As the weather becomes more springlike many of us will begin our running/jogging/ walking programs. This is good, and certainly the most natural means of improving our cardiovascular fitness and burning calories in the process. Although there are a variety of training programs, the basic procedure is to start with shorter distances and slower speeds and gradually progress to longer courses and faster paces. Perhaps the most important principle is the 10 percent rule, meaning that you never increase your exercise effort (distance, pace, etc.) by more than 10 percent per week. This permits consistent improvement and reduces the risk of overuse injuries. For fitness purposes, most people begin with a low to moderate effort mile and work towards a moderate to high effort three miles.
Whether you are an exercise enthusiast or a sports participant, a regular aerobic activity program is beneficial for your overall health and fitness. However, if you play fast-paced sports such as softball or tennis, you need additional preparation to develop performance power for explosive movements, as well as to avoid muscle pulls and joint problems.
Although stop and go sports do not require much aerobic ability, they do demand high levels of anaerobic energy production. This is the energy source for powerful physical actions such as racing a ball to first base and sprinting to the net after your serve. Unfortunately, running, jogging and walking do not address the anaerobic energy system or the muscle actions involved in fast forward, backward, or sideward movements. It is important that your conditioning program be specific to the energy demands and physical skills of your sports activity.
So how do you prepare for the bursts of speed in softball and the stop and go action of tennis? My preferred approach is to perform wind sprints that enhance your anaerobic energy system and increase your leg power. Of course, you can't just jump into a sprint training program. Consider the following conditioning progressions to put you in great shape for softball and tennis.
To make it easier to categorize your training effort, try to use the following table.
|Effort Level 1
|Effort Level 2
|Effort Level 3
|Effort Level 4
|Effort Level 5
Week 1 of your sprint training program is simply getting used to running. Although relaxed jogging/running has little effect on sprinting ability, it is an important first step in the preparation process. Start with a mile jog (Effort Level 1) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Week 2 is a simple progression to slow running (Effort Level 2). Run 1 mile on Monday, 1 mile on Wednesday, and 1.5 miles on Friday.
Week 3 moves you into moderate running (Effort Level 3) in preparation for the forthcoming sprint workouts. Run 1.5 miles on Monday, 1.5 miles on Wednesday, and 2.0 miles on Friday.
Week 4 marks the start of actual sprint training, which must be approached sensibly and systematically. After jogging 1 mile, do 4 acceleration sprints of 100 yards each. Begin slowly and gradually accelerate to moderate sprint speed (Effort Level 4). Jog 100 yards between sprints, and complete your workout with a mile jog. Do the sprints on Monday and Friday, and run 2.0 miles at Effort Level 3 on Wednesday.
Week 5 is the time to take out the stops and experience a few full-stride, fast-action sprints. Warm up with a 1 mile jog, and do the same for your cool down. The sprint workout begins with 4 acceleration sprints (Effort Level 4) of 100 yards each. If you are feeling loose and strong, do 2 more 100 yard sprints at Effort Level 5. Start moderately, and move quickly into full speed. Jog 100 yards between sprints. Sprint on Monday and Friday, and do a Moderate Effort 2-mile run on Wednesday.
Week 6 brings you to the standard sprint workout that should be continued at least once a week throughout the sports season. Start and finish your session with a 1-mile jog. Get into gear with 2 acceleration sprints (Effort Level 4) of 100 yards each. Next, do 2 more 100 yard sprints at Effort Level 5, starting moderately and moving smoothly into full-speed. Finish with 2 more sprints (Effort Level 5), starting fast and maintaining full-speed for 100 yards.
Do this workout on Monday and Friday, and run a Moderate Effort 2-mile on Wednesday.
This training protocol develops both your anaerobic energy system and leg speed in a sensible and progressive manner. Of course, supplemental training for lateral leg movements should be included for tennis training and softball fielding.
Finally, to prepare your shoulders and elbows for the stresses of striking actions, be sure to do some strength training for your torso and arm muscles. Dumbbell bench presses (chest muscles), dumbbell bent rows (upper back muscles), dumbbell presses (shoulder muscles), dumbbell curls (biceps muscles), and dumbbell extensions (triceps muscles) provide an effective overall upper body strength workout. Do 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions in each exercise, 2 or 3 days per week. When you complete 12 repetitions in good form, increase the weightload slightly.
The combination program of sprint, endurance, and strength training should prove beneficial for maximizing performance power and minimizing injury risk. Just remember to be consistent and systematic in your workouts.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, and author of several books on fitness, including Building Strength and Stamina, and Strength Training Past 50.