Category Archives: Power Training

Warning signs of over reaching.

Dealing with a large number of athletes shows a huge amount of variation and diversity. Lifestyle and physiological factors are totally different from one athlete to another. Depending on lifestyle, an individual can have stress coming from any direction. Work, study, family, training, finance and competition are just a few of the factors that can cause stress. When an athlete trains they create stress. Normally this stress elicits a positive adaptation. An individual will recover to a point that is greater than before and they see progress. This is the basis of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theory. If one does not recover they will not improve. If they continue to put their body under stress they will eventually begin to breakdown and see a loss of ability.

 

There are many warning signs of under-recovering. These often precede overtraining and can help one avoid getting into that situation. Overtraining, depending on the severity, can take weeks to months to reverse. That may be long enough to destroy a performance and potentially a career. It is important that an athlete be aware of the warning signs and monitor themselves to avoid overtraining. Many of these signs are well documented but others not so much. Tiredness, resting heart rate and loss of performance are the typical and most obvious indicators of over doing things. A certain amount is okay and when followed by adequate recover one can see great adaptation. Overreaching is a less severe version and can be quite beneficial when planned for appropriately. The issue is that some athletes will push the boundaries here. Some believe they are capable of more than they are and can often do themselves a disservice as a result.

 

It is extremely common for athletes to ignore tiredness and continue to build training volume. They also have a tendency to increase volume when they see a dip in performance as it is the most obvious solution to them. This creates an environment for them in which overtraining can easily occur. When monitoring for overtraining it is important to look for some less obvious signs. Some pretty common things can be used as warning signs.

1) Mood swings.

Changes in mood or personality are pretty obvious signs of stress. The term “hangry” has become a buzz word around athletes. When an athlete undereats or skips a meal they often become quite narky and sensitive. Being hungry can make some athletes appear angry. This “Hangry” state can highlight that their management of nutritional factors is poor. In addition when athletes undereat they can appear to be mildly depressed. In some cases teary and emotional athletes can highlight they simply are not eating enough to recover fully. Lightening training load and a few solid meals can produce have a massive impact on an athletes mood and personality.

Loss of motivation or being unusually moody can be a sign of fatigue

Loss of motivation or being unusually moody can be a sign of fatigue

2) Minor Illness

If an athlete is constantly coming down with common colds and “sniffles” it can be an obvious sign their body is dealing with stress. If training loads are high and they are not recovering fully the immune system becomes suppressed. Undereating for training can create this scenario pretty quickly and what is considered a common occurrence depending on time of the year may actually be a sign of things being out of balance.

3) Irregular Periods

For female athletes, particularly those in endurance sports, this can be a very obvious indicator of stress. Athletes experiencing irregular or missed periods should seek medical advice to rule out underlying conditions. In many cases high energy demands and poor nutritional management can be the cause.  Excessive stress either physically or emotionally can also be a cause. Menstruation can be an excellent indicator of overall wellbeing and balance between stress and recovery.

4) Aches and pains

Some amount of pain is normal and common for athletes training intensely. However, constant aches, pains and tightness can be a sign that they are placing the musculoskeletal system under too much stress and volume. Without adequate recovery it remains in mildly damaged state. Tension can also build up in the muscles if not allowed to recover fully. New training programs and sudden increases in volume can create a little bit of discomfort short term but if it persists it may be a sign that rest is needed.

These signs are extremely common and often pretty sensitive to training and stress induced through daily life. What is important to remember is that progress is the number one goal. If an individual does not recover then they are simply wasting time and effort. Keeping a close eye on the above factors can give them a very tight accurate control over their bodies. They can be smarter and more efficient athletes if they take advantage of these indicators and learn their bodies. Successful athletes will have a great knowledge of their body and how it reacts to lifestyle and training influences. If any athlete is concerned about anything discussed it is always wise to seek medical advice to ensure there are no underlying problems. Be aware that many ailments can give clues as to how the body is coping. In many cases they can be used to an athletes advantage when they are typically seen as a nuisance.

 

If you liked this post please like and share. Follow our newsletter below for updates.

 

Will cardiovascular training kill strength

One of the most poorly understood interactions in the sport and fitness world is that of cardiovascular training and strength levels. One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that cardiovascular training or “Cardio” will hinder or even reduce strength levels. In particular low intensity, high volume cardio has been touted as a strength killer.  Many will agree with this statement and anecdotally it seems to hold a lot of truth. Then we look at field athletes such as rugby players for example. Some have pretty impressive strength levels as well as excellent cardiovascular conditioning. How do they achieve this if the training methods counteract each other? In addition why do so many scientific studies with tight control and experimental design show conditioning to be improved alongside strength and power? There are similar misconceptions of strength in the endurance world. Endurance athletes believe strength training makes them slow and bulky.  How can so much confusion and mixed opinions exist in this.

