Athletics and Longevity
Athletics are and always have been a colossal part of my life. I was lucky to enough to not only play a sport that I loved throughout high school and college, but now have been given the opportunity to coach and run the women’s basketball strength and conditioning at Nazareth College. Through both my experience as an athlete and everything I’ve learned in school/my experience as a trainer, I’ve been able to develop (what I hope is) a clear perspective on training athletes.
Firstly, gone are the days I believe we should absolutely crush our athletes. Don’t get me wrong - there is definitely a time and place that we need to push them far beyond their comfort zones for both physical and mental gain. However, breaking them down past a certain threshold seems counterintuitive both in season and in the long run. It is our job as coaches and strength coaches to get the best out of our athletes, but also to keep them healthy and safe. Below is a list of thoughts to consider when training athletes:
1.) Find alternatives for individual athletes. It is imperative that we understand that each and every athlete is different. Typically teams are trained off one program, but it is important to recognize that some athletes may not benefit from certain movements the way that others will. This must be accounted and adjusted for to fit the needs of everyone. For example, if we want to train a vertical push, but an athlete does not have the mobility to go overhead safely without compensations, then we’ll make a modification (ie. a landmine press). Likewise, if an athlete is recovering from an injury and a certain exercise doesn't feel good, we will find a modification that does.
2.) Train patterns that are not performed on the court/field/etc. (aka feed them what they are missing). Many sports isolate a few unique movement patterns and ignore others. Common sense tells me that our bodies are meant to move equally in all planes of motion, so oppositional movement is crucial to an athlete’s training program. If a sport is extremely quad dominant, consider adding a 2:1 hamstring dominant: quad dominant lower body regimen to your program.
3.) Train patterns that are performed on the court field. With that being said, we also need to make sure they are properly prepared for the movements they will perform during competition. For example, if jumping is a key element to your sport, training plyometrics is a must. What’s even more crucial is the intention behind performing these plyometrics; the focus should be on safe and efficient takeoffs and landings in a small yet effective rep scheme. In other words, don’t over-do this poorly just for the sake of doing it.
4.) Always consider other factors. How difficult was practice today? When is their next competition? At what point in the season are they in (pre season, in season, post season). How much have they traveled in the past few days? Has sleep been compromised from travel, schoolwork, etc.? These, among others, are all questions you should ask yourself before stepping into the weight room. Adjust accordingly to prevent overtraining or, in some cases, undertraining.
5.) Consider the cost benefit. Sure a certain exercise or form of training may be helpful in the short term, but how do you predict they will feel in the long run (ie. an exercise with an excessive amount of joint pounding)? At the end of the day, we have to live with our bodies for the rest of our lives, so consistently crossing that threshold may not be the best for us ten years from now.
As much as I love the strength and conditioning aspect of athletics, I mostly love it for reasons that stretch far beyond physical development. Sports, and other extracurriculars alike, help us develop purpose, passion, grit, and prepare us for whatever we decide to do with our lives. However, all these benefits should not come at the cost of our bodies. Training in athletics should be treated as as an opportunity for personal growth and development both physically and psychologically. Train hard, train safe, and enjoy the process.
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS