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Ankle weights not the best for soccer training

Fitness Q&A

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

By Joe Luxbacher

Q: What is your opinion on wearing ankle weights to improve leg strength and speed? My 13-year-old son plays Classic Cup and Olympic Development soccer.

Joe Luxbacher

A: If the primary goal is to increase leg strength and running speed, then ankle weights are not the best choice, according to Alan DeGennaro, director of the sports performance program at UPMC Sports Performance Center. Using ankle weights risks altering the biomechanics of proper running form, which could predispose your son to hip tightness and possible injury. DeGennaro considers a combination of leg strengthening exercises and interval training a much better choice.

Based upon my years of experience as a player and coach, I've found that soccer speed encompasses much more than a player's ability to run fast. As important are a number of related components such as directional speed, quickness of movement, speed off the mark, speed with the ball, speed of skill execution, speed of decision-making and the ability to accelerate quickly from a variety of positions. Improving these requires a comprehensive program that includes weight, plyometric and flexibility training and improved running technique.

For an analysis of modern speed training methods I recommend the following books: "Training for Speed, Agility and Quickness" (Human Kinetics, 2000): Editors: Lee Brown, Vance A. Ferrigno, and Juan Santana; and "Sports Speed" [2nd edition] (Human Kinetics, 1998): Authors: George Dintiman, Bob Ward and Tom Tellez

Q: I'm 40 years old and want to improve my cardiovascular endurance. I've been jogging regularly, a couple of miles, four or five days per week. How hard do I have to work out to see results?

A: Your training runs must exceed a minimum level of intensity, commonly referred to as the aerobic threshold, to improve your present level of cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness. This threshold will vary from one individual to the next, depending largely on fitness level. In general, the more aerobically fit you are, the harder you must work out to stimulate improvements.

Exercise heart rate is regarded as a barometer for exercise intensity. In short, the harder you work, the higher your exercise heart rate. To improve cardiovascular fitness, determine a training heart rate range to allow for progressive increases in exercise intensity.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising at an intensity of between 60 and 90 percent of maximum heart rate, or HRmax. This is defined as the maximum number of times your heart can beat in one minute. An exercise heart rate falling somewhere between the lower and upper boundaries of the range is considered to be within your target heart rate zone.

Determining your aerobic training zone

The first step is to obtain a reliable estimate of your maximum heart rate. The most widely used formula simply subtracts your age from 220. Under this method, you would subtract 40 from 220 and have a predicted HRmax of 180 beats per minute. Sport scientists consider the "220-age" formula a low estimate of the maximum heart rate.

The alternative method, the "210 -- (0.5 X age) formula, is considered a high estimate. Using this formula your HRmax would be 190 beats per minute, calculated by 210-(0.5 X 40) = 210-20 = 190. To determine the lower and upper boundaries of your estimated target heart rate zone multiply HRmax by 0.60 and 0.90 respectively.

It is easy to monitor heart rate during exercise. Stop jogging for a moment and locate your pulse by resting the index and middle finger at the base of your wrist, or at the side of your neck near to your Adam's apple. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four to get total beats per minute. After a while you should be able to judge whether you are in your "target training zone" simply by listening to your body. Cues such as breathing patterns and feelings of perceived exertion can provide an indication of how hard you are working. Keep in mind that as your level of aerobic fitness improves you will have to work progressively harder to elevate your heart rate into the training zone.

Joe Luxbacher, University of Pittsburgh men's soccer coach, writes a monthly Q&A on fitness. You can e-mail questions to him at jlux@pitt.edu or mail them to Your Health, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA. 15222

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