 

The answer all comes down to one simple factor -Load! When we use the term load we are not referring to load as a weight, we refer to it as external stress. In this case the stress is training volume or overall training load. Typically cardiovascular training, especially the low intensity variety, is done in high volume to have effect.  Large volumes of training have high energy demands. These demands can be hard to meet nutritionally. In addition to this, large volumes of training can accumulate considerable microtrauma and damage to muscle cells. In practical terms there is an accumulation of fatigue.

 

If one wishes to increase or maintain strength levels one must train to the upper limits of one’s current ability. The neuromuscular system improves when its current capacity is placed under higher demands than it is capable of meeting. Over time and consistent stimulus it responds and adapts becoming more efficient. This is the basis of a strength program. Progressive overload is the simplest mechanism for adaptation.

 

An athlete must lift enough to elicit adaptation and increase strength.

An athlete must lift enough to elicit adaptation and increase strength.

When we train while fatigued it has obvious implications for what can be achieved. One will simply not be able to reach a level of intensity that would be considered maximal or required for any real stimulus. In short we cannot train hard enough to push our limits. With the result that the mechanism of progressive overload is never achieved as we remain well within our limits. Not being able to train maximally or at our upper limits will make it extremely difficult to see any improvements in absolute strength. In addition, prolonged periods of training in which we fail to reach intensity will result in detraining. If we don’t use it we lose it. We can lose strength as we don’t really get to the point where it is stressed.

 

Large volumes of cardio training take up a lot of time in our schedules. Larger volumes have been shown to be very effective in terms of improving cardiovascular conditioning. The issue is allowing enough time in a week to complete cardio, recover and then train strength. If it is not scheduled carefully there is bound to be latent fatigue when going into the subsequent training sessions. This is where issues arise and cardio begins to have a negative impact on overall training effectiveness.

 

Another argument is that physiologically the adaptations of cardio training counteract those of strength training. This is usually the argument used to explain why cardio kills strength. In reality the structural adaptations are largely defined by genetics. Smaller people tend to suit endurance sports just like larger individuals are suited to power type sports. Yes there is some influence of training but generally speaking we naturally sort into the sports we are suited to at a young age. Our size will influence our success in a given sport and there’s not much an individual can do about it. Larger people can be very well trained cardiovascularly but must move more mass and therefore tend to be slower as a result. Likewise smaller endurance athletes can be very strong pound for pound but will simply lack the mass to shift heavier weights. This is a major reason for weight categories in strength sports such as weightlifting.

Successful distance runners are physiologically suited for the sport. They have lighter rangier frames. Perfect for covering distance efficiently.

Successful distance runners are physiologically suited for the sport. They have lighter rangier frames. Perfect for covering distance efficiently.

 

In short genetically we are predisposed to certain characteristics which fool us into thinking the type of training we do is the reason for our abilities or weaknesses.  When looking at concurrent training the main factor that influences our improvements is fatigue. If training is carefully planned and one does not overtrain a capability or underecover from sessions, we can improve both simultaneously. Looking practically it is a lot easier to focus on one or the other but this is not always a possibility.

 

The point of the article is to highlight the fact that one can train strength and cardio simultaneously and see improvements in both. Strength can go unhindered and endurance can be improved with increases in strength. Poor understanding of the relationship between the two has led many individuals to neglect their conditioning in favor of strength or vice versa. When planning a training program one should consider the length of time it takes to recover from different training types. Progress will be ensured if one considers the differing timescales of recovery and appropriate training stimulus needed to promote adaptation. When this is accounted for concurrent improvements in both strength and cardiovascular conditioning are very achievable.

 

Sign up for updates!

 

Building a Big’Ole Bench

The bench press is one of the most common exercises in the gym. It was once the most popular lift that could be done. Recently it has become a victim to trends; what is old and mainstream tends to get cast aside and vilified. Now many coaches will be of the opinion that having big bench numbers will not make you a better athlete. I say that anything that increases overall strength in any movement is useful to any athlete. While not critical it is certainly something worth having. The bench press is still one of the best upper body compound movements there is.

Still an important exercise for overall strength and power

Still an important exercise for overall strength and power

While the bench press may seem relatively simple, it is often performed pretty poorly. Before you start working on building up your bench press have a look at any of Dave Tate’s bench press videos. His technique description is about as good as it gets. It is simple and gets you in the ballpark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QnwAoesJvQ

From my point of view there are two key parts.

