Life Stress, Training, & Recovery

Recovery from training and competition is dependent on many systems (E.g., endocrine, hormonal, musculoskeletal, etc) to coordinate the appropriate responses to the stress placed on the body. Just like your bank account – you withdraw money and then (hopefully) you put money back in, attempting to not allow the account to drop below a certain point – there is a cost on the body that is paid every time we train and compete and we have to do things to try and repay that cost. As I say, “there is always a cost of doing business.”

Currently, coaches are rushing to find various methods of monitoring their athletes within the training environment (IE, GPS, HR, Force Plates, etc); however, one critical aspect that may often get overlooked is the athlete’s life stress. As I discussed in a previous article, Your Stress Account, understanding both specific (the things we have control over as coaches) and non-specific (the external stressors, outside of the competitive environment, that the athletes have to deal with) is essential to ensuring that we know how much we can push and how much we may need to back off.

While the above methods of monitoring training are helpful, quantifying the amount of stress being placed on the athlete is a cost effective way of understanding how they are adapting. I discussed the questionnaire I have used in the past in a previous article, Doing Simple Things Well, and while many coaches will often say to me, “We ask the athletes every day how they are doing when they come into the gym”, I do believe that putting a number on it, documenting it, and following the responses over time can be beneficial, not only for the coach to track the athlete’s trend, but also to educate the athlete about how they are doing.

Life Stress and Training

Life stress plays a key role in how we adapt (or don’t adapt) to training. A 2008 study by Bartholomew et al., evaluated 135 undergraduate students grouping them into either low or high stress groups based on a series of psychological measures. What they found was that those who were considered “high stress” subjects had a more difficult time adapting to the 12-week, periodized resistance training program. These high stress individuals saw lower scores on both bench press and squat as well as girth measurements (hypertrophy) in post program testing.

More recently (2014), Stults-Kolehmainen and colleagues  evaluated the effects that chronic mental stress had on the recovery of muscle function and somatic sensations (E.g., perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness) over a four day period. To quantify life stress, the Perceived Stress Scale and the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire were completed by the subjects. The subjects completed a leg press training session of 6 sets x 10 reps at 80-100% of their individual 10RM. Maximal isometric force, jump height, cycle power, perceived energy, fatigue, and soreness were assessed at 24hr intervals following the training session. Interestingly, it was found that chronic stress had an impact on muscle recovery following the leg press training session, with low recovery curves being seen in those reporting high levels of stress. The subjects with lower levels of stress saw more efficient recovery curves. Perhaps the low stress individuals are in a position to tolerate and adapt to training more efficiently.

What About Injured Athletes?

Often, when an athlete sustains an injury, they will stop doing things like daily questionnaires because they feel that these questionnaires are only for those who are “training”. This becomes problematic because understanding an athlete’s psychological state can impact their recovery and rehabilitation. While injuries often have typical recovery time lines (E.g., 3-4 weeks), the goal should be to try and speed up the recovery process as much as possible without compromising the athlete’s health. One of the best ways to speed up this process and “drive in the fast lane”, so to speak, is to create an optimal environment for healing to take place. Educating the athlete on things like sleep, nutrition, hydration, and rest are essential.  Additionally, it is helpful to understand the athlete’s psychological state and do whatever you can to create an environment that allows the athlete to continue training in some capacity, as well as fuels optimism and decreases the negativity that some athletes can have once they get injured. Ford et al., (2000) found that an athlete’s psychological state can impact their time lost due to injury. Those that were less optimistic and didn’t cope well with stress had greater time loss following injury compared to those who were more optimistic and had better self-esteem. Finally, a meta-analysis conducted by Walburn and colleagues (200), found that wound healing was actually impaired due to stress, emphasizing the need for a better understanding between stress and healing.


The stress that athletes face outside of the competitive environment has the potential to impact their ability to train, adapt, recover from injury, and heal. While there are many methods of assessing athletes within the training environment, a simple questionnaire evaluating the athletes psychological status (discussed in a previous article on this site) can provide the coach with a better understanding of how the athlete is psychologically coping and can drive interventions and program changes to ensure that the athlete gets the appropriate attention they need.


Strength Coaches & Data

As North American sports begin to take interest in data and metrics (and try and catch on to what the Australians and Europeans have been doing for several years) there seems to be a number of strength coaches who are starting to embrace the trend.

