Information in the fitness industry can be overwhelming at times.
It seems that there are a lot of things that athletes need and sorting through them is difficult.
At different times of the year, athletes can train for strength, power, endurance, hypertrophy, speed, conditioning, etc.
The real question is how to pick and prioritize the qualities that are necessary.
There is also an individual component to this and not everyone fits into general recommendations, but there are consistent trends that arise among most athletes.
First and foremost athletes need to get a lot stronger. It seems at a young age we are trying to get our athletes to do more or go faster. Skate, run, jump more often and do them more quickly.
Well, most of the time a losing battle is being set up. An athlete that lacks strength is not going to be able to put more force into the ground and, therefore, will not be able to increase speed.
Taking one step back, an athlete that is too tight to get in proper positions is also not going to increase their speed.
I had a short and interesting talk with a parent the other day after teaching her kids some running technique and basic strength work. She mentioned how we never really teach our young athletes how to run properly. Instead, we ask them to run more, run faster, and then wonder why injury rates are through the roof and performance is not where we want it to be.
Here are the things that athletes need to prioritize.
- General Strength
Strong athletes are successful ones. Upper, lower, and especially core strength are essential to development of an athlete. Strength is important for a number of reasons.
First, the athletes need to be strong enough to support proper positioning for the activity they are trying to train. Running technique requires an athlete to stabilize on one leg and skating faster requires getting to a lateral lunge position.
Athletes that lack strength cannot get into these positions.
We also cannot develop power or conditioning if there is no strength. Power is the ability to display strength quickly. If there is no strength to begin with then we cannot do it fast.
Conditioning can also be affected by strength. Take 2 hockey players and one is stronger than the other. The stronger athlete can put more force into the ice, which means that it takes him less strides to get to his positions.
Fewer strides means less energy needed for the movement and the athlete will not get as tired doing the same thing. This is improved conditioning.
Strength truly is the basis of most other athletic qualities.
Mobility is important because sports sap the body of its good movement patterns. When we do not move well, the risk for injury and poor performance goes up. I talked about just getting into positions earlier and mobility is the other half of that equation.
Simply, athletes should have as much mobility in the ankle, hips, T-spine, and shoulder as possible. These are the mobile joints.
Limitations in these areas will negatively affect performance. To use another hockey example (but it applies to any sport), poor ankle mobility will lead to poor skating.
When the ankles are tight, the knees will cave in (even slightly) to find that range of motion. When this happens we cannot effectively skate and we are on the wrong edges to increase speed.
The same goes for running technique.
- Posterior chain strength
Strength was point number 1. Hamstring and glute strength is so important that is gets its own mention.
Athletes tend to have really weak posterior chains and it ruins their ability to perform at a high level. Even the simplest hip hinge turns into a squat when without proper guidance. Athletes try to use their quads to perform everything because that is their dominant muscle group.
A strong posterior reduces the risk for injury in the low back, hip, and knee. It provides the proper stability and control for these joints.
It is also the driving force of most movement. Typically we need powerful hip extension and these muscles provide that force.
This is what makes the deadlift pattern essential for all athletes to learn. It should be their first lesson and constantly reinforced from there on out.
My goal of this article is to narrow down the focus of most training for athletes because it is hard to decipher good information from the bad.
The main focus of training athletes should be mobility and strength. Everything else that wants to be accomplished will build off of those two qualities.
Keep the process simple, stick to the process, and enjoy the rewards.