Top Ten Training Tips for Athletic Conditioning Success

TAGS: resistance, multiple joints, free weights, cosgrove, bodyweight, balance, strength, squat, training

The IRON-ic rule of strength training for sport: The objective is not to get stronger per se but to improve athletic performance to build better athletes. If your sport is powerlifting then that means improving your total. If your sport is mixed martial arts that means you must improve your ability in the ring. It’s important for the coach and the trainee to focus on improving sports performance. I’ve seen several football teams over the years that have the 405 Bench Press Club featured on the wall but are 0-20 for the season!

Here are my top ten tips to ensure athletic success.

1. Bodyweight before external resistance

Since when has the term strength and conditioning coach been confused with weight room coach? I don’t know but I’m still surprised at the eagerness of most coaches to get their athletes under the bar.Many coaches and athletes make the mistake of beginning a strength routine and going straight for the heavy weights. This usually ends up causing an injury. An athlete has no business using load if he/she cannot stabilize, control and move efficiently with only their bodyweight. If you can’t stabilize your shoulder girdle and core doing push-ups then there is no way I’m going to put you under a bench press bar.

Can you sit in a full squat? What about a full range single leg bodyweight squat? Until you have mastered these exercises you can forget doing dynamic effort work with a box squat.

So your strength program in the beginning stages may actually include no weights whatsoever. And it will work better and faster than a typical program m that relies primarily on weights and machines in the beginning stages. In fact in my experience I’d suggest that some athletes cannot even work with their bodyweight so we may need to modify certain exercises. Do not rush to lift heavy loads; muscle recruitment and control are far more important than maximal strength for any athlete. Without control the strength is useless.

2. Train to the 5th Power

I. Train in a standing position - GROUND BASED.

The majority of athletic training should take place ON YOUR FEET (standing) as the majority of sport takes place in that position. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but in general, we always lose something when we go from a standing position to a seated or lying position.

II. Train with free weights.

I almost feel stupid bring this up. But I still see programs out there that include leg extensions and leg curls. Any machine limits the range of motion and controls the movement. This is fine for beginners, but athletes need to be able to stabilize and control their bodies in all three planes of motion simultaneously.

III. Use Multiple Joints

Single joint strength (e.g. leg extension machine, bicep curls) develops useless strength. A study was undertaken at Ohio State involving a knee extension test. The participants included: 3 World ranked squatters and 1 World Record holder in the squat.

The test results of the above subjects averaged 180lbs of force on the Cybex leg extension machine. However a local power lifter (ranked 15th in the state) broke the machine. He wasn’t even number one in his state but he was stronger on this machine than the World ranked lifters. If there is a better example of the inability of single joint machine training to translate to real world strength then I’d like to see it. A guy who was only ranked 15th in the state can apply more single leg strength than a World Record holder. Nice. Pretty. But pretty useless. If that strength doesn’t transfer to athletic success then what’s the point of having it? Basically, despite the strength that individual exhibited on the machine, he was unable to apply it in a real world situation like squatting. And the elite squatters weren’t that strong on the leg extension showing it’s not even a factor. So leg extension machines are a waste of time. Unless of course you compete in seated ass kicking leg extension contests.

”How can anyone expect to possess co-ordination in active work when his muscles have never worked together in groups?” Earle Liederman, 1924. Nearly 80 years ago and we are still having this argument today. Isolation machines have no place in the preparation of a competitive athlete.

IV. Train with explosiveness.

Explosiveness as I see it can be defined as ?as fast as possible with control?. Some people seem to feel that explosiveness is somewhat dangerous. Sloppy training, uncontrolled movements? Now that’s dangerous. Training explosively more closely mirrors what happens in sport and/or life.

V. Train movements not muscle groups.

Again, isolated muscle group training, outside of rehabilitation has no place in athletic training. An athlete should focus on strengthening specific movements. True muscle isolation is impossible anyway, so let’s focus on using that body to work in an integrated fashion.

