• Get A Good Night's Sleep

    Sleep is a very important (and difficult to manage) component of health and fitness. If you're having trouble getting a good night's sleep, try dimming (or even completely turning off) the lights in your house as soon as the sun goes down. This may be difficult if your nightly routine includes a lot of reading, but it's definitely doable if you plan on watching television. Dimming the lights will increase your body's natural production of melatonin, helping you fall asleep faster and feel more rested when you wake in the morning.
     

    There is also research surfacing that shows low-frequency electromagnetic fields (like those emitted from household electronics) can interfere with a natural sleep cycle. Remove (or unplug) all electronics from your bedroom and see if you notice a difference!
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  • Heart Rate and Recovery

    Did you know that changes in your waking heart rate can be used to predict your body's recovery status?

     
    Take your waking heart rate for a few days before you begin an extra-intense workout schedule (this will be your baseline). Continue taking your waking heart rate as you increase your activity level -- be sure you are doing this right when you wake up. If your heart rate is suddenly elevated by 3-5 beats/minute (above your baseline), then it's likely your body is not completely recovered and needs more rest (i.e. more nightly sleep or a quick nap). If your heart rate is elevated by more than 5 beats/minute, you should take the day off from your scheduled workout to let your body rest and recover.
     
    Use this technique to ensure your body is recovering sufficiently between workouts -- it's a great way to minimize the stresses of over-training!
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  • Plyometric Training

    Plyometrics were developed in Russia during the late 1970s and used as a way to increase explosive power in Olympic athletes. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed this initial belief: properly implemented plyometric training can significantly increase an individual's power production during explosive movements.

     
    To keep things simple, we'll divide plyometric exercises into two basic categories: high-intensity and low-intensity. If you're interested in adding plyometric training to your own routine, consider the guidelines below:
     
    High-intensity Plyometrics

     

    • Exercises: Depth jumps and variations.

     

    • Description: Stand on a platform and drop (don't jump) from a fixed height (typically between 1 and 2.5 feet). Land at a depth close to that of an important sport action and immediately jump as high as possible.
    • Frequency: In four-week blocks, 2-3 times a year. Perform 40-70 ground contacts* per week.
    • Other considerations: High-intensity plyometrics can be stressful on the joints, tendons and ligaments -- they easily lend themselves to over-training. Try to avoid high-intensity plyometrics during a season, especially if your sport already involves a lot of jumping (e.g., volleyball, basketball). The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that you be able to squat at least 1.5 times your body weight before attempting high-intensity plyometrics. (Your heels should not touch the ground during the landing phase of your plyometric drill -- if they do, the drop height is too high for your current strength level [Laputin and Oleshko 1982].)

    Low-intensity Plyometrics
    • Exercises: Various jumping, bounding and hopping movements.
    • Description: There are hundreds of low-intensity plyometric exercises that can be performed. Examples include: box jumps, alternate-leg bounding, hops (for maximum height), hops (for maximum horizontal distance) and side-to-side hops. Minimize your ground contact time with all exercises.
    • Frequency: As desired, but always keep a one-to-one ratio of work-to-rest (i.e., if you perform low-intensity plyometrics for one month, be sure to take the following month off). Perform up to 100 ground contacts per week.
    • Other considerations: It's a good idea to maintain an equal balance of vertical (jumps and hops for height), front-to-back (long jump or single-leg bounding) and lateral (side-to-side hops) movements. You should also spread your total weekly ground contacts over three or four days.

    Finally, keep in mind that plyometric training is not meant to create a significant amount of muscle fatigue (although it may at first); plyometrics are designed to train your nervous system. Stop your set when you notice your performance (jump height/distance, explosiveness or reaction ability) decreasing, not when you reach complete muscle fatigue.
     
    *A ground contact is basically a repetition. Each time you land on the ground (after a jump, depth landing, hop, etc.) you are making a ground contact.

    References:
    • Mike Boyle, MA, ATC. Plyometric Training. pp. 16-18
    • Christian Thibaudeau. 2007: High-Threshold Muscle Building. pp. 41-45