Paul Chek

Originally published in New Zealand Fitness.

Have you ever noticed that the best athletes are seldom the biggest athletes on the team or in their sport? Athletic performance in any sport requiring dynamic multi-dimensional movement (i.e. netball, rugby, etc.) is not determined by the size of your muscles but the performance of the entire body as a collective whole. This can be explained using the Triad of Health, developed by famous Kinesiologist George Goodheart. This concept considers the whole as a pyramid, divided into three components: mental, physical and hormonal.

At the top is mental function, or the mind, the master controller of all. You can use your mind to improve strength and performance through visualization or mental rehearsal. In 1991 I worked with five time Olympic Luge and Flat-Water Kayak athlete Dave Gillman. Dave told me that due to lack of ice time, the Luge team frequently had to train using visualization techniques. While lying in their luge sled the coach would cue them as though they were starting down the track. The team would visualize the run, yelling "STOP" as they crossed the finish line in their minds. After practicing for a few weeks, the entire team would consistently finish within half a second of their actual running time on the track! In short, mental practice works!

The physical component of the Triad of Health comprises the nervous and muscular systems. Training with traditional bodybuilding loading parameters (8-12 reps + 60 sec. rest periods), particularly when using typical gym machines, predominantly stresses the muscular system. However the nervous system directly controls the muscular system and specific nervous system conditioning is often overlooked. For best results we must train like athletes with great nervous systems, e.g., gymnasts, tennis, dancers, competitive martial artists and/or boxers. These are not the kind of people you find on the leg press or the preacher curl! Great athletes from most sports are capable of generating large amounts of force very quickly and in virtually any direction! Improving nervous system function requires using exercises that mimic movement patterns common to the sport. For example, lunging in multiple directions is beneficial for rugby and netball, as is squatting, pushing and pulling at various angles from the standing position (see Paul Chek’s Gym Instructor Video Series). To enhance nervous system function, perform these exercises at progressively higher speeds, using 2 ½ – 4 minute rest periods. Always stop each set before you start to lose good exercise form.

The chemical aspect of the Triad of Health includes all components of the hormonal system, which are critical to optimal physiology. To prevent performance lost due to decreased hormonal function you must eat well-balanced, well-timed meals; many people will do better with snacks between meals. It is critical that you consume adequate amounts of protein. Protein is the precursor for all hormones and is frequently lacking in the diets of athletic people who try to live on a diet of salads and pasta. A common symptom of protein deficiency is craving sweets, which is common among female athletes. After supplementing their diets with the addition of a high protein shake between meals, many of my patients/clients no longer crave sweets and begin to recover much faster from exercise.

In preparation for your next season, don’t think about getting big. THINK ABOUT DEVELOPING A FAST MIND, FAST MUSCLES, A BETTER MOVEMENT VOCABULARY AND A BALANCED HORMONAL SYSTEM through optimal training and nutrition. Records will fall!