How To Save Your Knees

A couple of years ago I talked to a colleague that played basketball with me (on a very high level) about his knee pain. I noticed that he had imbalances and was not doing anything about them, he said “I’ve had them before, nothing serious”. His team didn’t pay too much attention and kept him in practice for 4 hours a day (everything was sport specific and active play) while not looking into the issue. There was no recovery, corrective exercise, appropriate strength training, etc… Months later he tore his ACL. As bad as this was, less than a year later he injured it again (same ACL) because of innapropriate rehab and a speedy push to come back to playing.  Much of it was not his fault as the people that surrounded him did not care enough about the player but rather the short term results of the team. Even though he is going to play again this year (after 2 years of non-stop issues), it’s not only physically, but also mentally tough for him to get back to his previous self.

Nobody really thinks or cares about knee issues until something bad happens. Remember, just because you don’t have knee pain, doesn’t mean that you are doing everything you should be to prevent it. Since I have had a lot of clients ask me about knee problems, I’m going to give some tips that are essential to incorporate into your training/recovery, so here goes:

1. Soft Tissue Work. For anyone that hasn’t purchased or doesn’t know what a foam roller is - find out and get it! Seriously though, Foam rollers are the poor mans massage therapist, soft tissue work for the masses. To explain what you do with in simple terms - Athletes (remeber if you have a body, you are an athlete….so it includes everyone) are instructed to use the roller to search for tender areas or trigger points and to roll these areas to decrease density and over-activity.. It is like self-deep tissue massage in a way. There will be many tight spots in your body, with the majority needing work, but in the case of the knee we will focus predominantly on the rectus femoris and quads.

Here is a little extra tip though: When you roll the quads and RF, begin by rolling with the leg extended and later on bend the knee and continue rolling it, this way you will change the length of the muscle while you are working it and the response will be better - trust me. As great as the foam roller is, nothing can replace soft tissue work performed by a specialist, for those who have never done it, I would recommend you find a good ART (Active Release Therapy) provider to get rid of the scar tissue and adhesions that have built up throughout your training. For those that have seen a practitioner, continue to do it…..

Foam Roll Quads

I know, I know, it was the only picture I could find….

2. Improve Ankle and Hip Mobility. I have said this many times over to my athletes, when you have knee issues the problem probably isn’t coming from the knee but rather the joint above or below it - hip or/and ankle. The lack of mobility in the hips can lead to knee problems and also low back issues and I can’t tell you how many athletes I see that have very imobile ankles (especially basketball players from all the taping and high top shoes). When you have crappy mobility in the ankles it makes the knee more mobile (unstable… the knee is meant to be a stable joint). I have shown a couple of exercises in previous posts but here is another one that you can use to improve ankle mobility.

Attention: Basketball Players!!!

3. Activate Your Glutes (Butt). The main reason I bring this up is because research has shown that people with patelo femoral issues had a lot more weakness in the hip abductors and external rotators (the focus is on the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius). A great way to address is this to use activation drills during warm ups and even before certain exercises where you want the glutes to fire (deadlifts, box squats, etc…). I love the x-band walks in this situation, but keep in mind that you have to keep your trunk (core) tight and not compensate by leaning over (stand tall and stay tight).

Activating your glutes is good for SO many reasons

4. Balance Out Your Training. This one may sound logical to some of you but most people still do not adhere to it (even the people that know that should!). How many times have you just trained and focused on your quads because that’s just what everyone else does and you want them to be huge but completely forget about the glutes and hamstrings? Without even mentioning how important the posterior chain (backside of the body) is to performance and  injury prevention. If you are not balncing out your training then you are asking for knee injuries.

5. Do More Single Leg Work. I have talked about single leg more in depth in a previous post. Here are the main reasons for implementing it in your training: decrease imbalances between left/right leg, improved balance and proprioception, strengthen knee stabilizers (VMO and gluteals), providing a change of pace in training. Another thing to add, not only will single leg training prevent knee injuries, it will improve performance and increase potential for double leg exercises (squat, deadlift, etc…)

6. Making Sure You Have a Thorough Warm Up. As simple as this sounds, there are tons of people that skip the warm up because “they are short on time” and need to skip something. Bad idea! And there are those who do a quick one minute warm up and go right to heavy weights. Another bad idea! Apart from improving performance, a good warm up provides better lubrication for your joints (by increasing viscosity of sinovial fluid).

