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THE QUESTION: 

My motivation is crap. Any tips for reigniting it? —Paul F., Portland, OR

THE ANSWER:

Do something physical that you also find fun. Remember, the best program in the world is useless if the athlete doesn’t do it, so pick something you think you might enjoy doing. Join a social sports league like kickball, soccer, flag football, or basketball.

Sometimes having fun while being active is the perfect way to get back into it, and if there is no specific goal in mind, this is a great way to work toward a fitter you. Also, remember that motivation is higher when there are other folks expecting you to be there. Get a training partner, and keep each other accountable. Reinforce each other with positive encouragement.

— Sean Collins, C.S.C.S., the head powerlifting coach and co-owner at Murder of Crows Barbell Club in Brooklyn, NY.

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Per Bernal

Taking a big strength-and-power lift and adding a conditioning element to it is a CrossFit hallmark. Exhibit A: the sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP), an exercise so deeply woven into the CrossFit fabric that it remains one of the nine “foundational movements” taught at the Level 1 certification course.

The move is pretty self-explanatory: a sumo deadlift extended into a high pull to maximize range of motion and overall bang for your training buck, particularly for the crucial backside muscles. “One of the benefits of the sumo deadlift
high pull is that it improves power in the posterior chain, namely the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back,” says Brian Strump, owner of CrossFit Steele Creek in Charlotte, NC (crossfitsteelecreek.com). “The lift will also impact the upper traps and midback musculature.”

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The “sumo” stance (feet wide, toes pointed outward) is useful for those with lower-back issues. It puts you in a more upright torso position compared with standard deadlifts. As for the conditioning element, your heart and lungs will be tested. Try the WOD at right at the end of your next workout, using the SDHP pointers below it.

How to Do It: Sumo Deadlift High Pull
  • Step 1: Position your feet outside of shoulder width, toes pointed out. Grab the bar with a narrow grip, inside your shins.
  • Step 4: Keep your butt low, back flat, and knees pointed outward coming out of the hole. Engage your core. Pull the bar explosively straight up your body.
  • Step 3: Reach full hip and knee extension, then execute the “high pull” until the bar is just below your chin.
  • Step 4: Let the bar fall back to the floor, keeping your core tight throughout to protect the lower back.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull WOD

Perform five rounds of the following for time:

  • 10 sumo deadlift high pulls
  • 20 pushups

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Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA Draft marks one of the biggest moments in a basketball player's life. The moment an athlete's name is called by the NBA commissioner is the culmination of all the hard work, training, and dedication he's put in over the years to achieve something most athletes will only dream of. 

But before the draft, they need to make it through the Combine, which is the league's way of testing players' strength, speed, agility, and power to determine their overall level of athleticism. Tests include timed sprints, bench pressing, vertical jump, and agility drills—not the sort of physical test you'd want to show up unprepared for.

It goes without saying that it takes tons of hard work and training to make it to the NBA, but few people know exactly what it takes better than former Denver Nuggets strength coach Steve Hess. Hess, who now serves as the chief performance officer at Panorama Sports Institute, worked more than 15 NBA Draft Combines during his 20-year career with the Nuggets. He helped train new players and show them the fitness level they'd need to maintain to last in the league. 

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Along the way, Hess has developed some core principles to keep players on track and get them fitter. One thing he stresses in that players should always “prepare with intent” and “smash” every workout. What does that mean, exactly? Here’s how Hess explains it. 

“Training with intent puts you in the moment to focus on that very rep,” Hess told Muscle & Fitness. “Be conscious of everything you do, and make sure you train, fuel, hydrate, and recover with purpose. Focus on everything you do and do it with 100% effort. If you’re smashing your workouts, that means you’re making sure you absolutely benefit from every second of the workout. If that occurs, we smashed the workout. Over time, huge improvements will ultimately happen.”

Hess spoke with Muscle & Fitness about how he develops a workout program, what the NBA Combine test is like, and the nutritional tactics that keep him and his players fueled through every workout.   

M&F: You have decades of experience working with NBA players and helping athletes prepare for the NBA Draft. What are some of the ways you train your athletes to prepare for the NBA Combine test?

Hess: Every test is broken down and trained for by itself, so players learn the skills precisely. Once an athlete has mastered every test, I'll test them in the exact order in which they will be tested at the Combine. While they train for the tests, I will create a strength, power and endurance training program they can transfer with appropriate mechanics to basketball. My programs are individually designed and created to maximize the athlete’s performance by fully understanding their particular physiology and their particular goal.

How do you assess athletes to find what areas you need to focus on for a training program?

At Panorama Wellness and Sport Institute, we have created a performance profile for our athletes giving us their exact fingerprints. We have a multi-factor testing system which includes muscular skeletal analysis, glycolytic muscular content, lean mass, muscle age, V02 max and nutritional analysis. Can’t beat it.

