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Random Thoughts on Sports Training

Had a couple quick thoughts on sports performance training that I wanted to share, so here it goes….

1. Advanced athletes don't always need Special Developmental Exercises (SDE)
One of the more popular trends in the fitness industry is “sport specific training”. While the training of advanced athletes must always consider the specifics of their sport, this does not always mean they need advanced exercises. For the young athlete and athletes with minimal training experience, there is no need for advanced exercises or the “Train like the Pros” mentality. This is generally well understood. However, when it comes to high-level athletes or athletes with several yeasrs of training experience, coaches/trainers may assume that they need highly innovative, cutting edge training. Parents can also fall into this trap as well due to marketing tactics. The truth is that they need the basics too. They need the basics just like everyone else. In some cases, they may need a lot of the basics. It can be surprising how poorly some high-level athletes move when they are removed from sport.

With that said, keep in mind that high-level athletes generally have the ability to adapt very quickly to repeated exposure to a given stimulus. They have the ability to make dramatic improvements from week to week in terms of quality of movement, strength, and power development. This ability is a huge reason as to why they are such gifted athletes. The value of Special Developmental Exercises (SDE) in the preparation of high-level athletes for sport competition cannot be understated, but nothing can take the place of sound coaching that utilizes effective program variations and additions to meet the ever-changing complexities of the individual. When it comes to high-level athletes, programs may need to be updated at higher frequencies to promote continual development of the desired physical attributes the athlete needs. These updates should never be random, but applied with purpose and intent to promote continual development.

At the end of the day, some high-level athletes may be better served by training that focuses on the basics and laying a foundation for continual development through proper periodization rather than concentrating their training on fancy, innovative training methods.

2. Where you “feel " the exercise is just as important as how the exercise “looks”
We all know therapists, trainers, and gym gurus who preach “technique, technique, technique”. The importance of technique does not need repeated, but the idea of textbook technique may be more of a myth than fact. Technique, like exercise programming, should not be handled "one-size fits all" fashion. How an exercise "looks" is important, but what is too often forgotten in regards to exercise is where that individual "feels" the movement. For example, you observe an athlete performing a movement with what appears to be “perfect technique”, yet they do not “feel” the movement activating muscles in the right places. This example also highlights why feedback from an athlete can be extremely valuable. It is extremely valuable to know where your client/athlete “feels” the exercise. Don't just assume they are feeling proper muscle activation all because the exercise “looked good” from a technique viewpoint. Helping the client/athlete to "feel" the exercise while maintaining proper technique simply comes down to coaching, tweaking technique, and/or finding the right cues to promote the visual imagery necessary for them to connect their brain to the movement.
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/quotes-and-insights-from-buddy-morris-strength-coach-of-the-arizona-cardinals/

Why We Aren't Popular

Ryan and I have been fortunate to be influenced and mentored by some great coaches and athletes when it comes to the understanding of athletic development. There is no doubt that they have had a substantial impact on our abilities and coaching methodologies. Even with all the great mentors and book smarts, the lessons learned from being competitive athletes ourselves has had a significant impact on our coaching methodologies as well. From the point of view of an athlete, all that matters is wins and losses. At the end of the day, being an athlete is about developing your body’s potential for higher levels of performance. There are many coaches and many systems that currently exist which will have you believe their system is the only system. And they can be very good at it. With the amount of information that exists today in regards to developing strength, speed, power, etc., it’s not surprising why many trainers and coaches are doing their best to make the most “noise”. Noise may get you attention, but ensuring meaningful results is another story.

I find complete arrogance to exist when trainers or coaches speak in terms of absolute laws when it comes to specific systems or movements and their necessity for enhancing sport performance. For example, when one takes on the stance of broadly advocating movements such as Olympic lifts or powerlifting-based programs with a primary emphasis on the squat, bench press, and deadlift to develop strength-speed attributes of athletes, it must be examined very closely. There are many popular programs that exist today that can promise increased performance on a number of levels. It's all about selling a product. However, what escapes most is the fact that no element of an athletic development program should be carelessly added into the mix. You can't just randomly select a program based on it's popularity or how your buddy responded to it. You should not just add in something because someone told you to do so or you read it online.

