Apr 06, 2020 • 4 min read
Sports like tennis, soccer, cheerleading and even certain track and swim disciplines challenge your body in similar ways: They all involve bursts of power over extended periods of time. Physiologically this means they require both aerobic and anaerobic engagement, and when it comes to a match or event—usually at the same time. Real talk: They work your body, and hard.
Research has shown that sport-specific training is the best way to prep for such rigors of competition, yet you can’t just practice non-stop. You’ll risk overuse injuries. But you can mimic each sport’s physiological challenges, to prepare your muscles (including your ticker) and mind to ace any match. Here are five ways to maximize your training, so you can power up like a pro:
Matching the rest periods you may experience on game day can be a great way to train, but it also depends on your fitness level says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS., C.S.C.S, author of Beat the Gym. “Start slowly with the longest rest periods you may experience, and then gradually shorten them to match your shortest recovery times. For more of a challenge, you can also increase the intensity of your activity as you shorten your rest periods,” he says.
For example, a tennis athlete might have four- to ten-second bursts of powerful activity followed by ten seconds of recovery during play, and typically 20 seconds of rest after a point. To mimic this type of work, add a day of sprints to your weekly routine, whether you run, bike, or swim. Ideally, you’ll rest only for 20 seconds in between bursts, but you may need to start with 30-second recovery periods until that feels easy. Work your way from 20-seconds of rest to ten.
Tightening your recovery time can get tricky because the technique depends on your fitness level and sport. But shorting yourself a few seconds between sets or sprints can make game days feel easier. “Resting less than you would on game day gives you a mental boost, too, because you’ll know you’ve been trained to handle more than what your sport demands,” Holland says.
Plyometrics (jumps) engage your anaerobic system and fast-twitch muscles, helping your body become quicker and more powerful. In fact, research has revealed that they can help your muscles get stronger, too. Try adding three to five tuck jumps after a set of squats, or five clapping push-ups after performing the regular version. You’ll turn your strength workout into an interval session, and help speed up your reaction times.
“It’s important to have at least one day each week of long cardio, whether that’s a 30-minute swim or one-hour run,” Holland says. “The length of time you exercise will depend on your fitness level but aim for at least 30 minutes of continuous activity. Most games last a while, and you still need to train for aerobic fitness, too.”
“But be careful not to over-train,” Holland warns. “It’s good to go over distance. Often marathon athletes will run 30 miles before a race to make the 26.2 feel easier. But too much repetitive motion can cause overuse injuries. Swimmers have to especially watch for this with their shoulders,” Holland says.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of high-intensity interval training: For every tough workout you complete, you’ll need one or two recovery sessions that same week,” Holland says. “That could mean a light jog the day after running sprints, a yoga class the same afternoon, or a complete day off. Any time you challenge your body you create micro-tears in the muscles, for example, which is how you get stronger. You need to allow yourself time to rest, so new adaptations can happen.”