strength and conditioning coaches this is absolutely frustrating, but that is a different conversation.  There is a total coaching contact time that the NCAA places on the athletes on a day to day basis that really makes it necessary to have your sessions planned very well.  Additionally, at the high school level, some kids play multiple sports throughout the year.  If a kid plays all three seasons and all three of the coaches don’t want to lift during the season, that kid will potentially not lift unless they’re hanging out with their buddies at the local commercial gym doing curls.  On top of that, this same athlete is most definitely participating in one or more summer sporting camps or club teams.  This potential athlete will more than likely burn out or get injured really quick.


With the general population and younger athletes, pick the exercises that are most important.  Depending on who you follow, the exercises will almost always include some sort of squatting, hinging, upper body pushing, upper body pulling, and some even say carries and ground work.  Put the more demanding exercises toward the beginning of the workout when the athlete is fresh.  To save time pair the upper and lower body exercises in a series or circuit.  This will minimize how much time the athlete is standing around watching the clock.  Unless of course, you are working with a very specialized population of lifters such as powerlifters or olympic lifters.  Even then you can provide the athlete with some sort of active recovery to perform.  Maybe you have a powerlifter who can’t squat all the way into the hole, hip correctives!  Or an olympic lifter who is lacking full shoulder flexion, shoulder correctives.  This is of course broad and basic, but that is probably the most important lesson: Keep It Simple!!

Training Effect

The training effect should also be simple.  If you’re working with general population who just wants to lose weight then make them move using a variety of exercises mentioned above.  They just want to be healthy? Keep a balanced program with regular testing built-in, in addition to every 8-12 weeks.  For an athlete it is usually be faster, stronger, more powerful, or move better.  In the beginning this is really simple.  If you have a young athlete who has virtually no training age they’re an open book.  Develop the foundation with this population!!!  They do not need the same specialized training that the Division 1 or professional athletes are getting.  Instead, make them really good at squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling.  The athlete will achieve all of their goals.  It’s when their numbers start to plateau that we need to consider different methods.  As the athlete gets older, keep them consistent with their strength and conditioning work.


This is where semantics get involved.  Having just been to Joel Jamieson’s Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC) course, there are a whole host of things that could contribute to an athlete or client not performing.  As human beings, life has a funny way of getting in the way.  Whether it’s breaking up with a significant other, midterms, poor nutrition, fighting a cold, or bad sleep there are a lot of variables that can influence the outcome.  Having the athlete or client fill out some sort of subjective report when they walk in the door will help you as the coach determine what potential they have.  If you’re rolling in dough, you can invest in a product like the Omega Wave that will give you as the coach huge insight into the state of the athletes nervous system/well-being.


I hope that this has provided some insight to the beginning of program design.  These questions as well as many more are constantly circulating in my head and in conversation between myself and other coaches.  Please provide feedback in the comments section.

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Mobility vs. Stability: Part 2

Previously I wrote an article discussing the importance of mobility and stability functionally.  To quickly recap, the joint-by-joint approach discusses where in the body we need stability and where we need mobility.  In the cases where we don’t have appropriate stability or mobility, the joints on either side will try and pick up the slack so we can still achieve our projected outcome.  It only seems fitting that the low back be discussed first as it is a huge disabling feature in our society.

Without even concerning the muscles and other soft tissue structures that surround our low back, we can take a look at just the bony anatomy.  In a number or cadaver studies they have found that the lumbar spine is capable of flexion and extension without damage to the bony structures in the area.  However, rotation is extremely limited totaling just five degrees of rotation on average throughout the entire lumbar segment of the spine.  In other studies to come up with better prediction rules in physical therapy, researchers wanted to know if movement is strict or if there is coupling that occurs.  Just like everything in the human body, there is often not just one strict movement that occurs.  For example, when an individual side bends their trunk in the low back area specifically there is also an associated rotation that must occur.  As we just learned from the bony anatomy, that can’t happen in excess without causing bony damage or even disc damage.

The muscles in the low back really are postural in nature.  Standing against gravity is pretty good strength training for these small muscles.  Sometimes these small muscles will go into protective spasm which will try to limit any movement in the low back.  This could be from years of faulty movement without addressing the issue, or it could be from a traumatic event like flexing or extending and twisting your low back trying to deadlift.  Complete violation of the crap test (if it looks, smells, tastes, or feels like crap it is probably crap).


The other soft tissue structures in the area are things like the ligaments, disc, cartilage, and other vessels.  There are a number of ligaments in the area that span either the entire spine or from one vertebra to the next.  They really protect the spine from excessive flexion and extension, but just like anything else in the body they can stretch or rupture.  The disc being one of the more notable ruptures (herniation) because it is filled with a material that causes local inflammation as well as the space between the vertebrae to become less.  This will in turn cause nerve root irritation, protective spasm of local muscles, potential stenosis (narrowing of the canal the spinal cord is in) for us stubborn individuals, pain, walking silly, not wanting to get out of bed, etc.


A lot of times low back pain is self inflicted with terrible mechanics.  Sometimes though, faulty movement patterns may be the result of poor mobility through not only the vertebrae in the low back, but also the hips or the thoracic spine (where the ribs connect to your spine).  It could also be from a weak abdominal musculature that doesn’t brace or stabilize the low back well.  If one has an abnormally large belly, this could cause a lot of stress through the low back as well.  The list goes on and on, but the screening tools we use should show us something.  Address the triplanar mobility of the hips, the rotation and extension quality of the thoracic spine, the strength and endurance of the abdominal muscles, and as a general recommendation to lose that Milwaukee tumor!  These are all generalizations of course, but it is a good starting point for most individuals.