What a lot of trainers, coaches, and athletes do not understand well enough is the impact movement has on the CNS. Movements such as the Olympic lifts, squat, bench press, and deadlift can all impose a significant amount of stress upon the central nervous system (CNS). The high CNS demand is generated from the necessity to execute these movements against maximal weights or submaximal weights at maximal velocity. The intent is to develop varying degrees of strength-speed qualities. It should be emphasized at this point that the typical athlete can adapt to only 2-3 CNS stressors at one time. Keep in mind, CNS stressors are not limited to physical training such as weightlifting, sprinting, jumping, etc. CNS stressors will also include practice, games, competitive events, and time devoted to sport-skill acquisition. These all come with a cost to the athlete’s CNS reserves. Understand that the athletes will take a significant beating from practice and competition. So any strength and conditioning work that is integrated into sport work will also draw heavily on the CNS. Trainers and coaches must accept the fact that they end up losing something in the weight room. But whether it is due to ego or fear of losing specific performance markers, there are many cases in which trainers or coaches may overly stress their athletes in the weight room, eventually leading to negative performance outcomes.

The importance is this: introducing movements, such as the Olympic lifts or variations of the powerlifts, while an athlete is focusing on more important tasks, such as developing sport skill, can come with negative consequences.

Now don't get me wrong. The utilization of the Olympic lifts, squat, bench, and deadlift have been used by elite athletes around the world. They more than serve their purpose in developing qualities that power-speed athletes desire. However, they should not be applied without first understanding the context. Sure an athlete may become stronger in the squat, bench, or clean, but are they performing at new levels on the field? Is their new strength level transferring into improved acceleration, speed, or power outputs in competition? Has the process of achieving increased strength interfered with their sport performance all because it was poorly planned?

This is exactly why educating athletes on what they need to focus on at the appropriate times during the competitive calendar is such a huge part of the process at Gallagher Performance. Young athletes want to work hard, but they need direction. The same can be said for any of our training clients, regardless of their training goals. They are all willing to put in the work provided it pushes them towards their goals. We have no “system” to sell our athletes and clients on. We address their needs while providing them the understanding of the sensitivity of the process. This, in turn, creates a more educated, more independent individual who understands how to achieve their goals despite all the noise and nonsense that exists in the fitness industry.

Sure many of our posts and articles may not be the most "popular" or most "liked". We don't give away a lot of information like other popular sites. We don't have a popular ebook. We don't give out sample training programs that are easy to follow or apply because the context will vary for everyone. One person may apply it and see tremendous results, while another may see no significant improvements. Rather, we write with the goal to educate. When it comes to fitness-related writing, it is definitely more popular to give people "fish" rather than "teaching them how to fish". This could be considered a bad business model when you look at what is deemed as successful in the fitness industry. So if teaching people how to be more sustainable on their own is not popular, we can live with that.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/thinking-of-taking-your-child-to-a-trainer-read-this-first/

https://gallagherperformance.com/learn-how-to-spot-the-fitness-frauds/

How to Develop Physical Fitness

Recently, I was having a conversation with one of our clients about what it takes to be ready to compete in sport. The conversation mostly centered around athletics and how to be in the best "condition" possible. Specifically, this client was talking about certain people they know and hold in high regard as having a high level of physical fitness. All was going well until they said something very interesting.

In regards to someone they know, they said, "Man, are they fit. They are probably the most fit person I know."

When I asked them what makes that individual the "most fit" person they know, they just stared blankly back at me. There was no response and you could see the wheels churning away trying to figure out the answer.

Fitness is a craze nowadays. Women want to be fit. Men want to be fit. Athletes want to be fit. People want to be fit. Health clubs, personal trainers, smart phone apps, and infomercials want to sell you on becoming more fit. Slogans such as “Forging Elite Fitness” and titles such as “Fittest Man on Earth” or “Fittest Woman on Earth” make the concept of fitness very intriguing. Many people have come to believe fitness is a complex process. To most, the idea of “fitness” brings to mind someone who is muscular, lean, strong, and has stamina for days. This “idea” of fitness seems to be nothing but mere marketing and often leads people down the road of overcomplicating their exercise or training program.

So, that begs the questions, "What is fitness?"

Physical fitness is actually quite simple if we define fitness as “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular physical task”. If your task is to compete in the 100m dash, then your fitness levels must enable you to successfully compete in that event. If your task is to start in the NFL, then your fitness must enable you compete at your highest level possible week after week.

Developing Physical Fitness
Physical fitness is achieved during the process of physical preparation or how prepared you are for competition. The ultimate goal of physical preparation is to have each athlete at their best during competition and is accomplished via a systematic process to promote adaptations that raise levels of both fitness and preparedness. Fitness adaptations thus follow the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). Meaning, if you want to gain muscle, get stronger, and be more explosive, you better be sprinting, jumping, throwing, and lifting weights to allow those specific adaptations to occur. The SAID principle also means that an athlete’s level of fitness should always be specific to their sporting demands.