3. Train unilaterally and multi-planar

The majority of strength training programs take place in the sagittal plane with bilateral movements. However the majority of sport takes place in all 3 planes simultaneously with primarily unilateral movements. EVERY single sports conditioning program should include split squats, step ups and lunge variations. 85% of the gait cycle (walking, running) is spent on one leg. Over 70% of the muscles of the core run in a rotational plane. Does your training program reflect that?

4. Use all primary methods to develop strength

This should be of no surprise to readers of this website so I won’t spend a whole lot of time on this. Suffice to say you need to focus on all three. Max Strength method - heavy loads Repeated Efforts Method - multiple sets and reps Dynamic Effort Method - using relatively lighter weights and moving them at max speed (this is STILL the least used method in most strength coaching programs). Traditional strength training programs have focused overwhelmingly on max strength or force development. More important for the competitive athlete is a focus on RATE OF force development. In the world of sport speed is still the king.

5. Variation

Everybody seems to understand that training load should be progressively increased. Few understand that the training stimulus must also be progressively and periodically varied. All programs have positive and negative aspects no matter how well designed or specific - too much time on one program and you’ll habituate to the positive aspects and accumulate the negative aspects. Even the most perfectly balanced program has to have one exercise performed first and another performed last. Not being aware of the potential negatives of this (i.e. one exercise is never trained when you are fresh) can create an injury situation.

6. Avoid mimicking skills

This is a big one. Throwing weighted baseballs etc will do little to improve your strength and a lot to screw up your technique. Make sure the roles of strength and conditioning and skill training are separate. I HATE the term sport specific. I much prefer NON-specific training. If I’m working with a freestyle swimmer, sport specificity means that I’ll do a ton of loaded internal rotation work. My approach? To do no internal rotation work. In fact I’d spend most of our conditioning time on EXTERNAL rotation as an injury prevention mechanism. The role of conditioning training is NOT skill training. Loading a technique tends to affect the mechanics of the technique negatively.

7. Train with Balance

Make sure you address pushing and pulling on both horizontal and vertical planes and attempt to balance the loading. If you are bench pressing 400lbs but can only do a chest supported row with 50lbs your shoulder girdle is going to suffer. If you can’t handle the same loads for two opposing movements then increase the volume of the weaker movement (e.g. by doing an extra exercise or an extra set or two) to compensate. Trust me this might not seem that important now but I’m not just interested in athletic performance, I’m interested in the long term health of my athletes.

8. Get out of the Weight RoomTry some strongman training: sled dragging, uphill sprints, stadium stairs. I’m sick of hearing coaches telling me that they think outside of the box, yet they never leave the confines of their own little box - the weight room. 9. Train the antagonists

This ties in with the swimming example above. The speed of a throw or a kick or punch is determined largely by the ability of the antagonist to eccentrically decelerate the joint action efficiently and prevent joint injury. If your body cannot safely and effectively brake the motion, then it will not allow you to achieve full acceleration. If you are not training the antagonists eccentrically - you are not training deceleration. And if you are not training deceleration you cannot be training acceleration.

10. Full Front Squats

This exercise may be the single most athletic exercise. You’ll get core strength, wrist, knee, hip, shoulder and ankle flexibility in a single exercise.

Ok- as usual I can’t shut up so I’ll add one more.

10.5 Extension!

I’m not going to get into an article on the pros and cons of Olympic lifting, suffice to say that explosive triple extension (ankle, knee and hip) is a valuable component when training athletes. Remember though - we are training ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE. We are not training weightlifters. It is not necessary to do the complete lifts; the power and hang variations are fine. If you’re not comfortable with the Olympic lifts then add jump training or medicine ball overhead throws or at the very least deadlifts (double extension) as a core lift.

Do not get caught up in the numbers game and do not confuse gym improvements with real world or sports world improvements. The greatest athletes in the world do not necessarily have the greatest bench presses in the world. The greatest athletes in the world have an ability to produce useable force on their field of play. Usable force is force that propels athletes towards the ball, knocks another athlete back or down, helps you move at full speed, or throws the winning touchdown pass. Usable force is force properly directed in an unstable real world, unpredictable environment. The weight room, in genera l, is a stable environment whereas a field of play or the competition ring is a constantly changing place. A good strength and conditioning coach looks to improve athletic performances, not just gym lift numbers.

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