 1) Build a solid base: Jam your feet into the floor and your shoulders into the bench. Make sure you keep your head down too. If you are rock solid on the bench then when the weight becomes a struggle every bit of energy will move the bar rather than squirming you’re body around. Feet flailing in the air will never help you get force through the bar. Being solid allows for all your effort to be transferred to the bar. It is also a lot safer than being unstable.

A good stable base and keeping the elbows tight to the body makes this lift much more effective.

A good stable base and keeping the elbows tight to the body makes this lift much more effective.

 2) Keep the elbows tucked. This means elbows closer to the body which will result in the bar a bit lower on the chest at the bottom position. While this helps keep forces moving through the shoulder in a much safer way, it also helps with the first point. Wide elbows when on the bench tend to result in the chest compressing towards the bench. The shoulders then protract slightly as the athlete begins to struggle. They then begin to wiggle and one arm inevitably shoots up in an awkward path and the bar goes in every direction but up. Not the most scientific explanation but very common when novice lifters begin to fail. Failing to keep the elbows tucked can be a result of scapular instability as well. Maintaining some scapular and upper back strength exercises are a great supplement to pressing movements.

In terms of reps and sets, it depends on the goal. Generally speaking some initial volume work is great to build up musculature and help ingrain the movement pattern. For increasing strength, back off sets work wonders for bench press. After you follow a basic starting strength program this can really take things to the next level. 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler would be my suggestion for anyone starting strength. It is simple, effective and works even with the most experienced lifters. https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/531-how-to-build-pure-strengthTo work back off sets effectively, I suggest working up gradually to max set of 2 repetitions. These should be comfortable reps with no slow grinding lockouts. It will be approximately 90% of max or slightly below. Then simply complete a couple of sets of slightly higher reps at a lighter weight.

A session might look like this: (Example 1RM of 100kg)

Work up to a heavy double

Bar X5

60kg X5 reps

75kg X3 reps

80kg X3 reps

85kg X2 reps

88kg X2 reps

89kg X2 reps

Then calculate your working percentage (This example taking 75%)

Complete two sets of 6 at 75%

There is quite a large amount of activation of motor units when working up to a heavy double. When you back off the weight feels light. You can really explode off the chest with each rep. This does wonders for training the neural aspect of strength without overloading the joints too much. Reps are quicker and smoother which is exactly how you want to train. I have used this method several times with many different athletes and without a doubt it is the most effective method for rapidly increasing bench press numbers.

There are many tools to do many jobs. The bench press is a great tool in building upper body strength and power. Use it safely and effectively to increase the potential of you or your athletes performance.

 If you liked this article then please like and share. Don’t subscribe to our free newsletter

The 2 building blocks of a successful program

As we enter the summer season many athletes will now also be entering an important training phase. For most team sports we enter the offseason and for other track and field athletes it is the beginning of competition season. In both cases this time of year is extremely important for athletes. An offseason can make or break many athletes. Often the pressure and excitement can distract athletes from the real goal. Progress is always key when it comes to training. Without progress there’s not much point training.

In terms of physical development progress comes in the form of adaptation. When we train, the body is placed under stress which we must adapt to if we want to survive it. Some adaptation takes more time than others and this must be factored in. For that reason most athletes tend to leave big goals for the offseason where they have time to work on things without needing to focus on competition. The two critical components to a training program are consistency and recovery. Both tend to be taken pretty lightly. Everyone plans to be consistent and most people think they recover, but what does that really look like on the ground?

Consistency is a word kicked around a lot by coaches and it always seems to come with a motivational talk paired with team commitment. No doubt they are also important but often they cloud the issue. When I think consistency I think frequency and volume. Is the athlete training enough to support adaptation towards their goal. In some cases this may mean training twice a day and in others maybe once or twice per week. If an athlete fails to complete the required frequency then he will lose his consistency. Not only in attendance but also in progress. This may be due to hectic schedules or motivation. Consistency is the driving force of adaptation and it must be explained in a more practical way. The frequency and volume of training must reflect the training goals. This doesn’t always mean training every available minute but this is often how it is interpreted.

Consistency also blends into recovery. Recovery means reversing the loss in performance associated with the fatigue induced by training stress. The simplest forms are sleep and nutrition. Then there are a wide range of techniques all aimed at different mechanisms in the body. We need to be concerned with those aiding and promoting the adaptive process. For this reason an athlete must look at their goals for the answer. Hypertrophy is the simplest example. If an athlete wishes to increase muscle mass he must support this with adequate nutrition. Without adequate protein and energy intake growth will not occur. He can foam roll and ice bath all day long but without adequate nutrition his efforts will be in vain. The recovery must match the process.

