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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Energy System Training and High Intensity Continuous Training

Conditioning the energy systems is a vital component for training athletes and to achieve general fitness.  The problem with most applications of conditioning is that most coaches or trainers are more concerned about constantly taking their clients to maximum fatigue through constant inappropriate application of exercise intensity.  This has become the trend pariticularly in “bootcamp” style fitness classes where individuals perform various circuits and exercises to exhaustion.  And while this approach will work for a certain period of time (particularly with those that have general fitness goals such as losing weight), at some point the intensity at which you work at with these modes of conditioning will level off and you will have a dimishing level of returns.

So is there something better than just doing burpees until you vomit?  The problem with an appropriately designed program that promotes improved levels of conditioning (or biological capacity and power), is that most individuals don’t understand one basic principle: it takes time.  This process should have long-term benefits and goals for your training to truly be effective.  Before getting into the means of how to condition, I just want to give a brief mention of the 3 energy systems:

1.  Alactic or ATP-PC system (immediate energy system)

2.  Glycolytic or lactic system (intermediate energy system)

3.  Aerobic system (long term energy system)

Over the past few years I have been reading a great deal of information from Joel Jamieson’s website on training the different energy systems, and I would highly suggest some of his articles for anyone to read who is interestested in this topic.  One of the main errors that many people make is the overtraining of the intermediate system, or the glycolytic.  There is this belief by many that individuals need to overload this system to condition when in many sports/activities, this system actually doesn’t contribute as much.  I can remember running gassers during football practice 2-3 times per week in-season, and always remember them being hard to run regardless how often we did them.  The same can be said for individuals with general fitness goals.  Molly Galbraith makes this point in an article she wrote when she referred to the misinterpretation of the Tabata research; these four minute rounds of exercises were suppose to work wonders for fat loss and conditioning (after all, who wouldn’t want to just do something for 4 minutes).

As I stated before, anything performed in the short term will yield benefits (law of adapatation).  The problem comes in (and is typcially a problem for non-competitive athletes looking for more general fitness goals) is that you reach an intensity barrier where you can no longer get the benefits from exercise, and raising the intensity to try and achieve further benefits becomes pretty much impossible.  This is typically when injuries set-in, or the individuals just looks for the next training fad to work its magic.

This brings in the importance of using conditioning to both establish an aerobic base (yes, I said aerobic) and for recovery puposes and establishing a base level of conditioning.  No matter how difficult you want to make you training to work hard and achieve goals, everyone needs to follow these principles in order to have long-term improvements and avoid injuries.  This is not to advocate for just long-distance running (which is also misused and abused).  There is absolutely no point in worrying about timed miles unless you run cross country or marathons.  But some forms of aerobic training should not be left out of your training regardless what your conditioning goals are.

High Intensity Continous Training

This is a conditioning mode that I learned about from reading information by Mark McLaughlin.  What this bascially entails is utilizing high intensity work over a prolonged period of time to facilitate recovery and improve the oxidative capacity at the muscles.  An important item to note is that while it is high intensity, you need to stay below your anaerobic threshold.  What you essentially do is pick an exercise and perform a repetition of it approximately every 2 seconds, with a resting pause in between each rep.  The resting pause is a vital elemet to this as it reestablishes blood flow to the muscles.  Mark likes to use a the spin bike with a high level of resistance to acheive this effect.  Using a high resistance, he has an athlete peddle and pause doing it continuously from anywhere from 5-20 minutes.  Now for individuals who don’t have a spin bike, I will outline methods for achieving  this below:

1.  Walking Lunges

This is a variation that I use many times, particularly for onlin clients because it is an easy one for them to follow.  This involves performing lunges continously for 5-20 minutes with a brief pause between each repetition.  It is important that during the pause that your muscles are completely relaxed.  I would recommed starting with looking to get in 20-60 minutes of total work, beginning with 5 minute rounds with 2 minutes between each round.  You can keep the rest periods active by performing abdominal work, push-ups, mobility work, or small rehabilitation based exercises during the rest periods.  It should be noted that you can, and probably should, add resistance to this exercise (dumbbells, barbel, weighted vest).  Just be careful not to overload it and begin working over your anaerobic threshold.

2.  Step-Ups

This variation involves just doing a weighted step-up for time in the same manner as the walking lunges.  You need to set the step at an appriorpriate height.  One way to do this is set the step to align with the bottom of your patella.  The perform step-ups for the allotted time with complete relaxation between each repetition.  Again additional resistance should be employed.

In regards to when to perform this type of exercise, one way is to do this the day after a hard training session (i.e. an intense lower body strength training session or sport practice).  While this form of exercise can seem difficult, athletes and trainees should feel refreshed after doing them from the recovery they help promote.  They will also improve conditioning at the muscular level, which is a forgotten element to training.  I have had some individuals do this after a weight training session if they have limited days in which they can train.  While it would be ideal to utilize a heart rate monitor for this type of exercise to make sure you are staying below your anaerobic threhold, I would not limit the use of this type of conditioning if you don’t have one.  However, they are relatively inexpensive (a basic model of a good name brand will cost around 40-50$).

Coaches need to realize that constantly just running athletes into the ground not only is non-productive, but it also limits ones ability to condition the biological systems of the body.  There are better things for basketball players then contant windsprints, and better things for combat athletes than continous burpees until they fall over.  While it may seem hardore and fit the bootcamp model, constantly working individuals to exhaustion by training lactic-based conditioning has limited effects for long-term development.  By establishing an aerobic base and focusing on recovery, one can not only avoid injuries in the short-term, but also exeperience more benefits in situations when glycoltic based training is warranted.  Coming up, I will do a few more posts on other aspects of conditioning for both athletes and general fitness enthusiasts.

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