Performance coach aims to make you stronger, faster and fitter

Working with a professional to identify and correct imbalances will ensure you perform at your best for years to come, writes Rachel Jacqueline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:45am

If you fancy yourself as an athlete, have you ever wondered what you could achieve if you pushed yourself? That's the question Tom Summers aims to answer for performance junkies.

Using his experience of training Olympic athletes and professionals, the British-qualified strength and conditioning coach has turned his hand to the issues of everyday athletes at Pinnacle Performance in Wan Chai, a development facility that claims to rival elite sports institutes.

Unlike personal trainers who aim to make you fit and toned, a strength and conditioning coach has "performance output in mind", Summers explains.

"A strength and conditioning coach is looking for 'adaptation'. That is, we are looking to make you stronger, faster and fitter for your chosen athletic pursuit," Summers says.

An athlete can't perform at maximum intensity every minute of every day, and the successful ones identify this
tom summers, strength coach at pinnacle performance 

Adaptation is achieved through a deliberate balance of "overloading" and "de-loading" using a carefully structured programme, to allow the body to adapt to training, says Summers. "You can't get stronger, more powerful or quicker in a day - it's a process."

Here are five elements Summers recommends that every athlete, no matter their goal, should incorporate into their training schedule.



It's no secret that athletes need to be strong, but have you ever wondered why strength is so critical for performance? It's easy to understand why a rugby player should be strong enough to take knocks and keep on playing. But the role of strength in endurance running is less understood.

"[A runner] doesn't need the same level of strength as a rugby player, that would weigh them down," Summers says. "But the stronger they are within their own physical framework, the more they can push off and strive to take those extra few centimetres per stride," he says.

Summers says that strength is all about building efficiency within movement - being better at what you do in each individual movement. An added benefit is that a stronger body will make you less susceptible to injury.

While the choice of exercise to build strength depends on specific needs, Summers recommends including a variety of multijoint "compound" movements, such as squats, pushes and pulls, into sessions.

A critical muscle to develop for performance is the "core", the deep band of muscles that runs between your shoulders and knees and makes up your "trunk".



Mobility is your body's ability to move within its environment. It is not simply the flexibility of your muscles, but the movement of muscles and tendons around the joints.

If you're stuck in an office chair all day and feel as mobile as a tin man, it's not all doom and gloom. Mobility can be achieved by simply moving more, particularly when exercising. "When you're doing an exercise, do it through its full range of movement," urges Summers. "If you're doing a squat, don't go too heavy [by adding too much weight]. This will restrict your movement."

Static stretching at the end of training will assist in the isolated lengthening of that muscle group. But complete mobility through the full range of each joint, and dynamic rehearsal of any subsequent sporting action (such as a body weight lunge before running), will achieve the best results for injury prevention and preparation.

"Both local mobility around a joint, and global mobility of the body moving within its space, are key to injury prevention, efficient unrestricted movement and reputable technique," Summers says.


Energy system efficiency

High-performance athletes use energy efficiently in the context of their sport. "An ironman has to be aerobically able to produce energy for eight to 17 hours, while a sprinter has to produce energy for 9½ to 10 seconds," Summers notes.

Energy efficiency is achieved through training at an intensity and for a duration appropriate to build adaptation in your chosen undertaking. So while a personal trainer may make you "fit", a strength and conditioning coach will make you more efficient through structured training runs, swims or bike sets, or on-field simulations.

"Every sport needs the ability to produce energy. The more efficiently you can do that, you can go for longer and perform better," Summers says.


Regeneration and rest

Regeneration and rest is the "forgotten element in all training programmes", and may be the reason you're not performing at your peak, says Summers.

"An athlete can't perform at maximum intensity every minute of every day, and the successful ones identify this."

Summers encourages rest periods and rest days. Rather than focusing on a strict policy of "one day of rest a week", rest days should follow hard sessions, or alternate with lighter sessions: "Your body only adapts to stress and load when it stops."

Sleep is the essential, short-term regeneration phase. Summers encourages athletes to incorporate lighter "de-loading" weeks, and breaks of a week or two throughout the year (known as "periodisation" of training).


Technique and repeatability

Strength and conditioning coaches want you to keep going step by step, week by week and year by year. If you're unaligned, weak or injured, you won't be able to repeat a sporting movement, which ultimately affects performance.

"Training today often says that as long as the [desired] outcome happens, it doesn't matter how you get there. I worry about that, as it's breaking people," he says. "No one should get injured doing an exercise. Injury should only occur if they are doing it wrong."

Similarly, if you train through an injury, it's a ticking time bomb. "Don't plaster over a crack: identify it, develop it and remove the weakness," says Summers.


Power exercises

Split-stance lunge
Almost all sports are performed asymmetrically, so training must reflect this demand. In a split stance, perform a lunge - bringing your knee to the floor to ensure full range of motion without compromising front-knee or trunk positions.

Box-jump (far left)
Progressing from the controlled strength development in the split-stance lunge, move a full-body explosive box-jump. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, at a comfortable distance from a box at a challenging height. Drop quickly into a quarter squat, then extend your hips, swing your arms, and push your feet into the floor to propel yourself onto the box. Land softly and step off the box back to the floor.

Pull-up (right)
This is a true measure of upper-body strength, with use of trunk and abdominal muscles. Move slowly and in control. A wider grip will develop more back strength and avoid shoulders "sinking".

Traditional push-ups are the anywhere, any time upper-body pushing exercise. Try with different hand width positions, one hand on a box or even both hands in a TRX suspension trainer, or rings, to vary the muscles activated. Ensure strong shoulders and push by engaging your trunk, and with contracted hip muscles, to prevent "sagging".