Now is the time of the year for training. Athletes are in the weight room, are out on the track, and are in countless number of gyms doing whatever workout is set before them. All of this is done in the name of getting Bigger, Faster, and Stronger. The Big 3 adjectives that every single athlete wants themselves to be called by coaches, fans, and hopefully college scouts. But what if this type of training is making us better at our sports, but building a faulty foundation for longevity? I believe it is time for a new model of training to be the focus. It is not about being the biggest, the fastest, or even the strongest. It is a model focused on being the most durable.
What if our training focused less on the aspects of performance and more on the aspects of withstanding the experiences we are going to be putting our body through? I believe with this mindset, there could be a significant increase not only how well we can overcome the obstacles in front of us, but even conquer them.
When I think of durability, I think of a rugged, rocky coastline. It is a strong structure that towers over the sea. But that coastline takes a beating. It takes the waves crashing over it every day. It endures strong winds, storms, and whatever else Mother Nature can send its way, but every day it arrives just the same as it did the day for, a durable monument.
Imagine you have 2 football athletes getting recruited for your college. One of them is a typical stud. The strongest, fastest, biggest athlete on the team. This guy is a shoo-in to be a starter simply by walking in the room. The second is a really good athlete, but he wasn’t the most hyped guy out of the state. He is pretty strong, moves really well, extremely flexible, and he’s pretty quick himself, but not quite as quick as the stud. Now you must pick between one of these two guys to put on your team. Automatically you pick the stud, he is the easy pick. Automatically helps your team and can produce a lot. But I’m going to throw in a quick caveat. The “stud” hasn’t played more than a full season his entire high school career, while guy number 2 has played almost every down for the last 3 years. Who are you going to pick now? This makes this decision a little bit tougher. In the end, you might take a chance on the stud, but you know that with the other guy, you are going to have something that the stud can’t bring to the table, constant dependability.
And that is what this model of durability can bring to the table, dependability.
There are 3 different aspects of this model, each as important as the others, and each dependent on the others. They are Movement, Performance, and Recovery. Each of these aspects affects the others, and if not focused on adequately, will negatively affect other areas. If your movement is compromised in the area of flexibility, that will limit your performance and negatively affect your recovery. If your performance is compromised with too much training, that will limit your mobility and negatively affect your recovery. If your recovery is inadequate, that will negatively affect your movement and lessen your performance output. Each is crucial to creating durability, but a balance of all three leads to an incredible outcome.
Movement is the first aspect I believe should be focused on. I tell all my patients that mobility is the precursor to athleticism. If you ever watch a group of football linemen run, you will notice that there are two different types, ones that move well, and ones that do not. The group that moves well finishes significantly faster, while the ones that do not trail far behind. The big difference you can see is that the slower linemen do not have the ability to pick up their knees, with their feet simple shuffling, rather than making large strides. It is nearly impossible for them to get from A to B as fast as the other lineman, because the running motion is almost impossible for them. More mobility makes any movement that you do significantly easier, while the lack of it creates excess effort in completing any task. Without creating optimal mobility throughout the entire body, doing any sort of strengthening, while it will make that athlete stronger, will only make them stronger in the range of motion that they have available to them before their training. I would advise that the first part of any training regiment is making sure you have the ability to do the movements of which your training consists. Can you get into a below parallel squat while keeping your back straight? Can you reach straight overhead without arching your low back? And the list could go on for every single movement. Make sure you can adequately and comfortably attain the movements you are training in, before you increase difficult with more reps, more speed, or even adding weights.
The second aspect we should focus in training is the performance aspect. Whether that is getting stronger, faster, or being able to go farther, the general goal of this is to increase our capacity for completing some sort of task. There are many more people out who are more qualified than I am to guide you through different modes of increasing performance, but one thing that I know for sure, your training should be making you better. Now we have all heard the phrase “no pain, no gain” as a motivation to keep going in our workouts. I think it is crucial as we are training to increase our durability, we recognize the key isn’t to cause ourselves pain, but to increase our capacity. If we are literally causing ourselves pain, it is not making us better but making us worse. We need to understand the difference between pain and discomfort. Discomfort is an adverse feeling that you may have to push through to complete a training session but is not detrimental to the body. Pain is a warning sign from the body that something is wrong. As we are training, it’s ok to feel discomfort, but never pain. We should not push through pain while we are training, because that will just make our pain worse. For example, I have had patients deadlifting that feel a twinge in their backs in the middle of his set, but continued the set, and even completed more. These patients always came to me later with, you guessed it, back pain that made it impossible to train. I have also had patients on the opposite end who felt that twinge and stopped immediately. These patients then recovered well and were able to get into training the next time with no issues. The big picture is this, when you are training, if it hurts, don’t do it. Pushing through pain, rather than discomfort, is a recipe for finding yourself unable to train, effectively making yourself less durable.
The last aspect, but equally as important as the others is recovery. Now this comes in 2 separate forms, active and passive. Passive forms are the easiest forms of recovery. These include sitting down, relaxing, napping, and sleeping in. When we put ourselves through intense training, we need to give our bodies adequate time to rebuild themselves. I have heard it well put that there is no such thing as overtraining, but simply under-resting. Rest is key, and there is even some research out there that shows that the more we sleep the less likely we will get injured. Sleep has even been shown to increase athletic performance. I recommend anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep to all of my patients, a prescription I have never heard complaints about. If our goal is to become more durable, passive resting is a key part of that. The second part is active recovery, and this is the aspect about combating the discomfort that training can cause. The typical soreness felt after training not only doesn’t feel great but also can reduce our mobility and decrease our ability to train at as high of a level the next time we go after it. We need to make sure we keep our bodies at a reasonable level to make sure we are actually getting better. The active recovery is a mixture of foam rolling, soft tissue work, stretching, icing, massage, etc. The goal of these tools is to increase your body’s function. They make you less sore, and help you regain the mobility you had before you trained. A rule I tell my patients is that they should never feel below 85% when they are training, and 90% when they are playing a sport, to maintain athletic performance. Imagine you go out and train extremely hard one day and take yourself from 100% down to 70%. If you don’t recovery adequately, you could come in for your next session at 80%, not able to go as hard, or if you really push through, come out at 60%. This is an unattainable pattern, that will end up crashing somewhere. Each person is different, so you must experiment to find that balance. But that is the key, balance.
Balance is the key to all of this. Giving each aspect, movement, training, and recovery, their allotted time is crucial to building up durability. Each part of the model builds on the other when focused on, but tears down the others when it is done improperly. We at BGO hope that you can live your lives to the best of your abilities, and that these ideas could help you along that journey. Our goal is that you can do what you are passionate about for as long as possible, and if you are training to be more durable, the obstacles life throws at you, whether a middle linebacker or a heroic trip of every bag of groceries at once, might be a little easier to handle.
Contributor – Cameron Deckett, MS, ATC – Athletic Trainer, Lexington Christian Academy