If there’s a sport you love and play often you’re very lucky. Having an activity that you enjoy and gets you moving is not something everyone is able to do, meaning many people force themselves to the gym or to classes to maintain their fitness. But is playing just one sport actually counterproductive over time? Does repeating the same essential moves at the same pace over and over create as much weakness as it does strength? And do the resulting imbalances in the body leave the sports person – whether casual or professional – prone to injury? The short answer to all the above is yes.
It’s been said that playing sport doesn’t get you fit, but you need to be fit to play sport. This applies to all sports from the relatively sedentary like cricket and golf to the more intense like rugby and tennis. To find proof, look to elite sportspeople who counterbalance their play with sport-specific exercise to up their game, treatments to realign the body and prevent injury and other disciplines to complement the sports-related exercises such as Pilates and Yoga.
The Sports MatrixThis simple matrix neatly details the primary characteristics of all sports. Racket and club games are imbalanced, making uneven demands on the body. Yet badminton is fast-paced while golf is slow so they would each occupy different positions on the matrix. Running and football are both fast-paced sports but footballers typically have a dominant foot while runners move through a smaller variety of movements making them both imbalanced in different ways. Added to which, the pace varies more through a football game than a run so they too would be plotted differently on the matrix. Plot your sport on the matrix and follow the advice below to balance out your fitness, address any weakness and ultimately improve your game.
If your sport is imbalanced you need to train balance back into your body by finding exercises that mimic your movements with a mirror effect. For racket and club sports using a kettlebell on your non-racket side to mimic serves, swings and back hands will all help. If you’re a runner weaknesses in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back are common and can be addressed by running backwards, squatting wide and deep with weights and undertaking a little suspension training.
A completely balanced sport is unlikely as most people have a dominant side for kicking, throwing and turning. Swimming is probably the most balanced of all sports, and if it’s not your sport it's a great way to build and restore balance in the body. But if your imbalance is more to do with habit than the sport you should opt for exercises and regimes that build strength all over and stamina too. Variety is really the best option here, enjoy a mixture of disciplines that develop your strength, range of motion and stamina. Yoga is becoming increasingly popular for most sports, however balanced they are. It helps align and mobilise the body and so reduces the chance of injury. Plus it has emotional and mental benefits that can bring new focus to a game.
A sprinter who runs at speed for short spurts will benefit from heavy weight training with low reps. A long-distance runner who runs at a steady pace for a long time will benefit from Pilates and medium-resistance, high-rep training. A hockey player who has periods of sprint, run and rest through a game could benefit from adding a HIIT session once a week.
Most sports involve more time moving quickly than slowly but there are a couple of exceptions, golf being the most obvious. Typically the duration of such sports is way over 90 minutes though and any exercises that build endurance will benefit players of such sports. Three 30-minute HIIT sessions a week will give you a CV workout your sport denies you as well as building your endurance while playing the game.