Friday, February 18, 2011

Have you got what it takes?

Have you got what it takes?

It has been said, that if you spend an average of six hours a week in the gym that you are considered an athlete. This statement is somewhat true but, if you intend on being a high level athlete six hours is just a beginning.

Six hours is much more than the average fitness buff spends on a fitness routine but again, if we look at an elite track athlete’s program or swimmer they have training programs that have them in the pool or at the track around four hours a day, and this does not include gym time.

As the Olympics and the Paralympics have come to an end, I want to give everyone an idea of the complexities involved in a training program for a high level athlete. Programming for an athlete involves many different training goals and each must somehow be incorporated into a program. Each program must be designed to have the athlete’s performance peak at a specific time. The program must allow for proper nutrition, recovery and must have the proper stimulus to create a positive adaptation.
We must remember that training is a stress; this stress is designed to create an adaptation. Hopefully the stress is enough to create a positive adaptation and not a negative one. Too much stress in the form of intensity or volume can have some very negative side effects. Some of these negative side effects include insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite, soreness in the muscles that lingers, injuries and more.

Along with an extensive training regime there must be a nutritional plan.
Nutritional planning for an athlete is no small task. Some nutritionists have made quit lucrative businesses in designing nutrition programs for athletes. Each person’s program is tailored to their specific needs for calorie intake, carbohydrate content, protein needs, recovery, and supplementation. Nutrition for an athlete is an ongoing process.
The program often needs to be fine tuned at different times of the training cycle depending on the athlete’s performance and adaptation to the stimulus. The issue of supplementation is one that often needs to be addressed. Top level athletes do not have the convenience of using many of the high tech supplements for fear they may contain any of the hundreds of banned substances. Most of them usually stick to the basic protein powders and electrolyte based sports drinks. But a good nutritionist will often recommend things like fish oil which will help the tendons and ligaments as well as the joints! 

Sport specific training programs must allow for many factors including, power, strength, speed, agility, coordination, quickness, flexibility, muscular endurance, aerobic capacity and aerobic endurance. The science of training cycles is called Periodization and is very complex and is beyond the scope of this article. The basic idea is the athletes program is broken into four different cycles. The cycles are designed to allow the athlete to achieve the many diverse factors needed to compete at an elite level.
Often athletes are training an average of four to six hours a day, six or seven days a week, with training sessions broken up over the day. The four main cycles are as follows; the “Pre-Season”, “On Season”, “Post Season”, and “Active Recovery” cycles. The basics of each cycle is something like this, the” pre-season” is designed to develop the athlete’s base in strength, power, endurance or cardiovascular base and this is where most of the heavy weight training is done. As the season approaches the exercises are transformed to more sport specific movements and we begin to add agility and coordination drills into the program. Flexibility and speed specific work are ongoing throughout the cycle.

During the “on-season” cycle the program is geared towards maintaining the athletes’ strength, power, endurance etc. Now, if at any time one or more of these factors begin to diminish we will add a micro-cycle or mini cycle of “pre-season” training into the mix to give the athlete a quick jolt.

As the season draws to a close we hope the athlete has not sustained any injuries.  But, if this is the case, then referral to the proper medical personal is the next step. Once the athlete has been rehabilitated we begin the final cycle called “active recovery”. The “active recovery” cycle is where the athlete remains active but is not training at a high intensity. Usually, the athlete will go swimming, ride their bike, do light jogs etc. The duration varies but is usually 2 to 4 weeks. The cycles then begin back at the “Pre season” cycle. Anyone who plays a sport, whether for fun or at a competitive level can make valuable use of Periodization.

As you can see the work involved in becoming an elite athlete is quite daunting!
The athletes must train, diet, work a regular job, and promote themselves and their sport.
All of which is done in a typical day where most of us will work 8 hrs and go home.

As a professional strength and conditioning consultant and athlete I have an in depth look at what it takes to get to the highest level of mental and physical conditioning and let me say that one out of a hundred people has what it takes. We call them champions!!
Our athletes deserve our respect, gratitude, and applause for the tremendous task they have before them.

To all our Olympic and Paralympic Athletes;

Until next time be fit and stay strong!
Peter J. Morel C.F.C, C.I.C, C.P.T.
TopShape Fitness Consulting