The Game Plan

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There’s an athlete in all of us. Maybe it’s been a decade or two or three since you played an organized sport in high school or college, but chances are either (a) you still compete in some capacity, whether it’s the occasional game of pickup basketball or an annual flag football tournament, or (b) you aspire to regular weekend-warrior status and would like not only to participate in physical competition but also to dominate.

Whatever the case may be, it’s time to tailor your workouts to increase your athletic prowess. After all, there’s an athlete inside of you, so start training like one.

Power Aid

The following 12-week athletic-enhancing program was designed by Lance Hooton, owner and founder of Hooton Sports Performance Training in Austin, Texas (HootonTraining.com). Hooton has worked with such athletes as sprinter and former world record-holder Donovan Bailey and St. Louis Cardinal Matt Holliday, among many other professional and Olympic athletes. The program is split up into five days. Monday, Wednesday and Friday entail traditional strength-training sessions, and Tuesday and Saturday constitute “general/special strength” work using only bodyweight and medicine-ball exercises.

Keep in mind, these routines make up only the lifting portion of a more comprehensive athlete-based program. Hooton’s athlete clients also spend appreciable time on flexibility and agility work in addition to specific conditioning and skill development for their individual sports. Lifting weights is but one piece of the puzzle, albeit a very big piece.

“Any athlete can do this program,” Hooton says. “We’re enhancing strength, speed, mobility, technical efficiency, work capacity — those are the five major bio-motor abilities of high-quality athletes, and if you can balance and increase them all together at the same time, that’s how you’re going to achieve ultimate athletic excellence.”

To train like an athlete, you have to train for strength and power, and that’s exactly what Hooton will have you doing. Peruse the program and you’ll see a smattering of Olympic movements and strength exercises prescribed with relatively low rep counts (six reps tops). On exercises like dumbbell presses and cable rows, you’ll eventually want to work up to heavy weights, while on Olympic moves like snatches and jerks, keeping the speed of movement fast is critical. You’ll still want to increase weight on these exercises as you get stronger, but not at the expense of doing reps in slow motion. Power and explosiveness is also enhanced greatly via the throwing and jumping movements performed on general/special strength days.

“As you age, you’ll always lose a little bit of endurance, agility and speed no matter how well you train,” Hooton says. “But the one thing you can add as an older athlete is strength. One of the best examples of this is [former pro tennis player] Andre Agassi. When he got older, he wasn’t moving nearly as well, but he didn’t have to because he was so strong in his legs and upper body. He really dedicated himself to strength training and was able to perform at a really high level even after losing some speed and quickness.”

Much work is devoted to strengthening the core muscles of the torso in this program, as well. Russian twists in particular on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as virtually every movement performed on Tuesdays and Saturdays, address this all-important group of stabilizers. No athlete can be at his or her best without a strong core, the hub from which all other muscle groups stem.

More Power to You

The beauty of Hooton’s program is its simplicity while still offering a progression to ensure that you continue to make gains in strength and power. The exercises don’t change over the course of the three months, which means you won’t have to start over every few weeks to learn new movements. It’s advisable to start with relatively light weights early in the program to learn the exercises and establish a good rhythm. Then, as technique is established and you get stronger, you’ll progress by increasing resistance and adding more sets to each exercise. In the end, what started out as three sets of six reps with, say, 100 pounds on a particular exercise has become four sets of five reps with 150 pound or six sets of three with 200 pounds. In both the latter examples, you’re doing equal or more total reps with heavier weight, which equates to more total work accomplished and better results.

“If you’re constantly having to think about new exercises, you’re really not working as hard as you could,” Hooton says. “Once you learn the exercises, then you can really get after it. And when you raise the intensity, that’s when you make the biggest gains. In any program, intensity is the key to getting the results you want. And by adding reps, sets and resistance, you can raise the intensity while sticking with the same exercises. To me, that’s a better way of progressing, as opposed to introducing new, fancy exercises every two or three weeks.”

Performance-Enhancing Program

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, perform each pairing of exercises as supersets, resting only as long as it takes to walk over to the next exercise. Between pairings, rest only as long as it takes to set up for the next two exercises.

TUESDAY

Perform each group of four exercises as a circuit three times through before moving on to the next group. Rep counts for each exercise are as follows: weeks 1 to 4, 6 reps; weeks 5 to 8, 9 reps; weeks 9 to 12, 12 reps.

General Strength Exercises

Prisoner Squat, V-Up, Push-Up, Back Hyperextension with Twist

Multiple Throw Exercises

(using a 6-pound medicine ball in weeks 1 to 4 and an 8-pound medicine ball in weeks 5 to 12)

Standing Shoulder Toss and Catch, Reach and Hike, Prone Overhead Back, Seated Oblique Twist Toss and Catch

Multiple Jump Exercises

Star Jumps, 180-Degree Jumps, Speed Skater, Double-Leg Butt Kicks

SATURDAY

Do the same exercises as on Tuesday, only with timed sets, during which as many reps as possible are performed in the specified time, followed by short rest periods. Perform the following work/rest ratios for each exercise: weeks 1 to 4, 10 seconds on/10 seconds off; weeks 5 to 8, 20 seconds on/10 seconds off; weeks 9 to 12, 30 seconds on/15 seconds off. Do each group of four exercises three times through.

