5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your Athleticism

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

There are at least an equal amount of people who ruin their athleticism through their strength training efforts, as there are people who improve it.

The majority of guys who have been training for more than a decade have worse athletic ability than they did ten years earlier. It’s sad but true.

Many typical training protocols will slowly but surely ruin your athleticism. The overemphasis on maximal strength, the shortened ranges of motion, the imbalances created, the injuries accumulated…

It all adds up and one day before you know it you tear a hamstring playing a leisurely game of beach volleyball or blow out your back helping your mom move a thirty pound loveseat.

When people see you move on the dance floor at your sisters wedding they laugh and count their blessings that they never started weight training so they would never have to move like you, ya big doofus.

OH! Look atcha now.

Popped an Achilles trying to do the running man during Bust a Move while the alcoholic stock brokers and sixty year old ladies next to you get down all night without a care in the world.

Everyone wonders what all that training is good for as you’re rushed off the floor on a stretcher.

Thanks for putting another black eye on the game, pal.

Train like an athlete.”

It’s a popular, buzzword-ish concept these days. But what does it mean exactly?

If you play a sport it’s pretty obvious that one of your main goals during each offseason should be to improve your athleticism. In my opinion it’s as equally important for everyone who doesn’t play a sport to do the same.

It’s commonly known that when you age you lose your ability to perform explosively and move freely into athletic positions without pain or restriction.

I’d argue and say it’s more of a case of allowing yourself to lose those qualities that enhances the aging process and leads to your first rocking chair purchase.

Unless it’s Movement Based it’s Not THAT Athletic

Some people believe that training like an athlete means you squat instead of leg press.

While I agree that those seeking enhanced athleticism should steer clear of machine training there is nothing exceptionally athletic about performing a squat. It’s the first major movement pattern you mastered as an infant.

Since then you have probably screwed it up a bit and may not be able to do it as well but there is nothing exceptionally “athletic” about taking two steps back and squatting down.

It’s commonly performed millions of times per day in crappers worldwide.

I’m not knocking the squat, of course; it’s a great exercise that will do more for you and will incorporate far more muscle groups, and requires more hip and ankle mobility, along with core strength and stability than any machine.

Just don’t think that just because you put a bar on your back instead of lying down on the hack squat machine that you are magically going to become Jerry Rice.

Exercises like the handstand pushup, overhead squat one arm row all enhance your ability to perform athletically (provided you don’t do anything stupid or injure yourself). However, these are all exercises where you remain in a stationary position.

To really improve or maintain your athleticism you have to move.

It’s as simple as that.

No matter how “functional” an exercise may be deemed, if you remain stationary when performing it there is still a huge component missing.

Below are 5 ways to maintain or improve your athleticism.

1) Jump

Every training program should include some type of jumping.

Low level jumps like bounding, hopping and skipping rope can be performed quite frequently.

I’d recommend jumping rope at least three times per week, if only as part of your warm up. 

Intermediate level jumps should also be performed fairly regularly, but unlike the lowest level of jumps you should be concerned with counting ground contacts.

Do 5-6 sets of 3 reps, two or three times per week.

Advanced level jumps like depth jumps and landings should be performed less frequently and in blocks of 2-3 weeks before deloading and switching to another lower level jump.

2) Sprint

At least one or two days per week you should be getting out and opening it up on a field, beach or hill.

Sled work is great and I consider it irreplaceable in my training programs, but sprinting is far more athletic and needs to be included.

3) Change Directions

If you simply sprint in a straight line your athleticism will slowly decrease over the years because breaking and cutting will have been ignored.

You need to incorporate change of direction drills.

These don’t have to be fancy. Just grab a bunch of cones, set them up and sprint to them in random patterns.

The most basic is four cones in a square. Sprint to the first one, side shuffle left to the next one, back pedal to cone four and side shuffle right back to cone one.

If you use your imagination you can come up with some more without me listing them all here. These drills should last no more than ten seconds per set and can be performed once or twice a week.

4) Use An Agility Ladder

Now before people get up in arms and accuse me of being some “functional” dude let me explain. I actually believe that the agility ladder is more useful than non-athletes in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s than it is for those who are regularly competing.

The reason for that goes back to what I discussed earlier- most people don’t move quickly anymore once they stop playing a sport and that contributes to accelerated aging. The agility ladder is a perfect warm up for any workout just because it gets you moving your feet quickly again.

It’s not going to do much for Cam Newton but I have seen it help the 45 year old office worker who’s been sitting on his ass the last 15 years.

5) Incorporate Loaded Carries

Nnot many activities can qualify as more functional than picking up something heavy and carrying it.

You can use any implement you can think of such as barrels, sandbags, kettlebells, steel briefcases, water filled stability balls, a yoke, whatever. A

nd you can carry them in a zercher position, two hands overhead, one hand overhead, with two hands at your side, one hand at your side, one hand overhead and one at your side, unevenly loaded, in the racked position, on your back, etc. etc.

Pick one and do 3-5 sets of 20-40 yards once or twice a week.

I would also consider a walking lunge a form of weighted carries if performed in a non-traditional way such as with a log or sandbag over one shoulder.

To crank it up a notch you could even hold a kettlebell in the opposite hand of that which you are holding the sandbag over your shoulder with. (Just please don’t do these until your knee stability is up to par).

People often argue that single leg training is more functional but how much athleticism is required to do a stationary split squat or step up?