When you combine consistency and recovery the body will display a trend. If you have trained with adequate frequency and recovered appropriately then there will be significant adaptation. If the program is suitable to the goal then you will have progress towards it. Consistency develops this trend and the trend is what delivers the results.

fitness

Most of this will appear obvious but can be the downfall of many programs. Highly motivated individuals can overthink the process. They can do too much and take too many techniques into consideration without actually taking care of the process at hand. The best programs and often the best athletes are the ones with the simplest approach. The simpler something is, the harder it is to get wrong. If you make your program something simple enough to be followed, and put in place a recovery protocol that is simple enough to do the job repeatedly, then it’s difficult to go wrong. Making small steady progress is often more beneficial than large sporadic jumps in performance.

The take away message is to start small. Make things simple and get them right. Watch the progress and slowly add and build techniques to suit you and your program. Don’t be fooled by the latest trends and don’t get over excited. Be simple, repeatable and realistic. Over time the adaptations accumulate and before you know you’ve separated yourself from many of your peers.

 

If you liked this article then please like and share. Don’t forget to sign up for notifications below.

The warm-up and performance!

A winning team or athlete will undoubtedly want to achieve two things every session. One, perform at their best for that given day and two, prevent any injury occurring. With this in mind athletes are paying more attention to their warm-up procedure as the impact of an effective warm-up has shown to play a significant role in achieving those goals. Competition tends to encourage us to find an edge or advantage over our competitors. In some cases this allows us to be innovative and improve, in others it creates distractions. The warm-up has become a monster in some cases. It is not uncommon for some teams and individuals performing excessive warm-up protocols which show more harm than benefit.

Quite recently I attended a rugby tournament and witnessed the warm-up routines of other teams. One such team’s warm-up lasted from the time we left our team bus to the kick off of our first match. A period of about 90mins. They had a wide arsenal of stretches, mobility drills and activation exercises. They also had 21 points scored against them in the first ten minutes of the game by the tournament’s wildcard entry. In my opinion they missed the point of the warm-up, which was to prepare them for the game.

An effective warm-up will prepare you for the task ahead. In order to be effective an individual or team coach must identify what they are preparing themselves for. The following will discuss the main components of a warm-up. By understanding what is needed one can structure a warm-up that is fit for their purpose.

Body temperature

This is the main priority of the warm-up. By increasing core and muscle temperature we elicit a wide range of responses which have been proven to improve performance. 1° C increase in muscle temperature from resting is associated with approximately a 4% increase in power output. The ideal temperature being approximately 37.5°C. Excess of this will likely have detrimental effects. The most effective way to increase warm-up is to perform moderate full body exercise (Approx 80% of lactate threshold) for 5-10mins depending on environmental factors. This increase should level off after approximately 15mins in normothermic conditions. Optimal muscle temperature allows for faster nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

 

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Cardiovascular

When we begin to exercise our cardiovascular system reacts. Blood vessels dilate and constrict to direct more blood to working muscle and away from inactive muscle and organs. Increases in heart rate also allow for increased cardiac output and blood supply.

Joint mobility and flexibility

Activity and movement reduces viscosity of synovial fluid in the joints which act as a form of lubricant. In addition, stretching may be utilized to promote elasticity of muscle fibres. Some theorize that this can prepare the muscles for rapid loading and increase ranges of motion (ROM), reducing the possibility of injury. Some have argued that increased range of motion may be problematic for joint related injury depending on the nature of activity to follow. It is wise to exercise caution with the use of stretching prior to exercise. Foam rolling has also become a popular method to promote muscle elasticity and ROM. It has shown little evidence for increasing performance where ROM is not a limiting factor. Mobility drills may also be used to promote ROM but have again shown little evidence for promoting performance where issues with ROM are not present. In short unless there is tightness or an issue with mobility it is not essential.

Dynamic stretching may offer a more beneficial alternative. Basic drills can be used which closely replicate movements required during competition. Increased specificity will prepare the athlete more appropriately for their sport.

 

Stretching should be used appropriately in a warm-up routine.

Stretching should be used appropriately during a warm-up routine.

 

Post activation potentiation (PAP)

Leading on from the previous point, an effective warm-up will also provide some PAP response. This can be read about more in a previous article here https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/01/post-activation-potentiation/. Some basic ballistic style movements and dynamic stretching can provide this. It is wise to do this following the temperature increase portion of the warm-up. Some progressive bounding or jump type movements are appropriate in most cases. This may increase nervous system activity which can allow for better contractile function of the muscle. This can improve force output and reaction times.

Competition specific

Technical drills should be used to prepare the athlete mentally for the tasks they must perform. Including some technical, skill focused drills will allow for further warm-up physically which will be specific to the tasks they must perform.

