Programming For Athletes
Sport specific or functional training are terms used frequently within the Health & Fitness industry.
Both have their place when it comes to describing the ways in which you align the variables of your programming, yet both are commonly misunderstood and overused when rationalising your programming choices.
The only sport specific or functional training that truly aligns with your sport is playing the sport itself.
Off the field, the mat or the court, everything you implement as a coach for your athlete is an opportunity to not necessarily help these individuals lift weights, but to perform in such a way that may have been inhibited without prior emphasis on the needs of their sport. The first step when programming for an athlete is to perform a needs analysis. This allows the coach to break down the metabolic, muscular, movement and skill based demands that underpin performance. You would not train a tennis player the same way you would train a rugby player; of course there is crossover in each sport as both require a tremendous amount of fitness, skill and power.
The job of the coach is to determine the most important variables and ensure these are are discernible focus whenever the athlete step in the gym.
Individualising a programme for a sport requires you to address the following criteria for your athlete; their age, training age, current levels of strength & fitness, injury history, movement capacity and their physical limitations. Most of these can be discussed during the first consult with an athlete and from here, you can begin to mould a programme that accommodates for any issues arising from this assessment. You must keep in mind that the majority of sports – apart from perhaps rowing and cycling – promote imbalance. Athletes largely step, kick, pivot, jump, take contact and apply force through one foot and quickly readjust with the other. An athlete will often have a dominant side, a stronger grip on one side, a preferred limb to step off or kick and this all needs to be evaluated when writing their programme. In conclusion, don’t try to ‘balance’ your athlete per se; you must of course mitigate their risk for injury and then ensure they are able to perform their role as explosively and efficiently as possible. Very rarely do you have an athlete that is not carrying an issue or a lagging body part, this is the art of programming and means you must dedicate your time to keeping them fit and playing, without trying to correct issues that will only truly cease when they have stopped playing the sport altogether.
Finally, you must manipulate the variables of a programme and have it align with the needs analysis of your sport. Variability requires you to address the following: exercise selection, volume, frequency, load, rest periods, intensity and exercise order. It seems a simple and straightforward method for programming for any sport and I always promote any coaches I work with to merely recognise that training in the gym is merely your opportunity to manipulate sets, reps, load and rest periods in order to coincide with the demands of that sport. With this all in mind, we can formulate our own ideas and methods of programming with different athletes. Getting to work with a performance athlete is one of the greatest aspects of coaching.
Your job at the end of the day isn’t to help them lift weights, it is to help them lift trophies.