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Mia Hamm's Fitness Tips

Chris' Workout Set

The 25-year-old superstar, who started playing at age 5, trains as
much as twice a day, six days a week, often with the University of
North Carolina's women's soccer team (she's a volunteer assistant
coach there). She lifts weights four days a week for an hour, usually in
the morning. That's followed by an hour on the soccer field practicing
intricate ball movements (she keeps a bag of 10 soccer balls at the
ready in her car) and running sprints and doing 180 sit-ups a day (six
sets of 30). Later that afternoon, she returns to the field for an hour of
work on "technical stuff": dribbling, trapping, shooting. Once a week
she does a distance run of 3 1/2 miles.

Q: I always lift weights immediately after
running. Are back-to-back workouts too much? 

Mia: In my experience, doing cardio work before weight training is
absolutely the way to go. Your body is warm, and that causes
increased blood flow as well as flexibility. All this will help you stay
away from the nasty strains, pulled muscles and overall tightness of a
poor workout. You told me you do your weightlifting exercises in
quick succession, and that's fine. The faster you work out, the more
your heart rate stays high, which helps you burn calories and gives
your heart and lungs some extra work. You don't have to do your
exercises in rapid succession, but if you have the stamina to do so, it
most definitely can increase the overall effectiveness of your fitness

Remember, though, that you shouldn't make speed a priority if you're
using bad form or overexerting yourself. Always work out responsibly
-- even if quickly -- and with proper form. 

Q: I'm a distance runner, so I have a poor
vertical jump. How can I improve it? 

Mia: Looking for some airtime, are you? I work on my vertical leap
for heading the ball in games, and of course for the occasional pickup
basketball game. 

Surprisingly, when Olympic athletes are tested for vertical jump, the
throwers are the best. All that pounding the runners do takes the
spring out of the muscle. Also, distance runners have slow-twitch
muscle fibers; jumpers have fast twitch. So part of it is genetic and
you won't change it much. 

But you can compensate by building strength. Adding strength
training to your running will make you a better runner and less
susceptible to injury. People think vertical jump has to do with the
calf muscle, but the quadriceps and hamstrings are the main muscles.
To build those, try these exercises, for Nautilus or other
resistance-type machines. Do one set of each twice a week, with a
weight you can handle comfortably. 

Leg curls (lying on stomach), 12 repetitions.

Leg extensions (seated), 12 reps.

Leg press, 12-15 reps. 

Walking lunges also help. As you walk, keep your back straight,
hands at your sides. With each step, lower yourself toward the floor
so your alternating knee moves toward the floor but does not touch.

Q: How much exercise is too much? 

Mia: You told me you exercise seven days a week for an hour and 15
minutes a day, and in my opinion, that's too much. All the literature
I've read indicates it's better physically and mentally to take days off.
I probably work out five or six days a week, but I'm an elite athlete.
Three days a week is great for most people. 

Muscles need time to recover and allow for improvement; working
out every day doesn't give them time to adjust. Also, working out too
much increases your risk of injury. And mentally, people (including
me!) tend to burn out if they work out every day. Fitness should be a
way of life, something you will do forever. For this to be a reality,
there should be balance in your life, and exercise you enjoy. I would
not be able to be in shape for the rest of my life if someone told me I'd
have to work out every day to do that. 

Q:Is it better to walk 20 minutes twice a day or
40 minutes daily? 

Mia: I think it's better to work out a couple of times a day rather than
cram in one workout. Consistency is the most important but most
neglected part of fitness. The more exercise sessions you undertake
(within limits, of course), the more your body has the chance to get

A common barrier to fitness is lack of time. Breaking down your walk
into shorter sessions can break that barrier. If you walk for only 20
minutes, though, be sure to walk briskly to raise your heart rate. Over
time, you will naturally increase intensity or time. 

Cramming longer, less frequent workouts into your life can lead to
soreness, tight muscles and poor circulation. So get out there and have
fun and you'll find you won't want to exercise just once a day. 

Q: How can I firm my lower abs without hurting
my lower back? 

Mia: When you have lower back problems, it's important to work the
abs with your back firmly against the floor for support. If it helps,
place your hands under your buttocks to ensure you don't arch your
back. In the flat position, extend your legs and lift one at a time, 20
reps per leg, three repetitions per session. As you get stronger, you
can lift both legs, to about a 45-degree angle, with hands under lower
back for support. To get more advanced, lift both legs about 6-10
inches off the floor, then spread them out, hold for 5 seconds, and
bring back together, while keeping them straight. 

