6 Strength & Athleticism Training Tips for Athletes

Yunus Barisik
Written By: Yunus Barisik
November 1st, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
19.6K Reads
6 Strength & Athleticism Training Tips for Team Sports Athletes
Do you want to be the one your team turns to in a moment of need? If you answered yes, you need to check out these 6 tips for strength and athleticism!

You want to get stronger and dominate the competition on the field or in the rink.

That's why you're here.

So let's cut out all the nonsense that doesn't matter and get right to the heart of what really does.

Follow these six training tips and you'll be well on your way to getting stronger, faster, and better conditioned than ever before.

1. Start Every Training Session with an Explosive Lift or Jump Variation

Whether you're a football, soccer, basketball or hockey player, the truth remains, you can never have enough power.

The Olympic lifts and their variations - such as the hang power clean and snatch - are great for improving explosiveness.

For those athletes who can't perform the Olympic lifts due to existing injuries or lacking technique, med ball throws should be used as a more suitable, less risky alternative.

Jumping is another simple and effective method for anyone to build power. Start with box, broad, or vertical jumps, and over time you can progress through hurdle jumps to drop and depth jumps.

For deceleration and braking skills as well as long-term knee health, single-leg jumping - such as linear, medial and lateral hops, and lateral bounds - should be mandatory for every team sport athlete.

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2. Train Movements, but Don't Neglect Building the Musculature

Everybody knows by now that you should squat, pull, and push heavy to maximize your strength levels in the gym.

But I strongly disagree that those would be enough on their own to create a well-rounded, injury-resistant body that can compete at the highest levels of competitive team sports.

Related: Complete Muscle & Strength Sport-Specific Workout Database

If you're an athlete involved in a heavy collision sport like football, rugby or hockey, some direct upper back and neck work should be done a few times per week on top of the big barbell lifts. The former for preventing shoulder injuries, the latter to combat concussions (or at the very least, minimizing the damage when you get your bell rung by a smashing hit).

Furthermore, isolation movements for strengthening the hip flexors and adductors should be mandatory in sports like soccer and hockey - where injuries to the groin area occur frequently - though performing these exercises certainly wouldn't hurt athletes competing in other sports as well. Include these "prehab" movements in your warm-up or between sets as active recovery.

I know "hardcore" trainees would balk at these suggestions, but if your goal is to become a great athlete who rarely gets sidelined, you'd better include some prehab drills targeting common problem areas in your sport as a part of your training sessions.

3. Train More At and Above 80% of Your 1RM

I recently was shown a "leg workout" designed by a "trainer" for a high school hockey player which read as follows:

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Leg Press 4 8-12
2. Squat 4 8-12
3. Deadlift 4 8-12
4. Lynig Leg Curl 4 8-12
5. Standing Calf Raise 4 8-12
6. Sit ups 4 8-12

While the exercise selection and exercise order were off by a mile for the needs of the athlete in question, what struck me the most was the complete lack of heavy lifting on movements targeting big muscle groups that have been proven to elicit fast strength gains.

The best way to get strong is to lift heavy weights, not light weights.

That means you need to spend more of your time lifting in the 1-8 rep range (or at and above 80% of your 1RM) if you really want to maximize strength. Contrast that with workouts like the one above where you're chasing the burn with higher reps.

You're gonna experience some awesome pumps, but will you gain any noticeable strength? Probably not.

Follow a program like that and you'll be blown away by guys who were getting brutally strong on low-rep sets of cleans, squats, snatches, pulls and single-leg exercises (more on that below in #4). That much I can guarantee ya. But hey, maybe the coach will still find a spot for you on the roster. Every team needs a dedicated waterboy, after all.

4. Get Freaky Strong on Single-Leg Exercises

I believe that many of the groin, adductor, and hamstring strains witnessed in sports could be largely alleviated with proper inclusion and adequate loading of single-leg movements. 

While established strength standards for bilateral lifts like the barbell squat and deadlift can be easily discovered by looking up powerlifting videos on Youtube or classification standards of powerlifting federations, there are no performance standards for unilateral movements.

Related: Basketball Performance Workout - Building A Better Baller

That makes it tough for athletes to fathom what is "strong" from a loading perspective on a split squat or reverse lunge. How would you know whether you'd be classified a beginner, intermediate or advanced on those? If you train at a public gym, you'd try to assess your own level of competency by looking at what the other members are lifting on a given exercise.

The problem is that they've got no clue when it comes to loading single-leg exercises, either. In fact, apart from my own athletes or clients, I've never seen anyone split squatting more than the 55-pound dumbbells in a big box gym setting. For most, even the 45-pounders prove to be challenging.

Hey, if you consider split squats performed with 45-pound dumbbells to be strong, I've got news for ya... You're weak. For reference, I've got 16- and 17-year-old hockey players routinely doing split squats and lunges with 220+ pounds.

It's funny how few athletes realize that single-leg exercises are not meant for rehab purposes only. Getting freaky strong on them goes a long way toward improving performance and remaining injury-free. Take soccer players, for example. They don't want to use "big" weights because they fear they'll become bulky and slow on the pitch.

So, they split squat with the said 45-pounders week after week and waste their time on things like the cable adduction/abduction, leg extension, and standing leg curl machine, forever remaining oblivious to the apparent mediocrity of their performance both on and off the field.

Then, they pull a groin in a non-contact situation and have to go through six weeks of extensive rehab before they're cleared to play again by the medical staff.

If they simply had become really, really strong on exercises like split squats, rear-foot elevated split squats, reverse lunges and walking lunges - in addition to the direct hip flexor and adductor work mentioned in #2 - they would have practically bullet-proofed their anterior hip musculature against any of the typical injuries seen in soccer.

And I'd wager that they'd also perform better on the pitch due to the leg strength gained from hoisting respectable amounts of iron instead of playing around with weights more suited for adult fitness class members.

M&S Female Athlete Performing Split Squats

5. Condition Wisely

We've covered the strength training part so far. Let's change focus and look at how to condition for team sports. Most team/field sports are alactic-aerobic in nature. 

While that may sound like scientific gibberish to you, the important thing to realize is that from a physical performance standpoint, sports like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer consist of repeated sprints and rapid direction changes with incomplete rest periods.

Thus, succeeding in one of these sports comes down to an athlete's ability to express SPEED and POWER (another reason why you shouldn't skip #1 on this list) in a multi-directional fashion.)

Compare that with how many athletes still spend inordinate hours each summer doing long, slow distance running, thinking that's the way to prepare for a fast, explosive sport like ice hockey. How does that help in becoming a better athlete? It doesn't.

Related: Sport-Specific Speed for Big Men - Improving Acceleration

While more and more people realize that better ways to condition an athlete than jogging exist, the trend these days has shifted towards "high-intensity" training methods whose efficacy is measured by how many buckets an athlete can fill with his sweat and puke over the course of his training session.

Which is great... if your goal is to hammer the athlete deeper into a recovery hole. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely a time for training hard and pushing the limits. Just remember that not every training session needs to turn into a Rocky training montage.

Better ways to condition for team sports:

  • Sprint
  • Run hills
  • Push/pull/drag the sled
  • Heavy carries for time/distance
  • Tempo runs

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6. Change Directions

Unlike in track & field, team sport athletes rarely cover longer distances in a straight line. Football, basketball, and hockey require split-second changes of direction - forward, backward, lateral and diagonal - as a new play emerges. 

The ability to decelerate, transition and accelerate quickly is crucial for sports success.

An athlete who can't keep up with the speed and rapid direction changes of the game will soon find himself on the bench. Or cut from the roster. So how should you train if your goal is to become faster and more agile?

Change of direction drills can be as simple as setting up two cones anywhere between 5-10 yards apart and sprinting from one to the other a few times. Or you can perform more advanced variations by combining forward, backward and lateral running, and turns in multiple directions. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Put these six training tips to action starting today and watch your new-found strength and athleticism leave the competition in the dust.

Posted on: Thu, 03/12/2020 - 07:22

Excellent advice. Seems obvious when you say it but wow did I do it wrong in high school ....I'd alternate days of "weightlifting" (bench press, bicep curls, maybe some other stuff) with days of long slow distance runs. What a waste. Live and learn.

Posted on: Sat, 03/16/2019 - 07:20

Great article, solid advice. Thank you!