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The Power of Preparation

As technology continues to tighten its grip on the world of sport, so too does the importance of strength and power training.

Cardiovascular fitness remains as vital as ever for athletes when maximising performance, but over the past decade the pendulum has swung somewhat towards weightlifting and building muscle.

Professional footballers, rugby players and boxers are stronger and fitter than ever before and it's because of the emphasis now placed on improving muscular strength and endurance.

But every sport is different, meaning an athlete's training programme will be specifically tailored to the physical demands of their given profession.

In football, the dumbbell lunge is regarded as one of the most effective exercises for developing the quadriceps, core strength and balance, while also helping to prevent injuries. Using the calf, abdominal and back muscles as stabilisers, lunges can help to boost a footballer's acceleration and running speed.

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Dumbbell lunges begin by standing in an upright position while holding dumbbells down by your side. Step forwards with your right leg and lower your body until your right knee is at a 90 degree angle, still maintaining posture. Ensure your right knee does not move further forward than your toes.

Then, use the heel of your right foot to push off the ground and return to the starting position before repeating with your left leg. Proper breathing must also be adhered to during the lunge to engage the abdominal muscles, inhaling as you go down and exhaling as you stand up.

As mentioned, there are various types of dumbbell lunges and each have their own benefits. Walking lunges - whereby you step forwards and then follow with your trailing leg - encourage hamstring strength as well as the quadricep, while jumping lunges - jumping into a lunge from an upright position - focus on sprint speed.

Professional football is played at such a high tempo nowadays that players like Cristiano Ronaldo must be able to keep up with play and burst off the mark when required, such as chasing after the ball or sprinting past opponents.

Squats are another cornerstone of any footballer's gym programme, but it's in rugby where this exercise is most prevalent.

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Whether it's tackling an opponent, scrummaging or mauling, England rugby players expose their muscles to extreme levels of stress and require strength and stability to cope, not to mention prevent injury.

There are three main variants of the squat: back, front and overhead, all of which engage the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes but change certain components of the exercise. The overhead squat, for example, involves holding the barbell above your head, thus bringing in your arms, shoulders and core.

Focusing primarily on the traditional back squat, set the barbell on a squat rack at shoulder height before stepping underneath, holding it with both hands on either side and placing it across your shoulders, just below your neck.

Lift the barbell off the rack by pushing upwards and step back. Separate your feet at shoulder-width apart, pointing your toes slightly outwards, and keep looking forward while keeping your back straight to form your starting position.

Slowly lower yourself by bending at the knees and sitting back until your hamstrings touch your calf muscles, or your legs are below parallel level. Push up using the heel of your foot to raise the bar, keeping your back straight and breathing under control, before straightening your legs to begin the next repetition.

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The explosive upwards motion helps to recreate movements associated with being in a scrum or mauling for rugby players, where they utilise every muscle in their legs to push forward, win possession and score tries.

When it comes to Formula 1 drivers, however, exercises become even more specific to help them deal with the g-forces created on the racing track.

The likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are all slight and possess jockey-like figures to fit inside a modern-day F1 car, but in order to deal with the 8g they can now produce through cornering and 6g while breaking, they must prepare their bodies.

Clayton Green, Manager of the Human Performance Programme at McLaren, believes strong shoulders are key to handling the pressures of g-forces. He said in 2014: "The braking capabilities of the car mean that the drivers can experience a longitudinal g-force up to 5g on a regular basis under heavy braking.

“Given that the weight of the head is about 7-8kg, once you include the helmet, if you are braking at 5g you have a weight of up to 40kg effectively trying to rip your head off your shoulders whenever you brake. It's all about building strength endurance in the shoulders, neck, legs and core."

Seated dumbbell shoulder press is an exercise McLaren themselves use when fitness testing their drivers and utilises both deltoid muscles (anterior and lateral) while engaging the abdominals for stability.

Start by sitting on a utility bench at 60 degrees or more with both dumbbells rested on your knees. Use your thighs to flick up the dumbbells one at a time and bring to shoulder height in a pronated position (palms facing away from you) to begin the press.

Exhale as you push the dumbbells upwards until your arms are fully extended. Hold for a momentary pause and then ease them back down to shoulder height for the next repetition.

As with most gym exercises, there is an alternative to the seated dumbbell press called the 'Arnold Press', made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Begin the movement with a supinated grip (palms facing towards you) and as you push up, rotate to pronated until you reach the top. As you bring the dumbbells back down, turn back to supinated.

Strong shoulders allow F1 drivers to counteract the g-forces created in their car and prevent injury, but in sports where the goal is to inflict damage, such as boxing, more explosive exercises come into play.

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World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua may come under fire from his rivals for being a 'weightlifter', but 20 fights unbeaten and three heavyweight belts to his name suggest his work in the gym is what gives him the edge.

The Brit regularly posts videos on Instagram of the exercises he performs while working out and there's one constant: single arm medicine ball throws. Ranging from 1kg to 25kg, medicine balls can help increase rotational power and strength through the core, namely the obliques.

In Joshua's case, he stands with his feet shoulder-width apart and side on to a wall two metres away. Holding the ball with both hands at shoulder height, he rotates away from the wall, steps back slightly and powerfully changes direction before launching the medicine ball using the hand furthest from the wall, pivoting his feet while doing so.

The rotating motion, weight of the medicine ball and change of direction all contract the core to generate power, whereas throwing the ball as hard as possible imitates punching.

Certain exercises are suited to certain sports and in this instance, the single arm medicine ball throw is perfect in allowing Joshua to increase mobility in his hips and practice releasing that power in one devastating blow.

Topics:
Boxing
Anthony Joshua

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