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4 Ways To Train Like A Professional Athlete

Recently, Tony Bonvechio from Cressey Sports Performance wrote an article about NOT training like an athlete, which you can find here: It is a great article and I completely agree with his points – life demands and goals for general population clients versus athletes are very different, so why should our workouts look like that of a particular professional athlete?

However, I think there are ways in which we CAN train like athletes in general and less like the fuckarounditis workout hoppers that you’ll see at pretty much any gym you walk into. I’m not countering anything Tony wrote, as I wholeheartedly agree that as strength coaches, we are supporting the structure and not building it… that is, there are some athletes who are extremely good at their sport, despite their diet/training/recovery habits, or lack thereof. This post is just meant as another perspective.

  1. Power and explosive training

Whether you’re a general population client looking to improve your body composition, increase your strength, or just improve your overall quality of life, I think explosive activity should be a part of your workout.

Power development is easily scalable to the skill/fitness level of the client. Learning how to decelerate, control your body, and create proper force production/absorption as well as maximizing the efficiency of the central nervous system can all be useful for clients who are not professional athletes. Olympic lifts are excellent, but for my purposes take up too much of the short hour I get with clients, so I generally stick with bodyweight or medicine ball work.

  1. Effort

I was incredibly lucky during my internship to watch hockey players like Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid go to work. I love watching both these guys play hockey, but also seeing how much effort they put into their workouts (whether they were doing heavy strength work or lighter (p)rehab work) made me an even bigger fan.

I like to tell the teenage rowers I work with “this doesn’t work unless you do.” Learning and skill acquisition is an important part of being in the gym so putting too much weight on the bar or in your hands can be detrimental. But past that point of learning, you really do need to apply some effort. Getting stronger, fitter, in better shape is about progressive overload and learning how, when and where to push yourself.

Yes – I am well aware that some people just go to the gym to get away from something negative, see some friends, or sweat/glow a little bit. I’m not discounting these people. But if you’re one who is looking for specific performance outcomes from your time at the gym, lightly going on the elliptical for 30 minutes is not going to do the trick.

  1. Staying injury free

I want to start this one with SHIT HAPPENS. I separated one shoulder and partially tore the supraspinatus in my other shoulder just going about my training business. Didn’t hand my beer to someone and say “watch this”, didn’t do something I didn’t know how to do… still came out with an injury. We can’t prevent everything and neither can athletes, even with the best trainers.

But athletes spend warm up and training time on shoulder care, hip mobility, knee health, and a variety of other qualities depending on their sport and injury history so that they can thrive as an athlete.

Opposite of that, every single day I see people coming into the gym who perform either a haphazard warm up of bicep curls and arm swings or no warm up at all and then spend their “precious time” texting. You don’t need an hour of your workout to be based around (p)rehab; but your warm up, strength sets, rest time, or a cool down at the end of your workout all provide ample opportunity for joint care, mobility, specific muscle activation, and making your body a little more unbreakable for the rest of your life.

  1. Clear goals or a specific end point

Athletes have an on- and an off-season. Life doesn’t work that way for everyone else. But I grew up playing sports, one for each season and then some. It was never made clear to me that a strength training program could help during a game or a race, whether it was high level competition or just for fun. If weakness is your weakness, I can pretty much guarantee that a lifting program built with your goals in mind will help you during a game, race, fun run, adventure trip, or beer league baseball season. It won’t take the place of practicing sport-specific skills, but improved strength, stamina, mobility, or stability can all have you leaving feeling better instead of worse.

Having a reason for being in the gym can be a huge motivator for embracing the muscle soreness, the fatigue, and other little bits of the experience you’re not super fond of. That’s not to say you should be in the weight room if you despise it. But the general population can adjust our time frame based on that whole “shit happens” thing, as we don’t have an on-season to prepare for. But if you choose to use the gym as your tool and fancy yourself someone who likes to do the occasional physical challenge, then using these challenges to guide and motivate you during your time in the gym will not only help you during your day to day adventures but when you get to those fun runs, trips, etc. you’ll be better prepared both physically and mentally for the obstacles coming your way.

The 4 points above are meant to help direct your training and provide a bit of structure or interest. You need to know both where you currently are and where you want/need to be when you’re building a training program, and taking a couple pages out of a professional athlete’s book can give you a big boost in what you take from your time in the gym. Need a bit of help on your program or goals? That’s why I’m here… get in touch!

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