Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health’

rsLogoAnthony Darmiento
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
United States Olympic Committee

As the National Strength and Conditioning Association states in their position statement on youth resistance training, “Strength training youth athletes needs to be safe, effective and enjoyable. In order for strength training to be safe it’s more than the method of strength training, but rather how it is being implemented.”

For example, important factors such as proper form when lifting and moving are overlooked when a coach simply follows a plan on a written document or tries to implement a training program they once performed.  For this reason, Responsible Coaches seek help and guidance from qualified strength coaches to assist in the development of athletes of any level to ensure that strength training is performed in a proper and appropriate manner.  The risks of strength training are similar between youth and adults and strength training is only effective when it is done in a safe environment with proper supervision.

In order for strength training to be effective Responsible Coaches realize that strength training must complement sport training. For example, eliminating practice time to introduce or implement an effective strength program and developing basic movement skills are safe investments. The off-season and preseason are ideal times to implement a strength program. Responsible Coaches recognize athletes need to have the appropriate motor control to perform basic exercises such as a squat, lunge and pushup before progressing to loaded exercises. Although these movements and others may seem rudimentary and common most young athletes lack the ability to execute them with proper form.  Another reason for stressing the importance of such training is that these skills and movements transfer to many different sports and across all levels of sport.

In order for strength training to be enjoyable two very important factors must be considered: Athlete’s must understand and see benefits from the strength program while also training in a fun and enjoyable environment. Any athlete is more likely to continue training when they understand the benefits and see results. This highlights the importance of a sound and effective program. This is especially important considering it may take a few weeks of progressing before performance increases are seen or athletes begin to feel the positive effects of training. Until then it is important to keep training fun and enjoyable by mixing in games or challenges that keep athletes focused. For example, performing walking lunges on a row of printer paper without stepping off could be enjoyable and challenging for younger athletes.

On the other hand older athletes might enjoy keeping a log of their vertical jump height as each athlete attempts to beat their own personal records over time. Setting goals that are both attainable and challenging for the team or each individual is very important when trying to keep athletes motivated and driven. Thus coaches should be prepared with progressions and regressions for different exercises or activities based on ranging abilities of their athletes. If all this is kept in mind it shouldn’t be hard to keep things in enjoyable and fun while still performing strength training in a safe and controlled manner.


Fagenbaum, A. D., Kraemer, W. J., Blimkie, C. J., Jeffreys, I., Micheli, L. J., Nitka, M., et al. (2009). Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 60-79.


youth-sportsby Rick Howard, MEd, CSCS,*D

Providing a safe and effective youth strength and conditioning program is only the foundation of their long-term athletic development.

The Path to Performance

All athletes have one thing in common – they either are, or were, youth. The youth strength and conditioning programs in which these athletes participate have long-term performance implications. So, whether you are a RSCC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, sport scientist, or other allied strength and conditioning professional, here are three important youth strength and conditioning concepts:

  1. Develop physical literacy for youth by promoting a long-term approach to quality daily physical education and daily intermittent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
  2. Promote positive mental and psychosocial development as well as physical development with a properly designed strength and conditioning program.
  3. The Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (2009) for guidelines on strength and conditioning programs that emphasize a long-term approach to developing strength and power.

A Model for ALL Youth

At the foundation of training youth is the philosophy that ALL children should be provided the opportunity to develop their physical, mental, and social skills. These physical, mental, and social skills must be considered simultaneously. Coaches must be aware of the nonlinear path of youth development and how this considerable variability of developmental stages has physical, mental, and social implications.

Training strategies for youth must be carefully planned based on the dynamic interrelationships of numerous variables such as number of sports being played throughout the year and during the same season, environment, ethnicity, self-efficacy, focus, etc. Strength coaches need to keep abreast of best practice and research-based program models for promoting the continuum of lifelong physical activity and sports participation for youth.

The Long-Term Athletic Development Model

The long-term athletic development (LTAD) model is a generic guide that can be used to plan the sport/activity specific plan. LTAD heightens coaches’ awareness that the focus should not be on early sport specialization but that a plan should be implemented to meet the individual needs of young athletes as they develop. LTAD is based predominantly on biological (physical) development and suggests training and competition strategies based on developmental and chronological age.

