Tag Archives: strength and conditioning

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 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.

Complexes for fat burning!

There are many solutions for burning fat. The general theory is the energy balance, in the form of calories in, calories out. An energy or calorie deficit will undoubtedly lead to weight loss. The question is, will it create fat loss? Weight loss and energy balance are tricky as we assume that weight loss is in the form of fat. This is not always the case; energy usage is fairly unselective meaning it will burn both fat and reduce muscle. In fact, some suggest that during chronic energy deficit, muscle may be lost as part of a survival mechanism. The body adopts a philosophy where it looks to reduce energy consumption via muscle and retain energy stores ie. fat. This leads to a reduction in overall bodyweight but a retention of body fat.

In order to lose fat we must create a mild calorie deficit so as to avoid this survival mechanism and promote or at least retain lean muscle. One great method is through the use of complexes. Complexes string together a number of resistance exercises as a form of superset. The involvement of multiple muscle groups with little rest creates a large metabolic demand. The resistance aspect also promotes muscle adaptations and potential hypertrophy. By switching through movements one can use a relatively heavy weight as local muscle fatigue is reduced. Overall it ticks the boxes of what we try to achieve when looking to specifically target fat.

A complex can be relatively short and completed within a 10minute timeframe. It can be used effectively as a finisher style exercise at the end of a regular training session. It can also be combined with some traditional cardio to create a conditioning session.

Here are some examples of complexes.

Pure Complex

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell bent over row
  • Hang clean
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Rotate through the exercises for one rep and repeat 6 times for a full set

Conditioning Complex

Beastly circuits are a popular form created by ex Allblacks coach Ashley Jones

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Row
  • Power Snatch
  • Overhead squat
  • Back squat

Complete 6 rounds then 3minutes on treadmill for one total set, repeat for 6 sets with no rest.

Excellent example of a barbell complex (Courtesy of www.defrancostraining.com)

Complexes are great for promoting lean muscle and muscular endurance. The fact that they burn a lot of calories is a major bonus. They should be used to promote fat burning where strength levels are a priority. Traditional cardio is also a popular method but may not support strength levels as effectively. Complexes can be a useful tool for athletes who must improve body composition but also maintain strength levels. They can also be used as a conditioning tool as it supports muscular power endurance which is beneficial to many sports.

A coach can be quite creative in structuring complexes but it must be noted that technique can be compromised under fatigue. Simple multi joint exercises are most effective; Olympic lifts and gymnastics should only be attempted with technically advanced athletes. They are an effective tool which can cover a lot of needs in a fairly time efficient manner.

Recovery Tools: Active Recovery!

Recovery has become a core factor in every athlete’s training and success. There are many recovery methods which can be employed all targeting different things. Not all methods work well for everyone and people will have their favourite. This is normal as the processes of each method are slightly different. Some things will simply have a better effect on certain individuals than others. One popular and convenient method is active recovery. In terms of effect it appears to be relatively beneficial to everyone.

When we exercise we produce metabolic by-products. These by-products can interfere with muscle contractions and contribute to fatigue. While we exercise we have a system to clear these by-products and consume them. When we stop, the rate of clearance reduces and they can be left to accumulate. Eventually they will be cleared up but at a reduced rate. Some gentle exercise post training can help ensure these metabolites are cleared effectively.

When we do more intense muscle contractions where a lot of force is applied, muscle stiffness can occur. Stiffness is when the fibres fail to fully relax causing a temporary shortening of muscle fibre length. Gentle movement can help break up this tension and reduce stiffness. Active recovery can be quite effective in doing this. The submaximal contractions allow the fibres to relax back to resting tension.

Another mechanism it can influence relates to bloodflow and temperature. In order to repair damaged muscle cells after intense exercise they need a good supply of nutrients. This supply comes from the blood. Increasing bloodflow to tired muscles ensures they get a good supply. In addition increasing local muscle temperature can help the muscle fibres loosen up and restore contractile function. Gentle exercise activates the muscle pump which flushes blood through the muscle as it contracts and relaxes.

