Author Archives: Ryan

Your Next Snow Day Workout: Fun + Fitness

Snowmaggedon 2015

“Do you want to build a snowmaaa…er, womaaaan?”

“A snowstorm of historic proportions…” says any NJ weather forecaster on 1/26/15. As we experience the first major northeastern US snowstorm of 2015 (so named “Juno” – not just a great movie), I’m reminded that not being able to drive to the gym or to your favorite training center is no excuse for not getting in a great purposeful workout. While practicing proper technique and staying true to proven training principles, you can be very creative with how you get stronger. Thus, I present to you the “Snowmageddon Snow Day Workout.” *Disclaimer:  Always wear proper attire when outside in cold weather/snow and remember to hydrate before, during, and after strenuous activity outside!

  • Dynamic Warm Up (10 minutes)

With any proper workout or training session, a solid dynamic warm up is crucial.  With my warm-ups, I follow this sequence: activation (“waking up” the stabilizing mechanisms of the body) –> mobilization (controlled simple movements to improve ROM) –> dynamic movement preperation (purposeful controlled multi-joint movements that stabilize, mobilize, and strengthen) –> build up (fast, plyometric movements).  Check out this blog for more on the science behind my warm-up approach.  Before throwing on your winter gear and heading outside, try out this sequence.  Perform in socks (unless a medical condition warrants shoes for support):

  1.  Push-up plank with alternating leg lift, slowly x 10 each side. Don’t spill that “hot cocoa” you visualize sitting on your back!
  2. Side plank (on knees = level 1, straight leg = level 2) with upper body rotation.  Starting in the side plank position, reach underneath you with your upper arm (rotating forward towards the floor) then return to starting position with your upper hand reaching to the sky.  2 sets of 5 on each side
  3. Marching bridges. Lying on your back with your arms “under arrest”, heels on the floor, and knees bent to 90 degrees, press into the floor through your heels and lift your butt until there is a straight line from shoulder through to your knee. Once here, alternate lifting your knee towards your chest without your butt dropping. 10 marches each side.
  4. Floor waxing. In push-up position and with your hands on your winter gloves/mittens, alternate sliding your hand on your glove on the floor directly out to the side about 12″ and back to starting position. Minimize any movement other than your arm.  Perform 10 each side, alternating.  For less friction (and cleaner floors), place a towel between your hand and the floor.
  5. Standing knee hugs. Standing as tall as you can, pull your right knee towards your chest followed by pulling your right shin across your body (without letting go of your knee), then return your foot to the floor. Change sides. Repeat 10x each side.
  6. Touchdowns. Starting with your hands in front of you as if holding a box, extend your arms upward over your head (thumbs pointing backwards).  Signify 10 touchdowns, Ed Hochuli-style. 
  7. Back scratchers. Alternate reaching your hands behind your back (right reaching over top, left reaching underneath) as far as you can, 10x each side.
  8. Squats with reaches.  Drop into a squat, and at the bottom of your squat reach up and out (thumb leading the way) to the right, rotating back as far as you can without your legs moving.  Your eyes should follow your hand. Return to center and stand up. Repeat x 5 reaches each side (10 squats total).
  9. Toy soldiers (in place) into superhero: With your arms extended in front of you, alternate lifting a straight leg forward as far as you can while keeping your sock flat on the floor, followed by swinging that same leg behind you until you are doing your best superman/woman impression on one leg. 10 each side.
  10. Jog in place for 30 seconds, building tempo as you go.
  11. Put on your snow gear!
  • Shoveling

First and foremost, you have to create your training area. Grab your shovel and, using proper shoveling technique (squat and lift, NOT bend and lift), clear a 10 yard x 2 yard runway. Try to toss all of the snow you are moving onto 1 pile. Every 3 scoops switch sides (you too can be an ambidextrous shoveler!). When finished, leave the shovel off to the side

