"You have to get into game shape."
If you are an athlete or coach, you have heard or said this at some time in your career. It's a valid statement: Athletes must be in good enough shape to do what they need to do on the field.
But what exactly is "game shape?"
For a shot putter, game shape is throwing the shot as often and as far as necessary to win. Is there a negative in doing increased conditioning for this athlete? Possibly.
A soccer player's needs are completely different.
That's the rub in training for athletics: Knowing which energy systems (conditioning types) are necessary and in what amounts in order to play effectively. So how do you know what to do and how much? What are the disadvantages to doing too much? How do you organize your training to improve performance?
Let's explore and answer those questions.
Analyze Your Sport
Before you start thinking about what types of conditioning are important for you, the first step is to break down the game you are trying to improve. While the list below isn't comprehensive, it should give you an idea of what you need.
Short (Length) Effort / Long Rest
- Sprinting (55-200 meters)
- Jumping (High, Long, Hurdles, etc.)
- Shot Put
Medium Effort / Long Rest
- Sprints (400/800 meters)
Long Effort / Long Rest
Short effort / moderate rest
Medium effort / moderate rest
Long Effort / Moderate Rest
Short Effort / Short Rest
Medium Effort / Short Rest
Long Effort / Short Rest
These classifications can help you determine rest periods. If your sport allows 45 seconds of rest between 5-second bursts of effort, you most likely want to train in some capacity to repeat this over and over while keeping your skill and power levels at or near maximum.
Analyze Your Needs
Whom are you trying to improve? If the sport requires primarily anaerobic energy expenditures, you should focus on testing your athletes' anaerobic capacity. Some tests, like the 300-Yard Shuttle, give you both an overall output (in the form of time) and a conditioning component. For example, two athletes running a 300-Yard Shuttle may look like this:
Athlete A: Attempt 1 = 50 seconds; Attempt 2 = 55 seconds; Attempt 3 = 60 seconds
Athlete B: Attempt 1 = 55 seconds; Attempt 2 = 57.5 seconds; Attempt 3 = 60 seconds
Who is better?
It depends on the needs of the athlete. If he is a shot putter, Athlete A is in better shape for his event. If he is a hockey player, Athlete B won't fade as much deep into periods and thus will finish stronger.
Knowing your sport's needs and testing your athletes to understand where they are strong and weak will help you focus their training.
Learn the Energy Systems
The types of energy systems are:
- ATP-PC (high power, short duration)
- Glycolytic (moderate power/short duration)
- Oxidative (low power/long duration)
These are traditionally known as Creatine Phosphate, Anaerobic, and Aerobic energy systems. When looking at your sport, you can start by understanding which ones claim priority.
Poles, Gassers, Sprints, Jogs, Suicides, Beep Tests. In all honesty, it doesn't matter which you choose as long as you effectively challenge your heart and body with the type of effort necessary to force each of the energy systems to adapt.
If you are a baseball player or coach and you are only ever running Poles, the chances that you will perform at your best are low. The same goes for a football team that only does Suicides after practice when everyone is already exhausted.
Look at the energy system needed for your sport, look at the duration necessary to get the adaptation, and attack it—then match your rest to fit the sport.
So how do you add conditioning that improves performance into your training? This setup will give you an idea of how we approach it at Superior Athletics. This scenario is for a college football player in early summer.
Here you see we use a moderate level of oxidative type work several times per week to flush the body from previous hard sessions. This improves recovery and keeps the body from developing too much soreness.
One glycolytic session is considered more difficult on the afternoon of Day 2, while a second session I count during a more intense speed session on Day 6.
When thinking about "off days," we try to balance hours of rest together. I try to stack two or three boxes together whenever I can. Whenever we can stack three boxes, we know we have more than 24 hours of rest, even if we are training in some way on back-to-back days. In this way, I know we have two 24(+/-)-hour blocks off between bouts of effort, along with two 24-hour breaks.
When managing your rest and your performance, it's important to understand how to rest and develop and push the system down, on top of giving your body what it needs to be successful.
At the end of the day, you want to maximize ability while balancing practice and skill development. No one wants to be the most in-shape athlete who lost.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock