Training Activities for Athletes: The Logical Steps to Determine Their Value, Part 2
Last week we examined general guidelines for determining the value of a training program. We also took a brief look at the history of the fitness industry and the results of various endeavors. In doing so, we learned that any training endeavor should fall into one of three categories for it to be considered a legitimate pursuit:
- Force enhancement via strength training
- Energy system improvement via sport-related conditioning runs or drills
- Skill improvement via sport-specific skill training
Anything that does not fall into any of those categories should be put into a “gray area” category. This categorization means the activity, method, or tool is questionable. Now let’s apply our deductive reasoning to strength training and conditioning protocols specifically. Here’s what you need to know to know if a protocol is worth your time and energy:
To be considered a legitimate strength-training exercise the following criteria should be met:
- The device or resistance used should safely create high tension in the working muscle fibers. You're trying to prevent injury, so use proper technique.
- The exercise should be performed with a controlled speed of movement. This means relatively slow by nature due to the fact that significant resistance is used and excessive momentum minimized to keep the working fibers under tension. Moving a resistance with a relatively fast speed may eventually recruit and fatigue muscle provided one reaches the point of momentary muscle fatigue. However, this is not recommended due to the unnecessary accelerative forces placed on the muscles and surrounding connective tissues.
- The exercise should be performed to the point of volitional muscle fatigue (safely) to overload the greatest volume of working muscle fibers. Volitional fatigue means maximum fiber usage and maximum fiber usage means proper overload.
- The aforementioned process should be performed over a full range of joint muscle function. Strength at each position of the range of a muscle's function adds fortification to injury protection.
- The program should be progressive in nature in terms of increasing the amount of resistance used and/or the number of repetitions performed over time. Some plan of overload, adaptation, and progression must underpin the program.
To be considered a legitimate conditioning-related activity at least one of the following should apply:
- If attempting to improve cardio-respiratory endurance, the activity should elevate and sustain the heart rate to elicit a corresponding training effect. Of course it must be demanding.
- If attempting to enhance sport-related energy systems, the program should apply an appropriate volume of bouts, levels of intensity, lengths of bout time, and recovery time between bouts (if applicable). Additionally, it should be designed to progressively overload those energy systems. Again, a progressive plan must be in place.
- If attempting to improve joint flexibility, the emphasis should be on safe stretching techniques through your body's inherent joint ranges of motion. Sensible post-workout static stretching is recommended.
To be considered a legitimate sport skill training activity the following should apply:
- The activity should exactly replicate the mechanics and circumstances encountered in competition. Actual "game speed” actions should be used. This would include single-executed skills such as free throw shooting, a squat clean, a tennis serve, or any gymnastic maneuver.
- This applies to team practices and strategy session, as well. Competition-specific plays and interactions among team members must be rehearsed and refined. All individual parts may function optimally, but if the parts cannot work in harmony you can kiss success good-bye.
- The activity should not be performed against a resistance or with an implement heavier than the competition implement. Even a nominal amount of resistance can alter the speed of execution to something other than exact competition speed. This principle has been violated for decades. Examples would be throwing heavy baseballs, footballs, swinging over-weight golf clubs, mimicking skills against resistance bands or on a weighted pulley system. These may seem practical on the surface but are flawed upon further investigation.
- Finally, like other training components where repetition is paramount, a number of repetitions should be performed (correctly) to enhance precise motor ability. Exact practice, practice, practice, and more practice.
Because skill training is an often misunderstood discipline, part three will address more research-supported details on the motor learning principles that govern skill attainment. I'm hopeful that will offer a sensible perspective and clear up much of the confusion.
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