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Integrated Training in Fitness and Sports

What is Integrated Training?

Integrated training combines strength, power, endurance, flexibility, agility, and balance to create well-rounded athletes capable of handling various physical challenges. The approach typically combines resistance training, cardio, stretching, balance work, plyometrics, and activities that mimic the demands of the athlete’s sport to develop multiple athletic characteristics and help develop transferable skills.

Components of Integrated Training

Strength

Strength training improves force production and promotes muscle growth, both highly beneficial for athletes. The benefits are well documented in research, and you’d struggle to find a coach who doesn’t program resistance training in some capacity for athletes.

Additional benefits of strength training include:

Power

Strength improves force production, but power training teaches the muscles to produce force more quickly, leading to more explosives.

This is primarily beneficial for competitive athletes but can also be helpful in strength training (such as when doing Olympic lifts) and doesn’t hurt to develop in fitness enthusiasts.

Additional benefits include:

Cardio

This form of training aims to improve cardiovascular capacity and endurance, which in turn leads to better oxygen delivery to the muscles.

Additional benefits include:

  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Improved work capacity
  • Possibly better muscle recovery (“..the literature suggests that aerobic fitness enhances recovery from high intensity intermittent exercise through increased aerobic response, improved lactate removal and enhanced PCr regeneration.” Tomlin and Wenger, 2001)

Flexibility

Dedicated flexibility work improves the range of motion of joints and the flexibility of surrounding tissues (including muscles), allowing athletes to perform sport-specific activities safely.

It’s worth noting that more flexibility is not always better, as too much of it can hurt force production and stability. So, it’s best to personalize flexibility training based on unique needs.

Balance

Dedicated balance work improves athletes’ ability to maintain specific positions and remain stable during intense activities. It is particularly beneficial for older individuals at a higher risk of falls. 

It also improves proprioception (the ability to sense the body’s position and how it moves through space), which is highly beneficial for sports performance.

Additional benefits include:

  • Improved landing mechanics
  • Better performance in agility-based activities
  • Lower risk of falls

Core

Core training aims to develop the musculature that makes up the midsection. This includes the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, hip flexors, and pelvic floor muscles. 

Strengthening the core contributes to better balance, improves posture, and allows for more efficient force transfer, leading to better performance.

SAQ

SAQ, which stands for speed, agility, and quickness, is another important branch of integrated training. It’s tailored to the athlete’s needs and includes plenty of sport-specific drills.

Additional benefits include improved sport-specific skills, change in direction abilities, deceleration, acceleration, and reaction times.

Benefits of Integrated Training

1. Nothing Gets Overlooked

Athletes and everyday trainees sometimes become hyper-focused on one thing (such as building strength in a particular range of motion) and forget about other things that contribute to athleticism and fitness capacity.

While there’s nothing wrong with specificity, a more varied approach allows for more balanced development and ensures that athletes are better prepared to handle everything their sport requires. 

This contributes to lower injury risk and helps optimize athletic performance for various sports, including cricket, football, American football, rugby, and hockey.

2. Various Physiological Benefits

Combining various training styles into a single workout plan for athletes can have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, hormone balance, insulin sensitivity, and bone strength.

In addition to promoting longevity, a stronger cardiovascular system can promote recovery during and after training. 

Improved lung capacity can lead to better endurance, and healthy hormone levels can contribute to improved mood, well-being, muscle growth, blood sugar control, and adaptation to training.

3. Improved Body Composition

Integrated training is highly beneficial for supporting muscle growth and controlling body fat percentage, which is crucial for athletes. 

First, athletes expend more energy by performing a high volume of training, making it more difficult to create a large calorie surplus and gain unwanted weight. 

That said, some forms of exercise may lead to hunger and compensatory eating, as noted in a 2014 paper by Melanson et al.:

“..some individuals adopt compensatory behaviors, i.e. increased energy intake and/or reduced activity, that offset the exercise energy expenditure and limit weight loss.”

However, that shouldn’t be an issue for most trainees who do multiple types of training and monitor their calorie intake.

Second, by training hard enough at a high enough intensity, athletes can stimulate muscle growth, which increases their athletic potential.

FAQ

1. How is integrated training different from traditional methods?

Unlike traditional approaches focusing on one or two things (such as hybrid training), integrated training is more varied. Athletes work to develop strength, power, endurance, flexibility, balance, and agility simultaneously.

2. What are some common mistakes coaches make with integrated training?

Some of the most common errors to avoid when programming this type of training include assigning too much training volume, not scheduling enough recovery days, and not tailoring the workout plan to the athlete’s unique needs.

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