In the last column I spoke about being fit to play a sport, rather than trying to get fit through your chosen sport. So what does “being fit” mean?
It entirely depends on what you want to do. What do you want from your sport? How serious are you about your sport?
Sports career vs active living
If someone is only playing sports to stay active and for holistic development, then they need to start with general fitness. They need to work on three broad areas, namely, strengthening, stretching and cardiovascular workouts, all of which are very good for general well-being and help with all sports.
On the other hand, if the person is playing the sport very seriously, to excel in it, then there has to be progress to sport-specific fitness, once general fitness has reached an acceptable level. Your trainer (or sports doctor or therapist) should be able to help you decide when to progress. However, most players, coaches and, sadly, even many fitness trainers don’t understand what sport-specific fitness is all about. So you might be better off speaking to a sports medicine specialist, such as your therapist, as he or she should understand the mechanisms of the body well.
Remember, too, that generic bulking up can be detrimental for most sports. Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, mentions in his book It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life that he lost upper body weight in training, as that was a hindrance rather than help to cycling quicker.
It is interesting to note that most sports are not very natural, i.e. they increase muscle imbalances in the body. If you carry on playing them without countering this, they do more harm than good. All sports that require your body to move in one direction more than the other qualify for this accusation—cricket (think of the motions of bowling, throwing, batting), tennis, badminton, table tennis, golf, field events such as javelin, discus and hammer throw and even track running, where you always run anti-clockwise.
This is about corrective exercise rather than generic workouts, so you might need expert help. If muscle imbalances are very obvious, get a professional coach or sports therapist (or sports doctor) who understands your game to draw up a sport-specific programme for you. Things to keep in mind:
• Posture analysis, often ignored, is very important to give you an idea of what body parts need more work. Talk to your therapist or a doctor specializing in sports medicine for this.
• Focus on core stability and bigger muscles, as they are your foundation. Muscles around the abdomen and lower back are like a corset protecting your body. Those, and all back muscles, need to be worked on.
• Always exercise the stronger side first. Then, when you exercise the weaker side, put more weight or pressure on it than on the stronger side (say, 20% more weight if this side is 20% weaker). Very soon it will start to catch up.
• Along with strengthening, also focus on flexibility, followed by balance, then core stability, and last of all, dynamic work, which mimics your sport. For this, your sports therapist or trainer needs to know your sport inside out, and it is advisable to do this under your coach’s supervision.
• Weight training using cables with resistance is beneficial, and can be tailored to mimic your sport movements, working the correct muscles. But don’t try this unless your therapist or trainer is trained in the sport. Safer to stay away unless you have a well-versed coach around.
• You don’t need to bulk up for most sports. It actually gets in your way.
• Biggest mistake: replicating sports movements with gym equipment. If your therapist or trainer is not very well trained in your particular sport, please don’t try this.
Who’s on your team?
If you’re a serious sportsperson looking at performance, it should be obvious by now that your coach, trainer and therapist all need to work together to improve your fitness for your sport. I like therapists to be experts in a particular sport, so that they can understand your problems well and do the trainer’s job as well.
The author is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness.
Write to Rajat at firstname.lastname@example.org