Fitness editor Jen Sinkler asks the experts about multivitamins boosting workout results, if agility ladders live up to their name, if lifting weights can make you sleepy, and tips for lower-back pain.
Q1: Multivitamins and Sports Performance
Q: Can a multivitamin improve my fitness results and sports performance?
A: In a roundabout way, yes. Improve your overall health and your performance will follow suit. “Taking a daily multivitamin isn’t going to increase your sports performance right away, but it will help over the long term,” says Mike Roussell, PhD, author of The Six Pillars of Nutrition: A Simple Diet Solution for Permanent Weight Loss, Better Health, and a Longer Life (Dream Big Publishing, 2011). “Multivitamins can help fill any essential nutrient gaps in your diet and correct deficiencies that could compound over time and work against your fitness results,” he explains. If you’re an athlete, Roussell suggests considering an additional mineral supplement that provides extra zinc and magnesium. These minerals are readily depleted during intense activity, and magnesium depletion in healthy people has been shown to decrease cardiovascular function during exercise. But don’t megadose on any supplement unless you’re following the advice of your health professional. And, keep in mind that the natural form is always better than synthetic, so whenever possible, eat real food instead of relying on a laboratory-based chemical process.
Q2: Agility Ladder Drills
Q: Do agility ladder drills really make you more agile?
A: Not exactly. “There’s a difference between having fast feet and being agile,” says Eric Cressey, MA, CSCS, co-owner of Cressey Performance, an athletic training facility in Hudson, Mass. Being agile implies that you put a substantial amount of force into the ground in order to change which direction your body is moving. But you can have fast feet and not put much force into the ground at all: Just imagine hot-footing it over burning coals! While agility ladders do improve foot speed, they don’t improve agility as defined in that way.
“I’m not a huge agility ladder guy, because I don’t like the idea of an athlete staring at his or her feet while training,” Cressey adds. “Even more than that, I don’t think these movements net a big enough training effect. I’d rather include more exaggerated changes of direction to improve an athlete’s ability to decelerate and push off in another direction.” To accomplish that, include cone drills such as T-drills (see video demonstration at ELmag.com/tconevideo).
Your best bet for becoming more agile is to improve your lower-body strength with resistance training. Include plyometric (jumping) drills to teach your body to recruit muscle fibers fast, and do some change-of-direction work. But you don’t have to ditch your ladder completely: Agility ladder drills can serve as a great dynamic warm-up that gets you moving in ways other than forward and backward.
Q3: Link Between Sleep and Heavy Weight Lifting
Q: I sleep a lot — about 10 hours a night. I also lift heavy three to five times a week. Could the two be related?
A: Definitely. Sleep is an important component of exercise recovery, and one we overlook too often, notes Sara Wiley, MS, CSCS, MAT, associate director of strength and conditioning for the University of Minnesota. She should know: She’s charged with the impossible task of making sure a slew of college-age athletes get enough z’s. “Sleep, hydration and nutrition are the first places we look when performance tanks,” she says. “You’re stressing your body during training, and it needs to regenerate. Recovery time differs for everyone.” It’s also important to note that the body doesn’t differentiate between types of stress — it could be your workouts, or it could be work or a relationship, or all of the above. Take inventory of what else is going on, and see if you can lighten your load. Wiley also suggests that you make sure to include active recovery days and relaxation exercises, noting that constantly blasting through heavy sessions may not be a workable long-term strategy.
If you feel good and you can spare the time for dreamland, however, carry on. “If you need 48 to 72 hours to recover and you’re working out that often, you need all the sleep you can get,” says Ian Mellis, director of the Results Fast gym in Hertfordshire, England. So feel free to sleep in without apology.
Fitness Fix: Bolstering a Weak Lower Back
Use loaded-carry exercises to build QL strength and break the “chain of pain.”
The quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles are critical players in core stabilization. They attach the pelvis to the lumbar vertebrae and perform a number of functions ranging from back extension to side bends. They come in especially handy for picking up heavy objects off the ground and carrying them. Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyle has resulted in weak QLs in just about everyone, says Perry Nickelston, DC, founder of Stop Chasing Pain, a sports rehabilitation center in Ramsey, N.J. A weak QL often leads to chronic tightness and spasms in the surrounding musculature of the hips and lower back. Ultimately, this means decreased spinal stabilization and an increased chance of arthritis and disc degeneration.
“The QL is a weak link in what I call the ‘chain of pain’: an interconnected chain of movement dysfunction and asymmetries present in most people that manifest as pain in other areas,” says Nickelston. “The ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule applies.”
A health professional can properly assess your QL strength, he adds, but in the meantime, you can probably assume you have weakness in one or both QL muscles. Doing exercises that specifically improve QL strength, such as offset carries (a.k.a. farmer’s walks), side planks, kettlebell windmills and weighted side bends, certainly won’t hurt matters. The following tissue-manipulating and strength-building combo is Nickelston’s favorite. It loosens surrounding musculature so you can better build QL strength. Do it twice a week, and expect to feel a difference after the very first session.
- Foam roll the tensor fasciae latae (TFL, pictured at right) and deep muscles of the buttocks on the left side for 60 seconds.
- Pick up a kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand, and walk around the room for 20 steps. Turn around and walk back to the starting point. The weight should be heavy enough to be challenging, but not so heavy that you tilt to the side while walking — stay bolt upright! Remain tall through the spine, with chest out, shoulders down and back. Remember to breathe.
- Next, foam roll the TFL and deep buttocks on the right side for 60 seconds.
- Holding the same weight in your left hand, do a farmer’s walk for another
- 20 steps. Turn around and walk back.
- Chances are, one side will feel more difficult. Perform a two-to-one ratio of farmer’s walks on the weaker side compared with the stronger until both sides are symmetrical in strength.
- Once both sides are of equal strength and stamina, you can foam roll both buttocks, then perform a two-handed farmer’s walk holding weights in both hands at the same time. Complete two sets.