These three mechanisms have some quite favorable benefits on getting back to top performance in a short period of time. An important factor and one which many people get wrong is when and how to do active recovery. Active recovery first and foremost should not contribute further to fatigue. Intense exercise is not recovery; it is simply another session. Often people perform hard conditioning instead of resistance training believing it promotes recovery. While some aspects may have a similar effect, the benefits are cancelled out by the increased metabolic and cell stress. A reliable intensity to work at is 50-60% of Heart rate reserve. The session need not be any longer than 30mins to be effective. We recommend low load bearing exercise to reduce any further stress on joints etc. Swimming, crosstrainer and biking are excellent choices.

Deciding when to employ active recovery is also tricky. In most cases we should employ some sort of short active recovery in our warm down procedure. This allows us to clear metabolites immediately after a session as well as stabilizing core temperature in a more gradual manner. Some like to use recovery sessions on their day off. In this case promoting bloodflow and reducing stiffness are the main mechanisms. This scenario is problematic as one must refrain from turning recovery into more conditioning work. While for some, running and rowing may be suitable, many heavier athletes will actually induce more fatigue and joint stress using these exercises. A 5k run is not a recovery session it is aerobic training, while less intense it simply applies a different type of stress.

It is important for athletes to understand the purpose of active recovery and the mechanism by which it works. Just because a session is of lower intensity it does not automatically become recovery work. The sole purpose of active recovery is to promote a restoration to a rested state and therefore maximum performance potential. It has a clear purpose and application. Smart athletes recognize the difference and they reap the rewards of using it effectively.

HIIT, fat loss and muscle!

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a very popular training method. When used correctly it effectively improves cardiovascular conditioning, burns fat and promotes new muscle growth. In addition a relatively short HIIT session is sufficient to elicit substantial performance gains. Like any training method, understanding the basic physiological principles will make a big help to using it effectively. This article will explain a bit about this type of training and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.

HIIT is popular because it is time effective. An individual can burn a lot of calories in a short space of time. As the name implies it is an intense form of exercise. Our energy systems function on a simple mechanism of energy charge. The rate of energy (Adenosine Triphosphate/ATP) utilization in the muscle cell must be matched by an energy supply system. Slow rate of energy expenditure during low intensity work is supported by oxidation. Oxidation supplies a lot of energy but at a slow rate. High intensity work is supplied by the glycolysis and phosphate systems which have a much faster supply. Supply must meet the demand. There is often a slight lag between utilization and supply. This means that even during rest intervals and post exercise energy consumption is still elevated. In simple terms our metabolism is increased and we continue to burn more calories than at normal rest conditions. For this reason even though a 20min session burns, for example 500kcals, energy expenditure is raised throughout the day. A low intensity session lasting one hour may burn 800kcal with minimal elevation in metabolisms for the rest of the day. For this reason HIIT may actually burn more calories on a daily basis. This is why it is so effective at fat burning.

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

In addition, the power output which is produced during the work period of HIIT is high. Higher power output during work periods are often effective in improving your conditioning. It also helps maintain strength and power simply by utilizing larger motor units. The main issue to consider with HIIT relates to energy supply. If we cannot supply the cells with adequate energy then they become damaged. This is known as metabolic stress. A certain degree of metabolic stress or damage can be reversed. This is what promotes new muscle growth. Moderate metabolic stress during training can, at times, be quite effective for promoting hypertrophy.

If we place too much stress on the muscle cells the damage can be irreparable. The cells will begin to die. When this happens on a regular basis muscle wastage can occur. It also places the body under larger amounts of general stress which will begin to impact on our immune system. There is a large list of potential health implications that this can eventually lead to.

Preventing this scenario is relatively easy but not always something we think about. One of the determinants to energy supply is our energy store. In the case of HIIT we need adequate stores of glycogen for an adequate supply of energy. If we do HIIT in a fasted state we are putting ourselves under severe metabolic stress, as there is little energy supply to fuel it. In addition the lack of energy will dramatically reduce performance so conditioning benefits may also be lost.

The take home message is this. Fuel up for intense exercise! Low intensity exercise can be done in a fasted state as the oxidative system works effectively to provide fuel. With intense exercise such as HIIT style training, you must have some glycogen stores or glucose in the bloodstream. If you are in a totally fasted, glycogen depleted state then consume some simple sugars close to training. By doing so you can maintain high intensity and reduce cell stress. You will still achieve an elevated metabolism that promotes fat burning. You also place the cells under just enough stress to help promote hypertrophy

It is important to understand training methods as the smallest oversight can cause more harm than good. HIIT is an effective tool but if it is not adequately fuelled it loses a lot of its benefits. It is a popular successful way to train and should be used in any program. Like any training method the process is the important part. It needs to be considered and managed properly in order to see the full benefit.

