April 18, 2014

    Why Fitness Isn’t Cardio: You Can’t Play your Way into Shape

    Some sports, like football, have an ethos where weight training is traditionally a large part of a players’ preparation. Other sports, like soccer, seem to have the opposite view, that everything an athlete needs to do to prepare can be gained from time spent on the field. Soccer players often talk about “playing their way into shape,” and can be afraid that weight training will make them too slow or bulky.

    A female midfielder came to us wanting to improve her speed and ability to fight off defenders. We were impressed with her drive to improve considering she had just been awarded the Herman Trophy (given to the top male and female college soccer players). Her initial scan (below left) showed that her Sparta signature had low t scores for LOAD and EXPLODE, what we call a linear signature. When we found out what her training history was, we weren’t surprised. She was the soccer equivalent of a “gym rat,” spending all her time on the field and had almost no strength or explosive training history. She could run for days, and her ball skills were fantastic but when it came to closing down gaps quickly and using her body to shield off defenders, she simply didn’t have the strength. Her lack of speed, particularly “first step” speed was seen in her lack of LOAD, which we define as an athletes’ ability to create stiffness. Her low EXPLODE, an athletes’ ability to maintain stiffness, was the reason she felt weak on the ball. Athletes with good EXPLODE usually have very good trunk and upper body strength and that’s something she was definitely lacking.

    dead lift-1

    When it comes to producing large force (LOAD, EXPLODE) you’re either born with it, or you need to build it. We prescribed a healthy dose of squats and dead lifts to increase her LOAD. These movements focus on the knee and ankle joints, as well as the anterior (force producing) leg muscles. And because the movements are performed on two legs, the overall intensity can be kept very high. We made sure of this by keeping the rest long and the reps low. Her fitness was already so good that we didn’t need to increase the density of her training. She needed to work on really high quality, high intensity efforts. We also made sure she was getting plenty of upper body work. This had two important effects. The first is that is increased her ability to maintain the new force she was producing with her legs . The second was that upper body workouts are a great way for sports with a high endurance demand (soccer, rugby, lacrosse) to increase endurance without taxing their already over trained legs. When you look at her Sparta signature now (upper right) it’s almost the mirror opposite of her initial scan. She now has what we call a lateral signature. The result for this athlete was a trip to the Women’s World Cup where she held off defenders better and was much faster closing down gaps.

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