As an athlete it’s important to remember exactly who and what you are. Being an athlete training for sport means you are not the following: a power lifter, body builder, CrossFitter, or Olympic lifter. Trying to train as more than one of these disciplines creates a situation in which you have competing demands and will leave you average at all of them. Before I go on, let me preface this entire article by saying that I have nothing against the different training disciplines listed above. In fact now that I am no longer training for football, I have dabbled in just about all of them. I am simply stating my case below on how I believe athlete’s of more traditional sports should be training.
Don’t get me wrong, we do borrow concepts and principles of all these different disciplines depending on the phase of training we are in or the certain adaptations we are chasing for certain athletes. For example, regardless of the sport, we want all of our athletes to be powerful. Therefore, we use powerlifting training strategies. We also want to add lean muscle to all of our athletes. This is done during the hypertrophy phase of training where we are trying to add what we like to call “body armour” to our athletes. To do this we use body building concepts with the main difference being that we are trying to build “go” muscles not “show” muscles.
Olympic lifting has some carry over as well IF it is done correctly. Because Olympic lifting is such a technical skill that requires incredible amounts of practice and repetition, it isn’t something that we use very often. If Olympic lifting it not taught/performed correctly or used out of context, like it sometimes is in CrossFit, it becomes very dangerous. We feel the risk:reward ratio is simply not worth it. We believe our athletes can achieve the same results with safer and more sport like dynamic movements such as sprinting, jumping, and throwing. As I mentioned above, Olympic lifting is it’s own sport. If training athletes is what we do through the vehicle of strength and conditioning it doesn’t make sense to train for a sport with another sport.
Training movement consists of multi-joint compound movements where multiple muscle groups are being used at the same time. Training muscle consists of isolating a single muscle group at one time. Let’s compare the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (one of my all time favorite exercises) to the Seated Leg Extension (one of my least favorite exercises). The split squat requires joint action (from the ankle, knee, & hip) as well a ton of muscle action from several different large muscle groups (glutes, hamstrings, quad, & more) all working together to perform the exercise. Not only are multiple large muscle groups working together to successfully execute this movement, but there are also smaller stabilizing/proprioceptive muscles of the ankle, knee, and hip working to do their job of maintaining balance, posture and proper positioning. Most large compound movements like the squat also require a certain amount of mobility in certain joints in order to be executed correctly. That means the RFE Split Squat is giving you strength, stability, & mobility all in one movement! The seated leg extension can’t even come close to giving you the same amount bang for your buck! First off, you are sitting down to perform the exercise. In sport, the only time you are sitting down is if you are sitting on the bench. The simple fact that you are in a seated position should be your first clue that this exercise will not translate to the field or court. Sports are played on your feet, therefore our training should replicate that.
The importance of training this way can be better emphasized by taking a closer look at sprinting. Sprinting is a movement that is required in nearly every sport and is an absolute game changing skill if you can do it well. It demands nearly all the major muscle groups of your lower body to synergistically work together in order to be performed safely and effectively. Sounds pretty similar to the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat right? On the contrary, a body builder typically trains in isolation. This typically means if a body builder is training legs, they usually isolate hamstrings one day with leg seated or prone machine leg curls. Then on a separate training day, they isolate their quads with the dreaded seated leg extension. Training this way, where muscle groups rarely are asked work together makes it extremely difficult to perform necessary sport skills such as sprinting and jumping. To safely perform such movements the body needs to move together as one integrated unit and not a series of isolated parts. Training isolated parts, then asking your body to perform such movements that requires multiple muscle groups to work together leaves you very susceptible to injury. It also leaves you looking like a fish out of water. Go to YouTube and search “body builder sprinting” and you will see what i’m talking about.
The human body was designed to function freely and fluidly in all planes of movement with multiple joint actions occurring simultaneously. In sport, the importance of fluid and efficient movement is even more important in order to avoid injury and to increase performance. Therefore, instead of training muscle groups we focus on training the following 6 primary movement patterns.
- TRAINING MOVEMENTS: Bilateral (2 arms or legs) or Unilateral (single arm or leg)
- Lower Pull / Hip Dominant (Examples: Deadlift, RDLs, etc.)
- Lower Push / Knee Dominant (Examples: Squat Variations)
- Upper Horizontal Push (Examples: Push Ups, Bench Press etc.)
- Upper Horizontal Pull (Examples: Inverted Rows, 1 Arm DB Row etc.)
- Vertical Push (Examples: Landmine Press, 1 Arm DB Press, etc.)
- Vertical Pull (Examples: Pull Ups, Band Pull Downs etc.)