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Strength Training For Athletes

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Strength Training For Athletes

Strength training for athletes is not primarily used for improved strength and power, however for injury prevention. What they don’t realise is that you can not build strength and power without a body that is balanced left to right and trying to add heavy loads to an already faulty structure can lead to injuries. If an athlete is injured they can not train in the gym and even more importantly they can not train at their particular sport. If an athlete is not assessed after each season, their chances of injury get higher each season.

Cam Bolton’s - Germany World Cup Win - February 2019.

Cam Bolton’s - Germany World Cup Win - February 2019.

One thing that needs to be understood from the start, is that all sports have certain patterns that cause imbalances. Take basketball for instance, most basketballers will tend to jump from one leg and land on the other leg. This means that their jumping leg is always working very powerfully and their opposing leg is absorbing the landing, causing it to take a huge load and stress. Over the corse of even one season, this is always going to result in an imbalance between the jumping leg and landing leg. If we multiply that by many seasons, the imbalance becomes even more pronounced.

Firstly, the role of a strength coach is to ensure the athlete can perform training and games in an injury free state. If they get injured at any point of the pre season or season this is time away from their sport training, which will decrease their ability. It is very hard to be a value if you have to miss training each week, just in order to play each week. If an athlete is in a balanced state their likelihood for injury is much less. You only have to use professional sports as an easy example, the teams with the least amount of injuries are usually the ones in the finals and take out the ultimate prize. Any athlete that has played injured will understand that they can not perform to their full ability when they are injured.

Matt Targett & Hayden Stoeckel - 2012 Olympic Medalists

Matt Targett & Hayden Stoeckel - 2012 Olympic Medalists

At Energie4 we train athletes from junior levels all the way to the Olympic podium. All of these athletes do at least one if not two phases of structural balance work in a competition year. This is why we have had so much success at all levels of competitive sport. Energie4 athletes are educated and understand the importance of having are balanced body and notice it’s value to their strength, power and performance throughout the season of their sport.

To move into more detail about strength training for athletes, we first have to look at having a solid base/foundation from where we can build on. Athletes at Energie4 always start with unilateral work, meaning using single leg/arm exercises, like a split squat and dumbbells like a dumbbell bench press before they are progressed to barbell work like a barbell squat or barbell bench press. Any time you create balance between the legs or the arms and go back to a squat or bench press, the athlete has not got weaker, in fact they get stronger, even without doing the exercise the coach was concerned that they would lose strength.

The second major point when you consider the balance between left and right, is that power can’t be developed without first having strength. For example, any athlete who has had an ankle injury that has not been rehabilitated properly, they will have trouble pushing off the ground, effecting running, changing direction and jumping. As the body is extremely clever, it will look to other muscles to try and generate the strength and power it needs in order to perform at the level the athlete is use to. The result however, is that this compensation, causes the exact imbalances that we have been discussing, which can directly relate to an injury in another part of the body. This only frustrates the athlete, as they only want to train and play their sport. Athletes are generally very impatient, as is their competitive nature, so they need to be educated on the value of what you are trying to achieve, in addition to encouraging their patience, so they can be a bigger, stronger, faster athlete.

Thus, strength training for athletes is ALL about injury prevention. If the body is balanced, there is less chance of an injury to the athlete. If they strength train and build a solid, balanced base, they are able to train in the gym and also fully train for their sport. This already gives them a huge advantage over their team mates and competition. Finally, the more base and foundation they have the less time they have to work on structural balance and the more time they can use strength training to increase strength and power.


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Knees Over Your Toes, Please!

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Knees Over Your Toes, Please!

Should your knees go over your toes when you do any leg exercises like a squat or lunge? YES

Have you ever tried to walk up or down stairs keeping your shin vertical?

What about Olympic lifting competitors, who put their knees well over their toes, with maximum amount of weight on the barbell.

Knees all the way over the toes, very hard to be an effective lifter with straight shins.

Knees all the way over the toes, very hard to be an effective lifter with straight shins.

The knee is designed to go over your toes, full stop! The forces on the knee are actually less when it is flexed because of the co contraction of the hamstrings and quadriceps. This co contraction actually helps to counteract the force on the knee cap (patella). Studies have shown that Olympic lifters actually have the lowest rate of knee injuries.

This year alone we have had several clients come in and say, oh you want my knee over my toes? One client who had knee pain, was told by another allied health professional, who I should add doesn’t have any qualifications to design exercise programs. For some reason everyone has this perception they know better then someone who has spent their life learning about exercise and the correct techniques.

