How to improve your sports and fitness technique
With longer days and nicer weather, it’s easier to get out there playing the sport you love, and a great time to raise the bar a little in terms of your overall fitness and performance.
Whether you’re super-sporty or an ambitious amateur, and whatever your sport of choice, little things can make a big difference when it comes to changing your fitness routine to be faster, stronger and fitter.
If swimming is simply about working off fat for you, even a slow crawl can burn 240 calories in half an hour. But if you want to take your technique up a notch to go faster or to keep going longer there are small but effective changes you could try.
To swim faster: reduce splashing and visualise your body cutting through the water. Use the full stretch of your arms for long strokes forward then back. Increasing your upper body strength will really help, so use your gym time for circuit training to enhance this.
To build swimming stamina: improve your underwater breathing. Take a breath every third stroke instead of every second stroke. This gives your lungs time to use the last breath effectively before you take the next.
DID YOU KNOW? A 30-minute swim is the equivalent of up to 60 minutes of land-based exercise.
Tennis requires skill and concentration but without speed you won’t get to the ball in time, and without strength you won’t get it back over the net.
To play with more strength: try resistance training. Using resistance bands when you do your normal gym exercises can maximise the benefit of your existing regime. Don’t forget that recovery time is a vital part of the process.
To gain speed: try interval training. Done properly, a stop-start pattern of running where you alternate bursts of fast running with equal periods of recovery gets your muscles working more efficiently, helping you achieve faster speeds. If you do three workout sessions a week, make one of them interval training.
DID YOU KNOW? During the intense periods of interval training the body burns mostly carbs for energy, then in the rest periods the body burns fat to generate the energy needed to help it recover.
Football is great fun as well as an excellent way to keep fit. Improving your game involves honing your skills and building up your endurance.
To improve: practise with your non-dominant foot. A player who can play well with both feet is a threat anywhere on the field. Try to focus on your non-dominant foot whenever you can, even if this proves very tricky at first.
To increase your endurance: being ‘match fit’ means being able to play a 90-minute game without getting too tired or losing your skills. Running is a great way to build up this fitness and you should aim to get to a point where you can run for 45 minutes without tiring. Run two to three times a week and slowly build up your distances.
DID YOU KNOW? Studies have shown that playing football can be even better for your health than running or lifting weights. The intensity and range of movements, including kicks, twists, turns and sprints provide better overall exercise.
If you want to go on longer rides but find your usual routes boring, or you need to boost your confidence on roads, join a local group. The British Cycling website has links to groups around the country who organise rides to suit all abilities and a variety of interests. If you want to improve performance, combine road work with time in the gym.
To gain strength for longer rides: develop your upper-body. This is ideal for ensuring bike control when you’re going faster and to avoid your arms aching after a long ride on bumpy roads. Men and women should work on core strength, too – essential for getting power to your legs.
To build stamina: take to the road, and use hills for short power climbs. When possible, use off-road cycle routes for rides uninterrupted by traffic lights and junctions. If you use a static bike at the gym, vary the speed, incline and resistance settings to keep challenging your body.
DID YOU KNOW? Flat roads provide the chance for longer, low intensity aerobic exercise, and hill rides are good for bursts of intense anaerobic exercise.
Playing squash regularly can offer real health benefits, especially for your heart and lungs, and to build muscle strength. Plus courts are usually easy to find in most local sports centres. A good way to improve your skills at this fast-paced game is to play with different partners rather than the same person every time – the changes will really test your existing ability.
To improve speed and agility: keep up your cardiovascular exercises. Other sports like jogging, running and cycling will make a big difference and will help build muscle strength in your legs, too.
DID YOU KNOW? It’s not just about breaking a sweat, concentration is key. Keep your eye on the ball at all times.
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What’s your sport? And what are your tips? Let us know in the comments section below.
IMPORTANT: Before you take on any new exercises or change your regular routines, consult your GP if you have any medical concerns.