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June 02, 2014

Have you ever wondered what makes record breaking, gold medal winning elite athletes as outstanding as they are? We have all, at some point, wondered what the secret is. Is it genetics? Is it environment? Or perhaps it is training. I'm going to defy conventional wisdom here and say that there is no secret. There is no single ingredient that makes these athletes the best in the world. Through research, observation and analysis, I have determined that it comes down to three distinct areas, with each of these separate components being a diverse category within itself.

Align these three components in a manner that supports what you are training for and you will notice a compounding improvement, not just incremental.

ALL training and performance relies on three three components. These are the three things that make up human movement.

The Three Physical Components of Athletic Development

1. Energy systems - Every sport involves the use of the body’s energy systems in a combination of ways. There are three energy systems, the ATP/creatine phosphate system, which is responsible for maximum output for periods of exertion not exceeding 10 seconds like sprinting 40m or a maximal squat; the lactate system, which is the system that involves burning muscles, extreme perceived effort and lasts up to three minutes, such as a 400m run; and the aerobic energy system, which extends indefinitely and is responsible for steady and continuous effort at a sub-maximal pace.

Each sport utilises each of these energy systems in a way that is unique to the activity. If one is to maintain a high level of performance the training undertaken must facilitate physiological adaptations that are closest to the demands of the activity.

There are two components of energy system-specific training:

a) Duration - Energy systems are time-dependent, meaning that each energy system operates ideally for a given period of time. A 100m sprint lasts between 9.7 - 11 seconds at the highest level. Therefore training specifically for the energy system adaptations required of a 100m sprint should pertain to durations that span 10% below and 10% above this time period.

b) Intensity - Intensity is the level of effort applied expressed as a percentage of maximal output. Squatting as much weight as a person is physically capable of for a single repetition is an output of 100%. Intensity is what defines the primary energy system engaged for that activity. A 400m sprint is performed at about 95% of a person’s maximal possible output, but is sustained for 45-60 seconds. The intensity of training for this event must therefore closely mimic that which is applied during a race.

If the body’s energy systems are to be trained to an optimal standard specific to the sport, both the duration and the intensity in training must be closely related to the demands experienced during competition.

2. Biomechanics - Biomechanics refers to the movement characteristics of the sport. Every movement has its own ideal biomechanics. A running stride can be biomechanically analysed and improved upon by changing the mechanical application of each stride, for example. To excel at any athletic activity it is important to understand the biomechanics associated with it and how that applies to training and development.

A person’s fitness improves according to the task undertaken. In order for a cyclist to improve in cycling the best activity at its core is cycling itself. The same applies for a swimmer. A long distance swimmer will make fitness adaptations by running regularly. The same cardiovascular capacity benefits will occur with running as they will with swimming. However it is biomechanically non-specific, which means the adaptations made will not greatly carry over to the actual sport of swimming. This is movement specificity. Having said that, auxiliary training is beneficial as a cross-training and conditioning tool. For instance, strength training is generally a non-specific array of movement patterns. However strength development is the broadest and most widely applicable training modality applying to just about all sports.

The more precisely biomechanics are applied in training the better the end performance. If, for example, efficient sprinting stride is developed and then reinforced in training the nervous system gets used to moving in that same efficient manner and develops a favourable neuromuscular pattern.

Establish efficient biomechanics and spend time developing it. Dominate the bulk of training with performance of the actual competitive activity itself. Everything else is secondary and auxiliary.

3. Structural/Anatomical - This component is associated with the actual anatomical and structural characteristics of the task at hand. Distance runners have a certain ideal build, which is different from a sprinter, which is different again from the shot putter. It is important to understand the ideal structure for a given sport and use it to maximum advantage.

Each individual has a unique body type and shape. Each shape is beneficial to a specific set of activities and less ideal for others. For instance, short legs, short stature and long arms is a perfect build for a power lifter but quite disadvantageous for a sprinter. The following are the guidelines for optimising structural and anatomical characteristics for high level sports performance:

a) Make the right choice - In order to perform to the highest possible level and reach one’s potential it makes sense that a person makes the correct choices when it comes to participation in sport. A light frame, long legs, thin build and naturally low body fat percentage would indicate that person is not suited to strongman competition but may be better suited to middle distance running.

b) Pay attention to patterns - When we look at champions from various sports we will notice patterns in their anatomical and structural characteristics. Most high level soccer players have a similar build. The top sprinters are similar in build from one to the next. Olympic style weightlifters from each weight class are similar in build. Notice these patterns and plan your own changes accordingly.

c) Planning - If you are to maintain a specific physical build you need to have a plan in place to attain it. This plan needs to span from training to nutrition. Consider this another performance characteristic that needs to be trained for. Have a plan in place and follow it.

d) Action - Maintaining a specific physical structure is not an easy task. In order to maintain it there must be effort applied from multiple variables. Nutrition, activity and recovery must be structured to all pertain to achieving the ideal build for the task at hand. This is another component of training and should be treated as such. Anything that contributes to performance is an important component.

In order to perform at the highest possible level in any sport you need to understand these three components. Begin by learning the components and analysing your sport. Gain a thorough understanding of the physiological requirements of the sport. Once you have an understanding of these components you can then plan your training accordingly.

ALL training is designed to meet one or more of these components. This guide provides a simple checklist for ensuring training is specific to the task at hand.

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I hope this is of use to you in your training and performance. It will help you categorise exactly what to do and the specific purpose for every part of your training. If something can't be explained and is out of place, then eliminate it. Only spend time working on things that transfer to your main objective.

Stick around for the next issue, it's going to be a good me.

Unleash your physical potential,

Chris Lyons. Click here to send us an email.

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