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Returning to Sport following Covid 19 – Some guidance on avoiding a 1-way ticket to destination fucked

We all started 2020 full of hopes and dreams. Ready to tackle the year, and dominate in our chosen sport. Make sick gains, and achieve all that we wanted. THIS WAS THE YEAR WE WERE GONNA MAKE IT (Don’t worry, we all gon make it brah’s)

And then along came Covid 19.

Aaaaaand the world ground to a halt. Lockdowns (to varying extents) were implemented around the world. A virus instilled terror and panic. Every man and their dog had cleared the supermarkets out of toilet roll (Still can’t figure that one out), paracetamol and dry food goods. US Doomsday preppers were READY for this moment (Then proceeded to lose their minds and turn up to protests with guns because ‘Murica –  Fuck you gonna do, shoot the virus?!). People ranged from sensible / cautious to mass hysteria. Cough in the streets and you were a social pariah who should be burned at the stake. In the UK, bars, restaurants, leisure facilities and gyms were all shut. Sports was cancelled indefinitely. For many, doomsday was upon us. For many it felt like it was never gonna end.

But, infection rate started to decline. Likely a multitude of reasons have impacted this such as lockdowns and people actually fucking washing their hands for a change. People started wearing masks and stopped licking dirty surfaces. A Phased return to “normality” began to occur.  Now (In Scotland), as of 07/09/2020, we have been back to the gym for a week. Phased return of non-contact sports training, with reduced numbers and social distance restrictions implemented, have also begun. However, competitive sport still appears to be a while away, which is great, because it gives coaches a chance to implement a proper “pre-season” with their athletes.

And with such a long lay off, they are going to need it.

If done correctly, the return to sport can be done safely and effectively. From a physical preparation perspective, athlete’s could be in a better position to return to sport than they were Pre Covid. However, most sports coaches don’t know dick about exercise physiology and biomechanics (This is why athlete’s should have a Strength and Conditioning coach). Ok, that might be a little harsh (sorry to any triggered skills coaches), but there is an element of truth in it.  Skills / sports coaches may also fall into the “this is how we did it in my day” camp. Sorry pal, but sports science has progressed since the cold war. Ask any athlete and they will have some utter horror stories from pre-season. Sessions which made them puke, a coach screaming “go hard or go home” or similar bullshit. That these sessions “build mental toughness” and getting thrown straight into intense fitness testing on the first session back? Sound familiar? For most it is.

That’s not to say pre-season should be easy. But, a normal pre-season can begin within 2-6 weeks from the end of the previous competitive season. In Scotland? We have been away from sport training for SIX. FUCKING. MONTHS. Having the attitude of absolutely killing your athletes on the first couple of sessions back is a one way ride to destination fucked with no return ticket. You do not need to test their fitness to “see where they are” because they are 100% de-conditioned for their sport, regardless of their activity over lockdown, for the simple reason they haven’t been exposed to competition nor the demands of competition.  The athletes as a cohort are gonna fall within one of 3 categories, and all need to be considered when restarting training from both a skills and physical preparation standpoint.

Athlete 1) – Athlete 1 is a dream. Despite not being able to play sports, they have worked hard to maintain as much fitness as they can. They have engaged in activities similar to the demands of their sport, and have kept up some sort of resistance training regime. Ideally, they will have had access to weights of some description, but will have still gotten by with a sensible bodyweight programme. They may not have engaged in some of the high intensity movements such as change of direction / agility work. But they have either maintained, or even improved both aerobic & anaerobic capacity. They may have maintained some levels of strength, possible even improved. Muscular endurance is maintained or even improved. Sprint performance may have been maintained, or again, maybe even improved.

Athlete 2 – They have done some work. They have lost some levels of activity, but have also let their foot off the gas a bit. They may have mitigated too much detraining effects. They have been dabbling between exercise and playing Fortnite. Overall, they are not in the worst shape, but they are definitely not match fit. They will likely have done 1-2 conditioning sessions and a couple of circuits. They may have had access to resistance training equipment, so may have maintained or even improved strength, but still lost fitness in other areas. Not ideal, but far from a nightmare.

Athlete 3 –  Probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out athlete 3. They have become full time Twitch streamers, and have binged Netflix. Not a series or 2, but Netflix. They have maybe done the odd bit of exercise sporadically, but realistically have done very little. Psychologically, they may actually be in a better place than athlete 2 & 3 as they have had a proper break. But physiologically, they are gonna out of shape, quite considerably. These athlete’s are at the highest risk for returning to play.

Similar to armour, you are only as strong as your weakest link. If you are a solo coach managing large groups of athlete’s, This may be frustrating for athlete’s 1 & 2, but they can be given supplemental work to ensure that they don’t detrain. If you treat everyone like athlete 1, you are seriously running the risk of overload injuries (Hamstrings strains / tears) and structural damage to the soft tissues. All of which can be avoided by a sensible reintroduction to training. So how should you go about that?

Start general

A general physical preparedness (GPP) block is 100% your first bet. Sport itself is not going to be back for a while, so you do not need to get straight back into high intensity sport specific skills. That’s not saying you shouldn’t do any skills, far from it, but you need to build a base. Start off low- moderate intensity and keep the volume sensible. Look to gradually increase this volume over time, and gradually bump the intensity where appropriate. Below, I have highlighted some considerations for different aspects of physical preparation.Speed training – If athlete’s have not been exposed to high speed running over lockdown, then this needs to be introduced carefully. Going straight into flying runs, sharp decels and pushing distance sprinting is significantly increasing the likelihood of a hamstring injury. With sprint work, start basic. Work on some positional work (A marches, A skips, B skips, wall drills etc) This is a great chance to work on some positional issues. It is also a chance to work on accelerations. Keep the volume low, and short distances for the sprints. Encourage a gradual run off as well, and not sharp decelerations. Make sure you are also allowing plenty of recovery. Sprinting and speed training is not anaerobic conditioning. Improving repeated sprint ability (RSA) is not the same as speed training. Going straight into on feet RSA work is also a bad idea. If you are hell bent on athlete’s doing RSA training, get them on a bike or rower.

Plyometric / jump training – again, keep it sensible. Don’t overload the volume straight off the bat. Keep the intensity / complexity low and gradually build back into it. You don’t want to risk developing a repetitive strain injury (RSI). It is worth doing a check on basic movements first (Landing, take off mechanics etc). Even if an athlete was competent before lockdown, if they haven’t been doing them then they will have likely need to relearn the neural pathways / technique required to perform them safely. It should be obvious (but ill say it anyway) diving into heavy shock training like depth landings / depth jumps from a high height is also not the wisest decision in the world. By slowly reintroducing plyo’s / jump training, then you are ensuring the connective / supportive tissues are not being overloaded, thus reducing the risk of injury.

Change of direction / Agility – These can be introduced from the start, but with caution and sense. Looking firstly at change of direction (COD – And no, not warzone get off your PlayStation), you want to start back gradually. Starting off slowly in terms of speed of approach into the cutting manoeuvre is a sensible approach. This is especially true of cutting angles / turns > 90°+. The reason for this is that cutting / changing direction involves multidirectional forces. Multidirectional forces are far more likely to cause injury than forces in a single plane of motion. A prime example of this is an ACL rupture where the ligament is exposed to high force under flexion and rotation (Such as a cutting manoeuvre) and the ligament snaps. This is even more likely if the knee is in a valgus (collapsed inward) position. Unsurprisingly, this is something we want to avoid.

So, to avoid injuries like an ACL rupture, the athlete’s need to be gradually exposed to these sharp cutting manoeuvres. They can be exposed to less sharp cuts (< 90°) at higher speeds. Curved linear running is also a useful tool here (running round in a circular/ oval line) to prepare the athlete’s for these kind of running angles. Over time, you can increase the severity of cutting angle, as well as speed into the cut until they are back up to “game speed”. By following this logic, you are helping the athlete (s) adjust to the stressors of the game / these higher force manoeuvres in a sensible, logical fashion. Win win.

Resistance / gym training – Swole may be the goal, and size may be the prize. But training like a fucking moron upon return to the gym will get you nowhere. If you are engaging in other sports training you need to be sensible. Hell, even if you aren’t and athlete and returning to the gym, then you need to be sensible. Going straight back into rep max testing to “see where you are at” is monumentally stupid. Don’t do it. And don’t base your numbers off old maxes, as they are more than likely well off as well. When getting back into hoisting tin, use some form of RPE / autoregulation for the first 4-6 weeks to let your body adapt to the stress of lifting again. You cannot make the body adapt faster just by absolutely beating yourself into the ground. Returning to sports training also needs to be considered. If you have a hard running / conditioning session the next day, doing your squats & / or deadlifts the night before is probably a bad idea. If you are doing your own S&C programming, consider all other training (much like you would normally) but right now its better to be over cautious. Similar to cooking a steak. If you under cook it, then you can throw it back on the pan. But if you over cook it, then its fucked.

As I mentioned, there are 3 types of athletes. From a coach’s perspective, you can give potentially athlete 2, and definitely athlete 1 some supplemental work to ensure that they don’t detrain. They are already ahead of athlete 3, but that doesn’t mean they are ready for sport. The same principles as above still apply, they are just going to be ready for action quicker. With the extended off season, you really have a fantastic opportunity to increase the physical parameters required for your sport, if you approach your training sensibly.

I hope this article has been informative, for both coaches and athlete’s alike. As always, if you have any questions then slide up in the DM’s on the socials (Links below)  or shoot me an email at stewartathleticdevelopment@gmail.com.

Until next time, and as always, stay strong

Callum

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Strength and Conditioning – A systematic approach or random WOD’s?

Last week’s article covered some S&C considerations for specific populations. There were some broad considerations across pretty much all sports, and some that are more specific to certain athlete’s / sports. The article also highlighted how these were only some of the considerations. There is a WHOLE lot more to each cohort mentioned.

By this stage if you previously knew anything about S&C, or have followed me for a while you will have heard me banging on about individualisation. Basically, a programme should be as individual as possible for an athlete, relative to their sport and needs. But how does a Strength and Conditioning coach do this? Do they have a specific method to go about this? Or do they just throw random exercises together, throw in a few fancy buzz words and try and baffle their athlete with bullshit?

Well, both happen unfortunately, however the latter should definitely be avoided. From the experience I have gained, and also from my own as a coach, the best tend to have a systematic approach on how to begin working with a new athlete. There may some small individual differences on how they achieve this, but the end result is always a needs analysis of some description.

What is a needs analysis?

In its simplest explanation, a needs analysis is what is used to identify the needs of 1) the sport or activity & 2) the needs of the athlete. But the term needs analysis is an overarching term for a whole lot more going on. I will take you through an explanation of my process when taking on an athlete and when I carry out a needs analysis for their activity.

Physiological demands of the sport / activity

This is where an understanding of 1) the physiological energy systems 2) how to identify what predominant systems inactivity are & 3) how to train them is paramount. If you wish to learn more about the energy systems and how they relate to performance, the link can be found here (https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/what-fuels-performance-a-beginners).

It is not enough to say they need to be “fit and fast” and send them out for arbitrary runs with no real thought to the desired adaptation. Yes, something is better than nothing most of the time, but smart training > nonsensical training ALL of the time.

By determining what the physiological needs of the sport are, you can then start investigating where within these needs the athlete needs to work on. By determining this, their training can then be tailored specifically to them. Targeting the energy systems that are predominantly utilised within the athlete’s sport ensures that

Biomechanical demands of the sport / activity

Biomechanics is the study of human movement. For this, the coach will look at the joint actions and musculature which are most important / play a role within the sport or activity. For a lot of sports, they will involve most of the joints / muscles however it is still important to understand which are most frequently used, as they may also be at higher risk of injury (Discussed later). The forces / force orientation that occur within the sport will also be looked at. If you have an athlete e.g a long jumper where force orientation is largely horizontal, and you spend the entire time having them doing vertically orientated exercises then they are unlikely to get the most out of the programme. Most sports however are multi planar (Covering all 3 planes of motion) in nature, so training in all planes is important for both performance and injury prevention.

By understanding how athlete’s are exposed to force, and the orientation(s) in which force application is most relatable to their sport, the S&C coach can design their programme more efficiently. Allowing for a far better transfer to the athlete’s performance. Win win

Common injuries within the sport

An unfortunate element of sport is injuries. Injuries can be broadly categorised as contact (Injury occurs from a contact situation e.g. a broken cheekbone from a kick) or non-contact (Injury occurs without contact e.g. a hamstring tear). Contact injuries are harder to prevent, as there is an unpredictable nature of the opponent which is the causality. The best thing that can be done is to make the athlete more generally robust, through training. However, if something is gonna break from contact, its gonna break.

A little more can be done to prevent non-contact injuries, however non-contact is quite a broad term. These injuries can range from repetitive strain injuries (RSI), stress fractures, tendonitis and to tears / ruptures in ligaments, tendons and muscles. Understanding which type of injuries occur frequently in their new athlete’s sport, can help to dictate the programme design. For example, endurance runners cover a lot of miles in training and are subject to repeated striking of the ground. This can result in both RSI injuries and also stress fractures in the lower limbs. These type of injuries are typically from a mismanagement of volume / volume load within training, and can be avoided.

By understanding the common injuries within the sport, the coach can then implement a programme that is more specific to counteracting these injuries. Injury prevention is a large part of Strength and Conditioning, but you cannot prevent what you don’t understand or are unaware of. That’s not to say that injuries will be completely prevented, that is impossible (Although it would be fantastic) but you can decrease the likelihood of an injury occurring with the implementation of a structured programme.

Previous injuries the athlete has sustained

Not only is it important to know the risk factors associated with the sport, but understanding the athletes own injury history is important.  Previous injuries may limit certain exercises / modalities implemented within a programme. For example, athlete’s with shoulder issues may find the very bottom position of a bench press uncomfortable. So swapping out a bench press for 1) a football bar with neutral palms or 2) exercises such as floor / pin press where the range of motion is limited may be beneficial. Becoming married to specific exercises or training modalities is a bad idea from an strength and conditioning practitioner standpoint. As there are many ways and exercises which can lead to the same adaptation. The path of less resistance in this situation is definitely prudent.

Requirements of the athletes

Unsurprisingly, the type of athlete you are working with will determine what they require from the programme. For athlete’s who’s sport is primarily driven by physiological and simple biomechanical considerations (Such as endurance competitors). Athlete’s who are part of a team may have slightly more information input at this section. For example, looking at rugby union, the physiological demands section would cover general demands (the team) and individual demands. This section would cover what is actually required of the player within the game. For example, the demands of a full back are vastly different to that of a blindside flanker. Understanding what the player does from a performance perspective, aids the coach when designing their programme.

These individual demands may appear like small details, but they can make a big difference towards performance. One thing that is important to understand, is that your S&C coach does not have to be a competitor within that sport or activity. They just need to understand the demands of it.

Training history, current training and typical schedule

Understanding the athlete’s training history and current training helps the coach to plan out how to begin working with them. This information is incredibly important. Can you imagine if you were completely new to resistance training and the first thing you have programmed is a snatch complex?! You would never set foot in a gym again!

Understanding what they are currently doing, as well as their stage of the competitive season can help with programme design. The last thing you want to do as a coach, is go in unaware and programme them high volume sessions when they are slap bang in the middle of their season, or have a big competition ahead. Depending on their sport, it is also a good idea to find out what their competitive schedule is. If they are athlete’s who only compete a few times per year, S&C coaches should find out when these competitions are. If they are team sport athlete’s, the coach should find out when the big games are, and also what weeks they have double fixtures. This can ensure training is adjusted accordingly around competition, and if necessary, a proper peak & taper can be done.

Finally, you need to find out what their typical schedule / lifestyle is. What they do for a living can be a huge factor. Someone who is an office worker is going to be using less energy, and deal with far less physical stress during the day. Theoretically, their training can be a bit harder. If you have someone who’s job involves a lot of manual labour and heavy lifting for work, they are already going to be pretty taxed. If you are looking at their nutrition, you also need to be aware of more physical jobs burning through more calories & will require more energy.

Shift patterns can also be a big factor. If you have someone who works regular hours, it is easier to plan. If your athlete alternates shifts (day shift, night shift, back shift) then extra planning may be required. That’s not to say shift workers cannot make progress, far from it. It just requires a little bit more thinking and awareness on the coaches behalf.

Goals of the athlete

Many athlete’s may also have some goals they wish to accomplish within their programme. Some coaches can be incredibly narrow minded, and think they should be focused on the sport. However I personally think its great when athlete’s have their own goals within a programme. Goals allow them to have something objective to work toward. Often the work of an S&C coach is not directly obvious in an athlete other than physical appearance of being in good shape. So when an athlete has objective goals they want to work towards, it helps to keep them engaged with the programme.

It should also  be communicated with the athlete, that depending on the goal itself, it may take longer to achieve. For example, if an athlete was wanting to gain muscle, then it is going to take them slightly longer to achieve this than your average person, assuming that the average person was training toward the same goal. Athlete’s don’t have the luxury of being able to focus on just 1 or 2 physical qualities, but often have to focus on several. This means that adaptation does take longer, due to interference effects (Discussed in a later article) and the ability to recover. Athletes not only have to recover from S&C sessions, but also from skills sessions and competition / games.

Smaller / misc details

There are also some other factors which need to be considered. They are smaller in the overall picture; but it helps to develop the coach / athlete relationship.

Check in protocols and communication – How does your coach want you to check in with you? Will it be after every session? Once every few days? Weekly etc. For the coach athlete relationship (And any form of relationship) there needs to be effort coming from both sides. The coach needs to work with you, and be flexible around you and your needs. However, if you have any issues, concerns you need to communicate them. Your coach is not a mind reader, and cannot tell what is going on with you unless you tell them.

Check in / feedback method – Determining how your coach want’s you to feedback to them / how you prefer to receive feedback is also important. It is common for athlete’s to send their coaches videos / pictures of specific exercises to receive feedback. This feedback may be provided in a variety of ways, however determining the method in how this occurs is for the coach (and perhaps to an extent the athlete) to decide. By getting this determined early doors, it ensures that things run far more smoothly.

Lifestyle factors – Some lifestyle choices / beliefs may also play a part. If you have an athlete who follows a specific diet (E.g vegan, low carb or whatever) then bingo aware of this can be a factor, particularly if something like recovery or performance is being affected. Religion may also be a factor. Devout Christians may be unwilling to train on a Sunday, Ramadan involves fasting etc etc. It’s not necessarily that they will be factors, but being aware of them is important.

Professional boundaries – This is a big one, and can occasionally become tricky. It will partly be related to the type of athlete you are working with. For example, the rules of working with a youth athlete in terms of boundaries are far different to working with adults. Specific populations may take their own considerations into it. It is good to have your own professional boundaries and moral / ethical code made clear to begin with, or easy to find (e.g. on a website, social media etc). This can prevent any confusion, and help to ensure that the coach / athlete relationship remains professional. If an athlete does cross any boundaries, you as a coach should tell them immediately, in a polite and constructive manner. It is also your responsibility as a coach, to not cross them yourselves. Basically, don’t be a dick.

I hope this article has helped you understand the process, or similar processes, that a Strength and Conditioning coach will go through when taking on a new athlete. As mentioned earlier, there may be some slight differences in approach, but this covers the vast majority of the information the coach would require.

If you have any further questions, or would be interested in working with me, then feel free to get in touch

Until next time, and as always, stay strong

Callum

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Considerations for strength and conditioning within specific populations

Strength and conditioning training is becoming more popular within athletic populations, as it should be. Research has shown that improving specific fitness qualities, relative to the sport and athlete’s needs, can reduce injury risk and improve performance. Does that mean that all S&C programmes will look the same?

In short, no. There are some elements of S&C that can be viewed as generalisations regardless of the athlete in front of you. This may include elements such as movement quality, intent, coaching standards etc, but S&C coaching and programming is not about cookie cutter templates are not S&C programmes. That is not to say that all training templates you can buy or download are bad, far from it. Some of them are excellent, however they are not individualised training programmes. Having a coach (Specifically, a good coach) will always trump a template. If you are unsure what makes a good coach, you can check out an article I previously wrote on picking a coach (INSERT ARTICLE LINK HERE)

Even within team sports, there is still levels of individualisation, however the level to how individualised a programme will be is constrained by external factors such as number of staff, time available etc. Speaking from experience, if you are one coach dealing with 20+ athletes at one time it can start becoming logistically difficult to individualise everything to the minute degree, but there are things that can be done. However, that is a separate article in itself.

What this article aims to do is look at some of the considerations for working with specific populations within S&C. It is by no means a comprehensive list, however it will give you an idea of some of considerations for an S&C coach when dealing with these populations.

Youth athletes

It was previously thought that youth athletes should not undertake any form of resistance training as it was previously thought that it would stunt growth and cause developmental problems. However, it has been shown that resistance training, when implemented in a safe and thought out manner has no impact on growth. However, that doesn’t mean you can just throw the same type of training you would implement with an adult at a kid.

As we all know, kids go through maturation (Puberty) at different ages / stages. The stage they are at of maturation can have an impact on the training which they undertake. When kids go through peak height velocity (PHV) they undergo anthropometric & morphological changes at an accelerated rate. During this time, they often become more uncoordinated and are at higher risk of injury. If working with you athlete’s, it is worth measuring height (Both seated and standing) and bodyweight at regular intervals.

Previous organisations I have worked with monitored this quarterly and carried out further individual measurements if necessary. By tracking where about in their maturation phase, be it pre-pubertal, pubertal or post-pubertal, you can manipulate training to appropriately. Movement patterns that are taught pre-PHV may need to be relearned with new body shape and size, Don’t assume they will remember how to organise themselves physically!

In terms of youth training S&C, there is a variety of research investigating what is most efficacious. 2 models which reoccur frequently in the literature are the “long term athletic development (LTAD) and “youth physical development” (YPD). There are many similarities between the 2 in terms of the over-arching themes of how you athlete’s should be trained. In my experience, this has then been taken and been manipulated to suit the needs of the athletes in the youth academies I have worked in.

The worthwhile youth athlete development models follow a similar pattern. They suggest learning fundamental movement patterns (Squat, hinge, push, pull etc) are learned through basic bodyweight / very light loads to begin with. By doing this, you engrain movement patterns over a focus on load. Whilst this is very important for youth athletes, it is worth mentioning that movement should be prioritised over load (Weight on the bar) with all people beginning with resistance training. As the kids begin to demonstrate movement competency, then they begin to move to exercises with greater weigh bearing. Once they have progressed through the exercises and developed sufficient strength (This can be open to interpretation and often varies between academies / sports) they will move on to higher intensity exercises and movements. Having a clear movement matrix / plan for the progressions of each stage can help to develop the athlete’s movement, but it also helps to keep them engaged. They can see where about they are at in terms of progression, and where they need to get to.

Masters athletes & ageing clients

Sport is not just for younger individuals, far from it! Older individuals often participate in sport and recreational physical activities. But should they be treated the same as everyone else? Or are there population specific considerations for masters athletes?

One consideration that needs to be made initially, is the experience of the athlete (Although this is true for any athlete). What sports do / are they competing in? what have they competed in in the past? What level of gym / resistance training have the had? And are they currently participating in any form of S&C?. By determining this first you have a far better idea of where you will be starting from. You also need to find out how old they actually are. Masters can be anything from 40+, however the difference in a 45 year old to a 65 year old can be staggering.

Considerations for ageing in general

As we age we are susceptible to muscular atrophy. This may be from lack of usage, or from a disease called sarcopenia where skeletal muscle wastes away. Loss of muscle mass can lead to an increase in the risk of slips, trips and falls. Coupled with issues such as osteoporosis (Where the bone wastes away) these falls can be devastating, causing issues such as broken hips, legs, shoulders etc. Whilst a young person may be able to recover fairly quickly, this could be life changing or even fatal for an older person.

