Any athlete who wants to improve their play on the diamond, mat, court, or field is going to want to hit the weights. While the old school way of thinking was that athletes should only practice their sport, good coaches now know that a big part of sports performance training takes place in the gym. This is because the gym is where base qualities such as strength, speed, aerobic capability, and more are built. Here are few sports performance training recommendations you can add into your workout.
Know what to Train First
Before you can worry about which gym exercises your sports performance training should be comprised of, you have to first realize what the goal of your workouts are. While which specific athletic quality to focus on will vary on both what sport you play and what level you compete at, here are a few basic needs every sportsman needs to consider:
- Strength – A weak athlete is an ineffective athlete. Whether you’re moving an object (such as swinging a baseball bat) or moving your own body (such as evading would-be tacklers on the American football field), you have to be strong enough to handle anything that comes your way.
- Speed/power – The only thing worse than a weak athlete is a slow athlete. Almost all important aspects of sports happen quickly, and the more explosive an athlete can be, the better chance they have of playing well.
- Body control – Most athletes need to have good control over their body, and need to be able to move themselves where they need to, when they need to, and as quickly as they need to.
- Cardio/conditioning – If you gas out, you’re going to lose before you get started. If you’re ever going to be a good athlete, you need to ensure you have enough cardio and conditioning to keep playing as intensely as you can throughout your entire game, match, or competition.
Choosing Gym Exercises
Now that you know the basic qualities your sports performance training needs to address, you can start picking gym movements to put into your workouts. While it may be enticing to pick fancy-looking exercises, you’re almost always going to be best served sticking with the basics. This is because they’ll give you the most overall development, are the easiest/simplest to perform correctly, and leave you the least susceptible to injury.
Here’s a list of a few key movements that should be integrated into the gym portion of any sports performance training program:
- Box squats – Do box squats to strengthen the hips, glutes, legs, and lower body as a whole. They’re relatively easy to learn, and when done properly, put a lot of focus on hip drive off the box. This is important as the hips are integral in developing power for most sporting functions.
- Bench press – Sticking with the old standby is the best overall way of strengthening the “pushing” muscles of the upper body. It’s a fairly safe exercise, almost everyone knows how to perform it correctly, and it’s going to strengthen multiple muscle groups at the same time.
- Weighted pullups – You need to ensure the “pulling” muscles of the upper body as just as strong as the “pushing” muscles, and this is the best way to do it. At the same time, pullups are a great way to gauge how strong you are for your bodyweight, and whether or not this is a specific issue you need to address in your sports performance training. If you’re not yet strong enough to do pullups, you can do inverted rows as a substitute.
- Box jumps – Speed and explosiveness is critical for athletes, and box jumps done for maximum height are one of the best ways to develop it. Power is built when you move explosively, and it’s literally impossible to jump onto as high of a box as you can without being as explosive as possible.
- Cleans – The Olympic lifts are another excellent way of building speed and explosiveness. However, their execution can be quite complicated, and they can be difficult to learn. This means even the smallest breakdown in form can lead to a possible injury. Cleans are about the simplest variation of an “O-lift” you can do that don’t require extensive instruction to perform properly and allow you to build a fair amount of power.
A Sample Athlete Workout
While overall programs can vary greatly, below is a sample sports performance training workout that targets most general athletic qualities. This would be used during the off-season.
Day 1 – Explosive Upper / Strength Lower
- Plyo pushups – 5 sets x 2-3 reps done for maximum explosiveness
- Box squats – build up to a 3-5RM
- Split squats – 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps
- Romanian deadlifts – 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell or kettlebell swings – 3-4 sets x 15 reps each side
Day 2 – Explosive Lower & Full Body / Strength Upper
- Cleans x 4 reps + box jumps x 3 reps for max height – repeat 4x
- Bench presses – build up to a 3-5RM
- Pullups – 50 total reps (set and reps don’t matter – just do 50 reps in as few sets as possible)
- Dips – 2 x max reps
- Rear delt face pulls – 3 sets x 15 reps
- Biceps/triceps superset (pick any exercise for biceps and triceps, 3 supersets x 10-12 reps of each exercise)
Since this is an off-season workout, conditioning can be kept simple. Do any form of moderately intense aerobic cardio for 20-30 minutes, 2-3x/week. You can save sprints, intervals, and more for the pre-season, as that’s when they’ll best be utilized. Of course, this is again going to depend on the sport and if this sort of conditioning is even necessary.
In the end, if you focus on simple gym exercises and building the proper physical qualities, you can minimize your time working out, reduce the chance of injury, and prepare yourself for the upcoming season. However, do know that this is only part of your sports performance training, and you should also strive to improve your skills specific to your sport, as well.