5 Keys to Athleticism

Strength Training -

5 Keys to Athleticism

When it comes to training, it’s easy to get caught up in the specifics of what you’re doing. Taking a step back to take a wider view of your overall development can be difficult, but crucial.

The time spent looking at the bigger picture is a great way to stay aware of where you need to direct extra work, areas that could open you up to risks, and it informs your overall idea of fitness.

Today, we’re going to be discussing the 5 key aspects of athleticism and fitness that you should be concerned with.

 While these 5 key areas make up the vast majority of athleticism, it’s important to remember two key points.

First, they’re not this simple. It’s totally reasonable to break down individual components into smaller sub-adaptations. Think about endurance – time to exhaustion is one measure of endurance, while repeated bout performances are another. Adaptations are very specific, so it’s easy to keep dividing up each facet of athleticism/fitness.

Secondly, skills aren’t included here. They’re the field-skills that make you good at your sport. They’re usually based on a combination of these 5 aspects. For example, throwing a football is a mixture of strength, speed, endurance, mobility, and co-ordination based on the context.

These aren’t discussed because they’re not part of strength and conditioning. They’re independent sport-specific and goal-oriented movements. They’re crucial, but they’re not part of athleticism itself – they’re what you apply athleticism to!

Strength

The ability to produce force against external resistance.

Strength is one you should be familiar with. It’s the main characteristic you’re building in the gym when you’re lifting weights (though not the only one!). It’s also at play when we look at gymnastic strength training, injury-prevention exercise, and even mobility work.

Strength is a key player in posture and joint-balance. It’s an essential facet of the way that your body works, from the gentlest movement to the toughest deadlift. It’s an adaptation that is associated with mobility, control, and sets the basis for many other areas of athleticism.

Strength, as your 100% maximum force production capacity, adjusts everything else you do. It allows for greater speed, it is the basis for effective endurance by decreasing the relative effort of each movement, and it underlies your control of your body – key for both mobility and co-ordination!

Strength is an amazing, versatile set of adaptations that you should take seriously. It’s about everything from movement quality to balance to healthy ageing. Remember to stay strong in unusual patterns – lateral, rotational, unilateral, and isometric exercises all have their place.

Speed

The ability to move yourself through space, based on the quickness of limb-movement, covering distance in a short amount of time.

This isn’t an easy athletic characteristic to improve, but it never fails to impress. Speed can be broken down into a few key areas:

  • Power (or Strength-Speed): the ability to produce force rapidly is an overlap between speed and strength. The more force, the less speed, but getting better here means improvements in strength, power, and speed.
  • Plyometrics and Light Ballistics: banded jumps, med ball tosses, repeated jumps, and other fast-but-light exercises develop speed-strength. This is the kind of self-moving speed you might see in sprinters, jumpers, and other “springy” athletes. It also overlaps closely with power, since it’s a gradient, not hard categories!
  • Change of direction and Agility: speed is useful in some sports, but for most people it’s not a huge deal. The ability to change direction at speed, however, is absolutely crucial. This is a trait that helps with everything from powerlifting and weightlifting to skiing.

The best way to think about speed and its relation to strength is a continuum. As weight increases, speed decreases, and vice versa. This is something we know to be true in our training – how fast did your maximum bench press move? What about if you tried to move the empty bar at maximum speed?

Speed is important for the strength athlete. Power, specifically, impacts your ability to accelerate with heavy weights, which has been shown to be a key indicator of performance in top powerlifters.

Training somewhere in the middle of the speed-strength continuum – with jumps, explosive barbell lifting, throws, and sprints – can develop important neural characteristics. These are the other half of strength, when you take out muscular characteristics like size!

Endurance

Endurance is the most traditional idea of what fitness is. It’s a measure of the ability to endure, in the literal sense, prolonged or repeated effort.

This is a set of adaptations that occurs at every level. Cellular metabolism changes in response to aerobic training, but so does the heart, lungs, muscles, brain, and hormones. These adaptive changes are why cardio is such a key part of long-term health.

Time-to-exhaustion isn’t likely to be a huge benefit to strength enthusiasts. Aside from that occasional 20-rep squat that caused you to throw up everywhere, there aren’t many times you’ll need prolonged, unrested endurance capacity.

On the other hand, repeated-bout endurance is incredibly important and worth training. This is the kind of sprint-interval training you might expect from a fighter, sprinter, or bob-sled athlete.

This is endurance for high-intensity. HIIT, in the very narrow sense (it’s not HIIT unless you’re at 100% effort!) is perfect for powerlifting, weightlifting, and well-rounded fitness. Not only will it help you get lean, but it’ll ensure better performance and recovery between sets.

Endurance might not be your favourite – everyone hates the treadmill – but developing better heart rate variability and recovery processes means better performance. If it can indirectly help you lift more weight (by helping you recover better between sets), it’s worth the investment!

Mobility

We’ve discussed mobility and flexibility already, but it’s a key to well-rounded fitness and athleticism.

Your favourite athlete in any sport has a mobility routine they use to reduce aches, pains, and joint risks.

Staying healthy in the long-term means pliability and control in all the muscles. This doesn’t happen by accident – an effective and well-organised mobility routine keeps you at your best, aids recovery between training sessions, and reduces the risk of overuse injury.

Taking care of your muscles, joints, and improving deliberate movement quality all add up. It’s about performing better now through additional control and body-awareness, but it’s about sustainable development.

Nothing ruins your progress like an injury, which is even more galling when it’s a preventable, over-use, under-care injury! If you’d like to avoid these problems, we recommend reading our breakdown of building mobility and control in a real-world setting.

Co-ordination

Developing co-ordination is usually an unintentional result of improving other athletic characteristics and chasing down the specific skills of your sport or training style.

You might not consider dumbbell pressing to be a co-ordination exercise, but it is a good example of how you can improve control in the shoulders, when performed properly. Good exercise always relies on, and builds, effective joint and muscle co-ordination.

This is a key part of how well you can perform your specific training exercises. A good squat requires co-ordination, which includes sub-traits like balance, proprioception, and sequencing movements properly.

These aren’t easily developed, but they are clearly possible to train. Cueing exercises, like the wall slide, band pull apart, co-contraction exercises, and other key warm-ups are a great example. Make sure you take every warm-up and every exercise as a chance to work on the movement, as well as just worrying about the weight or the pump.

Final Thoughts: Putting It Together for Your Goals

If you actively pursue these 5 key aspects of athleticism and focus on them in everything you do, they’ll produce a well-rounded performance. However, they don’t happen all by themselves – and you need to pay attention to traits that aren’t strength – even if they’re not as glamorous.

Putting time and conscious effort into every area here is often about just committing to effective mobility work, warm-ups, and focusing on the quality of your movements. This is a great opportunity to get 10-15 minutes of high-quality movement and injury-prevention work in!

Training isn’t just about putting up weights, even if your goals revolve around strength. Developing a well-rounded athletic profile is a crucial way of improving your processes, keeping healthy, and ultimately produces better results.

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About the Auther: Liam Rodgers:

Good coaching and good writing rely on attention to detail, forward planning, and deep knowledge of the technical aspects. As an Olympic weightlifting coach and the director of Apex sport and fitness content, Liam lives these out: he has huge enthusiasm for sports performance, nutrition, narrative and immersive, engaging writing.


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