By encouraging ageing populations to engage in resistance training, you are encouraging them to pursue improvements in strength and potentially muscle mass. This can lead to a reduction in these types of injuries, and also give them a better quality of life. Looking at an injury prevention perspective, if an older person is stronger, and has improved balance & coordination, then they are more likely to be able to stop / catch themselves in the event of a trip or fall. In the unfortunate event they do get injured, their body is stronger so that when they are overcompensating to protect the injured limb (e.g walking on crutches) then they are strong enough to manage it, and the physical toll of this becomes less so. Resistance training also promotes growth if muscle tissue, which can at the very least slow down the rate of atrophy, but potentially even offset it. Whether you are an athlete or not, resistance training has huge benefits for longevity, and I would recommend everyone to participate in it to some capacity.

Masters athletes

Looking at masters athlete’s, one of the main considerations is their ability to recover. Older athlete’s take longer to recover than younger athletes. So things like training volume / load need to be monitored more closely. It may also take longer to peak / taper for masters athlete’s leading into competition, and the recovery from competition itself will take longer. If they have been participating in sports / resistance training for many decades of their life, they are going to have had some wear and tear in the body. There may be far more underlying health issues and injuries, so more flexibility in exercise / movement selection may be required to accommodate this. They may also need to work through more partial ROM movements throughout training as well.

General population

In many ways, general population are the easiest client’s that a strength and conditioning coach can work with for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, unlike working with many team and some individual athlete’s, you work with the client and the client alone. Goals tend to vary, dependant on the client themselves. Sometimes they are more simple (and general) such as improve body composition and general strength. However, they may seek you out for specific performance goals themselves. It is not uncommon for someone in the general pop category to start working with an S&C course, to then become interested in participating in a sport or activity such as powerlifting, mid / long distance running and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

The other advantage of working with gen pop, is your potential for exercises and training modalities becomes far wider. I personally am a firm believer for most people, that if you don’t enjoy something then don’t do it. However, when looking at athletic development, there are elements and exercises that are implemented for a specific reason. They may not always be the most enjoyable, but they are the most bang for your buck. However, there is still room for manipulation within that. It is incredibly frustrating when coaches become married to one specific exercise or training style. The phrase “many roads lead to Rome” is very applicable here.

Endurance athlete’s

With endurance athletes you want to 1) reduce risk of injury 2) improve posture 3) improve performance. Looking at point 1, this is achieved through improving strength and stability in the skeletal musculature and connective tissue in the limbs used for locomotion. This can be generalised to all athletes though. Secondly, posture is a big part of endurance athlete’s regardless of their activity. Being able to maintain proper posture allows better positioning for locomotion (Discussed in point 3). Maintaining correct posture relative to the activity is also usually the most aerodynamic position, causing the least drag effect. The less drag there is, the greater movement economy becomes which improves performance. Which brings me on to point 3. Improving performance is largely due to 1) improvement in locomotion economy through increased impulse / power production and 2) improvements in the physiological energy systems which underpin their activity. Particularly in endurance athlete’s, it delays the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA).

A real consideration for endurance athletes is bodyweight. The heavier you are, the more energy is required for locomotion. Ideally, endurance athletes will be able to maintain a low body mass whilst being as strong and powerful as possible (I.e high power / weight ratio). As a result, hypertrophy will be far less of a focus so higher repetition / high volume work from a resistance training perspective will be less of a focus. Endurance athlete’s fall into the category where they can be “peaked” for performance. Where there is a deliberate “over reach” in training, to cause a super compensation effect causing an increase in performance. For further information on over reaching, check out my previous article on “what drives adaptation” (INSERT LINK)

Combat athlete’s

Combat athlete’s training will be dependent on the type of sport they compete in. As an overall look at combat sports, they can be classified as 3 different types. 1) grappling / wrestling (BJJ, Ju jitsu, freestyle wrestling etc) 2) striking (Boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai) and 3) mixed disciplines (MMA).

Looking at grappling sports, they tend to demand greater strength endurance efforts, as their “work” periods can last up to 30s. Longer duration anaerobic pathways become predominantly responsible for providing energy for performance. They also tend to have shorter Work: Rest ratios, suggesting the need for aerobic capacity (for recovery) can become a crucial factor. There is also more of an emphasis on maximal force production, with isometric and dynamic contractions being evident during matches. When watching grappling competitions, this does become quite apparent.

Striking sports tend to have longer Work: Rest ratios than their grappling counterparts, alongside shorter periods of work performed. Anaerobic energy systems are again the predominant fuel source, however recovery is an aerobic process so aerobic capacity still plays an important part. Force production is still  important, but rate of force development (RFD) i.e power appears to be more important when compared to grappling counterparts. This is appears fairly logical. A punch or a kick to the face is going to hurt a lot more if it’s delivered with quickly opposed to slowly. Don’t believe me? Try it on yourself and report back.  However, power is still important for grappling.

Looking at mixed disciplines, S&C training is going to need to incorporate a variety of elements to accommodate for the mixed demands. Your approach may be to play to your strengths, and spend more time emphasising the areas in which you are better. I.e if you are a better striker, you may choose to spend more time emphasising short bursts with linger recoveries and working more on RFD than max force. Or, you may choose to try and narrow the gap between your strengths and weaknesses, by working on the areas you are weaker on and maintaining your strengths. This may also be influenced by what your skills coach recommends – This is where the importance of an S&C coach, working with other coaches becomes crucial.

Track & field athlete’s

Similar to combat athletes, the discipline in which the athlete’s compete in will dictate the needs of their sport. Track and field can cover throwing (Javelin, hammer, discuss), sprinting (100m, 200m) Mid distance running (400+), jumping (Long jump, high jump, triple jump) longer distance running and also mixed events where athletes compete in mutli-disciplines.

The mid – long distance running athletes can benefit from the same considerations from endurance training, however they will also spend more time focusing on the higher intensity running, working on lactate tolerance and speed. Mid distance runners can afford to be a little larger than their long-distance counterparts, but not necessarily.

Sprinters are unsurprisingly, trying to get as fast as possible. As a result their training is going to be looking at improving rate of force development (RFD). The idea of improving RFD is that it will increase the impulse generated. Greater impulse = greater locomotion = Running faster (In Laymans terms). They need to be able to produce as much force as they possibly can, whilst also spending as little time on the ground as possible. In some ways the needs of a sprinter are simple, get as fast and powerful as possible. But doing that is no easy task. It requires time, patience and a lot of hard work for incredibly small improvements in performance. But when you have races that last between 9-11s (At elite level over 100m) you haven’t got particularly big margins to be dicking around with.

Throwers are looking to chuck an object as far as possible, basically. The object in which they are throwing will determine (To an extent) their training. Javelin and Discuss throwers are throwing a far lighter object, so working on ballistics and closer to the “velocity” end of the force / velocity curve will be beneficial for them to work on RFD. However, RFD is determined by the total force that can be produced in the first place. Looking at events such as shot putt and hammer throw, they need to move objects which are a LOT heavier. As a result, they need to be fucking strong to shift it, as well as powerful. Ever seen a small hammer thrower? They are freaky strong athlete’s.

Jumpers are looking to either jump as high, or as far as possible depending on their event. Either way, they need to be able to produce huge amount of force during the take off to propel themselves. They will focus on a lot of max strength and max power training to build the qualities required to displace themselves to their greatest height or distance. Similar to sprinters, jumpers can get away with a little bit more body mass, specifically muscle as they are very much explosive athletes. The extra muscle mass can help with force production, and hypertrophy may be a focus in the off season dependant on the athlete’s needs.

Team sport athlete’s

Team sport athlete’s can be in many ways the most complex group to train, due to the nature of their sports. Team sports are utterly fucking chaotic in nature, and become even more so if contact is involved. You have accelerations, decelerations, changes of direction, long periods of low intensity work, endless amounts iof high intensity work. The list goes on. Team sports also have a crazy schedule, ranging from 25-40 weeks of they year being “in-season”, alongside matches 1-2x per week. On the professional level, you also have to consider international duties for players. They are a logistical nightmare. So how do you deal with it?

Fluidity & adaptability is key when coaching team sport athletes. You can create the perfectly periodised approach for a team, accounting for the entire year and competitive schedule.. only for 3 of the starting players to get injured in the first match. That is an extreme example, but shit like that happens on the reg. You need to be adaptable to situations and what is thrown at you. It goes back to the old adage “what doesn’t bend, breaks”.

The level of the team from both a resistance / gym training and also playing level will influence what the outcome of S&C training is going to be. If you have a team full of noobs in a lower competitive environment, you are likely to see fair improvements throughout the season from an S&C perspective. And you will definitely see improvements in the off season (Depending how this is defined within the sport) and in pre season training. Assuming you implement a sensible plan.

When you get into the elite level, things become more nuanced, and slower. The off season for elite athletes is often completely off from all direct training, particularly in contact sports, to allow for physiological and psychological recovery. Pre season is the time where the S&C coaches will have their work cut out for them. They need to try and drive as much adaptation in a short period of time. This may continue into the bvery early stages (More likely pre season friendly) stages of the season. Once the season begins, the job of the S&C coach is to ideally slightly improve fitness parameters required for the sport, although maintenance is more realistic. Skills training increases during the season, as does volume of games. Athlete’s need to recover. There is no sense in killing athlete’s in the gym, leaving them unable to train or play for their sport. If an athlete’s performance becomes worse due to poor S&C training, you have failed them as a coach. The purpose of S&C is to aid the physical qualities they need for their sport, but their ability to play the sport is what is most important. No one will give a fuck if your prop managed to back squat 300kg, if they are getting out scrummed by their opposite number because they are buggered from the gym.

Strength athlete’s

Get them better at the movements they need for their sport, and get them as strong as possible. That’s pretty much strength sports in a broad nutshell. They are the only athlete’s where their sport is literally lifting weights. An S&C coaches dream in a sense. Their needs will be pretty individual and often are more technique focused. The physiology required often speaks for itself dependant on the sport.

Powerlifting: Get as strong as possible in squats, bench press and deadlifts.

Weighlifting: Get as strong and as powerful in the clean and jerk and the snatch

Strongman: Get as strong and as powerful as possible picking up the most awkward bloody objects you can find. Carry out some conditioning whilst carrying said objects.

Little bit tongue in cheek on the last one, but it isn’t entirely inaccurate. Strength sports also fall into the category where they can peak for competition. Off season training is often about getting as jacked as possible, ironing out as many technique issues, rehabilitating / sorting out injuries and completing large amounts of volume. The exercises performed in the off season are also less specific than the competition lifts. As they get closer to competition, the specificity of the exercises they utilise increases. One of the main things that needs to be considered with Strength athlete’s is monitoring bodymass. You want to be ideally filling out your weight class with as much muscle as possible. If you are already fairly lean, and struggle to cut weight for competition then it may be worth looking at moving up a class. If you are new to the sport, weight cuts don’t matter. Focus on enjoyment and practise, don’t break yourself trying to lose weight for an arbitrary class when you are unlikely to be in any way competitive in the first place. Enjoy it, because trust me, forcing yourself to cut weight, particularly a lot of weight is bloody miserable and often hampers performance.

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A beginner’s guide to winning the hyper trophy – The keys to getting jacked and tanned

I will preface this here,  I can only help you understand the getting jacked part. Not too hot on the the tanned part, you’ll need to figure that bit out yourself..

Last weeks article on strength training briefly touched on Skeletal muscle hypertrophy. This week, we will take a closer look at Hypertrophy. Specifically, we will look at 1) what hypertrophy actually is 2) How we can elicit hypertrophy through nutrition and training & 3) Hypertrophy in sports – is it a good or a bad thing?

What is hypertrophy?

Muscular hypertrophy is simply the growth of skeletal muscle tissue in the body. The opposite of hypertrophy is atrophy. This is when the muscle wastes away, typically this occurs from injury, however there are some diseases which cause muscular atrophy.

For hypertrophy to occur at all, there needs to be 1) an appropriate training stimulus placed upon the body and 2) adequate nutritional intake to support muscle growth. The latter being arguably more important. There are other factors which can assist with muscle growth. However, unless you’re taking of anabolic hormones / performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), they are unlikely to have much of an impact if your eating and training is poor.

