Category — Sports Conditioning
Several days ago I posted the following quote from a Charlie Francis lecture I was watching onto my facebook wall and finished it with a few comments of my own:
“A pitcher should have a pretty good aerobic component. They need to recover and they need to be able to heat their joints which the aerobic capacity allows them to do. The power component is big but the aerobic component is big too.” -Charlie Francis
My comments: Now the real fun is in figuring out the ways of developing that capacity without killing the beast and turning them into an endurance athlete (as they used to do to pitchers back in the day). For some reason everyone hears “aerobic” and they get scared but I think much of this fear comes from a lack of understanding how to train the system in order to develop sport specific work capacity.
What followed was an enormously long discussion (something like 180 total posts) about Charlie’s quote and a lot of people misunderstanding what Charlie Francis was saying. That misunderstanding probably stems from Charlie using the term “aerobic” which tends to make people feel uncomfortable and think that if something is “aerobic” then it is is some way not “athletic” or not necessary for any other sport besides endurance sports. The interesting thing is that if we removed the word “aerobic” and changed it to the phrase “work capacity” (or just “capacity” as I did in my comments that followed) most people probably wouldn’t have a big problem. The issue is more one of semantics then anything else because if you heard Charlie Francis discuss the training approach there is probably little that anyone would disagree with.
The Power-Capacity Continuum
All sports lie on a continuum between Power and Capacity. Power is the ability to do something for a shorter period of time but do it at a maximal or near maximal effort and then enjoy a complete or nearly complete recovery period. Capacity is the ability to either do something for a long period of time, such as run a marathon, or be able to express high, powerful efforts repeatedly with minimal or incomplete rest. Not only can all sports be classified on this continuum but energy systems can be classified in this manner as well:
The Power-Capacity Continuum looks something like this:
|Power Lifting||Ironman Triathlon|
|Track and Field Throws|
As you can see, on both ends of the spectrum are the extremes. To the left you have events that require huge amounts of output but are followed by long periods of rest and on the right you have events that require you to perform efforts for an incredibly long period of time with no rest at all.
As I stated earlier, all sports fall somewhere on this continuum between the two sides and most team sports are closer towards the capacity side as they require the expression of high energy outputs followed by minimal or incomplete rest and they require this to be done over the course of an entire game or match.
Using the Continuum to Evaluate Sport
To successfully use the continuum you need to first understand where the sport in question lies keeping in mind that various positions within the sport may be shifted towards one direction or the other.
For example, teams sports are generally “capacity” driven. While the athlete needs to output high amounts of power and strength to often be successful they need to do so over the course of a game with minimal or incomplete rest periods as well as be able to recover adequately and perform in a similar manner over the course of a long season. Thus, these sports are often categorized as being “alactic-aerobic” or requiring a large work capacity to support the athlete’s ability to consistently repeat their effort at the highest level. Now, when we start to look at positions within the various sports we see can see even more distinctions. Here are some examples that come to mind:
- Football is a sport skewed toward capacity and alactic-aerobic in nature (even more so now a days with teams running hurry up and no huddle offenses). However, the guy on my team that does nothing other than run back kick offs does not need as much capacity as my running back who gets 40 carries a game because the guy running back the kick offs pretty much goes in, does his thing, and then gets a really long rest period before he needs to do it again. While many of the guys on the field are skewed towards the capacity side the kick off returner is skewed more towards the power side.
- Baseball is an interesting sport as there can be a huge amount of downtime for most of the guys on the field (especially the designated hitter – who would be skewed most towards the power end of the continuum). The players in the field are not as capacity driven as the pitcher, who needs to make 100 or more pitches at extremely high velocities over 5-6 innings with brief rest intervals (longer rest period when his team is batting obviously). The pitcher needs a pretty sound alactic capacity to keep repeating those efforts.
- In soccer you would see a similar difference between various positions on the field with regard to the amount of running guys do and the speeds at which they do it. Additionally, the goalie would lie more towards the left of the continuum than the others players on the field.
Training for Sport
Once you analyze where the sport is on the continuum you must then determine ways of going about testing the athlete to see what sort of qualities they currently posses and what sort of qualities they are currently lacking. This will allow you to plan training and determine which qualities to train first. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. As we see above, while all sports have similar general qualities (which I discussed in my article Developing Requisite Competencies) after a certain period of time it is essential to then begin to focus on the specifics of the sport and raising the sport specific qualities necessary for success. As I discussed above, this may mean that some players on the team, depending on position, may have different targeted training goals. Just because they play the same sport may not mean that they should have the same training program.
As you develop the training program keep in mind where on the continuum the sport falls and ensure you are preparing the athlete for those sports demands. This may include thinking outside of the weightroom (remember, strength isn’t the only factor in developing sports fitness). When thinking about capacity sports be sure to choose methods that work towards the similar demands of that sport. Initially, you may start very general as training specifically for the sport may require the athlete to first develop overall fitness, mobility, or foundational strength in order to progress further. Dr. Drabik, in Children & Sports Training: How Your Future Champions Should Exercise to be Healthy, Fit, and Happy, makes the following distinctions (pg. 94):
“General endurance is the ability to perform over a long time any physical effort involving numerous groups of muscles that has a positive influence of sports specialization.
Directed endurance is the ability, based on aerobic fitness, that creates the functional basis for special endurance. In training methods the structure of movement is identical and the character of an athlete’s effort is similar to that of the sports specialization.
Special endurance is the ability to perform efforts typical in a given sports discipline, for the same duration as that required in the discipline, while preserving the necessary quality of techniques.”
The methods you choose to employ within each of those three “buckets” is up to you but the phase of training should have a theme and a goal of achieving some sort of physiological outcome.
Sequencing the Training Week
The Charlie Francis quote that started this article created quiet a stir because Charlie used the word “aerobic”. What it really comes down to is that the aerobic system is critical as it underlies all other energy systems and the more developed the aerobic system is the better the other energy systems can function. This does not mean that a baseball pitchers needs the aerobic capacity of an Ironman Triathlete but it does mean that they need to develop a work capacity (noticed I didn’t say “aerobic capacity” because that phrase tends to upset people) to support the demands of the sport.
In training, it is impossible to go hard every single day - I shouldn’t say it is “impossible”. It is entirely possible but it is also entirely reckless and potentially damaging to the individual. Thus, the week needs to be sequenced properly. Charlie Francis was fond of the “high-low” approach where he group high intensity training stresses on one day and low intensity training stresses on other days as a way of allowing the athlete at least 48hrs to recover from the intense training. Generally, the “high” days were more powerful, short, alactic efforts and the “low” days were more extensive in nature – even for the fastest 100m sprinters in the world at the time (a sport that would be shifted much more to the left of the continuum) Charlie understood the importance of general fitness and developed their aerobic systems to a certain level using things like tempo runs and various circuit training methods to build them up to a certain point and then maintain that while they focused more on sprinting and preparing for competition. They did very little work in the “middle zone”, which Charlie referred to as being “Too slow to be speed work and to fast to be recovery work”. This work tends to be more lactate producing and isn’t really representative of the energy system demands for American Team Sports (as I wrote about in a previous article, Some Thoughts on Training the Lactate System).
As a way of honoring this “high-low” approach one should sit down and determine the training methods at their disposal that represent high and low training stressors, determine what aspects these training methods target (which energy systems and are they more power or capacity driven), and finally sit down and structure the training week in a way that makes sense and has a good balance between intensive and extensive training and allows the athlete efficient time to recover and adapt so that they can make adequate improvements.
What we can learn from all of this:
- All energy systems can be broken down into “power” or “capacity”
- All sports lie on a continuum between power and capacity
- Different positions within the same sport may lie in different places on the power-capacity continuum
- Developing work capacity in general before transitioning to sport specific work capacity is important
- The aerobic system drives all other energy systems and is a key target when developing general work capacity
- Choosing training methods appropriately is essential when setting up the training week
- Training methods can generally be classified as either “high” or “low” stressors
- Sequencing training through out the week is the key to ensuring that the athletes not only get the most out of the high intensity days but are also able to recover and optimally adapt to those training days
January 14, 2013 21 Comments
The role of the Fitness Coach (or Strength & Conditioning Coach, or Coach of Physical Preparation, or whatever you want to call it) is to raise the athletes’ level of fitness to its highest potential in preparation for sports competition. With a variety of movement based rehabilitation courses available these days, many fitness coaches have gravitated towards them as a way to “branch out” and extend their services. However, I feel that, in the process of doing so, we (as a profession) have gotten away from developing fundamental fitness qualities in our athletes, as we have gotten so bogged down with focusing on only one aspect of their development – movement.