Training masks; the science behind them!

People like new toys and gadgets, especially ones which can improve their performance. In recent years breathing masks and gas masks have become popular amongst athletes and fitness enthusiasts. The idea originated from firefighters and the military who experience some extremely intense, physical situations while wearing breathing apparatus. The experience of wearing these masks in such scenarios can be quite overwhelming. In order to familiarize themselves with these situations they began to train while wearing their equipment. Obviously the more accustomed to something we are the more comfortable we are with it. Shortly, after we saw them to be used in the fitness community. They started to use similar equipment in search of more intense training methods.

In very recent years breathing masks have been produced commercially and specifically for the fitness and sports industry. Like any new training tool it comes with many benefits. This article is aimed at examining the physiological theory for the use of such masks. By understanding the physiological processes taking place we can make better use of such equipment.

76366

The major misconception which seems to have formed with the use of these masks is their ability to replicate high altitude. High altitude has been linked to many physiological benefits to cardiovascular conditioning. The concept of this relates to the partial pressure of atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen (O2) molecules move from lungs to blood and the blood to muscle through a process of diffusion. The molecules travel across thin membranes from areas of high, to low pressure. If ambient oxygen pressure is low, as it is at high altitude, less molecules cross from lungs to the blood and so forth. The amount of O2 in the air remains exactly the same (20.93%) but overall air pressure (Barometric Pressure) is greatly reduced. In order to compensate, our body first increases breathing rate and take bigger breaths. This allows us to utilize a larger portion of the lung and alveoli allowing more O2 to diffuse into the bloodstream. Another reason is to excrete Carbon dioxide (CO2). By blowing off CO2 we drop the pH level of the blood and create something known as “Respiratory alkalosis”. This allows more oxygen to be absorbed by our red blood cells. This process occurs similarly at sea level.

When exposed to this over long duration (16hrs+ per day for a minimum of two days)(Chapman et al, 1998) our body increases a hormone called Erythropoietin (EPO). This hormone when combined with iron stimulates the creation of new red blood cells, a larger amount of which allows us to transport more O2 around the blood. In addition our muscles respond to training by increasing mitochondria and capillarization of the fibres. This allows our muscles to consume more oxygen. The issue with altitude training is that our breathing rate can only increase so much and the other adaptations are relatively slow to occur. As a result the intensity of our training significantly drops. This is why many athletes choose to live at altitude and travel to sea level to train. It allows the adaptations to occur without training intensity suffering. This limitation is well documented.

Breathing masks do not alter the partial pressure of O2. They simply restrict airflow. They do not specifically filter O2 from the air. We compensate for this restriction by breathing more forcefully creating positive pressure to overcome the resistance. This is similar to techniques adopted by individuals suffering with breathing difficulties such as asthma and COPD. Pursed Lip Breathing is an excellent example of a breathing technique used to compensate for resistance. It is also something we automatically do when wearing a gum shield or mouthguard. We do not experience any increase in EPO as pressure gradients are maintained. The processes taking place at altitude are different from the ones taking place when using these masks .

In order to compensate for resistance we must breath with more force, both when we inhale and exhale. We use the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. These muscles are like any other; they become stronger when a stress stimulus is applied. When using these masks we are in theory strength training our breathing muscles. This can allow us to utilize a larger portion of our lungs, making our breaths more efficient and deeper. It also allows us to develop our breathing muscles, which will make breathing easier in normal conditions. This is of great benefit to an athlete’s conditioning as the effort in breathing will be greatly reduced.

Elevation-Trianing-Mask-PKR_3596

In addition to physical adaptations we can also experience some mental benefits. In scenarios where breathing is restricted we get a sense of breathlessness. This often causes panic. In a competitive environment panic can be a debilitating experience. Like firefighters and military servicemen, becoming accustomed to that feeling can have a great benefit. Learning to be comfortable and to relax allows our breathing to settle. Having the experience to know how to breath efficiently in such a scenario can allow an athlete to maintain composure. I believe this to be a very significant benefit to the use of such masks.

