Pritchette Physical Therapy & Sports Performance team would like to welcome our 2018 summer interns John Miller and Leigh Stonerook.
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What matters most in strength & conditioning? The beauty of sports and the field of exercise science is that there is no ‘one-way fits all’ for athletic development. In fact, on the contrary, there are hundreds of different ways of getting an athlete to achieve the same goals. The million-dollar question is, which one is the best? The best strength coaches are the ones that can not only get an athlete to their goals faster than others, but also do it with the least amount of expense to that athlete. This may not seem like the old school mentality that, ‘the most successful athletes are the ones who beat the crap out of themselves day in and day out’. That mentality, though catchy for motivational videos, doesn’t paint the whole picture. Let me tell you what I mean.
The human body only has so much it can give on any given day/week/month/year. Imagine it like a debit card. You can use the money on that card freely for whatever you choose but the minute you overdraft, there’s going to be a steep cost involved. For an athlete, that overdraft could involve injuries, decreases in performance, exhaustion, etc.
So, lets break it down. Team practices, lifts, individual work, and everyday activities all result in expenses to the funds on that debit card. If we look deeper, even other forms of stress such as school/work load, relationship issues and financial stress can also deplete an athlete’s ‘total available balance’ for a given day.
On the other hand, there are also ways that we can draw an income or make direct deposits to refill that account as we go. These deposits come in the form of rest/sleep hygiene, proper nutrition and several forms of recovery strategies (ex. Stretching, foam rolling, ice baths, aquatic therapy). The higher the income, the more available funds we have at our disposal for athletic development.
The reason I tell you all this is to say that a great variety of skills coaches and strength coaches specialize in helping athletes ‘spend money’ from that account. Few, however, dedicate themselves to the intricate science behind continually refilling that bank account after expenditures. That’s like consistently spending money without a solid income and expecting to not overdraft or get into a lot of debt at some point down the road.
I don’t say all this to condemn tough training regimes. In fact, I’m all for pushing athletes to their limits given the appropriate circumstances. However, all this is to say that you need both sides of the story. If all we focus on is going hard in the gym and we disregard proper recovery strategies, an athlete will not progress as much as they could and it could put them at a high risk of injury. But, if an athlete has better recovery between workouts, they will not only be healthier and reap more benefits from their last training session but they will also be better prepared to capitalize on their next session. If your strength coach is not actively educating you on both sides of the story, then you might be working really hard while also leaving some free gains on the table. Awesome workouts mean nothing if an athlete ends up injured or burnt out when it comes time to perform.
It's interesting how thousands of specialized sport specific training programs are designed and implemented for Football and Basketball teams across the nation but other more obscure sports receive almost nothing. The common cop-out of trainers that don't want to take time to serve more obscure sports such as swimming, diving, competitive cheerleading and dancing is to say “the best way to get better at you sports is to just practice more.” The reality is that the body is like Play-Doh. It's highly adaptive and can be molded into whatever you want it to be able to do with the help of a detailed training program. From a biological standpoint, the body is not biased to what sports specific training it will adapt to or not. It adapts based on the demands placed on it.
By observing and studying three main aspects of every sport, you can design a structured program that can aid in the athletic development of athletes in any sport. First, one must look at the Common Injuries of a given sport and then develop a strategy to help reduce the risks for those injuries. Keeping athletes healthy and on the field/court should be the number one priority of any strength coach because nobody cares how good you helped make an athlete if he/she ends up with a torn ACL. The second area to study is the Biomechanical Demands of the sport. For instance; look at which muscles are being used and in what capacity they need to be able to function. You should also study which planes of motion the athlete typically moves through. Finally, understanding the Energy Demands of a sport will give insight to how to condition a given athlete. There are 3 main categories of energy systems within sports; ATP-CP (instant explosiveness, <10s), anaerobic efficiency (short high intensity functioning), and aerobic endurance (longer less intense endurance).
Just because your sport doesn’t require you to lift heavy amounts of weight doesn’t mean you should throw out the idea of a sport specific training program entirely. There are several factors other than weights that contribute to athletic development such as fitness, injury reduction exercise, proper movement mechanics, nutrition, sleep & recovery education, motivation/sport psychology, etc. The key is analyzing what the athlete specifically needs and then building a program that will help support those needs in order to help them stay healthy and perform better.