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All across the world, there are countless people training themselves to reach their goals. Whether they’re training for health, sports, a certain body, etc., most people are trying to conquer their goals on their own, referring to YouTube or various articles to help along the way. This is the exact way I did it while training to play D1 collegiate soccer. The years leading up to my college athletics, every summer in between the years, every Christmas break, I was in the gym training myself for sports performance. Although I knew how to workout, it was more of a bodybuilding style, which only helps to a certain extent.
For untrained people, any initial weightlifting is going to lead to improvements in performance. A lot of this is due to neural adaptation, where that initial muscle activation from resistance training will do wonders. However, as time goes on, there’s a diminishing rate of return with strength training and seeing improvements. That’s not to say you won’t see increases in strength, but it comes at a much slower rate, and that’s due to the body’s remarkable adaptation abilities.
So if you’re someone who is training yourself for sports performance or lifestyle performance, and you find yourself just doing the typical bodybuilding split, wondering how this is going to transfer over to sports performance and what you can do to help that process, listen up! There’s nothing wrong with doing a bodybuilding split, especially during the early stages of the offseason to build muscle mass with hypertrophy. However, as you become more elite and more serious about performance training, you’re going to have to take it a step further to really get the most bang for your buck.
For me, it wasn’t until I went to college and actually started training with my soccer team that I understood the importance of specified performance training. I was lucky enough to have an amazing strength and conditioning coach, Alex, who really cared about all of us and took the time to explain what we were doing and WHY. That part is crucial. Most other S&C coaches would just have the team do what he/she says because well, he/she is the expert so just “lift what I tell you to lift.” Alex was different though. For every lift we did, he not only explained why the movement was important, but the energy system(s) we were working, how this would transfer to the field, the purpose behind all of the minor details he added into the lift (e.g. squatting with shoes off for a day), and why it is important for us to know all of these things. If it had not been for Alex and his commitment to our team and our learning, I probably would’ve just continued with what I knew… trying to do bodybuilding style workouts for sports development.
5 years later, 4 years playing college soccer with Alex and 1 year working in the S&C industry myself, I have a different appreciation for the importance of performance training. But I still remember that kid, spending hours in the gym, doing back on Mondays, legs on Tuesday, shoulders Wednesday, legs on Thursday, and bis and tris Friday. While this did the trick for surface level, I also had an amazing S&C coach for 10 months out of the year. So whatever damage that bodybuilding split did for 2 months, Alex could reverse it during the school year lol
So back to the purpose of the article. I know, I know, I went off on another tangent, but this backstory about Alex is crucial. It highlights 99% of people training for performance: they train on their own, in the only form they’re familiar with, not really in a way that transfers to sports performance, because they don’t want to pay someone a large amount of money if they can get the job done on their own. At least, that was my thinking. And don’t get me wrong, I was SO well prepared for preseason with the training I did. But, if I did these 2 things, then each year I would’ve been able to continue making improvements (e.g. sprint speed, jumping higher, etc.) rather than just being in great shape for soccer.
1. The first thing to do is to train a movement pattern. Don’t just train isolated muscles or muscle groups, rather break down the movements most commonly used in your sport, and train those. For example, if you are a sprinter, doing back squats will most definitely help you, and there is a 4.3% decrease in sprint time as your squat 1RM increases. While this is very helpful, there are other movements more similar to that of a sprint that yield much greater results than just 4.3% improvement. If we break down a sprint, the major movements are unilateral and horizontal. So in addition to the back squat, it is also imperative that we do things to work unilateral training and horizontal force production. Training the movement pattern is the overarching goal, but there are 3 things to work on that’ll help the overall movement pattern.
a) Training a movement pattern is just part of the equation. To make your training as sport specific as possible, further break down the movement into phases – eccentric, isometric, concentric. New example: volleyball. If you’re jumping up for a spike or block, that movement isn’t just a lackadaisical jump. It’s a super quick motion that relies on force production. Therefore, in your training, you want to make sure you’re doing a lot of plyometrics for that stretch shortening cycle and stretch reflex, as well as power and strength training. Strength training will provide the foundation that allows you to be more explosive. So maybe during the strength phase, work on eccentrics to overload that muscle. Then, work on power for that force development. Here, you’ll want to spend some time on isometrics, working the transition from the eccentric phase to the concentric (explosion) phase. And lastly, you can focus in on the concentric phase, really training that force production by putting those other 2 phases together. So you have to look at the movement and think, what am I doing in this movement – am I exploding up? Am I holding a squat (like a linebacker)? All of these things are very important and will help specify your training for the next level.
b) The second part of training movement patterns is a little similar to the first yet not. This one focuses on joint angles. You want to train your body in the same angle that it will be performing in. Let’s use a linebacker as an example; if you’re training them to hold a squat position with isometrics, then you want to make sure you’re training at the same hip and knee angles that they’re going to be holding on the field. If you train at a different angle, the transfer isn’t going to be optimal. There might not even be a transfer at all. That’s because strength is very specific. If you want strength gains in a certain movement, you need to train that exact movement. So pay attention to those joint angles because that could be the difference from good training to great training.
c) The 3rd and final thing is to combine exercises. Jumping back to the initial example of the sprinter, knowing that a back squat will help with sprint performance, but also being aware that other things might aid a little more, instead of picking one exercise or the other, do both. Superset a back squat and a broad jump. That way you’re working both movement patterns, getting some resistance training in while training the stretch shortening cycle and postactivation potentiation.
2. 2nd thing to focus on is intermuscular coordination. That’s basically just a fancy way to say make sure you’re doing movements that require multiple muscles to work together. For example, instead of doing a hamstring curl on a machine, do a deadlift that requires the glutes, calves, hammies, and back to be engaged. This way you will train your body to work as a unit, similarly to how it must perform in real life. Intermuscular coordination is arguably the most important factor in getting strength to transfer to sports performance, and there’s 2 aspects to it: inhibition/disinhibition and synchronization.
a) Inhibition/disinhibition means getting your muscles to work as optimally as possible. For every move you make, one muscle is the agonist and the opposite is the antagonist. As the agonist, or the inhibitor, concentrically contracts and produces a force, the antagonist, or the disinhibitor, eccentrically contracts to control the movement (without eccentric contraction, the antagonist could tear from the rapid stretching.) The way to train this process is by working on the concentric phase of movements, aka, the explosive part. By doing concentric training, you’re training your body to improve its inhibition and disinhibition, allowing you to be that much more powerful.
b) The second part to intermuscular coordination is synchronization. This is improved by training the concentric phase as well. In order to concentrically move as powerfully as possible, it requires your muscles to be working together in sync to produce as much force as quickly as it can. As Cal Dietz says in “Triphasic Training,” “A dynamic concentric contraction is the culmination of every neuromuscular mechanism…” Now don’t take this to mean that you don’t have to train eccentrically or isometrically. Without training those 2 phases, your concentric ability is going to be limited. Eccentric training provides the foundation to build strength, and as we know, the stronger you are, the more powerful you can be. Isometric training is basically the bridge that allows eccentric action to work with concentric action. So don’t skip either of those 2 phases… there’s a reason they come before the concentric in a movement pattern. But the takeaway here is to make sure you are including concentrics into your training. Simply focusing on building strength is cool and all if that’s your goal, but if you’re training for performance, then simple strength isn’t going to cut it. You gotta do something with that strength, and that’s what the concentric phase is there for.
Alrighty, well that wraps this one up. Hopefully it was helpful to all of you out there trying to train yourself for performance. Keep doing what you’re doing, but also keep in mind these 2 key ways you can take your training to the next level! Make sure you’re checking out our instagram, @powerlux_fitness, and our YouTube Channel for more athletic workouts and ways to train like an athlete for the everyday person! If you’re interested in working with PowerLux Fitness, if you want programming, training, or a consultant, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have top of the line trainers with experience training professional athletes ready to help you!
Until next time, stay rad ??