Dumbbell Snatch

Start: Stand holding a dumbbell in one hand in front of you with your arm hanging toward the floor and your feet shoulder-width apart.

Action: Dip down to roughly a quarter-squat, then immediately extend your hips and knees explosively while pulling the dumbbell up toward the ceiling without bending your working arm. Dip back down to catch the dumbbell overhead with your arm extended, then stand straight up. Drop the dumbbell back to the start position, then repeat.

Single-Leg Squat

Start: Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, place one foot behind you and up on a bench or box and the other out in front of you. Begin with a slight bend in both the front and back knees.

Action: Bend your front knee to lower yourself straight down toward the floor (your back knee will bend, as well), making sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your toes. When your front thigh reaches parallel with the floor, press back up to the start position. Repeat all reps with that leg, then switch legs.

Russian Twist

The Russian twist is a basic movement during which you rotate your torso from side to side while leaning back slightly at the waist (which helps engage the core) and holding a weight plate in front of your chest to add resistance. This program includes six variations of the Russian twist: kneeling on the floor; sitting on the end of a bench; standing with a wide stance (outside shoulder width) and knees slightly bent; twisting while standing and lifting your knees up to waist height (“marching in place”); twisting while holding a plate overhead and bending laterally at the waist on each rep; and twisting while doing walking lunges.

Dumbbell Squat Press

Start: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your elbows bent and feet shoulder-width apart.

Action: Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then drive up explosively. As your knees reach full extension, press the dumbbells up overhead. Lower the weights back to your shoulders and go right into the next rep. This exercise is a combination of a squat and overhead press during which the two moves are to be done seamlessly in one fluid motion.

Dumbbell Split Jerk

Start: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level, like you would if you were doing an overhead/military press.

Action: Bend your knees to drop into a quarter-squat position, then immediately extend your hips and knees explosively to drive the dumbbells straight up. As you’re doing this, move one foot out in front of you and the other back behind you so that when your arms are fully extended overhead, you’re in a “split” stance. With the weight still overhead, straighten your legs, bring your feet back together, then lower the dumbbells back to the start position.

Dumbbell Squat Jump

Start: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart.

Action: Keeping your chest up and back flat, squat down until your thighs reach parallel with the floor, then explode upward as high as possible, allowing your feet to leave the ground. Land with “soft knees” and immediately go into the next rep.

Dumbbell Step-Up

Start: Place a knee-high box in front of you and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Stand with your feet in a comfortable shoulder-width stance.

Action: Step onto the box with one leg and drive through that thigh to lift your body upward. Bring the trailing leg to the top of the step and stand on the box, then step back with the opposite leg to the floor. Repeat, then switch legs.

Exercise-Ball Dumbbell Alternating Press

Start: Holding a pair of dumbbells, carefully lie back on a stability ball so that your middle-upper back is in contact with it, your feet are flat on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees, and your torso and thighs form a straight line parallel with the floor. Begin with your arms extended toward the ceiling and the dumbbells over your chest, palms facing forward.

Action: Bend one elbow to slowly lower the dumbbell down to just outside your outer pec, keeping the other arm extended. Press the dumbbell back up to the start position, then repeat to the opposite side. Continue in alternating fashion.

General Strength Exercises

Prisoner Squat: Do a deep bodyweight squat with your hands interlocked behind your head, elbows pointed out to the sides and good posture (chest out, back arched).

V-Up: Lie faceup on the floor, with your arms extended overhead, and lift your arms and legs up to touch in the middle over your torso.

Back Hyperextension with Twist: Lie facedown on the floor, with your hands interlocked behind your head, and raise your torso up as high as possible while twisting to one side. Perform half the reps to one side, half to the other.

Multiple Throw Exercises (using a medicine ball thrown against a solid wall)

Standing Shoulder Toss and Catch: Facing the wall (a few feet in front of it) with a wide stance and holding the ball over one shoulder with both hands, arch your back, rotate to the side the ball is on and reverse the motion to throw the ball at the wall. Catch the ball coming off, and repeat for reps to that side, then switch sides.

Reach and Hike: Facing away from the wall (five to eight feet away), hold the ball overhead with your arms extended, arch backward and propel your body down to throw the ball between your legs at the base of the wall.

Prone Overhead Back: Lying facedown on the floor, ball outstretched overhead, throw the ball straight up as high as possible, catch it on the way down and repeat.

Seated Oblique Twist Toss and Catch: Sitting with one shoulder pointing toward the wall (about five feet away), hold the ball to the opposite side with your arms extended at shoulder level. Twist toward the wall to throw the ball at it. Get the ball off the rebound, repeat, then switch sides.

Multiple Jump Exercises

Star Jumps: Stand with your feet hip width and hands at your sides, squat down low, touch the floor, then jump up as high as possible while spreading your legs and extending your arms out and up. Land in the start position.

180-Degree Jumps: Squat down with your hands behind your head and jump as high as possible and turn 180 degrees in the air. Turn to the opposite direction every other rep.

Speed Skater: Jump laterally for distance side to side on the outside leg, swinging your arms to help propel you, mimicking a speed skater.

Double-Leg Butt Kicks: Squat down with your hands behind your head and jump as high as possible and, in the air, bending both knees so your heels hit your butt at the top of the jump.