Does your training program include all of those components?

If not I can almost guarantee you that you are not doing the most to maximize your athleticism and many of you are probably losing it.

Don’t go into battle unprepared.

And don’t get carted off the dance floor at your sisters wedding.

Leave a Reply

19 Responses to 5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your Athleticism

  1. corey March 15, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Awesome article Jason! I heard someone say, can’t remember who, that the majority of athletic movement is done in the frontal and transverse planes (depending on the sport), but most strength programs only use the sagital plane. Gotta train in all directions…keep up the good work!

    • Koosh March 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Haha- my coworker (SVP tough guy sales guy that always calls me slim to take away from his belly) blew out his Achilles dropping back for a pass in flag football.

      schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\ , noun:
      A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.

  2. Jeremy March 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Such a pet peeve of mine and constantly incorporated at the gym. There is nothing wrong with getting stronger but please focus on staying agile, quick and powerful.

  3. Craig L. March 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Nice article Jason!

    The great thing about these 5 tips is that all but the agility ladder can be implemented with minimal equipment. I am certainly guilty of neglecting athletic movements in my training. Not altogether, but more than I should.

    The goal should never be to just look strong, fast, and agile, but to be strong, fast, and agile.

  4. David March 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Good read. You just confirmed what I have already been thinking about recently….that I need start getting out and moving in all directions. I basically lift weights about 3 days a week and I’ll throw in some hill sprints and bodyweight workouts here and there, but being that I (unfortunately) sit at a effin’ computer all day I need to add some of these other elements to my game so that I can be strong AND agile and stay that way even when old age creeps up. Thanks J!

  5. Eddie March 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Great Article, just know that even if you don’t have an agility ladder, you could do the drills without the ladder, you can do them on a hopscotch, or draw out boxes on a blacktop. It’s not as good, but better than nothing.

    Most of all, here’s a funny youtube video of what you’ll become if you ignore Jason’s advice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgZ-KQKrzZ0

  6. Robbie March 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    This was a great read. On top of all this remember to play your sports boys and girls! Sometimes we get too caught up in the training for our sport and we forget to keep practicing and playing it.

    “Practice!? Are we talking about practice!?”

    Yes, we are. That’s how you get better.

    • Jeff March 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more, to play the actual sport is how we train the muscles and skills to improve. Wish I had more time to play soccer, only on Sundays right now but we’re trying to get in Wed. soccer as well.

  7. Kevin March 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    True dat, big man! Great article!

    I cut some nasty rug at the weddings I attend, mine included!

    Young MC ain’t got nuthin on me!


  8. Chris the Kiwi March 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Double LIKE mate. Outstanding article and I hope more trainers as well as trainees read it.


  9. Vleit March 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Do you suggest the farmers walk to be performed heavy in with a weights workout or lighter as a conditioning tool at a separate time or just mix it up.

  10. Ricardo March 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read and it makes perfect sense when you observe the best athletes or even older individuals who have kept in great shape. They often do recreational activities that involve the above.

    Personally I train mixed martial arts and have since I was a little kid, plus I’m very active so I’ve been training this way before I even knew it. :) I consider myself very fortunate.

    Great post!!!

  11. deb roby March 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    When I was a trainer, I trained mostly the older clientele – because I’m older myself and they believed I understood their challenges better.

    Every client I had did agility ladder as part of our workout at least once a week. It surprised them all how much of the simple process of moving they had lost/forgotten. They were also surprised how the ladder became one of the “play” portions of workout.

    One fairly frail 72 year old woman credited this work with helping her recover a trip before she fell (again) and broke something (again).

    Weighted carries made bringing in the groceries easier. “Clock lunges” -in all directions- helped in playing with grandkids.

    These athletic moves truly are the basis of maintaining our freedom and our youth.

  12. Jeff March 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Good stuff here. I’m going on 42 and still play soccer with guys 20 years younger and weight train 3 times a week. All body and free weight but not nearly enough of the things you mentioned. Sometimes I do stair training in my building which is brutal but effective but I need to incorporate more various directional training. Thx for the insight.

  13. Dean Coulson March 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Hey Jay

    You have a great knack of producing posts at the right time for me. In the last few months I have increased speed and agility training in my own programs for my clients, for this very reason.

    It adds another dimension to their development. Nice one

  14. Jason March 16, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    In my studio I use dot drills, a step and the agility ladder for clients warm up. I taped out a ladder on the floor to make things simple and because I use it all the time.

    With those 3 tools you can get plenty warm and move in every direction posible.

    I also use those tools for cardio, sometimes I even through in the hexagon.

    When people first come to me for training it is unbelievable how poor their movement is. At times it makes you wonder if they can walk on anything other than the floor on a straight line.

  15. Nikki March 16, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    This is definately my philosophy as a trainer and an athlete! I think we, and I mean everybody, needs to work on a little bit of everything. A work out should be well rounded and functional. What good is strength if you can’t use it in every day life.

  16. Alex March 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Would incorporating all of these 5 elements into one workout be ok ?
    I do my strength training 3 times a week and was thinking of doing this 2 days a week, leaving 2 days for swimming and stretching, wich i consider my recovery work..

  17. Adam March 23, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    Great read and something I really need to consider in my training. Out of curiosity, w hen doing the loaded walks how heavy should the weight be? I mean in terms of how fast/slow I walk. Should it be heavy enough so I can power walk with it? Or a slow walk? Or mix it up?