5 Myths About Sports Conditioning That Are Holding You Back

In life we are surrounded by numerous myths and half-truths, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, UFOs in Roswell, and Crop Circles just to name a few.  No one quite knows if any of these things really exists or if they are just stories told by people for purposes only they know.  Sports conditioning has much in common with these mythological occurrences.

Over the past several months, I have answered a gamut of questions from numerous Revolution players with topics ranging from pre-competition nutrition to exercise performance questions.  All have been valid and good questions.  However, I have also had to dispel more than a few myths about strength training and sports conditioning as well.  All of which has led to the development of this article in an effort to dismiss as many of the common myths as possible with one fell-stroke of the keyboard.  So, without further ado, here are the top five myths related to strength training and sports conditioning:

1. Myth:  Strength Training Will Make Me Bulky
At the heart of this common misconception is the way men and women who perform strength training are depicted in many well known “fitness” magazines.  You must understand that the individuals in those magazines are not only genetically pre-disposed to gain outrageous amounts of muscle, they also are using very large doses of anabolic and androgenic drugs.
Not getting “bulky” is a concern that I have often heard from both ordinary trainees and athletes.  First, “bulky” needs to be defined.  I assume that the reference to not wanting to be “bulky” is the desire not to look like the people in the "fitness" magazines.  Fortunately, for those of you concerned with the “bulky factor”, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.  It is entirely possible to be strong, very strong, without gaining significant amounts of lean body mass (muscle).  As matter of fact, that is exactly how the majority of elite athletes train.  Adding extra lean mass is not necessarily conducive to improved performance.  However, being stronger and more powerful definitely are. 
If you still think that you can’t be strong without being bulky, below is a picture of former USA Olympic Weightlifting Champion Tara Cunningham:

Ht: 5’1”
Wt:  106 lbs
Snatch:  177.5 lbs
Clean and Jerk: 209 lbs

She looks pretty athletic, definitely strong, and very “non-bulky”.


Truth:  Strength Training Will Not Make You "Bulky"! 

2. Myth:  Trash Doesn't Stink
Often when working with athletes, I find it necessary to “dial” them back on their training a little bit as it seems they judge the effectiveness of a training session on whether or not they walk away absolutely “wasted”.  This is a faulty method of quantifying a productive session.  Usually by the time you reach the “heavy breathing, sweat drenched” end of a program, you have long since surpassed the productive portion of your training.  This type of training is what I call “Trash Training”.  You are basically “trashing” your body, your ability to recover, and, most importantly, your PROGRESS. 
The best way to avoid “trash training” is to keep an accurate training log.  That way you can refer back to previous performance, get into your session, and make progress toward becoming a better footy player.  Progress can be measured as lifting 2.5 more pounds on a barbell squat, running .1 second faster in a 50 meter run, or performing one more pull-up.  None of this quantifiable information will be available to you, however, if you do not keep a training log.  Continuous progress is the only way strength and conditioning training is going to positively impact your performance.  Otherwise, you are just wasting energy that could be spent elsewhere.
If you think of training in the following terms, it might help you to understand the point I am making.  When you go into work every day, you don’t contemplate how to make the work you are going to do that day as difficult as humanly possible, do you?  Of course not.  You think of ways to make your work more efficient and productive.  Well, the same goes for your strength and conditioning work. 

Truth:  Trash Does Stink!

3. Myth:  More Is Always Better
One of the primary concerns I hear from footy players is they don't have the ability to perform longer bouts of running, in the range of 2-4 miles.  Although I do understand how this common misconception can be fostered by watching AFL level players routinely log 16-24 miles per game, what must be understood, and thus prioritized, is that sports training should as closely mimic the sporting activity as is possible.  Even if you are in top condition, the pace at which 2-4 miles is run is nowhere near the pace at which a game of footy is played.  In footy, the majority of activity is composed of relatively short, intense bouts of work followed by some sort of recovery movement.  Hence, it makes sense for a footy player's conditioning to mimic that process.  Performing interval running, fartlek drills, and running multiple 50-400 meter sprints would all be very applicable components of a footy conditioning program.  If the goal is for your training to have a profound effect on your game performance, then run fast for short to moderate distances.  You will develop more than adequate conditioning for footy.

Truth:  More Is Not Always Better! 

