Sports Performance 101

Sports enhancement: What does it mean? Is it a secret to make you better at all sports? Well, not exactly. It’s a type of workout, unlike traditional barbell training, that focuses on speed, agility and balance. Simply put, these workouts will make you better at moving quickly in any direction. The best part about a sport based workout is that you don’t need any gym equipment. Almost everything can be done with a few cones and an agility ladder. These types of workouts not only serve as a great way to prepare for a sport, but they can also be used as a style of high intensity interval training (HIIT).

I’m going to break down each segment of a sports enhancement workout so that you’ll know exactly what to do and why it’s appropriate. The one caveat to these workouts is that you should base them on whatever sport you are playing. For example, if you’re playing football you should work with generating power and explosive cuts. However, if you are playing baseball you may want to focus on reaction speed and initial movement (i.e. first step).

As you can infer, athletes need to be agile. Agility is the ability to change direction quickly. If you’re faster than your opponent or you can cut more quickly then you have an advantage. There are three main parts to agility. 1) Technique: how you plant your feet, placement of hands, head, shoulder, and feet. 2) Speed: acceleration/deceleration 3) Power: muscle strength and balance. Research shows that an increase in straight line speed has no improvement on change of direction speed. This provides evidence that you need to incorporate change of direction exercises independent of speed exercises.

These workouts are all based around neural adaptation and body/muscle awareness. The thing you often hear people mention is “muscle memory”. This is actually neural memory. So if you want to get better at agility or a sport specific skill, you must practice until it’s a subconscious movement. This can be applied to all exercises or movements.

A proper warm-up is one of the most important aspects to prepare your body for training and prevent injury. Start with slow, controlled, easy movements to get ready to perform at full speed. As you progress through the warm-up, you want to make a simple transition to the more complicated and faster movements. The goal is to stimulate and create the intensity of the future practice or competition by the end of the warm-up. Physiologically you are raising the core temperature and preparing muscles for work. Importantly, your warm-up should make you break a sweat.

After a warm-up is completed the next exercises are plyometrics. The goal is to build “explosive” power in the muscles. You want to start with basic plyometrics from the ground, such as double leg hops or bounds, then increase the difficulty to single leg exercises. One of the most used plyometrics is the box jump. You see it in all types of lifting styles. This is a great exercise, but you can do so much more with a box. For example, one of my favorites is the depth jump. This is a basic exercise where you catch yourself after stepping off a box. This exercises focuses on eccentric movement which is a great way to build muscle strength along with preparing for landing during a competition.

The next set of exercises will focus on foot work. One of the best ways to incorporate this into your workouts is with a simple agility ladder. Again, the idea is to start with simple ladder drills such as one foot in each ring, then advance to drills such as the ickey shuffle. These exercises will help you with foot speed and placement while also preparing your body to quickly change its center of balance. These are necessary to change direction quickly during a competition. If your brain already knows how to manipulate your feet so that it is prepared it will result in increased movement efficiency. This will decrease the amount of time it takes to complete a change of direction.

The last type of exercise that should be incorporated in a sport conditioning workout are cone drills. They allows you to apply the quick and explosive movements you have previously been practicing. The exact drill doesn’t matter, but you should focus on drills that mimic the sport you play. Good examples include the pro agility drill and the cone tunnel.

In conclusion, all of these exercises will help you with agility and speed. I want to make a disclaimer that these will not make you lose muscle mass. These are intended to be high intensity workouts that last less than 30 minutes, which will have cardiovascular benefits but will not decrease muscle hypertrophy.

Sample Outline:

Warm-up: 3-5 minutes. Focus on moving in all directions and preparing for the workout

Plyometrics: 10-12 minutes. 3-4 exercises. Start simple and work to complex.

Agility ladder: 8-10 minutes. 4-6 exercises.

Cone drills: 8-10 minutes. 2-3 drills.

Cool down: 2-3 minutes. Return heart rate to baseline and static stretch.

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