How to Train for Improvement in Almost Any Sport

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Whether you’re trying to become a professional athlete or you just want to trounce the competition in your local community’s volleyball tournament, you’re eager to get better at your sport of choice. The trouble is, practice can only get you so far—if you want to keep improving indefinitely, you need to focus on training.

Why Training Is Better Than Practicing

Many people use the terms “training” and “practicing” interchangeably, but they’re two radically different concepts. Practicing refers to engaging in the activity, repetitively, in an effort to get the movements down and, hopefully, improve over time. Training refers to making specific improvements, such as building muscle or increasing speed, which are designed to improve your game performance.

Training is distinctly better for several reasons:

  • Targeted improvement. Practicing a sport subjects you to the same pattern of reaction times and movements, but it typically doesn’t let you “zoom in” on a problem area, or focus on compensating for your weaknesses. Training gives you the chance to target specific areas of your body or performance that you want to improve.
  • Plateau breaking. Plateaus are common in sports, but it’s hard to break through them with practice alone. The wide variety of exercises available through training gives you a constant source of new workouts to try in an effort to break them.
  • Interest and enjoyment. Because training differs significantly from practice, and offers more variety, it’s a good way to maintain your interest and enjoyment as you continue to improve. Even the most invested tennis player may get tired of tennis after thousands of games.

Key Tips to Remember

So what should you be doing to make sure you train effectively?

  • Set specific goals (and understand your weaknesses). The only way to build an effective training program is to start with specific goals in mind. Your first step should be analyzing your personal strengths and weaknesses, then determining where you’d like to be in the future. The more specific and achievable your goals are, the easier it will be to find exercises and training patterns that get you to that final destination.
  • Consult with a professional. There are professional coaches and training experts available to help you train for your sport, so consider getting in contact with them. Baseball coaches, for example, will be able to guide you through all the exercises and training approaches necessary to master your specific position. Professional supervision will help you improve faster, and minimize your risk of injury.
  • Get your form correct first. It’s tempting to jump into your training program with unbridled energy, but it’s better to focus on getting your form and execution correct before you attempt to set PRs. Otherwise, you’ll run a much higher risk of injury—and rendering yourself unable to play would defeat the purpose of training in the first place.
  • Incorporate a variety of exercises. No matter what your end goals are, it’s a good idea to change up the type of workouts you do. Different exercises, even if they target the same group of muscles, will work your muscles, tendons, and ligaments in different ways. It will keep you interested and challenged, and make sure you remain on a path of consistent improvement.
  • Read lots of different resources. Sports science is complex, and no single source is going to have all the answers. If you want to learn everything there is about improving for your specific sport, try to read every book you can on the subject, listen to multiple different coaches, and keep up with the latest news. The more diverse your range of sources is, the closer you’ll get to the “truth” of training.
  • Get plenty of rest. Every training program should be complemented by an equally rigorous resting program—otherwise, you’ll run the risk of overtraining. Your muscles need time to heal and recover, so make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night, and put adequate space between workouts that work the same group of muscles. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s a vital part of the training process.
  • Eat correctly. Don’t forget, you’ll need to eat properly if you want to see consistent gains in your training regimen. You’ll need lots of complex carbohydrates to maintain your energy levels during your workouts, and ample protein throughout the day if you want to support your muscle recovery—between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

If you follow this advice, and commit to both training and practicing for your current sport, you should be able to improve along a consistent trajectory. Though each sport may require different exercises, the general approach is largely the same—so partner up with someone who shares similar goals, and get to work mastering your athletic performance.

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