Sports Performance Training Defined
Sports performance training, also known as athletic performance training or sports conditioning, refers to a systematic and targeted approach to improving an athlete’s physical abilities, skills, and overall performance in their chosen sport. It involves a combination of specific exercises, drills, and training techniques designed to enhance an athlete’s strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, coordination, and overall athleticism.
Sports performance training programs are tailored to meet the unique demands of different sports and the individual needs of athletes. Subsequently, these programs typically focus on developing sport-specific skills, improving physical fitness, preventing injuries, and optimizing performance during competition. They are often designed and implemented by specialized strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, or sports scientists.
The training methods used in sports performance training can vary widely depending on the sport and the athlete’s specific goals. Some common components of sports performance training may include:
This involves exercises that aim to improve muscular strength, power, and endurance. It may include weightlifting, resistance training, bodyweight exercises, and plyometrics.
Speed and Agility Training
These drills and exercises focus on improving an athlete’s quickness, acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, and overall speed on the field or court.
Conditioning and Endurance Training
This involves activities designed to enhance cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, and stamina. It may include interval training, aerobic exercises, and sport-specific conditioning drills.
Flexibility and Mobility Training
Stretching exercises and mobility drills are included to improve joint range of motion, prevent injuries, and enhance movement efficiency.
Sport-Specific Skill Development
Training programs may incorporate drills and exercises that directly relate to the technical aspects of the sport, such as shooting, passing, dribbling, tackling, or throwing.
Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation
Sports performance training often includes exercises and techniques aimed at reducing the risk of injuries and facilitating recovery from existing injuries. This may involve corrective exercises, balance training, and injury prevention strategies.
Nutrition and Recovery
Adequate nutrition, hydration, and recovery strategies are vital components of sports performance training. Athletes are educated on proper nutrition, rest, sleep, and other recovery techniques to optimize their performance and overall well-being.
Sports performance training is a comprehensive and ongoing process that requires consistent effort, dedication, and progression. It aims to help athletes reach their full potential, improve their competitive edge, and achieve optimal performance levels in their respective sports.
With so many different aspects to sports conditioning where does one begin?
The following is a roadmap you can use to prioritize your training needs,
solidify your base, and maximize your performance.
Your ability to perform with skill at the top level of your sport is directly influenced by the quality of your movement. Without a solid movement foundation you will be unable to perform at your best. There are many things that affect sports performance and and to simplify your understanding of this PreventPT has developed the below chart which highlights the foundation of movement that makes up your ability to perform in sport.
How Pain Alters Sports Performance
At the base of the pyramid is pain. Pain is the ultimate destroyer of movement. Take the simple example of stepping on a tac. Pain is severe and your function is hampered, preventing you from engaging in any kind of sport movements much less simple walking. The presence of pain does not need to be severe to have this effect. Any pain with active movements changes the way you move and forces you into compensatory movement patterns. Normal movement is changed, your body looses efficiency, your function is altered and sports performance cannot be reached. This in turn significantly increases your risk for an injury and is commonly known in the academic world as the number one injury risk factor.
Fundamental Movement’s Contribution to Sports Performance
Fundamental movement refers to the basic patterns of movement that are essential for everyday activities and physical function. This is comprised of your mobility or range of motion, your posture, and your basic strength. If you lack mobility or strength to move or if you have some kind of postural abnormality, your body will compensate for that loss and hinder your sports performance.
Consider the below example. This athlete’s goal is to run faster in soccer. Looking at one of the fundamental movement patterns, we see that he cannot bend to touch his toes. How does this relate to his ability to sprint?
A closer look shows that the cause to his limited forward bend is a significant lack of mobility in his hamstrings, showing a 20-30° deficit in range of motion.
Taking this individual into training sprinting patterns repetitively or under load with a parachute or sled will only exacerbate his compensatory movements and have little effect of improving his speed and increase his risk of injury. Without improving his hamstring length, his stride length will continue to be limited hampering his speed and increasing his risk of injury.
Functional Movement and how it relates to Sports Performance
Functional movement refers to the ability to perform movements involving multiple joints and muscle groups working together to achieve a specific task, such as reaching for an object, squatting, lunging, or carrying objects. Training strength in these patterns is essential to build the foundation for sports performance. Let’s take the squat as an example. It forms the foundation for jumping, throwing, and kicking tasks and strength in this pattern is paramount to performance.
The left image above shows a squat with the heels on the ground and on the right we lifted the heels up off the ground. Ask yourself, which one is better? The heels raised squat shows a deeper squat, more upright posture, and better all around alignment.
Taking a closer look at the athlete’s ankle mobility we find a significant deficit. Normal ankle bend in squat should achieve 50°, however we see in the below example only 36° is available.
What would the benefit be if this athlete was to add squats under load to improve their strength and do this movement with their heels on the ground? There would continue to be significant compensatory movements and minimal benefit from the exercise would be had. Thus accommodating the mobility loss by training the functional pattern with heels raised would be suggested along with a parallel program to improve ankle mobility. This example highlights how a deficit in ankle mobility (fundamental movement) forces compensatory movements and detracts from the movement quality of a higher level functional movement.
In order to maximize sport performance 4 general higher level movement qualities are needed. These are movement control, postural integrity under load, power generation, and energy storing impact control. Deficits in any of the 4 will adversely affect the athlete’s performance. Importantly, the four performance realms follow a hierarchal relationship with each other. Impact control is heavily dependent on one’s ability to generate power, which relies on postural integrity under load and the ability to move with good movement control.
Movement control looks at the individual’s ability to stabilize, balance, and control movement at their ends of stability. Any deficit in stability, strength, flexibility, and/or proprioception will lead to a degradation of movement, force compensatory strategies, and increase injury risk. When considering movement control we need to look at both the upper extremities (as noted in the image to the left) and lower extremities.
Without good posture, everything suffers and this is especially true with sports performance. A loss of postural integrity under load decreases power, throws our aim off, increases instability, and decreases our efficiency. Postural endurance should far surpass our peripheral mover endurance and we would hope that your peripheral muscles would fatigue prior to your stabilizers. Without it performance suffers and injury risk goes up.
An example of a breakdown in posture during a power jump maneuver is shown above to the right. The loading phase of the jump shows a flexed spine and excessive forward lean. This postural fail causes a loss of energy when jumping.
Power is an essential component to competitive sport. Power can be expressed through jumping, throwing, kicking, or punching and is the represented by the equation of force x distance / time.
The ability to generate power can be measured, quantified, compared to normative data, tested for limb asymmetries, and tracked for gains over time. Training for power is one of the most sought after goals for athletes. However training for power should not be done without a solid foundation as noted in the pyramid above. If any lower level deficits are overlooked it can lead to deficits in power generation and significantly increase the risk of injury as demonstrated in the image to the left. The athlete is performing a single leg jump for distance and we see the knee turn inward excessively. This is called knee valgus and is a positive risk factor to a life changing ACL tear. Training the athlete to the left for power without identifying and correcting the underlying cause to the poor knee alignment should be considered malpractice.
When we run and jump our body needs to absorb the energy of hitting the ground. An efficient athlete will be able to repurpose that stored energy and express it’s immediate output with enhanced power. When compared to one’s ability to generate power with a static jump (or power control as noted above), the athlete should be able to jump >120%. This can be measured in double leg jump and single leg. Distance can be measured and postural alignment during the jump can be quantified. If deficits are noted, we can look down the pyramid for specific contributing factors and if none found then we can implement training for plyometric explosive movements. If lower level deficits are present and we ignore them, then injury risk increases and poor outcomes from the training will be the result.
The take away from the dialogue above is that movement quality is essential for sport performance. Without moving well the body is forced to compensate for deficits, detracting from performance and increasing injury risk. Look at the PreventPT’s Movement Paradigm chart and learn the lowest level of need you body has and start there prior to progressing to a more advanced movement.
If you need help Prevent Physical Therapy, INC is in a unique position to be able to screen, test, and train for identified deficits in the movement pyramid. We identify exactly were the athlete is on the movement paradigm and drive individual correctives to get them performing their best using proven tests and screening techniques including:
Functional Movement Screen (FMS): Quick and efficient way to screen movement quality for individuals or groups.
Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA): Movement based diagnostic system that is used to treat painful conditions and enhance movement quality.
Y – Balance Test: Dynamic balance at the end ranges of your stability for your arms and legs.
Fundamental Capacity Screen (FCS): Performance measures that look at the foundation for all skill based movements.
By solidifying one’s movement foundation you will enhance how you move and this will translate to improved sport performance. Try to learn where your body’s needs are and understand how those needs detract from your sports performance. Then do something about it to enhance your sports performance and decrease your injury risk.