TAKING YOUR PERFORMANCE TO THE NEXT LEVEL
For many of us, the goal of exercise is not to get ripped six-pack abs, build 20 inch biceps, or to look sexy at the beach. Our goal in training is based in the functional application of our fitness. For us, it’s about being able to perform our day to day activities with ease, having the ability to work harder for longer, and not getting hurt while we do what we love. For some, day to day activities might include gardening, playing with the kids, or taking out the garbage. Even seemingly mundane tasks like this require a certain level of fitness. In the athletic population however, day to day activities may require much more physical demand. When training for performance, it is important to consider the requirements for the task at hand. Generally, the traits which aid in sports performance are focus, power, balance, agility, flexibility, aerobic capacity, endurance, and skill. All of these traits can be trained and improved upon, so if you want to take your fitness to the next level, here are some aspects to consider.
The role of the mind in sports performance cannot be underestimated. Think of the times that you have been completely involved in a task; whether physical, mental, or otherwise. You were probably highly efficient, and were easily able to sail through any obstacles that stood in your way. This deep state of focus is a hallmark of almost all highly successful people, from athletes at the highest level, to the greatest thinkers our world has known. If you want to get something done, and do it well; you need focus.
Optimal performance in most sports is highly dependent upon power. If you run, jump, throw, swing, kick, or punch, developing power is something you should be working on. Power is an expression of strength, and is the rate at which work is performed. It is the ability to produce force over a distance, quickly. The more force you can produce, the more powerful you are. Some common training methods for developing power include plyometrics, sprinting, and Olympic weightlifting.
Balance and proprioception make up an important aspect in both sports performance, and day to day life. They are your ability to perceive your position in time and space. These traits are crucial to your ability to perform any movement, or even just sit still. Do you have good balance? Are you clumsy? No matter how good or bad your balance may be, you can do exercises to improve your abilities.
Agility is directly related to balance and proprioception. It is your ability to quickly reposition your body to adapt to a given situation. The better your agility, the more rapidly you can change your body’s speed and direction in response to a stimulus.
The ability to move your joints through a range of motion is known as flexibility. The greater your range of motion in a given joint, the more flexible you are. Possessing good flexibility is a key to preventing injury, and aids in your performance by allowing you to move freely without restriction. You can increase your flexibility by performing static stretches, performing resistance exercises in a full range of motion, and using dynamic flexibility drills. Remember, it is your responsibility to possess strength throughout your full range of motion, and balance between opposing muscle groups. Hyperlaxity (excessive flexibility) can also lead to injury.
Your ability to take in oxygen and deliver it to working muscles makes up your aerobic capacity. The first part of the equation is your lung capacity. How much air can you take into your lungs when you inspire? If you only breathe a small volume with each inhalation, you will have to breathe much faster to give your body the oxygen it needs. You can expand your lung capacity by breathing as deeply as possible at the same time as raising your arms over your head. Hold your breath for a few moments before exhaling and lowering your arms. Do this for a few repetitions to get the most out of the exercise. Another aspect of aerobic capacity has to do with the heart and blood. By doing cardio type exercises such as running, rowing, or swimming, you increase your body’s ability to effectively transfer the oxygen that you breathe to the working muscles that need it. A measure of this is VO2max, or the maximum amount of oxygen that you can take in and utilize. Cardio conditioning is crucial to success in any sport.
For many sports, endurance is necessary to perform optimally. Endurance is the ability to perform at less than maximal exertion over an extended period of time. Although often assumed to be an aerobic trait, endurance also applies to the muscular system and the training required for it’s improvement is quite different. This trait is of huge importance to activities that require sustained work lasting longer than three minutes.
The final aspect of sports performance that we will discuss here is skill. Skill is arguably the most important factor influencing performance. If you are highly skilled in a specific task, you can easily outperform someone who is unskilled while exerting far less energy. Just like the traits above, skill is highly trainable. You can good get at anything, and the key is known as the principle of specificity. Specificity means your body will adapt to exactly how you train it. If you want to get good at hitting a baseball for example, you have to hit a lot of baseballs. There’s no substitute for practicing the activity that you want to get good at. Make sure you have a good understanding of the task at hand, then put in the countless hours it takes to become proficient. Just remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.
Whatever your lifestyle, training for form and function is very important. By increasing the aspects of fitness that make you a good athlete, you will become much more efficient in your day to day life, and as a wise teacher once told me, you’ll be more useful in general. Life can be so much easier and more enjoyable when you are well conditioned, so it is of great importance to work toward developing your athletic abilities. Remember to have fun out there. Do what you love to do, and keep yourself active.