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Training for optimal athletic performance

athlete perform Feb 12, 2019

Training for Athletic Performance (ie, how to lose fat and improve sport specific power) *quite a long in depth article – 15 minutes to read


At JCF we coach lots of athletes, and increasingly, we see people want to move better, not just look better. This article should help anyone who wants to feel and move as well as they look.

However, this is a very difficult article to write, due to the range of sports people can do.

All tips will have real world application, and we’ll show you how to implement.


The Cheat List (for those who don’t like to read)

  1. Train - gym work helps
  2. Do daily aerobic to better aerobic base, optimise fat loss and increase recovery
  3. Include uni-lateral exercises where possible, and compound movements
  4. Equalise mobility and flexibility (start and end of each session)
  5. Practice movement competency (pick from known movement patterns)
  6. Lose body fat for better power to weight


Overall Considerations

  1. Ability to recover
  2. Time to implement
  3. Carry over to your sport
  4. Ability to delivery your best when it matters

Being tired for your skill work, or too tired to train are the most common issues. In reality, training for athleticism becomes a prioritize and execute strategy. There are a million things that will help your sport, but you only have so many hours in a day.

We hope this article helps with those priorities.


General Principles

Athletic performance, to us, is the ability to better combat the physical demands of your sport. Purely training strength separate from your sports training rarely has an efficient transfer.

We want you to do your sport better, and believe that is created by movement competency, within your maximum recoverable rate – that’s this basis of this system.

A poorly set up system will have no progress in your sport, or in the gym. Both fall backward if you are tired from each session.

The ONLY thing that matters is the ability to deliver your best within your sport. I


Why training helps, A LOT

As every coach will tell you, mindset is the largest factor in athletic success. There is huge merit in knowing you are DOING, you are in the gym doing work, while your competitors may not be. Even if they are in the gym, you are doing it better than then.

It also allows weekly repeats of arousal and performance, the idea of getting yourself mentally prepared to do your best.

Lastly, you are creating a system of injury prevention and minimisation. 


Movement competency

Strength, power, flexibility, endurance all fall under the umbrella of movement competency. Within every sport, you have versions of the lunge, hinge, squat, brace, push, pull, rotate

Here is how we start

1. Lie on your back,  you should be able to straight leg, toe down, get 90' off the floor for hamstrings - note which leg is worse

2. Flim a set of walking lunges - note if one leg is tighter than the other (and you step shorter)

3. Stand on each leg, do calf raises off a small plate - don't hold anything - test leg to leg

Related image

Repeat this once a month, and always work on the weaker/worst side at the end of each session, and dynamically stretch at the start of each session.

Its as easy as two 30 second stretches for the tight side of your hamstrings, 2 sets of lunges / calf raises on the weak side, and one for the strong side

This should take 10 minutes, and is primarily relearning movements patterns. Within a few weeks or months, you should be pretty even.

Single leg calf raises are a amazing assessment, they show weak hips, ankles, balance issues and an ability to concentrate.


Movement competency - the exercises

These exercises all add active range and musculature

1. Stiff leg deads (slow and controlled)

2. Full depth squats - front squats are better

3. Psoas march or standing march (video above)

4. Banded external rotation overhead press

5. Lunge variations

6. Deadlift - including single hand variations

7. Pallof press or other anti-rotation

8. Push ups and Chin ups

9. Single leg glute bridges

10. Step ups (20 - 25 inch block)

11. Farmers walks

12. Push press (single arm dumbell)


Every one of these should be added to your training each week. Move the dead and squats as far away from your athletic event as possible.


How to Lift

Bodybuilding is largely about time under tension. Athletic endeavors are largely the ability to express strength and also strength endurance.

For this reason, we recommend more volume and less intensity (overall weight). We move warm-up sets up to 20 reps, and pyramid up. For example, here is a squat progression for an athlete who can do 150 for 5.