 

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

 

The recommended order of warm-up should look like this.

  • Temperature ramp (Also covers cardiovascular preparation)
  • Mobility and dynamic stretching (Covers PAP response)
  • Competition specific

A full warm-up should last between 15 and 30 mins depending on the sport. It is important that the athlete’s warm-up is as efficient as possible and wastes little time. The warm-up is not the time to address mobility or flexibility issues. These should have dedicated time given to it. A warm-up is preparation for the task. I feel that far too much time is given to mobility drills and foam rolling and these have become the core of many warm-up routines. The popularity of movement as a performance variable has allowed some to go overboard and neglect other aspects of their preparation. The main priority is getting the desired increase in body temperature, especially in colder environments. It must also be noted that warm-ups should be performed as close to the event as possible and great care should be taken to maintain body temperature if there are periods between the cessation of the warm-up and the start of competition.

These are the core components of an efficient warm-up. The exact drills and procedure will depend largely on the sport itself. If your warm-up is lacking any of these components then it would be very beneficial to look at ways of adding them in. In summary a warm-up should be time efficient and fit for purpose. It should have both a general and specific portion and should always look to establish optimum body temperature. Too many mobility drills may distract the athlete from purpose and would be better placed in a training session dedicated to addressing mobility issues. It takes a little experimenting to find a balance between effort, time and effectiveness. If exercises are too intense fatigue can become an issue. It is always best to establish protocols outside competition first to avoid any issues on the day.

If you have any questions or concerns about your warm-up then do not hesitate to contact us.

Please remember to subscribe below to receive free notifications and VIP content and if you liked this article please share with a friend.

 

Will bulking up slow me down? Not if you do it right!

Manu Tuilagi

This is a dilemma faced by many athletes in many sports. The debate relates to an increase in body mass and its impact on the speed of the athlete. Traditionally heavy athletes are considered slow but strong. Light athletes are considered quicker and more nimble but lack mass which is beneficial in contact. In the modern era of sport, athletes are statistically bigger and faster. It seems our traditional thinking is being proven wrong.

When we think of speed we usually are thinking of a mixture between the ability to change direction quickly and top speed. They are closely linked but not the same. Change in direction involves both deceleration and acceleration. Top speed is more a case of overcoming braking or decelerative forces. In both examples the rate of force development is key. The more force one can produce the more they displace their mass, the more they move. Strength is required to produce force but also to control deceleration. Stride rate has been shown to have little impact on top end speed. Stride length however, has a great impact.

Athlete’s strength levels tend to have a narrower range than their bodyweight. This means that lighter athletes will tend to have a better relative strength to weight ratio. This generally translates into them being quicker. In recent years, bigger athletes have begun to demonstrate similar levels of speed and agility. They also show greater strength levels. One important factor in strength to weight ratio is lean body mass. Bodyfat contributes little to the generation of force yet will contribute significantly to decelerative forces. Therefore excess body mass in the form of fat will have a negative impact on speed.

Gaining mass is traditionally accomplished using high volume weight training to induce muscle hypertrophy. Programs which aim purely at achieving hypertrophy tend to promote modest strength improvements. Athletes may put on extra mass over the course of a short offseason. They then feel sluggish when they return to competition. This is often because their relative strength to weight ratios have become less favorable.

In some very rare cases there is structural influence in the muscle mass which can inhibit the rate of muscle contraction. Muscle fibres contract through the sliding filament theory. This sliding of fibres creates friction. The more muscle filaments the more friction. Friction reduces rate of contraction. Rate of contraction is very important when we need to produce power. This has only been witnessed in a handful of circumstances where specific muscle groups may be overdeveloped. Track cycling is one such sport where this can occur from time to time.

Robert Forstemann, some of the biggest legs in sport

Robert Forstemann, some of the biggest legs in sport. Despite his enormous quadriceps he is still one of the fastest track sprinters in the world.

So the question is, how is it possible to increase mass and maintain functional speed on the field of play. Simply put the key factor is time. An athlete who gains mass over a longer period will be able to spend time keeping other capabilities at a relatively similar level. Speed strength and neural training can be implemented ensuring these also develop. These are key components in the rate of force production. A program which cycles between short blocks of training, gradually developing each capability will achieve the goal. This is known as periodization. An athlete could also train all three capabilities in the same training block, but would witness more modest improvements.

Most of the time losing speed when bulking up is a result of doing things too quickly. Athletes may gain 3-5kg in a three month period with little emphasis on pure strength or speed. They have the new mass but have not yet trained to carry it on the field. Often they panic and attempt to lose the weight again. This means they never have a chance to train to their new potential. This usually promotes a reluctance to attempt to increase mass in the future.

