When you get on the court, field, pitch, or rink this fall, you fully intend to be the most agile, fastest, strongest, most durable guy out there. Sure, it's not the Olympics or a pro game, but you still want to be the best you can—even if it's just a pickup game with your friends on Saturdays. Nevertheless, chances are no matter how many hours you spend in the gym, your current routine isn't making you any more athletic.
You're strong, yes—but can you move? Even if you can run three miles on the treadmill, how will your wind be in the fourth quarter, when the team is down by a touchdown and the QB is looking for you in the end zone?
With a few easy tweaks, you can turn your training into a combine that preps you for glory this fall no matter what your sport—basketball, football, hockey, or soccer. Best of all, you'll still be burning the fat and building the muscle you need to look like a gladiator all year long. Just follow the Fall Sports Training Guide.
One must-do exercise: The crossover lunge. "It's a great move for changing direction and improving your ability to stay with an opponent when playing defense," says Cameron McGarr, C.S.C.S., a performance enhancement coach in Santa Clarita, CA. "By adding this gem to your routine, you'll be able to run circles around the competition—literally."
How to do the crossover lunge: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step with your left foot—passing it in front of your right leg and planting it in front of you and to the right at a 45-degree angle. (You should look as though you're walking sideways.) Lower your body as in a normal lunge, and then reverse the motion back to the starting position. That's one rep. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.
Your biggest weakness is: Your glutes. Most people have severe imbalances between the strength of the muscles on the front and the rear of the body, bringing new meaning to the phrase "weak-ass game." When you jump and run, your glutes should be the prime movers, but if your quads are taking over the movement, you'll never perform at your peak, and you'll increase your risk of injury. To bring up weak glutes, try the single-leg hip bridge. Simply lie on your back, bend one knee 90 degrees, and place that leg's foot on the floor. Keeping your body in a straight line, drive your foot down and bridge up off the floor. That's one rep. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.
Remember this when you train: "If you're playing or practicing several times a week," says McGarr, "your legs are getting plenty of work and you should train them less in the gym." Heavy leg workouts will only hinder your ability to recover and slow your progress. Try training upper body twice a week (one heavy, low-rep day and one moderate, higher-rep day works well) and lower body just once—make sure to do both heavy strength and higher-rep work in this one workout.
One must-do exercise: The Bulgarian split squat. "Too few football players perform single-leg activities," says Brian Grasso, a performance coach in Chicago who has trained numerous pros. "This move develops strength where games are won or lost: in the muscles that extend the hips."
How to do the Bulgarian split squat: Bend one knee 90 degrees and rest the foot of that leg behind you on a bench. Bend your hips and the knee of the standing leg to lower your body as far as possible, but don't allow your torso to lean forward. Reverse the motion to come back up. That's one rep. Perform 3–4 sets of 8–10 reps on both legs, resting 60 seconds between sets.
To develop sport-specific speed: Practice lateral movement. "Rather than doing wind sprints for conditioning," says Grasso, "do lateral work that enhances endurance and your ability to move side-to-side on the field." Here's one drill: Get some cones and head to the park. Make a square with the cones, setting them 10 yards apart. Shuttle your feet to move laterally from one cone to another and back as fast as you can. Rest 30–45 seconds and repeat 8–20 times (depending on fitness).
To explode off the line: Integrate lower-and upper-body exercises. To beat an offensive lineman, you need a combination of hip, leg, shoulder, and chest power. Train these muscles all at once with moves that fuse lower- and upper-body work, such as a stepup combined with a medicine ball throw (step up onto the bench and throw the ball), or a clean and press. The better you train these muscle groups to work together, the more you'll look like a bullet train speeding toward paydirt.
One must-do exercise: The Swiss ball leg curl. Since hockey players are always bending over to reach the puck, their hip flexors tend to be very tight. This one exercise stretches them while strengthening the glutes and hamstrings.
How to do the Swiss ball leg curl: Lie on your back and rest your heels on a Swiss ball. Drive your feet into the ball and bridge up so that your hips are off the floor and your body forms a straight line. Bend your knees, rolling the ball toward you. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. That's one rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, resting 45–60 seconds between each set.
Break loose from the boards: "A standout player can wrestle in the boards for the puck," says Grasso, "and then skate hard back down the ice." You can simulate this scenario by pressing your hands against a wall and performing a running motion as if you were trying to push the wall over. "Really drive your knees up and down," says Grasso. "This is similar to the total-body work it takes to dig around for a loose puck against the boards." Keep up a high intensity for 15 seconds, and then turn in one direction and sprint for 20 yards. Rest 45 seconds and repeat 5–15 times.
Keep it real: For the most hockey-specific conditioning possible, you obviously need to spend some quality time on the ice. A few weeks before you start playing seriously (or on your off days), do some sprint skating up and down the ice. Practice lateral and forward movements. The more time you spend on the ice, the more familiar your body will be with it during games.
Must-do exercises: plain old squats and deadlifts. "Playing soccer greatly increases your risk for ankle sprains, hamstring pulls, and ACL tears," says Jason Ferruggia, a performance-enhancement coach in Warren, NJ. These classic lifts fortify the musculature of the entire lower body, and stronger legs will prevent injury and allow for increased speed and power on the field. If you really want to perform at peak level, invest in a sled (you can pick one up at elitefts.com). Running sprints with it attached to your waist will build tremendous speed—the kind you need to be the first guy to reach the ball.
The right kind of cardio: "Soccer involves bouts of short sprints followed by jogging and sometimes even walking," says Ferruggia. "So interval cardio is ideal." Try sprinting for 5–10 seconds and then backing off to a 30-second jog followed by 30–60 seconds of walking. Repeat this sequence for 20–30 minutes. "This will give you the feel of being in a game," says Ferruggia, "while preparing your heart and lungs for the season."
Train flexibility: "A lot of soccer players suffer from shin splints," says Ferruggia. You can prevent the injury by stretching your calves. (Do this in the midst of a calf-raise workout, holding the bottom position of a rep for five seconds.) You should also build the strength of the calves' antagonistic muscle, the tibialis anterior (the muscle on the front of your shin). Simply place a dumbbell between your feet and raise your ankles up and down. That's one rep. Perform 2–3 sets of 10–20 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.