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Work Out to Win

Whether you jog or run, play a racquet sport or football, lift weights or ski, or participate in any other fitness activity, you owe it to yourself to work out.

      I understand how tempting it is to just play your sport or to rush through the time you spend preparing to play. But when you don't work out properly, you risk muscle soreness, decreased performance, and injury. Every athlete needs to work out to win.

      Do you know the best way to work out for your sport? If you are engaged in any fitness activity, you probably need a workout master plan. That's what this chapter offers you. The plan can be summarized in five simple steps:

  • One: Warm up properly.

  • Two: Take time to stretch.

  • Three: Include conditioning or strengthening exercises.

  • Four: Warm down gradually.

  • Five: Stretch again.

      You may be surprised to learn how many injuries can be prevented by following these steps. Some aspects of this information may seem familiar, but as you read it carefully and begin to incorporate it into your sports and fitness activities, you'll discover the difference it makes. This information is the basis for minimizing strains, sprains, tears, and other hidden hazards.

      A physically fit athlete is more likely to be a successful athlete. The goal of the workout plan is to help you become a stronger, more fit athlete so that you can reach your peak performance.

      If you follow this plan during the week, you will be at your best when it comes time to play your chosen sport. In fact, you should use the plan's basic concepts before you play (warm up and stretch) as well as after you play (warm down and stretch). These are the steps that winning athletes take. They can also help you to become a winner.


Warmup means warming up muscle fibers by increasing your body temperature. This leads to a wide variety of beneficial physiological changes:

  • The warmer muscle fibers get, the softer and more fluid they become. They are then able to stretch more easily and to contract more rapidly. The faster a muscle contracts, the stronger it is.

  • The higher the temperature of muscle cells, the faster they are able to metabolize the oxygen and fuel they need.

  • As muscles warm, the response to nerve impulses quickens, causing faster contraction and, therefore, a quicker response.

  • Warming joints lubricates them, allowing them to move more freely with less energy expended. This protects the joints from excessive wear.

  • Warmup gradually increases the heart rate and prevents abnormal heart rhythms. Sudden strenuous exercise can cause the heart to demand more oxygen than the circulatory system can provide, resulting in a strain on the heart. Studies show that warming up may help prevent the heart attacks that result from abnormal heart rhythms.

How to Warm Up

How do you go about achieving these benefits? Before playing a sport or exercising intensively, do light calisthenics, take a brisk walk, jog lightly, ride a stationary bicycle, or do any other easy exercise gradually until you get the heart pumping and thus increase blood flow to your muscles. The goal is to raise the body's temperature by about 2º F, which leads to warm, loose muscles and joints.

      How do you know when your body temperature has gone up? Luckily, most recreational athletes don't need to carry a thermometer. The body has its own natural thermometer: When you break into a sweat, your body temperature has been elevated by about 2º F.


Recreational athletes tend to stretch first and then begin exercising. However, cold muscles do not stretch well and can pull if overstretched. The jogger who gets out of bed in the morning, puts on her running suit, and lies on the cold ground is not stretching muscles. She is tearing them.

      The best time to stretch is after the body has been warmed up. Stretching after warmup is more likely to lengthen muscles and improve the range of motion of muscles and joints.

      This also applies to aerobic exercisers. If you are a dancer, long-distance runner, or swimmer, you need to warm up slowly, stop, and stretch before getting into your strenuous aerobic activity.

Preventing Injuries

Stretching is invaluable in preventing pulled or torn muscles. In the early 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the first professional football team to have its players emulate gymnasts by stretching regularly. The thought was that gymnasts, who are superflexible, did not pull muscles often. If football players could stretch their heavy muscles, maybe they too would be less likely to pull them.

      The theory proved to be correct. Lengthening muscles led to fewer muscle pulls among football players. Within two years, every team was following the Steelers' example.

      Professional basketball players were slower to learn the benefits of flexibility. But now, before any game begins, both teams shoot around and then show the fans an unusual sight: two dozen tremendously tall men lying down and stretching out on the court.

How to Stretch Properly

Bouncing, or ballistic stretching, can do more damage than not stretching at all. With each bounce, muscle fibers fire and shorten the muscle--the opposite of what you are trying to do. Bouncing actually reduces flexibility.

      A static stretch, holding the muscle still for 10 to 20 seconds, is much better. The muscle responds by lengthening slowly.

      Each stretch should be gradual and gentle. Try to stretch in a quiet area so that you can concentrate on stretching and not be tempted to rush into action. Imagine the muscle gently stretching, the blood pulsing into the muscle, and your body becoming more flexible.

Warmup and Warmdown Stretches

The following figures show the proper way to stretch various body parts. Do these stretches for 5 to 10 minutes before and after each workout.


Once you have warmed up and stretched, you can begin your regular fitness activity. It may be your daily run, a tennis game, a roller blading session, or your weekly touch football game. Whatever it is, you will be prepared because you have warmed up and stretched. But you will be even better prepared to play if you have added conditioning or strengthening exercises to your mix of physical activities.

      Remember, before you do either conditioning or strength training, you must warm up and stretch.

Gradual Conditioning: The Walk-Jog Routine

If you have not been exercising regularly or are recovering from an injury, I recommend a gradual, progressive walk-jog routine after you have warmed up and stretched. Start by walking 100 paces and then jogging 100 paces, alternating this routine for 10 minutes each day. After several days of this routine, walk 10 fewer paces and jog 10 more paces. Continue to add 10 jogging paces and cut 10 walking paces every other day until you are jogging for a total of 10 minutes.

      Then gradually increase your jogging speed until your heart rate is within the training range (see p. 35). Once you have achieved that, add 1 minute of jogging to your training time every other day until you have reached the 20-minute mark. Now you are training your heart to become stronger, which is called cardiovascular conditioning. You can stay at that level or increase the length of your workout gradually as you see fit.

Advanced Conditioning: Interval Training

Once you have built up a cardiovascular base by training your heart, you can start to build speed. You do this through interval training. This consists of going hard for a short burst in the middle of a lengthy aerobic activity. For example, you might sprint during a jogging session, or if you are riding an exercise bike, pump the pedals fast for a minute or so as if you were going uphill, as some of the more sophisticated machines are programmed to do.

      The following program shows you how to do interval training while running. If you are doing another type of aerobic activity, substitute short bursts (30 to 60 seconds) of intensive activity in the middle of your aerobic routine.

      For joggers, I suggest you start by sprinting 50 yards after every mile you jog. Gradually increase the sprint distance to 100 yards per mile. Then increase the number of sprints--go 100 yards after every half mile. Once you feel comfortable at that level, sprint 200 yards for every half mile.

      Now you are ready to take the final step. Jog one mile and then run a 200-yard sprint. Jog for 200 yards, or about 30 seconds, and then sprint another 200 yards. Continue jogging and sprinting 200 yards eight times to complete a mile. Then continue jogging to finish your workout.

      This is the type of interval training the Giants players do. We have them sprint back and forth across the width of the field, resting 30 seconds between sprints. They do four sprints, each one faster than the previous one, to build up their speed.

      Elite athletes often spend a full aerobic workout doing only speed work. The recreational athlete can simply put interval training in the middle of an aerobic workout and gradually increase the distance and speed. I suggest that you alternate doing long, slow aerobic workouts with intervaltraining aerobic workouts to build both cardiovascular conditioning and speed.

Strength Training

When Mike Gminski joined the Nets in 1979 as a skinny rookie center, he quickly learned that professional basketball is an extremely physical sport, particularly under the basket. At 6'11" and 210 pounds, Gminski found that stronger, though not necessarily taller, players were ripping rebounds out of his hands. After two frustrating years, he asked me to have Jack Spratt, the director of The Fitness and Back Institute, design an off-season strength-training program for him. Over the summer, Gminski put on 25 pounds of muscle, mostly in his upper body, and strengthened his arms and hands. He extended his career to more than a dozen years by continuing to work out with weights.

      Most sports require overall strength training, but it should be adjusted to meet the specific requirements of a given sport. In football, linebackers and defensive backs, who make most of the tackles, need to improve upperbody as well as lower-body strength. Running backs and wide receivers should concentrate on lower-body strength to develop their legs. Similarly, runners, dancers, and soccer players need lower-body strength; baseball players, golfers, swimmers, and gymnasts need to work more on upper-body strength; and basketball players and wrestlers need both upper- and lower-body strength.

      Tennis players require lower-body strength to develop their legs but need to pay particular attention to upper-body strength. Strengthening the shoulder helps prevent rotator cuff injuries. And if tennis players would strengthen their forearm and wrist muscles, they wouldn't get tennis elbow.

A Strength-Training Program

The following strength-training program gives you exercises for the chest, shoulders, back, legs, calves, thighs, abdominals, biceps, and triceps. Try to work different muscles on different days, and intersperse light and heavy repetitions. For example, follow a light "Day 1" program Monday and a light "Day 2" program Tuesday. Rest on Wednesday. Then on Thursday and Friday alternate heavy programs. Remember to warm up and stretch before even light repetitions, and to warm down and stretch at the end of each workout.

      Start off using enough weight so that you can comfortably do 12 repetitions of an exercise on a light day. For example, if you can bench-press 80 pounds 20 times, then you need to move up to a slightly heavier weight, say 90 pounds. Once you have found the right weight to accomplish 12 repetitions of each exercise, move on to a heavy workout and use 20 percent more weight. To compensate for the greater weight, do fewer repetitions (see below).

Strength-Training Program

       Number of Repetitions        
Exercise Number of Sets Light Day Heavy Day

Day 1
Bench press 3-4 12 6-8
Incline press 3 12 6-8
Flat fly 3 12 8-10
Behind-the-neck press (Military) 3-4 12 6-8
Upright row 3 12 6-8
Lateral raise 3 12 8-10
Shoulder roll with barbell 2 12 8-10
Triceps extension 3-4 12 8-10
Kickback 3 12 8-10
Feet-elevated dip 3 12 8-10
Decline sit-up 2-3 20 15
Standing crunch 2-3 20 15
Leg lift 2-3 20 15
Standing raise 3 15-20 15-20
Day 2
Leg press 4 12 6-8
Squat 3 12 8-10
Leg extension 3 15 10
Leg curl 3 15 10
Thigh-burner 3 12-15 10-15
Wide-grip rear chin-up 3 12 8-10
Bent-over rowing 3 12 8-10
Arm curl (sitting) 3 12 8-10
Barbell curl 3 12 8-10
Abdominals, calves
Same as Day 1

      Once you can very easily do 12 repetitions of an exercise on a light day, increase the amount of weight by 5 percent for both light and heavy workouts. You must be able to do 12 repetitions at the greater weight for a light workout, or else you should drop back down to the previous weight. If you follow this program regularly, each month you should be able to add about 5 percent more weight.

      You will notice from the Strength-Training Program chart that exercises for both the abdominals and calves are included in each workout day. These muscles are difficult to build up and need to be exercised each day you work out. On a light day, you can do fewer abdominal exercises, but you need to work your calves virtually to exhaustion to strengthen them.

Strength-Training Exercises

Strength Training for Children

Traditionally, sports experts thought that strength training by children didn't accomplish anything. Both boys and girls supposedly lacked the boost of testosterone in their blood needed to add muscle bulk. Until a child had gone through puberty and developed secondary sexual characteristics, there was no point in strength training. Strength training was also thought to put undue stress on the growth plate in a young child's bones and stunt the child's growth. By speeding up maturation, strength training theoretically would prevent the bones from growing to their full, natural length.

      Now we know that preteens, even though they lack the testosterone necessary to increase muscle bulk, can increase their strength without injuring themselves. A major study by the Sports Medicine section of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons proved that strength training does not injure the growth plate or stunt a child's growth. The American Academy of Pediatrics now accepts that children as young as 11 can begin a well-supervised weight-training program.

      Unfortunately, all too frequently I see 6- and 7-year-olds being pushed into weight training by their overeager parents. Young children typically lack sufficient concentration and regimentation to do themselves much good. They often do themselves harm because they don't have the coordination to handle weights and are not mature enough to understand what they are doing or why. Any child interested in strength training needs to be closely supervised.

      Starting at age 11, a child can begin lifting light weights with many repetitions in order to learn the proper techniques. More weight can be added as the child gets stronger and grows. With an adequately supervised program, there is room for great improvement in a child's strength without the threat of injury.

Strength Trainining for Women

Strength is just as important for women as for men. Girls and young women may be afraid of "bulking" up, but as long as their hormone levels and menstrual cycles are normal, their muscles will become stronger, not massively bigger, with training.

      The big difference between a man's and a woman's strength is in the upper body. In fact, a woman's lower-body strength is, pound-for-pound, about the same as a man's. Women runners know that the longer the distance to be covered, the more closely they can compete with men because they don't have to propel as much weight. Currently, the top women marathoners finish about 20 minutes behind the men. As more women compete in ultramarathons of more than 100 miles, I predict that they will eventually have better times than men.

      Women swimmers epitomize what strength training can do for performance. When the winning men's times in the 1956 Olympics are compared with the winning women's times recently, none of the men would have won a medal against the women. In the intervening years, improved tracks allow runners to go faster and fiberglass poles allow vaulters to go higher. But water is water, and pools haven't changed to allow swimmers to swim faster.

      The main reason for the difference in the swimming times is better strength training. Girls and young women swimmers are among the leaders in strength training. Anyone who has seen a women's swim meet knows that these sleek athletes don't have bulky muscles from training with weights.


I use the term "warm down" instead of "cool down" to indicate that this step is the reverse of the warmup. The body naturally cools down by itself at the end of activity. Warmdown is a 5- to 10-minute period of continued, mild activity after strenuous exercise.

      A gradual warmdown allows your heart to slow down and adjust its blood flow without any pooling of blood in the muscles. Say you're a jogger who has just finished a run of several miles, and you stop suddenly. While you were running, the blood vessels to your muscles dilated to increase the blood supply of oxygen and fuel to the muscles. At the same time, your heart rate rose rapidly as the heart pumped more blood to the muscles. So the blood vessels to your legs are now wide open, and your heart is pumping blood down to your legs.

      The body depends on a massaging action of contracting and relaxing muscles on the veins to return blood from the legs back up to the heart. When you suddenly stop, your heart rate remains high for a short while, and blood keeps pumping down to your legs. Without the massaging action of your leg muscles, there will be very little return flow to the heart, and large amounts of blood will pool in your legs. This may not leave enough blood to supply your brain or hard-working heart, and this can lead to fainting or even a heart attack, particularly if you are an older athlete.

      But if you keep moving after running, or after any heavy exercise, the massaging action will pump blood back to the heart until your heart rate has returned to normal and your body's blood vessels have returned to normal size. Simply walking for 5 to 10 minutes is usually enough.

      Warmdown also enhances the removal of lactic acid from the muscle, which reduces muscle soreness. Lactic acid builds up in muscles as a by-product of anaerobic metabolism after the body's primary energy source (glycogen) has been exhausted. Keeping the blood flowing through muscles during warm down washes lactic acid out of the muscles.

"Pumping Up"

During a strength-training workout, circulation to straining muscles increases markedly, causing the muscles to swell. This is the "pump" that weight lifters delight in, a sign that the muscles are working hard.

      Strength training is basically an anaerobic exercise. If a large amount of blood pools in muscles, as it does during the "pump," then the lactic acid remains in the muscles.

      The gradually decreasing exercise of the warm-down period massages out the pooled blood as the muscles contract. The blood moves back to the heart and takes the lactic acid with it. So if you are doing an upper-body workout, use light dumbbells to keep your muscles moving as you warmdown. If you are doing a lower-body workout, simply walk around to keep the blood flowing in the muscles. If you are working the whole body, use dumbbells as you walk around.


Stretching your muscles after the warmdown helps restore full range of motion and flexibility and reduces the likelihood of tearing a muscle during your next workout. A runner who warms up, stretches, goes for a four-mile run, warms down, and begins to stretch again may find that her toe-touch is 3 inches shorter than it was before her run. One good stretch for 15 to 20 seconds, and she can extend as far down as she did before.

      Restretching the muscles after exercise can also prevent soreness and stiffness. Exercised muscles tend to shorten. If left that way, they will be stiff and sore the following day. Still-warm muscles can be restretched easily during warmdown to alleviate any annoying stiffness.

      So after you have warmed down, go through the same stretching program you used after warming up. You will find that those 10 to 20 minutes of stretching after warmup and warmdown will go a long way toward preventing injuries, muscle soreness, and stiffness. This may be the most important time you spend during your entire workout.

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