As I stroll through the halls of my high school, I am constantly barraged by examples of horrible training. Baseball teams mindlessly jogging lap after lap, sprinters using parachutes, football players using bodybuilding programs, I've seen it all.
With so many "experts" out there, you would think that misguided sport training would be a thing of the past. But alas, people still use the smith machine, follow low fat diets, and do curls in the squat rack. I don't consider myself an expert, but rather an astute observer of what training strategies are being implemented, and why the majority of them are unsuccessful.
In the following article, I hope to point out the mistakes most training programs make, and what you can do to rectify them. My aim is not to completely alter your training style, or to mold you in a certain way, but rather to enhance an existing program, or perhaps set the building blocks for a program you will create in the near future.
If you can take one thing from this article, I will consider it successful. Let's begin.
A General Overview
Here Is The Road Map Of Principles I Will Be Covering In This Article:
- Train like an athlete, not like a bodybuilder.
- Train the Core.
- Train the Posterior Chain.
- Prevent Overtraining.
- Eat like an Athlete.
- Train smart.
- Don't do anything stupid.
- Periodize, Periodize, Periodize!
- Train your Energy Systems for your sport.
- Have a sense of supplement skepticism.
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This is probably one of the biggest causes of decreased performance on the field. Size is important in athletics, but definitely not as important as strength and explosiveness. If you can generate the same amount of (insert athletic quality) at a bodyweight of 180 lbs. as someone who weighs 200 lbs, wouldn't that be an advantage?
You may have the biggest biceps on the team, but does that translate to on-field success? Definitely not. If you have been training with high rep sets with a low percentage of your 1 rep max, it is probably a good time to drop the reps and increase the load. Use compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and good mornings.
Isolation should only be used in a prehabilitative sense, strengthening problem areas such as the shoulder, hips/hamstrings, and core. The rep should have a moderately slow eccentric phase (lowering of the bar) and a fast concentric (lifting of the bar) phase to maximize muscle tension.
This may be hard to accept for an athlete, as you can't see strength in a mirror like you can see muscle hypertrophy. Even though qualities like limit strength and speed strength are used to efficiently train the nervous system, they can have an effect on muscle hypertrophy, so it can appeal to your vanity side.
1 Rep Max Calculator
This is another often neglected aspect of athletic training. If you are using compound lifts, you are usually training your core, but it never hurts to make it stronger. A strong core can have a profound impact on all sports, even if rotational strength is not considered an important quality in your sport.
Most coaches tack ab training on at the end of the workout, and it only consists of crunches or sit-ups. Core training can be a lot more fun and a lot less monotonous than that. Exercises like overhead squats, Russian twists, bent presses, planks and pikes will give you a rock solid core.
Now that I recommended what you should try, let me tell you what to not try. Mindless repetitions of crunches are not only boring, but are also the least inventive exercise for the core. Try some new exercises to replace the ones you have been doing forever.
This is paramount in athletic training. If you neglect the muscles in the posterior chain (low back, glutes, hamstrings, calves) you will hinder any substantial increases in athletic prowess. The posterior chain is usually ignored by most because you can not see them in the mirror.
The king of all posterior chain exercises is the reverse hyper. Unfortunately, without the proper machine, it is tough to use heavy loading on this exercise. Luckily, there are other exercises which we can use to train the posterior chain correctly.
Remember: Just because you can't see it in the mirror doesn't mean its not there!
You have to love the enthusiasm young athletes have for training. They approach the weight room with such vigor that they often recklessly lift as much as possible, without thinking of the consequences. Lifting too many times a week, or taxing the nervous system so it cannot appropriately recover can seriously hinder progress.
In general, it is probably best to limit lifting to 4 days a week, although light recovery sessions can be used, but that is another article in itself. You can employ such restoration techniques as self-myofascial release (foam core rollers), contrast showers, and ice massage. These can help reduce soreness and aid in recovery. Proper nutrition also plays a role in overtraining, which I will talk about next.
For all the attention we focus on the resistance training, there is rarely equal attention paid to nutrition. It takes a lot of effort just to eat right, and formulate an effective eating plan. For the high school athlete, you do not have to take an anal-retentive approach to nutrition like most hardcore bodybuilders do.
The most effective way to improve an athlete's nutrition comprehension is to know the good foods from the bad. That, in my opinion, is the majority of the battle. You should be eating plenty of meats (lean cut), fish, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, whole wheat grains, nuts (peanut butter as well), and other various sources of food high in antioxidants and protein.
For additional nutrition information, check out my nutrition article.
Now that you are armed with the knowledge of what you need to succeed nutritionally, you need to learn how to implement it in different settings. At home, get rid of or hide all the bad foods you know will hurt your body composition. This should solve 95% of the problems you face at home with nutrition. At work/school, it becomes much more difficult.
The solution to all the bowls of candy/horrors of the school cafeteria is to bring your own food. That way, you control what you eat, instead of subjecting yourself to the whims of your growling stomach come lunchtime. Although, if the situation arises where you must eat the food in the cafeteria, stick to the fruits, vegetables, grilled chicken, roast beef, and other unaltered fresh foods.