4. Myth:  "Insanity Training" Gets Results
A commonly accepted definition of insanity is:  to repeat the same activity over and over while expecting a different result each time.  Many athletes take this same approach with their sports conditioning as well.  Once upon a time, they found a program that worked awesomely for them.  They have used it for years and are very comfortable with it because they're good at it.  I call this "Insanity Training".
There are two very specific problems with "insanity training":
1. There is NO perfect program.  Just because it worked well for you at one point in time, does not mean that it will continue to work well for you if you perform it consistently for a long period of time.  Here's a thought.  If a perfect program had been discovered, don’t you think that everyone would be using it? 
2. People do not like to change.  They like to stick with what they know.  The same goes for exercise programs.  We tend to stick to protocols and exercises that we enjoy and are good at doing.  When in reality, we should be doing exercises that address our “weak” areas. 
Three quick ways to keep your training out of the “Nut House”:
1. Change your program every 4 weeks regardless of how successfully things are going.  It's only a matter of time until the benefits of the program start to fade.
2. When you change your program, select exercises that you dislike and add them to your new program.  Chances are these are the areas that you need to work the most.  Also, just so you don’t end up hating the entire program, superset a “hated” movement with a movement that you love.  For example, combine Romanian Deadlifts and Bicep Curls.
3. Lastly, get a coach, or at the very least an objective observer, to analyze your program, and even better, write a program for you.  There are two benefits to this.  The coach/observer won’t have the same exercise biases that you do, and you are more likely to comply with a program that someone else has written due to the actual or perceived obligation to not disappoint that person.
These are just a couple of quick ways to insure that your training doesn’t end up like a fat person on a stationary bike:  going nowhere!

Truth:  "Insanity Training" Does Not Get Results!

5. Myth:  It's A Beauty Contest
I know many of you have heard the saying “all show and no go”.  I am also sure that each and every one of you has observed this type of player.  You know, the body of Adonis coupled with the performance of a 1981 Yugo.  There are many factors that contribute to this phenomenon, but one of the main ones is the prevalence of athletes using bodybuilding training programs.  Don’t get me wrong here.  In some instances, muscle hypertrophy (growth) is very beneficial, but there is a distinct difference between effective sports conditioning programs and bodybuilding programs.  The main difference is that strength and conditioning routines for sports are primarily focused on improving the athlete’s performance in his/her chosen sport.  Bodybuilding programs are designed to do just that – build the body, primarily the muscles. 
Now, let’s shift the focus to footy.  Some things required by a footy player are hip and leg strength and power and strength in the trunk and upper body.  Strength in the hips and legs allows the player to kick the ball and move about the ground at an effective pace.  Strength in the trunk and upper body gives the player stability when confronted with an awkward body position and allows the player to perform tackles and shepherds with brutal efficiency.  Did you notice any mention of beautiful, bulging biceps and triceps or pumped up pecs?  Nope.  Nada.  None.  Not a single mention.  Do you know why?  Two reasons really: 
1. Those areas get effective training from performing exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, over-head presses, etc.  As a matter of fact, the above exercises provide more than enough of a training effect to keep those muscle groups plenty strong for the demands placed on them during the sport. 
2. Performing specific exercises for those body parts falls lower on the priority list than those exercises that are going to more readily assist you in becoming a better footy player.
And that's what it's all about really -- becoming a better footy player, right?  Which brings us to what may be the biggest sports conditioning myth of all:  Bruno Got Kick-Ass Results, So Will You.  You know the story.  A friend of a friend's brother's sister's boyfriend Bruno did this particular program and got kick-ass results, so, of course, it will work the same magic for you.  The problems with these types of stories/myths are that they may or may not be true, people may be telling them simply to sell a particular program, and you don't personally know Bruno.  For all you know, Bruno's kick-ass results may be due to the fact that he was a stereotypical 90 lb weakling before starting the program or maybe he was training to be Mr. Olympia.  What is probably true is that Bruno is not a footy player, and despite results of mythological proportions, his program is totally inappropriate for footy conditioning. 

 Truth:  Bruno Got Kick-Ass Results, You Are Not Bruno.

The first thing you must ask yourself before you start a sports conditioning program is whether or not this program will make you better at your sport, and if so, how.  If the answer is YES, then by all means proceed.  If, however, the answer is NO, then you should seriously assess why you would want to undertake such a program.  The next question to ask  is whether the program is going to help you strengthen or eliminate weaknesses in your footy game or simply further develop areas in which you are already very proficient.  Finally, you have to determine if you have the resources available to accomplish your goals.  Resources can be anything from training equipment to time to physical stature.  They all play a role in how productive and successful a player you will become.  If you are going to perform a strength and conditioning program to assist you in becoming a better footy player, why not perform it using the most effective protocols and techniques available for your sport? 
Hopefully, this article has helped dispel some of the more commonly held myths about strength and conditioning for sports and that you will soon be well on your way to your own kick-ass results as a footy player. 

Watch AFL