Preparation Considerations- Combat Sports

Combat sports represent a wide-ranging set of activities where success is dependent upon general preparation and skill development specific to the demands of energy system development, strength and power development, and skill development of a given discipline. One needs to consider these variables when designing the training regimen based upon what a given discipline calls for. These demands can vary greatly within a discipline, for example, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), or can be more focused in disciplines such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing. The purpose of this post will be to examine the general structure of training for combat sport disciplines, while simultaneously discussing some of the misdirected efforts which hinder the preparation process.

Energy System Considerations

Probably one of the most common misdirected efforts in the training of most combat athletes involves the overuse of lactic energy system development (Smith, nd). For many combat disciplines, this results in repeated efforts of low quality, which in the end does not support what should be the end result of the preparation efforts. Smith (2013) stated that, “Fights consist of the generation of high quality outputs repeatedly.” Lactic-based energy system training does not provide the high quality output needed for many of the skills involved in training combat athletes, particularly those involved in striking or short contact disciplines.

It is well-known that many combat/martial art facilities implore lactic-based efforts due to the fact that they make people feel they are “training hard”.  They increase the intensity and volume of their “cardio” in an effort to enhance their conditioning levels, at the expense of the outputs required for activities such as striking.  This is done through the inappropriate application of equipment such as battle ropes (which can be used in the general preparation of fighters, but are usually applied wrong) and through misdirected activities such as rapid punching activities (punching with low power for greater than 20 seconds making the arms feel heavy or have a “pump”).

Another misuse of training time for combat sports involves the use of long-duration runs or “road work” to enhance conditioning.  While this is a time honored tradition in the development of fighters, it does not provide an optimal medium for the development of the oxidative system as needed for combat sports. Various other modes of training exist that can address the oxidative requirement for fighting at a much higher output and much lesser structural cost that long distance running.

Lack of Explosive Power Development

This area of training usually goes hand in hand with what was described above.  Due to the emphasis on the “cardio” or “conditioning” done by many participating in combat sports, there is a lack of emphasis on the force-velocity characteristics of movement during various skills in fighting.  Skill elements in fighting (in particular, striking skills) require explosive power development, which can only be enhanced by high quality efforts.  This requires appropriate application of work:rest ratios that allow for appropriate recovery between work bouts (See: Development of the Alactic System).  Jumps, medicine ball throws, and short sprints with full effort and appropriate rest durations will assist in developing necessary traits for fighting.

Organizing training weeks:  The High/Low System

The late Charlie Francis, a former track and field coach from Canada, designed training around a high/low construct based on individual training modes influence on the central nervous system (CNS).  The use of this system involves alternating training days of high and low CNS stress in order to allow for appropriate recover and long-term athletic development.  While having a low day may not suit well with the athletes or their coaches, in the end the cumulative effects of this form of training will result in the most optimal results, due to the fact that the athletes are able to sustain maximal outputs on their high days without residual fatigue from previous training sessions.  I would recommend readings on this structure of training from the works of Charlie Francis (Francis, 2012).

While much of what is done during the preparation of fighters is done with the intent of working hard to achieve success, much can be done in this area to create a optimal environment for training to truly match the required demands of a fight.  Athletes of lower preparation should not concern themselves with what is done by high-level fighters, and should build an appropriate base of training and work towards appropriate energy system development and outputs based on force-velocity demands of the discipline they participate in.  High/low sequencing should be considered, along with examining drills and exercises to make sure they are allowing athletes to develop the necessary traits for their competition.

References

Smith, J.  (2014).  MMA Preparatory Considerationshttp://www.globalsportconcepts.net.

Francis, C.  (2012).  The Charlie Francis Training System.  Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

Strength Development for Sports

In the preparation for athletic competition, there are many training modes one must undertake in order to achieve success.  The focus of this post is going to examine the place for strength training in the development of an athlete.  Individuals who participate in sporting activity should include strength development through resistance training during their training as a means of general preparation.  Although the application of principles will vary for athletes depending on their sport, all athletes can benefit from a well-planned strength training program being included in their training regimen.

The strength component of a training plan is one area where many misconceptions are present.  Many individuals either overemphasize the importance of strength, while others de-emphasize the importance or limit the modes by which strength is acquired.  It is very popular for coaches to fall into traps and thinking that one mode of strength building (i.e. bodyweight training, kettlebell training) can be the solution to all training problems.  While all methods of strength development can be components of athletic development, the systematic application of these methods is what will allow for optimal strength development in athletes.

Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006) outline three methods of strength development (or four if you consider the subtype of one of them a separate method).  These methods are classified as the following:

Maximal Effort Method- This method is performed to reduce inhibition in the nervous system (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006), and involves training at intensities of approximately >90% of a 1 repetition maximum (RM).  This will also involve lower repetitions being performed in a set (usually less than 5, however in dealing with smaller accessory exercises can possibly be as high as 8).  Typically this exercise is carried out with larger multijoint exercises (i.e. squat variations, bench press, power clean, etc).

Repeated Effort Method- The repeated effort method involves performing a high number or repetitions until failure;  this method is utilized to stimulate muscle hypertrophy (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006).  A subtype of this method is the submaximal effort, which is based on the same concept with the difference being the number of repetitions performed during the exercise.  The repeated effort methods involves repetitions higher than eight, while the submaximal effort method involves repetitions in the 5-8 range without taking individual sets to failure.

Dynamic Effort Method-  The goal with this method is to increase the rate of force development (Zatsiorky and Kraemer, 2006).  For athletes, this can assist in the development of explosive strength necessary in physical development.  This technique involves fast movement applied against moderate resistance (40-75% 1 RM).

All of these methods may be applied throughout an athlete’s training.  The proportion of time spent on each area of strength development will depend on the goals of the athlete, coupled with the training experience of an athlete.  Coaches and trainers will sometimes exclude a method due to misconceptions associated with it; for example, not performing maximal effort method because of concerns of developing too much muscle growth or “getting bulky” (which is not an adaptation caused by using this method of strength development).  There are certainly times in the development of an athlete in certain sports activities where methods will not yield as great a result.  This is usually the case of very high level or elite athletes, whereas athletes of lower level classifications (based on age and level of ability) can benefit from a variety of methods.  What is of the utmost importance is to understand the athlete’s training experience, along with the overall goals the athlete is attempting to achieve.

Recommended readings:

Zatsiorsky, V.M. & Kraemer, W.J.  (2006).  Science and practice of strength training.  Champaign: Human Kinetics.

The Use of Power Speed Drills in Sport

Exercises to improve speed development are utilized in various sporting endeavors to improve performance. Smith (2014) states that power speed drills are typically utilized by track & field athletes to parallel the kinematic actions of the sprint action. These drills should be implemented based on the goals the individual is trying to achieve. This can include, but not be limited to the following (Lee, 2012; Smith 2014; Francis 2012):
1. Improved sprint mechanics
2. Warm-up
3. Aerobic Training (Utilizing extensive tempo approach)

Some of the more notable power speed drills are the A-B-C series.  This series consists of marching, skipping, and running drills for each variation (i.e. A march, A skip, A run, etc).  These drills are commonly used as warm-up drills, but can also be included into the speed portion of the training based on the intensity of the drills.  They should also be instituted early in the rehabilitation of hamstring injuries (A drills early on, with B drills only included later in the process if tolerated and performed appropriately by the athlete).  Various other drills can be included in the category of power speed as well, including:

Various single/double leg hops/Bounding drills

Backwards Runs

Lateral Shuffles/Carioca

Lateral skips

Modified Glute Kicks (Note:  I prefer Glute Kicks with added hip flexion rather than just performing rapid knee flexion)

Walking Hip External & Internal rotation with hip abduction an adduction (both with knee flexed and extended)

Lateral straight Leg Kicks

Front straight leg kicks

Stiff Leg Bounds

Ankling Drills

Athletes looking to improve their abilities as they relate to speed should consider utilizing these drills through their various modes of training.  These drills may also be used as a part of the rehabilitation process (a post on this topic will come at a later date).

Special Acknowledgement:

In the references and recommended readings I have cited James Smith’s work “Applied Sprint Training”.  I would HIGHLY suggest to anyone in the strength & conditioning or sports medicine fields (or if you are in both) to purchase this work.  This is by far one of the best resources on speed development, with information that applies to both track & field and non-track athletes.  This coupled with the multiple works by Charlie Francis can make for a great reference library on the topic of speed development

The manual can be purchased here: http://www.athleteconsulting.net/

References & Recommended Readings:

Francis, Charlie.  (2008).  The Structure of Training for Speed.  CharlieFrancis.com.

Lee, Jimson.  Sprint drills:  Gerard Mach revisited.  [Online] October 19, 2012.  [Cited Mar 16, 2014.]  http://speedendurance.com/2012/10/19/sprint-drills-gerard-mach-revisited/.

Smith, James.  (2014).  Applied Sprint Training.  AthleteConsulting.net.

