Tag Archives: Programming

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.

 

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Keeping it simple!

The world of fitness is heavily influenced by marketing and advertising. Fitness now seems to be not so much concerned with sport as it is body image. With a result knowledge and theory have been diluted by sensational claims and marketing. You do not have to look too far for new radical training programs that guarantee all your goals to come true in half the time of any other program. This is all part of the industry and things are unlikely to change.

Most high level athletes have qualified coaches to help them avoid such distractions. Young athletes and the average Joe on the other hand, often rely on what is put in front of them. As a result, they either follow outrageous plans or jump from one to another as the sales pitches keep getting better. The ironic thing is that the basics work best. More often than not the most advanced athletes train with the simplest programs.

Often when discussing training with coaches of other athletes or teams it becomes clear that there are no secret weapons. The best athletes all seem to be doing extremely similar programs competing in totally different sports and cultural backgrounds. There are tweaks based on the nature of their sport and individual needs but the basic structure is always pretty similar.

The Squat, Lunge, Deadlift, Bench Press, Row and Chin-up are the foundation of all strength programs. They cover all basic movement patterns. There are variations but these exercise patterns are always present. Any additional exercises are determined by the sport and any prehab/rehab needs of the athlete as an individual. Rep schemes are dependent on the goals. Strength, Power, Hypertrophy and endurance goals will have appropriate and fairly standard rep ranges. A standard strength session will rarely last much longer than an hour to an hour and a half. If it does then there is either some special consideration to duration or technique/skill that is being addressed. If a session lasts longer, then one should question the efficiency of the workout design.

Some might question why they cannot achieve elite level abilities following simple programs. The answer is quite simple. Elite level athletes achieve elite level status as a result of genetic suitability to their sport coupled with years of execution of appropriate training. You don’t look like a 10 year veteran weightlifter after a year of training no matter how hard you train. Also important to note is the support structure of an elite level athlete. Having dietitians, chefs, doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and coaches available at all times makes a very significant impact. In addition, having the time to focus on both training and all that makes up recovery puts them at a huge advantage. One could follow one single program in both an amateur and professional setting and there would be no comparison in the results.

"The missing piece of the puzzle"

“The missing piece of the puzzle”

The take home message is that no matter how things are pitched the basics work! Simplicity leaves less room for error and when consistent it is very rare one cannot make steady progress. Short cuts do not exist in natural circumstances. It is important not to fall for the most glamorous program as you will simply be fooling yourself. We have a very simple philosophy with our athletes. If they are making progress then things are working. “If it aint broke don’t fix it”, athletes often want the next stage of their training before progress stalls. It is important for coaches and athletes to realize that progress is key. Deviating from a plan can often be greed related. It is important to have modest goals and the discipline to not get carried away. Often trying to do too much is the biggest error in training. Often our athletes make their best progress when we strip their program back to the basics.

The Great Offseason!

For many sports in the Northern Hemisphere we are now entering the offseason portion of the annual cycle. For some this is simply a period in which they can cut loose and not worry too much about their training. For others this offseason could be a make or break point in their career. It can be very hard for an athlete to make progress in their offseason for a number of reasons. A lot of athletes fail to stay committed and motivated when they are outside of their team environment or without any immediate competition scheduled, others can be over eager and try to do too much. This can often lead to overtraining and burnout despite being outside of the competition period. Planning and organization is key to a successful offseason. The following article will discuss how to get the most out of an offseason and hopefully allow athletes to step up their ability for next season.

Step 1: Analysis

At the end of a competitive season athletes and coaches should review the performance of the season. Often mistakes are pretty clear at this point and athletes will have a good idea of their weaknesses. In order to maintain motivation and commitment it is important to identify areas where progress can be made. There is nothing more disheartening than finishing a season and being clueless as to where to improve. Regardless of success or failure, the notion of progress is a powerful motivator. Honest analysis of strengths and weaknesses is essential at this point. Building an offseason program is relatively simple if an effective evaluation has been completed.

Step 2: Rest

Often the first thing we tell an athlete to do is rest. A few weeks rest can be very beneficial at this time. Mental and physical strain stacks up over a season and often a couple of weeks rest can have a major impact on an athlete. The amount of rest depends on the time available but even a week can be enough to reset the athlete. Often this rest also makes an athlete restless and eager to train. This can be beneficial in an offseason where there is no competition to create that eagerness to work.

Step 3: The Program

This is obviously a very important component and will depend on the outcome of their end of season evaluation. The offseason should be approached with a triage perspective. Take care of the biggest weakness first. One caveat to this is timing. Some adaptations occur over very different time frames. For example an athlete may be a little undersized but definitely too slow. Addressing speed is essential but should not be done until the athlete is at a consistent weight. Hypertrophy may take more time and energy from an athlete. Often it can be hard to address hypertrophy inseason relative to speed and so the offseason period is more suitable to address it. Speed can then become a part of late offseason/preseason period. Careful planning is essential to ensure that the focus on one ability does not overwrite another.

There is great debate on the structure of programs and their efficiency. We take an approach with our athletes where we utilize block periodization in the offseason and then move towards concurrent and/or conjugate style during preseason and in season. The reason is most athletes tend not to lose their strengths significantly and if they do they usually regain them quite fast. In the offseason we use block periodization to really focus in on their weaknesses and make as much of an impact as possible. Sometimes this may neglect some of their stronger areas. When we move towards a conjugate style we hit on a little of everything. We then see a rapid return in their strengths while maintaining the progress made in their weak areas. The offseason then serves to fill in the holes in their abilities. For the majority of athletes this approach is effective in improving their performance from one season to another.

The offseason period can make a huge difference to an athlete. If it is individualized and shows the athlete a genuine prospect for improvement then motivation won’t be a major problem. Diligent monitoring of program will then make the program effective as it can be tweaked where needed to suit the needs of the athlete. The biggest mistake to make is to use a generic program which does not address the individual. This often makes situations worse as the athlete may fail to fix his weaknesses. There is nothing worse than the feeling an athlete has where no progress is being made. Consecutive seasons of stagnant performance can be a death blow to many athletes careers.

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.

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.