Monday 21 July 2014

Mainstream Fitness & Beach Training for Athletes

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Some athletes care more about looking good than playing good. As a result, they go to the gym and do beach work. Others are never taught what proper training for athletic performance really is and as a result, do mains-stream fitness training thinking it will help their performance. In reality, beach training and main-stream fitness training will make you a worse athlete and increase your risk of injury.

So what is main-stream fitness training?
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Main-stream fitness has traditionally been some weird mix of bodybuilding and endurance sports (e.g. marathon running). This often involves a combination of machine-based exercises and lots of the wrong type of cardio (i.e. long, slow jogging on the treadmill), or following a silly fad like trying to do your “strength training” on a Bosu ball. More recently, there has been a move towards what seems to be more functional, athletic-based training.  However, this is often done with inappropriate exercise selection, poor technique and a focus on exhaustion – not performance. 

So what is beach training?
Beach training is training done to improve aesthetics. It often incorporates training styles from bodybuilding and main-stream fitness such as: body part splits, machine-based exercises, single-joint isolation exercises, light weight, high reps, chasing fatigue and an over-emphasis on the muscles you can see in the mirror at the expense of the ones you cannot see in the mirror. Mainstream fitness and beach workouts can both result in the following problems:

1. Move to easier exercises
Unless people know better, they always move to easier exercise. Every time I am in a general fitness gym I see people working really hard on really easy exercises. As a result squats are replaced with leg presses, standing barbell presses are replaced with seated dumbbell presses, chin-ups are replaced with lat pulldowns, heavy loaded carries are replaced with lying ab work and deadlifts are completely forgotten. One of the greatest secrets to your training success is to move towards the hard, uncomfortable exercises. 

2. Quantity over quality
In mainstream fitness the goal is to get tired. As a result, the focus becomes quantity over quality. This increases your risk of injury and decreases performance. If you want to improve performance and reduce your risk of injury doing less reps and exercises with better form is the way to go!

3. No strength training
Even though resistance training is used in both general fitness and bodybuilding, it is often done with high reps and relatively low weight. As a result, you may build endurance and non-functional muscle size, but you fail to build strength. When it comes to athletic performance, strength is vital!

4. Machine-based exercise
The resistance machines used in fitness and bodybuilding training are problematic for athletes. They build strength without stability. For example, when you do a leg press, your legs get stronger without your trunk muscles and without any need to balance and control the movement because the machine does that for you. As a result, you get really good at the leg press but fail to develop strength that transfers into real-life or sport performance. 

5. Emphasis on the wrong muscles
The game changer muscles
When training for aesthetics, most people focus on the muscles you see when you look at yourself in the mirror. As a result, pecs, biceps and abs are given top priority (somehow guys fail to look below the waist and miss quads – but hey, that’s what track pants are for). However, it is the muscles that you cannot see in the mirror that will have the biggest impact on your sport performance. Also, this unbalanced programming leads to muscular imbalances which greatly increase your risk of injury.

6. Joint stress
Your joints can only handle so much stress. Your sport already places a lot of stress on certain joints. As a result, you do not want training to unnecessarily stress the joints more – especially with exercises that are not helping your sport performance. Extra crunches and sit-ups will not give you the coveted six-pack, but they will beat on your lower back (for more info on this, click HERE). Extra chest flies beat on your shoulder joints and wreck your posture while leg extensions beat on your knees. 

7. Seeking fatigue & exhaustion
Some fatigue and exhaustion are often the necessary side-effects when training for hypertrophy and endurance. However, effective training is not about getting tired – it is about getting better. Training for strength, speed and power is hard, but does not leave you exhausted – and that is good because you still need energy to play and practice your sport. 

8. Soreness
The high volume, exhaustive nature of bodybuilding training combined with the infrequent exposure for individual muscle groups (e.g. hitting legs once a week) leaves you constantly stiff and sore. This is a big problem since you need a fully functioning body to properly practice and play your sport. As an athlete, your goal should be to not get sore, but to get better and only proper, athletic training will do that for you.

9. Non-functional hypertrophy
Typical bodybuilding methods build bigger muscles, but not always proportionately stronger muscles. As a result, your relative strength (i.e. strength in relation to your size and weight) often goes down. As a result, you get bigger, heavier and slower. You only want to gain muscle size if you need to get bigger for sport-performance reasons and if you do it in a way that builds functional muscle mass (more on this below). As an athlete, your goal is to increase your relative strength and building extra dead-weight to carry around with you is a performance killer.

10. Time consuming
Most high-level physique athletes spend 5-6 days per week training. This is too much time for an athlete to devote to training. As an athlete, you need to spend your time playing and practicing your sport. Your training needs to be time and energy efficient so you have still have lots of time and energy for your sport. 

But what if coach says I need to get bigger? 
There are definitely times when you need to get bigger for sport performance. The trick is that you have to go about it in a different way. You need your muscles to get bigger and stronger – not just bigger. This involves choosing more functional exercises such as squats and chin-ups over leg extensions and concentration curls. It also involves using more weight and doing less reps per set with more total sets. I will expand on this in a future post or article.

Bottom line on fitness and beach training
If you are an athlete, then you need to train like one. The thing to remember is that if you train like an athlete AND eat properly, you will look better than 99.9% of the people on the beach. Seek aesthetic effects as natural buy-product of proper performance training and eating. Also, if you want to go into physique sports (e.g. bodybuilding, figure, etc.) down the road, having a solid foundation of strength, speed & power training will give you a great foundation for bodybuilding-style training. That is why many of the best bodybuilders of all time (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman) had a solid strength background prior to their competitive bodybuilding careers.

If you want a program that will enhance your performance and your beach body, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.

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