Monday, January 4, 2010

Conditioning for the real world

Recently I was reading an article on the supposed weakness of the Springboks rugby front row; the author of this story through discussion with the wise men of rugby felt that the team lacked the grizzled men of the country, players like Hempies du Toit and Tommy Laubscher who never stepped into a modern gym but had extraordinary strength. Simon Shaw the British and Irish lions lock also believes that too many modern players spend a lot of time bulking up in the gym but lacked essential strength, conditioning and toughness. Matt Hughes of mixed martial arts UFC fame is another who has exceptional strength not gained from a gym routine. The common denominator of these athletes is how they gained their strength – through tireless hours of working on the farm; lifting bags of animal feed, driving fencing poles into the ground and herding livestock, far removed from the 10 rep / 3 set gym programme.

Consider the physical factors athletes require:
• Strength
• Power
• Balance and agility
• Flexibility
• Endurance

Are body building gym programmes able to enhance the above bio-motor abilities? Today many athletic programmes and professional sports team use body building machines and protocol to condition athletes. Unfortunately the strength gained translates poorly unto the field of play. Consider that most gym machines require no activation of postural muscles and minimal activation of stabilizers. For example; other than rowing I cannot think of any other sport where the participant sits during his event, so why is the rugby player or MMA athelete sitting if he plans to exercise his shoulders or back? Will he be seated when performing in the field of play or competition? The seated row or shoulder press machine was built for the body builder and purchased by gym owners to utilize as much of the gym floor as possible; more machines in a squared metre with more paying members utilizing the equipment means a better profit margin.

Am I advocating that you give notice to your gym? Not at all, but rather if you are training in a gym, train functionally with a meaningful work capacity measured by time rather than reps and sets. Bring in balance and agility into your workout and allow for a power session within your routine. In other words train as if you were working on the farm; short sprints to herd animals into their pens, followed quickly by explosive lifts as you lift bales of straw and finish off with walking with heavy containers of milk on each hand. How do you do this in the gym?

In the studio – 2 min of continuous shuttles
Clean and press barbell – 30 seconds
Farmers walk with heavy dumbbells - 1 min

Repeat for 5 rounds – conditioning for the real world!

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