So you want to be good at sports? Or maybe even life for the matter? Are you stuck in a physical rut and not sure why you're not getting better? Maybe you have a certain goal that you've been working toward but still can't seem to hit?
Maximizing performance can be a tricky game. There's so many different factors, both physical and mental, that can lead to great or poor performance. Having had the opportunity to watch a large variety of sporting events, and the opportunity to talk with a number of strength coaches, here's the training hierarchy to optimizing performance for almost any physical goal:
1. Prioritize Your Movement
If there is one thing elite athletes and the true performers do best, they move very well. They focus on mobility and recovery. Yes it's possible to squat with your feet turned out and knees touching each other. It hurts like heck, you definitely won't squat 500lbs that way, and you for sure won't be injury free for even a short while, but it is possible. The thing you need to do to have this base is to do your research, working to figure out the proper way to move, and then constantly and persistently pursue perfect movement quality. This will help create longevity in your training toward your goal, and get the most out of every exercise you do.
2. Exercise Selection
If your goal is to dunk a basketball, doing copious amounts of leg curls and leg extensions is going to get you there about as fast as only practicing jump shots. You have to pick the exercises that are going to translate to your goal. If you want to be quick and agile, you should be emphasizing explosive movements and plyometrics. If you want to get really strong, you should be doing a lot of heavy lifting with a focus on pulling, squatting, and pressing. The one goal that can get a little tricky to pick exercises for, is a general physical preparedness goal. And if that's the case, I honestly do promote a CrossFit routine or workout that only has one condition: don't "cherry pick(1)" workouts (CrossFitters, you know what I'm talking about).
3. Push Yourself
I work with a high school team right now as an assistant coach, with my main priorities being the strength and conditioning program. Because of the weird schedules that you end up keeping as a personal trainer, I only get a little bit of in person coaching with the athletes. When working in person with them, I found out that they had been counting all of their sets as working sets. Essentially, if they were supposed to do 3 sets of 10, they counted the warm-up with the bar as a set, and ended on a set that still should have been a warm-up. This lack of push, lead to minimal strength and size gains. My point is, you're going to have to struggle. If you're supposed to 5 reps on the bench, that 5th rep of your last set should have your spotter ready to assist. It shouldn't be easy. (CrossFitters, this isn't to say that you shouldn't scale a workout, as being able to do quality reps is still important).
These three things are emphasized in your training, in the order listed, I can tell you with full confidence that your goal is going to be reachable in a much quicker and sustainable way.
1Cherry pick: to choose workouts and exercises that play to your strengths, avoiding the ones you don't like to do, and shaping your gym schedule and availability to avoid doing those workouts