Summer is coming up, so beer leagues are starting up. Whether that’s baseball, softball, golf, tennis, soccer, hockey, ping pong i.e. beer pong, now is the time for your inner athlete to shine! Maybe this isn’t your first rodeo, and you’re thinking this summer you want to really bring the goods and be the ringer for your rec team. Perhaps you don’t play a team sport, but you participate in activities like hiking, swimming, rock climbing, dancing, and you simply want to become stronger and improve your skills. Initially what you need to do if you want to improve in your sport or activity, is first identify what muscles and dynamic movements are mostly involved in your sport.
I personally believe when it comes to training for sports, most people are very endurance/cardio, or muscular-endurance based. I can even speak from personal experience growing up playing high level hockey and soccer, our training was mostly aerobic. Now that Strength and Conditioning is offered as a post-graduate degree, there are more professionals and coaches in the advancements of training athletes for their specific sport. I still find however, coaches and trainers tend to lean more towards dynamic movements, high rep-low weight training to improve muscular endurance, plyometric exercises, body weight circuits, but there is not a ton of emphasis on hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy means muscle growth, the muscle fibers that make up the muscle body are challenged through external load to grow, therefore making the overall muscle body, as well as you, stronger and more powerful. Even though body building style training has its downfalls, specifically related to mobility and dynamic movements, joint health, and possibly overall longevity training with intense load and in isolation. These downfalls, as well as training to be the biggest, and not necessary the fastest or most dynamic, is obviously not ideal for athletes or people participating in sport. To an extent…just like the pendulum for athlete training in my opinion may be too shifted towards the end of dynamic and mobility exercise, body building is too much on the hypertrophy and isolated heavy weight. Athletes or those into general fitness and recreation sport may feel hypertrophy workouts will ruin their endurance, or take away from their flexibility, mobility, range of motion, agility, etc. Not true, I believe isolating muscle groups and adding a lot of hypertrophy style training ON TOP of muscular endurance, AS WELL as mobility and flexibility can be done. Off-season training will become hypertrophy focused and then pre-season/in-season can focus on maintaining strength and power, shedding lbs gained in off-season training, and then include more endurance and cardio.
Myth: Won’t More Muscle Make Me Slower?
Don’t get caught up on small myths such as “more muscle will make me heavier, so I won’t be able to move or perform as well and it will make me slower.” This is not true, adding more lean muscle onto your frame will make you stronger and more powerful. Your muscle fibers are able to contract harder, as well as quicker which means your overall movements can be performed with greater force and intensity. Did you know that your level of body fat % has a direct correlation to speed? To test speed, the vertical jump is very traditional, but your overall body composition is important as well when testing speed!! Research has found the higher your body fat %, the slower you are.
You may be sitting there thinking, “well I know I’m slow how do I get quicker?” On top of that question, you may also be asking “I don’t think I have a lot of body fat to lose, I eat healthy, how do I improve my body fat %?” Both questions can be answered with add more lean muscle! What is your body weight? What ratio of that body weight is body fat and how much of it is lean muscle mass? What you need is to make your overall body composition made of more muscle, than body fat. If you achieve this through proper diet and training, you will become a stronger and more powerful athlete. You could be 110lbs soaking wet but 40% body fat, you could probably afford to put on 20-30lbs of muscle. You would need to eat more calories and meals throughout the day, train in a rotational high set, low rep then medium set, medium rep for a few months. If you are over 180lbs and 40% body fat, the weight training protocol could be the same but there would need to be more cardio to burn extra calories. Pair this with a diet sufficient enough in calories to support muscle growth, but enough of a deficit to burn fat.
Overall, improving what your body is made up and increasing lean muscle mass is ideal. Most woman need a basic weight training program to build their overall base, it does not have to get overly complicated with exercises. One thing is for sure, you want to see the lean muscle mass number increase, and the body fat % number decrease.
How to Become Stronger for My Sport?
Step #1: Build Your Base/Foundation:
If you have never strength trained before, you need to first build a strong and sturdy foundation you can then build upon, so you can safely advance to the next level. If you are a rec player and not a competitive athlete but you simply want to improve your skills, then just by building a foundation with simple exercises for 12 weeks will make a significant impact. If you are shaking like a leaf during lunges or other balancing exercises, torso and hip flexion is off due to sitting posture, chest is concave and shoulder range of motion is off, you cannot connect to your muscles during exercise…then you are a beginner and need to start at the beginning. You may be tempted to research “top 5 exercises to improve my baseball swing,” but they might be too advanced for you, and therefore redundant towards your overall progress. I strongly recommend my 4 week beginner strength training guide for any newbie trying to get into weight training.
Basic Tips for Newbies Before Progressing:
- Can you get into the Athletic Stance properly without misalignment?
- Assess proper hip flexion and overall hip range of motion
- Can you squat properly?
- Assess range of motion in shoulder girdles
- Can you hold a plank for over 1 minute?
- When you do a proper glute-bridge, can you feel your butt working?
