To be successful in sport, athletes must be able to move quickly and powerfully while maintaining balance and control of their body. For many years traditional training has focused on improving overall strength without other variables needed for sport. Many programs are machine based, move at slow speeds in small spaces and predictable patterns. Recently advanced coaches and training programs have become more "movement based" with the idea of actually making the athlete more athletic. Some times this is referred to as functional training. This has been a great transformation and we need more people doing it. It is not as simple as it sounds though. Below I list the six essential elements for success.
The struggle is real…………..important. Movement based performance programs allow young athletes to solve movement challenges, this is called motor learning through knowledge of results and implicit learning. This type of learning maximizes carry over from the training environment to the competitive environment and makes athletes very adaptable to unanticipated movement. The problem is most sports performance programs are more concerned about the program and the trainers than they the athletes – they want to show off how much they know. So, they are constantly verbally correcting the athlete’s movement and, in some cases, even using their hands to guide or change the athlete’s movement. This is especially true is the athlete appears to be struggling to get the movement or drill right away. It is important to understand, as long as they are safe, that is ok ----- this is when the motor learning is happening.
Training programs should have a “random” design as opposed to what is most commonly done - a “block” design. A block design is an athlete doing one exercise or movement repeatedly until mastered or completed and then moving on to the next exercise or movement. This is similar to the golfer who goes to the driving range and continues to hit 7 iron shots until hitting well, then moving on to the 5 iron or whatever the next club is (of course this never happens on the actual course). A random design is when the exercises are grouped in purposeful pods and the athlete progresses from one pod to the next pod. An example would be dynamic warm up to plyometric and reactive power to lower body strength to core to balance and control. The key here is the exercises in each body are rotated or done in a circuit fashion so that the athlete doesn’t just master it in the short term through repetition yet calls upon motor learning recall.
External Focus of Attention refers to when an athlete’s attention is center on the effect of the body’s movement as opposed to the movement the body is making – which is referred to as “internal focus of attention”. A good example would be a program that is trying to develop good jump landing mechanics. When the athlete is jumping is they are being instructed “don’t let your knees touch” or “keep your knees apart” is an example of internal focus of attention. Placing a band around the athlete’s knees and instructing them to stretch the band as they land is the same movement with an external focus of attention. Research has shown this type of training creates better carry over for physically and mentally stressful situations of competition.
Unconstrained Resistance Many training programs use machines for strengthening. Machines control the direction of the force, so the athlete is only responsible for applying force. The problem is being able to control force is a key factor in injury prevention and being able to develop greater amounts of force during sport. Using free weights, bands, medicine balls, kettle bells and other non-machine forms of resistance develop an athlete’s core stability, ground based stability and postural control. Would you rather build your dream house on sand or a solid concrete foundation? Exactly – you need your base!
3 Planes of Motion. The body can move in 3 planes of motion – front to back (sagittal plane), side to side (frontal plane) and in rotation (transverse plane). Most training programs make the mistake of only training in the sagittal plane. Along with this most programs train both sides of the body at the same time, which by doing so eliminates rotation. For example, a normal bench press is a sagittal plane exercise but a one arm standing cable press/punch integrates the sagittal and transverse plane, which again more closely replicates true athletic movement. A great sports performance program should incorporate all 3 planes of motion exercises, and most of those being simultaneously multi-planar!
Speed. How often have you seen an athlete doing squats fast during their training? How often have you seen a basketball player slowly squatting to a rebounding position? See the issue here? Training slow makes you slow. The best sports performance programs incorporate speed in to their resistance training exercises. They don’t do slow low numbered sets, they do sets based on time encouraging athletes to do as many reps as possible in that time or timing an athlete how long it takes to do a certain number of reps.