TECH­NIQUES TO BOOST PER­FOR­MANCE

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POST-AC­TI­VA­TION POTENTIATION (PAP)

Though this is still a bit of a the­ory, the idea here is that by us­ing a mod­er­ate-to-heavy lift tar­get­ing the same mus­cles, you will im­prove (po­ten­ti­ate) your power on a sub­se­quent ply­o­met­ric or power-type move. Some the­o­rize that the mus­cles are neu­rally “primed” — more mus­cle fibers are turned on af­ter the lift — mak­ing the power move that much more pow­er­ful.

For ex­am­ple, do­ing squats be­fore box jumps: Even though the ath­lete may be fa­tigued af­ter the squat, the po­ten­ti­at­ing ef­fect can stick around for sev­eral min­utes dur­ing re­cov­ery. A re­cent meta-anal­y­sis sug­gests per­form­ing the lift at a mod­er­ate in­ten­sity (60 to 84 per­cent of your one-rep max) and rest­ing three to 10 min­utes be­tween sets un­til you feel re­cov­ered be­cause fa­tigue can coun­ter­act the PAP ef­fect.

Moves to try: Back squat box jump, bench press medicine-ball chest pass

PERIODIZATION

Sys­tem­at­i­cally chang­ing the ex­er­cises, sets, reps, re­sis­tance and rest pe­ri­ods al­lows ath­letes to re­cover and op­ti­mize their train­ing dur­ing a com­pet­i­tive sea­son. The tra­di­tional style of periodization is lin­ear, pro­gress­ing from a base level of fit­ness to a spe­cific skill-set tar­get: As the year pro­gresses, in­ten­sity is in­creased, rep ranges are de­creased and ex­er­cises be­come more sport-spe­cific. Dur­ing the com­pet­i­tive sea­son, in­ten­sity is kept high but the num­ber of ex­er­cises, sets and reps de­crease so as to pre­vent over­train­ing and burnout. Af­ter the sea­son is over, there are two to three weeks of ac­tive rest, then the process be­gins again.

An­other way to pe­ri­odize is in a non­lin­ear or an un­du­lat­ing fash­ion in which both in­ten­sity and vol­ume are var­ied through­out the en­tire year, some­times de­pend­ing on how an in­di­vid­ual feels that day. This is use­ful for any­one, ath­lete or not, to pre­vent chronic in­juries and over­train­ing and keep your mus­cles fresh and grow­ing. Plan your work­outs to take you through phases that change up your sets, reps and in­ten­sity ev­ery four to 12 weeks, and al­low your­self a few weeks off from the weights and car­dio at least once a year.

COM­PLEXES

A com­plex means some­thing dif­fer­ent de­pend­ing on whom you ask. They can ei­ther be strength-power su­per­sets that use PAP (see above) or a work­out made up of sev­eral ex­er­cises done in a row that uses the same weight and that is done with­out set­ting the weight down. This sec­ond type of com­plex is per­fect for metabolic con­di­tion­ing, and both can be great time­savers.

Com­plexes us­ing lighter weights can be used as spe­cific warm-ups for heav­ier lifts to come. For ex­am­ple, warm­ing up with five reps of dead­lifts, hang cleans, front squats and over­head presses with a naked barbell can el­e­vate body tem­per­a­ture and get your mind-mus­cle con­nec­tion fir­ing so you’re ready to rock once you load up the bar for the work­out.

Barbell com­plex to try: Dead­lift, hang clean, push press, back squat, push press (re­peat)

AGILITY DRILLS

This is prob­a­bly the most func­tional train­ing around, teach­ing the body to use re­ac­tive power to change di­rec­tion quickly while de­mand­ing con­trol over dy­namic bal­ance in all planes of mo­tion. Drills can be in­di­vid­u­al­ized to mimic dif­fer­ent dis­tances (ten­nis court vs. soc­cer field), lo­co­mo­tive pat­terns (lat­eral shuf­fle vs. lin­ear ac­cel­er­a­tion/de­cel­er­a­tion) and change of di­rec­tion pat­terns (side step vs. cut­ting). Even if you’re not train­ing for a spe­cific sport, agility drills can help de­velop speed, bal­ance and con­trol, and they are a fun way to do your car­dio in an atyp­i­cal way.

Even if you don’t have an agility lad­der, cones or mini-hur­dles (though those are all af­ford­able and por­ta­ble), you can use chalk to draw boxes for foot-drill pat­terns or set up wa­ter bot­tles in­stead of cones to mark off yardage for sprints.

Drill to try: T-Drill. Ar­range four cones 5 yards apart in a T shape. Start at the base of the T and sprint to the cen­ter cone. Change di­rec­tion and side shuf­fle to the left cone, then change di­rec­tion again and shuf­fle to the right cone. Shuf­fle back to the cen­ter cone, then put it in re­verse to backpedal to the start.

MEN­TAL TRAIN­ING

Though vi­su­al­iza­tion can never sub­sti­tute for ac­tual train­ing, it can help when you’re not in the gym, court or field. Men­tally prac­tic­ing the ob­jec­tives of an ac­tiv­ity is usu­ally bet­ter than imag­in­ing the out­come of your goal. For ex­am­ple, tak­ing your­self through the sen­sa­tions (grip, foot place­ment, mus­cle ac­ti­va­tion) of a per­fect power clean is go­ing to be more help­ful than imag­in­ing your ex­cite­ment at get­ting a per­sonal record.

When you’re ac­tu­ally train­ing, how­ever, choos­ing whether to fo­cus on in­ter­nal sen­sa­tions (i.e., ac­ti­vat­ing spe­cific mus­cles) or ex­ter­nal ob­jec­tives (i.e., push­ing the floor away or driv­ing the bar up to the ceil­ing) de­pends on the type of move­ment, the load and the ex­pe­ri­ence of the lifter. Lighter loads seem to benefit the most from in­ter­nal fo­cus, and heav­ier loads tend to need more ex­ter­nal cues to get the job done, es­pe­cially for less ex­pe­ri­enced lifters. And that gym bro who strikes a pose be­fore each set? He might ac­tu­ally be onto some­thing: Isometric con­trac­tions done right be­fore a lift can help you fo­cus on en­gag­ing the right mus­cles dur­ing the set.

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