Monthly Archives: April 2015

It’s never wrong to be strong!

There are very few sports where absolute strength is unimportant. Regardless of whether or not the athlete’s bodyweight is important to performance, strength is always beneficial. A strong athlete will often be able to make up for skill more often than we like to admit. We have all seen clumsy, brutish athletes simply overpower and overwhelm more skilled opposition. In combat sports the argument is that two fighters of equal skill, bodyweight will be the defining factor. This is the reason for weight classes. Now, in a particular weight class we recognize that the stronger fighter will have the advantage.

Despite this we still argue that strength isn’t everything. While I believe other factors are just as important I will present a case for absolute strength being a critical factor. First we will look at the debate of relative strength. The Powerlifter/strongman vs. Olympic lifter is one such example. On one hand we have the Olympic lifter, a master technician who can shift weight more efficiently than most other athletes. They have incredible strength relative to bodyweight. Then we look at a powerlifter or strongman. They demonstrate tremendous strength while not being as technically efficient as an Olympic lifter. They also have much greater bodyweight which diminishes their strength to weight ratio. The following video shows how they compare when asked to squat their own bodyweight for max repetitions.

While the strongman and Olympic lifter achieve the same total reps the powerlifter has a greater total load lifted. Work done is an extremely important factor in all sports. This simply demonstrates that despite him not achieve the same reps his absolute strength allows him to beat more efficient lifters.

In the case of endurance athletes the argument may not be as obvious. Endurance athletes must sustain workloads in order to be successful. Our initial thought may be that their conditioning is going to be the critical factor. Again this is not the case. The greater an athlete’s maximal power output is, the easier he can manage submaximal work. Relative workloads become less intense. An athlete who must sustain 300watts when his max is 350watts will struggle against an athlete who maintains 300watts with a max of 400watts.

Crossfit athletes are also a very good example of this. They are often prescribed workloads which disregard any differences in the size or strength level of an athlete. In this case an athlete who must complete 20 deadlifts of 100kg, having a max effort of 150kg will need to work much harder than an athlete who has a max effort of 200kg. The first athlete is lifting 75% of their max in comparison to 50% with the second. This allows for a large advantage which may be too great to overcome even with a more efficient technique.

While I do not advocate neglecting technique or conditioning, it is important to realize the advantage that absolute strength provides. A weak yet technically good athlete will automatically be at a disadvantage. For this reason it is a very good idea to ascertain strength standards which athletes should look to achieve in their discipline. If they fail to do so it may highlight where they might struggle during competition. Very often direct attention to strength development can make a very significant impact on an athlete’s performance. Neither coach nor athlete should ever disregard the benefits of an effective strength program. It is often overlooked especially in technical sports. At high levels of competition this oversight may be the weakness that gives the opposition the opportunity they need to win.

Training age!

Training age is an important concept which both athletes and coaches should be aware of. Many now make the mistake of comparing athletes based on age. This is especially true at underage level and young adult athletes. Often we are impressed with young athletes who stand out physically from their peers. We also often disregard athletes who might be behind others of their age. This is a big mistake to make for both athletes and coaches as it can lead to a loss of potentially good athletes.

In an age where professional sport is so popular, the physical development of young athletes begins much younger than ever before. Some teams and organizations place more emphasis on physical development than others. It is now pretty common to have a wide range of physical ability across a group of athletes of a same age in a particular sport. This has now become an issue for some coaches as they must deal with players of quite varied levels of development.

It is quite common for athletes to feel under pressure to catch up to their peers especially if they have not yet put direct work into their strength and conditioning. Often when working with a team some players struggle as they are total novices to strength training. It is common for a school player to arrive at university and be thrown into an advanced program which they are not ready for. Even on the field of play they may be noticeably smaller or weaker while being extremely skillful. These players can become targets especially in contact sports where they might be identified as a weak links.

