Rules 7 – 13
No matter who you are or what your sport, there are certain fundamentals that cannot be ignored if you want to improve your strength in a manner that is relevant to your game. Let’s face it, nobody wants to get weaker and being stronger will improve your game.
By Josh Ciechanowski, Director of Nutrients Direct
Focus on Compound Movements
Compound movement refers to using multiple major muscle groups and joints in the one action. Bodybuilding tends to focus on isolating muscles and using machines that treat them like they’re not attached to an actual person. Unless you play footy sitting on a padded chair and moving one limb at a time, then try not to make the majority of your training machine-based. Try to stick with free weights, Olympic bars, cables and exercises where you’re on your feet, balancing/controlling the load (i.e. squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, lunges & leg raises) rather than sitting or lying in a way that doesn’t require core activation or coordination (i.e. bicep curls, leg extensions, tricep pushdowns etc.)
Sleep Well and Minimise Stress
Stress and lack of sleep will sap you of energy. It will decrease your training effort and therefore your gains. It’s very difficult to get stronger and get muscles to grow without adequate sleep. Sleep is when a large percentage of anabolic hormones, like growth hormone and testosterone, are released. Studies have found after three days with only three hours of sleep per night, maximal bench press, deadlift, and leg press were down significantly. Other issues caused by sleep deprivation include reduced energy, decreased time to exhaustion, increased injury rate, reduced sprinting speed and slower reaction times. Since strength is the objective, strive for eight hours of sleep nightly.
Focus On Form and Avoid Injury
In short, don’t ‘ego lift’. Friendly competition amongst team mates is great, but not to the extent that you try to lift more than you’re ready for or trying an advanced version of a movement that you aren’t familiar with. Good form refers to maintaining things like correct posture, correct joint alignment, good control of tempo for both the up and down (concentric & eccentric) phases of an exercise and avoiding compensations or changes to proper technique or posture for the sake of moving more load. Start light if you haven’t trained before or in a while. Focus on being even in your movements on both sides of your body so your strong arm or leg doesn’t overpower the weaker one. If it does your body will likely twist dangerously under load and risk injury. As the form improves, then increase the load gradually and safely. When technique is solid, risk of injury drops and the worst that will happen is that you can’t move the load. But if you arch your spine or throw your head around on your personal best lift, then you’re asking for trouble and when you’re injured, everything goes backwards.
Don’t Skip Your Warm-up
When we’re young, we feel invincible and can’t imagine a time when we won’t bounce back from whatever happens. Talk to any older athlete or older person who used to ignore things like warming up and mobilizing muscles and joints and see how things are working out for them. I’ve met a lot of older guys with lots of regret after career-ending injuries that could have been avoided or at least minimized with proper warm-ups. For this I recommend dynamic stretches not static stretches. So move and swing through the stretch and do slower or lighter versions, of the kinds of things you’ll need to do in the game or in the training you’re planning to do.
Stabilisers are the smaller muscles that hold a joint in place whilst you’re firing the larger prime movers. A good example of this is the rotator cuff that holds the weak and unstable shoulder girdle in place so that you can throw or catch a ball without popping the arm out of the socket. They are also crucial for controlling your balance when you’re moving in arcs, angles, on non-flat surfaces like grass or being shoved from all angles as you’re running or jumping. Remember that you need to train in a way that relevant to your sport so ensure that you are training asymmetrically (e.g. single legged), with cross forces being applied (e.g. single arm cable push or twist) and train on unstable surfaces from time to time like BOSUs, swiss balls and sand etc.
Improve Joint Flexibility
The tighter your joints and muscles, the more susceptible to strains, sprains and tears you’ll be. It will also limit your movement range, reduce potential performance and increase the likelihood of injury. Not many people enjoy stretching but those who include muscle and joint flexibility into their routines usually find they can enjoy their sport for longer and experience a lot less problems with aches, pains and postural issues later in life. I recommend saving the static hold stretches for after you’ve finishes training and add at least 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching to the beginning of your games and workouts.
This encompasses many things like listening to your body. If it’s in pain or inflamed, try to avoid taking pain killers to mask the symptoms. Rest wherever possible and take time to focus on general maintenance between games and training like massage, hot/cold baths, foam rolling and myofascial release, stretching, sleeping, stress management, hydration and of course proper nutrition and supplementation.
The most relevant products for most of you would be: