It’s often easy to distinguish a good athlete by the way he or she moves.
That starts with strength training and conditioning, which have advanced over the years into a science.
There is more to training than just lifting heavy weights and moving fast in a straight line.
The ability to change direction.
The speed to stop and start quickly.
The ability to generate explosive power.
Those are some of the things coaches want to see from their athletes.
With that in mind, high school athletes preparing for the fall sports season have been working out during the summer, and many old-fashioned training methods have been expelled in favor of smarter techniques.
No doubt, the landscape of high school sports training has changed over the years, according to Mountain Range assistant softball coach Russ Gallivan, a strength and conditioning coach who owns 5280 Fitness and Sports Performance in Westminster.
But he says, “a handful of coaches still treat it like it was 1995.”
Much of the training that goes on in the weight room these days is not sport-specific but can benefit most young athletes, trainers say.
Athletes are using programs and moves like these:
• Sportsmetrics, a knee-injury prevention program originally designed for women that involves jumping and strength training.
• Spinal conditioning exercises, which are helpful for athletes with lower-back pain.
• Force-velocity profiling, which is a way to evaluate force and velocity capabilities during exercises, like jumping and sprinting. A coach can determine whether an athlete is deficient in a given movement — for instance, the vertical jump — and tailor workouts to improve. Smartphone applications have been developed to identify an athlete’s profile.
• Push/pull/carry workouts, which help athletes gain strength during the off-season by picking up heavy objects and walking, pushing, pulling or carrying them.
• Medicine ball throws, in which athletes try to release the ball with power from varying positions, such as from the side or overhead.
Gallivan, like most strength and conditioning specialists, doesn’t like athletes to specialize too soon.
“Good coaches train an overall athlete,” he said. “We don’t like to specialize a kid for one sport.”
Castle View strength/conditioning coach and physical education teacher Patrick McHenry said with younger athletes, the main thing is to get them to be able to “handle the rigor of the sport.”
“From a training aspect, with the younger kids that have been here one or two years, we want to make sure they learn how to use the (weight) room correctly,” he said. “Then we can start looking at things more specific.”
Ultimately, some specialization is hard to ignore.
“A cross-country person is going to go out and run, run and run,” said McHenry. “That’s their sport, so they are going to be in a different energy system than a volleyball player or a football player. From a conditioning standpoint, that is very sport-specific.
“You get into the lifting and the cross country athletes need higher repetitions because it is high endurance. Football, volleyball, softball and soccer are going to lift a little less as far as repetitions.”
Injury prevention is another major goal of today’s training programs.
While it’s impossible to completely prevent injuries, conditioning has improved to the point that some injuries can be dramatically reduced.
“Ultimately, we are stress masters,” said Valor Christian Director of Sports Performance Bryan Glover. “We take the body, we stress it physically, mentally, and some of the biggest changes are how quick and faster that athletes can recover from that stress. So now the trick is how do we balance overtraining and making sure athletes aren’t doing too much?
“Each sport will have its own variety of injury tendencies. Our job is to look at that and put athletes in a position to prevent those injuries and keep their bodies in a balanced state to make sure those injuries are minimized. A stronger athlete that has experience with performance will heal faster.”
The potential is within all athletes to improve, Gallivan said.
“Everybody is born an athlete,” he said. “It’s all about the amount of exposure to the training.”
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