The LTAD-type program should contain developmentally-appropriate strength and conditioning as well as important elements of positive conditioning, active play, and unstructured play. Proper ratios of conditioning-to-practice and practice-to-competition are suggested and have been customized by national governing bodies to meet the needs of their sport (youth hockey and soccer, for example). Youth should participate in a wide variety of sports and activities that develop their physical, mental, and psychosocial skills– early sport specialization is discouraged.

Looking at the Individual Needs of Youth

Within a quality youth long term developmental program, differences in biological and developmental age of youth must be considered. Key measures of developmental maturation must be incorporated into the strength and conditioning program. This requires a cooperative team effort among coaches, parents, youth, physical educators, and strength and conditioning professionals to safely and efficaciously train youth along the developmental continuum.

Children will be at various points along the developmental continuum, even children of the same biological age, and those that excel at an early age need to be diversified to minimize overuse and burnout and those are considered “late bloomers” must be encouraged to continually improve. This will maximize the number of youth that are proficient in movement skills and can make their own choice to be active in sports and physical activity.

The environment in which training occurs needs to be proactive: fundamental motor skill development must be taught, coached, and assessed; positive feedback must continually and honestly be provided to youth so that skill acquisition and the positive benefits of strength and conditioning are always reinforced, and never should children be given exercise as punishment.

Strength coaches must focus on developing coaching cues for excellent lifting technique (and never sacrifice technique for increased resistance). Youth athletes must not be trained past the point of physiological benefit (e.g., making athletes vomit is not an appropriate measure of intensity).  The optimal balance of challenge and success leads to youth embracing the benefits of strength and conditioning programs (and sports programs too).

Resistance Training and LTAD

Resistance training for youth is safe and efficacious so long as important NSCA guidelines are followed. For example, participants must be able to listen to and follow directions, there must be quality supervision at all times, and exercise progressions must be developmentally appropriate. The focus of the prepubescent resistance training program is on the development of healthy habits of safe resistance training and the focus on technical performance (technique) over amount of resistance lifted.

Exercise technique is developed through body weight exercise, dowels, and light (2-3kg) medicine balls. Some youngsters that are very overweight or obese will need to use light weights before body weight, as their body weight is a significant challenge. Developmental progressions for a variety of strength and power exercises should be taught. Beginning resistance training is not sport-specific, but designed to develop health-fitness and skills-fitness attributes, which matches the philosophy of the long term development model.

What Can You Do?

NSCA-certified strength and conditioning professionals are uniquely qualified to provide properly supervised, developmentally appropriate strength and conditioning programs for youth of all ages and abilities. By following the guidelines listed in the NSCA Position Statement on youth resistance training and adapting an LTAD-type model to the specific youngster or team, you will provide a healthy, positive strength and conditioning experience that will benefit youth dually as exercise enthusiasts and athletes.

Multidisciplinary, longitudinal research is needed on LTAD, physical literacy, windows of opportunity, assessments, and dose response of strength and conditioning programs at various developmental stages. Furthermore, strength and conditioning programs should be evaluated based on whether they enhance performance for only the short-term or whether they promote long-term elite athletic development. Remember, the work you do to promote quality strength and conditioning programs for youth will have long-term performance implications.

About the Author

Rick Howard is a founding member of the NSCA Youth SIG, Immediate-Past Chair of the NSCA Youth SIG, and the Mid-Atlantic Region Coordinator for the NSCA State Provincial Director Program. Howard also serves on the NSCA Membership Committee.

Founding Partner and
Chief Executive Officer, Eating Recovery Center
Posted: 07/03/2012 10:40 am

With the 2012 London Olympic Games right around the corner, sports and athletic competition are increasingly on the minds of many men, women and children around the globe. However, in the shadow of sport’s epic moments of glory lies a troublesome reality — the incidence of eating disorders in athletes.

