How to Program a Workout for a Sport
If you are a professional athlete, you no doubt have a professional team of people who work you out at the correct intervals, both on and off-season. But what about the rest of us who may participate in competitive sports and athletic endeavors on the side?
With the rise of CrossFit, Strongman, Powerlifting, Mixed Martial Arts, and a thousand different races, there are plenty of regular people and weekend warriors who are looking to improve their game but don’t have the luxury of year-round, top-level sports coaching.
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I’m going to attempt to break it down for you so that you can start programming for yourself and make fitness and strength gains in conjunction with your sport. I am going to use the term “training” for gym time to improve strength, cardio, power, etc. I will use the term “practice” to describe the time you are training your actual sport and honing your skill.
The very first concept to understand is that everything has a price. When you train for strength, you pay with your energy levels and cardio. When you train for intense cardio power, you may pay for it with strength.
When you are doing a sport that requires agility, heavy lifting will stiffen you up a bit and tax that. If you are doing a sport that requires brute strength in short bursts, cardio training will borrow from that.
But don’t let it deter you, because if you time everything correctly, you shouldn’t experience any large hindrance. And, over time, you will get better at both. The trick is knowing how to tune the dials and the key is patience.
Build a Workout That Fits Your Sport
Know Your On and Off Season
The first thing is to get a handle on when your games are scheduled or performance is required. Is it a season, like spring/summer? Or is it every few months for a match or a meet? Plan on keeping your skills sharp and your sports practice turned up during these times.
Accessory work should be utilized, but turned down. Meaning, don’t go for squat and deadlift PRs before your game. Don’t run a 10k before your powerlifting meet. Keep your accessory work manageable. On season, think of training as maintenance. Off-season, think of training as a goal.
Pick Your Workload
To pick your workload, you must be honest about your weaknesses and what will truly help you improve. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen people training for aesthetics when they need power.
I’ve seen them train for brute strength (i.e. maxing out on bench) to supplement a basketball league. Unless you plan on passing that ball so dang hard you knock your teammate unconscious, which doesn’t help you win anyhow, I do not see why you’d need to train that exercise for single rep maxes.
What is your limiting factor?
When you practice your sport, are you lacking in strength? Or do you gas out too quickly? Perhaps you have a problem simply sustaining energy after a certain point in time? These are all questions you must answer to understand what your training program should look like.
Your training program should also be reflective of your sport. For instance, if you train Mixed Martial Arts, your cardio training should predominantly look like your fight practice. High-intensity cardio power for 3-5 minute rounds with short rest periods.
Your strength moves should employ power as well, like a power clean into a front squat and sled pushes. If you train CrossFit and do it all, simply use the training time to work on your weaknesses and accessories to those weaknesses.
Build your whole shoulder if your weakness is pressing, that might look like accessory bodybuilding work. Use your training days for endurance practice if you find yourself running out of energy too quickly. It is up to you to be honest about what the problem is.
Plug-In All Your Practice Days
After you see the yearly pattern of your “on season” and “off-season” practice and pick what you need to train, it’s time to tackle your program month by month. Plug in all of your practice days during the week.
Are you practicing your sport once a week? Four times a week? Put a training day in on your off days or where you can fit it. If you want to get better, I would suggest finding at least three times a week to schedule training.
So, if your schedule looks like you are on summer and fall, and off-winter and spring, you can plug in 3-5 training days a week in your offseason and 2-3 practice sessions. On season, reverse that to look like 3-5 practice days and 2-3 training days.
If your schedule seems to be on every one month out of four and off the three months in between, the same thing applies.
Some people have competitions or tournaments year-round. If this is the case, you either need to choose the important ones or, simply program 2-3 training days a week around your practice all year and not take those training days to the maximum capacity within close proximity of your performance dates. Your road may be a bit longer, but you will still improve.
Double Check for Recovery Time
Once you have this all spread out in front of you, what does it look like? Balls to the wall practice and training every week? Is it too ambitious for someone with four kids and a day job? Are you wondering when you’ll have time to eat and sleep and take the dog for a walk? Then, by all means, cut back.
Remember, this article isn’t for professional ballers and fighters. It’s for hobbyists and regular people who simply want to get fit and crush some goals. If it doesn’t pay the bills, don’t get so caught up you lose sight of your life.
Besides, if you cannot eat enough or rest enough to support your schedule, you will not succeed. Recovery and fuel are equally as important to the game as practice and training.
Tweak this schedule until you have come up with something challenging, yet enjoyable, and most of all – sustainable.
The main takeaway here is to program your training to support your practice. If you are honest about what your weaknesses are, you will come up with an appropriate training program.
If you can gauge when you need to be focused on your sport and when you can be focused on your supplemental training, you will know when to turn one dial-up and the other dial down. Always make adequate space for recovery.
And most of all, be patient. In the beginning, extra training may make you extra tired, or extra hungry. It may also stress your performance for a short time. Once you adapt, however, your performance will go back up, as well as your strength, agility, power, and endurance.