Like any new tool or training method it is very important to understand the processes taking place and the adaptations that come with them. Unfortunately there is relatively little research available on the use of breathing masks. I believe them to be an effective tool when used for the right goal. With any training an athlete wants the best results. Examining the physiological process taking place we can often learn to make best use of the tool. While science cannot always give the exact answer it usually puts us on the right track.

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.

Hamstring savers!

The hamstring is a major risk area for many athletes. Hamstring strains and tears are possibly one of the most common soft tissue injuries amongst sportspeople. The most common presumption amongst athletes when they suffer from hamstring issues is that it’s a flexibility issue. Not an outrageous assumption but often not the problem. Many athletes spend a considerable amount of time stretching and foam rolling etc. to improve flexibilty in hopes of preventing issues with little success. While there are qualified medical professionals to provide information on the epidemiology of hamstring injuries we will focus on what can be done in your training to help.

In terms of flexibility we have often seen athletes with excellent flexibility strain a hamstring. Our first thought is to examine the warm-up protocol. A good warm-up should improve elasticity within the muscle fibres and reduce the chances of injury. Even with an extensive and effective warm-up the same players seem to be susceptible to the same injury. Eliminating flexibility and warm-up from the list of causes has led to another much less discussed issue which could be the cause.

Muscle imbalance is often associated with small stabilizer muscles but can also be present in much larger muscle groups. When an athlete has got good overall strength, muscular imbalances can be hidden. This is especially true for the lower body. Most strength programs will have a squat type movement. It is an excellent full body exercise. When time restrictions are present in training it is often used as the sole lower body exercise. For many athletes this is not an issue and they see great overall development using the squat on its own. Some however, develop a technique which utilizes the Quads and Glutes much more so than the hamstring. They can lift heavy loads and so we assume they are strong even though the hamstrings may not be doing nearly as much work as they should be. When these athletes sprint they have great power generated from quads and glutes but the hamstrings are lacking. This weak link is where the break in the chain occurs.

In order to prevent injuries athletes should make sure they develop all the muscles involved in the movements they perform. This sounds obvious but can often be hard to achieve. There are several strategies one can employ. Firstly using a unilateral exercise in addition to the squat can help fill in the gaps. Adding a lunge or step-up type movement can be a major benefit and is highly recommended. It puts an athlete in a different movement plane which is often more movement specific and utilizes more appropriate muscles and activation patterns.

The second approach would be to train the temperamental muscles directly. Most good strength programs will have a hamstring orientated exercise present, owing to the high prevalence of hamstring injury in athletes. The concern here is the execution of such exercises. Again alternative muscles can take over and hamstrings can still be neglected. Exercises such as Romanian Deadlift (RDL or Stiff Legged Deadlift), Glute-ham raises and Reverse Hyperextensions are all popular hamstring exercises. It is very common for these to be performed incorrectly. Athletes with strong lower backs can easily perform these movements with high load and work around the hamstrings. Obviously the first recommendation is to make sure they are being observed carefully to ensure proper technique. In a team training scenario this is not always possible or effective.

In efforts to overcome these issues and protect the hamstrings a solution is needed. The Nordic hamstring curl may be the answer. It is extremely hard to cheat on this exercise and it will promote excellent hamstring activation. Using a slow or even paused eccentric phase, the hamstrings cannot hide. It is relatively easy to instruct and needs very little equipment. Often an athlete with enormous deadlift strength will be humbled by this simple bodyweight exercise. For that reason it should be high on the list of priority exercises. It can be easily scaled for athletes from beginner to elite level. Research has also suggested it to be quite an effective tool. The preventive effect of the Nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccer players – a randomized controlled trial, Van der Horst, Smits, Petersen, Goedhart, and Backx, in Injury Prevention (2014).

Often injury prevention is a little like detective work. The obvious answer is not always correct and the solution is not always clear. Ensuring an athlete has strong well developed hamstrings can be the missing piece of the puzzle. Hamstring injuries can be both debilitating and frustrating. The level of recurrence can be quite high. There are a number of considerations which have been discussed which should be considered when constructing an effective strength program.

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.