Get More Bang For Your Buck!
We often talk about the importance of strength and conditioning in optimizing your sports performance. Sadly, just showing up for your session isn’t enough to see any improvement in your game play. Here are three ways you can optimize your sessions every time you step foot in the gym.
Do It Right
Your strength and conditioning coaches write programs with a purpose. Every movement is selected for a specific reason, but that is only achieved when you perform every exercise properly. Here are some ways to ensure you’re doing a movement “right”!
The importance of proper form is critical all the time, but especially when learning a new movement. Your strength and conditioning coach will demonstrate the proper technique, in addition to talking you through the movement so you know where you should feel muscles working. Many athletes want to come into the gym and see how much weight they can put up with each lift. While I love eager athletes, there is a fine balance between lifting heavy with proper form and lifting too heavy with improper form. Improper form not only changes the purpose of a movement, but it also drastically increases your risk for injury. In the gym, it is crucial to prioritize form and your personal safety over everything, regardless of what the person next to you is lifting.
The human body has ideal movement and muscle recruitment patterns, however it’s highly unlikely that any individual will move correctly through every exercise, since we all have muscle imbalances that make us unique. Lucky for us, most of these movement patterns can be retrained in the gym. Unlucky for us, the human body is very stubborn in correcting and will always try to find the easiest way to accomplish a movement, regardless of whether or not it is correct. It’s important to focus on every repetition of a movement, especially when you’re trying to improve muscle imbalances or retrain movement patterns.
Feel It In the Right Places
As a strength coach, I can’t feel the exercise in your body the same way you can. In a lateral band walk, for example, I may have told you to feel it in your hips, but you feel it in the front of your legs. Oftentimes, your strength coach will not be able to see this difference just by watching you. It’s crucial to know where you should be feeling an exercise and to ask a question if something doesn’t feel quite right. If we don’t see a problem, we can’t fix it, but if you explain what you’re feeling, we can fix it to optimize that exercise!
Every time you walk into the gym, you should be prepared to work hard. The difficulty of a program depends slightly on the exercises selected but greatly on the effort you put into each movement. A workout for a novice athlete could still challenge an elite athlete if they push themselves to their maximum ability. Conversely, the program of an elite athlete may be complex, but it will not feel physically challenging if you’re only giving half of your potential. Working hard and pushing yourself in the gym often comes down to three things you can control: weight selection, power, and effort.
A perfect weight when performing a traditional strength movement (eg. squat, bench press, etc.) is one that is challenging, but doable with proper form. The weight should not be so easy that you can quickly work through your reps with little to no effort, but conversely it should not be so difficult that your form breaks down in an effort to achieve the movement. Below are three tips I have for selecting the perfect weight for a movement.
- The last two reps should be challenging, and they should require lots of focus on maintaining proper form.
- Apart from power-based movements, if you can complete each repetition quickly without slowing down near the end of your set, while maintaining proper form, your weight should increase.
- If your program prescribes fewer reps than last week, always try to increase the weight you’re lifting.
In my previous blog, I defined power. It can essentially be summarized as how quickly you can develop force. Most athletes need to have power exercises included in their programs as they translate directly to sprinting, jumping, swinging a bat, and kicking a ball. The weight of power-based exercises are usually low and usually stay that way over time. Using a medicine ball slam as an example, if you start with a 6lb ball, the weight will never increase drastically to a 40lb ball, however as you get stronger and more powerful, you should throw the ball harder (with more power) every repetition.
I see athletes applying effort throughout the majority of their session, but most often I see a drop in effort during the conditioning at the end of their session. As a coach, my goal is to push an athlete during their strength session so they feel worked and accomplished by the end. Pushing yourself during a session and the conditioning that follows is not just for physical athletic development, but also for the mental training that comes along with pushing yourself when you are fatigued. If you practice performing high quality work when you’re tired, you will be much more likely to perform high quality work in an exhausting game time situation. What you put into training is what you get out of training and that often requires getting out of your comfort zone.
Contrary to popular belief, strength and conditioning with a professional is not just for improving your game play, it is also important for improving your knowledge, competency, and independence in a gym setting. I love when athletes express an interest in how the body moves or why they’re doing an exercise. It’s also a great way for you to maximize your time with your coach so you are able to progress outside the gym as well. Here are some great questions to ask your strength coach at your next session!
- Why did you choose this exercise?
- How does this movement translate to my sport?
- Where should I be feeling this? What can I do to feel it more?
- What can I do outside of the gym to keep improving at my sport?
All of these key points show that you are dedicated to improving at your sport. At your next strength and conditioning session, I challenge you to put extra emphasis on one of these topics by doing it right, pushing yourself, and/or asking questions! You’ll be amazed at how much more you improve and learn!
Katie Usher is a new addition to the strength and conditioning team at Olympia Fitness and Performance. She recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island with degrees in Kinesiology and Psychology. While interning at Olympia, she found a love for helping athletes and general fitness clients push themselves to new levels in the gym, on the field, and in life. She is excited to continue setting clients on a path that allows them reach their goals.