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Keep Athletes Competing: Strength Training and Conditioning

athletic trainer

By Cierra Washington, ATC

Now that we’ve reviewed the concepts of a proper warm-up. Let’s move on to building the muscles needed to properly and effectively compete. When people discuss strengthening the body, it’s common to automatically think of heavy weight lifting as the only way to build muscle. I am not disagreeing with the concept that lifting improves strength. Strengthening is a key component to focus on when trying to improve an athlete’s performance. However, before any kind of heavy lifting occurs, the athlete must understand the basic movements needed to perform their sport. This is known as biomechanics.

Mechanics of the sport:

  • Flexibility
  • Technique/Core Work
  • Appropriate Strengthening Program
  • Adequate Rest
  • GAINS

Mechanics refers to the working parts of something. Imagine trying to coach a soccer athlete when you’re only familiar with volleyball. Your knowledge of how the body needs to move to be a successful volleyball player are not going to help you properly train a soccer player simply because the sports’ demands on the body is so different. In order to know how to develop an athlete to play a particular sport, you need to understand how each part of the body handles those sports-specific movements, and how to improve them when they aren’t working optimally.

Once the biomechanics are understood, it’s time to start loosening the muscles to ensure that they can complete the full range of motion needed to participate. improving range of motions is what most athletes under the age of 12 should be focusing on as their bodies are not ready for the demands of heavy weight lifting.

Once the foundational movements for a particular sport are clear, it’s critical to perfect the technique an athlete uses for of body weight and light resistance strength training. The basis of any strengthening program is always going to begin with the core. Why? Because your core is what holds your body together. When the abdominal muscles are strengthened appropriately, the body can move easily without needing to compensate with unnatural movements. When compensatory actions occur, that’s where injuries happen. We treat athletes who have weak core strength all the time and may not even realize it because they do 100 crunches everyday. It’s why we educate them on the fact that the core is not just the ‘six-pack abs’ many people focus on. When an athlete demonstrates weakened abdominals, they tend to have an anterior pelvic tilt. This means they have tight hip flexors and weak glutes and hamstrings. This mean they are generating much less power from their lower body when they compete.

We design a program that helps strengthen their abdominals and core. Once the corrections are made, their hips align back to neutral, which, helps equal out the pull on the hips meaning there is equal force from the lower half of the body. The result is the ability to perform more powerful, explosive movements. Once the core is strengthened, it’s important to teach the athlete how to perform each strengthening exercise using the proper form so they minimize the risk for injury.

Designing a strengthening program is where most coaches, parents and athletes forget about keys components that will help build an overall stronger athlete, and not just a stronger baseball player or swimmer. Let’s look at a basketball player. Most strengthening  programs for these athletes are built around increasing upper body strength (mainly shoulders, chest and biceps). There is little focus on the lower body or cardio. But all of these are necessary. A basketball player needs ankle stability and strength. They need strong and stable hips, a strong core so they can rotate through various cutting movements. Basketball athletes also need a strong and mobile back. If a basketball star only has a strong upper body, yes, maybe they can make a shot from anywhere on the court, but if their ankles are weak, they won’t be able to make those quick steps  and cuts needed to get open for that shot. You can see why the strengthening program for a basketball player should include more than just upper body work.

So how often do athletes need to strength train? In most cases, strength training should be done 2-3 times a week with adequate rest, 24-48 hours, in between. During those 24-48 hours, the athlete can train a different part of the body, do cardio exercises or rest.

The primary goal of strength training is to improve the athlete’s ability to perform simulated sport-specific skills. This will help them perform all these actions with increased speed, endurance, power and improved mechanics. Strength training is vital for increased success in sports. But remember, it’s important to understand the basics first. Athletes who are 12 and under should focus primarily sport mechanics and technique with body weight and light resistance training. As they develop and reach puberty, their bodies are more adapt to handle the extra load of “heavy lifting”. At that point, They’ve already mastered the technique so their body only has to accommodate the weight changes.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your athlete’s strength and conditioning routines but don’t know how, CLICK HERE to reserve your spot for our FREE Injury Prevention for Athletes Workshop. Cierra will help you figure out how to safely and effectively train your players so they aren’t sidelined by injury.