If any of the above are problematic for you or you are lost, look towards seeking physio or movement therapy. Joseph Cheung at Myodetox in Markham on Highway 7/Birchmount is awesome for posture realignment. I personally believe everyone could benefit from a few posture sessions with Joe, as he really gets you thinking and more aware of how you hold yourself every day, and what should be activating that isn’t.
Step #2: Research Your Sport/Activity
Once you are at least 3 months into a solid weight training program and have built a good foundation, you will be able to advance to more sport or activity related exercise. This is where you can start isolating specific muscle groups used during your sport/activity. You do not need to completely re-do your program, but you can start to make your foundational program more advanced by adding muscle isolation exercises in the mix. At the end of the day, powerlifting exercises such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press are still exercises you should be constantly re-assessing and trying to improve and become stronger at. Including more dumbbell work into your programming to encourage stabilizer muscle strength, forearm and wrist exercises (for any sport and activity), dynamic movements such as pull-ups, walking lunges, reverse lunges, dumbbell fly’s, and rotational exercises for core stabilization. Understanding what is involved during your activity will come a long way in putting together a program for yourself. You need to know how your body moves first, before you can improve the way it moves.
Step #3: Hypertrophy: Make the Muscles Involved Stronger and Bigger
Now that you are aware of the muscles primarily involved, your next programming move will be to make those specific muscles stronger and bigger. In order to complete this mission, the type 2B muscle fibers which are mainly responsible for growth and power, need to be targeted. Hypertrophy program that involves a high number of sets, like a 4-6 range, 4-12 reps, with a weight at 75-85% 1RM can hit the type 2B muscle type, making the muscle bellies grow bigger, stronger, and more powerful. The issue with type 2B fiber type, the nerve stimulation to recruit it needs to be BIG and LOUD, therefore the load needs to be heavy and the contraction forceful to target type 2B fibers. The 1RM = 1 rep max, so whatever load you can lift for 1 rep, take 75-85% of that and lift in the 4-12 rep range. Your rest time will need to increase to 2-3minutes in between each set due to the heavy load, but this is also why you have a lower rep range. Aim for 12, minimum is 4. If you exceed 12, it’s too light, if you can’t do it at all with good form then it’s too heavy. At the end of the day, always remember form is King, Weight/Load is Queen. Do not sacrifice doing it right for a heavier weight, you will go nowhere fast. I would recommend working in this manner 4x per week, cycling body parts never doing the same body part in a row, leave 2-3 days apart. Make sure you record your weights or else you will not be able to gage progression or regression. You should be getting stronger, not weaker.
Step #4: Hypertrophy + Muscular Endurance
Once you have finished 8-12 weeks of a hypertrophy program, the isolated muscles should be bigger and stronger by now. You don’t want to always hammer a low rep, high set, heavy load program. This can be harmful for your joints and can cause mobility issues down the road which is a nightmare for any athlete. Start interchanging bi-weekly a higher rep range, and a medium-lower weight. You can start including more super sets, drop sets, giant sets, circuit training etc. The good thing about this, muscle confusion is being mastered which prohibits plateau, a different muscle fiber is being targeted i.e. fiber type 1/2A which are more responsible for aerobic capacity/muscular strength/endurance. Type 1 does not have a ton of growth potential but is highly aerobic and therefore easily recruited, we use it in our everyday movements and you will see this fiber most dominant in marathon or long distance runners. Type 2A is the in between of Type 1 and Type 2B, responsible for some growth, and some aerobic capacity, I personally love this fiber type…haha such a nerd! Anyways, Type 2B can be recruited with a higher rep range, 25-14 reps, and a medium-heavy load for 2-3 sets, 1.5-2min rest time. This will create more of a cardiovascular response, because you will be lifting medium-heavy weight for a higher rep range, forcing more muscle fiber recruitment and will aid in muscular endurance as well as power. This is a very good range to stay in for athletes or those in extra-curricular activities due to the muscular strength + cardio component.
The good news is since you have increased your muscle size, strength, and power in the hypertrophy program, you will be able to lift a heavier load when you are performing workouts at the type 1/2B rep range. This will give you an even deeper cardio burn and will challenge your muscle bodies in a way similar to how they are challenged in competition. Sports contain a ton of resistance, whether that be your own body weight, someone else’s body weight you are fighting off, stability while performing a skill…all of this requires our bodies to combat a resistive force. Making your muscles stronger only means they will be able to push harder and faster, or resist more aggressively against external force. You will become a more powerful athlete or weekend warrior in no time.
Step #5: Mobility and Skill
If you are not mobile, you will not be strong. If your posture is brutal, or your muscles have become stiff through training, then ensure you are seeking physio, massage therapy, and movement therapy monthly. This is not only important to overall health, but is vital to longevity in sports. Take care of your joints, ligaments, and tendons, have your fish oils, and do yoga.
Of course, practice makes perfect. Now that you have a stronger base, your muscles are stronger and more powerful, mind to muscle connection improved, and have increased lean muscle mass/decreased body fat, you should be your beer league’s MVP.