Debating who is the most “fit” athlete or individual on the planet is a ridiculous conversation. How can someone say that an NHL defensemen who plays almost 30 minutes per game over an 82 game is more or less fit than an Olympic caliber decathlete? How is that Olympic decathlete more fit than a Navy SEAL? How is a Navy SEAL less fit than the “Fittest Man on Earth”? How is the winner of the Boston Marathon more fit than the World’s Strongest Man?

Do you see what I am getting at?

An athlete’s fitness levels (strength, power, stamina, energy system development, etc.) will always be specific to what is required by their primary sport form. Just because someone is the “Fittest Man on Earth” does not mean they will have the ability to withstand the demands of competing within another sport at elite levels. Personally, the “Fittest Man/Woman on Earth” title would be better renamed to “Fittest CrossFitter on Earth” because that’s all the title means. The notion that elite fitness in one event or sport is somehow superior to the fitness required in another is either arrogant or ignorant (possibly both).

Understanding Physical Fitness Adaptations
To better understand physical fitness and the specific adaptations that result from training, we must first consider the training system commonly used to achieve improvements in endurance, strength, and power. This training system is known as concurrent training. Concurrent training is defined as, “the simultaneous inclusion of strength training and endurance training within the same program.” Concurrent training may be a necessary means for some athletes and individuals. However, for most, the application of concurrent training is widely misunderstood and poorly organized in the pursuit of all things “fitness”. They want to improve endurance, so they do a lot of aerobic exercise. They may run, bike, or swim for hours each week. They also want to get lean and strong, so they lift weights 2-4 times per week. These are the people who train and train and train, yet fail to see significant improvements in any number of neuromuscular adaptations.

Aerobic and strength adaptations are very divergent. The human body is simply not capable of adapting appropriately to two very different training stimuli. You can go run for a long period of time or you can be explosive and strong from weight training. Now, I understand nobody wants to be both an elite marathon runner and Strongman. However, there are people who want high levels of aerobic capacity while also becoming muscular and strong at the same time. Unfortunately, many of these same people plateau quickly or fail to see significant improvements because concurrent training attenuates muscular growth, strength, and power gains. There is an interference effect created when one attempts to simultaneously improve both aerobic fitness and neuromuscular qualities such as strength and power. The training approach is doomed from the beginning if specificity and attention to detail in training organization does not enter the picture.

To understand why, we must then understand the competing long-term adaptations that occur from strength training and endurance training.

Competing Long-Term Adaptations
1) Strength Training (short duration, high force output)

  • Neural Adaptations – synchronous firing, recruits large populations of motor units, rapid rates of force development, improve rate coding
  • Endocrine Adaptations – Growth Hormone (GH) and Testosterone release, anabolic environment, stimulation of satellite cell activation and muscle protein synthesis
2) Aerobic Training (long duration, low force output)
  • Neural Adaptations – asynchronous firing, recruits small populations of motor units, slow rates of force development
  • Endocrine Adaptations – impaired anabolic hormone signaling, elevated Cortisol and catabolic hormone production, inhibition of mammalian target of rapamyacin (mTOR), essentially shutting down the pathways for stimulating muscle protein synthesis
This means that regardless of whether you perform aerobic exercise and strength training in separate sessions or during the same exercise session, the results can be negative depending on your “fitness” goals or needs as an athlete.

Fitness is Specific
Physical fitness is thus specific to the end goal of physical preparation. The physical preparation of an American football player should be different than that of an MMA fighter. Football players do not need to have the "fitness" levels of MMA fighters. Each of these athletes must develop their physical fitness qualities to meet the demands of their sport. Consider that American football players must develop power-speed qualities that are essential to their success at high levels of competition. Some trainers and coaches feel that some of their football players need better aerobic fitness or conditioning, so they have them perform high volumes of gassers or long distance runs in the off-season. As said before, this can prove to be a huge mistake. Being "fit" for football has very little to do with how many gassers you can complete, how fast you can run three miles, or what your Fran time is.

The same is true for other power-speed athletes (hockey, baseball, lacrosse, sprinters, throwers, etc.) Senseless and poorly implemented aerobic conditioning will have negative impacts on the neuromuscular qualities needed for successful participation in these sports. These qualities are important to their “fitness” as an athlete. Sure, go ahead and perform endless miles of running or biking. Go on with your absurd amounts of circuit-based training. But when you rob these athletes of their ability to develop higher levels of strength, speed, and power, it should be no surprise as to why it happened. Aerobic fitness cannot be prioritized to the point that more important qualities (strength, speed, and power) suffer.

But, isn’t a decent aerobic conditioning base essential for these athletes as well?