In summary gaining weight will only slow an athlete down if the weight gained is in the form of fat. Initially they may lose speed only if their rate of mass increase exceeded their rate of strength improvements. Some top sprint coaches suggest that a sprint athlete would need to be able to back squat twice bodyweight before they will reach full potential. Hypertrophy style rep schemes are also not typically associated with neural improvements. Neural training in the form of speed strength style training is essential to maintain fast rates of muscle contraction.

Obviously speed is a skill and technique in sprinting and change of direction is important. The issue is that athletes tend to want things quickly. They focus on one thing while neglecting another. Genetically we are predisposed to be big or small, fast or slow. We rarely give a whole lot of time to our weaknesses as it distracts from our strengths. If athletes are a little more patient and approach things with a patient and diligent attitude then they tend to be more successful in the long run. Many athletes do not have the technical skill mastery to reach their potential to begin with. In this case they cannot blame their body mass.

 

nabmallblacks15815

Ma’a Nonu at 100kg+ has little issues outrunning defenders significantly smaller than him.

The conclusion is that there are many aspects of increasing body mass which can have a negative influence on speed. Despite this, increased muscle mass can improve power output through increasing force production capabilities. If they support these changes with a period of speed strength and neural focus training then they should see no major loss in speed. It is difficult to achieve dramatic changes in body mass without it having an impact.

Athletes must weigh up the benefits, versus the time in which they have to make changes. At some point size will have a detrimental influence but most athletes never get close to this point. Athletes who fear that they will get slower should be assured that this is rarely the case when their training is appropriate and gradual.

 

Please subscribe for free to get notifications of new posts and bonus articles!

Thank you!

The importance of weight training in-season!

In the professional era of sport the competitive season has become longer and athletes get very little rest. The modern athlete is not comparable physically to athletes ten years ago. Modern sport science and recovery techniques continue to drive the physical capabilities of athletes forward. The modern athlete is heavier, leaner, stronger, fitter and faster than ever. Most of this comes from the continuous development of training techniques but also because of the expectations on the athlete. A professional athlete works full time. When they are not on the pitch doing skill work they are in the gym. When they are not in the gym they are in the kitchen or in the treatment rooms of physiotherapists recovering for the next session. This is the way sport is in the modern era. Those who don’t keep up will be left behind.

Youth athletes nowadays train almost as hard as the professionals. The training age and physical maturity of most youth athletes is way ahead of where it was in the past. Schools players are more driven and better coached and their physical development is much more advanced. The level of competition in schools has developed these young athletes from quite an early age. With the result that younger athletes are coping with higher training volumes and demands than ever before. See  https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/04/13/training-age/

When we look at a competitive season in most sports there is quite a short off-season. Traditionally most athletes would look to further their physical development in the off-season. In the past this may have been as long as four months. Now many athletes have no off-season or maybe only a number of weeks. This means that for many to continue to develop they must do so in-season. Recovery is the main concern with this. Tired athletes become slow physically and mentally and performance suffers. Modern technology and sport science has allowed us to monitor athletes much more closely so we can be more accurate with training. Athletes can now train just enough to elicit adaptations without hindering performance.

Good coaches monitor their athletes efficiently and in a manner which allows them to adjust training very easily. By analyzing the athlete’s performance on a number of indicator tests they can see how fatigued the athlete is. There are many techniques, from RPE rating and verbal feedback to countermovement jumps and barspeed analysis. Most coaches understand how important it is to be flexible with training and know when and what to change. Often an athlete will come into the gym expecting to lift weights but instead be given a simple mobility routine. It all depends on the monitoring and fatigue management protocols adopted by the training staff. Professional sport utilises monitoring to ensure athletes are always in the phase of training that is planned in accordance with the season goals and performance priorities.

Many believe weight training to be something which cannot be completed during the season as it fatigues athletes and slows them down. This is not always the case. When used appropriately weight training can actually be used to excite the nervous system leading to an improvement of contractile function. This means it can actually make an athlete faster for a short period of time after the session. This is known as a PAP response which you can read more about here. www.hamiltonsport.com/2015/01/31/post-activation-potentiation/

Because of the length of some seasons and competitions in relation to the off-season or rest periods, it may be necessary for an athlete to train to maintain abilities. Athletes typically begin to lose some motor capabilities after about 10 days. If they do not continue to train, the ability slowly fades away. However, it takes approximately 40% of original training load to maintain their conditioning. Continuing to train albeit at a reduced level will allow them to stay at their potential throughout a season which may last up to 10 months in some cases without a break. Waiting this long to get back in the gym would literally put a player back a full season in terms of their physical development. For younger players this would have massive implications on their career.