  • Giant set #1 (repeat 3x:) A “giant set” refers to 3 exercises grouped together.  In otherwords, you’ll do #1 through #3 then return to #1)
    • Snowman Squats holding shovel overhead x 10. Keep those boots parallel and flat on the ground.
    • Polar bear crawl. Crawl slow and controlled on your hands and feet (knees not touching ground, directly below your hips to start) while not spilling the imaginary hot cocoa sitting on your low back (you spill it and there’s nothing warm to drink when you’re done). Crawl forward 10 yards and backwards 10 yards
    • Snow angels x 15. Using slow movements, aim for symmetry, good posture, and try to stand up without messing up your beautiful creation. Yes, you have to pick a different snow spot each set.
  • Giant set #2 (x3)
    • Snowy split squats. Right leg forward, front boot remains flat on the ground as you drop your left knee underneath you until almost touching the ground. 10 each side. To increase resistance, hold a bag of ice melt or a child.
    • Sideways polar bear crawl.  Just like above in giant set #1, but you crawl sidways to the right for 10 yards, the back to the left for 10 yards. Second time through go left first.  3rd time through start to the easier side.
    • Snow gathering. Kneel on the ground, bend forward at your waist and spread your arms as wide as you can. Pull your arms inward through the snow, collecting as much as you can in your arms along the way. Lift your pile up to a tall kneeling position (on your knees with tall posture) and “make it rain” Lebron James-style. Repeat x 10
  • Giant set #3 (x3)
    Elf throwing snowballs

    Courtesy of

    • Snowball rolling. Using your best squat and lift-from-the-ground position, start at your shoveled pile and begin making a giant snowball by squatting down and rolling the ball it forward as it picks up more snow. 10 squats + 10 forward snowball rolls (leave the ball, as the next two time you will return to it and pick up where you left off – soon you’ll have your base for your snowperson!)
    • Snowball throwing. Make Elf proud and launch 15 snowballs forward.  Take aim for something within 10 feet to start, and with each throw aim at something farther away.  Bonus points for accuracy.
    • Snowball chasing. Run through the snow for 30 seconds, carefully avoiding any sled-riders.
  • Cooldown
    • Return to the warmth of your home and have a glass of water.
    • Make a cup of hot cocoa.
    • Drink your hot cocoa, then proceed to enjoy the rest of your snow day!

Wishing you all the best in safety, health, and fitness on this wintry day!


P.S.  To all of my blog followers, I do sincerely apologize for how long it has been since my last post. Since September I have been working hard to build a new brand, “O-PA! Performance Academy”, and while doing so I aimed to share my time between my family and business-building. Don’t fret! As time allows, I’m still going to maintain SMftM as best as I can.  Thanks!

Any questions?  Feel free to email me.
Ryan Stevens, MPS, LAT/ATC, CSCS

Learning to be OK with Earning Number Two

xray brainWhether you are an athlete, a parent, a coach, or a workplace professional, your mindset and preparation can make a world of difference in your productivity, performance, and level of success.  To help address this area, O-PA! Performance Academy has teamed up with Dr. Pete Economou of The Counseling and Wellness Center to provide Sports Psychology education on-site in Bernardsville, NJ.  I am also excited to present Dr. Pete in his first guest blog for SMFTM!  Below, Dr. Pete provides some insight into the relevance and principles of “MAC” for helping athletes improve their performance.

Take it away, Dr. Pete!

“You might be reading this because the title caught your attention. How many people remember who came in second place? Who is really OK with earning second place?  Many athletes have wondered how they can improve and enhance their performance. Our society is one that emphasizes the importance of immediacy, as well as a society that stresses the importance of winning. Some elite athletes have taken this to irrationally high levels and have even thought to hurt a fellow competitor (Think: Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding- figure skating-1994 Olympics). While some athletes might look for the easy way to the top, there are still many athletes that are committed to the hard work that is essential in winning. As parents or coaches of athletes, we may be seeking the right way for our blossoming athlete. I will show you the perfect blend, as I see it, to achieve success in sports.

Think about the good old fashioned approach of working hard for an outcome. This would include countless mornings rising before the sun, closely monitoring one’s diet (which probably includes being sure to eat enough calories- like a table full of breakfast foods at the diner following at 4 hour practice), hours of sacrifice (e.g., social, academic, family), and a life that is dissimilar to the everyday student. As a former athlete, collegiate coach and now psychologist, I have experienced losing. Growing up there was no such thing as always winning and receiving a trophy. You had to earn that title and reward. I was not the best on every team, and that was OK. I can see the negative effect not being the best had on self-esteem, but it also provided me with the opportunity to learn other ways to build self-esteem. I worked hard, learned how to perform to the best of my ability, and was rewarded for the effort (sometimes). Discussion was often encouraged in my house, and my parents would often lead conversations about feelings related to a performance; not just those that were losses but also reinforcing strategies that worked while winning. Mindfulness within the sports performance world can assist athletes in finding that balance between winning and losing, working hard to the point of tears, and being OK with not always winning.

