By: Bill Boland
One of the most vital components of any training program is having clearly defined goals at the outset. When it comes to “sports-specific” training, those goals need to be specified even further. For any athlete that comes to me looking for training and programming assistance, I need to know what aspects of their performance they are looking at improving. Simply trying to improve every aspect of sports performance with one broad brush stroke is ill-advised for even intermediate level athletes. While this topic can become very complex, this article will look at a simple but highly effective approach to improving performance with strength training.
Success in sports is determined first and foremost by the athletes’ skill and aptitude for the game. No exercise can ever replace skill on the field of play. Attempting to replicate skills with “sports-specific” exercises is often detrimental because skills require precision to execute. For example, a baseball pitcher wants to increase the speed of his fastball. Throwing a fastball requires the pitcher to execute a series of intricate movements with tremendous power. If a trainer has his pitcher practice his fastball with an implement other than a regulation sized baseball, he alters the movement in a way that no longer benefits the athlete. Adding resistance to the pitch in the form bands, cables, or a weighted implement changes the mechanics of the movement so that the action is different than that performed on the field.
A better strategy would be to address the pitchers’ technique first and increase their overall strength second. Having the athlete work with a pitching coach to ensure their technique is on point and make any adjustments could have a profound impact on their performance, especially in the case of a younger athlete. The next step would be having the athlete work with a qualified strength coach. It is the job of the strength coach to program exercises that will increase the athletes’ overall strength (which is of course their ability to produce force). After several months of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead presses, and chin-ups, our athlete will be able to produce more force AND be more resistant to injury than they were before. Applying this newfound strength in practice will marry it to their improved technique.
Strength and conditioning programs should be in place to insure the athlete is never out-muscled or out-hustled in competition. When two athletes of comparable skill meet on the field, it is usually their physical attributes that decided the winner. A young lacrosse player may have a great aptitude for positional play and always get to the ball first, but he gets mauled in the corner by a stronger opposing player and never gets to pass or shoot. Adding some strength and muscle mass will round out this players ability and make him much more effective on the floor.
The final piece of the sports-specific puzzle is consistency. Serious athletes must work year-round to master their craft. That means hitting gym as soon as the season ends and starting a previously-developed post season training program. Build strength and stamina in the gym. Practice your sport to perfect your technique. Study the game at the top level to build strategies for every scenario. It is this formula for success that makes champions.