As I look back on my journey in this profession I can sum it up with three very distinct stopping points along the way where, if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you that these things were the most important things to know in order to be a strength coach:

1. Programming/Periodization & Coaching your lifts2. Stress, Recovery, Adaptation
3. Data collection and analysis

While I can’t say that any one of those three categories are more important than the other (certainly the first two are critically important if you are coaching athletes) I can say that the third stop along the way in my career has been incredibly interesting because, while not directly having to do with coaching athletes in the gym, it has allowed me the ability to connect some dots and provide context to the other two areas above it. It has allowed me to explain things that I see and explain why certain things happen and others do not with specific individuals in training. It has added depth to my training programs that I was previously lacking.

There are three areas where I feel data can be helpful to the strength and conditioning coach:

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Athlete Profiling

Athlete profiling is essential because it allows us to define the needs of the individual and create training programs that are specific to what their body needs in order to enjoy success in their sport. While most think of athlete profiling as physiological testing, which is certainly a part of it, athlete profiling can encompass other metrics as well including data about how the athlete plays their position within their sport, how much the athlete plays, and their typical game demands. Rather than just developing a generalized way of categorizing the sport or the position by profiling the athlete we can begin to understand similarities and differences between athletes in the same position and find unique needs that the athlete may have to be prepared for, which can influence how we design our training program.

Enhancing Program Design

Most people don’t think about the program design aspect of things when it comes to collecting data on athletes. Often, coaches believe that collecting data on athletes automatically leads to telling the athlete to “do less” and “not overtrain”. While preventing overtraining is important we can use the data we collect to influence our program design. Some of the ways that I have done this are to adjust training as needed – either increasing training volume/intensity or lowering training volume/intensity based on what the athlete is prepared to do that day – and creating key performance indicators (KPIs) within training phases that allow us to determine if the athlete is improving and if we are getting what we expect to be getting from the training program. The KPIs should reflect the goal of the training phase and can be in the form of an exercise test (where the athlete may not even know they are being tested) or a submaximal test that can be used to reflect improvement when measured against previous tests.

Monitoring Fatigue / Health Management

Finally, what most people think about when they think about data and monitoring, understanding player health and preventing overtraining. As stated above, adjustments to the program based on what the athlete is prepared to do that day is one piece of the equation within this bucket. Other areas of importance here are looking at various factors of the athlete’s health and helping to educate the athlete (and coaches) about how they are tolerating the stress of practice, competition, and life. This area of data becomes incredibly important for the strength coach during the in season period as the goal is no longer to do a maximum amount of training but rather to get from one competition to the next in the most efficient manner possible and training at the minimum effective dose in order to prevent adding extra stress on top of competition stress.


Data can be incredibly helpful to the strength coach and it is nice to see others starting to embrace data collection and analysis as a means of trying create a more complete understanding of their athletes. It is my hope that in future blog posts I can share some ideas around data collection and integration.

Tommy John & Pitch Counts

This year, eighteen pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery in the MLB (last I checked) and we are not even half way though the season. There is tons of speculation about why we are seeing such a rise in ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries and I don’t think it is ever easy to boil any injury down to one single factor. Even when you think you have everything figured out and have crossed your “T’s” and dotted your “I’s” injuries can creep up because of factors that you might not be aware of or factors that are outside of your control.

That being said, one of my good friends works in major league baseball as a manual therapist and strength coach and during a conversation one day he mentioned that it would be interesting to know how many pitches Jose Fernandez (the second year phenom pitcher for the Florida Marlins who pitched in 8 games this year before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and will miss the remainder of the season) threw in those eight games. Again, hard to pin-point injury to one single factor and just having something like pitch count doesn’t provide you with enough information to really understand the whole situation (although famed orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, does feel that throwing too much and overuse may be one potential factor in UCL injury). However, I thought it would be interesting to look at so here are some of the things I quickly found after looking at a few websites and getting pitching statistics.

During Jose’s 2013 season (his rookie year) he:

  • Threw 2604 total pitches over 28 starts
  • Averaged 93 pitches per game

During the first 8 games of the 2013 season he:

  • Threw 665 total pitches
  • Averaged 83 pitches per game

During Jose’s 8 games in 2014 he:

  • Threw 770 total pitches (105 more during the first 8 games of this season than the 2013 season)
  • Averaged 96.25 pitches per game (averaged 13 more pitches per game over the first 8 games than the 2013 season)

Graphically, this is what Jose’s 2013 season looked like:

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You can see that over the first 11 games the teamed seemed to take it a bit easier on the rookie and ease him into the swing of things (there may be reasons for this – again, tough to know with just pitch count information) – before really pushing it the rest of the way.