I certainly will never (ever) discourage a coach from taking more courses and advancing their learning and I do believe that it is important for coaches to educate themselves on various rehabilitation methods to allow themselves to effectively communicate with the medical staff and be a part of the solution when an athlete is injured or returning from injury. Just as I would encourage medical professionals to learn about basic conditioning methods so they too can discuss with the fitness coach and not hold athletes back, which can sometimes happen, because they don’t understand the possibilities of training when injured or preparing the body for sport when returning from injury. Additionally, I do feel that there is something that strength coaches may be able to gain from a number of these courses in terms of how they see things within an athletes movement, which may lead them to select a certain exercise over another.
However, many Fitness Coaches have gotten so far away from developing the fundamentals of fitness and focusing on movement that they actually have athletes who may move decently but lack basic fitness competency. What ends up happening is that as fatigue sets in during the competition the athletes “good movement” begins to break down and the athlete ends up in this vicious cycle of injury, rehab, competition, injury, rehab, competition, etc…This was part of the reason Charlie Weingroff, Joel Jamieson, and myself got together to record our Strength in Motion DVD – to show coaches how to combine a movement based approach with concepts that are essential to being a great strength coach and developing well-rounded athletes.
Requisite competencies are the aspects of training that I feel are essential to develop in all athletes. These are the fundamentals. The basics. If you focus on only one area or aspect of these requisite competencies then you end up with a deficient athlete who lacks a well-rounded fitness base. The three requisite competencies, as I see it, are:
- Movement Competency
- Work Capacity Competency
- Locomotion Competency
Many fitness coaches live here and do a good job with this (as I stated earlier). In this area the key goal is progress the athlete to a level where they can move efficiently and fluidly in all three planes of motion, they have appropriate joint ranges of motion to satisfy the needs and demands of their sport, and they have basic competency of fundamental exercises – push, pull, squat, hinge, and lunge.
Work Capacity Competency
Work capacity is essential to general preparation for sport. This competency should be focused on developing a very robust level of fitness that can tolerate high amounts of work and allow the individual to be resilient when it comes to recovering from hard training or competition. Having a well developed aerobic system is a good starting point and how you develop this will depend on the methods you choose and, to a certain extent, the sport the athlete is training for – sports specific work capacity being the ultimate goal.
Movement competency deals with how an individual performs movement statically while locomotion competency deals with how well the person propels them-self through space (how they loco-mote). One can loco-mote in a variety of ways and they should all be developed – crawling, walking, skipping, running, and jumping (plyometrics, hopping, leaping, bounding, etc). The goal of locomotion competency is to develop athletes so that they have a very large catalog of locomotion options that they can call upon when participating in sport.
These are the fundamentals. They are not sexy by any means but they are an essential starting point when planning training. The role of the Fitness Coach should be to enhance all of these qualities and set the athlete up for success in their given sport. Focusing on only one component of the above requisite competencies ends up leaving athlete deficient and preventing them from attaining their highest potential. I know most coaches will read this and think, “I already know all that. We already do this stuff!”. But I would encourage you to really look at your program and think long and hard about whether or not you are doing the basics well. I think many believe that they do these things (when in fact they may only do one or two of them well) but they may be leaving some things on the table when it comes to developing requisite competencies.
November 26, 2012 10 Comments
Recovering from competition is something that athletes and coaches are always looking to maximize. There are many ideas out there on how to approach the situation with everything from, “lift hard the day after the game since it is the day which is furthest away from the next game” to “take a full day of rest the day after the game to allow yourself to recover”.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Tufano et. al. (2012), Effect of Aerobic Recovery Intensity on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Strength, set out to look at the result that different aerobic intensities had on recovery from a delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) bout of resistance training.
