By Mike Robertson
Over my 15 years as a physical preparation coach, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes.
Whether it was ignoring power work, not doing enough conditioning, or simply spending too much time in the gym, I’ve learned a lot along the way.
However, in that time I’ve also learned a ton about what most athletes need to be more successful.
Regardless of whether you’re trying out for JV or trying to get a college scholarship, the areas I’ve listed below are vitally important, and things most athletes should be working on.
Critical Area #1 – Basic Strength
When I was coming up in the strength and conditioning world, the name of the game was strength.
Not power, not mobility, not conditioning – strength.
And for good reason – being strong is not only scientifically proven to make you more awesome at life*, but it also “spills over” to other physical qualities such as speed, power, and even endurance.
(*Okay, okay – it’s not proven by science. But all of my personal research leads to this conclusion!)
But nowadays, it seems as though strength is a bad word.
It’s as though the continuum has gone entirely too far in the opposite direction.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot more to physical preparation than purely strength. But I’d also argue that most athletes need to build a solid strength base first and foremost, as developing other physical qualities will be that much easier going forward.
When building your program, focus first and foremost on starting every lifting session with a big bang, compound lift. Squats, deadlifts, bench presses and chin-ups are all great options.
If you do this, and work on getting stronger week-to-week and month-to-month, you’ll be better off than the vast majority of young athletes out there today.
Critical Area #2 – An Aerobic Base
Growing up, I had a basketball coach who made me run cross-country to prep my legs for basketball.
Was that a great idea? Probably not.
Steady state running for months on end may give you an aerobic base, but it doesn’t prep the legs for the explosive actions of sprinting, cutting and jumping.
But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely bad, either. That low-intensity base gives you the ability to go out and play an entire football, basketball or soccer game without dying!
But the benefits of a strong aerobic base go even further than simply conditioning. A well-developed aerobic system is a strong stimulator of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is critical for recovery.
Quite simply if all you do is high-intensity interval training, you’ll struggle getting through a whole game, and it will negatively impact your recovery as well.
Take the first 2-4 weeks of every off-season and work on your aerobic base. I typically recommend a minimum of 30 minutes to start, and working up to as long as 60-90 minutes (based on your sport, position played, etc.).
Last but not least, this work has to be low-intensity, so keep your heart rate in between 120 and 140 beats per minute. It may not seem difficult, but you’ll be rewarded when you get to more intense methods later on in your program!
Critical Area #3 – Recovery
As a coach whose system and approach has evolved greatly over the years, one thing I find myself focusing more and more on is recovery.
Ask yourself a simple question: If I’m not recovered from my last session, why am I continuing to kill myself?
Instead of thinking about how hard you can train, think instead about how you can recovery so that each training session is of higher quality.
This is a huge shift in mindset for most. It’s not about doing more – it’s about doing more, better.
Here’s another analogy – let’s say you’re in the gym working your jump shot. Your goal is to take 300 during that workout.
But you trained really hard the next day, and 150 shots in, you’re really dragging. Your technique is off, footwork is sloppy, and you’re missing everything in sight.
Is this making you better? Or engraining bad habits?
This is why recovery is so critical. If you’re not recovering between sessions, you’ll never get the most out of the training session itself.
Unfortunately, recovery is a massive topic, and one that I can’t fully address here. Suffice it to say that proper nutrition and hydration, quality sleep, and effective breathing techniques can all play a major role here.
One thing that I have every athlete do before they leave the gym is bang out 10 good breaths. Simply lie on your back, prop your feet up on a bench, and then breathe deeply 10 times.
Most importantly, work on the exhale. Try and get all of the air out of your body, and then hold this position for 3-5 seconds before taking in another breath.
Next time you’ve had a hard session, give this a run. I guarantee you’ll feel better, and it will kick start the recovery process as well.
Despite what you’ve probably read on the Internet, athletic development training doesn’t have to be overly scientific and complex.
Sure, there’s a time and place for sexy training methods – but most athletes would be well served by simply getting stronger, developing an aerobic base, and putting a premium on recovery.
Include these three items in your next training program, and I guarantee you’ll get better results.
All the best
Mike Robertson is one of the most sought after trainers and coaches in our industry. He’s trained professional athletes from virtually every major sport. His gym (where they train everything from pro athletes to stay at home moms and retired folk), has been named one of the Top 10 Gyms in America by Men’s Health magazine three times.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how Mike designs programs, or coaches his clients and athletes, then you’re going to love this product! Check out his new program here: