Cardiovascular fitness is the number one component of your fitness regime. To play any sport, you'll need your heart and lungs to be able to pump oxygen-rich blood into your muscles to generate enough energy for movement.
Without great cardio endurance and strength, you’ll likely feel fatigued and lacking energy while playing a fast-paced, physically demanding match. Any game that requires you to stop and start movement over many hours (such as AFL, baseball, basketball) uses both your aerobic and anaerobic energy to help you perform at your best.
Those with excellent cardiovascular fitness will show fewer signs of flagging, have less injuries due to their inability to maintain correct posture and are more able to cope with heat when playing outdoors when the mercury rises, too.
Research shows hockey players (on the ice and the field) must also develop their anaerobic and aerobic fitness to succeed. According to a study by the United States Olympic Training Centre, hockey’s constant pace, long periods of physical activity, fewer players and frequent bursts of power means those with poor cardiovascular endurance will deplete their glycogen stores faster and experience faster lactic acid effects, hindering their performance.
Games that depend on running require even greater cardio fitness to keep up that pace and perform at your utmost. In soccer, the average player runs almost six kilometres per game depending on the position they play. But that pales in comparison with Australian Football League players, who run an average of ten to fifteen kilometres per match, interspersed with high-intensity leaping, diving, kicking, tackling and handballing. There’s no wonder then that AFL (along with boxing, hockey and rowing) regularly makes top five lists of the most gruelling sports in the world.
How to develop your cardio fitness.
Only by maintaining your cardiovascular endurance can you keep up with competitors and optimise your playing potential. Here’s how:
- Build up your endurance slowly. Start with low-intensity cardio sessions on a treadmill or bike for longer durations. After a few weeks, begin incorporating sprints into your workout to boost your fitness further.
- Engage in HIIT training. If you want the cardio fitness of an Australian Rules footballer, add interval sessions to your endurance training. Intersperse fast running sprints with slower jogging to mimic the mix of high intensity and moderate intensity of being on the footy field. Try doing two sets of forty-metre sprints (x8) with a short 30-second rest between each to minimise injury. You can then build this up to two sets of eighty-metre sprints (x10) with 15 second rests in between sprints.
- Cross train. Consistently training at a high intensity makes it harder for your body to recover, so mix it up a little with swimming, cycling, boxing or aerobics every second or third day.
- Try adding kettlebells to your routine. Unlike dumbbells or barbells, kettlebells let you work on your cardio as well as your strength. Tailored to high-intensity movements, you can use them with squats, swings and high pulls. Targeting a full range of muscles makes it easier to cope with quick speed, explosive action on the field.