No matter what sport you are in, the complete athlete always seems to possess the same attributes. Agile, smooth, mentally tough, efficient, precise, powerful. Generally, people have strength and weaknesses, depending on how they train, and their mindset. The purpose of this article is to highlight certain activities that will develop the potentially under-developed areas of your arsenal, and thus making you a more complete athlete. You might be surprised by some of my choices here but hear me out before dismissing them!
1. Table Tennis
If lightning fast reactions, and pinpoint precision are not important for you, don’t worry about this point. If they are, get down to your local leisure centre and book the table tennis table for a hour or two! Whether you are a 100 metre sprinter, triathlete, or field sport player, you will benefit from a bit of ping pong! It will require concentration to keep the ball on the table, and fast feet to get yourself into position. Once you become somewhat proficient, this will become a great past time. If your still not sure that table tennis is as powerful as I just suggested, check these lads out!
Its no secret that the great Christy Ring was an accomplished squash player as well as one of the best hurlers that ever graced the field. In the book ’Christy Ring’ by Val Dorgan, Ring swears by squash for foot work and getting the eye in. The repeated sprint nature of squash, and pure speed of the game will develop your reaction times, coordination, and wrist strength if you are in a racquet or stick wielding sport.
3. Hill Walking
A hill walk can serve as a welcome break from the regular workout, and can also help you top up your cardiovascular fitness and strength endurance. Depending on the hill you chose, you could be climbing up a steep incline of rocks, or out for a casual stroll. Either way, a break from the regular routine, and a bit of a picnic at the top will make sure you are fresh and energised for your next gym, team, or track session, with the added benefit of a slight top up of your cardiovascular reserves.
The ancient game of chess is a sure way to stimulate the tactical aspect of your brain. This is a crucial aspect for any team sport player, and even racers, who need to formulate a plan of attack for each and every race. Learn the basics of chess, and you will develop your tactical and long term strategy skills. You will learn how to think a few steps ahead, and will also have to deal with the strategy and tactics of your opponent. Not to mention the concentration that is required to play and win a game of chess. These are all things that everyone needs to compete in any sport. World champion boxers Wladimir and Vitali Klitchko are well know for their chess playing exploits.
Check out this video to see Wladimir training, and hear his insight into how a boxing match is like a game of chess.
5. Tai Chi
Tai Chi is an ancient form of martial art, and an activity I have recently started myself. Probably more known as an activity for OAPs but do not be fooled by this misconception. Tai Chi is used worldwide as a form of meditative exercise that calms the mind and builds energy (or Chi) in the body. The exploits of the Shaolin Monks in China should be enough to encourage anyone who wants to get the most out of their sporting career to take up Tai Chi (see video below). But if not, just take note that by practicing Tai Chi from time to tiome, you will increase your capacity to concentrate, be able to keep your mind quiet, improve mobility, increase energy, increase sensitivity to what’s going on around your, improve balance, and encourage recovery and healing from the rigours of tough physical training. Tai Chi anyone?
PS I have recently started attending the Cork Chinese Shaolin Centre in Ballypheane, Cork. It is a very welcoming club with a lot of classes (including Kung Fu) and under the guidance of Sifu Kay, I have been improving steadily over the last few weeks. It’s definitely worth investing the time to learn and practice Tai Chi. Click here for the link to their site.
6. Aqua Jogging
A great way to do some recovery work, or even getting a cardio or interval session in while taking the pressure of the joints. If you have access to an aqua jogging belt, you can jog without touching the floor at all. If not, you can jog in waist deep water, and do your mobility exercise against the resistance of the water. Remember that we are an island nation with lots of beaches, so use the sea for recover sessions when you can, as well as your local swimming pool. For a good interval session, aqua sprint for 30 seconds, and jog for 30 using the belt, for a total of 10 minutes.
7. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a great way to build fitness and strength in the legs, and also a nice way to see some of the countryside. However, I personally think that it’s a sure fire way to build nerves of steel! Check out the video below of Danny Hart blowing his opponents out of the water with some ballsy moves, and breaking a world record while at it. Luckily for us, we have one of the best mountain biking trials in the world right here in Ireland. Ballhoura mountain bike trail has something for everyone. You don’t have to start with a white knuckle downhill ride, but you will find a challenging trial no matter what your ability that will help you build your nerve!
8. Barefoot Jogging
I have touched on this area previously, and for a more comprehensive review of barefoot activities, check out this Barefoot is Better article. By going barefoot, you will free your foot from the shackles of the cumbersome shoes that they find themselves in for most of the day. You will build strength in your feet, and in turn improve your balance, sensitivity, injury resistance, and it will feel great! This one comes with a cautionary note….START SLOW! If you are new to barefoot activities, 1 minute of light jogging or some easy walking is plenty to start off with, and build from there. Your calves will thanks me for that tip! Bottom line: barefoot training- very satisfying! Vibram Five Fingers have supercharged the barefoot revolution, and are becoming a more common site amongst exercise enthusiasts worldwide. Check out barefoot.ie for the latest from the Irish barefoot revolutionaries!
9. Kettlebell Training
When equipment is scarce, or you want to spice up your training week, why not spend some time getting to know your very own kettlebell. There is a wealth of exercises that you can do with a kettlebell. From building single leg or single arm strength, to developing the core, to getting an unrivalled conditioning session out of them, a kettlebell is an invaluable and versatile little animal. Perform a workout in your back garden, in the park, or in your kitchen! Go one step further and do the workout barefoot!
10. Medicie Ball Training
Another versatile training implement, the medicine ball is a great tool to promote power development. You can use the med balls for all kinds of throwing exercises (overhead throw, chest pass, side on throw, vertical throw), and its also great for balance work when you perform one-legged throws and catches. You can work with a partner, throwing the ball back and fourth, or against a wall if you are training solo. All in all, a great way to develop your power output.