In comparison, here is what the first eight games of the 2013 and 2014 seasons looked like together:

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I don’t know that there is a big take away here other than it is interesting to look at the way Jose was managed from his rookie year to his second year in terms of pitch count. There was a considerable jump in the first 8 games of the 2014 season compared to the 2013 season and the second half of the 2013 season. It would be great to have more information – daily readiness information, fitness information, how much throwing he does/did between starts, how much he did in spring training, etc, on-and-on.

Perhaps one factor (of many) that plays a role in UCL injury is the management of pitchers in terms of how much they throw or how it is determined that they are fit enough to go out and throw a certain amount or tolerate greater volumes of throwing? I’m sure the picture is much larger than this though.


Lateralizations & Regressions – A Follow Up To Training Means & Methods

A few weeks ago I wrote an article titled Training Means & Training Methods. The basic premise of the article was to discuss the importance of selecting training methods in order to achieve some sort of specific physiological outcome while adjusting the training means – the tools that you use (IE, run, bike, BB, KB, DB, MB, etc) – based on a number of factors:

  • Logistics of the situation/training environment
  • What equipment you have avaliable
  • Sports needs
  • Athlete needs and movement limitations

The last point, regarding movement limitations, is a key piece to the puzzle and I believe this is where a lot of strength coaches and trainers go wrong as they feel that a movement limitation automatically leads to a “soft” training program or a program dictated by a number of physical therapy exercises rather than “real training”.

Last week, Charlie Weingroff released his DVD Lateralizations & Regressions, the follow up to his DVD from a few years ago, Training = Rehab. When it comes to dealing with movement limitations and training as hard as possible I don’t think there is anyone better than Charlie. His approach to using the FMS within the context of a serious training environment has been highly influential on me and I truly believe that if you can grasp what Charlie is saying with regard to lateralizing your best training program and then properly select the training methods to influence the physiological system you are looking to target, you can truly create a monster.

What is a Lateralization?

To lateralize basically means you side-step but you are still on the same level whereas a regression is not a side step, but more a step back (going back a level) in order to then go forward in the future once things are normalized.

In this DVD Charlie does a great job setting up his approach and philosophy to movement, which is a blending of many different movement teachers and at the top of the list is FMS/Gray Cook and DNS/Pavel Kolar. Charlie’s approach is to show you that even when there is movement limitation training can still be intense if one choose the proper lateralizations and the appropriate exercises/drills to concurrently address the limitation while training hard.

An example would be an athlete who lacks ankle dorsiflexion. Perhaps the training program calls for:

1) Power Clean 5×3
2) Squat 4×53) Bench Press 4×5
4) 1-arm Row 4×5

For the athlete who lacks ankle dorsiflexion it probably isn’t wise to challenge that limitation with heavy loads on the spine or while trying to catch a clean. Thus, you may choose to lateralize the movement to something like a KB swing in place for the power clean and a rack pull or high handle trap bar DL for the squat. Now the athlete is able to train hard and while they train hard we are concurrently working with the medical professional on staff (or who we refer out to) to address the ankle dorsiflexion limitation with manual therapy as well as specific movement drills (which can also be used within the warm up and between exercises to further address the limitation).

In this way, everyone – strength and conditioning and sports medicine – are working together to do their part to ensure that the athlete gets what they need. Additionally, if we apply a test – train/treat – re-test approach then we are always re-testing the athlete to ensure we are making progress and once the limitation is cleaned up the athlete can begin to integrate back into the other movements (cleans, squats, etc) in a logical and progressive manner. In this way, we can begin with some regression of cleans (IE, clean pulls or 1-arm DB snatch where the athlete wont drop as low into the squat) and squats (KB goblet squat, DB KB Front Squat, etc).

The goal is to choose the correct exercise for the athlete and understand the continuum along which to train. Know when to lateralize, know when to regress, and know when to call in the manual therapist to help address limitations more specifically.

Putting it together with training methods

As I stated in the previous article and as I always mention in my lectures, after doing our full assessment I always start by first asking myself, “What sort of fitness changes do I need to bring about in this individual (IE, strength, conditioning, power, speed, etc) and what training methods will allow me to do this?” Once I have selected our fitness goals and the training method(s) that we will use in a given training block I then select my exercises. As Charlie would say, “Just lateralize your best training program”. Thus, whatever training methods I use I can simply alter the exercises based on the individual’s movement needs and work to gain fitness while we also work to improve their limitation(s), all the while re-testing to ensure we are getting what we want and making progress.

Lateralizations & Regressions is a must have for any strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist, chiropractor, etc. The DVD presents the logic and thoughts inside of Charlie’s head and will help you begin to understand multiple components of the training process and how what you do (whatever your skill set is) blends in with the other professionals on the team so that we can all work together to help develop athletes.

