Get Sport-Specific at the Gym

Tailor Your Workout

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 20, 2001 -- Mary Clare Coghlan just finished competing at the National Volleyball Festival in Davis, Calif., and expects to play college volleyball next year. She's been working out for the past year under the supervision of Mark Hoffman, founder of ProPrep Athletic Development Services, in Los Angeles.

"You feel really good after your workout and you know you're in the best shape you can be," she says. "He designs a program especially for you, looking at what position you play and what skills you need to focus on."

Mary Clare's father, Ed Coghlan, says, "he's worked magic with her. She actually works out less than she used to, but is much more intelligent about it."

Hoffman focuses on serious athletes, ranging from long-term development for novices to seasoned veterans trying to remain competitive. But all of us, at all athletic levels, need to think about personalizing our workouts to match the sports we enjoy, the shape we're in, and our goals for the future.

Cycling Your Workout Regimen

Hoffman emphasizes "periodization" -- which means you do certain exercises for a portion of the year, and then move on to different workouts or intensity levels.

"You work in a series of cycles," he explains. "You're conditioning tendons and ligaments and muscles for heavier work to come. An athlete might focus on building strength 12 weeks or less out of the year, for example, unlike bodybuilders who are focused on presentation rather than performance and would spend the larger part of the year building strength."

Exercises in your workout may be designed to increase speed, agility, strength, and/or flexibility, says Young Cannon, a master trainer at the New York Sports Club in New York City. When you're just starting out, one major focus will be flexibility, because that prevents injury. You'll stretch before and after exercise, focusing particularly on the parts of the body used most in your sport.

"A tennis player will work to strengthen abdominals and lower back, because first you have to strengthen your core. If that's weak, you won't be able to strengthen anything else properly. Your goal is to do relatively small movements with good form, paying attention," Cannon says. "You also need agility exercises, because in tennis you have to move from one place to another quickly. Of course you also need to work on shoulder, arm, and elbow movements."


Rich Baudry, PT, a physical therapist at Crescent City Physical Therapy in New Orleans, has developed a specialized workout for golfers, who often need to increase flexibility, especially in hip and shoulder rotation.

"You need to play within the limits of your particular capabilities," he says. "If you aren't flexible enough right now to do a full swing, then you have to shorten your swing while you work to improve your capabilities over time."

Because workouts can take so many different forms, it's very helpful to get expert advice. How often do you need to see a personal trainer?

"That depends on how intelligent and motivated you are," Hoffman says. "Do you need to see someone often to kick your butt, or do you need guidance every six weeks to refresh your program?"

Hoffman recommends asking for recommendations about personal trainers, just the way you'd ask around when looking for a new doctor. "Talk to friends who've worked with that trainer and ask whether they've made progress," he says.

Workouts for Special Situations

Suppose you're going back to exercise after surgery. T.R. Goodman, a certified personal trainer who works out of Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif., helped actor James Caan after surgery on his shoulder. They went through a series of steps starting with assisted movements, so the muscle fibers would get exercise without being overstrained. Then they used gentle stretching motions, and then repetitive work with very light medicine balls.

"After surgery you have to think of the area as if it has its own identity -- as if it's an infant, weak and afraid," Goodman says. "You have to convince the muscles they can function again in an uninhibited way, that other muscles don't have to compensate."

Workouts after a sports injury vary, Goodman says, depending on the specific joint and injury. General principles include rest and anti-inflammatories at first.

"Then you have look at the underlying causes," he says. "There may be a problem in movement patterns that can be corrected through appropriate exercises and muscle strengthening."


The New Orleans clinic also offers a wellness program for discharged medical patients, who still want to work out but aren't comfortable in a fitness center atmosphere. Even people who're recovering from serious illnesses can and should work out, Baudry says.

"After cancer treatment you're feeling run down, so it's important to do something to get your heartbeat up," he says. "Get moving. Even a little bit can be important in maintaining strength and helps your outlook."

Staying Fit During Pregnancy

If you're pregnant and haven't been working out, this probably isn't a good time to start, says Yvonne Bennett, a certified personal trainer and president of

"Talk with your obstetrician and discuss your options," she advises. Walking and gentle stretching are among the safest and most beneficial choices in this case, she says.

On the other hand, women who have been working out can continue to do a modified workout while pregnant. Bennett herself continued to work with free weights, bench training, and yoga stretches while she was pregnant.

"I did have to slow down aerobic training -- no more than 20 minutes on the bicycle. And after you enter the fourth month, you shouldn't do any exercises lying on your back," she says.

But even if you're an experienced athlete, she stresses, you should still discuss your exercise program with your obstetrician.

WebMD Feature
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