You want to make the varsity football team, be able to dunk, be faster on the soccer field or throw faster in softball. In any of these circumstances you desire to become a better athlete. It makes sense that hitting the weight room will greatly help your chances of reaching those goals. However, you have to be very careful not to fall into many of the traps that cause athletes from high school to professional to fail. My goal is to provide even the beginning athlete with some basic knowledge of what a proper training program will entail. Excuse the lack of scientific references as this article is written so anyone can understand the information. Here we go though, basic guidelines to becoming a better athlete.
What Are Your Strengths And Weaknesses?
Before you even start any type of program you need to decide and identify what you are good at and what you need to improve upon. Without this knowledge it is difficult to construct a successful program. Write down three parts of your sport that you are strong in and three aspects you need to improve. Your entire program should represent these goals.
What Is Required of Your Sport?
It makes sense that each sport requires unique physical qualities. A guard in basketball is going to need an entirely different program than a baseball pitcher. However, even players in the same sport may have different needs. The best example comes from American Football. In this particular sport an offensive lineman is going to have much varied needs than a wide receiver. So, it is important to write down what are the key elements of your sport. Conditioning Expert, Tudor Bompa, has identified three main aspects of sport, strength, speed and endurance. While it is easy to argue most sports require even more bio-motor abilities this is a good start. Form a triangle and see which of these three qualities are most important to your sport. Are you more strength-endurance, speed-strength, etc.?
Don't Train Like A Bodybuilder!!
This is one of the Ten Commandments of conditioning coaches. However, to those not involved in the field this may be a perplexing statement. Many young athletes may want to gain mass and why not incorporate bodybuilding methods? There are several reasons for this:
1. The weight room is only one aspect of a conditioning program. Field/court drills, general physical preparation, agility and speed drills are all needed for a successful athlete. If one were only to focus on the weight room then they are going to be greatly disappointed with their results. Since there are other activities that are going to drain the body it is crucial to decide what exercises are most important in the sport. If you spend too much time in the weight room it will decrease your ability to perform quality work in the other mentioned aspects of training, not only are you not going to reach the goals you are setting yourself up for overtraining!
2. Speed and power are two of the most crucial motor qualities of most sports. To increase these two components you must have some of your weight room exercises employ explosive movements. Many bodybuilders or coaches may see these explosive movements (Olympic lift variations, plyometrics, etc.) are dangerous and should not be performed. However, it is important to remember that just like any other training method, these explosive training methods require proper coaching and education. If such training to the athlete is provided the risk of injury during these movements is no greater than using any other weight room methods. The reason though these exercises are so important to sport is the increase rate of force production. Meaning you are able to apply more force in a shorter amount of time. Being able to lift a lot is useless in sport unless you are able to provide that force to an object in a minimal amount of time.
3. Bodybuilding incorporates a lot of isolation movements and the same movement at varying angles. While this is appropriate for the sport of bodybuilding it is completely opposite of what is required of a high-level athlete. An athlete needs to view the training of movement over targeting specific muscle groups. Most sports require high strength and power from the hips, trunk and shoulder girdle. So, most programs should place their emphasis on the hip extensors (low back, hamstrings and glutes), the trunk (low back, abdominals) and pressing and pulling movements (overhead and vertical pushing as well as horizontal and vertical pulling). Since this will involve many muscles at one time you will not need to perform as many to gain the desired training effect.
4. "Train slow to be slow", is an old saying in the iron game. While this statement can be somewhat debated there is some truth. The saying really stems from the idea that most of bodybuilder movements are based upon moving a weight slowly and concentrate on things such as "squeezing" a muscle. Again, while this may be a good thing for one involved in bodybuilding it is not such a good thing for an athlete. If we look at muscle fibers we see primarily three different types; Type I, Type IIA, and Type IIB. Type Is are the slow-twitch muscle fibers that have high endurance capacity, but low force producing abilities. Type IIAs are the intermediate muscle fibers. They have the ability to produce a significant level of force and have some endurance to them. However, it is the Type IIBs that are by far the most powerful, yet the most easily fatigued. Why is this knowledge important? Well, explosive athletes have a superior ability to tap into their Type IIB fibers, while endurance athletes usually will recruit their Type Is more efficiently. Your training should work to improve efficiency of one of these main types. If we look at bodybuilders, they have a higher percentage of Type Is and Type IIAs than most power athletes. Olympic weightlifters have the highest level of Type IIBs, which makes sense, as their sport requires a high level of power development. What this information means to an athlete is that if they primarily use bodybuilding methods they will build those fibers that have the least potential to produce high levels of force. So, the old saying above can have some truth behind it.
Work On Flexibility!
If you can't move efficiently you are not going to be able to perform as you desire. Tight muscles not only reduce your power output, but also make you work harder to perform the same movement as someone with proper flexibility. I have seen it time and time again, when athletes improve flexibility in their hips they can automatically run faster, jump higher and lift more weight. Even though it is not the most enjoyable part of a training program, a significant portion of all workouts should be devoted both to static and dynamic flexibility.
This is a general guide for athletes. The above points are to make those currently embarking on their off-season programs know what they have to be aware of to be successful for the following season. If any athlete is serious about improving their performance feel free to email me for more detailed information. Best of luck to all of you on your upcoming seasons!!