Your training program could be failing you and you might not even know it. In a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 57 strength coaches from Division I college athletic programs identified the most common strength training-related problems they find among incoming freshman athletes. Avoid making these mistakes with the strategies below to improve your immediate performance on the field and better prepare yourself to play at the next level.
1. You Don't Prioritize Lower-Body Strength
The large muscles in your legs and hips generate the power you need to sprint, jump and perform most sports skills. Yet many high school athletes lack sufficient lower-body strength.
How can this be possible? The answer is simple: beach muscles.
Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training, explains that athletes get caught up building the muscles that make them look good in the mirror. The Bench Press is a great exercise, but it's not the only one you should do. And Curls—well, this infamous exercise should be one of your last priorities.
Scarpulla's solution: the Squat and Deadlift. "Set up your program so that you rotate heavy Squats and heavy Deadlifts every other week," he advises. And when it comes to Squats, lowering for two inches doesn't cut it. Your thighs need to be parallel to the ground.
These two exercises should be the foundation of your lower-body training. Perform two lower-body workouts per week and incorporate moves that work your glutes and hamstrings, such as Box Squats, Good Mornings and Glute-Ham Raises. "The posterior chain is the key to explosive power," Scarpulla says. "The hamstrings, glutes and lower back should be your primary focus."
Next time you hit the weights, think about your goals. If your No. 1 priority is to look good at the beach, go right ahead and do your mirror-muscle routine. If you want to become a better athlete, focus on your lower body. In the video playlist above, learn how to build lower-body strength with the Box Squat.
RELATED: Bulletproof Your Posterior Chain
2. You Have a Weak Core
"When most guys think of the core, they gravitate toward the cover of a muscle magazine or 6-pack abs," says Tony Gentilcore, co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance (Hudson, Massachusetts). "The core is much more than that."
Yes, the abdominal muscles are an important part of the core. But athletes work this muscle group too often and incorrectly. Gentilcore explains, "The core's main function is to transfer force through the body [lower body to upper body and vice versa], so doing copious amounts of Sit-Ups and Crunches won't really do a lot."
You may have a ripped stomach, yet fail core-strength tests when a strength coach at the collegiate level puts you through an assessment. You'll have difficulty performing many exercises, such as Scarpulla's recommended lower-body moves. You'll aslo lack strength and stability on the field and have an increased risk for injury.
Thus, you must strengthen your entire core—all the muscles from your chest to your thighs on each side of your body. Gentilcore's go-to moves include Single-Arm Farmer's Carries, Chops, Lifts, Pallof Presses and other anti-rotation exercises, which teach the core to resist movement and stabilize the spine. It's how the core should be trained. Check out the video above to learn strength and conditioning coach Todd Durkin's Anti-Rotation Core Exercises.
3. Your Olympic Lifting Technique is Flawed
Olympic lifts such as the Power Clean and Snatch are difficult to master, but that's no excuse to exclude them from your program. Most collegiate strength and conditioning programs emphasize these lifts to make you a more powerful athlete. In the video playlist above, Mike Boyle demonstrates how to master perfect Hang Clean form.
Instead of focusing solely on "how much you can Squat" or "how much you can Bench" as you train during high school, you need to put in the time to learn these movements.
According to Mark Roozen, owner of Coach Rozy Performance and a former strength coach for the Cleveland Browns, athletes should learn these exercises as soon as possible. He says, "It takes time to learn good Olympic lifting technique. Oftentimes at the high school level, there's a perceived notion that there's not enough time. To correct this, start learning technique at a younger age."
Rather than loading up the bar with weight, Roozen advises performing less advanced exercises that incorporate a triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles—the fundamental movement pattern that powers Olympic lifts. Effective exercises include Box Jumps, Med Ball Overhead Throws and Kettlebell Swings.
From there, begin learning Olympic lifting technique by practicing Olympic lift reps with a broomstick or an unloaded barbell. Once you master the intricate technique, only then should you add weight. "Olympic lifts are not dangerous if you have good form," Roozen adds.
4. You're Not Flexible
"Fewer and fewer high school kids are outside participating in other sports and activities, and movement quality has diminished as a whole," says Gentilcore. "Far too many spend too much time on Instagram, rather than participating in other spontaneous movement." Combined with a perception that flexibility doesn't matter, this is a recipe for a tight and muscle-bound athlete.
Tight muscles prevent you from moving through a full range of motion, which leads to a number of performance problems. For example, tight hips shorten your stride, preventing you from putting max power into the ground. You don't need the flexibility and mobility of a gymnast, but you do need full range of motion for the movements you perform on the field.
To improve or maintain your mobility, Gentilcore recommends the following dynamic mobility routine. Perform it before workouts, practices and games, and on off days to promote recovery. Watch the video playlist above to see how to relieve tight hamstrings and hips.
- Glute Bridge x 10
- Quadruped Extension-Rotation x 10 each side
- Split-Stance Adductor Mobilization x 8 each side
- Hip Flexor Mobilization x 8 each leg
- High Knee to Forward Lunge x 5 each leg
- Reverse Lunge x 5 each leg
- Lateral Lunge x 5 each leg
- Walking Spiderman with Reach x 5 each side
- Prisoner Squat x 10
- Scapular Wall Slides x 10
5. You Don't Push Yourself
When you make the jump to college, the veterans on your new team have several years of experience in a high-level strength and conditioning program. Even if you could lift more weight than your teammates or cross the line first on conditioning drills in high school, you can't get too comfortable.
"I talk to athletes all the time about the concept that I call the 'challenge point,'" says Stu Singer, a sport psychologist and owner of WellPerformance (Attleboro, Massachusetts). "If you're being asked to do another rep, the 'challenge point' is that moment where you feel like you can't do one more rep."
Singer advises to seek your own "challenge points" and embrace the challenge, because "that's actually the moment where improvement happens." The earlier you get into the mindset of understanding that breaking through your "challenge points" will improve your performance, the better off you'll be when you enter college. "I promise you that a strength coach at the collegiate level will find that point for you and push you beyond everything that you can ever do," Singer adds.
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