Progressive exercise patterns for training

Laying a strong foundation is the key to success, but the basics vary according to age and the professional needs of the hour.

The reaction time expected of a fielder in cricket is different from that of a Formula One racer or a table tennis player or a footballer. For each, reaction time and hand-eye coordination need to be worked on in a specialised manner.   -  K. R. Deepak

Over the last decade, there has been a quantum jump in terms of specific strength and conditioning training related to sports. Players and strength and conditioning coaches are searching for that silver bullet to raise peak performance and prevent injury. But there is still a missing link between professionals and amateurs in terms of performance and executing the right exercise protocols.

While there is a huge variety in exercises and their permutations and combinations to be implemented in training protocols, there is no such thing as the perfect workout that is universal to all sportspersons. One man’s food is another man’s poison.

These are a few fundamental questions we need to ask before embarking on a specialised regime:

WHO are you coaching? Young, emerging athletes or developed ones? Men or women? Different needs and qualities need to be taken into account. We coach people, not robots.

WHY are you planning on doing what you are going to do? Is it age- and progression-appropriate?

WHAT? The fundamentals of training methods and exercises. Too many strength and conditioning coaches prepare exercises and drills after analysing the path rather than creating a path.

HOW? Exactly what is necessary to ensure things are done with precision and intent. How are you giving athletes ownership and room to grow into adaptable ones?

WHEN? The timing of the training is important: at what point in a career and in the year? This entails understanding progression and regression.

Sport is a sign of life  

Understanding the basic processes involved

The process

• Testing and assessment

• Developing optimal functional movement patterns

• Improving stability, mobility and posture

• Integrating strength and power protocols

• Sport-specific conditioning and skills

Testing and assessment

Understanding strengths and weaknesses is of primary importance to any sportsperson. It’s like a report card. Many don’t follow this aspect on a regular basis, which leads to complications in the professional playing field and in performance. Nowadays, many follow their heroes on social media and do exactly what they do – which is exactly what they should avoid doing. In fitness, it is to each their own, and testing is directly related to specific sports and skills.

Due to the complexity of each sport and its needs, testing and assessment should be spot-on to get the best desired results with clear-cut inferences. One test does not fit all the parameters of fitness.

Functional movement configuration

This is the base for any sports performance. It is the primary step towards excellence and the foundation of any movement. The body moves in three-dimensional space in unison with the muscles and joints. Muscles and joints do not work in isolation, but in a multi-angled, multi-pronged way whereby the right neural pathways are developed. These functional patterns of movement relay a huge amount of information in the motor-learning process. Problems at this base level will add to the woes in the later stages of development. Understanding this concept helps in programme design and eliminating trial-and-error methods in training.

Stability, mobility and postural development

Many movements are based on stability, mobility and posture control rather than strength. If the strength base is weak, it’s because of poor stability and mobility. Intense and rigorous sessions that follow a good stability and mobility programme – mimicking the skills and movements important for specific sports – tend to bear rich dividends in the later stages of training. They are also important for injury prevention and in the rehabilitation process.

Stability is important in understanding and reacting to sudden movements while maintaining proper posture and smooth motion. The stabilising muscles are usually smaller than the prime movers, and they are weaker, too. The only way to integrate them into effective movement patterns is to recruit them first. There is an amazing array of exercise regimes available to pick and choose from depending on the individual’s needs and sports-specific prerequisites.

Strength and power integration

This is the fourth phase of the training mode and is very popular and in vogue all the time with new methods being tested and researched. One important point to remember is that strength and power training in isolation in the aforementioned two phases produces a huge gap in performance and leads to injuries. The first two levels lay a solid foundation for progression and build-up.

When it comes to strength and power development, we always look at Olympic lifts as the final frontier of sports performance. Though this may be good in isolation for certain sports, my humble belief is that it has its limitations.

Points to ponder on sports movement before embarking on Olympic lifts:

• Most sports are multi-angled and multidirectional.

• Many sports require unilateral lower-body movement such as single-leg jumping and landing.

• Many sports require lateral and rotational movements with unilateral body positioning.

• Any weakness in stability, balance or mobility may not be identified with bilateral movement patterns, causing an imbalance in the load on the joints and muscles.

One point we need to understand is that power cannot be developed through strength alone. Without stability and mobility, strength cannot be developed efficiently. Strength training cannot override the other aspects of the foundational regime. Instant gratification can lead to long-term misery, causing injuries and a decrement in performance.

Various types of strength need to be addressed at every stage of periodisation – from speed strength to reactive strength to functional, starting and breaking strength, and many more. Each type or combination is required for holistic strength and power development.

Choosing the correct exercise pattern requires a professional approach to programme design and manipulation.

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Sports-specific skills

Sports are played in variable conditions and environments, and the skills related to each are as varied. But two common factors to all sports are reaction time and hand-eye coordination. These components are specialised according to the sport and skill required.

For example, the reaction time expected of a Formula One racer is different from that of a batsman in cricket or a table tennis player or a footballer. For each, reaction time and hand-eye coordination need to be worked on in a specialised manner.

Variability and unpredictability in reaction make it a difficult skill to master. Split-second decisions and movements can make the difference between winning and losing in many instances.