Progam Design Concepts

Training programs for both athletes and more casual fitness enthusiasts need to be directed towards specific targets in order for an individual to reach their goals.  This requires that programs address specific physical attributes, along with an appropriate progression to ensure that continued progress is achieved.  It is seen far too many times the individual that wants to take on the next high-intensity battle rope, kettlebell, prowler circuit (of which the author has no problems with any of these implements, just with their misuse which is all too often seen) without understanding what they are looking to achieve.  While undertaking these “programs” there can be some initial benefit (i.e. weight loss), the long-term progression is lost due to misapplication of basic programming concepts.

The following describes some basic concepts that should be included in just about any program.  So whether one is a competitive athlete or an adult interested in physical fitness, consider looking at these in determining the type of activity one is involved in.

1.  Foundation

While the author believes terms such as “base fitness” are overused, there is something to be said about giving oneself a good starting point to beginning a training program.  Individuals in the general fitness populations are many times guilty of just jumping into high-intensity exercise programs without having performed more basic general physical preparation.  As stated previously this can result in some short term improvements, however,  it also results in early stagnation and likely injuries (which will be discussed later).

Morris and Myslinski (n.d.) have given an outline of a general physical preparation program for football, while Francis (n.d.) has created a video on what can be done for track and field athletes (and adapted for other team sports).  The overall theme in works such as these is that one must begin any progression with basic physical preparation.

2.  Injury Prevention

The concept of injury prevention in training programs harkens back to the point of building a foundation, but also deserves its own explanation.  If one gets injured during training, it can create a frustrating setback to progress.  This is another issue related to the more trendy fitness concepts being marketed today and pushed out in videos on the internet.  It is important that people address any muscle imbalances or orthopedic issues they may have before increasing the difficulty of their exercise.

No matter what your training status is, there should be an emphasis on preventing both acute and overuse injuries during training.  Basic movement skills (i.e. learning basic hip hinge movement) should be something that everyone should consider as a component of their training.

3.  Variety

To avoid accommodation to training, it is important to include variations in all aspects of training for continued progress.  One needs to be cautious as to how often things are changed in a program.  Beginners and intermediate trainees don’t need to have as much variety as more advanced individuals.  The author typically works in three to four week training blocks where most exercises remain the same during that timeframe.  Many people tend to think they are more advanced then they are and change things more often; this typically results in injury and stagnation in training.  For most individuals, it would be recommended to vary things like volume and intensity within a three to four week period, as opposed to changing exercises.

The concepts listed here is just a short list of items to consider when planning out a training program.  A good point of emphasis throughout these ideas is to think of one’s training as more long-term.  While the point of any training program is to create adaptation to a physically stressful stimulus (which is really what any form of exercise is), it is important to realize that you don’t have to just create excessive amounts of daily fatigue to accomplish this.

References

Morris, B., Myslinski, T.  (n.d.) Coach X.  London, OH: http://www.elitefts.com.

Francis, C.  (n.d).  GPP Essentials.  http://www.charliefrancis.com.

Training for Amateur Combat Athletes IV: Putting it all Together

In previous posts, various aspects of training for a combat athlete have been discussed, along with examples of how training sessions can be structured.   The goal for this post will be to illustrate how all of the different traits can be trained over the course of the week for a fighter at the amateur level.  The author suggests reviewing part I of this series to look at some of the factors that play a role with an individual competing at this level.

The challenge with the amateur fighter is dealing with time constraints.  It is important for someone who competes to have a good balance of specific fight training and general physical preparation.  Parts II and III of this series examines some of the methods of physical preparation that are either underutilized or mismanaged in this athletic population.  The mismanagement usually comes in the form of omitting an aspect of training, or through the misapplication of a certain means of training.  An example of misapplication of metabolic training is the overuse of lactic-based training for a fighter whose competition primarily involves striking (i.e. a kick boxer).  The following is an example of a training program that can be followed by an amateur fighter who has had experience with various modes of physical training (i.e. weights, running, etc.) and is preparing for an amateur contest.  To illustrate how this can fit in with the actual fight training, generic recommendations as to what type (referencing intensity level) of fight training may be included on what days.

*Monday

Warm-Up

Day One Jump training

High-intensity fight training (drills and sparring at a level over 70% intensity)

*Tuesday

Warm-Up

Low-intensity fight training

Body Weight Aerobic Capacity Circuit or in place tempo conditioning (working at less than 70% intensity)

*Wednesday

Warm-Up

High-Intensity Fight Training

Strength Training Day One (The link goes back to the article on strength training, do the Monday session in the article)

*Thursday

Repeat Tuesday activities.  The actual drills/exercises can be different, but intensity level should be the same.

*Friday

Warm-Up

Day two Jump training

Day two strength training (This would be the Friday session per the link provided)

*Saturday

Mixed intensity day- fight work.  Give a brief high-intensity stimulus (sparring or high intensity technique work) followed by low intensity drills/recovery.