Development of the Alactic System Part IV- Alactic Capacity Application

During a previous post on alactic capacity, I described the background behind developing this physical quality. In this post I will give a general training example that can be applied in order to train alactic capacity. In the example, I will be using hill sprints. Keep in mind, you don’t have to run in order to improve alactic capacity; jumps may be used as well. When using a hill in this manner, it should be a hill that allows for good running form (the hill shouldn’t be too steep). For many, hill running can be a good way to develop acceleration ability (see Charlie Francis GPP DVD available at www.charliefrancis.com).

wk1- 30 yrds X 5 (rest 45 seconds between reps) Rest 2 minutes, repeat series

wk2- 30 yds X6 (rest 45 seconds between reps) Rest 2 minutes, repeat

wk3- 30 ydsX7 (rest 45 seconds between reps) Rest 2 minutes, repeat

wk4- 30 yds X 5 (rest 30 seconds between reps) Rest 2 minutes, repeat

This training block can be applied to many sports including:

*Football (skill positions; i.e. wide receivers, running backs, defensive backs)
*Basketball
*Field Hockey
*Combat Sports
*Lacrosse
*Soccer

As I stated before, the designed 4 week block is a general application. An individual would have to have a certain fitness level in order to utilize the distances and rest periods listed. Someone with a lower level of conditioning would either have to increase the rest periods (between sets and series) or decrease the running distance (from 30-20 yards).

Development of the Alactic System Part III- Alactic Capacity

In a previous post, the development of alactic power was discussed.  In most athletic contests, athletes need to not only be explosive and powerful, but they also need to sustain that power over the course on an entire contest.   In order to develop this quality, appropriate programming to develop capacity of the alactic system will enable an athlete to compete with speed and power repeatedly for the duration of a contest; Verkhoshansky & Verkhoshansky (2011) defines power and capacity in this manner:

Capacity- the total quantity of producing energy

Power- the quantity of energy produced in the time unit

Improving the capacity (or conditioning) of the alactic system requires that short duration efforts greater than 95% intensity (<8 seconds) are repeated in multiple bouts.  An important component of this type of training is to keep an individual below their anaerobic threshold; the athlete should not begin to utilize the lactic system due to the intensity zone utilized being too slow for speed development (Francis, 2008).  Keeping the athlete below anaerobic threshold with efforts greater than 95% with appropriate rest intervals means the speed and power of the effort will be maintained for the duration of the session.

This type of conditioning can be performed with both jumps and sprints.  The key is to have a high intensity effort as described previously, with a rest interval of 10-60 seconds (Morris & Williams, 2013; Verkhoshansky & Verkhoshansky, 2011).  Many times coaches implement more lactic-based conditioning in an effort to help with maintaining an athlete’s speed for a contest.  The inherent problem with this is that the speed of the effort in this type of training begins to drop as efforts are repeated; an athlete actually ends up training to maintain a slower speed.  Sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, some combat disciplines, and lacrosse are sports that primarily utilize both the aerobic and alactic systems to fuel their efforts, and should not be incorporating large volumes of lactic-based conditioning into their off-season or in-season protocols.  In a future post some examples of alactic capacity training will be outlined.

References & Recommended Readings

Verkhoshansky, Y., Verkhoshansky, N.  2011.  Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches.  Verkhoshansky SSTM.  Rome, Italy.

Francis, C.  2008.  The Structure of Training for Speed.  CharlieFrancis.com

Morris, B, Williams, R.  2013.  American Football Physical Preparation:  How to Optimally Prepare for Your Best Season Ever.  Ebook available at elitefts.com.

Development of the Alactic System II- Alactic Power

In the previous post, there was some background provided on the topic of training  the alactic system. It is recommended that you read that post, along with some of the other posts that are linked to that post if you are unfamiliar with the basics of this topic. This post will apply the information to how to develop power of the alactic system, which is important in any sport where the training speed and power elements is necessary in an athlete’s physical development.

Before getting into developing power of the alactic system, one needs to look at the difference between developing the capacity a systems versus power. Verkhoshansky (2011, pg 164) defined power and capacity as:

Power- the quantity of energy produced in a time unit
Capacity- total quantity of energy produced

So simply put, power looks at the rate in which one produces energy. This is an area of neglect by sport coaches by virtue of the “conditioning” that gets implemented both during the in-season and, by virtue of what the athletes get exposed to in-season, what the athletes either look to focus on with their off-season training (if not given any guidance, or by what the sport coach tells them to do).  Reproducing an effort time and time again means nothing if the individual efforts don’t achieve the necessary production (for example, producing enough force).  Therefore, it is necessary to address this area of preparation by producing maximal efforts with appropriate rest periods and volumes of work to achieve this goal.

This now comes back to speed and power development for athletes.  The following is an example of a sprinting protocol that could be utilized to improve speed/power in an athlete:

Set 1

3 X 10 yard sprints ( 1 minute rest between reps) Rest 3 minutes

Set 2

2 X 20 yard sprints (2 minute rest between reps)

This is a basic example that can be used to address speed for cyclic athletes, or can be used as a general means of improving force production for some athletes whose sport or activity does not involve linear running.  Over the course of a few weeks, sprints can be added to the overall volume (the key would be to make sure that speed does not drop off with later repetitions).  Addressing this type of preparation may also be performed through other means as well (i.e. jump training).  It is important that individuals in athletic endeavors appropriately address physical preparation though means most important for their sport.  Addressing this aspect of training is very important to sports where power development is necessary to enhance performance.

References & Recommended Readings

Verkshoshansky, Y.  Verkhoshansky, N.  (2011).  Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches.  Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky SSTM.

Development of the Alactic System

Training for sport and recent general fitness trends has placed a great emphasis on high-intensity conditioning focusing on the glycolytic system.  This intermediate energy system training typically involves medium duration work bouts (20-60 seconds) with incomplete recoveries (work periods may be shorter based on recovery periods and still quality for this type of training).  Training in this manner accumulates a great deal of fatigue, and while it may have its place in training, it is not warranted in training all athletes, or in the training of individuals interested in general fitness.

In a past post I wrote briefly on the three energy systems, and gave examples of how a properly developed aerobic system (not trained through slow, long-duration efforts) can go a long way in many athletic endeavors (also see post for combat athletes here).  Athletes in many sports have an alactic system that is not developed due to overemphasis on long-duration aerobic training, and glycolytic training utilized by most sport coaches.  Many times athletes in sports such as football, basketball, field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse, spend too much time and emphasis in training (particularly during in-season)  on running drills that emphasize activity carried out in this fashion.  Examples of lactic based conditioning sessions include the 300 yard shuttle in football, and 17’s and suicides in basketball.  This not only limits an athlete’s speed potential, but also causes a shift in how energy is used to display efforts during activity.

Sprinting for speed development should be the focus in the training of most team sport athletes (Smith, 2006).  Proper attention should be placed on both the development of acceleration and top speed acquisition.  It is important when doing this that both sprint mechanics are addressed, and that proper work:rest ratios are utilized in speed development.  Emphasis on speed development (alactic power) should focus on the quality and not the quantity of work; too many times training for speed ends up becoming a metabolic conditioning session (and typically becomes glycolytic).  Training in this manner is not only stressful, but ends up occurring at speeds too slow for true speed development (Francis, 1992).

Emphasizing alactic power development via sprints for non-track athletes can have a significant impact on their performance.  A follow-up post will give examples of how this concept can be applied in training.

References

Smith, James.  Speed Training Considerations for Non-Track Athletes: The Development of Speed Throughout the Annual Plan.  2006.

Francis, Charlie.  The Charlie Francis Training System.  Kindle Edition.  2012.

Training the Hamstrings: Sprint Drills & Technique

The first post on training the hamstrings focused on the strength training aspect.  While it is very important for athletes to achieve an optimal level of strength for their sport, this aspect of training alone is not a guarantee for success.  Athletes need to train other aspects of physical preparation in order to match the demands of their chosen athletic endeavor.  Proper sprint training is a key component to success in many sports; this is even true of sports where sprinting may not be performed much at all (post on elitefts.com by well-respected coach of physical preparation Buddy Morris when discussing training volleyball players).  Clicking on the post will get into some of the information that we are going to discuss on sprint training in this post and others, along with having some other interesting points as well.

One way to work on sprinting technique is through a series of drills designed by Polish track & field coach Gerard Mach.  These drills represent various parts of the sprints, and can be used to improve upon sprint technique or address general athleticism.   This group of drills that Mach used was known as the “ABC” series.  In a post by Lee (2012), the drills were described as working on the  following components the sprint:

A: Knee lift

B: Foreleg reaching and clawing action

C: Push-off and extension

These drills can commonly be utilized in a warm-up, or they can be included into the main portion of training as a component of an athlete’s speed work.  All of the drills can be broken down into marching, skipping, and running motions, as a progression throughout a training program (i.e. A march, A skip, A run, etc.).  If utilized over short distance, the drills are deemed “power speed” drills; when utilized for longer distances, they are considered “strength endurance” (Lee, 2012).