There are plenty of sporting situations apart from Olympic lifting, where the knees are over the toes, such as start for track sprints, swimmers, cyclist have their knees over their toes, one last example is a sport such as fencing, where they spend the entire event lunging forward at their opponent.

Tom & Laura showing two different versions of the split squat, both with their knees over their toes.

Tom & Laura showing two different versions of the split squat, both with their knees over their toes.

If you have knee pain, then you have to have it diagnosed by the correct healthcare practitioner. If you do have pain under or around the knee cap, there generally will be some sort of imbalance that needs to be corrected. The most common imbalance is the Vastus Medalis Oblique (VMO) is weak in comparison to the Vastus Lateralis. To strengthen the VMO there are certain exercises, the VMO is activated the most at the top 15% of knee flexion and bottom 15% of knee flexion.

Therefore, if you want to strength the VMO we often give clients exercises that use the top range, like a Poliquin Step Up or a more challenging one is the split squat with a quarter rep at the bottom, in addition to a full repetition.

So please when you squat, split squat, lunge, step up have your knees over your toes, this will not only help with your knee pain, but will strength the VMO and hamstrings at the same time. You will be surprised with the benefits of doing proper training of your legs.

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Jump Jump Jump!

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Jump Jump Jump!

Michael Jordan when asked admitted that he could fly even if it was briefly!

Michael Jordan when asked admitted that he could fly even if it was briefly!

Most athletes will benefit from having a better vertical jump for their particular sport.  To see some jump, is often awe inspiring and magnificent, no matter the sport.  Some sports it is more important then others, like basketball, volleyball and snowboarding.  However, AFL, soccer and even swimmers can have a benefit from jumping higher.  So is your vertical leap something you are born with or can you work on it.  Of course genetics helps massively, but with the right training anyone can increase their vertical jump.  Every athlete wants to jump higher.  

There are many ways to improve your vertical jump, but nothing works better then jumping.

Jump, jump, jump!

Jump all the time, whenever you can. Train your body to jump consistently, the more you jump, the more your body will learn this is normal and your vertical jump will improve more then anything else you can do.  

There are different types of jumping and each sport has it’s own jumping characteristics.  Any strength coach or athletic trainer should know what it is for the sport they are coaching.  For years I was training swimmers to improve their vertical jump by strength training their legs.  No one else was doing it, but I understood the necessity especially for sprinters that the start was a vital part of the race, especially in the 50m freestyle.  If you were half a body length off in the first 15 meters it was very hard to win already.

There are also different types of jumpers, some have the ability to jump off two feet, where most will prefer a running start and jump off one foot.  Other athletes can jump well once, however, the more elastic jumpers can jump once, but then land and jump straight up again and repetitively, with very similar vertical leaps, a lot of volleyballer's and basketballer's posses this ability.

There are several different ways to test for vertical leap.  For instance in 2011, at an Australian Swimming Relay Camp, I tested for a standing static vertical and counter movement vertical jump.  This tested the relay athletes ability to start the relay off or were they better suited with their jumping ability to go in the second, third or last leg.  The results were quite outstanding and surprising to say the least.

Jumping Exercise

If I had to choose one strength training exercise that you can do in the gym, it would have to be a Squat push press.  It is the single best strength exercise, one because unlike Olympic lifting almost anyone can do it and it is a much easier progression then attempting a power snatch.

You always as an athlete, need to look at the return of an exercise to the risk of injury.  It is my belief to always be on the side of caution, hence training an inexperience athlete in the gym to do Olympic lifting can often be detrimental to their sporting performance, as well as the risk of injury.

Volleyball Vertical Leap.jpg

The easiest way to test your vertical jump, is to put a tape measure on a wall.  From here reach up and take down your reach, as this will be your start point.  With a little bit of chalk on your fingers, you are now ready to test your vertical jump.  There are two common ways of testing.  One is a static vertical jump, where you go into a squat position and then jump, recording the highest mark your chalked fingers make.  An alternative way is a counter movement vertical jump, where you can step into your vertical jump, again recording the highest mark from your chalked fingers.  Obviously your counter movement jump should be your best one, but I have seen it the other way around, which I can't explain to you, apart from their were swimmers.  That said push them in the water and they turn into fish, it's just that some are literally fish out of water, when it comes to athleticism on the ground.

So what are you waiting for start jumping today and you will notice your vertical leap not only increases, but the ease you can jump higher will both surprise you and others!  Enjoy your new vertical leap, for more information on athletic conditioning please don't hesitate to contact us.  From the wanna be athletes playing a Dad's football game to aspiring Olympians, an increase vertical jump will benefit all athletes.

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