Experts generally agree that certain categories of athletics place these high-achieving individuals at a greater risk for developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). In fact, research published by Craig Johnson, Ph.D., FAED, CEDS, chief clinical officer of Eating Recovery Center, found that at least one-third of female college athletes have some type of eating disorder. [1]

According to Ron Thompson, a licensed psychologist specializing in eating disorders treatment at the Bloomington Center for Counseling and Human Development, consultant to the NCAA and International Olympic Committee Medical Commission and author of multiple books, including Eating Disorders in Sport, several factors converge to make athletes a special population at risk for eating disorders:

  • The pervasive belief in the sport world, held by both coaches and athletes alike, that the leaner athlete performs better, which leads to dieting.
  • Aesthetic, judged and endurance sports, including gymnastics, dance/cheerleading, cross country, swimming and wrestling.
  • Sports requiring revealing uniforms, which can put participating athletes at risk for body dissatisfaction and competitive thinness.
  • “Good athletes” possess similar personality traits to those who suffer from anorexia, which may predispose them to potential development of an eating disorder.

“I believe that the greatest risk to athletes is the challenge to identify an eating disorder within the sport world; if an at-risk or symptomatic athlete isn’t identified, they cannot be treated,” explains Dr. Thompson. [2] “Issues complicating identification involve ‘sport body stereotypes’ in which thinness is accepted as both normal and desirable, as well as the presumption of health with good performance.

Interestingly, the very same perfectionistic, overachieving and people-pleasing temperament that fuels achievement in athletic competition — both elite and casual — closely mirrors the personality traits of those individuals who tend to develop eating disorders. For both male and female athletes, the combination of these traits, along with the body shape- and weight-focused demands of many competitive sports, creates the perfect storm that can trigger eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Warning signs of eating disorders among athletes can be difficult to identify, as they can be masked easily and often go unreported by the athletes themselves. However, common indicators specific to sport participation include a decrease in performance, an increase in exercise outside of routine training activities, stress fractures and other overuse injuries.

If you observe these warning signs in yourself or in your athletic friends and families, support from a qualified eating disorders treatment professional and resources for eating disorders help may be necessary. Treatment programming and environment isn’t distinctly different for athletes than non-athletes struggling with eating disorders. However, identifying strategies to protect recovery following discharge, especially as athletes consider re-engaging in athletic activity on a casual or competitive level, is incredibly important treatment component for an athlete.

—1. Johnson, C., Powers, P.S., Dick, R. Athletes and Eating Disorders: The National Collegiate Athletic Association Study. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999, International Journal of Eating Disorders 26, 179-188.


For more by Kenneth L. Weiner, M.D., FAED, CEDS, click here.

For more on eating disorders, click here.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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An anxious person

By Dr. Gary Kracoff and Steve Bernardi
Posted Mar 28, 2012 @ 12:22 PM

To be alive is to invite and to know stress and anxiety. These emotions can run the gamut as to how they affect our lives — from the mild forms that can be easily remedied to small lifestyle changes to more severe forms for which medical intervention is advised.

Again, we are all going to know stress, we are all going to know anxiety. You can no more avoid stress and anxiety in life than you can walking through the rain without getting wet.

In many circumstances, stress is natural and even welcomed. When we are in a competitive situation, or faced with an important task, or are called on to protect and defend someone for whom we care, or if there is a high-priority cause in which we are engaged, the physical and emotional manifestations of stress and anxiety — spiking of adrenaline, rise in heart rate, cold sweat, focusing of attention and building of discomfort — help and enable us to confront and overcome the challenge.

There are, of course, events that bring with them mountains of stress — such as losing a job, conflicts at work, illness, death of a loved one, money problems and marital and other relationship discord.

Drugs — such as asthma inhalers, cold medicine, diet pills, caffeine and thyroid medication — have the potential to increase nervousness.

Stress can result in unsettled sleep, a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol (which contributes to heart disease), weight problems, binge eating, sexual dysfunction, autoimmune diseases and digestive issues.

Depending on how we manage and work through stress, we can either get through it with short-lived and minor unease, or we can allow it to paralyze us or to cause us to act out angrily or unsafely, or to manufacture hurt in other ways.

This is why it is vital to take the initiative in controlling stress and anxiety.

Lifestyle and healthy activity and the right choices can have a dramatic healing impact on all types of stress, whether it is mild or severe. Yet in cases of severe anxiety, when one is beset with deep panic and fright, professional medical help should be immediately sought.

