By Joe Eisenmann, PhD
The days of showing up at the start of the season and “getting into shape” are long gone. Today’s athlete needs to be stronger, faster, and more explosive to keep up with the competition and to stay injury free. Although middle schools, high schools and small colleges around the country are investing in strength and conditioning, there are still some that are falling behind. Meanwhile, major universities, professional organizations and others with strong programs continue to look for ways to improve. Perform-X is here to assist coaches with efficient and effective training tools, concepts and education for athlete development.
Integrated sports performance
What makes an athlete? What is athleticism?
I think we would all generally agree that athleticism is a composite set of traits that includes strength, speed, power, agility, balance, coordination, endurance and the ability to competently perform motor skills like throwing, catching, jumping, etc.
Athleticism can be further depicted in that strength and power must be displayed through upper body pushing and pulling both vertically and horizontally, and lower body strength and power must be expressed with both legs and on a single leg. The athlete must also be able to rotate, and accelerate, decelerate and change directions moving forward, backwards and laterally and in all combinations.
How do we train and push the body to improve these athletic traits? Herein, lies the principles of strength and conditioning and what we prefer to call integrated sports performance.
The importance of facility design
But before we consider how to train the athlete in all dimensions, it is important to consider that the facility and equipment will dictate to a certain extent the training program. For example, if your facility looks like the one below then you are limited by the number of individuals due to the equipment and how it is placed within this space. Furthermore, this room lacks ‘flow’ making inefficient use of space and time.
Likewise, we have seen several weight rooms that look like a museum of selectorized machines that can be used for a single exercise (chest press, leg extension, etc.). These rooms may be great for bodybuilders but they are not ideal for developing the athletic traits mentioned above. Indeed, today’s athlete needs to be multi-dimensional and thus the design and layout of the weight room needs to be transformed into a ‘performance center’.
The integrated sports performance center
Indeed, the days of grungy weight rooms crowded with machines are becoming obsolete. Schools and organizations with big visions and forward thinking athletic directors and coaches have taken the next step in bridging the gap between traditional weight lifting and performance integration concepts.
By transforming your weight room into a performance center, you will be on the leading edge of performance training. Mapping out your space into performance zones allows for athletes to build strength, power, speed and agility.
Our equipment and devices have elements of traditional weight rooms, blended with performance equipment and devices to make a truly unique space. Furthermore, the functionality and versatility of the equipment will maximize the space and also has the potential to be taken onto the court or field – thus truly integrating training with performance.
the Zone concept
The performance zone concept basically utilizes specific areas that have tools to train the main pillars of athletic development – strength, power, speed and functional movement.
Strength Zone: Many argue that muscular strength is the bedrock of athletic performance and injury prevention. The cornerstone exercises for the development of muscular strength are the bench press, squat, deadlift, and clean given that they activate large muscle groups. They are also often used as a yardstick during testing for lower body (squat and dead) and upper body (bench press) strength and power (clean)– think weight room record board.
These exercises are commonly performed in the rack and platform area. Of course, for the young athlete it is critical that proper technique is the focus prior to heavy loading. As athletes advance in training experience and ability, they may be exposed to more advanced training methods such as variable resistance loading (cords or chains). The Lift-X™ Strength Systems consist of a unique version of variable resistance cords for loading the bench press, squat, deadlift and various Olympic lifting movements. The Bench-X and Squat-X Strength Cord Systems can be used in a traditional rack set up using the built-in peg system or retrofitted with the Trak-X System. Although not common until recently, the downfall of loading with variable resistance on the deadlift and clean has been securing the cords/bands to the platform area. The Trak-X™ System has provided a solution to this problem by providing a safe and secure anchoring system to properly load these two platform lifts. The Dead-X and Power-X can be used within an inlaid platform or above ground platform – both which can be retrofitted with the Trak-X.
Although variable resistance training for the bench, squat, dead and clean may be advanced, other Perform-X products can be used for beginners, weaker, or younger aged athletes. In addition, these products can be used during the rehabilitation or reconditioning phase of a return to play program. Compared to machines, utilizing resistance devices like cords or bands offer multi-directional movement variations that cannot occur in a selectorized weight machine, and they are noticeably less expensive. Variable resistance cords allow athletes to push, pull or lift high or low, at various angles, or with one arm or one leg.
Power (Plyometric) Zone: The ability to control the body through space and time (body awareness, coordination, quickness) is vital to athletic performance and injury prevention. Dynamic, multi-directional plyometrics are a great method to train these athletic abilities. As mentioned above, new to the performance landscape are customized platforms, preferably inlaid, with the integrated track system (Trak-X™) offering built-in plyometric progressions alongside the ability of cord-loaded jumps as well as box and barrier drills. Along with the inlaid platform/Trak-X/plyometric concept, the Jump-X machine can also be used for the development of explosive lower body power.
Speed Zone: Speed kills! but how often do coaches teach and train speed development? A dedicated Speed Zone can be added to any facility where specific running/sprinting applications can be applied, tested and managed. This zone may include the high speed treadmill, a specially designed leg press which emphasizes single leg pressing movements and jumping, and a hip machine that targets all planes of hip musculature development. Coaches have the ability to teach and train speed development with this equipment, while utilizing over-speed and incline training methods, as well as specific hip strengthening in this training zone.
Functional Zone: Some facilities lack access to indoor space, outdoor fields, or other flex or auxiliary space to practice ground-based performance drills. With the addition of a turf area, coaches can offer dynamic warm-up, change of direction drills, cord-loaded movements, and plyometrics.
Cardio Zone: The cardio zone provides a dedicated area for individuals to improve stamina and endurance improvement. Treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes and rowing devices can offer multiple methods of enhancing aerobic capacity, or be used in conditioning for injured athletes.
Training considerations using the zone approach
The zone approach enhances flow of the room and similar to circuit training allows an individual within a small group to perform the given exercise(s) for time or repetitions. The management and coaching of the zone concept is also easier since each zone is a focused movement. In addition, the zone concept can improve attention to task for younger athletes.
Here are some key factors to remember when establishing a zone training approach in the performance center:
- Establish space or areas that allow for strength, power, speed, and functional movement. This could mean eliminating one-dimensional equipment like selectorized machines to create space, or repositioning the space to ‘flow’ the training session more effectively.
- Based on group size, circuits can be set up within a small station allowing for a focused movement for that day, complimented by other complex or contrasting exercises to complete the circuit.
- Time or repetitions can be used to determine the length in each training zone.
- Younger, less experienced, and/or weaker athletes need a more versatile and holistic training approach to adequately develop good movement mechanics.
- Coaching within a training zone set-up requires preparation but can be easier to manage and coach.
- A training zone approach allows the coach to efficiently target all areas of human performance – strength, speed, power, agility, conditioning – with the overall goals of movement competency, versatility, and fun!