Eight years ago — after a 20-year career in the pharmaceutical industry — I began pursuit of a dream. My dream was fueled by my four children, all capable student-athletes. I wanted to help them train for their sports and improve their performance; teach them the value of working toward a goal; and help them develop a competitive edge. I expanded my reach to their friends and teammates; interacted and learned from other trainers, coaches, and administrators; and got to work providing evidence-based Strength and Conditioning for anyone interested, willing, and committed to improving their athletic performance. That was the beginning of what has now become my passion; working with hundreds of athletes in pursuit of stronger, faster, and better. That was the birth of Athletic Performance Training Center (APTC).
Having recently expanded to our second facility, the APTC dream continues to grow. We work (and have worked) with several hundred athletes as young as age 5, professional athletes, and everyone in between. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many dedicated clients.
Over the past 8 years, APTC has helped prepare athletes for the “next level” whether that is high school, college, or the pros. We have been called upon to prepare athletes for college and professional pro days and combines. If you are an aspiring athlete, and looking to go to the next level, here is some advice — stuff that I’ve learned over the past 8 years in the industry. There’s more to athletic performance than you think.
It’s More Than Just Hark Work
It’s important to work hard, but you’ve also got to work smart. Most athletes believe if they work hard — in the weight room and on the court or field — they can be successful. Unfortunately, this antiquated way of thinking is probably not going to get athletes to the top of their game. Working hard in the weight room won’t get you far if your plan — including exercise selection, intensity, sets, reps, rest intervals, etc. — is not aligned with your goal. Likewise, you can practice your ball-handling and shooting in the gym all day; but if you’re practicing with flawed form, mechanics, and technique, your improvement will be limited, at best. And, of course, in addition to physical training, factors like nutrition, rest, and mental preparation will have a considerable effect on your performance. This is where a knowledgeable strength and/or skills coach can be an asset by providing quality guidance and direction.
It’s More Than Just Off-Season Training
Training is not a “sometimes” thing; it is an “all the time” thing — it’s year-round. You need to train during the off-season, pre-season, and in-season (with appropriate intensity, frequency, volume, and rest along the way); and it’s important to have a periodized, progressive plan to address each stage of training. This can become somewhat complicated when athletes play multiple sports throughout the year (and claim not to have the time), but a knowledgeable trainer can develop an effective plan to address each cycle to ensure optimal performance. If athletes are not training, they are not improving. And if they are not improving, they are compromising their potential. During the season, it’s important to incorporate one or two lifting sessions per week to maintain the gains they made in the off-season. In-season training helps athletes enhance recovery from their sport practices and games; protects against getting “worn down” over the course of the season; and helps keep muscles and joints strong to prevent against injury.
It’s More Than Just the Bench Press and Bicep Curl
Don’t get me wrong, the bench press is a great upper body exercise, but your training shouldn’t revolve around your chest and arms. Strength and power — for any sport — emanate from the core, specifically the lower core. The hips, quadriceps, and posterior chain — lower-back, glutes, and hamstrings — are crucial to your performance. If you are strong throughout your core, you have the potential to be a strong, fast, and powerful athlete. If you are not strong throughout this area, there’s nothing you can do to compensate for it. Weakness in the muscles of your core and posterior chain also puts you at a greater risk for injury. Squats, deadlifts, glute-ham raises, and Romanian deadlifts are excellent exercises for the core and posterior chain musculature.
Warmup is More Than Just Stretching
Prior to every strength and/or speed training session, make sure you warmup properly. That means more than just a quick lap around the track or a few quick stretches. The best, knowledgeable athletes, trainers, and coaches know that performing a dynamic (movement-based) warmup — before training, practices, or games — is the way to go. Dynamic warmup involves movements that mimic and reflect the demands of your workout or sport-specific activity. It increases temperature of and blood flow to working muscles; improves mobility and range-of-motion; and decreases the chance of injury. Static stretching is an outdated mode of warmup that has been found to reduce strength and power production in the short-term; relax and elongate working muscles (thus not preparing them for force production); and it does not reduce the incidence of injury, nor does it help minimize post-workout soreness. If you absolutely insist on static stretching, do it after practice and training.
Speed is More Than Just Running
Speed is a skill, and speed development starts in the weight room. Speed requires strength and power training. The stronger and more powerful you are throughout your core and lower extremities, the more force you can generate against the ground, which translates to speed, agility, and vertical jump ability. Additionally, technique is a vital component of speed. When speed training, athletes need to perform exercises and drills with perfect form and mechanics. Head position, arm action, leg drive, stride frequency, and stride length are all factors that influence running speed. Without an understanding of the right way to approach speed and agility training, it will be difficult to achieve your potential as an athlete.
It’s More Than Just You
Finally, if you are committed to being the best you can be, you won’t be able to do it without some help. In addition to the support of your family and friends, you should look to find competent, qualified individuals with experience and expertise in the areas of strength and conditioning, and sport-specific skill development. It’s important to have a plan, and equally important for your plan to be aligned with your goals. There’s a big difference between activity and productivity; all movement is not progress.
Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!