Click HERE to check out the DVD.


Training Means & Training Methods

Selecting exercises when writing a training program can be a challenging topic for some. Most get bogged down with trying to figure out which day to put which exercises or how to fit everything in:

  • “We have to have kettlebell work!”
  • “Olympic lifting is a must!”
  • “When should we do our conditioning?”
  • What day should we squat and which day should we deadlift?”

I used to constantly obsess about exercise selection and where to put my vertical push and my horizontal pull and my single leg knee dominant and double leg hip dominant exercise, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I think balancing joint movements is critical and thinking about exercise selection in this fashion is certainly important, but I think we need to first ask ourselves, “What is it we are trying to achieve with this training program?” Once we establish this we can begin to select the training methods which reflect out physiological goal and then finally we can plug in whatever exercises make sense for that person (based on their movement profile, their needs, their sport, or their orthopedic considerations).

Training Means & Training Methods

Training means are the types of exercises/activities that we can perform in our workout. We can think of these as the tools that we have available to us:

  • Barbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Dumbells
  • Medicine Balls
  • Run
  • Bike
  • Row
  • Plyometrics
  • etc…

Training methods are the parameters that we can apply to our exercises in order to achieve some sort of physiological outcome. There are a number of parameters that we may choose to manipulate:

  • Rep tempo
  • Rest interval
  • Training session duration
  • Training volume
  • Exercise pairings (super sets, complex training, etc)
  • Intensity (as it applies to weight on the bar, HR, and/or running pace or WATTS)
  • Rep duration (particularly as it applies to varied intervals within energy system training)

The cool thing is that we don’t need a ton of different exercises! All we really need is the ability to teach the individual to do a few exercises well and then from there we can begin to adjust certain parameters in order to achieve different fitness outcomes. Here are a few examples:

  • Oxidative Squats 3 series x [4x10reps (2-0-2-0 tempo) ; Rest = 60sec] Rest = 5min between series >> Squats 5 sets x 2 reps @ 90%; Rest = 2-3min >> Jump Squats 20%/10 sets x 5 reps ; Rest = 90sec
  • Tempo Run 20x70yrds @ 75% intensity ; Rest = 60sec >> Hill Sprint 20x5sec ; Rest = 45sec ; Short Shuttle 4 series x [5x20yrds (10yrds down and back); Rest = 45sec] Rest = 2min between series

In both examples the exercise did not change. All that changed was the parameters I applied to that exercise and ultimately the fitness outcome.

In the first example, if the goal were to improve tissue specific metabolic adaptations in the lower extremity, the oxidative squat (sometimes called the stato-dynamic squat) may be one way to achieve this. Similarly, if I was trying to improve strength I might choose the second option and if power output were the goal the third option would be one way to target that. In thinking about it like this, it would be totally possible for me to be training three different people at the same time, all with individual needs (determined via assessment and understanding of their sport) and all of them doing squats just with different parameters set to target their goals.

In the second example, the training means of running did not change. The first option is more general in nature and may be used to initially improve the individuals fitness. Option two would allow the athlete to begin sprinting and the hill (or a light sled) would help to slow them down and reduce potential risk of injury that might be there if they were sprinting over flat ground. Finally, option 3 would reflect something more specific to what a field or court athlete may require in their sport. Again, all that was changed were the parameters set to the exercise (the training means) in order to achieve a certain goal.

With this in mind the options for training really become endless and the idea that we can train anywhere, and with minimal equipment, becomes apparent. Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • The training goal is power output. The training method would be 3-5sec of max effort work followed by 60sec rest (I classify this as being alactic capacity in my system, but of course these classifications are not so black and white and there is crossover with all of this stuff). Knowing the goal and the methods I can now select a training means based on whatever I have available. Some options might include – sprints, hill sprints, bike sprints, airdyne sprints, plyometrics (bounding, multiple jumps, etc), Olympic lift variations, dynamic effort lifting against accommodating resistance, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, and the list goes on and on.
  • The training goal is aerobic power. The training method would be 4 reps x 4min @ > 87% maxHR ; Rest = 3min. Now that we know the goal and the training method we can select whatever training means make sense for that person. Some options might include – running, biking, rowing, a circuit of 30yrd run, 10 jump squats, 30yrd run, 15 push ups and repeat for 4min, airdyne, and the list goes on and on.

Hopefully this provides some ideas about program design to get people thinking outside of the box and freeing them up to construct workouts that reflect specific training targets first and then select exercises second.