Nutrition for hypertrophy

Looking at the nutritional side of things first, we need to take a brief look at the 2nd law of Thermodynamics, i.e energy balance. If we wish to lose weight, we need to use more energy than our body requires to maintain equilibrium. For example, if your maintenance calories are 2000kcal per day, and you eat 1500kcal per day, you will lose weight. If you wish to maintain weight, you need to ensure your energy balance is 2000kcal (or thereabouts). If you wish to gain weight, you need to ensure that your energy intake is greater than 2000kcal. By consuming over 2000kcal consistently, you will gain weight. The amount in which you consume over homeostasis, will determine 1) how quickly you gain weight and 2) the quality of the tissue which you gain.

The law of thermodynamics is constant, whether we like that or not. Calories in vs calories out is what determines weight loss or gain, pretty simple but many cannot grasp that. Anyone who states otherwise is a blithering idiot. If you want to gain muscle, then you need to be in a positive energy balance. There are only 2 exceptions to this rule, who can gain some lean tissue (Measured by DEXA scan). Firstly, complete newbies can put on some lean tissue, however the time it takes and also the amount of tissue gained is pretty low. Efforts would be better put into a proper “growth” phase. Secondly, if you are using PED’s then you can gain tissue whilst losing fat, however the tissue growth rate is still relatively low (relative to PED users) and there can be a whole plethora of other health risks if you choose to go down this avenue.

So, you know you need to be in a positive energy balance. But how is best to go about it? Well, simply put, eat more food. Your 2 best friends when trying to gain muscle are protein and carbohydrates. Both are needed to gain muscle. Fat is as well, however adequate fat consumption is often achieved in a balanced diet without too much thought.

The body requires protein, specifically Amino acids to function. There are 11 which the body produces naturally, and 9 which must be obtained through nutritional intake via protein sources. Protein sources vary in quality dependant on the source. Animal proteins (Dairy, beef, chicken, fish etc) are classified as “complete” proteins, because they have a full amino profile i.e they contain all 9 amino acids which your body does not produce. Many plant-based protein sources are “incomplete” protein sources, as they are missing one or more of the amino acids. This doesn’t mean that plant-based athlete’s cannot make gains, far from it. They just need to mix protein sources to make a complete amino profile.

Protein is the building blocks for skeletal tissue and consuming protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and is required for repair & building of skeletal muscle. One thing gym bros get right (Albeit massively overstate) is the need for protein when trying to gain muscle. To gain muscle, you need to ensure you spend as much time in an anabolic (protein synthesis > protein degradation) state as possible, which requires MPS to be stimulated. Resistance training is catabolic (Degrades muscle) in nature, so protein intake becomes more important for those who lift weight & undergo training where muscle tissue is broken down.

To stimulate MPS there needs to be a minimum threshold of protein consumed, which is around 20g. Max protein synthesis (Per hour) appears to be in the 20-40g range. By consuming protein on a regular basis you increase the amount of time you spend in an anabolic state, thus able to build lean tissue. There was an old myth that you HAD to get protein into your system within 30 minutes of training, known as the “anabolic window” or you were going to lose all of your gains. However, this has been shown not to be the case numerous times through controlled studies (Sorry bros). Overall, the research suggests that ensuring the time spent in a state of a positive protein synthesis over a 72 – 96 hour time frame is more important for muscle growth. So if you don’t get protein into your system within the first 30 minutes don’t worry you will probably be fine.

However, if your nutritional habits are poor, then getting yourself into the habit of having meals / snacks at specific times & on a regular basis is a good idea. Habits create behaviours. Building a habit of eating at specific times of days helps to ensure you are getting multiple MPS occurrences throughout the day ensures you are keeping that positive synthesis balance, thus more likely to build tissue.

There is still some debate on how much protein an individual requires, however Layne Norton (Completed his PhD in Protein metabolism) and Martin Macdonald at MNU have discussed protein requirements extensively and are both worth checking out. Research seems to indicate that the bare minimum requirement is around 1.8g per Kg of Lean body mass (LBM = Total body mass – fat mass). Optimal appears to be around 2.4g / kg LBM, and the upper limit in research is around 3.5g / kg LBM. More doesn’t necessarily mean more tissue will grow, just a better chance of being in a positive protein balance (Protein requirements can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdVMuUztWec).

Carbohydrates are also important for hypertrophy. Consumption of carbohydrates allows intramuscular glycogen stores to be resynthesized following training, which is important for athletes  as intramuscular glycogen plays a large part in providing energy. Consumption of carbohydrates also aid toward ensuring a positive energy balance, which provides a fuel source to be oxidised. This spares protein from being oxidised, which allows protein to be used for MPS rather than oxidised as a substrate. This is referred to as the protein sparing effect of glycogen. For those looking to gain muscle, this can be effective. Protein based foods score high on satiety (Fullness from eating) where as carbohydrates (Depending on the type of carbs) can be less satiating. For someone who has a metabolism that is through the roof, this can be a useful factor. You will get away with eating a little less protein, and adding more carbs due to this protein sparing effect. Getting in calories then becomes a little easier, as you feel less full thus can eat more.

When increasing energy intake to put yourself into a positive energy balance, you need to remember that putting on lean muscle tissue is a painstakingly slow process, taking 8-12 weeks for any kind of real meaningful growth. As an athlete not using PED’s, you are looking at around maximum 18kg per year of lean tissue. If you are a teenage male, you might be lucky and gain a little more. If you are an older male, or a female athlete it will be less. Patience and consistency is key. You only need a small energy surplus to stimulate growth. 250-500kcal per day consistently should help, up toward 750-1000kcal if your metabolism is very fast. Throwing extra calories doesn’t cause muscle gain to occur any quicker, however, it will cause fat gain to occur faster. Gaining fat mass is generally the last thing you want to do as an athlete. So a hypertrophy phase is not an excuse to eat like an asshole.

Training for hypertrophy

The good news is that training to gain muscle is a lot less complicated than the nutritional side of things. As I stated in last week’s article, exercising in the 30-85% 1rm has been shown to elicit hypertrophy.. so as long as you are eating properly and doing something, you’ll probably gain some lean tissue.

However, there are some nuances to training for hypertrophy. Some of these nuances are more applicable to athlete’s, however I will discuss both

Light weight, high repetition training for hypertrophy

The use of light weight and high repetition training for hypertrophy is pretty well documented. You only need to listen to a bodybuilder talk (Wouldn’t recommend this, they are inherently dull 99% of the time) about training for 0.3 nanoseconds to hear them talk about chasing “the pump”. This is simply when they perform an exercise for high repetitions (12-30 typically) with short rest intervals. By doing so, the muscle does not get the chance to fully recover. Muscle recovery being the clearance of metabolic wastes (Waste products). This creates a “pumped up” burning kinda sensation in the muscles you have been exercising, making you feel all swole and huge.

Again, the gym bros got it right. This can induce hypertrophic gains over a sustained period of time. Training with high metabolic waste accumulation is pretty uncomfortable, however all training at some point should be uncomfortable. If you are in the “gen pop” category, metabolite waste training can be used to help put on some mass, however it is not the only way, and not necessarily the most effective way. A downside to this type of training is that it can induce some pretty heavy DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness).

Another downside, more important for athletic populations, is that the accumulation of waste product can affect the muscles ability to contract. This could be viewed upon 2 ways. At best (of the worst) case scenarios, they are not able to produce much force and are getting beaten in sprints, jumps etc. At worst, the muscle cannot contract (Or co-contract) with enough force nor fast enough during a high-risk manoeuvre such as a sidestep cut. This causes instability around the joint, and also hampers force dissipation, resulting in an injury to the athlete, side-lining them for weeks, months or in absolute worst-case scenarios, for good.

The inability to contract (Or co contract) during a higher risk manoeuvre such as a sidestep cut, causes them to get injured. This is not to say you should never use high metabolic waste training as an athlete, but if you are going to implement it then you should use it sensibly and far away from game time or intense training. Ideally, it would be an off-season tool or used to try and isolate smaller muscle groups such as shoulders and arms.

Heavy weight, low repetition training for hypertrophy

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have lifting heavier weights for lower reps for hypertrophy. This method of training is popular in strength sports, because it gets a good blend of practising skill acquisition under heavier loads (Practising movement patterns, gaining neural adaptations etc) as well as undergoing skeletal muscle architectural and structural adaptations. The advantage of this type of training is that you get stronger, alongside putting on mass. Heavy loads would be classed as anywhere in the range of 75-85% 1rm for hypertrophy. Loads over 85% tend not to have much of an effect on hypertrophy because it becomes 1) very much a neural / technique element to lifting and 2) you cannot perform much volume work at loads exceeding 85%. Volume is a large driver of hypertrophy (As discussed later).

A consideration for this style of training is the effect of fatigue, particularly axial fatigue. When performing this type of training, exercises implemented are typically big compound movements. Squats, deadlifts etc. These carry a greater fatiguing effect on the whole body, particularly through the spine. The spine is important as it is connected to the Central nervous system (CNS) which controls the body. Accumulated fatigue to the CNS can cause a decrease in drive, thus performance. When performing these exercises, you are also at higher risk of injury due to the higher loads on the bar. Adequate recovery between sets, and sessions is of paramount importance. Again, this can be used in Gen pop fairly simply, just adjust it around your life if necessary. For athlete’s, consideration around training and games is important. The nature of your sport may also impact this. For example, if you are a front row forward, doing heavy squats before scrum practise might be a bad idea..

A mid-range approach is often used. Moderate intensity through a moderate repetition range for athletes. If you are within the gen pop category you have far more scope to play with things. Combining both heavy . low reps and light / high reps can often work. Pick 1-3 compound movements (Depending on your session style) for heavy / mid-range work) then pick some isolation work for the high rep / low load training. Keep progressing this over time. If you are unsure on progression, check out my previous article on progressive overload (https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/what-drives-progression-the-key-to-understanding-and-implementing-progressive-overload).

There are also some training techniques, which I will highlight briefly, that can be used for hypertrophy:

Drop sets – perform 1-3 top working sets before working down the weights. E.g if you were squatting 3 plates you might go 2×6 @140kg, 1×12@ 100kg, 1×20@ 60kg

Super sets – This is where you perform 2 exercises that are separated by a small margin e.g 30s. this is typically performed in an agonistic / antagonistic manner. E.g performing dumbbell bench press, 30s rest then dumbbell rows & then taking your full recovery. This is an effective way to get a lot of work in a short time frame.

Pyramid sets – This is where the repetitions decrease per working set, but the weight increases. E.g a set of 12 at 80kg, a set of 10 at 90kg and a set of 8 at 100kg would be a pyramid set

Reverse pyramid sets – The reverse of above. You start low and decrease weight and increase reps. E.g a set of 8 at 100kg, set of 10 at 90kg, set of 12 at 80kg

Tempo work – This is where you deliberalty increase the eccentric (descent), isometric (pause) and concentric (Upward) phase of the lift. A 3-2-3 tempo would be 3 count down, 2 count pause, 3 count up on a repetition.

Density training – This is where you perform a set amount of work in a set time. E.g you set a 20-minute timer, and do 1×10 push ups, 1×10 pull ups, 1×10 bicep curl, 1×10 tricep extensions, 1×10 bird dogs and complete as many rounds of this as possible in the 20 minute time frame.

Hypertrophy for athlete’s, is it a good thing?

So you now know how hypertrophy occurs from a nutritional and a training standpoint… but is it a good thing for your sport? With extra muscle comes extra weight, is this a good thing?

Like pretty much everything S&C related, it is not a “yes or no” answer. It is dependant on 1) the sport you compete in & 2) your individual needs. We will look at both  closer.

Endurance sports

For endurance sports, the extra weight may become more of a hinderance. Larger muscles do have the capacity to produce greater force than smaller muscles, which can increase locomotion and movement economy. However, extra mass may actually detract from movement economy, as it costs more energy to move more weight. When implementing S&C for endurance athlete’s you want to try and increase strength and power with minimal weight gain. This improves relative strength and power / weight ratio. You want to be able to produce as much power at a lighter body weight. However, there may come a point where you have absolutely tapped out your force / power capabilities for the muscle mass you have. When you reach this point, you may want to increase your muscle mass by a small amount.

Weight class sports (Excluding strength sports)

When competing in a sport which involves weight classes, you need to keep an eye on your body mass throughout your training, both removed from competition and when close to competing. In an ideal world, you will be filling out your weight class with as much muscle and as little fat mass as possible. If you are carrying a lot of extra fluff, it may be worth looking to work on a body recomposition, so that the weight you carry is more useful. If you are consistently under weight (Which is rare) it would be worth trying to fill out, however you want to ensure you are maintaining a good power / weight & relative strength ratio. If you are consistently overweight for competition, it might be worth looking at why. Is it self-discipline? Or do you need to look to move up a weight class? If you are already very lean, and cutting weight becomes a struggle then moving up a weight class may be a viable option

Strength sports

Strength sports are more unique in that they are more or less entirely dependent on max force or power. There are elements to strongman where conditioning plays a part, however brute strength is still a huge part of it. There are some similarities in considerations for weight classes as above. There is no sense in filling out a weight class with fat mass as it isn’t going to do much for you. And if you are killing yourself with weight cuts, then you should definitely consider moving up a weight class. However if you are underweight, or looking to fill out your weight class there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t focus on some hypertrophy training and put on some mass. Your sport / activity will hugely benefit for it, assuming you maintain your technical skill. One thing to keep in mind from this is that big changes in mass (Both gaining and losing) will change your leverages, so you may need to adjust your technique accordingly.

Other sports (Rugby, football, hockey etc)

This will be largely individual to 1) your needs and 2) your positional needs. If you are a striker in football, you likely don’t need to be built like a brick shithouse. It may not necessarily be harmful, but other qualities are of more important. On the flipside, if you are a Rugby union back Rower and weigh 80kg’s soaking weight, you might wanna think about filling out a bit.

The reoccurring theme here, is the relative strength & power to weight ratio. If you are looking to gain some mass, you need to ensure that the mass you gain is 1) quality tissue and 2) not making you slower or less powerful. If these qualities keep improving, then hypertrophy may be beneficial. Some benefits to improved hypertrophy are 1) improved robustness 2) potential to be stronger / more powerful 3) for contact / Collison sports such as rugby you have more weight behind you. You can become a human wrecking ball. Ever tried to stop a 120kg back rower who can shift? I have, it’s bloody hard and not a fun day at the office.

I hope this article helped your understanding of the mechanisms that induce hypertrophy, and some considerations for gaining mass!

Until next time

Callum

 AXIAL FATIGUE, METABOLITES, HIGH INTENSITY ETC

COME BACK TO VOLUME

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is it wrong to be strong? A closer look at the importance of strength

As the title suggests, a big component of Strength and Conditioning is strength training.  As a physical quality, strength plays a huge part in athletic performance. Strength underpins power (as discussed in last weeks article) and well strength. For many sports, the ability to produce power in a very short period of time is important. Ranging from cricket where the bowler needs to move the ball as fast as possible, to golf where there needs to be large amount of power in the club swing to increase the distance the ball travels. Looking into contact sports, you wanna be able to produce as much power if you are running into contact, or if you are the defender, you want to be able to apply as much force into the tackle to try and reduce the attackers momentum. Looking at strength, a scrum in Rugby union requires huge amount of strength and force production, with combined pack weights in professional Rugby Union exceeding 1.5 tonnes.

Strength is also hugely important for endurance sports. Stronger athletes are able to produce more power than weaker athlete’s, meaning their potential for locomotion, regardless of mode (Cycling, running, swimming etc), is greater. They will also have a better economy and will require less energy / effort for locomotion, meaning they can go harder for longer thus improving performance. Better economy is also aided by better posture / position, which is improved by strength training. Athlete’s can sustain a more economical position (E.g for runners this would be upright, not hunched over) for longer before fatigue sets

Finally, strength training is hugely important for injury prevention. Athlete’s who are stronger, are at less risk of sustaining an injury during play / competition. Adaptations elicited by strength training, cause an increase in strength in skeletal muscle, ligaments and tendons. Improving strength of the tissue around joints, helps to stabilise the joints thus making them more robust. For joints such as the shoulder, this is a huge benefit as it is one of the most “at risk” within the body. The increased strength in musculature and connective tissue also helps to dissipate / absorb and reapply forces safely during manoeuvres like sidestep cutting where there are large multiplanar forces in action.

If you have read this, or spent any time reading my posts or articles you’ll have seen me banging on about the importance of strength training for all populations. Athletic, gen pop, youth, masters & even OAPs can all benefit from strength training, but some of you may be wondering what strength training actually is. Yes, it is training to improve strength, but how do these adaptations occur? How strong do you need to be? Is there a downside to being strong? Lets have a look.

Is there a downside to being strong?

No, simply put there isn’t. People often get confused between physical size (I.e bulk) and strength. You do not need to be big, to be strong. Having more lean muscle mass can increase your strength potential (Discussed later) but it is not a necessity. There are some people who are pretty light, and seriously f*cking strong. Lightweight male and female weightlifters / powerlifters are prime examples of this. Regardless of the fact they are strength athletes. the point remains. But even looking at athlete’s outside of strength sports, some pretty lean and reasonably small framed athletes are throwing around some serious tin

What causes improvement in strength?

Improvements in strength can be from a combination of neural and structural / muscular architectural adaptations.  Firstly we will look at neural as these adaptations occur first

Neural adaptations to strength training

Firstly, a brief overview on how a muscle contracts, it might appear a little heavy reading, but stick with it…

When a muscle contracts, a physiological mechanism known as the sliding filament theory occurs. For a muscle to contract in the first place, there needs to be an electrical signal which is referred to as an action potential (AP). This signal is sent from the Axon, to the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), which is found within a motor unit. A motor unit is comprised of several motor neurons, and the muscle fibres which they innervate. When the AP reaches the NMJ it causes a diffusion of Acetylcholine (Ach) across the NMJ. This causes a chemical reaction which releases calcium (Ca2+)  to be released from from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) , allowing muscle contraction through cross bridge formation, also known as the sliding filament theory.

The sliding filament theory is the physiological interaction between Actin and Myosin Myofilaments. Actin Myofilaments are made up of Actin molecules, and a Troponin / Tropomyosin complex which combined, form a helix structure. Myosin Myofilaments are composed of Myosin light chain, and Myosin Heavy chain molecules. Within the Myosin myofilaments, there are Myosin heads, which are responsible for binding to the Actin Molecule. However, The Troponin Molecule covers the Myosin binding site on the Actin Myofilament and must be removed for cross-bridge formation to occur. Myosin binding sites are uncovered when Ca2+ is released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and binds to the Troponin molecules, allowing the Myosin head to attach to the binding site, allowing the formation of a cross-bridge.

This cross-bridge formation happens multiple times when a muscle contracts, irrespective of the task at hand. As I am typing this, 100’s of cross bridges are forming in my muscles, allowing me to type. When we exercise, the same thing happens on a greater scale, which is where motor units come in. Motor units follow what is referred to as Hennemans size principle. For day to day, low energy / effort tasks (Such as typing) small motor units are recruited. The more intense the task, the more motor units are recruited, following a small to large pattern (Hence the name size principle). In high force movements (E.g a 1rm squat) cross briges will continue to form until the muscle has gone through a full contraction (I.e completes the lift) or until failure. Failure will occur either from insufficient energy (Substrate depletion – more likely in a rep out set) or the indicidual is unable to produce enough force to overcome inertia. The inability to produce sufficient force to overcome inertia, could be from one of two things. Firstly, you may just not be strong enough to lift the damn weight in the first place. Secondly, fatigue may have set in which has hampered your ability to apply sufficient force, this could be from substrate depletion (previously mentioned) or metabolite accumulation.

I appreciate that the above is heavy on the physiology aspect, but it is important to understand it, otherwise you wouldn’t have a bloody clue what I will be talking about now. You may be wondering what that actually has to do with strength training?

When you participate in strength training, you increase neural drive. Consequentially, this improves your ability to recruit higher threshold motor units, which allows more force production. This also increases the number of cross bridges which can be created, again increasing the amount of total force which can be produced. Finally, it can improve a something known as “rate coding”. This is simply the rate at which motor units are recruited, and AP’s are discharged. Neural adaptations to strength training can occur in a number of sessions. Beginners to the gym experience huge neural adaptations, often referred to as beginner / noob gains where there appears to be a huge increase in strength. Strength training also increases motor unit synchronicity, where the body becomes more adapted to motor unit recruitment patterns in a specific way. This is another reason why it is best to stick with specific exercises for a reasonable length of time (Ideally until you just don’t get much more out of them) to build this synchronicity. Like most things, repetition is key

Structural / architectural adaptations

There are also adaptations which occur from a muscle structural / architectural standpoint from strength training. The majority of skeletal muscles are a specific type of musculature known as pennate muscles, referring to the pennate fibres in the muscle. These fibres are at an angle to the longitudinal axis to the muscle, and this angle is referred to as pennation angle. Through resistance training, the angle of pennation increases, which has been shown to increase force production.

Secondly, there are links between resistance training and muscle hypertrophy (Muscle size) I know, shocking right?. Hypertrophy can be a double-edged sword, and I will be discussing why in a later article. But as a general rule of thumb, a muscle with a larger cross-sectional area (CSA) has the potential to produce more force.

Initially, it was thought that muscular hypertrophy only really occurred in a certain range (60-75% of 1rm), and that working below this range improved muscular endurance, and working above this range worked on strength. There is some truth to this, however research has shown that muscular hypertrophy can be elicited in ranges as low as 30% 1rm, and as high as 85% of 1rm. This has changed our understanding of muscular hypertrophy & has had some implications for S&C when it comes to programme design. As I said, I will discuss hypertrophy, its mechanisms and implications of muscle growth for athlete’s in a later article, but when it comes to improving strength, increased muscle mass can help improve your strength. Prime examples of this lie within strength sports, where on average, as the weight class increases, both individual lifts and totals (Competition total of sum of weight lifted across competition lifts) increase.

How to improve strength

To improve strength, you need to be engaging in a from of resistance training. This can be barbell / dumbbell training and also bodyweight / calisthenic work. However, the latter will have a point of diminishing returns once you have mastered your bodyweight due to the progressive overload principle ( as written about here – https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/what-drives-progression-the-key-to-understanding-and-implementing-progressive-overload). It is far easier to overload barbells / dumbbells than it is to overload your body, certainly whilst maintaining athleticism and a high power / weight ratio. When carrying out training, you want to be working at higher ends of the intensity scale (70-85% 1rm) for your working sets. Strength can be improved at higher intensities, but there becomes a skill element with maximal (Or very close to) loads, and carry a higher risk if things go long. Failing lifts can also have a very fatiguing effect, and you also don’t wanna risk failing from a safety perspective. As always, progressive overload is key, and deload (If you are unsure how to deload – check here https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/a-beginners-guide-to-deloading-how-to-take-your-foot-off-the-gas-without-ruining-progression). Consistency and patience is key with strength (and all types of training), the gains will come over time!

Until next time, and as always

Stay safe, stay strong

Callum

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Unleash your training Jedi – understanding force and the Force / Velocity curve

This week’s article is going to take a closer look at the force / velocity curve, and how it relates to athletic development from a physical preparation standpoint. Specifically, how does it relate to developing strength and power. Understanding the force / velocity relationship is crucial for athletic development and is a big factor within programme design. With that in mind, let’s dive into it.

The first thing we need to do is differentiate between force production, and rate of force development (RFD). Force production, specifically maximal production is simply how much total force can you produce in a given movement. An example of a high force exercise would be a 1rm back squat, 1rm deadlifts etc. Essentially, movements which are bloody heavy and are somewhat slow in nature.

RFD is slightly different and looks at how quickly you can produce force. For athletic populations, the goal is to develop RFD so that they can run faster, jump higher, make a bigger hit etc. Ballistic & plyometric movements (If the athlete is capable) are movements which are underpinned by RFD. The quicker you are at developing force, the more powerful you will be.

At this point, you may be thinking that all S&C training should be focused on developing RFD, which isn’t an illogical conclusion however it is not quite as straightforward as that. RFD is limited by the total force the body can actually produce. If the amount of total force you can produce is piss poor, it doesn’t matter a damn how quickly you can produce it. Looking at the force velocity curve, you can see from the post training line that the aim is to improve across the whole continuum.