Twenty-six women in their early to mid-twenties participated in the study. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- Moderate Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 70% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Low Intensity Cycling – 20min of riding at 30% of age predicted max HR reserve at 80rpm
- Rest (control) – 20min of sitting on the bike without pedaling
Baseline testing consisted of a pain scale evaluation, isometric force of the right quadriceps, and dynamic strength of the right quadriceps.
Within one week of baseline testing the subjects reported back to the lab for five consecutive days. Day 1 consisted of the DOMS inducing training protocol: 6 sets x 10 reps of maximum eccentric efforts for the knee extensors. Following this protocol the subjects then performed their randomly assigned recovery protocol (listed above). The subjects were re-tested on the above variables, immediately post and then days 2-5 the subjects reported back to the lab and where assessed in the same baseline variables at 24h, 48h, 72h, and 96h.
Some of the findings:
- Pain Scale was the greatest immediately post training than any other time period.
- Dynamic strength was significantly greater pre-intervention compared to immediately post; however, it was not significantly greater at 24h, 48h, 72h, or 96h.
- While the control group and low intensity group showed no significant differences in isometric strength during any of the time periods the moderate intensity group showed no differences between baseline testing and 48h, however 72h and 96h were significantly greater than at 24h of recovery.
This was an interesting study. I am still trying to figure out what I can pull from it knowing that the subjects are not athletes and knowing that they performed the recovery protocol after the eccentric training protocol rather than the next day, which may have been more “real-world” for an athlete who goes out and competes one day and then comes back the next day to train. Also, the paper did not tell how much time was placed between the training protocol and the recovery protocol.
Trying to get an athlete to recover quickly following a competition is often an important goal for most coaches, especially in sports where the athlete may be required to compete multiple times a week (e.g., hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball). The idea of going to the gym to train the day following a competition is something that many coaches place importance on and the hypothesis is that by moving around and getting blood flowing one is able to remove greater amounts of waste product and shuttle more nutrients to the cells to promote greater healing and restoration. This, of course, is still up for debate as science is still trying to understand what exactly is going on – perhaps there is also a large psychological component that goes into doing some exercise following competition and allowing the athlete to mentally get back in the game rather than sitting around and loafing, and perhaps this also can be helpful from a recovery standpoint. At any rate, it seems like doing something has benefit and the next question is always, “how much should we do?”. “Do we do a full on heavy lifting session the day after the game“. “Do we do a light foam rolling and mobility/stretch session?”
While this study did not look at doing high-intensity work following the eccentric training protocol it has been my experience that most athletes do not want to do a heavy or high-intensity session the day after the game. Most are pretty beat up, sore (pain scale was indicated in this paper), and tired – provided they played a significant role in the game – and the last thing they are thinking about is training hard. What we might be able to take away from this paper is that doing too little is simply not enough. Perhaps some medium intensity aerobic work would be the best option to keep the athletes moving following the game, get blood flowing, and prevent psychological lulls in the weekly schedule.
Of course this paper only looked at one aspect of the recovery process (training) and we should also keep in mind that recovery following intense competition is often multifaceted and often includes a variety of restorative modalities – massage, cold water therapy, nutrition, sleep, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, as well as how we train the day following a game, can potentially further the athlete’s ability to recover.
Similar to the findings in this paper, I have been a fan of the idea that the day after a game we do some form of moderate intensity aerobic work. The modalities I often use include things such as:
- Circuit training workouts using body weight activities, light calisthenics, low resistance exercises, and even working in various cardiovascular activities into the circuit (IE, light runs of short distance during the circuit, light cycling or versa climber). HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- High resistance bike rides performed on a spin bike with a high intensity (45-50rpms) for a set period of time (usually we do several rounds of 5min high resistance : 2.5min easy pedaling) and HR monitors are worn to ensure the individual is in the appropriate HR zone.
- Bodybuilder type training, which is what I call doing loads around 75% of less for 8-12 repetitions, not to failure (leaving 2-3 reps in the tank), and using total body movements (squatting, bench press, rowing movements, lunging movements, etc).