It is important that drills are performed with proper form.  Regardless of the application (i.e. performed in a warm-up or used as a strength endurance activity), anytime form breaks down the drill needs to be stopped.  Correct use of these drills can help in improving sprint form, along with helping to prevent hamstring strains while sprinting.

Sources:

Lee, Jimson.  Sprint drills:  Gerard Mach revisited.  [Online] October 19, 2012.  [Cited December 12, 2012.]  http://speedendurance.com/2012/10/19/sprint-drills-gerard-mach-revisited/.

 

Training for the Hamstrings: Strengthening Using Hip Extension

The hamstrings represent a muscle group that receives a great deal of attention due to how commonly they are strained and their impact on sports performance.  Questions arise as to the most optimal way to train the hamstrings, particularly as it relates to training for sports performance and injury prevention.  Understanding the basics as to how the hamstrings function is vital in attempting to determine what are the best ways to train them.  The hamstrings are a bi-articular (two-joint)  muscle group responsible for extension of the hip and flexion of the knee.  Athletic events that involve either sprinting or dynamic movements throughout a large range of motion (i.e. martial arts, dancing) place high demands on the hamstring muscle group.  This post will be the first part on a series of posts that will examine the function of the hamstrings and how to train them for sport.  Each post will focus on different aspects of training for the hamstrings, examining different modes of training and their importance for performance and injury prevention.  This focus of this post will be on strength training for the hamstrings.

Strength training is an important component to the general physical preparation process for athletes of all sports.  When it comes to the hamstrings, it is very common for individuals participating in a strength program to focus on knee flexion based movements (i.e. leg curls) to improve hamstring strength.  While the leg curl can facilitate improvement in muscle cross section and general strength, it does not address the main function of the hamstring important in sprinting.   Sprint-based activities rely heavily on the hamstrings as an extensor of the hip, rather than a flexor of the knee  (Francis).

Strength training focusing on hip extension is more advantageous in promoting strength with carryover to sport activity.  Some good options for doing this involve variations of the deadlift exercise:

Conventional deadlift

Sumo Deadlift

Stiff-leg Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift

Sumo Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

Barbell Good Mornings

Band Good Mornings

Kettlebell Swings

(*Note:  variations of these exercises may be performed with dumbbells as well).

These exercises will focus on improving the strength of the hamstrings in their function in extending the hips.  Even for some sports activities that do not involve large volumes of (or in some cases do not involve any) sprinting, strengthening in this manner will stress the hamstrings more at the hip where more of the stress usually occurs from a range of motion and power development perspective.  For instance, when a marital artist throws a high kick, the hamstrings don’t get stressed structurally at the knee as much as they do at the hip.  Strengthening the hamstrings using these movements may help in improving the integrity of the hamstrings at their origin at the hip, rather than emphasizing their movement at the knee.

Hip extension based movements are an important component to a strength training protocol for athletes.  While there can certainly still be a time and place for knee flexion strengthening exercises, these types of movements should not be the primary mode for improving hamstring strength for an athlete.

References:

Francis, Charlie.  GPP Essentials.  www.charliefrancis.com

Abdominal Training & Featured Exercise

Whether it is for improved performance, general fitness, or injury prevention and treatment, training of the abdominal region is an important aspect of any training program.  While there are a multitude of exercises that can be used to strengthen the abdomen, one needs to be aware of how to properly apply loads to this region based on their current abilities.  It is generally preferred for anyone involved in strength training to focus on the ability to use these muscles to stabilize the lumbar region rather than produce large forces and movements

With this in mind, the author in most instances prefers to use abdominal exercises that involve stabilization or low amplitude movements to strengthen this area.   This enables one to condition the torso to provide stiffness through the muscles and abdomen through the low back, which will allow for safe movement that will not stress the structures of the lumbar spine.

In a previous article, some exercises were described that can serve this function.  In a video posted below, there is another exercise that is slightly more advanced that can be used to strengthen the abdomen and train it for stiffness to support the low back.  This exercise is known as the “Stir the Pot” and was taken from Stuart McGill, who is known for his research on biomechanics associated with the low back.

An important point with this, as with any stability based abdominal movement, is to hold and maintain a strong abdominal brace.  This should create tension throughout the torso (low back and abdomen) allowing one to stabilize the spine.  This particular movement also teaches one to resist twisting torque through the torso, which requires further stabilization to protect the spine.

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