Monday, March 2, 2009

Exercises for Over-head Sports

This is training plan I’ve written a few years ago that got me in the door at the Athletics Department at Hunter College. (I do not work there anymore as I am currently doing more freelance work.) At the time, they asked me to write up a training plan for athletes playing sports with overhead movements, before they decided to bring me on board.

All workouts for any purpose (whether it’s for overhead sports or for lower-body sports like soccer) require the major components: cardio-respiratory training, flexibility training (such as stretching and myofascial release), strength training (such as weight training), core training, and balance training. Additional components for athletes who are conditioned (or reconditioned) include power, speed, and agility training. To customize the workout for each individual sport and each individual, the trainer must proportion each component accordingly.

Toward the bottom of this document is the workout structure/outline for deconditioned athletes of sports involving overhead movements (such as tennis players and swimmers). I am also assuming that these athletes have no pre-existing injuries, but are merely deconditioned from not doing anything in the off-season. (If an athlete already have an injury, SOME of the exercises below will need to be modified or avoided until post-recovery.) Many youngsters may believe that the athletes of sports involving mostly the upper body will only need to work out the upper body. They also may think that only strength or weight training is all that’s necessary. However, I know that these athletes of overhead sports will require more than just strength training of the upper body.

For example, a tennis player will require a lot of upper body training to increase the power of his/her overhead serves and other swings. Not only will he/she need to strength-train his/her upper body (such as with weights), he/she will also need to train the overall body in all five components (including cardiorespiratory training, core training, balance training, and flexibility training). Flexibility training (such as stretching and the usage of foam rolls) is critical to prevent injuries (and probably improve performance), especially with the deconditioned athlete who has not maintain a certain level of fitness during the off-season. Although more focus of the flexibility training component will be on the upper body, the whole body must be trained. Core and balance training in the workout is crucial for tennis players (as well as athletes of all sports), because core and balance training improves stabilization and trains the proprioception of the athlete (therefore reducing the chances of injury and improving performance). Especially in the deconditioned individual, core and balance training is absolutely necessary to condition the kinetic chain (the concept of the muscular system + nervous system + skeletal system working together synergistically). These commonly neglected components of core, balance, and flexibility training are crucial to prevent injuries especially for the deconditioned tennis player because of the quick powerful movements (in tennis) of the upper body (thereby increasing the potential risk of shoulder injuries in deconditioned players) as well as the frequent sudden changes of direction when running back and forth on the court (increasing the potential risks of knee, ankle, and even lower back injuries).

The importance of strength training (such as weight training and other resistance training) for the tennis player is pretty obvious to most. Proper strength training of the arms, shoulders, upper body, and back may increase strength and power of tennis swings including overhead serves. Although much of the strength training are focused on these upper body parts, strength-training the entire body is just as important, since body parts do not in reality function in isolation. (This concept can be observed in exercise science as well as in basic physiology. This concept is also easily be understood by boxers who know that the strength of one’s legs, hips, shoulders, as well as arms all play important roles in “packing a powerful punch”.) In addition, there are many variations that can be incorporated into strength training to customize for each sport and each individual. For example, one may vary the speed of concentric and/or eccentric movements and incorporate isometric movements into the workout. One may also incorporate the cardiorespiratory (or endurance) component with strength training for some sports. For example, one way to incorporate the cardio-respiratory component with weight training is doing supersets (such as doing a set of cable rows immediately after a set of bench press without rest.) Compound movements are another variation that can be incorporated in strength training for some sports. (For example, doing overhead shoulder presses while doing lunges is a beneficial conditioning exercise for shot-putters and basketball players.) One may also integrate strength training with core and balance training. For example, doing a set of push-ups on an inverted bosu (or an exercise ball) with the core muscles engaged (before doing bench presses) is one exercise that incorporates core and balance training with strength training. Another example of including core and balance training with strength training is doing dumbbell curls while balancing on one leg (or on the bosu) and contracting core muscles. This trains the athlete’s strength in addition to proprioception.

The cardio-respiratory (cardio-aerobic) component of workouts must not be neglected to ensure the endurance capacity of the athlete. The enormous importance of the cardio-respiratory component can be demonstrated in boxing and martial arts in the very common cases where a stronger and more skillful fighter loses to a less skillful fighter because the stronger fighter “ran out of gas”. I, as the trainer, must proportion the cardio-respiratory component according to the sport and the individual athlete. For some sports, this portion should have a less dominant role than the actual practice of the sport (such as long-distance swimming), because the actual practice of the sport may serve as the better the cardio-respiratory training.

Now that I’ve explained my rationale behind the workout, below is the general structure or outline of the workout I recommend for the deconditioned athlete of a sport involving plenty of overhead movements. Note that many of the exercises have many variations such as variations in positions (standing, seated, supine, inclined, declined, standing on the balance board, while sliding,…), tempo (speed of movement), number of sets and reps, and rest periods (such as variations between supersets, circuit training, and split-routines). I left out the variations and details to keep things simple on paper. However, I of course would not neglect the details when training someone and would not neglect using different variations according to each individual need and according to the time period and training cycle. Note that the major components of the workout are listed below in the chronological order but the individual exercises are not necessarily in the order they should be performed:

I. WARM-UP: 10 minutes – 20 minutes
10 minutes minimum because a deconditioned person definitely requires more warm up time to get the heart pumping and the blood (with oxygen and nutrients) circulating to all body parts (Although a lot of youngsters may not have the patience to do warm up, I can assist with educating them and motivating them about the importance of the warm-up component of the workout.)