This type of work, along with soft tissue work (aimed at the individuals specific needs – both physiologically and structurally), has been useful at getting guys back on track. Of course I am always looking to refine these methods and ideas but hopefully this offers readers something to think about, consider, and play with.
November 12, 2012 10 Comments
The idea of programming can be a confusing one and as I discussed in a previous blog article, Concurrent Training: Strength and Aerobic Training at the Same Time?, both strength training and aerobic training apply different types of stress on the body and thus produce different molecular adaptations.
The big argument that always comes back is, “How practical is being able to always separate the two?”. Obviously we only have seven days in the week and with athletes needing to attend practice, competitions, and (if you are working with high school or college athletes) class, it can get really difficult to practically lay some of this stuff out as time is limited. Research happens in a much more controlled environment than the “real world” and sometimes we need to get creative with training structure.
What if we have to do Strength Training and Aerobic Training in the Same Session?
Performing strength training and conditioning tasks in the same session is a common way of prescribing training as it allows us to train several qualities in a time efficient manner. As I discussed in the Concurrent Training Article, the amount of focus you place on each task will be dependent on the goals of the training session, the phase of training and the athlete’s individual needs. One question that people often ask is, “Which should I do first? Conditioning or Strength Training?”. My reply to that is always, “It depends”.
A 2009 paper by Coffey and Hawley looked at successive bouts of strength and aerobic training during two different training session – one where the eight subjects performed strength training first and the other where the subjects performed aerobic training first.
- Resistance Training: Leg Extensions – 8 sets x 5 reps @ 80% intensity; Rest = 3min
- 15min rest period
- Endurance Training: Cycling – 30min continuously at a power output of approximately 70% of the individuals VO2peak
Session 2 (2 weeks after Session 1)
- Endurance Training: Cycling – 30min continuously at a power output of approximately 70% of the individuals VO2peak
- 15min rest period
- Resistance Training: Leg Extensions – 8 sets x 5 reps @ 80% intensity; Rest = 3min
- When endurance training was performed before resistance training (Session 2) there was a decrease in genes specifically associated with hypertrophy; therefore, the anabolic effect of resistance training may be blunted.
- When resistance training is performed before endurance training (Session 1) there is potential to exacerbate inflammation and protein degradation
- The results of this study are consistent with other studies indicating that there is an interference effect that takes place when two types of different training modalities are performed in the same session (as discussed in the Concurrent Training Article)
It would appear that anyway you slice it you get some sort of negative effect. Do your conditioning before your resistance training and you blunt the anabolic response. Do your resistance training before your conditioning and you end up with greater amounts of inflammation and protein degradation.
Thus, to answer the question of, “Which should I do first?”, we have to take into consideration the individuals needs because, as I stated earlier, “It depends!”
When looking at the individual athlete and trying to understand their needs it is important to remember that most team sport athletes do not need to maximize their potential in one single area (strength or power) but rather need to be a little more well-rounded and possess the capacity to repeat explosive and powerful efforts over the course of a game.
Oftentimes, when testing an athlete, we will typically find that the athlete tends to be dominant in one physical aspect (IE, strength) and may be lacking in another (IE, conditioning or sport specific work capacity), thus, our training should reflect that athlete’s needs during certain training phases when we are trying to make improvements in specific qualities.
For example, For an athlete who is already strong, powerful, and posses a large amount of muscle mass, my goals of training may be to improve their general fitness and work capacity and maintain their strength and power. In this athlete I may choose to perform some conditioning work first in the session and follow that with a low volume strength session, as maintenance work, for a few weeks until I get the fitness changes that I want. For an athlete who possess great conditioning but lacks strength and power my goal in that first phase of training would be to perform the strength and power work first in the session, to prioritize that quality, and then perform some low volume conditioning (maintenance work) at the end of session.
Obviously the most ideal situation would be to break up the week, separate the qualities, and train them at the volumes and intensities necessary for the individual; however, this is not always possible. In the offseason, when there are less demands placed on the individual, you may be able to get away with this type of setup but as the season draws near you may need to get more creative with your programming and figure out how to prioritize specific qualities on the limited training days that are available to you.
Some of these concepts and ideas are covered in the latest DVD I recorded with Charlie Weingroff, and Joel Jamieson. The DVD comes out November 6th, but don’t forget that you can get on the pre-sale list and save $25. Sign up HERE!
