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Many athletes, from NCAA players to the weekend warrior, want their exercise plan to help reinforce their sports performance.
There are a couple of issues that can affect your workout results in regards to your sports goals. One is finding the right amount of muscle bulk to add to the body. Another is dealing with fatigue and soreness come game time.
How much muscle to build?
Many sports depend on strength-to-weight ratio. That is--you want to be strong, but not unnecessarily heavy. The exact best ratio is different from sport to sport and person to person.
Regarding muscle size, volume (or amount) of exercise is the largest determinant of growth. This is a multiplier of weight x sets x reps in weight training, so in general whatever amount of weight that allows you to do the largest number of sets and reps to make the largest volume would get you the most size. For example, if you can only do 2 sets using 80 lb. x 10 reps but can do 5 sets using 70 lb. x 10 reps, then the 70 would build more muscle. However, some muscle growth occurs as a result of larger muscle size, which is usually higher weight, and some is due to metabolic changes that help you deal w/ muscular endurance, which is 15+ rep sets usually. So bodybuilders looking to maximize muscle growth incorporate both to maximize the two different types of growth potential. Yes, fast twitch has the most potential for size growth, but muscular endurance (meaning longer sets--different from running endurance) is also an additional mechanism for additional growth.
For many athletes, both aesthetically and performance-wise, it's important to find that sweet spot in muscular development. If overly developed muscular size is a concern, most people are generally better off lifting heavier for fewer reps. For instance, find a weight that allows you do perform no more than 5 reps, and do just 2-3 sets (after a couple of warm-up sets as well).
What about soreness if I have a game?
In this case, too, mature athletes (as in, not kids) are generally best off spending more time on lower rep work because it's easier to recover from. Lower rep work is better for power which is what most sports come down to. You will get bigger and heavier more with 8-12 rep work than with 1-5 rep work, and you will be similarly strong either way. The secret though is to not do too many sets--no more than 3. More than that and the potential for soreness will be huge.
As far as when to do your hard workouts, the most important thing to know is that soreness tends to peak 24-28 hours after the weight training session. Therefore, you are better off doing weights 2-3 days before a game, or the morning of the game, but not the day before. Soreness will be worse if the movement is something you haven't done in awhile. Therefore, during important championship games, avoid changing your go-to exercises, or even consider taking a short break from weights just to be on the safe side. You're better off doing the most of your serious strength building during the off season, and simply working on maintenance during the game season.
Good-to-know: It only takes about 1/3 of the volume of exercise to maintain strength, as it takes to build. The key, though, is to keep your weights/reps the same. You can just go longer in between workouts if you like.
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