When we talk to athletes, coaches, and parents about what they are looking for from their training the answers are always very similar. Most want some combination of speed, power, gunny arms, vertical jump, strength, 6-pack abs, and agility. These are all important characteristics of a great athlete. However, I think they are missing the absolute #1 most important athletic quality any athlete can have.

That is DURABILITY!

Before I continue I should clarify what I mean when I refer to “Athletes”. If you have a body, You are an Athlete! Some people may use their body to compete in baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, badminton, etc. Others may use their body to garden, play with their kids, or participate in weekend sports. We should prepare our bodies to participate in all of these athletic endeavors.

Ok, back to durability, I know, that’s not very exciting. But it is absolutely critical. Think about Clay Buckoltz. He’s an awesome pitcher, arguably one of the best 15 on the planet…BUT can he stay healthy? Or Rob Gronkowski. He’s one of the best tight ends to ever put on pads…BUT can he stay healthy? These are just a couple examples but look at surgery rates for middle school and high school athletes and they are staggering. Over 150,000 athletes suffer an ACL tear every year. And most of these injuries are non-contact.

This brings me to early specialization. Athletes are specializing in their sport at younger and younger ages, yet the rates of injury continues to rise. There is a misconception that athletes need to specialize early in order to get the edge on their competition. Truth is the athletes who rise to the highest levels generally do not specialize as early as their counterparts. Here is an interesting survey from a group of NHL players. They were asked when they started to specialize in Hockey. The average is mid-high school…not at 9 or 10. Here is a great article about the effectiveness of early sports specialization.

“…the best data we have would suggest that the odds of achieving elite levels with this method are exceedingly poor. In fact, some studies indicate that early specialization is less likely to result in success than participating in several sports as a youth, and then specializing at older ages.”

My point is, to ultimately become a durable athlete one must play a variety of sports in their developing years. A great athletic development program, like the one offered at Impact Functional and Sports Training, is instrumental as well. Kids need to jump, hop, bound, skip, throw, run, move in all directions, crawl, push, pull, kick, strike, etc. These are all fundamental movements that any athlete needs to be successful, despite their sport.

Middle and High School athletes need to learn to land before learning to jump. They need to learn to decelerate and absorb force prior to learning to accelerate. Single leg plyometrics and strength work should be a priority. These are all easy things to incorporate into a training program that will dramatically decrease the risk of injury.

It is also important for parents and coaches to resist the temptation to have their kids specialize too early. This can be hard sometimes, especially when they see other players becoming better at 10 or 12 years old. The patience will pay off though when the early specializer is either burned out or injury prone at 16. That is when the well-rounded athlete will easily bypass the athlete who early specialized.

As for training to increase everyday durability for Adults the same principles apply. Again, if you have a body, you are an athlete. Therefore we must train the body to move. We need to squat, hip hinge, push, and pull. In addition, adults should train power by sprinting, jumping, and throwing. A program consisting of all these elements will increase your durability, improve your body composition, and be a whole lot of fun!