*Sunday

Off

The weekly outline provides a program that will cycle through different intensities of fight training, while concurrently training general physical qualities.  It would be suggested that this sample be utilized for a period of no longer than 3 weeks, and that an individual has developed a certain level of strength through a foundational program that focuses on correcting muscular imbalances before utilizing max effort and dynamic effort strength methods.  For further information on the methods and techniques utilized, the reader is directed to the references at the end of the linked articles.

This three-week block of training addresses both strength and explosive power.  General aerobic capacity is trained during the low intensity days, with the overall structure of the week utilizing a high/low scheme as advocated for by Francis (2008, 2012).  The only slight exception to this comes from the Friday-Saturday portion where high intensity elements occur in back-to-back training days.  This occurs due to the short period of time the individual is exposed to these elements each day, while Sunday serves as a day of complete rest from all training activities.  Francis (2012)has stated that high-intensity elements can occur in consecutive days as long as the exposure is short.  It would be imperative that if the coach/trainer responsible for fight training limit the exposure of high-intensity drills during fight training on Saturday.

It is emphasized that this plan is just one example that may be utilized for an individual competing at the amateur level of a striking-based combat sport.  As with any program, it is important to understand the training experience of the individual partaking in the plan, which should also include a history of any previous injuries the individual may have experienced.  The elements given can be structured any number of ways based on the other obligations the individual has (i.e. work schedule).  One example (that would actually be more optimal if it can work) is to structure the training sessions such that some of the work is performed in the morning, while the remainder is completed in the evening.  After a three week block such as this, the focus of certain training elements may change depending on how far out from a competition the individual may be.  Successive blocks should look at other aspects of development (i.e. alactic capacity) to ensure overall physical and tactical development before one competes.

Post any questions below.

References

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

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

*Other references related to the program are in the article links provided.

Practical Strength Applications for Athletes

Athletes in any sport require development of various physical attributes to have success in competition.  Strength development is necessary in athletic preparation, yet is commonly not addressed in a manner necessary to provide optimal results for the athlete.  There are aspects of strength development that need to be considered based upon the demands of the sport and the experience of the athlete.  While strength development for athletes is important, the level of strength and priority of it will be based on the resistance that gets encountered in the sport (Baker, 2014).

Many individuals will take the previous statement and limit exposure to strength training with external resistance claiming it is unnecessary for athletes.  These same individuals will cite individuals who compete at certain levels while only undertaking certain strength modalities (i.e. bodyweight only, kettlebells, etc) and claim that is all they need to make them strong.  Limiting the strength prescription to this can possibly neglect base strength development, particularly for more novice athletes (anyone not competing at an elite level- professional or Olympic).   This post will focus on some basic considerations when looking to design a strength program for an athlete who does not compete in powerlifting or Olympic lifting.

1.  Develop strength in basic movements first

The benefits of incorporating the power lifts (bench press, squats, and deadlifts) will be discussed; however, it is important to understand basic movements prior to doing more advanced exercises.  While bodyweight exercises can accomplish this, they should not be seen as the only way to address this issue.  Resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells can be utilized early in developing appropriate movement patterns and base levels of strength.  Many individuals will require a certain amount of work be completed in certain bodyweight exercises prior to utilizing external resistance.  This can possible cause certain movements and muscle groups to be neglected.  Take pulling as an example; chin-ups and pull-ups are typically more difficult for younger and less experienced individuals who undertake a strength program (as opposed to push-ups).  While there are certainly progression with chin-ups and pull-ups, strength in the pulling muscles may also be developed via pulling motions with external resistance (i.e. dumbbell rows, lat pulldowns, etc).  Witholding those exercises until vertical bodyweight pulling can be completed at a certain level (i.e. everyone must perform 20 chin-ups before utilizing external resistance), overall strength in these muscle groups may get delayed.

2.  The benefits of barbell exercises (power lifts)

Francis (2014) discusses that strength work will always be a means and not an “end.”  Athletes don’t need to have numbers of elite powerlifters in the power lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift), however there is a great benefit to utilizing these exercises for physical development.  Beyond what are considered the obvious adaptations to exercise, the recruitment of motors units with exercises such as these had a great benefit to an athlete.  Any of these lifts performed at greater than 80% intensity are considered a high intensity stimulus (Francis, 2014).  This type of motor unit recruitment can assist with power development by affecting force-velocity relationships in sport activity.  This requires responsible loading of strength activities, coupled with utilizing complimentary training activities, which includes jumping activities (explosive strength) and high quality speed work.  Max strength as a quality should be developed to an level to the point where it does not interfere with other athletic qualities

3.  Injury prevention.

Neuromuscular coordination and soft tissue resiliency can be addressed through proper strength training.  Athletes should be addressing regions of the body that are susceptible to injury based on their sport.  Gender can certainly influence the impact of certain injuries and should be something to take into consideration when designing the program.  Early in training, high-repetition exercises can be utilized to allow for soft tissue adaptation (Scott & Saylor, 2010).

