Sports-Specific Training Questions and Answers
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
Got something a little different for you this week! I've put together 5 sport-specific questions that I've received along with my answers to those questions. If you're a coach or athlete, this is really informative stuff that can really help you improve performance.
My football coach will not let us do curls he says they have no place in training, but I say they do. The biceps must be there for a reason, right?
Since the biceps is often thought of as a "show" or "beach" muscle, bicep training is often over-worshiped by young male trainees, but also excessively discouraged by well-meaning coaches. To say, as many coaches do, that the biceps has no function for a football player demonstrates a basic lack of understanding.
I understand your coach's sentiments — he's just trying to emphasize function over aesthetics. However, it's kind of like telling school kids not to read the latest controversial book— it’s the best way to guarantee that they will!
The biceps plays a pivotal role in the function of the shoulder and also in the articulation of the hand. It also balances the forces created by the triceps at the elbow joint.
So I hope your coach will someday take less of an "extremist" position about this issue, but in the mean-time, see if he'll allow you to perform more chins— a great bicep movement, but just tell him you are doing it for your back strength!
I'm a 17 year old varsity wrestler. I want to strength train, but cannot outgrow my weight-class. Can I get stronger without gaining any weight?
If you're trying to get stronger without a weight gain I would recommend relatively heavy explosive weight training with very little emphasis on the eccentric portion of the lifts.
You obviously should not train the same way a bodybuilder does (unless you want to increase your bodyweight). However, if you do realize a weight gain from low-rep strength training, you probably are headed in that direction anyway.
What I mean by this is that if you gain weight as an adaptation to low rep, high intensity work, it tells me that you are already neurally efficient as you are going to be at that weight and can only see physical (as opposed to technical) improvement with a bit more muscle on your frame.
This commonly happens in boxing where a fighter gradually finds it harder and harder to make it down to their weight class, and then must make the move up to the next class. At your age, this scenario is inevitable, it just a question of how long it's going to take before you have no choice but to move up.
I am a young personal trainer that works with high school athletes. I find my athletes get bored with the routine of sets and reps without a lot of change. I do change up exercises as often as I can but some things stay the same because they are effective. I am wondering, what kind of things you tell your athletes to keep them motivated? I would really like to know what you say to an athlete when you are first starting with them?
Most of the athletes that stick with me will stay motivated by the results but it's hard to keep an athlete with me sometimes because I put them on a workout that seems boring to them. I do plyometrics, speed training, and the strength training progresses but I believe its just the routine that bores them and not the actual exercises. So when you give an athlete a workout, how do you prevent them from giving up too early?
Great question Nick, and thanks for your kind words. Motivation is a "lost art" among trainers. Actually, that's being too kindm I suppose, since many trainers never "find" that art in the first place!
I place a lot of value on connecting with each client personally— in both formal (interview) and informal situations. And very simply, ASK the client, in a sincere way, what they're hoping to accomplish. Then (and here's the important part) LISTEN.
Your client may have a strong passion to (for example) lose bodyfat, gain upper body strength, overcome an injury, or he may want faster sprint times. As your client talks, take note of their body language and vocal tone. If your client becomes excited and animated as he explains his passion to squat 405 pounds, it's a message you need to pay attention to.
Then, in subsequent workouts, when the going gets tough, link the current task back to the passionate goal: "Listen Salvatore, I know this exercise is difficult, but trust me, this is the price that needs to be paid for that 405 squat you're looking for!"
Finally, it's important that YOU are motivated!
Not in an insincere way (which is almost a hallmark of bad trainers everywhere!), but in a sincere way. Nothing is more motivational than your client sees that his coach is genuinely interested in his accomplishments.
Thanks for the great question!
Charles: Most people say you can improve your tennis game with strength training; however, I see few top-notch pros with physiques that are above average. Is strength training harmful for tennis players?
It’s true, few elite male tennis players possess the muscular physiques often seen in other anaerobic strength endurance sports such as baseball, basketball, football, etc...
Even more perplexing, some top female tennis players, such as Venus Williams do possess superior levels of muscularity compared to their male counterparts.
Is there an ideal level of hypertrophy for male or female tennis players? I don’t think so.
I suspect that tennis, the quintessential gentleman’s sport, may have dodged the no- so-gentlemanly iron a little longer than other sports and is just now catching on. There’s no reason that strength training would improve physical capacity in other games but not in racquet sports.
Michael Chang, who champions the case study supporting strength training with his well-developed lower body, developed a hard-hitting baseline game despite a lack of advantageous height.
Tennis requires high levels of starting strength, agility, strength endurance, and flexibility. All of these qualities improve with a properly executed strength training program. Let’s look at them one by one:
Starting strength, or the ability to recruit as many motor units (all the muscle fibers controlled by one motor nerve) as possible in an instant is required from the first swing of the racquet. It is technically considered a component of speed strength.
It should be obvious that 80-140 MPH serves and furious sprints to the ball are not performed without quickly accessing high-threshold motor units. Of course, muscle fibers usually remain somewhat dormant until presented with tension that "recruits" them in order to overcome the resistance.
This challenge can easily be provided in the form of a well-designed resistance training program. Once the motor units have been trained, it becomes much easier to access them for tasks that require acceleration against small resistances, i.e., the racquet.
Explosive strength is the ability to keep muscle fibers activated once they have been innervated— it is the second component of speed strength.
Explosive strength is required for sprinting after a return, or generally, any rapid accelerative movements. This presents the most obvious need for strength training which can be developed in the weight room very easily and safely.
Remember not to mistake strength training with bodybuilding. The development of force can be greatly increased without significant gains in mass. Athletes are recognizing the need for strength training in tennis at a very rapid rate.
Agility is the ability to integrate starting strength, explosive strength, and balance within a single movement or movement pattern.
A common tactic employed in tennis is to physically and neurally exhaust an opponent by constantly firing cross-court shots, forcing repeated and rapid directional changes, debilitating the opponent’s energy stores and strength levels.
Because it is a complex quality, agility is a trainable characteristic. A strength training program won’t make a player look like Flex Wheeler, but the improvement in agility will save him in the late sets.
Strength endurance is the ability to perform sub-maximal efforts over a duration of time.
Tennis matches often endure for four or more hours. Increased levels of maximal strength provide a strength reserve so that, for example, repetitive tasks which used to require say, 21% of a player’s maximal strength might now require 17% of maximal strength. This is what improves the player’s ability to remain effective for a longer period of time.
A great concern among tennis coaches and players is that resistance training will decrease an athlete’s range of motion (ROM). Although resistance training without stretching might limit an athlete’s ROM, performing regular stretching exercises will prevent a loss of flexibility.
Although many athletes believe they are better or healthier athletes when they are more flexible, there is such a thing as too much flexibility.
Limit your flexibility training to ROM development specific to performing your sport, with a bit of room to spare for unforeseen events, such as slipping into a partial split position as you reach for a long ball.
Two things scare me (and Austin Powers): nuclear weapons and carnies! Please don’t show me your contortionist act, save it for the circus.
Hi, I'm 25 years old and I've been climbing for two years now, and have been lifting for three years. I've been off the climbing crag for about a month, and just started EDT this week— I wanted to ask you how can I can mix the EDT with the climbing (giving more importance to EDT). I usually climb two to three hours, three times a week. Thanks in advance!
Thanks for writing! First, EDT is a great way to improve muscular endurance for climbing, or any other sport which requires muscle endurance.
The trick is to develop a schedule that allows you to lift and climb in a way that helps your performance. After all, if you can't recover from your workouts, your fitness levels will decline instead of improve.
In this case, you have two choices: Either perform EDT on "non-climbing" days, or perform EDT on climbing days. In the latter case, you have the additional choice between lifting and climbing in the same workout, or in different workouts (in the same day).
There are a few different ways to arrive at the best decision:
1) If climbing is your primary training concern, and you wish to use EDT mostly to help your climbing, I'd suggest positioning your workouts in such a way that you're most recovered prior to climbing sessions, as opposed to lifting sessions. This can be accomplished by placing your EDT workouts soon after your climbing sessions, to allow for maximum rest until your next climbing session. This arrangement poses an obvious problem however— EDT is difficult enough, without having to do it right after a climbing workout!
2) If you wish to give equal importance to climbing and lifting, I would simply alternate between climbing workouts and EDT workouts, separating each workout by at least one, but perhaps as many as three days— whatever is required to facilitate adequate recovery.
There are a few other "tricks" that you might also consider:
1) Climbing is stressful to the hands and fingers — try to choose resistance-training exercises that are gentle on your hands, and/or use lifting straps to reduce the load on these tissues.
2) Skilled climbers rely mostly on lower body strength, whereas novice climbers tend to over-rely on their upper body to scale their climbs (many years ago I did some climbing for a short while, and I was in the latter category!). In either case, leg training should be emphasized in EDT workouts. For climbers, I like pistols, step-ups, and lunges.
3) Since climbing is an endurance-oriented event, target maximal strength in your EDT workouts: Instead of 10RM weights, use 6RM loads and start your PR Zones with sets of 3, working down to doubles and singles as you begin to fatigue.
I hope that helped!
About The Author
Charles Staley...world-class strength/performance coach...his colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results.
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