Yes. However, there are more optimal ways to develop their aerobic energy systems to meet the demands of their sport. Don't make the mistake of assuming aerobic capacity is the same as being "fit". Aerobic energy system development will always be specific to the athlete's needs. Similar to resistance training, aerobic development should be periodized and appropriately dosed to developed the specific energy system demands without impairing performance.

Conclusion
Fitness is not simply achieved by going nuts, but rather being productive in specific approaches to your sporting demands. If you are unsure of how to appropriately address your fitness goals or needs as an athlete, then first start with a knowledgeable coach who understands the complexities of physical preparation for sport and is able to guide you in the process. For some, the concept of fitness requires a bit of a “reality check”. Sure you may want it all. You want the elite level endurance, strength, speed, and power. But, often this is not realistic. Prioritize your fitness goals and address them accordingly in specific phases of training. This process requires patience.

Remember, fitness is a highly specific quality that is ultimately dependent upon the physical preparation process for your sport of participation. Understand your training must mirror your demands for sport. If training is not addressing your specific needs as an athlete, you are wasting your time. Don't let some general or poorly defined concept of "fitness" guide your training.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/physical-preparation-vs-fitness/

https://gallagherperformance.com/the-truth-about-functional-exercise/

https://gallagherperformance.com/ultimate-runners-guide-to-injury-prevention/

Genetics vs. Hard Work

Lately, the age-old debate on the role of genetics vs. work ethic in determining training outcomes has been a popular discussion with our athletes. Recently, some of the results our athletes have seen during their time training at GP has been chalked up to “genetics” by some outsiders. From their perspective, training is all the same. At the end of the day, they are lifting weights, running, jumping, etc. There was not, or could not, have been anything special about our training system that allowed these athletes to excel beyond what they had previously done. In their opinion, the results these athletes achieved had everything to do with being genetically “blessed”.

What becomes apparent with their argument is the lack of appreciation that exists in regards to the sophisticated nature of training methodologies aimed at long-term athletic development. Long-term athletic development is a concept many coaches, trainers, athletes, and parents are either unfamiliar with or don’t have the patience for. They want immediate results; regardless at what expense those results come with.

When athletes approach us for coaching, we have a big task on our hands. There is a lot of information we must gather regarding each athlete in order to design the most effective training program possible. Keep in mind, there is an incredible amount of detail that will influence how each athlete will respond to training and it is our responsibility as coaches to know the details and address them appropriately during training. The information we gather by spending sufficient time testing and analyzing various performance markers before and during training becomes invaluable in understanding what to address with our athletes.

When designing and coordinating the training plan, we also account for each athlete’s current state of readiness to train. There are a number of factors to consider when determining readiness to train and this information is critical to know as a coach. The ability to identify the degree of intensity and volume an athlete can handle during each training session is critical to progress and avoiding unnecessary training loads. We want to ensure that each training session produces quality work, not pointless work. It’s incredibly easy to ruin an athlete; getting them to progress year after year is a tremendous challenge.

What critics fail to see is exactly how much work, quality work, these athletes put in week after week for months. They don't acknowledge the endless hours of discipline and hard work that athlete was put into a training system that addresses their developmental needs. Instead, nowadays, people find it more convenient to simply blame genetics for their comparative lack of progress or dismiss the athlete’s hard work and suspect cheating (i.e. drug use).

This is truly a shame because it is the culture sport has created. It’s unfortunate to have a young athlete become bigger, stronger, or faster and, in turn, have their peers and others in their lives ask them, “What are you taking?”

Let me be clear about something: if you are failing to see progress in your training program or are seeing more time on the bench than on the playing field, chances are you are simply being out-worked in terms of quality of effort and direction in your training.

You really should take a look in the mirror and ask yourself how bad do you want it. If you want to be great in your sport, greatness is not something you simply decide. You must act upon it. There is a lot of discipline and hard work required to become an elite-level athlete.

Roughly, how much hard work?

You may or may not be familiar with the “10,000 hour rule”. The rule basically states that 10,000 hours is the amount of work needed to reach mastery in any discipline or skill. Even thought the rule has received some criticism, the point remains that it at least provides us with a tangible number when understanding how much time is needed to develop a high-degree of mastery in any pursuit.

Let’s break down the 10,000 rule a bit further. If you practiced your sport two hours a day, five days per week, it would take you just under 20 years to reach your 10,000 hours. More commonly, most young athletes practice their sport 1 hour per day, 3 days per week. At this pace it would take an athlete 64 years to achieve mastery. As you can quickly tell, being a “recreational” athlete will never allow you to reach elite status. Mastery requires time, a lot of time, and thus is a serious decision to dedication that one doesn’t make on a whim.