Strength training in athletic preparation is sometimes poorly planned, or in some instances, not utilized at all.  The prevailing attitude of some sports is that strength training is either unnecessary or should be kept to a minimum to prevent a decline in performance.  Much of this thought is due to not having an understanding of how strength training fits into the preparation of certain types of athletes.  While training for maximum strength in the weight room is not the goal of many team and individual sports, neglecting achieving an optimal level of strength will limit one’s development in other areas of sports performance.

Recommended Readings

Baker, D. (2014).  Using Strength Platforms for Explosive Performance.  In Joyce, D., & Lewindon D.  (Eds.)  High-Performance Training for Sports.  Champaign, IL:  Human Kinetics.  Kindle Edition

Francis, C. (2014).  Training for Power and Strength in Speed.  http://www.charliefrancis.com.  Kindle Edition.

Scoot, S., & Saylor, J.  (2010).  Conditioning for Combat Sports.  Santa Fe, NM:  Turtle Press.  Kindle Edition.

The Weekly Training Schedule: General Recommendations for Training Elements

Athletes of all levels of preparation will be using various means of training to address the physical requirements of their sport.  While characteristics of the means will vary based on sport demands, most forms of training will be included in an athlete’s training.  Components of the physical preparation process include:

1.  Skill Development

2.  Injury Prevention

3.  Strength Development

4.  Power Development

5.  Energy System Development

6.  Speed Development

7.  Multi-directional abilities (depending on the sport)

Depending on the time of year (or the length of time until competitions) athletes will be looking to address all or some of these areas in their training.  It is of vital importance that the individual in charge of the physical preparation of athletes strategically manage training in an effort to both develop the athlete, while at the same time not risking injury or overtraining.  Many sport coaches make the mistake of implementing a training schedule based on the concept of “working hard” by implementing high stress elements on a daily basis, with maybe one day “off” or “light” during the week.  It is important to recognize the impact of the training elements on the central nervous system (CNS) to determine how the athlete will recover from said training element.

As discussed in previous posts, the works of Charlie Francis (2012 & 2008) discuss the High/Low system of training, which manages stresses of the CNS over the week.  New trends in fitness have lead to athletes haphazardly implementing low-quality, high-intensity training on a daily basis in an effort to get athletes “in-shape” or “mentally prepare” themselves for the rigors of sport participation.  This mismanagement of training tends to go much more harm then good, even if short-term benefits appear to be occurring.  The High/Low System separates elements into high or low categories based upon stress to the CNS.  While there are elements that are deemed Medium intensity, Francis includes them in high intensity training since you cannot recover from this type of training in 24 hours.

Examples of High and low components are as follows (Francis 2012 & Francis 2008):

High

Sprints above 95%

High intensity Jumps

Strength Training (Efforts above 80%)

Explosive MB Throws (Note: some individuals will place these in a “medium” category, but as stated earlier, medium stresses will get considered high for recover purposes)

Low

Tempo Conditioning (Extensive <75%)

Assistance Strength Training Exercises/Abdominal

Low intensity MB Throws

Sport skills can fall into the same categories based upon the intensity in which they are performed.  When looking at a week of training, one should determine where different elements may fit in order to optimize training outputs and recovery.   When a training approach is to utilize all training variables at different volumes over the week, one needs to make sure that the organization of different modes of training are performed in an appropriate order.  While volumes of each of the components will change, here is a basic template for placing them over the course of a training week for an athlete in the offseason  (note: this does not include warm-up activities that would precede training sessions):

Day 1

Sprints

Jumps

Throws

Strength Work

Day 2

Strength

Extensive Tempo Conditioning

Abdominal Training

Day 3

Off or Extensive Tempo or Cardiac Work (HR 100-140 beats per minute)

Day 4

Repeat Day One

Day 5

Repeat Day Two

Days 6 & 7

Off or Extensive Tempo or Cardiac Work (HR 100-140 beats per minute).  It would be suggested to take at least one day totally off for passive recovery (i.e. massage, passive stretching, etc.)

It is important to manage training stressors over the course of a week, and to make sure that you are utilizing methods that match the demands of the sport.  One must make sure that outputs are optimal on high CNS stress elements to make sure that adaptations to the training will yield the desired results.  While the schedule above may be reflected of many different training options, one needs to also consider the time of the year for the athlete (i.e. off-season, in-season, etc) when designing weekly training schedules.

References

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

Francis, C.  (2008).  The Structure of Training for Speed.  Charliefrancis.com.  (Kindle edition).

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.

 

 

 

 

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).

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