With football season starting up, many people are inspired to go out and play their own games of touch or flag football on Saturday mornings. Or maybe you aren’t interested in football, but look forward to that intramural soccer game every Thursday night. Unless you are a varsity or club sport athlete, these games may provide the only form of physical activity you get all week. And no, walking to class doesn’t count.
Or maybe you are one of those students who takes advantage of our well-equipped Student Recreation Center. You go in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after your 1 p.m. class. You shove your stuff into a wooden cubby and head over to one of the machines in front of the televisions. You climb up on the elliptical, plug in your headphones, make a few strides and press quick start. In 30 minutes, and not one second later, you stop your feet, pick up the bottle of green disinfectant and spray twice. You grab the towel and wipe the machine down like a good patron. Then, you stop by the cubby you placed your stuff in earlier and head out the front door. You got your workout in.
I hate to break it to you, but if you train this way you are practically wasting your time. Sure, these quick workouts help keep those calories in check, but as far as training for physical fitness — more specifically, sports fitness — you are way off of target. You are just negating that extra three cookies you grabbed at the Commons Dining Hall.
So, why wait for the weekend or for that occasional Thursday night to really push yourself physically and mentally or move your body in an athletic way? I am about to give you guidelines on how to make your workout intense, so you can bring intensity to the field, court or whatever ground you play on.
First, start with a proper warm-up. Hop on your favorite cardio machine at the gym and start with a speed that is easy for you to maintain. But this is just the beginning. After about five minutes, do the next five to 15 minutes as intervals. If you are on the treadmill, for example, bring the speed up to a quick pace or a sprint for 30 seconds. Then bring it back down to your warm-up speed for the rest of the minute. Repeat at least five times, adding more intervals or increasing the speed of the intervals as your endurance improves. But if you really want to improve your fitness, you should only treat intervals as a warm-up.
Static stretching as part of a warm-up has long been on its way out. Instead, use dynamic or active stretching to really warm-up the muscles you are going to use during your workout. Consider using arm swings, trunk rotations, butt kicks, Frankenstein marches and side lunges before moving on to the next aspect of sports conditioning — plyometrics.
Plyometrics are fast, powerful movements — exactly the type of movements required for you to make your way into the end zone to receive a touchdown pass. Personally, I am a huge fan of plyometric push-ups. Lower yourself into push-up position, as you would normally, but on the way up, send a surge of energy through your chest and arms so powerful that your hands come up off the ground. Then, catch yourself and repeat. When you become good at this, try adding a clap. At the Rec Center, there are a variety of sizes of plyo boxes, which are perfect for box jumps. Choose a height with which you are comfortable and stand in front of it with your feet together. Jump onto the box, keeping your feet together. Finally, you can do plyometric lunges. Lunge as you normally would, dipping down as you bring the knee of your back leg closer to the ground. But as you come back up, send a surge of energy through your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Try switching your stance in mid-air so the leg that was in the rear is now in front.
If you decide to incorporate these plyometrics into your workout, start slowly to reduce the risk of injury. If done properly, I guarantee these moves will give you the best results for your time in the gym. Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to cool down. Here is where static stretching comes in handy. Those stretches we all learned in elementary school physical education still work. Make sure to hit all the muscle groups you use, because if you don’t, you may get sore.
If you train for sports, your body will get used to the stress of game-like physical activity. This results in a lower probability of accruing a pulled muscle or twisted ankle. Train for the game. Your fitness should not be the reason why you don’t win.