Stay away from the bread, even if they say it is "whole wheat". Stay away from the sodas, fruit juices, and other sugar waters. Stick with water, or bring green tea or possibly a protein shake. Nutrition should now be one of your strong points.
This is one of the hardest things to change in a young athlete's program. Their "principles" have been so ingrained in their heads that they are not willing to change. The first serious error I see is training duration.
There are many enthusiastic athletes who are willing to train for 2 hours, training every body part 2-4 times. This is admirable, but nonetheless dumb. Strength training is a strange animal in that less is better than more. A workout consisting of compound lifts for only 30-45 minutes is much better than doing four isolation exercises per body part for two hours.
Another problem I see is not training the muscles you can't see in the mirror. For every 10 guys doing a bench press, I usually see only one doing rows or deadlifts. Training the hamstrings and back can greatly improve athletic performance.
This principle mainly deals with your lifestyle. Simply put, don't be stupid. If you know that a junk food will hinder your athletic ability, don't eat it. It's that simple. Don't get into drugs, or heavy use of alcohol. This advice may seem corny, but I have seen what happens to athletes that get involved with that stuff.
I have seen runners wheezing after one lap around the track, because of heavy cigarette use. I have seen promising athletes become almost vegetable-like because of chronically ingesting tremendous amounts of alcohol. Just stay away from the bad stuff, okay?
Just because this is number eight on my list of principles does not mean you should ignore this information. Periodisation is an effective tool to help develop athletic qualities over a set period of time. Your progress will suffer if you do not have a plan every time you go to the gym. Your goal as an athlete in the weight room should always be to progress, whether that means lifting more weight, gaining muscle mass, or increasing bar speed.
The standard model of periodisation in North America is a model of starting low intensity/more volume, to an ending high intensity/low volume. This model works well for a period of time, but results may plateau if you continue use of it nonstop.
The main problem lies in that you only work one quality (strength, hypertrophy, power) at a time. You start off doing low intensity hypertrophy work, and ultimately progress to high intensity strength training, while neglecting the other two qualities (there are actually many different strength qualities, but lets keep it simple with three).
The solution to the standard North American model is conjugate periodisation. In this model, you work on multiple qualities during a week. One kind is undulating periodisation, where you lift heavy for upper and lower body in the beginning parts of the week, and then later in the week you lift relatively light.
Another type is called pendulum training. This method, championed by Christian Thibaudeau, alternates week by week with different qualities. One week you may do hypertrophy work while giving the CNS a rest, and the next you might be lifting heavy percentages of your 1RM to train your CNS. This effectively prevents overtraining because your CNS rests during hypertrophy weeks, and the muscular system rests during CNS intensive weeks.
A third type of conjugate periodisation, championed by Louie Simmons and Dave Tate of Westside, is having days of Max Effort and Dynamic Effort. This means you work up to a 3 or 5 repetition max during ME days, and you work on bar speed on DE days.
Most of these methods are highly advanced, so you may be better off starting with the North American standard model of periodisation.
I see this problem frequently. Some sports need long distance conditioning. Cross country running comes to mind. Maybe some of the longer distance running events in track & field. That's about it. Why are such anaerobic sports like baseball so focused on running laps? If the goal is to run a maximum of 360 ft. as hard as you can, why should you jog at a leisurely pace around a track for 30 minutes?
If your event is the 100M, why would you devote precious training time to anything significantly beyond that? The point I am trying to make is that you should always try to become better at the situation that your sport throws at you. Some sports are chaotic, and you may need to train multiple types of energy systems, but for the most part, the sport can be broken down into simple terms. Train them, and you will succeed.
Impressionable minds create an opportunity for supplement companies to scam and take people's money. This is especially prevalent in teenagers. They have the desire to train and eat right to become the best, but unfortunately intelligence is sometimes pushed aside.
The first thing most young athletes need to know is that the supplement industry is largely unregulated by the FDA. This has led to some wild claims made on labels, or incorrect ingredient listings. Luckily, there are many reputable companies out there that succeed by the quality of their products.
Here Are Some Things To Be Skeptical Of:
- Studies citing an astronomical increase in strength/fat reduction/speed etc. Studies cited by supplement companies are often funded by the very same company. They obviously have a say in the supposed "outcome" of the study, which often creates biased and untrue scientific findings.
- Claims of having the majority of the ingredients being certain high quality nutrients. This is common in certain protein powders who advertise it being wholly hydrolyzed whey (fast acting whey protein) or micellar casein protein (very slow acting whey protein) when in fact they may be the fourth or fifth protein on the list of ingredients. Remember, on ingredients labels, it goes from largest amount to smallest amount.
- Testimonials from certain famous people or "regular people" who miraculously lost weight/gained muscle because of a certain product. Testimonials from seemingly normal out of shape people are often models or bodybuilders paid to eat junk for a month or two, and then slim down to their normal state, all with accompanying photos relating their tremendous results to a product, when in fact it had little to do with their transformation.
Don't you find it weird that every "before" picture shows a man with a well developed chest and a distended belly? Normal people do not usually have that level of pectoral development.
Now that you have absorbed all the grievances I have made against youth training programs in this lengthy article, it is your job to make the effort to fix your program. This will not only benefit you in the short term, but will also help you in the long run by not allowing yourself to commit the same mistakes over and over again.