Sports Performance: Maximising Athletic Potential within the Gym

Written By: Abhishek Behl (Accredited Exercise Scientist)

In this article, we delve into the pivotal sports within Australia, namely Soccer, Cricket, Tennis, AFL, Golf, and Basketball, analysing how gym and strength training can elevate performance.


Throughout, we’ll explore the concept of ‘agonist’ muscles, which are the primary drivers of specific movements or actions. In the context of sports, these muscles are responsible for generating force and facilitating movement during gameplay.

Within this article we will be focusing on the sports mentioned above and go through each individually and focus on key movement patterns and muscle groups to be emphasised when in a gym setting.

Understanding key joint actions in sports is crucial for enhancing athletic performance and preventing injuries. Joint actions such as flexion (bending), extension (straightening), abduction (moving away from the body), adduction (moving towards the body) and rotation (turning) (Gottlieb, 1988) play vital roles in executing movements like kicking, serving, bowling, dribbling, swinging, shooting and jumping across sports like Australian Rules Football (AFL), tennis, cricket, soccer, golf and basketball. Strengthening muscles involved in these actions through tailored training programs improves strength, flexibility and agility, leading to better athletic and sporting performance.

Australian Rules Football (AFL)

AFL demands varied joint movements, such as hip extension during kicking, which are enhanced by exercises like squats and deadlifts to increase power and strength.

Additionally, rotational movements are crucial for evading opponents, engaging muscles of the core. These movements, improved by exercises like wood chops and Russian twists, enhance agility and manoeuvrability. During marking, jumping and reaching necessitate lower body strength and core stability, which are improved through exercises like planks, hollow holds, and Russian twists (Hrysomallis, 2011; Woods et al., 2008).

By incorporating these exercises, players can develop the necessary strength, power, and stability to excel in all aspects of the game, from kicking to evading tackles.


In tennis, shoulder internal rotation during serving and hip rotation during groundstrokes are crucial for generating power and accuracy in shots (Kovacs, 2007). During the serve, the shoulder internally rotates as the racket is brought back and then swung forward, generating speed and spin on the ball. Similarly, hip rotation during groundstrokes allows players to transfer energy from the lower body to the upper body, resulting in powerful shots.

Exercises like cable rotations and medicine ball throws target these muscle groups, enhancing their strength and power for more forceful and accurate strokes.

Additionally, shoulder stability exercises like external rotations help prevent overuse injuries by strengthening the rotator cuff muscles and improving joint stability (Kovacs, 2007). Big arms do not necessarily mean more powerful strokes – utilisation of the hips and glutes is pivotal in the generation of shots through core stability via improving movement patterns through strength training.


Cricket involves shoulder abduction during bowling and hip extension during batting, both of which require strength and power from specific muscle groups (Portus et al., 2000).

During bowling, the shoulder abducts as the bowler swings their arm forward to release the ball, generating speed and spin. In batting, hip extension occurs as the batsman rotates their hips and transfers weight onto the front foot to generate power and control.

Exercises like bench presses and squats target these muscle groups, improving their strength and power for more effective bowling and batting performances. Additionally, exercises focusing on shoulder and core stability, such as shoulder external rotations and planks, help reduce the risk of injuries associated with the repetitive motions in cricket, while also enhancing overall performance (Portus et al., 2000).


Soccer demands a combination of lower body movements, including hip flexion during kicking and knee flexion during dribbling, which are essential for executing skills with precision and speed (Reilly et al., 2000; Hoshikawa et al., 2016).

During kicking, the hip flexes as the leg swings forward to make contact with the ball, generating power and accuracy in the shot. Similarly, knee flexion is crucial for maintaining control of the ball while dribbling and changing direction quickly.

Exercises like squats, hip thrusts and lunges target the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, enhancing their strength and power for more forceful kicks and rapid changes in direction. Plyometric exercises like box jumps and lateral bounds improve explosive power and agility, critical for outmanoeuvring opponents on the field.
Additionally, core stability exercises like planks aid in maintaining balance and stability during dynamic movements, reducing the risk of injury and improving overall performance (Reilly et al., 2000; Hoshikawa et al., 2016).


Golf demands precise joint movements, such as shoulder abduction during the backswing and wrist flexion during impact, which are essential for achieving distance and accuracy in shots (Fradkin et al., 2004). During the backswing, the shoulder abducts as the club is brought back, storing potential energy that is released during the downswing.

Wrist flexion occurs at impact as the club head strikes the ball, transferring energy from the club to the ball. Exercises like shoulder presses and wrist curls target these muscle groups, improving their strength and endurance for more controlled and powerful swings.

Additionally, core stability exercises and flexibility exercises targeting the shoulders, wrists, and trunk contribute to a more fluid and efficient swing motion, essential for consistent performance on the course (Fradkin et al., 2004).


In basketball, shoulder abduction during shooting and knee flexion during jumping are vital for executing skills like shooting and rebounding (Gourgoulis et al., 2003; Komi, 2000).

During shooting, the shoulder abducts as the arm is raised to release the ball, while knee flexion occurs during jumping to generate height and power for rebounds and shots. Exercises like squats and calf raises target these muscle groups, enhancing their strength and power for more accurate shooting and explosive movements on the court.

Plyometric exercises like depth jumps and lateral bounds further improve reactive strength and agility, critical for quick changes in direction and effective defence. Additionally, core stability exercises aid in maintaining balance and stability during dynamic movements, reducing the risk of injury and improving overall performance (Gourgoulis et al., 2003; Komi, 2000).

A key point to note that if you’re new to a gym setting and overall strength training, it’s important to know that there are regressions to get to the big compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench press etc). We here are Inspire Fitness will help that transition, whether you are new or are experience we are more than happy to accommodate you, your needs and your goals!


Fradkin, A. J., Sherman, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2004). Improving golf performance with a warm up conditioning programme. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(6), 762-765.

Gottlieb, G. L. (1988). Joint actions in sports: Flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and rotation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 6(3), 293-308.

Gourgoulis, V., Aggeloussis, N., Kasimatis, P., Mavromatis, G., & Garas, A. (2003). Effect of a submaximal half-squat warm-up program on vertical jumping ability. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(2), 342-344.

Hoshikawa, Y., Muramatsu, M., & Iida, T. (2016). Effects of hip flexor stretching on sprint and vertical jump performances. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1349-1356.

Komi, P. V. (2000). Stretch-shortening cycle: A powerful model to study normal and fatigued muscle. Journal of Biomechanics, 33(10), 1197-1206.

Kovacs, M. S. (2007). Applied physiology of tennis performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(11), 733-738.

Portus, M. R., Rosemond, D., & Rath, D. (2000). Development of a cricket skill test battery. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 40(3), 213-219.

Reilly, T., Bangsbo, J., & Franks, A. (2000). Anthropometric and physiological predispositions for elite soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18(9), 669-683.

Woods, C. T., Robertson, S., Collier, N., & Alderson, J. A. (2008). An Australian Football League model for the testing of skill. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(11), 1171-1177.