October 29, 2012 11 Comments
Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking in San Diego at the OPTathlon 3.0. The OPTathlon is a three day event consisting of two days of lectures and a third day of a fitness competition.
The OPTathlon was created by James Fitzgerald, the winner of the first ever Crossfit games and the owner of Optimum Performance Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had the pleasure of getting to know James and Max El-hag, the assistant fitness coach at Optimum Performance Training, when I lived in Phoenix and I wrote an article about some of their approaches in my blog prior – Training Crossfit…The “Right” Way??.
What I like most about their approach is that they aren’t doing typical “Crossfit” and just killing people, but rather, they are testing people, using science, and developing a best practices model to train individuals to compete in a sport that requires you to pretty much be ready for anything.
The lectures were excellent all weekend and I especially enjoyed James’ brother, Michael’s lecture on training (Michael owns his own company in Calgary – CLICK HERE). I got to give two talks, one on stress and another on an outsiders view of how one may train for an event that is so varied in nature. It was a lot of fun and really got me thinking outside of the box (which is always a good thing).
The OPTathlon itself
Staying for the event on Sunday was a real treat and throughout the day I had at least half a dozen people (maybe more) come up to me and ask “What do you think so far?” since everyone knew I was not coming from a Crossfit background. Well, what I thought was that it looked pretty much like a testing day in any sort of college weight room. James’ OPTathlon is not like a typical Crossfit games with all the madness going on and in fact is more of a well rounded test of fitness and the athletes are aware of what the tests will be – because the tests don’t change (aside from the “wild card workout”) – from year to year. The tests are:
1. Clean and Jerk for max weight
2. Standing Triple Jump (3 attempts)
3. 500m row repeat (max effort 500m row; Rest 90sec; max effort 500m row)
4. Wild Card Workout (a sort of Crossfit workout although more tame than what you would see in a crossfit games and the exercise selection wasn’t something crazy like snatches for time. On this day the workout was 8 barbell squat and press (aka, Thrusters), 8 pull ups, and 8 squat thrusts, as many rounds as you can do in 8min)
5. Overhead shot throw for distance (3 attempts)
6. 3K run for time
It was actually a lot of fun to watch and honestly, if my clavicle wasn’t so messed up and didn’t get swollen and painful whenever I front squat or do cleans, I would have enjoyed participating in an event like this.
So What Did I REALLY Think?
I honestly thought it was great. The tests were sensible and they tested how well rounded one’s fitness is. Obviously it is difficult to be so middle ground in all categories across the board since the type of training that makes one successful in one event produces a certain molecular response and adaptation that would make them less successful at a different event. You could really see this during the competition where the guys who were putting up great numbers on the power clean were typically not your best finishers in the 3K run. Thus, the goal may not be to actually win all of the events but to rather just be near the top somewhere in all events and have a very well rounded profile. After all, James is using this test battery to try and determine who may potentially have success at the Crossfit Games (a talent ID of sorts) by looking at such well rounded capacities.
I think events like this can be a lot of fun for people to compete in and I appreciate the fact that the exercise selection is sensible and not putting anyone into dangerous positions by asking them to do things like high skill movements (IE, Olympic lifts) under high amounts of fatigue.
I do think that mixed modal training can be fun, challenging, and produce some interesting fitness adaptations. I do think that choosing the exercises appropriately for mixed modal training is the kicker and seems to be what most professionals have the hardest time with (choosing exercises that can get potentially dangerous, such as deadlifting for max reps or time, is not the best way to approach it in my book). In reality, mixed modal training is nothing new – it is just circuit training! For an athlete I think that we need to be careful with certain types of mixed modal training as doing such general work does not ensure that the peripheral tissues that are needed for their specific sport are going to be trained properly or adequately. There are times were this sort of training may be helpful and useful and there are times where something more specific will be necessary. As with everything, the application is what matters – choosing good exercises, choosing exercises that can be performed safely, choosing work to rest ratios and training protocols that enhance sports specific fitness, and choosing exercises that make the most for the athlete and the sport are going to be key.
October 19, 2012 4 Comments