7. Learn How To Land Properly And Absorb Force. As I observe athletes when they land I see almost no knee break and absorption with the hips. What hapens in situations like this is that all the joints absorb the force rather than the muscles and tendons. When you jump up in the air try to land with minimal sound, soft knees, soft feet, lower into a half squat while pushing your hips back. Not only will your knees thank you but so will your ankles, hips and lower back.

Vertical Jump

Better land right!

8. Your Body Should Be In Proper Alignment. If you are out of alignment your knee may be taking a brunt of the load just doing everyday things such as walking. Now imagine sprinting, running, squatting and deadlifting, you better believe that it will add up and inury is looming. It is well worth investing the time and energy to get your body in alignment.

9. Lift The Right Way. Tons of people will tell me that they can’t do a certain exercise because it hurts their knees. After evaluation I findo out the only reason that it is hurting their knees, is because they are doing it wrong! I find the squat to be the main culprit. I each everyone how to squat properly, from athletes to old ladies, because it’s that important.

10. Look Out For The Irritated Rectus Femoris. First off, to see if the RF is causing any knee issues you have to perform the modified Thomas Test: Sit on the edge of a table or counter with your buttocks on the edge. From here, grab one knee and pull it to your chest while laying all the way back with the head and neck relaxed. What you’re looking for here is the position of the lower leg in relation to the ground. If your lower leg is perpendicular to the ground, you’re fine. However, if your lower leg is not at perpendicular, you have a short or stiff rectus femoris.

modified Thomas Test

Modified Thomas Test

If you fail this test miserably, which many of you will, you have to focus on stretching your two joint hip flexor that crosses the hip and knee - the rectus femoris. If you failed the test above then definitely start using this stretch:

rectus femoris stretch

Rectus Femoris Stretch

11. Anti Inflamatory Diet. Nobody thought I was going to bring up nutrition while talking about knee issues huh? Well it is THAT important. Here is a little more in depth explanation from Mike Robertson:

“Diet plays a role in inflammation, especially dietary fats. The fats, more specifically the fatty acids, we ingest directly affect our body’s production of eicosanoids (hormone-like substances) and the ratio of pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Cutting back on saturated fat, and even omega-6 fatty acids (arachadonic acid), which tend to be pro-inflammatory, while increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which are anti-inflammatory, will help to prevent the occurrence and progression of systemic inflammation associated with mild infection, poor diet, and obesity.”

I hope that these tips help you out while preventing knee injuries or helping rehab an already existing issue. If you would like something more in depth then look no further than the Buletproof Knees Manual which is an incredible product that outlines everything from anatomy of the knee to prevention strategies and rehab after knee injuries.

Post a comment if you use any of these strategies and they help you out.


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Olympic Lifts, How Useful Are They?

What is olympic weigtlifting? It is an expression of strength-speed at it’s finest. Moving heavy weights with high rates of force. Because there is a high load and high speed of movement the power output in weightlifting exercises far exceeds the conventional strength lifts as the bench, deadlift and squat. Using these lifts will cause specific adaptations when training our athletes. Here are some numbers to showcase power outputs with different exercises:


Exercise                                      Absolute Power (W) (maximum effort during comp. for 220 lbs man)

Bench Press                               300

Squat                                       1100

Deadlift                                   1100

Snatch Second Pull                    5600

Clean Second Pull                      5500

Jerk                                          5400 

As you can see there is quite a significant difference in power……

As a sidenote: Olympic Weightlifters have some of the highest (if not the highest) average vertical jumps of any athletes recorded and they do not specifically train to improve their jumps. Take it however you want to take it.

Olympic Lifts

We could say he has decent jumping ability, right?

As I mentioned in a previous post that I have started using more olympic lifts in my training (that does not mean the training of all the athletes I train), let me first explain what are the main exercises that fall under this category: the snatch, the clean and jerk. But there are also derivatives of these exercises that I would put under the same category as they also require a great power production and have the extra benefit of being easier to learn for most people (a little about that later on). These exercises consist of the clean pull, snatch pull, jerk (split, regular), push press and others.

