Training of professional athletes

Often, after children start engaging in some kind of sporting activities, it is assumed that they will develop physical abilities required for a certain sport on their own. Physiological requirements not only for high results, but also for basic movements without getting any traumas and injuries to the body are overlooked. Usually the development of sports skills is prioritized without assessing whether the body is ready for it. In these circumstances, it becomes very challenging to attempt at reaching both health and sporting potential — compensation mechanisms are started to be used, when due to the inability of a weak kinetic chain of the body to withstand the strain, other body parts are overburdened, therefore increasing the risk of a trauma and resulting in deteriorating athletic performance.

The main causes of this situation are the pursuance of fast results, without considering the long-term perspective, the lack of competence and poor training conditions.

The first manifests due to short-sightedness, when results are being pursued here and now, instead of raising a European champion or Olympic prize-winner. With no regard to a long-term perspective, improper physical load is being applied. Eventually, body changes that occur due to traumas and other adaptive mechanisms are often irreversible, therefore, robbing an athlete of a chance of reaching their potential. In order to cultivate a world-class athlete, it is mandatory to follow a long-term strategy of athletic training, taking into account tendencies of separate maturing periods and fully exploiting improvement opportunities during each stage.

The second develops due to a wrong attitude towards the profession, superficial knowledge of sports specialists, which is based on memorized methodologies, statistical averages, etc., without more thorough consideration of mechanisms that function within a human’s body, the particularities of the sport and the individuality of each athlete.

The third is related to a lack of funding, when optimal conditions to pursue highest results are not being created, an athlete does not have an opportunity to use the necessary equipment or services of auxiliary specialists – a nutritionist, physiotherapist, psychologist, etc.

The analysis of current tendencies easily allows noticing that general programmes for training athletes are often used in accordance with the rule “one size fits all”, without assessing individual needs of an athlete: puberty, genetics, weak points, physical capabilities, trauma history, positions (when talking about team sports) or competitions (when talking about athletics), etc.

First of all, when hoping for an athlete to reach their potential, (s)he has to be properly tested. However, the testing itself does not fully guarantee better results. Seldom do athletes, especially when they are not on the highest professional level, are thoroughly tested, and seldom the test results are interpreted properly. During testing it is important to know what should be tested (which values are appropriate for each athlete, depending on the sport), understand what the obtained result means and why it is like that. It is important to take into account not only values of physical characteristics (strength, speed, endurance, etc.), but also biomechanical and neurophysiological characteristics (pain, movement quality, muscle balance, trauma history, etc.). Only after a thorough testing and assessment of an athlete’s physical and psychological state, a training strategy how to reach the highest results may be compiled.

When preparing a training plan, it is necessary to properly assess results received during testing and set goals. Moreover, most effective methods to achieve the goals that have been set must be selected. In Lithuania, the same as in the whole world, one of the main issues is over-training, when it is being attempted to squeeze as much as possible from an athlete, with no regard to adaptation and recovery processes, and to simultaneously improve everything. Unfortunately, over-training is one of the most frequent reasons for performance deterioration carrying severe consequences (the risk of major traumas, a significant decline in motivation, weakened immunity, etc.). Therefore, it is necessary to employ training methodologies that would result in the most gain and the least tiredness, as well as to use periodization models in order to manage training processes as efficiently as possible. During the season, it is necessary to carry out follow-up testing in order to determine whether the chosen training methods are appropriate and give the required results or something needs to be changed.

The main goal of physical fitness is to create a physical advantage, i. e. the optimal condition of physical characteristics. In order to achieve it, it is necessary to improve neurophysiological characteristics: muscle fibre recruitment, the propagation speed of nerve impulses, inter- and intra-muscle coordination, etc.

Currently, the most often used methodology for improving physical abilities of athletes is traditional weight lifting. It is hoped that the improving results in weight lifting will directly improve sporting results as well. However, everything is more complex than appears at the first glance.

Although traditional weight lifting (when a motion is performed with the same resistance in both concentric and eccentric regimes) may enhance maximum strength for muscle hypertrophy, its other induced adaptations are not considered.

First of all, during weight lifting, muscle cocontraction occurs, when synergists and agonists (muscles performing a movement), as well as antagonists (muscles performing an opposite function compared to agonist and synergist muscles) are activated. Analogous example is pushing both accelerator and brake pedals while driving a car.

In any cyclic sport (which involves the same repeated movement, e.g. running) or in a sport that requires a sudden change of a movement trajectory (which covers most sports), one of the main abilities is to be able to quickly contract and relax muscles. Training methods involving a constant co-activation of muscles worsen this ability. Therefore, the deterioration of sporting skills is inseparable due to a change in motor control.

In more detail, when a movement is performed in a ballistic mode (which is characteristic of most sports), when a muscle stretches, contracts and relaxes, a reciprocal inhibition occurs – antagonists are suppressed and are activated only in order to stop a movement (in the end of a movement). Activation of antagonists during an improper time – is the main cause of a soft tissue trauma!

Another aspect that is not taken into consideration – the deformation of the connective tissue (which forms ligaments, tendons and a part of muscles). When high resistance is involved, especially during slow movements, the properties and structure of the viscoelastic connective tissue change, the tissue loses elasticity, the risk of a trauma increases, and the muscle relaxation slows down.

Moreover, during the traditional weight lifting, unless otherwise stressed, main load rests on the heels (the rear muscle chain is activated) when the majority of sports are “performed on the fingers”, first activating the front muscle chain. Due to this, although the same muscle groups work, biomechanically the wrong motor control is being trained. Similarly, if one competed in running, but trained running backwards.

One of the current most prominent athletic trainers worldwide, a revolutionary in the field of training systems and rehabilitation protocols, a Canadian Gavin Macmillan, under whose supervision a representative of our team Paulius carried out an internship this summer, does not use traditional weight lifting in his practice at all. This training philosophy aided him in achieving exceptional results in different sports: athletes trained by him have numerous times become Olympic, NBA, NFL, UFC, WBO, WBC champions.

A legendary Ukrainian athletics Olympic trainer Anatoliy Bondarchuk, the most successful trainer throughout the whole history of Olympic games, after 30 years of practical work and conducted studies, in which over 7000 athletes of different level (out of whom, more than 1000 were participants in Olympic games) took part, after conducting more than 300 scientific studies, has determined that the maximum strength has very little impact on high-skilled track and field athletes, the best athletes had only average or less than average maximum strength. Furthermore, there is no correlation between the sporting and weight lifting (during 1RM front squats, bench press, snatch, deadlift) results of highest-skilled athletes.

Seeing these current athletic training tendencies, we think that a time has come to gather a team of specialists of the highest level that would create conditions for Lithuanian athletes to reach their potential and make Lithuania known in the whole world.