Remember, hard work is only one side of the coin. Anyone can work hard. Anyone can go nuts during a training session and work to complete exhaustion. For novice trainees, this may even produce some results in the beginning. But what happens in the coming weeks or months when you stop developing and hit that dreaded plateau? This is one of the biggest problems we see, especially in developing athletes. Far too often, talented kids stop developing because of poor attention to individual considerations. When working with young athletes, there has to be a period of development that cannot be rushed. This requires an extreme amount of patience on the part of coaches, athletes, and parents. Athletes must earn the right to progress by being consistent in gradual development.

At GP, we consider coaching athletes to be a long and potentially slow process. We also acknowledge that some athletes may not be interested in this approach. However, our interest is not just in creating quick and easy success for athletes, but directing a process that will allow them to reach their true athletic potential. From a coaching stand point, anyone can create changes in an athlete. It’s not hard. Simply having anyone perform an exercise or a routine that is new will create change. But, is that change purposeful? Was it directed towards meeting that athlete’s needs? Or was the change made to simply make a change without an understanding as to why the change was made?

This is where hard work within a well-directed training program, under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach will trump hard work without direction. Our training system tailors each program to meet the individual athlete’s needs, differences, and current level of readiness to train.

It is not uncommon for some of our athletes to tell us they have “worked harder” during training sessions. They are accustomed to coaches running them into the ground and trainers mindlessly make them do high-intensity work with little rest. What else do we hear? We hear these same athletes are failing to improve. Rather many of them feel extremely fatigued and unmotivated. Sure they saw some results to start, but lately they are frustrated and confused.

When first starting at GP, they may feel that our system of training looks “easy”. This is a huge mistake. Our training may appear to be “easy”, but each training session is demanding. Each session is extremely detailed and may move at a slower pace than some athletes care for. News flash: if you’re more interested in going nuts than being productive, there’s not much any training system can do for you. Simply put, if you work hard to get better as an athlete, but also have some detailed thought applied to your training, the results will be greater than you would ever expect.

Yes, athletes with superior genetics do exist. Their genetics will allow them to progress more rapidly and experience great adaptations to training stimuli than athletes with lesser genetics. But they are more rare than you think. When it comes down to it, quality work in a well-designed training program aimed at long-term athletic development, under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach likely has more to do with superior athleticism than genetics alone.

As the saying goes,

“Genetics are the hand you've been dealt, but it's how you play the hand that counts.”
 
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/6-factors-that-influence-an-athletes-dedication/

https://gallagherperformance.com/attitude-is-everything/

 

Thinking of Taking Your Child to a Trainer? Read this First

In order to meet the demands of working with athletes of all levels of preparation, the services at GP are constantly evolving and adapting on many levels. When it comes to the physical preparation of our athletes, there is no single program or method we use with every athlete. We are constantly assessing each athlete from day to day, learning what he or she is capable of performing during any given training session. Constantly assessing our athletes during their dynamic movements also allows us to identify weakness and address them accordingly from both an injury prevention and performance enhancement perspective.

Our approach can often times be a source of both intrigue and confusion for parents and their young athletes, since the majority of them are all too familiar with a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Many of these athletes even come with ‘cookie-cutter’ strength and conditioning programs given to them by their coach or previous trainer. It becomes our job to explain our approach to training and athletic development and why these ‘cookie-cutter’ programs fail to address individual needs of each athlete. After explaining why each individual athlete requires their own individualized approach and why no two athletes will respond similarly to the same program, it makes sense to them. They often find this very refreshing. What doesn’t make sense to them is how so many coaches and trainers are ignorant of this fact.

In an interview with Buddy Morris, Joel Jamison addressed the heart of the matter by saying,

“Coaches and trainers maybe don’t do the best job of understanding the needs of the sport and they tend to let their athletes over train because of the….push of this country is more intensity, the quick buck, the fast results. The other thing I think that’s influenced our industry probably negatively more than anything else is the marketing aspect. That there’s products, and there’s training methods, and there’s everything being pushed to athletes and coaches from a marketing perspective. We’ve all seen the cross fits, the P90 Xs, all the functional training stuff. It’s the marketing driving the training rather than the training driving the results or the results being based on something scientific.”
Buddy Morris, now the Head Physical Preparation coach for the Arizona Cardinals, had this to say in response,
”We're trying to create circus acts in this country so, like you said, people can generate revenue. So if you actually read and you understand training methodics and you understand the athlete and training the athlete, you won’t buy into all this stuff out there.”
In my opinion, Joel and Buddy nailed the central issue when it comes properly preparing athletes not just when it comes to training, but ultimately for competition. Within the US, there’s a tremendous lack of scientific influence when it comes to the training and preparation of athletes. This is not always true of each coach or trainer, but it certainly is more common than not. The exact opposite was true of the former Soviet Union and the preparation of their athletes. The USSR’s dominance of international athletics can be attributed to a superior coaching education system and the development of highly sophisticated, multi-year training regimens that focused on long-term development over short-term results.