Sports such as American football have been professional for decades and now have a structure in place where they give the less developed players time to catch up. Often in their freshman year they spend most of their time focusing on their physical development rather than playing. This allows them to avoid injury and/or a loss of motivation from being beaten around by bigger players in their first season. By allowing them to catch up they can often be quite successful in their consecutive seasons as they are big and strong enough to compete.

In sports like rugby we are now at a stage where early focus on strength and conditioning is common but not always present at school level. Players can make rapid progress with direct attention to their physical attributes. The issue is that while they try to address these issues they still play regular games and partake in multiple skills sessions a week. This does not leave much time for recovery and some players may struggle to make the desired progress. Often they can be discouraged and a loss of motivation and attendance can occur. They simply slip through the net.

A good sports program will acknowledge that players come from varied backgrounds. Their age is no longer a reflection of their physical development as some have undertaken S&C programs for years while others have never seen a weight room before. The best organizations make allowances for this and treat players on a more individual basis. This way a player’s potential can be realized without letting good players go to waste simply because their training age is lower than their peers. Often players who were once seen as underdeveloped can become serious contributors to the team when given the chance to achieve their potential. A coach should be aware of the background of each player so as to avoid missing out on a player whose potential is hindered due to underdevelopment.

Stalled progress!!!!

There are times in our training when no matter how much effort we put in, progress seems to stall. Our natural inclination is to do more work. This is rarely the solution. We know that the body adapts well to stress stimuli. We use progressive overload programs to take advantage of this to make us stronger and fitter. If we use one training program for too long the abilities it focuses on will improve significantly up to a point. Over time weak links can appear as some abilities greatly exceed others. It may simply be caused by a lack of practice or perhaps a more physiological based reason.

There is an expression that says the best training program is the one you are not doing. We naturally tend to focus on the skills we have an aptitude for. We become addicted to progress and we generally progress best at things we have a natural disposition for, largely  because we enjoy doing them. The things we avoid or neglect do have a tendency to catch up to us and often hold us back.

For example an athlete may be training specifically for strength. They have a low rep high load program to do so. Initially there is great neural response and they become stronger without significant increases in muscle mass. Progress then stalls. They may try to force weight onto the bar during his lifts but does not successfully achieve the reps. They become frustrated because they are seeing no progress. The problem is not with the rep scheme. The problem lies in that they may have achieved maximum strength for their current muscle mass. Contractile strength is largely determined by the cross sectional mass of a given muscle. At this point they should look to increase mass and raise the level of force that they can produce. After addressing this they could return to a strength program and once again see steady progress.

In the case of endurance athletes it is not uncommon for them to perform large volume at low intensity early in a season to build stamina. When they go to race they may find that while they do possess good stamina, they lack high end pace for faster races and at the finish. Some assume this is a lack of fitness when it is in fact a lack of both power and sprint capacity. Spending some time focused on shorter sprints will allow them to have a higher ceiling of power that they can utilize during more intense stages of a race.

While these scenarios seem obvious on paper they are rarely easily identified by an athlete. When there is an emotional attachment to the training and performance it is easy to become distracted from the obvious. Coaches and athletes all have certain styles they favour and rarely venture too far from what they are used to. Often stagnation occurs due to lack of variety in their training.

The best way to overcome this is to have an appropriate testing procedure. Athletes and coaches must be analytical and honest with where they are and where they need to be. Things are often quite clear and the solution quite simple when regular testing is implemented. What is difficult is having the confidence to leave their comfort zone of training to address the problem. Endurance athletes in particular can be extremely hesitant to utilize strength training despite the benefits, which have been detailed in a previous article https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/03/16/weight-training-and-endurance-athletes/. A good athlete and coach need to have the confidence to address an issue even if it does not fit with their current training methodology. It is simply a waste of effort to continue when there is no progress being made. Identify what is missing and improving it will often jump start progress all round. So if you think your progress is stalled stop and think what your program is missing.