Fitness Training vs. Sports Training and Connective Tissue Health

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Muscle does one thing, contract.  A muscle’s performance, or ability to contract against resistance, develops in response to applied stress.  The sole purpose of a pure fitness training program is to apply stress to striated muscle tissue (skeletal and cardiac), forcing it to contract.  Any goal other than that is no longer fitness training but has become some other type of training.

To excel in sport, athletes must train many different attributes including balance, coordination, accuracy, and movements specific to their sport.    Remember that fitness is “the capability of the body of distributing inhaled oxygen to muscle tissue during increased physical effort”.  Pure fitness has nothing to do with how coordinated or skilled an athlete has become at performing a particular movement.

The goal of sports training is the performance of a specific movement.  Muscles are used to meet the goal of making the movement.  The goal of fitness training is to stress muscle tissue, causing it to develop.  Movements are used to meet the goal of stressing the muscle.  Each type of training naturally causes some effects from the other, but the goals are absolutely different.  Most people do not understand the difference clearly, causing them to train ineffectively or sustain injury.

Getting injured is a natural part of sports training because making the required movement involves intentionally using momentum, rebound, and sudden accelerations that produce tremendous peak forces in the cartilage, tendon, and ligament tissues.  One time major injuries to connective tissue health occur during sports competition or intense training sessions and are usually recognized by the athlete and coach right at the moment.  Not recognized as it occurs is the repetitive overloading of cartilage, tendon, and ligament caused during daily sports training when additional high forces are used to make certain movements that cannot be performed through controlled muscle contraction alone. The consequence of this repetitive overloading is not revealed until later in life as accelerated osteoarthritis or tendinosis.

In pure fitness training, the priority is simply on developing the muscle’s ability to perform contraction.  No fitness participant should ever sustain an injury during a controlled series of physiologic normal muscle contractions that do not overload cartilage, tendon, or ligament. Connective Tissue Health Only when priority is placed on making a certain movement and the athlete introduces momentum, rebound, and acceleration, do the connective tissues become overloaded and injured.  All of these connective tissues are ‘viscoelastic’ which means that the amount of ‘strain’ they experience as a result of ‘stress’ applied to them is dependent on the timing of force application.  Sudden or shocking application of force is far more apt to cause injury than properly controlled movements.  This will be the subject of the next article.

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