What the Soviets understood very well is that athletes are never immediately better after the training they just performed. Buddy Morris likens the training process to a ‘slow cooker’, emphasizing that results are best achieved with periods of gradual loading and de-loading to allow the athlete to accommodate to the stress of training. The stress of training is a poorly misunderstood concept as seen by the lack of planned restoration/recovery within many programs. Programs must account for high stressors and low stressors because athletes cannot be loaded with CNS (Central Nervous System) intensive exercises or drills everyday. This is a huge mistake and one that is characteristic of far too many programs.

Young athletes may be able to get away with this for one reason and one reason only, they have youth on their side. Young athletes are capable of handling enormous amounts of volume in training. However, this does not serve as a justification for this type of programming. It only serves as an explanation as to why older athletes who practice the same training methods they utilized when they were younger tend not to see the same results or are more likely to over-train or burnout. You’re not going to be able to train an older athlete like a younger athlete. Older athletes have attained higher levels of mastery, thus they require different training approaches with more focus given to recovery and restoration. This is why consistently analyzing programs when it comes to exercise effectiveness is invaluable. If there’s not a good reason for doing an exercise, get rid of it. The human body has a finite amount of resources, why waste them on unnecessary training?

To illustrate this, Buddy Morris speaks of Bruce Lee and how people could not understand how he continually improved as a fighter, even as he got older. Bruce Lee simply got more specialized in his training, he tossed aside all the unnecessary work in order to be more directed. Bruce Lee was famous for saying, “Don’t fear the man with 1,000 moves. Fear the man with one move that he’s practiced 1,000 times.”

These thoughts and philosophies when it comes to the preparation of young athletes are not at all unique to GP. There is a growing number of coaches and trainers that share these same beliefs. We are simply doing our best to educate the public at large. The more we can help open people’s eyes and get them to understand the broader picture of athletic development, it will only provide more quality training services and allow people to see through the nonsense and marketing tactics.

 
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-specificity-in-your-training-plan-matters/

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-athletes-should-avoid-hiit-programs/

https://gallagherperformance.com/understanding-the-benefits-and-concerns-of-youth-strength-training-programs/

 

Athletes Do Not Need Balance to Be Successful

In the attempt to improve athletic performance or prevent sports-related injuries, it is common to read that muscles in the body should be balanced. At times, what “balanced” means is never fully explained and is often assumed to mean that muscles on both sides of a joint should be equal in qualities such as endurance or strength. As a result, trainers and coaches may advise athletes to perform equal training for musculature on all sides of a joint to ensure balance.

The intent is to achieve symmetry. Not just at one particular joint, but often throughout the body. The goal is to see symmetrical movement on both sides of the body. Consider how therapists and coaches will use movement-screening systems to evaluate movement and then apply correctives with the goal to ‘balance’ the body or to reduce the risk of injury.

However, one must question if this the most intelligent thing to do in relation to high-level athletic performance. 
From the few studies done on this topic and from observation, symmetry may not be an effective means of improving performance. Rather, It appears that the majority of high-level athletes are asymmetrical.

This should not be surprising if you have been looking closely at high-level athletes. I recently attended the ACA Rehabilitation Symposium in Las Vegas over this past weekend. Professor Stuart McGill was one of the featured speakers and he has extensively researched the factors which make great athletes great. Professor McGill provided numerous examples from cases he has seen over of the years of athletes being ruined by someone attempting to 'balance' their body. The intent was on improving their performance or ‘correcting’ movement, yet the end result was making that athlete a patient. Essentially, he cautioned us all as chiropractors, therapists, and trainers to be very wise in what we do with our athletes.

One example he provided was Olympic sprinters and how many of them have very stiff, tight ankles. He stated how this is necessary for their performance and ultimately their success as elite level sprinters. Their ankles must be stiff to serve as ‘springs’ for explosive running. Yet, as he stated, many therapists would want to ‘mobilize’ their ankles and ‘release’ or ‘stretch’ the musculature surrounding the ankle to improve range of motion. However, now you have robbed them of the very thing that makes them a great athlete in their sport.

His example brought to mind a high school football player who trains at GP. He is our fastest athlete and his ankles are incredibly stiff. This stood out immediately upon his initial assessment. Did we do anything to mobilize his ankles? No. We didn’t touch his ankles, understanding that his ankle stiffness is what made him fast. Made him incredibly agile and quick.

