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A Workout for Becoming a Better Athlete: Part I

Weight-loss workouts seem to be a dime a dozen, and easily found on fitness websites or in magazines. But what if your goals are more sport-specific and less focused on aesthetics?
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young girl kicking soccer ball...
young girl kicking soccer ball...

Weight-loss workouts seem to be a dime a dozen, and easily found on fitness websites or in magazines. But what if your goals are more sport-specific and less focused on aesthetics?

Can those fat-loss workouts also help you to become a better athlete? While any form of exercise could potentially improve your sports performance, the truth is that you'll need to stray from pure weight-loss workouts if you want optimize your body's ability to move with strength, speed, and power.

Before learning how to design your personal protocol for increasing performance, you need to ask important questions about your sport, such as:

  • How long is the average play or length of exercise?

For example, the average play length in American football is six to seven seconds, while the average play length in basketball is 13 to 15 seconds. The exercise time during the 100m dash is 10 seconds, while the exercise time during the 1500m run can be five to eight minutes. Different time lengths will use different "energy systems" in the body -- such as carbohydrates and fast-twitch muscle, fats and slow-twitch muscle, or a combination of both.

  • How long are the rest periods between plays?

Using the same example as above, a football player gets 25-35 seconds of active rest between plays, while a basketball player is constantly jogging or shuffling between explosive movements for five to 15 minutes. A 100m sprinter may only perform one set during a race, but must have muscular conditioning to perform 10-15 sprint sets during practice. A 1500m runner may also only perform one extended effort during a competition or practice, but must have a large amount of core and single leg stability for the repeated impact during that long run.

  • Which muscles are being used?

A football player uses a relatively large amount of upper pushing muscles, while a basketball player relies on hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Swimmers use their upper backs, runners use their feet, calves, and hips, tennis players use the shoulder internal and external rotators, and so on. You don't want to necessarily use the same workout for each of those sports, but should instead choose a workout that is "sport-specific" to the muscles being used.

Once you know the energy systems and muscles being used for your sport, you can then create a workout that meets those demands. There are a variety of different movements that all sports use, but the most common movements that can be replicated in a gym or exercise setting include the following:

  • Jumps: Feet leaving the ground and jumping into the air, such as a rebound in basketball
    • Exercises: Box jumps, bounds, skips, hurdles, side-to-side jumps
  • Slams: Throwing something towards the ground very hard, such as a tennis serve.
    • Exercises: Medicine ball slams, tire sledgehammer swings, elastic band fast pulls
  • Twists: Turning the body, such as a baseball swing.
    • Exercises: Medicine ball side throws, cable torso twists, side planks, carioca shuffles
  • Throws: Throwing an object overhand, such as an inbound throw in soccer.
    • Exercises: Medicine ball overhead throws, cable wood choppers
  • Tosses: Propelling an object underhand, such as a softball pitch.
    • Exercises: Underhand medicine ball toss, tire flip
  • Lifts: Lifting an object off the ground, such as a log throw.
    • Exercises: Deadlift, sumo deadlift, medicine ball "cannonball" throws
  • Changes of Direction: Faking and cutting in football.
    • Exercises: Cone drills, shuffles, mirror drills, ladder drills
  • Double Leg Strength: Pushing with both legs, such as a rugby scrum.
    • Exercises: Front, back, or overhead squats.
  • Single Leg Strength: Pushing with one leg, such as running, hiking, or a basketball layup.
    • Exercises: Single leg squat, split squat, step-ups, lunges
  • Vertical Pulling: Pulling from overhead, such as rock climbing, gymnastics, or swimming.
    • Exercises: Pull-ups or lat pull-downs
  • Horizontal Pulling: Pulling to the midline of the body, such as rowing.
    • Exercises: Bent barbell rows, seated rows, single arm dumbbell rows
  • Vertical Pushing: Pushing to overhead, such as swimming or throwing.
    • Exercises: Overhead dumbbell or barbell presses, handstand push-ups, dips
  • Horizontal Pushing: Pushing in front of the body, such as football blocking.
    • Exercises: Bench presses, incline presses, push-ups
  • Core Flexing: Flexing the abs, such as following through after a tennis serve.
    • Exercises: Hanging leg raises, crunch and sit-up variations, V-ups, rollouts, planks
  • Work: Moving the body, such as running, sprinting, rowing, or cycling.
    • Exercises: Treadmill, bike, row machine, elliptical, sled pushes, sled pulls

Now that you know how to identify muscles and energy systems, and the best range of exercises to use, you can put this all together to create the best workout to become a better athlete, no matter which sport you're in. In Part II, you're going to learn exactly how to do that.

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