For beginners, lie flat, raise legs, keeping both of them slightly bent,
and bring them toward the floor in a smooth motion.

Remember to support your back, do all ab exercises lying flat and
make sure to keep your lower back pressed to the floor.

Q: How should I prepare for a game, mentally
and physically? 

Mia: Envision yourself doing all the skills in the game perfectly. And
stretch throughout - but not cold. Pro football players don't just come
out on the field, lie down and stretch hamstrings. A warm-up's
function is to raise the body temperature, especially in the muscles, to
help avoid injury. 

So you'll see athletes of all types start with an easy jog, jumping jacks
or the basic skills of their sport (shooting baskets, shadowboxing).
When you're warm enough to want to remove your warm-ups, a good
stretching routine will help develop discipline and the mind-body
relationship you need to focus on the competition at hand. 

This soccer warm-up, similar to what we do on the U.S. National
Team, takes 20-25 minutes: Grab a teammate and pass the ball.
Always knock and move; don't be stationary. Limit your touches to
two to three. Next, move on to bending balls, then wall passes, then
flighted balls. Try to do each skill perfectly, but it's OK if you don't.
End with quick accelerations and shooting. And always think

Q: How can I improve my reflexes for sports? 

Mia: These drills will help you improve your reaction time: 

Have someone stand directly in front of you with a small ball,
preferably soft or spongy. Stretch your arms out toward your partner.
He drops the ball without warning, and you must try to catch it
between your hands, but without cradling it. Do this 10-15 times. 

Have your partner stand 12-15 feet away with a supply of soccer or
kick balls. You face the opposite direction. She'll yell "Turn!" a
second before kicking the ball to you. You must turn around and
quickly find the ball for a reaction save. It's important, of course, for
the shooter to have a little talent and be accurate. Good luck. 

Q: How can I jump-start my weight loss? 

Mia: Hitting a plateau in fitness training can be extremely frustrating.
Between your 2.5-mile walks and careful eating, it sounds as if you're
doing the right things. What seems to be missing from your regimen,
though, is any sort of weight training. I'm not saying you should bulk
up to be able to rip phone books in half, but working out with weights
would help boost your metabolism and improve muscle tone. Once
you've added muscle mass, your body will burn more calories even
while hitting those college books. It can be something as simple as
adding wrapped weights above the knee while doing leg lifts, using
hand-held weights, or investing in a health club to learn circuit
training on the machines, with professional guidance. But adding
weights to your exercise routine can help ease the load you carry,
making you stronger and fueling a more active lifestyle. You'll find it's
a "vivacious cycle." 

Q: How can I stay in shape in winter, while
cooped up indoors? 

Mia: I'm definitely not a fan of cold weather, which is one reason I
call North Carolina - and not South Dakota - home. Even so, I work
out a lot indoors in winter, doing sit-ups and push-ups (I try to do
them every day), aerobics and lifting weights (with dumbbells). My
skill work with the ball is usually done in the unfinished part of my
in-laws' basement. To help your fitness level, try activities that get
your heart rate up. And be sure to extend your workout longer than
20 minutes; it's roughly at the 20-minute mark that your body
switches from using glycogen for fuel and draws upon your fat

If you can get to an indoor pool without complicating your life,
swimming and water aerobics are great activities that serve you

Q: Do long-distance running and soccer mix? 

Mia: Distance running isn't bad for soccer, but other exercises make
more sense: leg presses and squats for running and kicking strength,
lunges to help maximize your speed. Soccer is played in bursts (one
minute you're sprinting down the field, next you're jogging back to get
in good defensive position, then you're on a full sprint again), while
distance running is more constant. 

I might run distance once a week while training, about 3.5 miles. I try
to keep a good constant speed for 25-30 minutes. But I use distance
running primarily to help me psychologically. My psychological
dimension is something I always keep working on. 

My advice to you: Concentrate on sprint work with a short recovery
time. Use distance running as a treat for lighter training days. And
enjoy it! 

Q: Crunches - how few can I do? I do 250 a day,
in intervals of 15-20. How long till I see results? 

Mia: You're in a quandary over quantity vs. quality. There should be
no question but to put quality first. You could do 5,000 crunches and
not use one stomach muscle - and not see any results, except maybe
the strain on your back or neck from improper form. Concentrate on
the quality and intensity, not the repetition. Think about squeezing the
abs you should be using. A crunch doesn't have to be a big movement
to produce big results. Make sure your stomach muscles do the work,
not your back or legs. With the right form, you should see results
doing only three to four sets of your 15-20 reps a day. 