If you try to balance muscular development or joint function, it can potentially interfere greatly with an athlete’s performance. It’s important to remember that what makes athletes asymmetrical also makes them great. It is not only a consequence of their training, but often what their sport demands. To take time out of their training to balance their body arguably interferes with more productive training.

This does not mean that they do not do exercises to keep their body healthy and prevent injury. We have our athletes perform many exercises for this purpose, but they are typically done during the general preparatory period, not in the competitive or precompetitive periods.

Former Soviet Union sport scientists studied this concept. The Soviets understood that asymmetry appears to be a key to athletic success. Asymmetry that is produced appears to allow athletes to go above and beyond what other ”well-balanced” athletes are capable of doing. It seems that the asymmetry allows the athlete to perform on a higher level.

There appears to be enough evidence to indicate that perhaps we should not be anxious to 'balance' every athlete’s physical development. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you ignore development of antagonistic muscles. But you do not emphasize them to the same extent as you do with the main muscles and joints involved in the execution of the athlete's competitive sports skill.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/athletic-development-will-your-child-be-a-success-or-burn-out/

https://gallagherperformance.com/does-practice-make-permanent-how-practice-rewires-your-nervous-system/

https://gallagherperformance.com/commonmistakesindevelopingyoungathletes/

Advanced Training for Elite Athletes

The concept of sport-specific training has continually gained popularity over the years. It’s a growing market and business-minded individuals are taking notice. Similar to trends in functional exercise, you have a growing number of trainers stating they offer the “latest in sports training”. Frankly, anybody online can say their method or approach is the best. In a competitive market, people enjoy using words to attract your business. There are plenty of gimmicks that exist, namely in the world of speed training. Often times, athletes acknowledge such methods did little or nothing to improve on-field performance. If these gimmicks worked, it's simply because the athlete was a novice or of low qualification. Novices have the unique ability to respond to almost any form of training. But does this mean what was done is most appropriate? Does it mean training was efficient or effective? Not necessarily. When it comes to the training of higher level athletes, previously used methods and/or exercises will eventually fail to produce continual improvements in sport performance. There is a point of diminishing returns and training must adapt accordingly.

For any athlete, sport-specific training must ensure maximal transfer of the training program to on-field results. If exercise selection or organization has little carry over to making athletes better, you are wasting valuable time and money. Transfer of training can be summed up with the SAID Principle (Specific-Adaptations to Imposed-Demands). The SAID Principle has been proven time and time again in both research and training. This principle implies that training is most effective when resistance exercises prescribed are similar to the target activity or primary sport form/movement. Furthermore, every training method will elicit a specific (and different) adaptation response in the body. There must be compatibility between training and sport. This becomes of increasing importance as an athlete reaches higher and higher levels of athletic competition.

As mentioned before, research has demonstrated how exercises that once worked to improve sport performance for an athlete at a lower qualification level, will eventually lose training effect as the athlete gains mastery. For instance, indicators of maximal strength (squat 1RM) often have a direct correlation in low-level athletes, but lose significant correlation with enhancing sport performance in higher-level athletes. Similarly, movement abilities such as sprinting and change-of-direction (agility) are each separate motor tasks, characterized by specific motor abilities. Improvements in linear sprint speed and change-of-direction ability have limited transfer to each other and the degree of transfer decreases as an athlete progresses.

Thus, in order to enhance the sporting ability of high-level athletes, there comes a time when we must get more detailed than simply chasing increased strength and 'quick feet'. It’s inevitable. There is no way to avoid it. The world’s greatest Sport Scientists understood this and proved the need to go beyond traditional training approaches to see continual improvements in performance as athletes reached higher levels of competition. This is where the concept of Special Strength Training (SST) becomes of importance in the training plan.

Introduction to Special Strength Training
Pioneered by Dr. Anatoli Bondarchuk, SST has been incorporated for decades by coaches in other countries, mostly in the Olympic sports. Dr. Bondarchuk is most noted for his involvement in the throwing sports, particularly the hammer, and his results speak for themselves. It was Bondarchuk’s identification and implementation of special exercises with the highest degree of dynamic correspondence to the sporting movement that became the focus of his athletes' training plan. His organization of training allowed athletes to set world records and win numerous international and Olympic medals despite the fact that they did not possess the greatest strength in movements such as the clean, squat, or bench press.

