Creating a Robust Athlete through Optimal Training Design

Creating a Robust Athlete through Optimal Training Design

As the level of competition in nearly all sports increase, we see a higher injury rate and increased levels of fatigue due to each athlete’s sporting demands. Coaches and fans want to see their teams best athletes out on the playing field each week.

So how to do we keep these players out on the field for as long as possible, giving it 110% each week?

By creating a robust athlete.

Robust is defined as a ‘sturdy construction’ with synonyms such as: durable, robust, well made and resilient. But creating an athlete that can withstand the increased demands of high level sport isn’t quick and easy. It’s a long hard road and requires a well developed and precisely controlled training program to ensure that maximum performance is attained at the right moment of the competitive season.

How can this be done?

By creating a bulletproof training program.

Each sport/team/players are different. Physical capacities vary, match intensities change, game schedules change each week. High performance staff must adapt and prepare for these situations. They do this by creating a physical capacity needs analysis.

  1. Performance needs analysis (What’s Involved- (Endurance, Strength, Speed, Power)
  2. Test selection (Appropriate Testing Battery)
  3. Initial testing (Appropriate Order of Testing)
  4. Training program design (Structured Periodised Plan)
  5. Retesting (Program Progression)

By finding out what physical capabilities are required for the athlete’s sport, High performance staff can then select an appropriate testing battery that can assess all the physical capacities. Testing battery is a group of fitness tests that will be most beneficial for the athletes sport – for example- AFL draft combine tests- 3km time trial, Beep test, repeated sprint test, 20m sprint, agility and vertical jump. Along with specific skill drills and strength testing once drafted.

Once tests are selected and administered these results can be a baseline for the training program. It gives staff and athletes a objective measure to work towards, rather than telling the athlete to run for 30 mins, with these testing results sport scientists/ strength coaches can accurately prescribe specific intensity/load to an athletes needs.

Creating a robust athlete must involve a multidisciplinary approach to achieve maximal results, with professionals such as physiotherapists, strength coaches and performance staff working together. By integrating the testing results with injury screens, and injury tests, athletes can improve on their weaknesses and reduce the risk of injury.

When creating a robust athlete, there is no secret exercise or training program that will speed up the process. Building a durable athlete takes time and it starts from the basics.

These basics include barbell patterning and technique- all of the common lifts – squat, deadlift, bench and row are skills in themselves. You must ensure you learn to control your body through these exercises prior to adding any weight to the bar.

There is no point loading a barbell with excessive weights if the athlete can’t squat full range or starting with single leg exercises, Bosu ball squats when the athlete can’t do the basics.

Once the basics are taught the athlete can progress. Progression is the ultimate factor when creating a robust athlete. Once the basics are taught, technique, range of motion, correct movement patterns for sporting demands etc., the athlete can slowly begin to add forces and increase loads.

Applying these forces to the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular system through progressive resistance exercise will prompt muscle tissue to respond by becoming stronger, more robust, more functional and eventually progress to heavy load resistance. Heavy load resistance is the most effective way to promote structural robustness and durability to the human body.

Lastly, to maintain a robust athlete throughout the season there must be optimal recovery- recovery is essential to building a robust athlete. Proper periodized plans would factor recovery into the program (rest days, recovery sessions, massage, ice bath and nutritional advice) and adapt each week depending on the athlete’s physiological stress. Prolonged and high intensity exercise causes a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During recovery there is a reduction in catabolic (breakdown) processes and an increase in anabolic (building) processes, which continues for at least 24 hours after exercise, therefore allowing these chemical and physiological adaptations to occur will ultimately lead to a stronger and more durable athlete whilst also reducing the risk of overtraining.

Take home messages:

  1. There is no quick solution to building a stronger, faster and more robust athlete
  2. The small things are also important- lifting technique, recovery and program selection
  3. Correct testing battery for chosen sport
  4. Lift heavy when technique allows
  5. Trust the process
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