Looking at the force velocity curve, you can see how exercises can be manipulated to achieve specific adaptations. How this will look within a programme will be dictated by number of factors such as periodisation model used, stage of season, training session aim etc, however a typical training session will “surf the curve”. What this means, is there will be exercises along the continuum implemented. An example session may be:  

Example session

Power clean – Moderate force, moderate velocity

3rm squats – High force, low velocity

Medicine ball slams with a light ball – High velocity, low force

These may be performed as separate exercises, which is fine. The force velocity curve can also be manipulated with contrast training, where there are 2-4 exercises performed in a super set manner, at varying ends of the force velocity curve. An example of contrast training might be:

Contrast training example

1a – heavy back squat (80-92% 1rm) (High force, low velocity)

1b – Jump squats (20-40% back squat 1rm) (moderate force, moderate velocity)

1c – overspeed (band assisted) countermovement jump (Low force, high velocity)

Both contrast training and a more “traditional” approach to manipulating the force / velocity curve have their merits. It should also be noted these are not the only methods to improve strength / power in athletes. The phrase “many roads lead to Rome” springs to mind here, as there are numerous other methods which can be utilised. Regardless what method is used, the principle remains the same in that exercises used will be a manipulation of the force / velocity curve in one manner or another. Overall, by improving strength and power, you are improving yourself as an athlete from a physical preparation perspective, which should translate into your sport. Ultimately, these attributes are crucial for all athlete’s, which is why it is one of the main aims of strength and conditioning.

Until next time,

Stay safe, stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to deloading – How to take your foot off the gas without ruining progression

Last week we looked at the progressive overload principle, and how this can be achieved to ensure progressive adaptation in the desired fitness parameters. If you missed it, the article can be found here (https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/what-drives-progression-the-key-to-understanding-and-implementing-progressive-overload). Understanding the progressive overload principle is important as it is directly linked to the discussion point today, so I would recommend familiarising yourself with it first.

So,you have taken your training to the next level through a heightened understanding of how adaptation occurs.  You have successfully applied progressive overload to your training and things are going great. Everything is looking promising, you are ready to take over the world! Nothing can stop you! … oh. Wait a minute. Why are things slowing down? Why do all your warmup sets consistently feel crap? Why are your running times stagnating or even decreasing? Why are you not sleeping?! Why are you suddenly irritable?!

Sound familiar?. Unfortunately, you cannot keep the throttle welded to the floor when training. Eventually you are gonna have to take your foot off the throttle and coast. This is referred to as a deloading, and it will not ruin your progress IF you deload correctly. Deloading is an important part of training, however it often confuses people and is easily overlooked. This article will hopefully clear up any confusion you have on the area!

In the previous article, I mentioned deloading, highlighting it as an option to take when we approach the stage of training where we begin to plateau. When this plateau occurs we are faced with one of 3 possible outcomes. The first 2 options are preferable depending on your situation (Discussed later), and the final scenario will occur if you fail to choose one of the two options.

Option 1) To deload and facilitate recovery. Option 2 to functionally overreach (also known as super compensation / peaking) where the body is deliberately overreached so that when they do recover they are at peak performance. This is typically done before a big competition. The final outcome is if you try and push on despite your body screaming “slow the fuck down” at you and is known as non-functional overreaching. Anyone who has been in a state of non-functional overreaching knows that it is a very bad day at the office. It is bloody miserable

Regardless of choosing option 1 or 2, the purpose behind it is to facilitate phase potentiation. This is where phases of training are systematically linked together in a sequence, where the previous block is designed to enhance or potentiate (hence the name) the next block. This is evidenced through periodised programming, and important for athletic development. An obvious example of phase potentiation would be in block periodisation, where the pattern follows: accumulation phase > Transmutation phase > Realisation phase & then repeat. Whether you choose option 1 or 2, will be dependant on your current situation regarding competition schedules, stage of season etc.

What is deloading, and why should you do it?

Deloading in short, is a systematic reduction in training to allow for physiological, endocrinological and psychological recovery. Training is a stressor, and the body does not like stress. Despite training having a plethora of physical and psychological benefits, it is still a stressor. Stress accumulates over time, and regardless of how much you love training, your body will get to the stage where you cannot adapt to the stress you place upon it. By deloading, you are reducing the amount of stress you are subjecting your body to, by reducing training in some way.

This allows for recovery, a crucial part to training. Ashley Jones, the former head of S&C at Edinburgh Rugby put it perfectly “The ability to train, is dictated by the ability to recover”. You cannot train hard, day in day out all year round. It is a sure-fire way to get a one way ticket to snap city. You spend far more time recovering from training than you do actually training, so recovery (Which will be discussed in a later article) is hugely important. But in short, you need to recover to elicit the adaptations you are trying to improve.

When should you deload?

Like most answers in S&C, there is no “one size fits all” for deloading. When you need to deload is pretty individualistic, The amount of volume / work that you can handle, varies from person to person. Some people may need more regular deloads i.e every 4-6 weeks, whilst others can keep pushing for weeks on end with no need for a break. The training status of the individual also plays an element within deloading, however this is related to volume tolerance which develops over time.

There are a couple of things that indicate you are needing a deload week however, including:

  • Consistent decrease in performance – This could be seen in continually missing programmed repetitions, consistent decreases in sprint / run times etc
  • Decreased drive to train – If you are consistently in a “slump” with training, and everything feels like an effort to get yourself in the mood for
  • If everything consistently feels like an actual physical effort, even the warm up sets just feel really tough going
  • Decreased appetite – If you are finding your appetite is consistently lower than normal, despite no real changes in diet
  • Decreased mood / increased irritability – If you are finding your mood is generally suppressed, that you are having a lower outlook on things and generally just feeling down. You may also find you’re becoming more irritable / things are getting to you more than normal
  • Poor sleep – Despite being pretty worn out, you may find issues with sleep. This may be in terms of total sleeping time i.e you aren’t sleeping as long, sleep quality i.e your sleep is more broken / less REM sleep or a combination of both
  • Decreased sex drive – Training is a stress and ca have an impact on cortisol (Stress hormone) levels. Increased cortisol can decrease testosterone & progesterone levels in the body. Both can have an effect on sexual drive

The above are some possible symptoms which indicate you may need to deload. Looking at the training ones, it is important to look at it objectively as possible. The key word is consistent decreases / impact on performance. Having one bad / off session does not mean you need a deload. If you have a week / 2 weeks where things are consistently (Or even completely) a bit shit, then it might be time to deload.

How should you deload?

Deloading is achieved by a systematic reduction in training, deloading is not a week off. Training can be reduced in 3 manners 1) A reduction in volume 2) a reduction in intensity 3) a reduction in both volume and intensity. The most common ways to achieve a deload are generally option 1 or 3. Volume is generally the thing that is reduced the most, because volume work creates larger fatigue accumulation than intensity. Volume, or mismanagement of volume is often the cause of non-contact, repetitive strain style injuries in training. As a result, reducing volume over a week is one of the easiest ways to deload. It needs to be a reasonable reduction in volume, ranging from 20-50% reduction depending on phase of training, the previous block etc. It may seem like a lot, but it is worthwhile.

Sometimes a reduction in volume will be coupled with a reduction in Intensity. More caution needs to be used when reducing intensity however, as too great a reduction may result in some decreased training adaptations. For example, if you were looking at sprint training / high speed running you may want to decrease the volume to allow recovery. However, the training residuals (how long it takes for a physical quality to decrease) indicates that max speed drops off around 5 ± 3 days. Looking at a deload week, if you reduce both the volume and the intensity of your sprint training, you might actually have some detraining effects which you definitely do not want.

There are also some neural factors you need to consider when deloading. Looking at a quality like maximum strength, the detraining time is approximately 30 ± 5 days, so theoretically you have more wiggle room when deloading. However if you arbitrarily drop the intensity just for the sake of deloading (i.e going from 75% 1rm in training to 55%1rm during a deload week) when you return to the next phase of training around 80%, you are likely to see a reduction in Neural drive and decreased movement efficiency.

Opportunities within deload weeks

I get it, deload weeks are boring. No 2 ways about it! But there are a couple of things you can do to help break up the monotony. Looking at the psychological aspect of deloading, athlete’s often find deload weeks boring. They want to push themselves and feel like they have worked hard. One way to help with this, is to try and reframe our view on deloads. Viewing deload weeks as boring and easy, starts to reinforce a negative thought pattern around it. Reframing it and thinking of it as an opportunity to rebound and come back stronger, and also a chance to practise things like movement technique etc can help with the monotony of deloading. Even with lighter loads / volumes, you should treat a deload session like a normal session and not something you just need to rush through.

Secondly, you will be spending time doing less training. Time is the only resource in this world you can never get back, and with a reduction in training volume & / or intensity you are getting a little of it back in this week. Use it! See your friends, go out and socialise, do things you enjoy that you may not always get the chance to do under normal weeks. Mental well being and enjoyment of life plays a large part in recovery and maintaining homeostasis. As a species we are also hardwired to be social, so capitalise on that. You don’t need to be living that “hustle and grind” life 24/7, there is more to life than training!

Until next time, and as always: Stay safe, stay strong

Callum

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What drives progression when exercising?

Some key terms for understanding the article.

Functional overreaching – Deliberately pushing the body toward an over-reaching state to allow for a supercompensation effect, where there is an improvement in physical fitness parameters thus performance

Non-functional overreaching – When the body is pushed into an overreaching state without a purpose and not for peak performance

Deload – A deliberate reduction in training volume and / or intensity to facilitate recovery

1rm – 1 repetition maximum i.e the heaviest weight you can lift for a single rep

Driving adaptation

In the previous article we covered the bodies energy systems, and how they fuel performance. If you missed it, the link can be found here (https://www.stewartathleticdevelopment.com/post/what-fuels-performance-a-beginners). This article will be related to the one you are about to read, so it is worth reading or even refreshing yourself on.

In this article, we will look at progressive overload, why this underpins S&C programme design and how progressive overload can be achieved by manipulation of the 3 main training variables. By understanding these factors, you will have a far better understanding of how progress occurs from systematic programming and not random  workouts.

Progressive overload

We will begin with the progressive overload principle. Once you have grasped this principle, programming and programme design will become easier to understand. Progressive overload is based up on a theory known as general adaptation syndrome discovered by Hans Seyle. This theory was initially discovered when researching stress from a psychological perspective.

Firstly we have Homeostasis, which is is simply put normal living. no real-life stressors etc. Arguably, homeostasis is what we should be in, however life is rarely completely balanced. Stress occurs pretty much everywhere unless you are lving a zen life in a bhuddhist temple, in which case youre unlikely to be reading the words of some doughball on training adaptation.

Along comes stress. Ahhh yes. Stress. who doesn’t love it? The onset of stress causes us mere mortals to enter  the alarm stage. This causes an emotional upheaval, causing us to panic, fluster and potentially even engage in the primal instinct known as “fight or flight” which in short is an upregulation of adrenaline / noradrenaline to allow us to either fight off the stress or run away from it. The onset of a stressor disrupts homeostasis from both a physiological and psychological perspective and is generally just not very fun.

Eventually, we calm down and realise the fact that Karen from HR not processing the paperwork for the new employees is probably not the end of the world. So we calm down, we adapt to the stress. This is known as resistance stage.. The individual begins to handle their situation, coming out a little better prepared to handle future stress than they were before, so next time Karen forgets something it will be less of an issue.

However, if Karen continually keeps forgetting things, the stress does begin to accumulate, and the individual begins to see a regression in their ability to handle stress again. This regression indicates the individual has entered the exhaustion stage. This is when the body cannot handle the sheer volume of stress and begins to shut down. Often associated with increased irritability / decreased mood, decreased appetite, decreased sex drive etc. This theory revolutionised sports science and programme design, because the same principle applies when applying training. Training of any description is a stressor. In an ironic twist of fate, exercise and training helps improve longevity and quality of life by subjecting you to stress.

The picture attached views the GAS theory from a training perspective and looks ever so slightly different. We apply a training stimulus, and the body enters alarm. There is usually a small decrease in fitness parameters at this stage as the body very much responds in a “what the fuck are you doing to me?!?!” manner. But it begins to adapt to the stimulus, becoming used to the training. This alarm stage can typically last for a block, or several linked blocks of training depending on your approach to programming.  

