Athletic & Fitness Principles: Part 1

Throughout my journey in life as a personal trainer, coach, and lifter of heavy things, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. It is admittedly tough to filter the noise, with everyone attempting to sell their “method” as the end-all be-all of training and fat loss programs. Use these principles to help clear the fog and help you see what is involved in becoming more awesome.

In this installment, we will be discussing athletic prowess and how to become more athletic.

This goes much further than those ladder drills and cone hops often used for youth athlete “speed training”. While useful for specific purposes within the sport itself, it will unfortunately not help accelerate one’s power and strength levels, which is one of the main points that many athletes, youth or otherwise, need during the season.

So what principles can we look to when we are aiming to increasing our athleticism? If we are to look beyond genetics of the freak athletes, and simply observe the successful athletes that put in work, we can find a few similar qualities among gymnasts, Olympic lifters, and sprinters. What is the common denominator found in these athletes?

sprinter-sexy

The ability to produce force. Whether that is moving the earth away from you during sprints, achieving triple extension in a power snatch, or defying gravity doing round-off backflip combos during gymnastics, effectively manipulating force and how we absorb it is an important factor when we determine what makes up a successful athlete.

So what are some principles that we can derive from these athletes in order to affect how we program our own exercise routines?

  • Warm-Up

    • Going through a full warm-up will help ensure that our muscles are primed for moving, our nervous system is fresh for lifting, and our joints are prepped for better movement afterwards as well.
    • During my dancing years, many bboys mentioned that movement is a full 360 degree spectrum, and it is beyond the stage of “what is in front of you.”
      46531_431814002345_4831689_n
    • We will be more ready by applying this idea of 360 degrees of movement to our warm-up, and even more-so by incorporating movements on the floor. Run backwards, shuffle side to side, balance on one foot, hop and jump – all the things we used to do when we were playing in grade school.
    • Also, during our warm-up it is easier to fit in corrective exercises if we are banged up from previous athletic injuries, or from chronic postural issues.
  • Get tight.

    • This principle can be used in regards to bodyweight movements and barbell/dumbbell movements.
    • Depending on the movement, we will need to create a global, whole body “tightness” during our movements. If not, the body will tend to crumple towards the path of least resistance.
    • This can be seen in many youth athletes performing push-ups or prone bridges. As the reps or time increases, we can see form deteriorate rapidly – either the spine ends up buckling, or the shoulder joints go to and fro.
    • By teaching proper bracing skills, from a proximal to distal fashion, we will be moving more athletically in no time.
  • Incorporate more bodyweight movements into your routine.

    • By using bodyweight movements within a routine, we will be enhancing our body’s spatial awareness, increasing our force production from an internal moment point of view, not to mention working whole movement patterns, not only single isolated movements, such as the cable bicep curl or triceps pushdown.
    • Single leg squats, push-up variations, jumps, pull-ups; hell even flips and tumbles are great to learn – if it is within your priorities to do so at least.
    • Turkish get-ups are amazing. When I first saw these, I immediately thought they were like loaded six-steps, a fundamental movement for bboys everywhere.
    • From a functional movement point of view, they help engage the core by teaching to effectively brace, has a lunge pattern, and emphasizes a packed shoulder when using a kettlebell.Turkish Get-Up
  • Move explosively.

    • Whether it is deadlifting a 135lb barbell, attack the barbell as if it weighed 500lbs. This not only ramps up your nervous system for subsequent heavier loads, but also develops certain fast twitch muscles to help you move even faster..!
    • Try this next time before you squat or bench: perform a few jumps, preferably to a box to ramp up the same muscles before squatting. Or during a bench day, perform explosive push-ups to increase the reactive ability before your work sets.
    • Interestingly enough, extremely trained runners, such as marathoners and triathlon athletes, decreased their times by incorporating a plyometric routine during their season’s program.

“So you’re saying that the predominantly  aerobically trained athlete didn’t get faster by simply running more, but by incorporating explosive movements into their routine?”

Why yes I am. Read this study to get schooled on it and more.

  • Progressively load

    • Always aim to increase the weights that you put up from the previous week, whether that is from a percentage based program or a generalized RPE type of program.
    • For beginners, you can put up almost any weight on the barbell and see increases in speed, strength and power.
      • For example, a beginner can see gains with simply putting up 135 for 3sets of 5reps.
    • But for the more initiated lifter, aiming for a top end set of a slightly higher weight than the previous week may prove to be enough:
      • For example, say an intermediate lifter can squat 315 for a single, at a bodyweight of 165-170. This lifter can see gains with squatting up to 205 for one set of 5 as his end set, if it is his first week on a program.
      • This will also allow the intermediate lifter room to breathe as it is nowhere near his training max, and his nervous system will likewise be less taxed at the end of the program when it requires more work near that max, and with a higher intensity (weight used).
      • An advanced lifter on the other hand, will often see more gains by using a higher volume at a lesser intensity, or, doing more sets x reps, at a lower percentage of his training max. Imagine a 700lb squatter using 690lbs as his top set every week – it’s certainly a recipe for disaster as many other factors come into affect once you get closer and closer to your max percentage.
      • We will cover more of these principles in the subsequent series.
  • Specific Programming Protocols

    • There are literally a million different protocols out there, aimed at gaining mass, losing fat, increasing sex drive, and everything in between. There is 5×5, the Westside method, any Russian based protocols, linear periodization, non-linear undulating periodization, clusters, wave loading, kama sutra method, – and that is just from 5 seconds of Googling different programs and methods.

      A desk jockey developing rolling patterns using the kama sutra method.

    Conclusion

    Despite the fact that you can literally go a whole life span trying out every single method under the sun, if you don’t incorporate the above methods of warming up, moving explosively, adding progressive loads, and creating tightness throughout the movement, then the protocol or method won’t necessarily be the limiting factor in your athletic success. Move well, then move often. Everything else will fall into place when approached with simplicity, and less bells and whistles.

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