Exercise Classification System
Bondarchuk classifies exercises into 4 categories:

  1. GENERAL PREPARATORY EXERCISES are exercises that do not imitate the competitive event and do not train the specific systems.
  2. SPECIAL PREPARATORY EXERCISES are exercises that do not imitate the competitive event, but train the major muscle groups and same physiological energy systems as your sport. However, movement patterns are different.
  3. SPECIAL DEVELOPMENTAL EXERCISES are exercise that replicate the competitive event in training but in its separate parts. These exercises are similar to the competitive event, not identical.
  4. COMPETITIVE EXERCISES are exercises that are identical or almost identical to the competition event.
It’s important to note that as an athlete rises from general preparatory exercises to the competitive event, each category on the list becomes more specific and will have greater dynamic correspondence to the athlete’s sport. Thus, as specificity increases, exercise selection decreases. There are hundreds of exercises that potentially could be considered Preparatory exercises. Preparatory exercises prepare the body for more specific sport training, while Developmental exercises aim to develop strength and technique. Special Developmental and Competitive exercises have the highest degree of transfer. The greatest focus from a planning and organization standpoint is placed on these exercises in order to yield improvements in sport performance. At this point, exercise selection has narrowed greatly. Often, the competitive exercise is simply the competitive event. In the case of a track athlete, the competitive exercise is considered the event (hammer, shot put, long jump, 100m, etc). This can also include subtle variations to the event. For team-sport athletes, the competitive event is the game. The classification of exercises as they relate to specific athletes is not the scope of this article. That discussion is far too detailed and is always dependent upon the athlete, their level of qualification, and the competitive event.

In explaining SST, Bondarchuk said,
“General exercises have little relevance to the sporting action. Specialized preparatory exercises use the same muscles that are involved in a particular sporting action. Specialized developmental exercises include single joint actions that duplicate one portion of the sporting action. They also mirror the velocity and range of motion seen in the competitive movement. Competitive exercises are those that fully mimic the competitive movement in more difficult conditions and easier ones.”
Advantages of Special Strength
There are a number of advantages to programming SST within an athlete’s training program. Among many reasons, arguably the most important application of SST is the development of strength as it relates to specific movement and skill execution in an athlete’s sport. This advantage cannot be overlooked since very few approaches train physical qualities (strength, power, work capacity, etc) and technical skill development simultaneously. Programming should provide the avenue for athletes to achieve higher levels of sport mastery. Rather than applying appropriate programming, many trainers get caught chasing quantitative numbers (squat or bench 1RM, 40 yard dash time). While focus on general motor abilities is important for the novice athlete and provides performance-enhancing benefits, they lose their carryover for the more advanced athlete. SST ensures that strength gains will have a direct transfer into sport technique and skill development.

Special Strength is Task-Specific 

The effectiveness and accuracy of exercise selection within special strength training is dependent on a thorough understanding of what a given athlete is being asked to perform in competition. Selecting an exercise is great, but you have to put it into a program and a plan. You need to know your athlete and what exercise(s) works well for them. For team sports, task-specificity also takes into account that you understand the athlete’s position and the physiological/energy demands relative to their sport. Care must be taken to stay within certain parameters, above or below, the sporting movements to avoid yielding negative adaptations on the expression of sport skill. For example, applying loads that are too heavy will negatively influence technique by causing breakdown in mechanics that are important for developing speed strength. Speed strength is essential for throwing, jumping, and sprinting. Conversely, loads that are too light will also have a negative influence on mechanics since the lack of resistance with fail to promote the building of specific strength.

Summing It All Up
This article attempted to offer insight into the concept of special strength training and how it correlates with higher levels of sport mastery. Due to the nature of SST, it’s important to keep in mind that early specialization in training, similar to early specialization in sport, can occur too soon. Athletes like NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Henrik Zetterberg (pictured above) don't train like novice, youth hockey players and young hockey players should not be training like them. Research has proven that athletes at low levels of training and physical ability need to focus on increasing general physical qualities such as strength, as strength will carry over greatly to movement speed. In fact, novice trainees have the ability to attain simultaneous increases in strength, power, coordination, speed, core stabilization, proprioception, and reduced injury risk. However, as an athlete reaches higher levels of mastery, effectiveness of basic training methods become limited quickly due to the specificity of movement and skill related to sport.

If you are unclear on how to properly utilize the training methods of SST, you should not blindly implement SST into your training. The incorrect application of exercise and program variables would likely have a negative affect on the neuromuscular actions involved in sport movement. Athletes looking to ensure the best results from SST would be wise to have their training overseen by a coach/trainer who is knowledgeable and competent in its application.

Sources

Bondarchuk. Transfer of Training in Sports. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2007.
Siff & Verkhoshansky. Supertraining. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2009.
Verkhoshansky. Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport. Sportivny Press, 1986.

 
 
 

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