Sport-Specific Strength and Fitness Training

I have built many sport-specific strength and fitness training programs for top-caliber athletes over the years…I hope this works for you. Remember, you need to vary your workouts to match the intensity of your other training. Cross-training is difficult but vital to your success. The main issue with sport-specific strength and fitness training at any level, but particularly when first starting to train, is overtraining. Overtraining can derail the whole effort. You can run into problems with connective tissue, illness, excess weight loss, and malaise…all related back to overtraining, simply doing too much, too soon, and not in the right balance.

That being said, your goal must amazing, it must excite you…the hurdles are immense but not insurmountable, you simply must have a plan.

The first part of any sport-specific strength and fitness program is the evaluation. You must have an honest, heart-to-heart with yourself and with your team to access where you are now and where you want to end up, relative to fitness. You also need to establish incremental goals along the way, as well as the ultimate goal. In other words, you need to know where you are and where you are going…where you want to end up! That being said, you must do it the proper manner, progressing in just the right way, and timing it all just so…so you peak at just the right moment.

You are about to embark upon the journey of a lifetime and the program, the timing, and the overall coaching is crucial. One component ignored or mishandled will result in a less-that-desired effect. As in business and in life, planning and timing are everything. You are basically embarking upon a launch, a product launch, and you are the product…or will be!

So, here’s what you do:

1) Physical assessment. Know exactly where you stand on a variety of tests, all sport-specific. Test and measure everything, just as in business!

2) Have an honest discussion with your trainers after the testing to assess weakness and strengths.

3) Develop a plan of attack, and here is the most important aspect, trust your coaches with your
development…completely! Even Michael Jordan has a coach. You must turn yourself over to your coach and if he says “S*#t bagels in the parking lot!” You say, “How many and how big!” He’ll tell you for how long…until he says stop!

4) Get started!

5) Assess often but not too often, as that may be counter-productive. Some gains will come fast and others will need constant attention and prodding for you to get ultimate results.

Now, how do you work out?

Based on the tests, the assessment, the discussion, and keeping the ultimate goal in mind, the training should be varied and should follow an adaptable and forward-thinking plan.

1) You need to vary eccentric and concentric (negative-based and positive-based) activities. The negative will allow you to get to muscle fibers and to a degree impossible with a concentric only or a concentric-based routine. But you must vary the attack, one day concentric, two days later eccentric. And so on! Too much of one or the other will lead to minimal gains, no gains or, worse possible scenario…you will go backwards and lose strength and muscle, finally getting sick.

Balance in sport-specific training is everything!

2) You must have a cross-training, anaerobic/aerobic fitness approach…always pushing the boundaries of what is anaerobic and what is aerobic. As your fitness level increases and improves you will find what was once anaerobic is not aerobic…then you push again!

Always push the boundaries!

3) The balance between circuit training and conventional weight training is crucial. You need to push the aerobic/anaerobic envelope by increasing the intensity of the circuit, while balancing weights and machines.

Once again, the proper balance is everything!

Penn State, many years ago (late 70s and early 80s) had an awesome football program, in large measure because of Papa Joe Paterno…but also because of their strength and fitness program. However, as with human beings everywhere, they were looking for ‘something better!” Enter Nautilus! Penn State changed over their entire system to accommodate this new fitness machine, all the rage at the time. They almost completely eliminated the free-weight, power aspect of their training in favor of Arthur Jones’s new claims that a 30 minute workout was all anyone needed…that…

“To do more was like tenderizing hamburger!”

Well, Penn State and Papa Joe bit and changed their program. In one year their program tanked! Joe Paterno is no dumby, and he certainly didn’t have to be hit over the head to know he’d been wrong, the next year the reintegrated the weights and two years late they were national champions!

Enough said!

The balance was everything, that and working out in a sport-specific manner.

You see, it is not just “muscle-heads” in the gym pumping up for a Friday night date, what I used to call the PPP or pre-party pump. You can’t train like a bodybuilder preparing for a bodybuilding contest or powerlifter preparing for a powerlifting competition.

The workouts I use for my clients, the ones Penn State uses, and used back them, are sport-specific…in this case football-specific in nature.

The right ratio of machine to free weight workout is essential. Significantly, it is also very important which machines are used and which free weight exercises are applied to your sport-specific strength and fitness program.

I tell my students, particularly the football athletes I train, because they all thought you just “had” to bench, just like you may believe a certain nutritional supplement is the best, that the first time they put a bench on the 50-yard line I would let them bench. Of course, I used the same analogy for every athlete, in every sport I trained.

The message is the same, sport-specific exercises, integrating the proper motions and/or movements is of greater significance than how much one can bench.

Interestingly, we have all been taught that you exercise in a certain way, and that certain exercises should be integrated into any workout program. That sort of thinking is, quite simply, wrong!

Additionally, machines in and of themselves are just as bad. Again, there must be a balance between machines and free weights in any exercise program.

Now, make sure that at least one day a week your exercise program, at least the sport-specific weight training portion is a negative or eccentric workout. The eccentric or negative workout should be a high intensity, heavy, free weight workout.

Additionally, one workout should be what I refer to as a “coning” workout, meaning that you work from the heavy to light and finally to complete failure.

A third workout, and each one of these workouts should be a same body part workout, should be a “pyramid” workout, and should go from light to heavy.

The same body part or combination of body parts are worked 3 times a week.

As in:

Monday morning: Upper body “coning to failure” (chest, shoulders, triceps, abs, calves, forearms)
Monday late afternoon: Upper body “coning to failure” (back and biceps, abs, calves, forearms)

Tuesday morning: Legs “coning to failure” (Quads, glutes, abductors and adductors, calves, abs, forearms)
Tuesday late afternoon: Legs “coning to failure” (Hamstrings*, calves, abs, forearms)

Wednesday morning: Monday morning body parts “pyramiding to failure”
Wednesday late afternoon: Monday late afternoon body parts “pyramiding to failure”

Thursday morning: Tuesday morning body parts “pyramiding to failure”
Thursday later afternoon: Tuesday late afternoon body parts “pyramiding to failure”

Friday morning: Monday morning body parts “negative”
Friday late afternoon: Monday late afternoon body parts “negative”

Saturday morning: Total leg blowout! “negative”

Sunday: The Day of Rest from all things!

*Hamstrings, leg biceps or biceps femoris, are the muscles at the back of the leg. Significantly, as you may already be aware, it is one of the most neglected muscles in the body. The proper strength ratio, quadraceps to hamstrings, can make a huge difference in your success as an athlete and also may play a big role in whether or not you have a hamstring injury at some point in your training. The hamstrings are also a key component in power and quickness…and well as in explosiveness (related to power) and speed!

Every workout, you need to do abdominal work, lower back exercises, obliques, calves, and forearms (alternating exercises and intensity)

Every morning your need to be doing very specific neck exercises, most being exercises your trainer can with you with a towel and their hands! Nothing is ever needed beyond that, at least in the early stages, as your neck just isn’t that strong…but needs to be!

As Woody Hayes once told me, “As the neck goes, so goes the body! Work the neck constantly!”

There are a number of exercises I use with my clients that would help but the key is to use the right balance! Additionally, dumbbells OVER barbells, and machines in concert with free weights is key. The free weights offer real world, synergistic benefits machines alone cannot. Dumbbells and single-side exercises are more effective than barbell exercises for sport-specific training…and for competitive results.

I have trained athletes at every level, I know this program works, I hope you will incorporate my ideas if you are in need of an edge, they will help you achieve your goals. If not, I still wish you every good thing, and a place on the team to boot!