So what can we do, how can we live, to be best conditioned and prepared so that we are less susceptible to stress and anxiety disrupting our lives? Here are some ideas:

Eat healthy:It only makes sense. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil, nuts, canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. fish oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil). Polyunsaturated fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been medically proven to support and strengthen the nervous system and the brain. There is a reason that fish is called “brain food.” Stay away from processed sugar and processed flour. Drink plenty of water. Drink alcohol in moderation. We are what we eat.

Exercise: Absolutely one of the best life choices all around is for us to engage in regular physical exercise. When we are exercising, we aren’t stewing in our anxiety and letting it fester; we access a new perspective and adjust our focus and experience out-and-out fun. Plus, all sorts of good things happen to us physically when we exercise, all of which support anxiety reduction: stimulation of “feel good” brain chemicals, boosting of energy, burning of fat, promotion of better sleep and strengthening of the immune system. Even moderate exercise — walking for 20 minutes, biking for an hour, doing a low-intensity yoga or Zumba class or ballroom dancing — can tamp down stress.

Friendship and personal support network:True friends and a network of people who are there for us, who will listen to us, who will support us, can soothe even tremendous hurt and relieve even deep-set anxiety. Clinical study after clinical study has borne out and certified the health benefits of friendship and strong family. Among the studies that show that a supportive social network relieves stress and anxiety is one that the National Medical Association published in 2009. In the 1950s, a team of researchers went to the town of Roseto, Pa., (almost of all of whose residents were from or first-generation descendants of the village of Roseto in Italy) to determine why the people in the community were remarkably disease free and living long lives, despite eating a not particularly healthy diet and smoking and not exercising. Researchers concluded that a main factor allowing these people to live long lives and stay healthy was that Roseto was an unusually tight-knit community with several strong civic organizations. (Imagine if the residents of Roseto had also eaten better, not smoked, and exercised.)

Supplements:The proper regimen of supplementation enhances and helps optimize dietary nutrients necessary for physical and emotional health. Mentioned above is the value of omega-3s consumed through fish and certain plant oils. Further value and benefits can be gained by taking high quality fish oil supplements, and also high quality herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements. It can’t be emphasized enough that quality and purity of supplements vary immensely from one manufacturer and producer to another — and that ingesting low-quality and impure supplements provides little to no health support, and is also a waste of money. Some natural remedies can greatly aid in easing stress and anxiety; including Relexagen, a synthesis of herbs first used in Asia during the third century that more recently has been proven to alleviate anxiety and induce calm.

Stress and anxiety come with life. Yet there is much we can do about handling it; we remain masters in this respect.

Staying out in front of stress and anxiety, remaining educated and aware of the options available to us in combatting both, and taking the right action and making the right choices will pave the way for happiness and health.

Steve Bernardi is a compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff is a registered pharmacist and a naturopathic doctor at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center in Waltham ( Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can email or call 781-893-3870.

Digestion is a subject most people feel uncomfortable discussing, but we all deal with it.  And did you know that digestion can considerably affect a person’s mood?  Science is beginning to more widely recognize the strong connection between the gut and the brain, as it is in the gut that significant hormones such as serotonin are produced.

Digestion problems can change the production of hormones—the chemicals that tell the brain how to feel.  Therefore, imbalanced digestion could mean imbalanced chemicals—ultimately jeopardizing our emotional stability.

As anyone works towards stabilizing his or her digestion, it’s important to remember that our bodies are designed to be active.  Increasing your physical activity may play a role in helping your body maintain regular digestion.  It would also be beneficial to consider taking a digestive supplement.

If you’re frequently battling feelings of depression, sadness and guilt, you may be suffering from the effects of serotonin deficiency.  Serotonin, also known as the “feel good hormone,” stimulates the body to be motivated and active.  As the sun sets, serotonin is converted into melatonin—a hormone that triggers sleepiness.

Many people who suffer from serotonin deficiency have high levels of melatonin.  These higher levels contribute to the symptoms of depression.  So, it’s important to make sure that your body has proper levels of serotonin in order to feel the benefits of the “feel good hormone.”

If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of depression, consider focusing on your digestive health, or even taking a serotonin-boosting supplement that works for you.