Mindfulness is a term you may have heard in the media and is defined as being present in this moment, doing so on purpose, and not judging your experiences (See: John Kabat-Zinn). While this is not an easy feat in Western world, it has proven to be effective in the East for centuries. Much of the social research shows that people in the East have lived free of many of the concerns and issues that we typically experience here in the West (e.g., the China study- no translation for hypertension and other medical health issues that are common here in the West). In fact, some argue that Mindfulness is nothing more than Buddhism wrapped up in a bow for Western people to embrace (Note: technically Buddhism is a way of life and not a religion). The foundation of Mindfulness comes from Zen Buddhism which teaches practitioners to observe the mind and this is often achieved through hours of silent sitting (zazen). I recently read the autobiography of Yogananda, and then watched the documentary, and I was reminded of how closed the minds in the Western world can be. Yogananda brought yoga from India to the U.S. and he was met with much resistance. Many people practice yoga in the U.S. today without any realization that yoga was initially created as a way to warm the mind up for meditation.  Currently it seems that yoga is more of a fad and a means to tone up the body rather than an exercise for the body AND mind. While I just bounced between Zen Buddhism and yoga, there is a strong connection between these two practices- one that beautifully compliments the practice of Mindfulness.

What does this idea of Mindfulness, yoga and Buddhism have to do with winning? Recent research by Frank Gardner and other sports psychologists have employed principles of Mindfulness in athletic performance and called it Mindfulness Acceptance and Commitment (MAC). Athletes are trained in the practice of Mindfulness, are evaluated on their openness to experiences and assess their values, and then are taught to commit to actions. Let me explain what that means.

The practice of Mindfulness with athletes looks something like this: embracing any present moment no matter how difficult it might be (i.e., being comfortable being uncomfortable), homework such as driving in the car with no radio or phone, sitting in silence daily for 10 minutes (with the hope we can work up to 30 minutes), defusing words and thoughts from reality (i.e., “I am stupid” vs. “ I am noticing a thought saying that I am stupid”), and ultimately cultivating the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e., the calming aspect of our central nervous system- the opposite of that “fight-or-flight” response).

Then, the leaders assist athletes in practicing psychological flexibility. Not the kind of flexibility that occurs in the gym or yoga room, rather this is the flexibility that requires us to re-learn something that we have known and practiced for a long period of time. Psychological flexibility is the ability to persist in a new behavior that is more aligned with who we want to be (See: Stephen Hayes and ACT). While the practice of psychological flexibility is one of the most challenging aspects of my clinical work, here are some ways to do so:

  1.  Accept the present moment as it is
  2. Separate yourself from your thoughts
  3. Be present
  4. Evaluate your values and see what you want to change
  5. Commit to this change.

To that end, we also work with the athletes to assess their values related to performance (e.g., their role for their team or goals that have been set) and also we evaluate the life values in general (e.g., the balance of working out and socializing, community work, spirituality, family, etc).

Lastly, this work of MAC requires a level of commitment from all parties that are involved. It is more to just say that someone wants to win- it is committing to the hard work required to get there that we focus on. A marathon runner does not just receive some trophies along the way to the first 26.2 mile run. That runner slowly and steadily builds to the marathon run through hours and hours of training.

While our society is typically focusing on the principles of winning, there is a lot to be learned from losing. Learning to accept that moment and learn how to improve yourself within performance is crucial for athletes. It is true that winning can improve self-esteem, but I postulate that one could learn more self-esteem improvement strategies through losing.  The message must be heard. To that end, listening is not just hearing. It is imperative that athletes, their coaches, and parents talk about the processes of both winning and losing. It is OK for boys to cry when they lose, and girls can boast when they win. We do not have to adhere to social pressure to uphold gender stereotypes. Lastly, cultivating a daily mindfulness routine can enhance quality of life and subsequently athletic performance. This can be accomplished by sitting and noticing, counting your breaths, visualization, or endless number of mindfulness strategies which can be detailed in future blog posts.”


Pete Economou OPADr. Pete Economou has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology with a concentration in neuropsychology, and is based out of The Counseling & Wellness Center. For more info on Dr. Pete Economou, check out his bio here.  Dr. Pete can be contacted at and is on twitter: @thecwcnj and @OfficialDrPete.