1. Bar 20 reps

2. 60kg 20 reps

3. 80kg 20 reps

4. 100kg 15 reps

5. 110kg 10 reps

6. 120kg 5 reps x 5 sets (stop when bar speed slows)

Bar speed is more important than pure poundage - this is where a coach really really helps, but a good training partner will tell you when reps are off.


Periodize Your Training

Depending on the demands of your sport, periodized training allows you to always be working on speed and power, but allow a ablility to recover from your sport training.

In the off season or low training, you should move your load up. From 50%-60% of 1RM up to the 80-90% range (assuming you have good form)


Build what you can measure

In a perfect world, your gym has an exercise bike that shows watts and RPM. Once a week, get on the bike and spin for 5-10 minutes at 90 RPM. Its so much faster than you think, and we find huge gains. Its challenging, its fun, it makes your legs tick over fast.

Measure your output (cals, watts, distance, whatever) and test again next week.

If this isn't something you've done a lot of, you will find in a great fun challenge!

If you are in a perfect world, the bike will show max wattage, and you can keep you power to weight ratio increases.


The BEST advice

The one thing that every athlete (and IMO, every person) should do is daily aerobic activity. It increases recovery, it optimises fat loss, it helps digestion, it gives you an opportunity to be in the sun.

We recommend 7000 steps, which is about 5k for most people. You want your heart rate elevated, but do not want any lactic acid. This is normally called ‘zone 2’ and around 60-70% of heart rate max. Just walk fast enough you could talk to someone, but be a little out of breath.

Athletes tend to naturally ‘loosen’ themselves up, throw in stretches, and pace themselves well. Personally – I like to do my steps in the sun in the morning.

Multiple studies show that aerobic activity increases recovery and its something we anecdotally notice a lot.


Improve Power to Weight

Very few sports don't reward you for being as lean, agile and light as possible. Always plan to eat well to feel great during your sport, but pay consideration to lose body fat during the remainder of the week. The blog has a stack of articles on fat loss.

To be incredibly simplistic,

  • Eat at maintenance, AND
  • Eat more protein to maintain muscle and take advantage of thermogenic properties
  • Eat to maintain insulin sensitivity

How - Eat 3g protein per kg - fat in animal product fill fat macro and the remainder of cals in complex carbs


Structured loading

Specificity rarely wins in a gym environment. Safe loading to improve weaker links is the aim. Don't try to recreate your sport with a barbell on your back, there is no gain in that.

For example, if you have constant sore fingers for jui jitsu, the aim is to increase the strength of your fingers. Constant arm pump riding moto cross, increase upper body muscular endurance. Legs have to force in the last scrum, building lower body endurance.

Anecdotally, we've seen the best improvements from fixing left to ride side deficiencies. Poor posture from work tends to favour one side (ie, on the tools all day with the right hand, always having one leg forward etc)

You should also pay attention to push vs pull. Many sports are very specific in one area. For instance, a moto-cross rider will have huge pull strength, but at times will struggle with 30 continuous pushups. If you inverted row vs push-up is problematic, you will both look odd, and function odd.


FAQ - Our most common questions

1. Whats best for me? Unless you are already lean - losing fat via areobic base

2. When should I train? After you sports specific work

3. I'm not recovering, why? Lower you intensity, bump bar speed and review volume

4. My X is tight, why? Anecdotally - we believe it may be weak. Strengthing the psoas and hip flexor has helped me tremendously

5. I was pro X for Y years - review what muscles are overused and underused, try to build a system with less imbalances

6. My coach says don't lift weights, why? Lifting weights in a silo is bad. You get back to your sport and you are possibly heavier and stronger in odd areas. Always maintain your sport while you train


What next

I love sports, always have, always will. Even though it probably not good for my bodybuilding career, I don't like to be above 95kg because I feel like I can't move as well. I can still whoop most people in basketball and squash, even with my size. I still functionally sprint.

There is no reason you can't look good and move well.

This is one of my favourite areas to program, so let me know if you need a hand!



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