The adage “practice makes perfect” is an accurate one, but when it comes to achieving the highest levels of athleticism, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Practicing your sport is vital, but preparing yourself for optimal performance requires a combination of a number of different training techniques, on the field and off. Here are some to help you out on your road to athletic fitness.
Building strength can enhance performance in any sport. While the specific demands of your chosen sport will dictate the particular muscles on which you need to focus, some general strength training exercises can benefit any athlete.
As strength and conditioning specialist Josh Henkin notes, the “Big Three” of weightlifting — the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift — are a great way to develop strength for sports. These exercises each work multiple muscle groups and are highly effective at building strength. A spotter is recommended for these exercises.
Squat: Load a barbell in an Olympic rack and stand under it with your feet shoulder-width apart. Rest your arms on top of the bar. Lift the bar off of the rack and slowly bend your knees, keeping your back straight. Lower your body as far as is comfortable and then slowly reverse the motion.
Bench Press: To perform the bench press, lay on a bench under a loaded barbell. Slowly lift the bar and bring it down toward your chest. When it is two inches above your chest, push it up and straighten your arms as far as you can without locking out your elbows.
Deadlift: Stand behind a loaded barbell that is on the ground. Squat down facing the bar and use an overhand grip to hold onto it. With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend down and pick up the bar. Lift it to knee level by straightening your back and knees. Slowly reverse the motion and repeat.
Cardiovascular conditioning also enhances sports performance. Cardiovascular exercise can improve your endurance and help burn fat. Often, cardiovascular exercise translates directly to your sport, as in the case of running, swimming or skating.
Great forms of cardiovascular training include:
Skating (Ice or Roller)
In addition to endurance, sports demand agility. Being agile allows you to change directions quickly and perform complex movements on the go instead of interrupting your momentum.
Henkin recommends several agility drills for his clients. The following are among the most effective:
M Drill: Set up cones in a box, 15 feet apart. Place one cone halfway between two of the corner cones, so they form the points of an M. Sprint to each cone, pivoting to change directions. This drill can also be performed using side steps.
T Drill with Pass: Set up cones to form points of a T, with the top cones a few feet from a wall. Begin at the base of the T and sprint forward, holding a ball. When you reach the top, bounce the ball off the wall and catch it. Sidestep to one end of the T, then the other, performing bounce passes throughout.
Any work involving sprinting and changing direction will improve your agility.
Your core is the area composed of your lower back and abdominals. Building strength in this area allows you to transfer power from your upper body to your lower body effectively. Your core also aids in twisting and turning motions.
Some of the most effective core strength exercises include:
Planks: Assume a push-up position but rest on your forearms instead of your palms. Lift your body off of the floor and maintain the position as long as you can, contracting your abdominals to remain in place.
To perform at your best, you need to have sufficient fuel. Food gives you the energy you need to power through workouts and play your sport at the highest level. You’ll need carbohydrates for fuel, protein for muscle recovery, and fats for hormonal regulation.
It’s important not to underestimate the amount of calories you burn during training and playing. Here are some activity estimates.
Basketball game: 690 calories per hour
Biking, 10 mph: 518 calories per hour
Running, 6 mph: 863 calories per hour
Weight Lifting: 518 calories per hour
About this Author
Brian Willett began writing in 2005. He has been published in the “Buffalo News,” the “Daytona Times” and “Natural Muscle Magazine.” Willett also writes for Bloginity.com and Bodybuilding.com. He is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of North Carolina.