As stated, the body begins to adjust within the resistance phase. Adapting to the stimulus that is applied. Within the resistance phase there are 2 options from a training perspective. You can either take a deload (Which will be discussed in greater detail in a later article) or you can overload it slightly to achieve functional overreaching. Which option you choose will depend on a myriad of factors including the type of athlete you are, your stage of season, training status & the actual purpose of 1) the block of training you are currently on and 2) what the next block is.

If you continue to grind on with training in the resistance stage unchecked, you will enter the exhaustion stage where non-functional overreaching occurs, and if left unchecked will eventually lead to overtraining syndrome. As a visual help, non-functional over reaching is like a well-done steak, its not a good day at the office. Overtraining syndrome is not so much being overcooked, as totally fucking incinerated and can take months to recover from. If you end up in a state of over training, you are pretty fucked. So best to try and avoid that…

Ok, you have an understanding of what progressive overload is.. but how do you achieve it?

Progressive overload is achieved by a manipulation of 1 of 3 key training principles, which we will discuss here. I done a brief overview on Instagram a few weeks back ( https://www.instagram.com/p/CAH4QO9gRFO/)  but we will look at them in greater detail here.

The 3 key training variables are volume, intensity and frequency. How these training principles are manipulated, is dependent on:

  • The type of athlete you are i.e team sport athlete, individual athlete etc
  • Your training status in terms of S&C training
  • Your training out with S&C training i.e skills sessions, games etc
  • Stage of competitive season i.e in-season, off-season, pre-season
  • Proximity to big competition
  • Periodisation model utilised

And many other factors. The purpose of this article is not a review and comparison of periodisation models, but to highlight how the training can and are manipulated to achieve progressive overload.

Volume

We will start with looking at volume. Volume, sometimes referred to as volume load, is the total workload completed within a phase of training. Volume load is monitored during a mesocycle (large block of training, typically a competitive season), a macrocycle (A block of training which can last anywhere between 2-12+ weeks) and even microcycles (Day to day sessions). Volume is typically expressed in Kg when looking at resistance training, Contacts when looking at plyometrics, metres / kilometres run, cycled or swum etc. Basically however you track training, is the volume.

Looking at the table as an example of 2 sessions. Initially you may think 3×10 sounds like more volume than 6×5, however the total number of working repetitions is the same. However the working intensity is different, and is reflected in the overall volume load where there is a difference of 300kg.

This is not to say that session 1 is better than session 2, they both will be utilised to elicit different adaptations. Session 1 would be utilised to accumulate volume whilst still utilising a fair amount of force output, i.e more of a strength-based focus. Session 2 will have a greater time under tension (TUT) and more of a strength endurance focused. Both sessions have their purpose, depending on the aim of the block. Sadly, that is not an excuse to do 10’s.. sorry guys.

Volume is one of the training variables which is easiest to increase / decrease, however it is also easy to mismanage. Volume over time drives adaptation, you need to accumulate a certain amount of volume to drive adaptation. However, you cannot keep throwing volume at athlete’s and hope that it works. All training volume must be included, alongside game play and competition. Volume in season needs to be closely monitored, particularly with athlete’s that already have a high training load. Sharp increases in volume, or high-volume training loads alongside high intensity training increases the likelihood of a repetitive strain / overuse injury. When increasing volume, it needs to be a gradual process.

Intensity

Intensity is in short, the amount of stress that is placed under the body, ranging from exercise specific up to the overview of the macrocycle. Plyometrics are a great way to view intensity, where bi-lateral pogo’s would be classed as low intensity, vs depth jumps or shock training which is viewed as high intensity.

Intensity can be tracked & implemented in several ways. Firstly, it can be viewed as the intensity of the session. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) has been used for a number of ways to monitor training. RPE is a subjective measure, however there are now some quantifiable ways to use RPE as a numerical way of tracking. RPE training has been popularised in powerlifting crowds by Mike Tuchscherer, where the perceived RPE directly links to the repetitions in reserve (RIR) per set. RPE can also be applied to just the difficulty of the session, which highlights to the coach and athlete how difficult the session was. Often there will be a target RPE to ensure there is a desired outcome, upscaling and downscaling the RPE depending on the purpose of the session.

Intensity can also be based off specific metrics. These vary from target heart rates (HR) during cardiovascular sessions to ensure specific physiological adaptations occur, to working at a certain % of 1rm, % of maximal aerobic speed (MAS) runs etc. These metrics are again manipulated depending on the session outcome, stage of season, macrocycle focus etc.

Looking at something like plyometric training there is a little bit more of a subjective element in the higher intensity end of the scale. There are some recommendations such as not using high drop landings or shock training unless the athlete can manage a 2x bw back squat. The theory behind this is that the athlete will not be strong enough to handle the huge forces during high altitude landings, which there is some truth in. However it is a little more nuanced than that. The athlete’s landing mechanics, their plyometric training history and also their bodyweight all influences this.

Getting back to intensity, you can see how it may need to be manipulated depending on the outcome of the session / macrocycle. However, there is an inverse relationship regarding the amount of volume you will be able to achieve in one session. You cannot perform high repetitions of a high % of 1rm when doing exercise, and trying to overcook the amount of reps you can do at high %’s seriously increases your chance of injury. Generally, when looking at training as an overview, as training intensity really starts increasing, volume tends to decrease a bit!

Frequency

Frequency is the amount of times per week you are training. This may look at overall training, specific strength training, specific sprint training etc. The frequency of the training you will do is dependent on

  • The training residual of the quality you are trying to train
  • The sport you compete in
  • The stage of season you are in
  • The type of training you are actually discussing

The trouble with frequency, is when people increase training frequency they often forget that unless they split the load up, it can cause a large spike in volume load as a by product of having extra training. It may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how often it is overlooked!

For team sports in  season like Rugby, they are unlikely to have a high training frequency in terms of their strength & conditioning training, as they will have a large number of skills sessions. They will have enough training to keep things ticking over and making some improvements, but ultimately the main focus is going to be on their rugby because well… that’s what they play?. However in the off-season / pre-season, their S&C sessions are going to be higher to drive the physical parameters which underpin their sport. Usually involving some pretty spewey sessions!

Strength sports are perhaps the best to understand frequency. Sports like powerlifting and weightlifting are heavily impacted by frequency. Powerlifting training typically ranges from 3-5 sessions per week, and they will cycle the frequency in which they squat, bench press and deadlift. An example would be squatting 2x per week, deadlifting 2x per week and bench pressing 3x per week.

They choose the exercise frequency to ensure they are driving both the neural and the physiological / skeletomuscular adaptations. The frequency in how often they perform competition lifts (Or variants off) will determine what the volume & intensity would be. Try deadlifting 4x per week and let me know how long it takes to get snapped up..

Due to the heavy fatiguing effect of powerlifting training, it is typically on the lower end of frequency as recovery is important. Weightlifting programmes however have adopted higher frequencies of training ranging from 4-6 sessions per week, with some involving double sessions. Anyone who thinks they have done a high-volume lifting week should look at some of the Eastern bloc weightlifting regimes to see what some really high volume work is. The higher frequency allows for more repetitions of a specific skill, i.e for weightlifters performing the clean and jerk or snatch. If your sport is literally lifting weights, you will have a higher frequency of training to allow for skill acquisition. By practising something more often, you get better at it. Shocking right?.

By manipulating these variables, you will be able to achieve progressive overload, thus driving adaptation. It may appear complex, but over time it can be applied to your own training to ensure you are progressing. Or, you can hire a coach and let them do the hard work for you.

In the next article we will look at deloading. Specifically, what deloading is, when you should do it, why you should do it and how you do an effective deload.

Until next time, and as always stay safe, stay strong

Callum

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What fuels performance? A beginners guide to the energy systems

I will preface this here – This article will not be a lesson in physiology, biology or biochemistry, so don’t worry. There are some areas which may appear a little more technically explained / technical jargon, however all should become clear by the end of the article. If you do have any areas you would like further explanation of, or questions looking for more detail then feel free to shoot me an email / DM on social media and I will do my best to help you out!

In the previous article I wrote about how athletes can deal with Covid 19 in terms of maintaining & improving some of their physical fitness parameters. This article will look in more detail at the energy systems role in movement & performance and how it relates to your training. It will also look at how the energy systems can be emphasised, thus relating more sport specific adaptations from a physiological perspective.

Energy systems overview

For human movement to occur, the body requires energy. The energy is in the form of a molecule known as Adenosine Triphosphate, more commonly referred to as ATP. The energy systems in the body, generate or degrade substances which is converted into ATP for movement. The amount of ATP required, and rate of ATP production is dependent on 1) the activity performed and 2) the intensity of the activity. For example, a 100m walk requires less energy than a 100m jog, which requires less energy than a 100m sprint. The type of activity performed dictates which energy system is the primary source of energy, however all the energy systems work together as an integrated unit. The energy systems can be broadly classified as either Aerobic (with adequate O2 supply) or Anaerobic (With inadequate O2 supply) as highlighted below.

ATP-PCr – Also known as the Phosphagen / Alactic anaerobic system. ATP-PCr is stored intramuscularly, meaning there is a finite supply of available energy. Intramuscular Phosphocreatine (PCr) is produced in 3 ways. 1) PCr can be produced from Creatine in the liver, 2) PCr can be produced from intramuscular Creatine 3) PCr can be made from the enzymatic reaction between ATP-PCr intramuscularly.

This energy system is the predominant fuel source in explosive activity such as Sprinting or a power clean. This system can provide energy very quickly, as there are only 2 enzymatic reactions required to produce ATP. However, the finite stores of ATP-PCr mean that this energy substrate is depleted extremely quickly (Approximately 10s of maximal activity) and takes 3-5 minutes to resynthesise depending on aerobic capacity. Sports such as Weightlifting, 100m sprinting and throwing events are also predominantly fuelled by this system. Team sports such as Rugby, football, basketball etc will rely on this during line breaks & sprints during the game etc, usually in the components which can be game changers

Anaerobic glycolytic – also known as Anaerobic lactic system. Anaerobic glycolysis also produces ATP very quickly from intramuscular Glycogen stores & from pyruvate produced in glycolysis when O2 supply is inadequate. This pyruvate is then used in the Lactic acid cycle, which converts Pyruvate to Lactate. Lactate accumulates in the blood as exercise intensity and duration increases; however this is not a bad thing!  Lactate is required for the lactic acid cycle , where the lactate is converted into a fuel source and is actually incredibly important for performance!. This system is responsible for moderate to high intensity exercise.

Blood lactate clears over time, and the more the adapted to using lactate as a fuel source you are, the quicker the lactate will clear. Resynthesis of intramuscular glycogen occurs via oxidative pathways and from exogenous carbohydrate consumption i.e eating carbs! . Sports such as 200-400m running, Rugby, football and swimming will rely predominantly on this energy system for performance.

Aerobic Glycolytic / Beta oxidation – Also known as the oxidative system, Aerobic glycolysis & Free fatty acid (FFA) oxidation. These systems are responsible for producing energy at low intensity. They produce high amounts of ATP, however the chemical reactions required to do so are more complex thus take a longer time to do. Firstly, we will examine Aerobic Glycolysis. This occurs during Glycolysis when there is adequate O2 (Unlike anaerobic glycolysis). Similarly, this process produces pyruvate, however this pyruvate is used within the Tricarboxylic (TCA) cycle (Also known as the Krebs cycle) and not the Lactic acid cycle. This cycle then produces Acetyl-CoA & NADH which are then used in the Electron transport chain, producing ATP. Free fatty acids (FFA’s) can also be used for energy via Beta Oxidation. FFA’s are derived from intramuscular triglycerides (Intramuscular fat stores), adipose tissue (Body fat tissue) and circulating HDL / LDL’s.  Beta oxidation also produces Acetyl-CoA & NADH for the electron transport chain, however this is the process takes a considerable amount of time relative to anaerobic processes.

Whilst both processes yield large amounts of ATP, there are lot of rate limiting enzymatic steps, thus thus it takes a long time to produce energy. As a result, these energy systems are responsible for basal and low energy activities such as walking and recovery and are not particularly efficient for moderate to high intensity exercise.