One thing I failed to mention is that the main olympic lifts are quite hard to learn as they are quite technical and there is a big learning curve. I think that it would be great if every athlete had the time to learn these lifts but in reality I ussualy only have months in the off season to get the athletes in top physical shape and there is not enough time to teach the lifts. The good thing is that we can use the derivatives of the olympic lifts such as the snatch pull and the clean pull or the jerk, as they are much easier to learn.

So it is obvious that the olympic lifts have benefit…….but with a cost. First of there is a high technical mastery involved with the lifts as we mentioned earlier. There is no need to introduce such lifts in the weight room when the athletes already have sport specific skill work to improve on.The O-lifts also place great stress on the glenohumeral joint (shoulders), which makes them very risky for overhead athletes (baseball, volleyball,…) and also football players as their shoulders take a beating (no need to compound that in the weight room).

Am I confusing you with the for and agaist thoughts? I do have mixed emotions to tell you the truth, but olympic lifts will only stay in my programs and a limited few athletes that had a high level of proficiency before they started training with me (and even that for limited blocks of time). I will be using some of the olympic lift derivatives bit otherwise I can teach athletes simple alternatives such as jumps, medicine ball throws, box squats that produce all of the same measurable results. The goal is to produce the best prepared athletes while utilizing training means that produce the best results at the lowest cost.

Box Squats

Box Squats - they work too!! 

I also have to take into consideration that I train multiple athletes at the same time which makes use of the main olympic lifts even less efficient. I will continue to admire the sport of olympic weightlifting and learn as much as I can from the athletes and coaches but I at this moment in time I will use the main lifts scarcely as I have found a more efficient way to help athletes fulfill their potential.

If I confused you with this post then oh well……take what you can from it. I believe that we should all mold our training style from learning as much as we can from the best in the world. Bruce Lee once said: “Absorb what is usefull, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

I might come across something that changes my mind though……



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Training Update


General Specific Warm Ups - this will get you ready for the rest of the training session

As many may know that I use the conjugate periodization model a lot, mostly because it has produced superior results to other programs most of the time. The reality is that there is many methods that work if you apply them right. I tend to use different methods and training models when I feel they are going to be the most productive at that point in time. I also believe that the most effective program is the one that you are not on. That is why I love the conuugate model, because you can change the variables and continually progress. 

Well, I decided that I needed a change and put together a 8 week program based on the two steps forward, one step back model. There are two 4 week blocks where the intensities go from moderate in week 1, a 10% increase in week 2, a 5% deload in week 3 and finally another 10% increase in week 4. The second cycle will be started at a 10% higher intensity than the previos one. Eachof the series of four week blocks prepares the trainee for the next. The programs main focus in these 8 weeks is improving strength and power.

Before we start we have a thororugh warm up that includes foam roll (or lacrosse ball), dynamic mobility, activation, general specific exercises (the sandbag tosses in the video…..the sandbag is around 40 lbs and we catch and throw in different positions. The two athletes I’m training are in wrestling and football). We have just finished the second week of the first block and here is the last training session (for power we are using Olympic Liftsa an their variations and I will be discussing them in a later post):

Power Snatch      warm up to   5 sets  x   2 reps          (155 lbs)

Snatch Pull         5 sets   x   5   reps         (235 lbs)

Standing Military Press           5 sets   x  5 reps   (150 lbs)

Barbell Back Box Squat           5  sets  x  5 reps    (295 lbs)

Neutral DB Bench Press (slow eccentric)       3 sets  x  10 reps   (105 lbs)

Pull Ups w/ Weight Vest  (25 lbs)    3  sets x  failure

This training sesssion we finished with 3 rouns of thick rope climbing (10 feet with no legs x 2 without stopping) and single leg RDL holding a kettlebell in one hand (72 lbs x 10 reps/each leg).

So far the training has been going well and it has been a welocme switch from the conjugate training. The Olympic Lifts have the most potential to improve as they are very technical but they have already showed improvements in power production which is what was lacking with some of the guys.

I will keep you posted on the progress………….

