Strength and Conditioning
Learn about sports performance and strength and conditioning training for athletes.
Performance training for sports is quite different than fitness training for general fitness and health benefits. When training for sports performance athletes are actually being conditioned to compete in an arena of athletes with nearly equal potential and actual physical ability. An athlete training for ball sports where directional change during movement, speed, acceleration, deceleration, explosive power and endurance require training off the field as well as on the field.
Weightlifting, powerlifting, and endurance conditioning in the gym are simply tools used to increase an athlete's strength, endurance, and physical conditioning—it is vital to understand that most of the "real work" an athlete accomplishes is done when engaged in his or her specific sport. No amount of time in the gym will ever compensate for athletic ability and athletic training within the specific movement patterns associated with any given sport. However, when an athlete trains in the gym or when an athlete is trained "off season" by a trainer—sports specific training protocols are used to help already gifted and accomplished athletes become stronger, faster, more powerful, more flexible and better conditioned by way of endurance training.
How sports training is evolving and who really benefits from performance training?
It is quite popular to see ordinary people being trained as if they are athletes. I believe this is a big mistake. Not long ago we witnessed a horrible accident within the CrossFit® athlete community, while people engaged in any type of exercise accept risk for injury as a part of any exercise routine—the incident I mention speaks volumes about the amount of stress and training environments top athlete's endure (and associated risks) much less the risk of injury to the "average" person working out, with any level of experience or intensity, or training as an athlete would train. Elite athlete's train with very precise intensity and coaching to perform and execute highly sophisticated movements and exercises by way of many years of experience—and they accept the reality that at any time, any day, they may become irreversibly injured. Imagine joining a gym because you want to lose 20lbs, having no experience with Olympic Weightlifting or training with deliberate intensity trying to accomplish exercise and movement patterns intended for elite or experienced athlete's...I think you would agree that in this instance you might be biting off more than you can chew—and your trainer should know this. That said, athletic performance training for competition IS intended for athlete's with a significant level of exercise and sports training experience. Given the right environment an athlete can completely reshape their vision, focus, mental acuity, and physical preparedness for a given sport by training consistently within guidelines well established and coached by responsible, educated, and experienced professional trainers.
What exercises or movement patterns are best suited for sports performance training?
This an often confusing conversation to have with clients. Determining the best exercises or movement patterns for sports performance is highly dependent on the individual athlete's abilities, limitations, challenges, and goals. Of course most athletes train for better balance, coordination, agility, speed, proprioception, and strength—but, movement patterns are developed to correct muscular imbalances and improve movement efficiency so that an athlete can perform his or her sport with greater intensity and fluidity. For athletes training for multi-sport benefits, traditional exercises like compound movements (Squat, Dead-lift, various Press exercises, and some Olympic Weightlifting exercises) can be beneficial if modified to meet the need of the individual athlete and conditions of his or her chosen sport. That said, again, more time on the field, ice, court, track or course will always trump time in the gym. Remember, most athletes train with weights or utilize special training protocols during their off season or in preparation for an event, such as the case of a mixed martial arts athlete wherein several weeks or months of training culminate within a very short window (within days) of their actual fight or match. Very few athlete's actually perform their sport standing on solid ground, perfectly balanced with all of the special accessories and precise movements used during training. For example, most athlete's must "be on their toes", change direction, generate explosive power in awkward positions or during movement. In general, it is safe to focus on exercises that naturally mimic movements common within your sport. Exercise and specific sports performance, strength and conditioning, and endurance training for athletes will increase an athlete's ability to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments, cardiovascular and muscular endurance and will produce results in a trained athlete that will translate to better performance. In addition to exercise and functional movement patterns, nutrition, intensity, duration, frequency and recovery time are factors considered when developing a training program for an athlete. In short, the basics will always be true; if an athlete is better conditioned, better prepared, stronger, faster, possesses greater joint mobility, flexibility and determination—this athlete will be more competitive than the untrained athlete.