A. Example of warm-up: treadmill (personally I recommend walking on treadmill because it should be moderate intensity. This is just a warm up. I generally don’t have my clients run on the treadmill unless they voluntarily prefer to do so.)
B. Intensity at approximately 60%-70% Maximum Heart Rate for the warmup

II. FLEXIBILITY TRAINING (Stretching and Foam Roll)
Because the individual is deconditioned, he/she must not neglect the flexibility component.
A. Main focus would be placed on the upper body. However, thorough working of the entire body is necessary.
B. It is difficult to describe different stretches on paper. It’s easier to show in person.

III. STRENGTH TRAINING integrated with core and balance training (and sometimes even integrated with cardiorespiratory training by supersets).
Trainer must watch out for clients/athletes (especially young males) who are overloading with more weights than they should in their deconditioned states. Overloading joints (with more weights than they are ready to handle) can become one of the “straws” that will eventually “break the camel’s back”

A. Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays: Upper-body (in addition to core+balance for Mondays to Saturdays listed in E below).
Choose about 5 of the following exercises (according to the individual and the training cycle):
1. Push-ups on exercise ball or on inverted Bosu
2. Bench press (with many variations such as incline, decline, dumbbells, barbell, machine, or on exercise ball)
3. Cable rows
4. Lats pulldown (with variations in grip behind neck and in front of neck)
5. Shoulder (overhead/military) press
6. Bicep curls (barbell, dumbbell, hammer curls, reverse curls, standing on Bosu, standing on Dyna-discs, and numerous other variations)
7. Tricep extension and press
8. Upright rows
9. Pull-ups (with variations in grip)
10. Dips (with variations in grip)
11. Butterflies (arm-shoulder abductions)
12. Lateral raises

C. Lower body on Wednesdays and Fridays
Choose about 5 of the following exercises according to the individual and the training cycle:
1. Squats (numerous variations)
2. Lunges (regular and/or reversed)
3. Leg press
4. Leg curls (lying, seated, and/or on exercise ball)
5. Deadlifts (barbell and/or dumbbells)
6. Lower back extensions (hyperextensions)

D. Compound movement exercises on Tuesdays (allowing more time to train abs, core, balance, and cardio on Tuesdays)
Choose about 5 of the following exercises according to the individual and the training cycle:
1. Cleans
2. Cleans with press
3. Squat with lateral raise
4. Lunge with overhead press
5. Squat with bicep curls

E. Abs, hips, core, and balance (Monday – Saturday).
Do at least 4 of the following:
1. Prone iso-abs
2. Crunches (regular or twisting)
3. Leg raises
4. Roll-ups
5. Leg-hip abductions and adductions (machine, lying down, leaning on ball, or standing)
6. Trunk curl on exercise ball
7. Bridge on ball
8. Extended leg bridge on ball

For some sports, this portion may be replaced by (play a less dominant role to) the actual practice of the sport (such as long-distance swimming), because the actual practice of the sport already serves as the cardio-respiratory training. However, I would probably require a baseball pitcher to include at least 30 minutes of this cardio-respiratory component in his training.

A. Some options for cardio in the fitness room. Do a minimum of 30 minutes of any combination of the following (and progressively increase the intensity and/or time as the body adapts):
1. Elliptical trainer
2. Stationary bike
3. Treadmill
4. Rowing machine
5. Kick-boxing sequences and other aerobic routines

B. Some options for cardio outside the fitness room
1. Swimming
2. Cycling
3. Kick-boxing sequences and other aerobic routines
4. In-line skating

V. COOL-DOWN (same as section I above). Since this is a cool down, it should be of a lower intensity than cardio-respiratory training in section IV.

A. Same as warm-up in section I, but do 5-15 minutes
B. Gradually work HR down to 50 or 60% Max HR

VI. FLEXIBILITY TRAINING (same as section II above)

This workout including all the main components should take about one and a half hour. (The trainer must be careful to avoid overtraining the athlete.) Also, there are many things, details, or elements that are difficult to be communicated on paper that, I, the trainer must do. These elements NOT included in the above workout structure are: number of sets and reps (depending on the individual and the sport), observing the client/athlete for proper form, proper checkpoints or positions (to avoid improper posture which potentially cause or contribute to problems). I have also excluded information on plyometric exercises (for training in explosiveness) partially because I believe they should be temporarily contraindicated for the deconditioned individual (to avoid an increased chance of injury). Even if the athlete is already well conditioned, plyometrics or speed and agility drills are probably better performed in the field with coaches rather than in the fitness room. Please also note (as I’ve already mentioned) that the exercises included in the above workout structure are for deconditioned athletes without any pre-existing injuries. If there are pre-existng injuries, certain exercises may have to be contraindicated until recovery.

As with any exercise regimen, please speak to your doctor and physical therapist. Use any of this information at your own risk. The author is not liable for any injuries or damages (especially from misunderstanding and improper use).

Copyright ã2007, 2009. This document is the sole property of Amadeo Constanzo. For permission to publish or reproduce, please send request to

1 comment:

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