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What’s some advice you'd give recreational athletes for being successful in their training?

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Have your food pre-measured and ready to go. Have a basic workout plan that can be modified on the fly. Get things done in the morning. Always stay hydrated and remember, you have to sleep to recover. Be smart and understand what you are trying to achieve. Go slowly, eat appropriately, and understand the difference between sore and injured and embrace that it is going to be challenging.

You’ve worked quite a few NBA Combines in your career—how have they changed over the years? How has your preparation and training with your athletes changed over that time? 

The structure of the NBA Combine has stayed similar from year to year, but the measuring techniques have become more advanced. I feel organizations have become better educated as to what it all means. My training has become much more precise and my only concern when preparing an athlete is his/her success in all they do. My attention to detail is precise and I give all my athletes my undivided attention when I am with them.

What’s your philosophy when you develop a workout program? 

It is dependent on the time of year—pre-, post- or in-season, athlete requirements, athlete goals and ultimately designing it according to the structural and physiological limits of the athlete. We’re looking to slowly overload the body appropriately to enhance physiological benefits. Helping all my athletes feel great from the inside out while maximizing performance is not always easy.

What are the ways you recommend for athletes to fuel their training before and after their workouts?

I always endorse a well-balanced meal two hours before a workout—usually 5-6oz of protein with approximately 2 cups of carbs and some fruit. I love rice and chicken and anything which doesn’t create gastrointestinal stress before a workout. That’s a meal I usually consume an hour after I have eaten a MET-Rx Big 100 meal replacement bar. I recommend getting in plenty of water during the workout and try to throw in some branch chain amino acids. Finally, recover with a protein shake post-workout. I recommend the MET-Rx RTD 51 shake—it includes 3 different types of proteins that all digest at a different speed. I would then follow with a balanced meal adding in more fats from salmon or avocado.

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What are the most important areas to strengthen for a basketball player for the Combine and the NBA Draft?

Your mind is the strongest thing you have. You must work on mental strength. Your stability and strength start in the feet, then your legs, core, and upper body all have to work together to create the ultimate machine. When everything works together and very few muscles are shut down, you have the opportunity to hit your full potential. In my opinion, the best athletes don’t necessarily move from A to B more effectively than us. They compensate better, helping them by improving their function in motion.

How do you prepare yourself and your athletes and fuel them for working out?

MET-Rx is great because it has products for every moment in the day to help your fitness regimen. Before or after your workout and even for a snack as you’re on the go. Their products are packed with protein and gives you the fuel to smash a workout and take it to the next level. Love their scientific formulas which absolutely enhance recovery and improve my ability to rebuild quality muscle.

What are your go-to products for yourself and your athletes in your training?

My go-to MET-Rx product is the BIG 100 Meal Replacement bar. It’s packed with up to 32g of protein and is a great tasting way to fuel up on demand, whether that’s before or after a workout, or when you’re hungry during the day and need quality nutrition, instead of that burger or slice of pizza. The Super Cookie Crunch flavor is my favorite, but they all taste great. Other products that I recommend to my athletes are the MET-Rx RTD51 shakes, 51g of slow digesting protein for extended muscle support, and the Ultramyosyn Whey Protein Isolate powders for lean mass, strength and exercise recovery.

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Per Bernal

The push press is an often-overlooked exercise that, if done correctly, can help build a ridiculously strong and balanced upper body. Compared with a standard military press, the leg drive used in this move also allows you to use more weight and get a greater muscular response. Unfortunately, most people don’t do it right. Here are five reasons you might be struggling with the exercise—and how to perfect your form.

Problem 1: Your Knees Shoot Forward

If your knees shoot forward when you dip, your hips may not drop straight down to transfer maximal force. Push your knees outward, as with a squat, to power back up.

Problem 2: Bar Placement is Wrong

The bar should rest on your shoulders and clavicle. This lines the weight up with your hips so that when you press, you can transfer your force upward in one straight line.

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Problem 3: You're Not Breathing Properly

Breathing sounds simple, but a lot of people mess this up, which is a shame since proper breathing can add several reps to your set. Before you start the dip, take a big breath into your belly. Exhale at the top of the push press, then inhale again when the barbell descends to your shoulders. Repeat for every rep.

Problem 4: Your Grip Is Off

The proper grip can vary by a few inches from person to person, but the ideal range is between the start of your deltoids and six inches outside them. Any wider and your leverage will be weakened. Any closer and your elbows won’t be in the right position to drive the weight overhead.

Problem 5: You're Not Catching the Weight

One thing new push pressers don’t think about is how to absorb the weight on the descent. When you become pretty strong at the move­ ment, and the weight begins to add up, you put your rotator cuff in danger when you slowly lower the weight down as you would with a military press. Instead, let the bar fall at a reasonable speed and bend your knees a bit so you dip about three inches. This will ensure that you catch the falling weight and absorb the load more efficiently.

