Welcome to part one of a six part series about applying the principles of exercise physiology to improve fitness and performance – both in sports and life.
Whether it’s designing a program for general fitness or developing a program for a specific sport, event or athlete, exercise scientists usually abide by six principles of conditioning. All of these principles have been scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance, provided they are applied correctly.
Let me introduce you to the first principle…
“The Principle of Individual Differences”
We are all born with a unique genetic blueprint and anatomical structure – thus there will be individual variations in response to a given exercise or training program. Thus, what ‘works’ well for one person may not be appropriate for another.
When general fitness guidelines are applied, most people do get fitter and stronger – however, what if you wish to take it one step further? This is where individualized fitness testing can really help. For example, it’s a worthwhile investment for a serious recreational or professional endurance athlete to know their VO2max or aerobic power index, tested on equipment that is specific to their sport. This way, a program can be tailored to individual need based on heart rate, anaerobic threshold etc.
Knowing body somatotype and looking at anatomical structure may help determine if an individual is built for strength and power sports or endurance events. Many elite athletes have been identified as potential talent in their chosen sport whilst still at school, thanks to talent identification programs that are run by institutes such as the AIS.
In the practice of yoga, knowing and understanding anatomical structure can help determine whether someone has the potential to be a good back bender or if it’s in fact possible for them to achieve a lotus pose. In other words, an understanding of individual differences in anatomical structure can help prevent potential injury in class.
Genetics play a role and it was possible a few years back to determine an athlete’s response to body fat metabolism, recovery, nutrition and preservation of lean muscle mass. I did the test in 2007 and used to perform analyses for others, but am not sure if the testing is still available in Australia. Some people need more time to recover than other people and age (sob!) is also a factor in determining recovery time.
Postural differences between individuals will also determine how an exercise program is prescribed. For example, many people have poorly developed posterior chains (the musculature along the back side of the body) due to poor posture and poor lifestyle practices – thus need more consideration than a “3 sets of 12, let’s work every body part on a machine” training approach. Individual differences in physique guarantee that most gym “machines” are next to useless.
Getting the most out of the “Principle of Individual Differences”
- It’s worthwhile investing in specific exercise testing for your sport if you’re keen on taking your performance to the next level
- Have a look back at your history – have you always been better at sprinting or working over longer distances? Do you gain muscle easily? If you cannot afford testing, history often gives clues as to what sport or activity you’re suited to.
- Have your posture checked out – wanting to run, but getting knee pain? Or getting frustrated that your back hurts when you try to squat? Often pain, particularly the chronic variety, is driven by posture-less-than-becoming. Of course, the correct technique is essential – but leaving that for another post.
- If you’re new to exercising and want to find a class or activity that suits you, it’s worthwhile getting someone in the know (eg exercise scientist or physiologist) to have a look at you – often looking at someone can be quite telling – as to whether they’ll enjoy hockey or distance running – on physical stature alone.
As you can see from the picture above, individual physical differences impact markedly on the sport you choose to play.
As for me, I’m a bit of an all rounder – I’m not particularly excellent at anything, but I’ll give anything a try and put in a reasonable effort.
What about you? Do you know what sport you’re made for?