Every athlete wants to get better…much better. However, for so many athletes and coaches, getting better involves training the body to the extreme, demanding it to give more than it can withstand. This antiquated approach to training has been passed down through the generations and many athletes continue to be pushed to exhaustion as they strive for better performance.
Sports science, however, has taught us much about this subject and it continues to evolve much faster than you might imagine. A better understanding of how the human body works changes our concept of “pushing the limits.” With this series of articles, my goal is to bring the latest developments from the world of science into your lives to help you reach your goals more effectively.
When we take a closer look at the physiology of an athlete, some interesting facts become clear:
• The body works on a limited, but renewable, amount of energy.
• The notion of “being fit” carries a different meaning from one sport to another.
• Training should normally aim to make an athlete’s physiology more efficient: i.e. to produce much more work using the same amount of available energy.
• Training should help the body adapt to the demands of the sport and not constantly deplete its limited resources.
• Physiological adaptation to training occurs at rest, not during the actual training.
• Training should target physiological zones that will bring out the best improvements with regard to a specific sport.
• These physiological zones are specific to each athlete.
• Nutrition plays a major role in optimizing aerobic and muscle performance.
• Rest allows for physiological adaptation to take place.
Now, you want to get much better, here’s the recipe:
1. Know what specific aerobic and muscular qualities your sport requires (endurance, power, strength, resistance, etc.).
2. Get a complete and personalized evaluation of your fitness level (physiological, muscular, nutritional and behavioral fitness evaluation).
3. From the results of the fitness evaluation, identify the gap between what your sport demands and what you can give. This gap will enable you to identify and target which aerobic and muscular qualities you should train.
4. From this overall analysis, a professional trainer will be able to establish a precise and personalized training program covering specific rather than vague or general goals.
5. Measure your fitness level regularly and see how fast you’re closing the gap.
6. Consume enough calories to meet your energy requirements.
7. Include rest in your training program. This will allow your body to adapt to your training. Also, you’ll prevent burnout and injuries.
Pushing the limits has nothing to do with killing yourself on the job. It’s about providing your body the right stimulation at the right moment. Sports science has come a long way and we now have a much clearer understanding of how the body works. Why not make that knowledge work for you?
Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.