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Physical Preparation vs Fitness: Know the Difference

For athletes new to GP, physical preparation is a term that is unfamiliar to them. Sure they are familiar with “strength and conditioning” or “speed and strength” programs. Many of these athletes come from high schools and colleges that have a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach. If they do not have the luxury of having a S&C coach at their high school, they are often familiar with the “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” programs that many coaches hand out to their players, especially our football players.

There is a movement within the S&C industry that has more and more coaches referring to themselves as coaches of “physical preparation”. The concept of physical preparation, as it pertains to athletes, incorporates much more than simply strength and conditioning. Buddy Morris, current Head Strength/Physical Preparation Coach for the Arizona Cardinals, has said:
“We're coaches of physical preparation. What we do encompasses more than just conditioning and strength. There are a lot of variables we have to look at it with each individual athlete and each individual group. In this country, I think if anything, we place too much emphasis on strength. I'm not downplaying the importance of strength, but I think we put too much emphasis on it and too much volume."
Physical preparation accounts for both performance enhancement as well as injury reduction measures. It's important to us that our athletes understand the concepts of physical preparation and why the services and training they are receiving at GP have only one goal in mind: to prepare each individual athlete to meet the demands of their sport and competitive season.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, our programs may look very simple. And depending on the athlete’s age and training experience, our programs can be very oriented on the fundamentals. But the biggest mistake our athletes can make is assuming simple means easy. Our programs are very demanding.

Physical preparation is one area where many programs fall short in their attempt to develop athletes. Young, well-intentioned athletes want to improve their current fitness and/or strength levels. This is all well and good, but what some coaches and athletes must understand is there is a difference between fitness and preparation. It's one thing to be "fit", it's an entirely different story when it comes to be prepared for sport competition.

Preparation vs Fitness
I recently was given the privilege of developing and coordinating the off-season strength/physical preparation program for the Franklin Regional ice hockey teams. To say I am honored would be an understatement and it is a huge compliment to our business. This is a tremendous undertaking and one that comes with many challenges. Many of these young hockey players are novices when it comes to strength training, needing a solid foundation of stability, strength, and neuromuscular control. Others have more training experience and also play for other amateur hockey organizations in the Pittsburgh area. Some of these kids play 60+ games a year. Understanding the stress their bodies endured during the competitive calendar and collision nature of the sport must be considered in the development of their training program to promote continual adaptation and proper preparation for the upcoming season.

This is where the development and preparation of the athlete must match the biodynamic and bioenergetic demands of the sport of ice hockey, not merely developing “fitness” or “strength” levels. Considerations of biodynamics (biomechanics, kinematics, and kinetics) will govern what exercises are used in the development of the athlete. Bioenergetics characterizes the nature and contribution of the human bioenergy systems towards training and competitive actions.

The development of physical abilities and specialized work-capacity will be specific to the training stimulus. This follows the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). To help us understand the concept of specialized work capacity and how truly specific the development of “fitness” levels can be, let’s consider the nature of most team sports.

When considering the physical abilities that make an athlete successful in sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, what comes to mind is speed, power, strength and anaerobic-alactic capacity. To achieve athletic potential, all these abilities are necessary to train and develop so that physical abilities match the demands of sport.

What is not listed above and often a missing component in many S&C programs is developing the athlete’s ability to accelerate or how quickly an athlete can increase their speed. It is a rare occurrence in hockey, as with other team sports, that an athlete reaches top speed and must sustain that for an extended period of time. What you see far more often is that the ability to accelerate is a constant factor in athletic success.

Charlie Francis stated that most 100m sprinters do not reach top speed until 60m into the race. In other words, these athletes are accelerating for the first 60m of the race. This is not just true of sprinters, but the majority of other athletes as well and this has implications on their training.

According to Coach Francis, the major requirements for the 100m race are broken down as follows:
  • Start/acceleration: 0-30m
  • Speed/maximum velocity: 30-60m
  • Speed endurance: 60-100m
Training Implications
In this day and age, the marketing of gimmick products or programs towards athletes is driving much of the training industry. High-speed treadmills, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) programs, speed/agility schools are designed to increase pocket books, yet often can fail to deliver promises on performance enhancement when it comes to speed, acceleration, power, strength, or energy system development as they relate to a specific sport.

The ability to accelerate has major implications for explosive, alactic-aerobic sports. Athletes participating in these sports must have the ability to perform repeated bouts of acceleration and recover quickly. Acceleration ability is trained through plyometrics, acceleration training, and strength training. The ability to recover quickly is developed through proper energy system development of both the aerobic and alactic components. This doesn’t mean that an athlete needs a separate and specialized program for each of these components to be trained. Rather it means a well-organized and structured program must account for biodynamic elements, acceleration/speed, plyometrics, strength training, and an understanding of the positional bioenergetic (energy system) demands of the sport. These attributes must be understood and trained accordingly.

 
Related Articles:

Are You in Need of More Intelligent Training?
Why Athletes Should Avoid HIIT Programs
Common Mistakes in Developing Young Athletes
Don't Fall for the Speed Trap
The Essentials of Keeping Athletes Healthy
What's the Deal with the Tape?

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