That’s great, but what the f*ck does that mean for my training?

You may be wondering how any of this information can be applied in a useful context for your training, and that’s where I am here to help you. I will explain how each of these systems can be targeted via training & why you might want to target them.

ATP-PCr / Alactic – To target this energy system you need to exercise at a maximal (or supramaximal) intensity for the appropriate period of time. Rest period for this energy system is also very important. The work; rest ratio can range from 1; 12-20. Looking at sprinting activities, sprinting typically lasts for 5-15s which ensure the Alactic energy system is targeted. Sprints can either be done from a stationary start (2,3- or 4-point stance) or from a rolling start where you run into the start, building up your pace. Both stances have their advantages for different purposes in sprint training, which will be discussed in a later article. Sprinting can also be completed on a bike / cycle ergometer, rowing machine battle ropes and other modes of cardiovascular training. The important factor in stressing the ATP-PCr system is the intent in which you exercise. You need to push yourself to maximal efforts to emphasise this pathway for substrate metabolism. If you do not push it to maximal effort, you will yield the desired adaptations.  

Looking at Resistance, plyometric and power training. The principles are the same. This energy system will be predominantly utilised in high effort sets, such as max effort power cleans, squats and repeated bounds. Regardless of the exercise modality performed, sufficient rest is required to allow ATP-PCr stores to resynthesise. This can take 3-5 minutes, depending on your level of aerobic fitness. As recovery is an aerobic process, the more aerobically fit you are the quicker you will recover. During these type of movements there is also involvement from other mechanisms such as the stretch shortening cycle, however that will be discussed in a later article.

An example of a pre-season sprint session, for a team sport athlete which targets the ATP-PCr system can be seen below. It should be noted this is not inclusive of other training sessions, such as skills and gym sessions, in which they would also undertake during a pre-season phase.

DayExerciseSetsRepetitionsTime / distanceRecovery time
MondayAcceleration sprints255s sprints60 – 90s recovery between sprints, 4 mins between sets
TuesdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
WednesdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
ThursdayMax velocity sprints3410s @ max velocity120s rest between reps, 5 minutes between sets
FridayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
SaturdayAcceleration & Change of direction sprints2410s acceleration120s rest between reps, 5 minutes between sets
SundayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A

Anaerobic glycolytic system – This energy system requires high (not maximal) effort input. Anaerobic glycolytic training can be quite uncomfortable in nature due to high metabolite (waste product) build up. Efforts can range between 30s to 5 minutes in length of high intensity exercise. Recovery for this system is driven partially from aerobic pathways, and also from nutritional intake. From an Aerobic recovery standpoint, you are looking around 2-4 minutes recovery dependant on the length, mode and outcome goal of the training. Typically, recovery is 90s-4 minutes in length. From a cardiovascular training standpoint this system can be worked by running, cycling, rowing, swimming activities. This energy system will also be responsible during higher rep exercise sets where there is more of an endurance focus. 

An example of week of watt bike training which predominantly utilises the anaerobic glycolytic system could be;

DayExerciseSetsRepetitionsTime / DistanceRecovery period
MondayWatt bike session412km as fast as possible90-120s off
TuesdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
Wednesday 612 mins on60s off
ThursdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
FridayWatt bike session10160s on60s off
SaturdayWatt bike session414 mins on2 mins off
SundayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A

Oxidative system (s) – The oxidative pathways can be trained from both long endurance style training, however HIIT training has also been shown to increase aerobic capacity despite the activity being supramaximal in nature. However, this will be discussed in greater detail in another article. For the purpose of this article, we will look at traditional “endurance” training.

The sport which you compete in will determine the emphasis of these systems for performance, however even for higher intensity sports the oxidative systems still play a huge role in recovery. Endurance sports such as long distance running and cycling will utilise oxidative pathways, in particular aerobic glycolysis, to provide energy for performance. Sports such as Rugby Union and football will depend on oxidative pathways to a lesser extent for performance, however interplay and post-match recovery will be influenced by oxidative systems therefore are still an important consideration. The oxidative systems can be stimulated through HIIT training, however there are caveats within exercise prescription of HIIT (Which will be discussed in a later article) so for the purposes of this article, traditional oxidative training will be discussed.

Traditional aerobic training which stimulates oxidative pathways is typically viewed as endurance training. Long distance training will typically tax the oxidative pathways until there is a shift from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism for energy. This occurs when the rate of blood lactate clearance, is exceeded by the rate of blood lactate production. This physiological phenomenon is referred to as the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) and is often viewed as one of the most important factors in predicting endurance sport performance. Delaying the point in which OBLA occurs is crucial to endurance sport performance and is increased by improving oxidative metabolism pathways and aerobic capacity. An example of a traditional endurance training for a triathlete week may look as follows;

DayExerciseSetsRepetitionsTime / DistanceRecovery period
MondaySwim (Focus on pacing)315 lengthsAim for each set to be within ±10s of the previous.3 mins
TuesdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
WednesdayRun (Focus on pacing)42km runsAim for each set to be within ±20s of the previous.4 minutes
ThursdayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A
FridayCycle1125kmN/A
SaturdayRun & Swim (Focus on effort)1 each1 eachSwim 25 lengths (1.25km) as fast as possible. Run 10km as fast as possible30-60 minutes between sessions. Refuel with exogenous carbohydrates between
SundayOffN/AN/AN/AN/A

Summary

I hope this article has been clear enough in the explanation of the energy systems and how they 1) are utilised in sports & 2) how they can be trained. As a rule of thumb, to train a specific energy system you 1) need to train for as long as the energy system is the primary fuel source (e.g 10s sprint for ATP-PCr) & 2) allow adequate rest to allow this energy system to recover. If you have any questions, then do not hesitate to get in touch via email or on the social media DM’s.

Until next time and as always, stay strong.

Callum

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How to pick a coach – It’s a little more thorough than a tinder swipe

Previously I wrote about the benefits of having a Strength & Conditioning coach, however I did not elaborate to you, the consumer how to go about picking a coach. Much the same as you (Hopefully) wouldn’t pick the first car you see when car shopping, you shouldn’t jump at the first coach you come across on the interweb search engine.

As an athlete, at some stage you will have worked with a coach to some degree. The level of sport in which you compete will likely have influenced the amount of coaching exposure and quality you received. Generally, more competitive athlete’s / teams receiving more coaching exposure and a higher quality of support. I want you to think back, who was the best coach you have ever had, and what made them so good? Conversely, think of the absolute worst coach you experienced, what made them stand out as so god awful?. Finally, can you think of the most average coach you ever had?

Chances are the best and worst coaches spring to mind pretty easily, the average coach less so. Impressions and behaviours last a long time and can form both positive and negative thoughts towards coaches & coaching practise. Consequentially, there are some important factors you as the consumer should consider first before hiring a coach. But firstly, a recap on the benefits of having a coach!

What benefits are there to having a coach?
You may or may not have heard the expression “even coaches need coaches” and it is something I am a firm believer in (and practise myself). Having a (good) coach in your corner removes uncertainty from your own training, as they are able to look at the bigger picture with an objective eye. Even with all the knowledge and experience in the world, it is far too easy when programming for yourself to make changes left right and centre. In our heads we justify it, saying things like “its ok I know what I’m doing”.
As coaches we ask athletes to trust the process and follow instruction as it has been done with them in mind, so why should the rules be different for ourselves? They shouldn’t, but it is a trap that is very easy to fall in to. As a result, it is easy to fall off the wagon and make little to no progress, because we aren’t sticking to something for long enough to make meaningful adaptation.
Most online coaches will require check ins from you as an athlete (As discussed later in the article) which helps keep you as an athlete accountable from a psychological and literal perspective. From a monetary perspective, If you hire a coach you are making a financial investment in them. This generally increases adherence to training, as people (generally) don’t want to p*ss their hard-earned money up against the wall.

Finally, it removes the time pressure of creating your own training. Creating long term S&C programmes can take considerable time and effort, depending on the complexity of your competitive schedule, lifestyle etc. If you hire a coach, that then becomes their responsibility freeing your time up to do whatever you want! i.e. put your feet up and get the playstation on!

Picking a coach

Great, youare sold on the idea of hiring yourself a coach? This is excellent! But where do you begin to navigate the minefield of coaching services? If only there was someone with some experience here to help you make an informed decision.…

What do you need from the coach?

Firstly, you need to look at yourself and your own goals. As a consumer, you will likely know why you are seeking S&C support, so finding a coach to support these needs is the first step.

A proficient S&C coach should be able to work with pretty much any athlete irrespective of their background; however, some are better suited to others from past experiences, area of expertise etc. As a consumer, it is worthwhile doing your homework on what coaches offer. For example, if you are a rugby player looking to put on some Lean mass and improve strength and power, employing a coach who specialises in endurance sport may not be the best investment…

What is the coach like?

Secondly, you need to look at the coach themselves. What kind of personality do they have? If you watch or read their content, do you enjoy it or do they rub you up the wrong way?. If a coach comes across in a manner which you do not like in article blogs or videos, they are likely to have similar traits when coaching. The coach may have every accreditation, degree and CPD course to their name, but if you don’t like them or their personality, you most likely will not respond well to them as your coach!!. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily a bad coach, but it means the coach / athlete relationship (Which is discussed later) is unlikely to develop positively. It is also worth checking if their athletes have left reviews / feedback about what it is like to work with person X as a coach?. This information can be vey insightful to the kind of person the coach is, which may indicate to you, whether they will be a good fit for you..

Can the coach differentiate between a barbell and their b*llend?

Ok, so you have found some possible contenders, but what’s next? You should look to check previous work history & experience the coach has had. What kind of athlete’s have they worked with? To what level? Have those athlete’s left reviews about the coach, and what are the reoccurring themes / general tone of the coach’s capabilities?

It is also worthwhile checking out their credentials. Strength and Conditioning is not a field in which you are granted a chartered title. This means that any idiot (believe me, there are a lot) can call themselves an S&C coach / practitioner with no legal ramification.

Therefore, as a consumer, it is important that you do your homework when checking out potential coaches. What qualifications does X coach have?

Have they got a degree in a relevant field ?(Strength and Conditioning, Sport and Exercise Science etc). What level of qualification do they have (BSc, MSc / MBr, PhD)? What external qualifications do they have? Are they accredited with any governing bodies in their relevant field ?(UKSCA for UK S&C, BASES for Sports Science).

It should be noted that coaching badges and qualifications aren’t everything. Whilst these qualifications should highlight that your potential coach has a good understanding of the scientific principles which underpin S&C, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good coach. Time in the trenches & working with people is crucial to being a good coach. There is no lack of coaches who have all the accreditation and qualifications under the sun yet have the personable communication skills of a plank of wood.

Some coaches in this category can be guilty of trying to explain the scientific principles of physiology, biochemistry and biomechanics to their athletes and baffle them with b*llshit & jargon to massage their own ego and sound smarter than they are, to an audience who likely do not know better. It achieves nothing. the vast majority of athlete’s don’t give a f*ck about ATP turnover or the force-vector theory. You know what they do care about? The results of the training programme! Mind blowing, right?

Building the coach / athlete relationship

Great, so you have found a suitable coach and have started working with them… now what?.

Like any relationship, there needs to be effort  and communication coming from both parties. Online coaches have preferred protocols for checking in with their athlete’s, ranging from daily, multiple times per day, after each session, 1-2x per week, weekly etc. This check in is your chance for you to discuss how things are going. Your coach is not a mind reader, they cannot tell what you are thinking or feeling towards the training, or how thing’s are progressing unless you communicate with them. Similarly, they need to ensure they are communicating back to you in a clear and efficient manner. Over time, these interactions start to build the coach / athlete relationship.

Building this relationship will lead to greater progress. As the athlete, you will gain trust in your coach and their ability when you begin to see the results, creating greater adherence. From the coach’s perspective, they will begin to se what you respond well to from both a physiological and psychological perspective, allowing the programme to be tailored to your need even more accurately within the constraints of the desired adaptations. Overall, the importance of the coach / athlete relationship cannot be stressed enough and should be developed from the get-go & communication is the utmost key to developing it.

Until next time and as always, stay strong.

Callum