Are You Fit to Compete?
There is a current dilemma today that confuses sport for fitness. In my opinion, the root of this problem stems from the very nature of sport in the US. Here from an early age we compete in sports in order to improve our fitness. From Field Day, to Dodge Ball, to beginning athletics, to varsity sports, we are bred from an early age to compete, and this competition drives our fitness.
While some will go on to compete in college and even fewer make a career in sport, the majority of athletes stop competing in varsity sports their senior year of high school. When this happens their fitness dwindles until they find the next thing that they can compete in. This is a very American mentality; the only reason to be fit is so that you can complete at something else.
This mentality forgets that competition is a limited pursuit. That’s why competitions have seasons – to allow rest, recovery and adaptation. So you can rebuild, rethink, and come back stronger the next time you compete.
Furthermore, getting better at competing at a sport is in some ways opposed to increasing fitness. This is the single biggest factor that limits the effectiveness or using a sport exclusively for fitness. When an athlete first starts doing a sport they are technically inefficient. What this means is that because they lack the skill to do something they have to make it up with hard work. This is true in any skill based sport. Think about watching any racket based sport (tennis, racquetball etc) with a newby and a veteran. The newby runs back and forth like a chicken with it’s head cut off, and the veteran is just standing in one place hitting ball after ball just out of their reach. As the athlete increases their skill, they run less and less and become a more technical player. So as their skill set increases, they are actually working out less and less.
The real problem with this is, the more skill based the activity, the more time the athlete has to invest in improving that skill. This creates an illusion of believing that as skill increases the athlete is fit. The problem here is that the athlete is now specializing. As an athlete specializes, they have to invest more and more skill-specific time for them to improve. While it’s important to increase skill, you have to remember that you are still performing a physical activity and the cornerstone for any fitness is being strong, fit, and athletic.
Over and over again we have incredibly high level sport specific athletes come into our gym. These athletes are dominant in their sport, and yet, even though they are high level athletes, they just get crushed under a very pedestrian workload. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t take away from their achievement in their sport.t’s just an early indicator of ways that they can improve in their sport without devoting so much time to being sport specific.
Benefits of Increasing Overall Fitness
Maximize Training Time- When sport specific athletes start increasing their base fitness, one of the single biggest benefits they see is the ability to increase the quality of their training. Because their fitness is increased they can train longer and harder, if necessary. This allows them to break through plateaus and push beyond their previous limitations, simply by being able to get extra, quality work in.
Less Chance of Injury- A stronger, more fit athlete is simply less likely to get injured. Not only are they physically stronger, with their increased endurance they stay mentally sharper and are less likely to get sloppy when fatigued. It is in this grey area when the athlete is fatigued and desperate, that we tend to see the most injuries.
Varied Intensity- You simply can’t go hard every day in your sport. If every day was game day, athletic careers would last weeks instead of years. By adding a strength and conditioning element you can still push your intensity with other training modalities. This allows the athlete to keep their fitness relatively high without fear of overtraining or getting burned out.
Longevity- No matter how passionate you are about something, the higher the level and more often you do it increases your likelihood to get injured, or burned out. This is why people have hobbies instead of lifetime pursuits. By structuring your training and complementing it with a solid strength and conditioning program, you can take breaks from the sport itself and still see an increase in fitness. Thus, when you do decide to return, you are actually stronger and faster. This cycle of alternating training between your sport and your overall fitness is how athletes stretch out their career from a few months to a few years or even decades.
Mental Resilience- One thing we have learned is that being mentally tough is very specific to your sport, but it doesn’t have to be. The more the athlete is able to train resilience outside their sport the more tools they will have when they need to get tough in their sport. While being resilient is specific, the tougher you are, the tougher you are. This is huge for the hard days, when working through injury or high training volume. This is one of the key components for training to be a true competitor. The more you’ve trained your mental fitness the harder you will be able to compete physically.
Great Equalizer– All things considered the stronger athlete almost always wins. Most people hate to admit this but if two people line up for a competition and they have the same basic skill set, the stronger athlete almost always wins. They can simply push harder for longer. What’s worse is that sometimes a more fit athlete can beat a more skilled athlete just because they can maintain a higher level of intensity for a longer period of time. As the skilled athlete becomes fatigued their skillset stops being an asset and they are simply in a fight with a stronger opponent. If it comes down to it, you always want to believe you are the strongest athlete, and if your training has backed this up and built your mental and physical confidence it’s is going to be true.
If you are serious about your sport, then you need to start being serious about your fitness. Nothing will take you to the next level, improve your your resilience and make you a dominant athlete like getting a little bit stronger, a little bit faster and a little bit harder to kill.