In addition to physical development, in-season training plays a major role in injury prevention and game preparation. Often during long seasons athletes build up imbalances which, if not corrected, can develop into chronic and acute injuries. Maintaining some strength work focused at developing a balance of strength and movement can be a very effective preventative measure.

Maintaining and S&C program is essential for most modern teams especially when some players may be called up for international duties. Leinster Rugby Imagery. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan /

Maintaining an S&C program is essential for most modern teams especially when some players may be called up for international duties. Leinster Rugby Imagery. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan

In modern sport a squad extends wider than a starting team. Subs and reserves play a much more active role as game intensity increases. At a moments notice a player may be expected to start when they may not have had game time in several weeks. The only way to prepare them may be to simulate some of the physical demands of the game in a gym setting. It is essential for all squad members to be ready to play at match intensity despite not getting adequate match time. The strength and conditioning program is extremely important to these players.

In conclusion, modern sport is rapidly developing. The physical capabilities of most athletes are also developing. There are larger demands on the athletes in terms of the amount of training required to be competitive. Fortunately modern science has allowed us to support this development. We understand the body much better nowadays. We need to embrace change and learn what we are capable of achieving. This won’t happen if we sit, wait and just rest all the time. Athletes are more motivated than ever and understand that professional sport is a full time job. Progress is essential and they and their coaches will be doing everything possible to ensure it continues. In-season strength and conditioning is now an essential component in the success of a team or athlete.

Why we like the Clean Pull

Most Strength and conditioning programs will utilize an exercise which develops the triple extension. The triple extension is comprised of the ankle, knee and hip joints extending in unison. This movement is common in the vast majority of sports and athletic movements. For that reason it is obviously a good idea to try and develop it. Possessing a powerful triple extension will allow an athlete to run faster, jump higher and hit harder. There are many exercises that can develop a powerful triple extension. The clean and snatch are two very popular choices along with most forms of jumping exercises. One exercise which is perhaps less popular but just, or even more effective is the clean pull. (See Below)

The clean pull is the first and second pull portion of the clean. It can also be performed with a snatch grip to create the snatch pull. We like the clean pull because it possesses all the beneficial aspects of both the clean and snatch while significantly reducing technical demands. The first and second pull movement can take quite some time to teach and become proficient at. Often athletes don’t have time in their schedule to focus on technical skills or a lift which is not their chosen sport. For that reason we want to get the benefit from an explosive triple extension movement but do not always have the time to teach it up to a level where it contributes to performance. In addition to time constraints Olympic lifts such as the clean and snatch require mobility and strength in some joints which some athletes do not possess.

Athletes can build massive amounts of power and force generating capacity while reducing injury risk. Many programs will incorporate cleans and power cleans as the benefits of these are well established. The issue is that unless the athlete has reasonable technical skill and mobility, there is a tendency to cheat the exercise. This is especially true where load is seen as a priority. Its benefits can be significantly reduced when this occurs. The clean pull allows athletes to move high loads in a relatively safe fashion. It eliminates a portion of the clean which many athletes have difficulties with.

Recommending an exercise because it is easier or less technical is not something that I’d normally recommend. The reality is that in many scenarios athletes can waste time on things which in the grand scheme of their training are unproductive. The clean pull is a fast and efficient way to develop power in an athlete. It can be used in many circumstances where the clean cannot. One such example is during season in contact sports where athletes regularly pick up minor sprains and strains. The wrist and shoulders are extremely common areas to suffer. This often eliminates many lifts which require athletes to catch overhead or even in front rack position.

In addition to them being a good alternative they can also be a great supplemental exercise. Athletes can often handle heavier loads when performing the clean pull vs. the clean. Building good strength in this portion of the lift can contribute significantly when cleans are then performed in full.

While we don’t suggest avoiding Olympic lifts they are not always necessary or suitable. They should be performed for an established reason and not because they are popular. Many athletes struggle with them and see little benefit. Clean pulls provide an excellent alternative in many scenarios. We firmly believe that the components that make up every program should have purpose. Clean pulls build a very powerful triple extension easily, safely and effectively. This is why we like them.

Olympic Lifts and Team Sports!

Olympic lifting has long been a popular component of team sports’ strength and conditioning programs. There are great benefits to gain from it. It trains the triple extension movement effectively, which is the basis for many athletic actions. It also teaches an athlete to produce and increase their ability to produce power. Additionally it can help athletes build muscle, become more agile, and improve functional mobility.

