ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal:
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share
Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and professor and department head for the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
As weather warms and days get longer, some people turn their attention to summer sports. Whether you are a tennis enthusiast, golfer, or play in a summer softball league, it is important to begin to prepare in the months leading up to the competitive season. In the following paragraphs, tips for how to proceed are outlined.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
Regardless of your sport of choice, having strong core muscles (abdomen, back, gluteal muscles, etc.) is important. Strong core muscles give you a solid steady foundation for performing movement in the extremities. Regardless of whether swinging a bat, kicking a ball, or hitting a backhand tennis stroke, a strong core is necessary for high levels of performance. A regular routine (no less than three days per week) of core-building exercises is important. There are many ways to develop core strength, some involving equipment (e.g., stability balls), others without equipment (e.g., plank exercise). Activities such as yoga and Pilates can be very effective at building core strength.
WORK ON STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY
Athletes often use the off-season to develop strength and flexibility. If you have not been working to maintain your strength and flexibility, you will notice that you will have less strength and flexibility when you return to activity. Begin slowly with both flexibility and strengthening exercises. Take into consideration the muscle groups and joints that are most critical to performing your sport. Engage in strengthening and range-of-motion activities for these areas at least three days per week. You may want to perform these on alternate days with the aerobic conditioning exercise described later.
AEROBIC CONDITIONING AND WEIGHT
Did you maintain your aerobic conditioning during the winter? Did you keep your weight at competitive levels? If not, now is the time to start making adjustments to your training routine. The level of aerobic activity needed for your sport will dictate the type of aerobic training you need. Walking 18 holes with a bag of clubs will need conditioning, but not nearly so much as if training to play in a soccer league. If your sport involves running or other vigorous aerobic activity, you should be engaging in vigorous aerobic training at least three days per week. Although running provides the best transfer to many sport activities, other types of aerobic conditioning can be used. This may be particularly important if working around injuries, including overuse injuries. Spin classes, swimming, and elliptical machines can be useful substitutes for running.
Although there is not an optimal weight for competition that applies to all individuals, excessive weight can be detrimental to performance and does increase the loading on joints. Examining both calorie intake and expenditure is important when adjusting weight for competition. Use this preseason time to reach the weight that best suits your sport and the level of performance to which you aspire.
AGILITY AND SPORT-SPECIFIC SKILLS
One of the best ways to get in shape for a sport is to actually play it. Begin to practice the skills that you will need for the competitive season. For example, you may not be able to get an entire softball team together for a practice, but finding someone to catch with can be important in getting your arm ready for the season. You also should engage in agility drills, hand-eye coordination activities, and so on. Coaching books for your sport of choice often have these types of activities described in detail. A fitness professional can be an invaluable resource to assist with the design of activities for sport-specific skills as well as other aspects of your training program.