1. Build Your Foundation
The foundation of your athletic performance is core strength. The core should be thought of as the foundation of a house that needs to be solid & strong before anything else is added. Therefore, developing a strong core should be the main focus for an athlete. Typically when people hear core strength they automatically think of just their abdominals, when in reality the core is comprised of the muscles from just below your chest to all the way down to above your knees and wrapped around from front to back. With the core being as large & as important as it is more time needs to be dedicated to strengthening it during your everyday workout. Once the core is strong then everything else can fall into place & the athlete will be that much stronger, faster, & more productive while training from the inside out. Some of my favorite core strengthening exercises include every variation of the plank.
2. Single Leg Strength Training
A majority of sports are played with only one leg on the ground at a time. Running, cutting, back peddling, shuffling, and most jumping are a few examples of movements in sports where the athlete’s weight is only on one leg. Therefore, the athlete needs to be trained accordingly with the majority of their lower body strength training consisting of single leg exercises. Two legged exercises such as the traditional back squat & deadlift still play an important role in a well-rounded training program but if single leg exercises are not incorporated as well the athlete could create muscle imbalances. Typically you have one leg that is stronger than the other so when you have both feet on the floor your stronger leg ends up doing most of the work. You are not only doing yourself a disservice by allowing your weaker leg to be covered up but you are also setting yourself up for injury due to the muscle imbalance you are creating. One of my favorite single leg exercises is the Bulgarian split squat. This exercise is the single greatness lower body exercise for athletes looking to develop functional strength, power, & stability that will transfer over to ALL sports. Performing the Bulgarian split squat (aka rear foot elevated split squat) can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell. Start by elevating your back leg on either a bench or a box. Your front foot should be placed far enough in front of you that when you lower down your knee stays behind your toe. If you are using a barbell you place the barbell on your back just as if you were performing the back squat. If you are using dumbbells hold one in each hand with your arms lowered to your sides. Slowly lower down until your back knee touches down then immediately raise back up by driving through the heel of your front leg. A few helpful tips to remember: 1. Your back leg should only be used to keep your balance, do not try to use it to help execute the lift. 2. Keep your back flat with a big chest and do not collapse at the waist. 3. Just like the squat keep your head in a neutral position with your eyes straight ahead.
3. Strength Before Speed
Far too often athletes make the mistake of not incorporating strength training into their speed training. An athlete will never maximize their speed potential if they work exclusively on sprint work and sprint technique. A strength training program is more important then the actual sprint work being done on the track. Sprinting is all about generating maximal force against the ground to help propel you down the field or court. In order to generate the most force against the ground you need a strong core and lower half. Two of my favorite exercises to help produce that lower body strength needed to help you run faster is the Bulgarian split squat from above and the Glute Ham Raise (GHR). See number 2 on how to perform the Bulgarian split squat. The GHR can be performed on an actual GHR machine or can be done manually with a partner. To perform this exercise with a partner, kneel down on a mat while your partner behind you places his hands on your heels and presses them into the ground not allowing your legs to come off the ground. While keeping your back flat and your hips aligned with your shoulders slowly lower your upper half to the floor while having your hands out ready to catch yourself. In the beginning most athletes are only able to lower themselves a few inches but over time you know you have achieved elite athlete status when you can slowly lower yourself all the way to the floor and pull yourself back up to starting position.
4. Improve Joint Mobility
Limited joint mobility can be very detrimental to your overall athleticism. Take for example the vertical jump where you are trying to achieve triple extension. Triple extension is a phrase used in the strength and conditioning world describing the simultaneous extension of your ankles, knees, and hips. When performed properly with all 3 joints moving through their full range of motion it can become one of the most powerful movements in all of sports. But, if one of those 3 joints has limited mobility and you cannot achieve the FULL triple extension you are losing critical inches off of your vertical jump. Of the three joints involved in the triple extension the hip joint is typically the joint that lacks the most mobility. My favorite exercise to improve hip mobility is the goblet squat with either a kettle bell or DB. The goblet squat is performed by holding the weight in front of you pressed against your chest while slowly lowering down into a deep squat position keeping your heels on the ground. Hold your position at the bottom of your squat for a 10 count with your elbows gently pressing out against the inside of your knees. Perform this exercises a warm-up or superset it into your workout on your lower body day. Perform 3 sets of 10.
5. Work hard, but also work SMART
This tip may have ended up last but most certainly not least, and in my opinion is the most important of them all. Taking the proper time to rest and recover is just as important as the actual training itself. No matter how hard you work in the weight room, if you aren’t taking the appropriate time to rest and let your body repair you aren’t going to see the results you are hoping for. The concept of resting is often times difficult for dedicated athletes to embrace. Over the years we have been brainwashed to think if a little is good, then A LOT must be really good. This mindset will undoubtedly result in becoming over-trained. When an athlete becomes over-trained its not a matter of if but WHEN will the injury occur. Early in my athletic career I was guilty of the same “no days off” mentality. It wasn’t until I became more aware and started listening to my body and taking care of my body that I saw a drastic improvement in my performance on the field. Do these 5 things to help promote recovery and regeneration.
- Sleep at least 8 hours a night: While you are sleeping your body releases essential hormones to help repair and rebuild muscle.
- Stay hydrated: A lot of soft tissue injuries are a result of the athlete being dehydrated. An easy way to figure out just how much water you should be consuming is to divide your body weight in half and that is the number of ounces you should be drinking per day.
- Cold tub: Cold tubs are an easy way to help stop the inflammation process as well as aiding in the removal of lactic acid from your muscles.
- Massage or foam rolling: Foam rolling can be performed before your workout to help loosen tight muscles and also post workout to help reduce soreness created from the workout.
- Refuel after your workout: After an intense workout your body becomes depleted of glycogen. In order to restore the depleted glycogen stores and allow the repair process to begin you need to refuel your body within that first 60 minute post workout window. I recommend a protein shake with a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Shoot for 20-30 grams of protein, which would mean 40-60 grams of carbohydrates. My favorite post workout smoothie is the following: Unsweetened almond milk, 1 scoop of whey protein, 2 scoops of all natural peanut or almond butter, 1 large frozen banana, and 2 large handfuls of organic spinach or kale.