Most of the athletes (and their parents) who I work with want to improve their physical attributes toward a certain sport or activity.arrow not linear

The whole exercise and fitness thing is a bit overwhelming to some of them.

“Where do we start in order to improve his speed?”

To others, it’s overly simplistic.

“She just  needs to hit the weights.”

I do my best to meet the athlete and their families where they are. But I truly don’t know what’s best for a given athlete until I interview them and run them through a basic assessment. Some athletes need to focus on flexibility, movement quality, and conditioning. But most middle- and high school athletes truly  benefit most from increasing their strength, size, and power.

There are athlete- and sport specific details. But I pull no punches on what is best for improvement. I don’t pretend that better strength, size, and speed is some elusive goal.

Running cross country will not improve your power and agility (unless the athlete is very unfit to begin with). Doing three sets of ten reps on the weight machines at Planet Fitness will offer little improvement in terms of functional strength and power. Yoga and Pilates will increase flexibility and strengthen your core. But if your sport requires acceleration with feet on the ground, you will need to transfer that mobility and core strength into athletic endeavors expressed on the playing field.

So, to keep things simple, getting bigger and faster and stronger is rather easily attained with the following:

1. Resistance training with heavy weights. Heavy is relative to each athlete and their sport. But loading is definitely an issue. If the athlete is doing Insanity of P90X type circuit workouts, they are getting a LOT of reps, but the loading is insufficient to elicit a strength and power response.

2. Resistance training with adequate time under tension. On the other hand, low repetition weightlifting protocols that demand herky jerky use of momentum are less than optimal for building strength and size. For example, the Olympic lifts like the Power Clean and Clean/Jerk offer heavy weights but extremely small time under tension. They are technical movements that typically require heavy loads to be moved rapidly with precise form. But these are not the best for making a raily or weaker athlete into a strong and resilient one.

Big powerful dudes do the clean and jerk (video below). But don’t be misled into thinking that this is great for BECOMING powerful and strong. There are better ways.


     3. Food. You could do everything -perfectly- in terms of training and miss out on progress due to inadequate nutrition – eating too much junk food and/or not enough healthy food. Don’t complicate this. Just eat a lot of relatively healthy, minimally processed foods.

     4. Recovery. Likewise, while training gets emphasis and easy buy-in, recovery is almost universally neglected. Recovery does not make for a great Nike commercial. But it is every bit as important. You would think that this should be simple. But in the real world, it is definitely not. Should we be surprised when injuries pop up and progress stagnates when we train and compete in our sports for seven days a week? Serious athletes (and their parents) should quite thinking that time off is time wasted or time to fall behind what everyone else is doing. My soap-box issues is to change the culture of club sports, dance, and even band  for that matter, from…

“They don’t go year ’round…they must not be serious about it.”


“They don’t go year ’round…they must really be serious about it.”

Taking time away from the primary sports does not mean sitting on the couch eating Twinkies every day after work or school. It does not mean that you can’t play or practice to stay sharp. But it does mean truly respecting recovery, and the idea that we function best when there are seasons and rhythm in all things, including sports. It means time devoted to something else beyond the sport, like body maintenance and repair. Like specific strength training and conditioning that is conducive to the sport but does not place the same demands on the body. Here’s a suggestion for a high-level soccer player:

Sunday – off. Leisurely ride a bike, climb a tree, or pick up trash along the roadway. Take a nap. late fall 2015 072

Monday – Weight training – core and lower body strength emphasis

Tuesday – Soccer skill work

Wednesday – Weight training – upper body strength and lower body power emphasis

Thursday – off

Friday – Speed / agility

Saturday – Soccer practice, indoor league, etc.

Schedule a few months of this type of “away” from the sport, and just see how much this pays off towards coming back as an absolute beast in the sport.


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