5 attributes of a successful athlete

Strength, flexibility, endurance, muscle building, cardiovascular health? All these 5 attributes are personified in successful fitness freaks such as Olympic athletes and professional sportsmen alike. The question is which of these 5 attributes are the most important, which make for example, Usain Bolt the athlete he is?

Strength is usually measured by how much somebody can lift for a short duration. World strength athletes like Eddie Hall can deadlift in excess of 460kg which makes him the strongest human alive in this particular discipline.  An athlete would need to optimise his/her strength to some degree in order to improve for example, speed and explosiveness which would be useful for a boxer and rank very high on their list of priorities.

To improve strength, one needs to do bodyweight exercises and lift heavy weights or objects for low repetitions such as 4 sets of 3 repetitions (4 x 3). The weight lifted would be relative to the current strength of the person lifting.

Flexibility is also of massive importance to an athlete. Without flexibility, one would not be able to go through a full range of motion which can lead to all manner of problems in major sports and postural movement in later life. To improve flexibility, one must optimise static and dynamic stretching movements for 30 seconds in each muscle group. Static stretching should come after a workout due to its strength reducing capabilities pre-workout. Dynamic stretching should be performed before a workout to improve blood flow to the working muscles which will not take away an athlete’s strength.

Endurance is also a major attribute for an athlete and almost all mainstream sports require athletes to possess endurance to participate intensively, eg. in football, boxing, long distance marathon running, cycling, tennis, swimming, and other sports. In order to improve physical endurance, one must perform long duration cardio but if the treadmill does not interest you, then the paths and running tracks outside can provide you that haven. Other techniques you can implement are circuit training; reduced rest times between sets at the gym, combining weights and cardio together and using Interval Training techniques such as sprinting.

Muscle Building is a personal favourite of mine and I could write forever on this topic and how important it is. Muscle building is usually a result of strength gain and the more muscle you have, the more strength you have as well as power output. Muscle building though may actually be the least important of all of the attributes on the list as in some cases having large muscles can impede movement and slow you down. I will admit myself that muscle building is more for aesthetics rather than performance but muscle building and development will occur automatically with strength training so it cannot really be avoided. To increase muscle mass the traditional school of thought says to stick to 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions but I don’t strictly believe in that.

Every body on this planet is different and so is the ratio of muscle fibres between Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 are fast twitch muscle fibres that fire when heavy weight is lifted but cannot be sustained for prolonged periods. Type 2 are slow twitch muscle fibres that fire on endurance based activities or when lighter weight loads are lifted for more repetitions. There is some evidence to suggest that our daily activities may even alter our bodily ratio between Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibres. The more we walk for example, the more Type 2 fibres our legs will develop due to the amount of endurance exercise demanded of them.

A small muscle group such as arms don’t really get used as often as legs therefore they would respond to heavier weight for less repetitions, from 5-8 repetitions would be best. You only need to look at powerlifters and their huge arms to see that low repetitions work best. I would always advise a 15-20 rep range for lower limb muscles and a 5-10 rep range for the upper limbs. Trial and error, find out what works best for you.

Cardiovascular health is one of the biggest concerns these days with cardiovascular disease being one of the major killers worldwide. Last year in the Unites States alone it claimed the lives of 250,000 people with coronary heart disease being the main culprit. All the attributes mentioned above, when practiced can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease tremendously.

Regular exercise has a favourable effect on many of the established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For example, exercise promotes weight reduction and can help reduce blood pressure. Exercise can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood, as well as total cholesterol, and can raise the “good” cholesterol. In the diabetic population, regular activity favourably affects the body’s ability to use insulin to control glucose levels in the blood. Although the effect of an exercise program on any single risk factor may generally be small, the effect of continued, moderate exercise on overall cardiovascular risk, when combined with other lifestyle modifications (such as proper nutrition, smoking cessation and medication use), can be dramatic.

Analysing all of these attributes in the case of the normal person or the professional athlete, it is clear that one cannot work without the other and all have to work together synergistically in order to achieve the greatest results. If I was going to put an attribute at the bottom of the pile then it would be muscle building but no attribute makes it to the top of the pile as each must be practiced just as much as each other in order to improve performance whether it be in everyday life or in a professional sport. However, at the end of the day it is also improving your HEALTH for the short term and the long term and giving you overall a better and healthier life, not to mention the increasing levels of self esteem, money saved and life enjoyed -could you ask for anything more than that?

Antonio Linardi

Antonio is a Sports Scientist and Personal Trainer and currently works with people with a range of goals but specialises in muscle building, fat loss and improving athletic performance. An a FDSC and BSC student at Teesside University (in Sport and Exercise Applied Science, Fitness Instruction and Sport Therapy) his current research study involves finding out the effects of Intermittent Fasting on lean body mass increase and fat loss. He was also a former amateur boxer for Middlesbrough ABC and Natural Progression ABC and currently uses his experience to help improve the strength and conditioning of aspiring boxers and other athletes.

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