X-Band Walks

X-Band Walks (overhead variation) -part of the warm up

Something that is completely off topic……one of my athletes puts bread into his protein smoothies?! I was wondering if anyone else has tried it? Also, let me know if you need the recipe…..

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How To Improve Athletic Performance?

Improving athletic performance is in high demand and athletes continualy ask how to better their strength, speed, vertical leap, agility, etc… The question that needs to be asked first is: "Where is your leak"? What I mean by that is that everyone has inefficiencies and weaknesses (leaks) that stop them from taking their perfromance to the next level. Without figuring out what they are, we are just guessing and possibly spinning circles in our training.

Before I continue, I would like to point out that many athletes and coaches take the conditioning route when it comes to improving performance - this is a short term solution. This route will improve performance short term but will in no way yield long term results, as it can also flare up some underlying problems that already exist. Taking this route is like putting a bucket to catch the water from the leak (a quick fix). The bucket of water will get full and overflow and then we are in real trouble……

We have to find the cause of the leak (the hole in the roof) and fix it. Taking steps in this manner will give us short term results and most importantly long term success. The type of training that addresses these underlying problems and the one we should be focused on is neuromuscular training. Now, let’s look at what could be causing the "leaks". Here are the major shortcomings that could be holding you back from taking your perfromance to the next level. Find your leak (or leaks in most cases) and find the right guidance and training that will fix them:


Definitely a form of maximal strength training....

You guessed it, it’s maximal strength training…..

Poor maximal strength and relative strength (it is in first place because I have yet to train an athlete that was too strong and the majority are actually weak)

- Injuries that require rest and rehab (high volume conditioning training will only reinforce bad mechanics and poor technique which will lead to compensation patterns - this is only good if you are looking to get injured)

- Carrying too much body fat (I think this one needs no explanation, but the sad fact is that I see athletes that are overweight all the time because they eat like crap and think they can just go hard in practice and stay in great shape)

- Poor strength - speed and/or speed - strength

- Lack of explosive strength (this would also be considered rate of force development - how fast you can apply the force into the ground)

- Lack of reactive ability (you may be strong but lack reactivity so you cannot keep up with your opponents on the field/court)

- Lack of mobility and dynamic flexibility (thjs is one of the most underrated issues! Athletes need dynamic mobility and almost never focus on it)

- Structural imbalances

- Technical flaws

Training reactivity or tripping over the mat?

Hopefully this list will open your eyes and make you look at yourself and think about the underlying issues that are holding you back. Also, this list should have you realize that playing one’s specific sport year round doesn’t improve the general qualities that are key in athletic performance. Spend the off-season and work on these issues and then see where it takes your perfromance! 

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What Is Your Weakness?

You are only as strong as your weakest link, especially when it comes to athletic performance. So can you honestly say that you are focusing on and improving your weaknesess?

A good friend of mine who is also a great basketball player had never really payed much attention to strength training, mobility, basically enhancing performance through other areas other than the actual sport specific training. I had warned him that it is a mistake and that it would hurt him in the long run but he replied that he has never had issues and that he was feeling fine and playing well. This was all true, but all the dysfunction adds up……

This year he has had multiple injuries and he is dealing with a a chronic injury that is putting his career on hold. It is all a result of years and years of repetitive movement, minimal, un-serious off season training and not paying attention to his weaknesses. This is actually making me emotional just talking about it because I love this guy (he is one of my best friends) and I feel for him but he knows he needs to get his mind together. It is not too late for him but it has literally taken a full season out of his career (and hopefully not more). I know of players that have had to end their career because of similar issues!

Don’t let that happen to you no matter what your profession is! Make your weakness your strength and continue to amplify the strengths that you have. Yeah, I know it’s hard but do you want to be mediocore or do you want to be great, do you want a short carreer where you ask yourself if you could have done more or do you want to look back at all the great things you have achieved giving it your all and not letting things happen by chance? If you are not willing to bust your ass then you shouldn’t be reading this anyway!

What is your weakness? How are you going to make it a strength?

Teddy Roosevelt once said: “You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.” You can’t fulfill your full potential if you are not working on your weaknesses!

P.S.  Sometimes it takes someone to help you identify your weakness and also help you fix it. Be open to constructive criticism, it wil only help you out.

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