Sports Performance is ultimately about one thing… movement.

From the effortless speed, grace and accuracy of a Roger Federer backhand, to the awesome power and technique of a crunching Jonny Wilkinson tackle as he knocks a 120-kg prop backwards; Whatever sport you play, optimal performance is just about moving the right way. That’s it.
The fact is, if you can get in the right position and execute the right movement at the right time with the right combination of force and speed, then you are unbeatable.
So, if sport performance is all about executing movements, performance training should be all about optimizing movement. Yes, that’s right, performance training is not just about who can squat, bench and deadlift the most… unless you’re a powerlifter of course. Believe it or not, performance training is actually supposed to enhance sports performance!
Performance Training is about Optimising Movement
So, how do you optimise movement? Well, in order to answer that, it helps to think about ‘Movement’ in 2 different ways…
  1. Movement Quality
    • Mobility, Stability, Postural Alignment, Balance, Motor Control & Decision Making
  1. Movement Capacity
    • Max Strength, Max Speed, Acceleration, Reactive Ability, Local Muscle Endurance & Systemic Fatigue Resistance
Now, every aspect of your sporting performance utilizes a complex interaction of these different factors. So, your sporting ability is ultimately dictated by a combination of both your Movement Quality & Movement Capacity.
The problem is that most people in the gym tend to focus entirely on the ‘Movement Capacity’ side of things, paying little attention to ‘Movement Quality’. Let’s face it, we all love to run fast, jump high and throw stupidly heavy weights about!
So, what’s the problem?
Well, it’s obvious that training hard in the gym can get you closer to your performance goals. That’s why we do it. What’s less obvious is that training with crappy exercise selection or technique can actually get you further away from those goals. Even if you are getting stronger and more powerful in the gym, if you are reinforcing or developing faulty movement patterns you will not only limit your performance down the line, but you will also likely to increase your risk of injury. In fact, if you are training wrong, the harder you train, the further away from your goals you are going to get.
Training hard in the gym can get you closer to your goals…
But, it can also get you further away from your goals.
Let’s look at an example. If you are a tennis player wanting to increase the speed and power of your forehand, you might think that using a barbell bench press would be a good way to achieve this. After all there are similar muscles involved, so making them stronger has to help, right?
As with all striking or throwing motions, proper movement of the scapula (shoulder blade) on the ribs is essential for both optimal performance and for preventing a number of potential injuries to the shoulder girdle, neck and arm. It’s pretty obvious, therefore, that developing and maintaining proper scapula movement is an important part of your performance training program. Now, when you perform a traditional bench press with proper technique, the scapula are retracted and depressed throughout the movement. So, you are actually training yourself to move in a way that will both reduce your performance and increase your risk of injury. i.e. You are getting further away from your goals!
And that’s not all…
Even in you get yourself freakishly strong in the bench press it’s actually very unlikely to have any positive effect on your tennis performance. Research shows us that power development is relatively specific to both the speed and the plane of the movement being trained. Basically, this means that performing a slow sagittal plane movement like the bench press will have little effect on the speed of a transverse plane, rotational movement like your tennis forehand. Also, some researchers have found that, increasing maximal strength can actually disrupt the fine motor-control required to perform skilled movements such as a tennis shot. Again, getting further away from your goals.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Bench Press as much as the next guy. It’s a great exercise for general fitness, and for developing monstrous strength in the upper body. So, if you are a Rugby player or American Footballer then get benching. But, let’s face it you don’t see many powerlifters at Wimbledon!
So, if you play any sport that requires skilled, rapid striking or throwing movements, the traditional bench press is an exercise you might be wise to stay away from. Yes, even on Mondays and Fridays when all your mates are benching their max and strutting around the gym like peacocks. There are plenty of other exercises that you can use to develop both the movement quality and capacity that you need to excel in your sport. Think of push-up and landmine variations, resistance band, medicine ball and kettlebell exercises… the list goes on…
Whatever sport you play, if you want serious long-term improvements in performance, you need to optimize both Movement Quality & Movement Capacity. But don’t worry, you’re not alone! If you need help with your performance training program, just get in touch with Spike-Fit. That’s what we are here for… to help!
Well, that’s it for Part 1 – I hope you found it useful. In Part 2 we will be looking at why movement training is different from technical practise, and why it’s not just for sissies in lycra.
Until next time,
Train Smart… Play Hard!