Balance exercise with proper nutrition and portion control - it takes
both to chart fitness. Be accountable, without necessarily counting
calories. Soon your efforts will be rewarded. 
Q: What's the best exercise food? Do you eat any
special foods to get the energy to compete? 

Mia: Healthful eating is vital to my performance: Fruits and veggies,
meat and poultry, pasta and breads, fats, and plenty of water are the
backbone of my diet. I get extra nutrition from vitamin supplements
and nutrition bars. On game day, I might eat five times -- nothing
crazy, small meals spaced out (cereal and fruit, a turkey or peanut
butter and jelly sandwich, pasta, more fruit, veggies, all pregame). 

I do have a sweet tooth, but I crave things like sourballs and Jolly
Ranchers. Be careful not to cut all the fat from your diet; your body
needs some fat to work properly. 

Q: I need a better tummy toner. I've toned my
legs and upper body, but sit-ups do nothing for
my lower abs. 

Mia: Don't be too hard on yourself. Keep up your sit-ups. They do
make a difference. But the abdomen is made up of several muscle
groups (the rectus abdominus as well as internal and external
obliques), so you must work from all angles. Try alternating your
form, especially because traditional sit-ups can cause excessive strain
on the cervical spine for some women. 

Two crunches for lower abs: 

Reverse crunch. Lie on back, hands behind head, elbows out, legs
up, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Concentrate on using abs to pull
knees to chest; return to starting position. Begin with 20 repetitions. 

Crunch extension. From same starting position, extend hands past
head and hold on to something stable. Now extend legs so they're
about 6 inches off floor, then pull them back to your chest. Do 20

Q: What is the best way to cool down after a

Mia: The cool-down is as important as the workout itself, because it
helps the body recover and rebuild for the next workout. I cool down
with a 5-minute slow jog/walk. Then I shake my legs out (lie on back,
legs straight up) for a minute or so to help relieve some of the lactic
acid that has built up in my muscles. I then stretch to help maintain
flexibility and help my body relax. I end every cool-down by
replacing the fluids I've lost. This can be water or a sports drink -- but
two out of two fitness experts writing this column agree water is your
best bet. 

Q:Will I get the same training effect running 8-minute miles in
the summer as I would running 6:30 miles in the winter? 

Mia: I'm not a doctor or a physical therapist. But I do know that the
humidity in the air can affect your running times and hydration levels
-- as well as how your body disperses heat and energy. 

In the winter, humidity is not a problem, so your times might be lower
or you might feel it is easier to run. 

Regardless, the most important thing is to stay hydrated by
replenishing your body with water or a sports drink. 

My favorite time to run is in the rain, because it always cools me
down. But if you're exercising consistently, year-round, rain or shine,
you're going to see results. 

Don't worry about times as much as being consistent and always
trying to improve your stamina and fitness levels. And remember to
have fun! 

Q: Every time I run the mile, my time
is the same. How can I lower it? 

Mia: Try to break down the mile into smaller increments and first
improve your times in those increments. Say you are on a track that
has four laps to a mile. Take one lap at a time. Don't look at it as a
four-lap run; look at it lap by lap. 

This is exactly how I work on increasing my own speed. If I can
improve my times in shorter distances, I almost always run a faster
mile. Also try 200-meter and 400-meter runs to improve both speed
and endurance. If you run regularly, and train consistently -- say,
three to four times a week -- your times will improve. 

My ideas work for me, but the key thing is you are out there
exercising and enjoying the activity and improving your stamina all
the time. That is what's most important. 

Q:What exercises can I do to improve my balance? 

Mia: A soccer player can't succeed without balance. It's crucial,
because all of the major skills of the game -- passing, trapping and
shooting -- are done on one foot. Whether I'm streaking down the
sidelines or weaving through the field, I make sure to center my
weight; I don't lean too far forward or backward. 

I also focus on agility training -- running at high speed and changing
directions as quickly as I can. Here's a good drill to improve both
balance and agility: 

Place several cones 10 yards apart. (If you don't have cones, use
shoes.) Sprint, weaving through your obstacle course, up and back as
fast as you can. You can place the cones in different configurations --
experiment with what is comfortable for you -- but try to sprint, stop
and change directions while you run the course. 

The bottom line is if you stay active, keeping your mind and body
healthy, your coordination will improve -- and so, naturally, will your

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