For many of us, there are few forms of entertainment more enjoyable than watching professional, Olympic, or collegiate sports. Whether you’re rooting for your team, or just appreciating an event as a neutral spectator, it’s hard not to admire the physical prowess on display. But the reality is that what you’re watching is the final product of a lot of hard work put in when the cameras and audience weren’t around. Proper training is essential for success in any sport, team, or individual. Each sport requires various physical demands. Of course, there is overlap between many different sports, and arguments can be made for which methods are best for each particular sport, but this guide lays out the more commonly associated routines for each of the most popular sports. If you’re hoping to get better at your favorite pastime, or just curious as to what the pros do to prepare for the game when the cameras aren’t on, we’ve got the answers for you.
Strength training is the bread and butter exercise for this violent competition. With tackling and blocking on every play, football players must condition their bodies to withstand significant contact. Nearly every position requires weight lifting to go along with the requisite cardio stamina. Resistance training also helps players break and shed tackles while carrying the ball. Parachutes and weighted sleds are commonly used during these individual exercises. Recovery and rest are more important here than in other sports, given the collisions that take place after every snap of the ball. NFL players have been known to pursue out of the box ideas like hyperbaric sleep chambers and acupuncture to maximize recuperation.
While it’s still a contact sport, basketball places very different demands on a player than football. The rules often penalize excessive contact, so agility and explosive bursts of speed provide a competitive advantage. Moving across the court on both offense and defense, as well as rebounding, requires a combination of running and jumping. Unlike football and baseball, basketball players often have to go several minutes without a break in the action. Plyometric training is very helpful for basketball players. It emphasizes hyper-coordination and bounding movements. Think box jumps, an exercise that helps build quick-trigger muscles..
America’s favorite pastime is unique in many ways. Pitchers have been known to appear out of shape even at the highest levels of the sport, but this is often a matter of perspective. Throwing over a hundred of pitches each game is no ordinary feat. Ballistic training, which utilizes resistance bands and weighted balls, helps improve reaction times, coordination, and abnormal stretching. Hitters use strength training for optimal upper and lower body power, resulting in maximum swing velocity. Position players need high intensity work too, as their bodies spend a lot of time idling between very concentrated physical exertions such as chasing down a fly ball, stealing a base, or throwing across the diamond.
If you’ve ever seen a chubby soccer player, we would like to meet them. Unlike the more popular American sports, soccer has two 45 minute halves with very few stoppages of play and only three substitutions are permitted each match. As a result, players are constantly on the move and have almost no time to rest. Fartlek training is centered on switching gears frequently. The term comes from a Swedish word, which translates to “speed play.” Depending on where the ball is on the field, a player may need to sprint, run, or jog, but they’re always on the move. Fartlek training conditions and trains muscle fibers to allow for sudden changes in speed without substantial rest.
This sport, like football, requires pads and helmets and can also get quite nasty. Fighting is celebrated and somewhat commonplace. It’s quite unique when it comes to substitutions, however. Since players sprint up and down the rink throughout the game, ice time is highly regulated and limited to around 45 seconds per shift. While on the bench, players sit and hydrate for a couple of minutes before rejoining the action. This full speed followed by full rest kind of workout requires interval and circuit training, which call for anaerobic oriented exercises like sprints and suicides. Additionally, strength training is implemented for the physical style of play that occurs all over the ice. Goalies frequently use ballistic techniques similar to those found in baseball, with the aim of improving their reaction times.
If you’re out of shape in tennis, there’s no hiding it. As an individual sport, there is nothing separating you from the action. Since the idea is to land the ball in-bounds without the chance of return, the back-and-forth doesn’t stop until the point has a winner. When factoring in the swing, this a full body workout in every sense of the term. Since it’s largely cardio work, various forms of both aerobic and anaerobic training are needed. In a general sense, think of aerobic as longer exertions of exercise (literally, “with oxygen”) and anaerobic as shorter, more concentrated bursts (“without oxygen”). Try to incorporate intensive continuous training that lasts less than 30 minutes, with the ultimate goal of improving maximum oxygen uptake.
As far as comparisons go, the physical demands in volleyball are similar to those in basketball. Flexibility is key regardless of position. Plyometric training helps in jumping, which is required when a player is close to the net, and bending when further away in the case of digging and diving for balls. While the distances are shorter and the breaks more frequent in volleyball, running and jumping are both featured in plyometric exercises. Strength training focused on improving vertical jumping ability is also commonly used.