B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 34

Programmed Response

Five reasons your workout program isn’t working.

By Mike Mejia, CSCS

With the start of the spring season fast approaching, many of you are probably already immersed in off-season conditioning programs. Towing weighted sleds, heaving medicine balls and lifting the heavy iron is all well and good, so long as it’s producing the desired results that is. But what if it’s not?

Think about it for a minute; is simply including these types of drills in your program enough to improve athletic performance and help you avoid injury? Or, do you also need to ensure that you’re doing them in concert with things like being properly fueled, taking adequate recovery time between sets, and employing good technique? I can tell you from experience that any one of these variables—let alone a combination of them—can wreak havoc with your progress.

That’s why I thought it would help to identify a few of the biggest fitness program pitfalls young athletes fall victim to, along with how they can negatively impact your results. By simply avoiding these notorious program wreckers, you’ll take a huge step toward ensuring that your workouts aren’t being wasted.

1. Failure to fuel properly:

You might think that anyone who’s decided to make a commitment to getting in better physical condition would appreciate the importance of proper nutrition. You might think that, but quite often you’d be wrong. I routinely encounter young athletes who sabotage their training efforts by not taking steps to ensure that they’re properly hydrated and/or fail to provide their bodies with the nutrients they need to fuel intensive training. Ironically, these are usually the very same athletes who inquire about what kind of supplements I would recommend to help them improve their performance!

The truth is, if you’re not doing the following five things on a daily basis, you’ll not only limit the potential benefits your training program has to offer, but you’ll also be wasting any money that you’re spending on nutritional supplements.

? Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. Keeping hydrated is key to improving both physical performance and overall health. Amazingly, countless athletes fail to comply with this basic nutritional rule.

? Eat mainly complex, low-glycemic carbohydrates (whole grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.) and try to limit sugar intake. This will help give you more sustained energy and allow you to avoid rapid blood sugar spikes and the subsequent “crashes” that typically follow them.

? Take in some form of complete protein (chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, peanut butter on whole wheat bread, greek yogurt, etc.) with every meal. No program is going to help you build muscle if you fail to provide your body with the one nutrient it needs the most to do so.

? Consume 5 to 9 combined servings of fruit and vegetables per day. This will help provide your body with essential vitamins, nutrients and fiber. Limit the amount of servings of fruit juice to help control sugar intake.

? Increase your consumption of essential fats. Try to consume more foods like olive oil, avacados, nuts, seeds and salmon, while limiting saturated fats such as those found in fried foods and baked goods. Ironically, increasing your consumption of these healthy fats will make your body more apt to shed unwanted body fat.

2. Lack of focus on improving movement efficiency/flexibility

Given all of the physical changes your body undergoes during the pre-teen and teenage years, it’s absolutely imperative for you to focus on improving your ability to move efficiently.

Far too often I see kids who either rush through, or entirely skip warming up, just so they can head right into lifting and other types of intensive drills. The problem here, is that when the range of motion around a given joint or group of joints is restricted to some degree, so too is one’s ability to generate strength and power.

For instance, if you have tight hips, or poor ankle mobility that compromises your ability to run properly, this is not going to be remedied by towing a weighted sled behind you. If anything, it will further ingrain poor running mechanics and ultimately lead to injury, as any resulting strength gains will essentially be laid on top of an already restricted range of motion.

Regularly engaging in dynamic warm-up routines prior to workouts, stretching on a daily basis and paying more attention to your posture might not necessarily be where you want to focus your attention, but they’re unquestionably some of the best ways to ensure continued progress and better long-term health.

3. Using poor technique

Seeing as how this one is worthy of an article all its own, I’ll give you the Readers Digest version of my recommendations in regards to using good exercise form.

? If you can’t do a proper body weight squat, or a decent push-up, don’t even consider adding extra load until you’ve addressed any exiting strength imbalances and/or movement restrictions.

? Simply running through various speed and agility drills with no attention paid to technique will not make you faster, or more agile. Executing a proper arm swing, positioning your feet correctly and learning the right angles at which to apply force into the ground will make a world of difference in your ability to quickly change direction and blow past an opponent.

? Form ALWAYS trumps weight. If you can’t hold proper form, don’t go for that extra rep—because that’s when injuries occur.

? Plyometric exercises offer a great way to increase strength and power … when executed correctly. They also carry with them a tremendous potential for injury. Learn more here.

? Master the basic form of a given exercise before increasing its intensity. I frequently see kids doing planks with various types of limb movements, despite a lower back that’s caved in, or a head hanging like a bowling ball. They may think they’re working harder, but all they’re really doing is increasing the injury potential associated with the exercise.

4. Imbalanced program design

If “hitting the gym” to you means doing bodybuilding inspired split routines—where you divide your body into different segments like some sort of science project—chances are your program is seriously lacking some balance. Doing chest, shoulders and triceps one day, followed by legs, back and biceps the next, besides having gone out of style in 1988, is not the way athletes should train.

While program recommendations will vary from sport to sport (as well as person to person), generally speaking, most athletes would benefit from doing more strengthening work for the core, posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors) and scapular stabilizers of the upper back, while focusing on improving mobility around the ankles, hips and thoracic spine. As you’ll notice, there’s no mention of crossover cable flys or biceps curls anywhere in that last sentence.

All kidding aside, paying too much attention to the muscle groups and movement patterns you’re already overusing will only increase your likelihood of suffering an overuse injury. Instead, try giving priority to those areas where you know you’re weaker than you should be. Do some rows and reverse flys to strengthen your upper back before you hit the bench press, or replace those leg presses with some deadlifts and stability ball leg curls. Sure, you may get a few quizzical looks from your fellow gym rats, but trust me, that’s a good thing.

5. Not paying attention to rest intervals between sets

Funny thing about intense exercise: apparently, the harder you push during a given set or drill, the more recovery time you’re going to need to execute it again at the same, or similar intensity. This holds especially true when doing metabolically taxing activities like plyometrics, sprint intervals and heavy strength training. That’s because the fuel you need to execute these types of anaerobic exercises, needs time to regenerate between sets, or else your ability to repeat the effort will be greatly compromised.

That’s why I cringe whenever I see young athletes attempting a max, or near max lift, only to get right back under the bar after barely a minute has passed. Or when they try to string together multiple sets of plyometric drills when it’s obvious from their deteriorating form that high levels of fatigue are in play.

While you don’t necessarily want to waste time shooting the breeze in between sets, you don’t get extra points for whipping through your workout as quickly as possible. In order to maximize your results, it helps to have an idea of how much rest you’ll need to repeat your next effort with the optimal intensity. So here are some quick guidelines for how much rest to take between sets based on different training goals.

Goal Rest time between sets
Max Strength 3-5 minutes
Explosive Strength (Plyos) 1.5 to 3 minutes
Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) 1-2 minutes
Muscular Endurance 30-45 seconds

*Depends on number of reps and intensity level of jumps, or throws.

In the end, it’s not so much about training hard as training smart. No matter how “bad ass” you think your training program is, there are a number of different ways you can sabotage your results without even realizing it. So instead of getting so hung up on how good a program might look on paper, start paying more attention to all of these other variables which will ultimately determine your success.

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