Whether high school athlete or occupational athlete there are certain principles that must be followed for optimal gains, long term health, and general physical preparedness. Too often we as humans try to seek out the easy road or the magic fix because of it’s simplicity or our own laziness.
Pretty pictures, flowery words, and the genetically gifted often distract us with the potential short cuts.
I want to bullet out a few points that are the foundations or principles to reaching our fitness or athletic goals. There are many ways to package and achieve these elements, but they all must be included.
Training an Athete:
Long Term Planning – To reach your goal (any goal) you must have short term, long term, and contingency planning. This includes scheduling programming variations of frequency-intensity-type-time. Where you start, how you develop, if & when you peak, when you break, how you transition, how holidays, vacations, and the unexpected might fit in all should have something of a master plan to guide them.
Emphasis Cycles – Whether you want to follow a traditional or undulating model you’ll need to address they different types of muscle fibers you consist of and you’ll want to optimize those fiber types that are most specific to your physical or event needs. And, you’ll need to address these endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power cycles of emphasis without causing over use injuries yet still most efficiently and safely optimizing the benefits of each. These cycles are primarily manipulated when you change the repetitions, resistance intensity, and rest between sets.
Exercise Selection – Again, in addressing the FITT principle, variation of ‘type’ is one key element. I’ll mention specificity below, but understanding that you must address the various planes of movement your body travels in is key to both health and performance. That means moving laterally (sagittal plane) is not to be skipped because a front or back lunge is more comfortable. Multi-joint movements tend to be more consistent with real world activities, provide a full system coordination challenge, are more functional, and generally provide more bang for the buck. Isolation of specific muscles is not bad or wrong, but needs to be integrated with the multi-joint in the creation of a quality program. Included in every program are exercises that will be “knee dominant”, “hip hinge”, “pressing”, “pulling” and “rotational”. There yet remain many variations and alterations to each of these.
Exercise Proportions – The number of sets or amount of time for each exercise will vary with each cycle emphasis. The proportion of exercises have a couple foundations that are so often broken. Generally hinge one or two more sets/exercises than you perform knee dominant exercise (ie dead lift vs. squat). Pull one or two more sets/exercises than you push (ie pull up vs. push up). And, please just add some lateral and rotational resistance to your training. We’ll make sure it’s there, but if you’re on your own, I’m willing to bet it’s often missed.
Specificity – This term is often overused and taken to an extreme. You do want to ensure your program is relatively specific to your activities but you don’t need to exactly mimic every movement under resistance. This can even be harmful. If you are following the cycles, selection, and proportions of your resistance training you have a good start for most any activity. Now to get specific you’ll want to review your activity movements and energy systems used, and injury statistics to build in exercises that address these. Specificity may encourage the use of distraction elements for stability, or visiting certain cycles more often than others (ie need more power vs. endurance in muscles).
Energy Systems – These are related to your cardiovascular training and are very much a part of specificity to your sport or activity. Basically, think short bout requirements (less than 15 sec), moderate bout requirements (15 sec to 3 min), and long bout (greater than 3 minutes)… with each of these bout lengths your body creates energy to do the work in different ways. Actually, there is always a combination but the primary system changes. I’ll leave the physiology lesson out of this but similar to resistance training cycles we must work each of these energy systems from time to time. When it comes closer to our sport or primary activity the specificity kicks in. Somewhere around 8 weeks out you’ll significantly want to work within the energy system that you will be primarily using in your sport.
Nutrition – To keep it the most simple – Keep your plate colorful and include some form of protein with each meal. From sport to sport, depending upon the energy system used and targeted goals a great deal of variety can come in with that ‘specificity’ idea coming back into play.
- The principles you must remember is that as an athlete carbohydrates are your primary energy source. The diets of your more sedentary yet ‘dieting’ parents may not be your performance friend.
- Timing isn’t everything, but it can be a game changer. I want you eating within half hour of your workout. You need to change your body from catabolic to anabolic as soon as possible so you can better benefit from the work you just completed (3:1 carbs to protein). 60-90 minutes prior to exercise a small snack is appropriate and during exercise of any significant intensity a sport drink is generally best.
- Supplements, I have no single recommendation for everyone. Check with health care professional to ensure any supplement will not negatively interact within any other medical condition or medicines you may take. That being said, I like protein drinks post exercise as they can be matabolized quickly, I like fish oil supplements for a variety of reasons, I like a basic quantity multi-vitamin to cover the bases, I like creatine supplementation for many of the short bout athletes, I like bcaa’s in small quantity added to the during exercise sport drink, and I like lots of water.
- Don’t skip main meals. They don’t have to be large meals if not hungry, but every few hours your body needs fuel.
These are some of the primary principles that go into building a program for an athlete. Following these will give a solid foundation for performance enhancement in sport or activities of daily living. There are many books based on thousands of research hours on each of these principles. Even my high school guys have heard of most of these, but just like their senior occupational athletes they often want to pick and choose which rules to follow.
Keep your movements, intensity, volume, and even your nutrition fresh with lots of variety and you’ll be on the right path.