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Ian Spanier

The Westside Barbell Club—an invitation-only gym in Columbus, OH—is known as the strongest gym on the planet. Its athletes have set more than 140 world powerlifting records. Behind its success is the Westside Barbell Method, the brainchild of founder Louie Simmons. It’s been said that if you don’t train at WSB, then you can’t say you train with the WSB Method. The atmosphere, the unique equipment, and the ability to train alongside Simmons and the world’s elite are big reasons behind the program’s success. Still, the tactics of the WSB Method are used regularly by lifters worldwide with admirable results. Here, we outline what you need to know so you can train this way, too.

WHAT IT IS

The Westside Barbell Method follows a four-day split: two upper-body days and two lower-body days. The defining difference is what Simmons calls the “conjugate method,” meaning joined together in pairs. Instead of separating speed and strength into distinct training blocks, like most strength programs, Westside focuses on strength (maximal strength) and speed (dynamic effort) at the same time. Another major difference: Simmons has his lifters train with variations of the big three (squat, bench, and deadlift) for the max-effort days—think box squats, board presses, and deficit deadlifts. As for accessory work, you choose your own based on your weaknesses. Have trouble locking out your bench press? Double up on triceps. Get stuck in the hole on squats?

Try box squats and band squats. Basically, pick three to four moves that will help your main three lifts, and do a few sets for many reps. It isn’t rocket science.

HOW IT WORKS

Lifting heavy weight for low reps and then moving lighter weight (at Westside, the term light is relative) for speed reps teaches the body to strain against a bone-crushing load while also applying rapid, violent force with the same movement. Also, using variations of the big three will prevent you from burning out (these variations are usually less strenuous on the body) and help you blow past plateaus since they also focus on different portions of the lift.

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Westside Barbell Method

Follow this program for eight weeks and watch your maxes soar.

Dynamic-Effort Bench: Do 9 sets of 3 reps with about 50% of your 1RM, focusing on technique and moving the bar quickly. Then perform relevant accessory work.

Maximal-Effort Squat/Deadlift: Work up to a 1- to 2-rep max of a wide-stance box squat with varying bars (Duffalo, spider, safety squat).

Maximal-Effort Bench: Work up to a 1- to 2-rep max with a different bar or method (Duffalo bar, floor press, or close grip). Then perform relevant accessory work.

Dynamic-Effort Squat/Deadlift: Do 10 sets of 2 reps with roughly 50% of your 1RM, focusing on technique and speed. Then perform relevant accessory work.

DO IT

Four days doesn’t sound like a lot, but these will not be an easy four days. Also, you won’t have the world’s strongest lifters holding you accountable, so you need to be able to push yourself. Hard. As for what days to lift, the Westside lifters follow this split:

  • Sunday: Dynamic-effort bench
  • Monday: Maximal-effort squat/deadlift
  • Wednesday: Maximal-effort bench
  • Friday: Dynamic-effort squat/deadlift

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Getty

Plantar fasciitis, which can feel like a scorpion is digging into the bottom of your feet, can turn your daily gym session or even a simple stroll to the supermarket into a hellish experience. If this sounds like your day-to-day, know you’re not alone. One in 10 Americans will deal with plantar fasciitis (PF) in their lifetime, according to a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. Read on to learn more about PF, then gain a foothold on the problem by tackling the recommended stretches.

THE PROBLEM

Your fascia tissue—which connects your heel to your toes—is inflamed, and the pain is debilitating. Even the most basic tasks make you wince.

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THE CAUSE

The most common causes of plantar fasciitis are being overweight, lacking toe strength and mobility, and participating in high-impact activities like jumping and sprinting. However, a lesser-known cause is not doing enough dorsiflexion (aka pointing your toes toward the sky). Doing this counteracts the constant downward position our toes are usually in, which can leave the fascia tissue tighter than Scrooge’s wallet.

THE FIX

One good step is to treat yourself to a foot massage. This increases the blood flow, making the tissue more malleable—because if the tissue is too tight, even stretching won’t do you too much good. If that’s out of your budget, loosen up the fascia by rolling the bottom of your foot on a lacrosse ball or golf ball. Then move on to the stretches below, which involve dorsiflexion and extension. Finally, make it a point to extend and flex your individual toes throughout the day. As simple as it sounds, it’ll counteract foot pain.

Mobility Recovery

You can (and should) do these stretches whenever you feel foot pain.

  • Lacrosse Ball Foot Roll: 1 min. each foot
  • Toe Flex and Extend: 1 min. each foot
  • Banded Ankle Distraction: 1 min. each foot

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