So what’s the problem? In short these lifts are sometimes too technical for a team setting. For an athlete to really benefit from them they must be reasonable proficient in executing them. In a team environment there is usually a big spread in technical ability and experience. There are also a lot of individual needs and scenarios which make technical lifts problematic. These lifts require significant time to be focused on them in order to teach and learn the movement. Additionally, mobility can often be an issue that needs to be addressed first before an athlete can attempt new lifts.

There is a theory referred to as “Physical Literacy” it relates to how we learn to move in our early years and how coordinated we become. Some of us are more physically literate than others. It is usually the product of having more practice or experience. Children who played a wider variety of sports tend to be more well rounded in terms of movement and adapt to new skills quickly. We cannot assume all players are at a similar level, so constructing a team-based program there must be compromise. In some cases we have the time to develop players and teach them new skills, other times we only have a few weeks to prepare them for a coming season.

Time and experience must be considered when building Olympic lifts into a team program. Getting the best “bang for your buck” is the preferred approach when choosing exercises. Often when we have a short time frame and sticking to the basics is a more effective approach. Jump training covers achieves most benefits, and with a fraction of the skill requirements. It can be quite easy to spot a “muscle clean” over a fast and technically sound clean. This is what we try to avoid as there is no benefit to performing inefficient lifts.

As with any type of training, a logical progression must be in place. The mistake is when people try to rush things. We would rather have athletes do ten minutes of skill practice with just a bar and then some jump exercises, than a full session of sloppy Olympic lifts. There is a time and place for every exercise. The key is to narrow a program down to what’s effective, then look at adding things in the offseason when there is more time to give direct attention to weaknesses.

Science of strength!

In this post I will discuss the physiological components that make up physical strength. In general the strength of a muscle is determined by its cross sectional mass. When we assess the improvement of strength in a muscular contraction, we see a significant increase in force output in a short space of time with no change in mass. This shows us that there is also a neural component that plays a significant role in strength. In order for a muscle fiber to hit a peak contraction it must be stimulated fully. A beginner to strength training will be unable to reach his true max because he will be neurally untrained. This means he is not capable of using all his muscle fibers or even capable of using the select few to their full potential.

When we want to move, we send a chemo-electrical signal from brain to the muscle which results in a contraction. The more signals we send the more forceful the contraction. In order to achieve maximum contraction we must have a constant and rapid train of impulses coming from our brain. The route the impulse takes down the nerves must be capable of sustaining and transmitting these signals. Early in our training it is these nerves which improve at delivering stimulus, that results in strength improvements.

There are several factors which can prevent us achieving maximum contractile forces. We have safety mechanisms which prevent us reaching our limits in order to prevent damage to our muscle tissue. These mechanisms are largely involuntary and are not simply a case of pushing harder. When we train the thresholds for these “safety switches” raise, allowing us to lift more. This is partly because our muscles become more conditioned and less susceptible to damage but also because our overriding mechanisms improve. We can prove this theory by using a simple maximum voluntary contraction test on a muscle. An athlete produces their strongest contraction and when it peaks we add extra stimulus externally with an electric impulse. The peak will increase significantly higher than voluntary stimulus could achieve, proving there is more force possible.

So how do we increase strength? There a couple of areas which can be improved. First we need to train the movement. Becoming more accustomed to the movement helps us learn the pattern of muscle activation required to perform the action effectively. Second we must improve stimulation and muscle activation. The obvious method is working closer to our maxes which in theory requires a “close to max muscle contraction”. Become accustomed to producing maximum force will improve the mechanisms involved over time. This can be taxing on both the central nervous system (CNS) and the muscle structure itself. It will require structural recovery which takes time. Speed training is an excellent variation as it allows us to improve the rate of impulses coming from the brain. More ballistic type exercises such as jumping are a good way to improve rate of neural transmission. Adding bands or chains to sub-maximal weights for particular lifts can also be another variation to include. The increased resistance over the range of the movement requires an accelerated contraction.

Adding chains can be very effective at improving neural components involved in strength. Photo source: www.clintdarden.com

Adding chains can be very effective at improving neural components involved in strength. Photo source: www.clintdarden.com

These types of training are excellent ways to improve the neural component of strength without needing any structural recovery. They are demanding on the CNS and as always adequate recovery is necessary. The next area to work on is increasing muscle mass. This involves hypertrophy of the muscle fibers which occurs over a much longer period of time.

Becoming strong is important to all athletes but understanding what makes them strong can be just as important. The body adapts quickly and so a multidirectional approach can help progress in terms of consistency. Often athletes employ the maximal lifting approach exclusively and plateau quickly. Combining different methods over a periodised training plan can make sure that an athlete continues to improve in the long term and achieve full potential.