Co-Authored by Jack Laufenberg (Son of Lynette)
Are you the type of person who participates in sports based upon athletic performance and measured achievement, or are you the recreational athlete who joins the team to stay active and be social? The societal impact of sports in American communities today is huge. With sports being defined as everything from fitness sports and outdoor sports to winter sports and racquet sports, with participation rates including ages 6 and above, over 62% of people surveyed participated. Those who are “in it to win it” are the population who look to improve sports performance.
What is sports performance? Sports performance has four distinct principles, each of which has a number of subcategories, some of which are rooted in physical certainty, others of which tend to be subjective and highly variable. The four areas include neuromuscular factors, which are the relationship between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system; mental control and psychological factors; environmental conditions; and coaching and external support for the athlete.
The principle which is most moldable is neuromuscular factors which are highly affected by training. The body can improve within its genetic makeup to be most efficient at doing its job through physical fitness and sport specific workouts. In other words, an athlete has room to improve her measurable speed, accuracy, power, and quickness within his/her sports’ mechanics.
How can your training improve your performance? The neuromuscular component of sports performance is subdivided into its own discrete elements. Each of these elements must be the subject of specific training approaches, including body type. Many sports lend themselves to a particular, generically predetermined physical frame or stature; American football linemen must generally be large in stature, gymnasts must be lean and petite, swimmers excel with a longer torso, and basketball players do best when they tower over others in height.
Once body type is determined, muscular strength is next on this list. Body type will significantly affect muscle mass and power, however all bodies are able to increase their muscular strength through training, and power is a component that combines strength and speed. Everyone needs muscle power, from the highly skilled competitive athlete to the older adult. Each person needs muscular power to perform the tasks being asked of them, only on a different level. We need muscle power to stand up from a seated position, and to generate velocity as a lacrosse player throws the ball from their stick into the goal.
Endurance, which is the ability of the body to perform over time, is essential to success in all sports. In high-intensity sports of a short duration, such as sprinting and weightlifting, endurance is still a cornerstone to the success of the athlete, assisting in the speedy and efficient recovery from the stress of the event or training. In sports where endurance is a central aspect, such as distance running or cross-country skiing, maximal endurance, as reflected in the ability of the athlete to consume and process oxygen, expressed as the athlete’s VO2max, is of prime importance.
How can athletes perform to the best of their ability after sport specific training for muscular strength, power, and endurance? Well, by being flexible, of course! Flexibility is the counterpoint to muscular strength; the greater the range of motion present in the joints of an athlete, the greater the ability to move dynamically. An inflexible athlete is unlikely to ever achieve outstanding athletic performance. Inflexibility in human joints creates imbalance in the connective tissues and muscle structures, which will reduce the ability of the muscle to achieve maximum power and will increase the risk of injury.
Young athletes and adolescents who are seeing a fast rate of growth have an exceptional amount of stress placed on their ligaments and tendons near their growth plates. It is quite common in children to experience pain in these areas due to tightness that often is referred to as “growing pains”. As the bones grow faster than the soft tissues can accommodate, the attachments get stretched to the maximum. By incorporating some specific stretches on a consistent basis one can aid children and young athletes in reducing the amount of discomfort and increasing their success in performance.
Another component under the neuromuscular pillar is the ability of the body to respond to external stimuli, such as the movement of an opponent or the starter’s gun, which requires the development of the athlete’s motor control. These specific neuromuscular abilities include the feature of reaction time. How important is this in the eventual outcome of the contest? Highly important. Fractions of a second often times determine the outcome of a specific contest. And nobody likes second place.
As muscular strength, power, endurance, flexibility, and reaction time all have an effect on sports performance, so do agility, balance, and coordination. These aspects of sport performance are also influenced by heredity and body type to a significant degree, but all can be enhanced through training. Most sports have specific drills developed to further each of these areas, such as the simple running drills where an athlete must run through a specific pattern. When the drills are run in reverse or in varying sequences, the drill is intensified. Each of these neuromuscular features of sport performance is less influenced by the strength of the musculoskeletal system, and more impacted by technique and repetition.
Finally, speed is built by training that is focused on the development of the fast-twitch fibers of the skeletal muscles. The distribution of fast-twitch fibers through the muscles of the body is also regulated by genetics, but training can maximize the fast-twitch effect. Each of us is pre-wired towards slow-twitch or fast-twitch movement, but we all have some of each type of muscle fibers in our bodies. Why do sprinters excel at what they do? They have more fast-twitch fibers throughout their genetic makeup. And marathon runners? You guessed it…more slow-twitch fibers.
So whether you are looking to improve your serve out on the local tennis court or vying for a spot on a major league baseball team, sport specific training is a fun and functional way to improve your performance. Our bodies will function better through life by training movement and not just training muscles. The personal training staff at Ultima can assist in all of your specific needs. See a specialist today!