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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 4: Hydration, recovery & monitoring training

Now we are onto the final instalment of concurrent training. Firstly, well done for making it through parts 1, 2 & 3.  They are big reads, so.. kudos!.

In today’s article, We will be looking at monitoring, hydration and recovery for concurrent training. It’s easy to overlook, but monitoring training and ensuring you are looking after your recovery is important for any programme. But, due to the high intensity & dual focus nature of concurrent training it is of particular importance. If you are not monitoring and manipulating training load at necessary times, and your hydration and recovery is pretty poor you are going to gas out fast. Reaching at best a state of non-functional overreaching, at worst picking up a moderate – severe injury which side-lines you. So we will begin by looking at monitoring training.

Monitoring training

Now, for some of the things being discussed in monitoring, you may need some tech or equipment. However, many of you will probably already have some of this tech (or very close to considering purchasing). For some metrics, it will make your life a whole lot easier.

The obvious starting point for monitoring is your training intensity and training volume. Now this may seem fairly intuitive, but you need to ensure you are tracking both your resistance training sessions as well as your cardiovascular sessions. There is 0 sense in tracking one training type, and not the other. So, track how much tin you’re lifting, track how far you’re running, cycling, swimming etc, and keep an eye on the training load (both volume and intensity). Volume load (total work done) can be useful for tracking progress, as well as providing information on state of readiness. If you are working at a certain load, and you notice your touching on non-functional overreaching (i.e overcooking a bit) you can record what this workload is, and reduce. This information can also be carried forward into subsequent blocks.

Looking at intensity, you need to ensure you are not pushing too close to max effort to often. Training at too high an intensity for too long will result in fatigue (both peripheral and central) and negatively impact training. The reason being, is the central nervous system (CNS) suffers from decreased drive, resulting in decreased performance. When this happens, it indicates you are edging toward non-functional overreaching. Which increases your likelihood of injury (particularly repetitive strain injuries), as well as decreasing performance. This state (if left unchecked and hard training continues) will result in overtraining syndrome. This condition can take months to recover from, and often requires total rest, and then a gentle reintroduction of training. The good news is, that true overtraining is quite hard to achieve, and is usually found in semi pro > pro athletes. Most people don’t have the grit to push on when they are a little over cooked (and this is absolutely a good thing).

Which brings us nicely onto our next metric –  going to want to track your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This is simply how difficult a task is. In terms of barbell training, RPE has been popularised and is basically another form of repetitions in reserve (RIR) training. Even if your weights are prescribed as specific numbers, RPE  should be tracked, as it can give valuable information that might be otherwise missed. For example, your working sets at a prescribed load should be breezy and at a 7, but the prescribed load feels more like a 9. Patterns and data around RPE can indicate if training is perhaps overcooking (or undercooking) you. RPE should also be applied to your cardiovascular based sessions as well. RPE can be linked to volume load. You will have an idea of what loads / intensity are having what effect in terms of the perceived effort of these sessions.

Alongside RPE, you should be keeping an eye on general life metrics. Are you sleeping ok, or are you getting broken sleep? Are you willing to train or is it a total chore? Have you lost your appetite and feeling generally lethargic? Or has your sex drive / libido taken a massive hit? all of these are important questions, and if you are noticing negative impacts on these (with no causative explanation) then you might need to deload or amend your training. Note, these are consistent feelings. We all have days where these are negatively effected, but if it’s a few days on the trot, something might be amiss. Apply some thought to this, or if you have a coach, discuss it with them.

Tracking your heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) can also be great data metrics to track. If your HRV is consistently decreased, it may indicate you are starting to overcook. Conversely, if your resting heart rate (RHR) starts to increase above typical baseline (on average), then your stress levels may be increasing, which could be related to training. It is important to remember that HR data is incredibly sensitive, so see if there is changes in the data on average.

Performance metrics are of course important to track as well. Pick a couple of strength-based movements, and track how they are progressing over time. Note, you don’t need to test it frequently, but having baselines and working out theoretical maximums can indicate if training is trending in the right direction. Same with distance-based metrics. If you have a particular route you know is a specific distance, it can be used as a good gauge. Just remember that outdoor based times will be a bit more sensitive to conditions such as rain, wind etc (especially if you live in Scotland!). Tied into this, you can monitor physiological based metrics such as VO2 max, critical power, Wingate tests etc. Just make sure what you are tracking is relevant to you and your sport / activity and goals.

As a conclusion to monitoring, you will hopefully see the importance of the metrics outlined above. This is by no means an exhaustive list, far from it. If there are more you feel would be useful, then feel free to track them as well. You do want to avoid a “paralysis by analysis” and it can feel like a bit of a data overload. But it is all useful and important data for following a concurrent training programme, so I would recommend you track as much of it as you can. If you are unsure how they interact, my advice would be to hire a coach who does know what they are doing, and leave the hard analysis and number crunching to them.

Recovery

Onto recovery & recovering from training now. The biggest components of recovery (Out with PED usage) are nutrition (discussed in article 1), sleep and hydration. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely trying to push a product or service on to you. If you haven’t got those 3 nailed, no amount of theraguns, ice baths / heat treatment, deep tissue massage or flopping about on a foam roller is going to help you. Nail those 3 before you even think about other modalities (discussed below)

Sleep

I have already covered the nutritional element of the main 3 components, so we will look at the remaining 2 now. Firstly, sleep. Sleep is one of the biggest things you can do to improve recovery. If WADA could ban sleep, they would. When we sleep there are various physiological processes which occur, including substrate resynythesis (energy store replenishment) in as well as tissue repair. It’s also the chance to switch off and just rest.

There are also correlations between increased number of injuries and decreased hours of sleep. I,e if you sleep less, you are more likely to get injured. You are also more likely to make poor decisions when fatigued, which can also lead to injury. Further highlighting the need for sleep. Specifically, good quality sleep. For a typical adult you should be aiming for 8 hours. You can get by on less, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do regularly. If you are a teenager, you may even need a little more.

To improve sleep quality, there are a couple of things you can do to improve bedtime hygiene. 1) Try and avoid fluids 1-2 hours before bed. Just sip if you’re thirsty, but if you have been drinking enough through the day, your thirst shouldn’t be unquenchable. The idea from limiting fluids close to bed, is that you shouldn’t need to wake up to pee during the night too often. 2) Avoid screens that emit a blue light before bed such as phones, laptops etc. It would also be prudent to avoid tv too – but, I get that Netflix is fantastic for chilling. And definitely switch off from work before bed. Put that laptop down!, . 3) Try and find something that deliberately relaxes you. Reading and journaling is a good idea to help switch off (as long as it isn’t work related reading content).

There are also various breathing techniques that can be used to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This sends signals from the brain to the body that its time for a nappy nap. There are various ways to do this, however my personal favourite (and one I actively use) is to lie on my back, legs flat with my hands behind my head. I take a deep breath in through my nose for 4s, and exhale gently through my mouth for about 8s. I repeat this for around 5 mins. This isn’t the only way, its just one I personally find useful. Play around with different methods. Key thing is long, slow and deliberate breaths. Short , sharp breaths do the exact opposite.

Finally, there are some supplements you can take which can aid with sleep. One of the most effective supplements for sleep is Melatonin. If you are in Europe or the US (Presumably other countries within the world too), you can get this over the counter. And speaking from personal experience it can be a game changer. However, if you are in the UK, you can only get it on prescription, unless you import it (Which is what I personally do). I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t take it, just highlighting that it can be useful. You do you. It is a supplement that has some solid research behind it, however it should be used quite sparingly.  

Magnesium supplements and lavender have also been used by others to aid with sleep. I cannot personally comment on their efficacy, as I have not used them (Hate lavender) and as I use melatonin, I don’t feel I need anything else.  I cannot comment on what the research says on Magnesium (as I haven’t checked as I’m not personally interested in it). This could be a placebo, it could be legit. I don’t know. What I do, is a fair few people whom have had great success with it. If you are reading this you are probably an adult capable of making your own choices, so make yours. That being said, supplements are meant to be supplementary, if your night-time routine and bedtime hygiene is piss poor, supplements aren’t going to make much difference. So put the damn phone away! 

Hydration

Now it goes without saying, hydration is hugely important for both recovery and performance. Anyone who has been dehydrated (And I mean properly dehydrated, not just a bit thirsty) will know how fucking dreadful it feels. And it can be hard to get over. When you reach a stage of dehydration, water is often not enough on its own to rehydrate you, but why? And why is hydration so important for performance?

When we exercise we sweat (duh) which releases fluid. Many see sweat as a bad thing, and whilst being a sweaty mess is a bit grim, it serves a very important purpose, in that it helps us to thermoregulate – I.e it helps us maintain a safe core temperature. This is why we sweat when we go somewhere hot, or do anything physical in a warmer condition. If we are not adequately hydrated, the body has a far harder time thermoregulating in warm conditions. Dehydration can also cause a reduction in blood volume, which in turn causes the blood to temporarily become more concentrated and thicker, as the body tries to retain sodium (An electrolyte – these are important and discussed below). As a result, blood pressure & cardiovascular strain increase as the heart has to work harder to get blood around the body. Not ideal for just general activity, let alone performance. So, you are starting to see why hydration is important.

All exercise causes a sweat effect as our body rises, but longer endurance type events cause a greater fluid (and electrolyte) loss compared to resistance training. That’s not to say you don’t need to hydrate when lifting, you absolutely do! But the fluid  (and electrolyte) demands are likely to be far less than your cardiovascular sessions (Unless you are lifting in a Sauna). The climate you are living in will also have an impact on how much fluid you lose. Warmer climates are likely to make you sweat more than colder climates, so from wherever in the world you are reading, consider these factors.

Going back to electrolytes, these are substances in the body (e.g Sodium, Calcium, potassium) which are electrically conducting. We need these substances for a variety of tasks such as muscle contraction, so maintaining an equal electrolyte balance is very important for maintaining homeostasis. If we lose excess electrolytes through sweating, we disrupt this balance. This has a negative cascade effect on the body and can seriously hinder performance, and put a person at risk of adverse health issues.

If you are doing endurance events, water on its own is unlikely to be enough to maintain hydrate (But should still be consumed). You will need to look into adding in some sort of electrolyte drinks. These can be home made to keep cost down (google can teach you how) or specifically bought sports drinks. For endurance, you would ideally be looking for an isotonic (electrolytes and small carbohydrate content) or Hypertonic (electrolyte and high carbohydrate content) drinks. When competing, fluids with carbs will be your friend as your stomach will empty fluids faster, and get the nutrients to your bloodstream far quicker than digesting solid food.

Ideally these will be consumed during performance to prevent dehydration, but if you do end up dehydrated, they can still be used to help rehydrate you. Again, water alone is probably not going to be enough. You may also want to strongly consider some medicinal rehydration sachets to help. If you do end up dehydrated, you need to try and minimise strenuous activity as much as feasibly practical, and keep drinking fluids / electrolytes and use how you feel and the colour of your urine as a guide on your hydration status. But, like most things, prevention is the best cure, so stay hydrated.

Active recovery

This is something that I personally feel is underrated when done properly, but, more often than not, people butcher it. Essentially, an active recovery session is when you do some low (and I mean low) level exercise or activity. The purpose of it is to enhance blood flow, movement, removal of waste products from the tissues (via blood flow and other processes) and generally just aid and facilitate recovery and movement

So why do people get it wrong? Because they turn it from a recovery session into another training session. Instead of aiding recovery, they just perpetuate the issue they are trying to mitigate.

If you are looking to do an active recovery day, the activity should be at a low enough level that you could hold a conversation fairly comfortably whilst doing so. For those familiar with HR zones, you would be in approximately HR zone 1. As for the mode of exercise, you have plenty of options. If you are a runner I would suggest getting “off-feet” to reduce the amount of training impact exposure. A bike would be ideal here. It can also be something as simple as getting outside and going for a walk on a relatively flat, easy going terrain. You could also do some gentle movement / mobility circuits such as animal flow or low-level calisthenics. The important thing is to keep the intensity low. Active recovery sessions shouldn’t be long, and you should be able to hold a conversation whilst doing them (unless you’re swimming, lest you risk drowning)

Other recovery modalities

I am aware that this article is quite sizeable, so I won’t take up too much more time on recovery. There are multiple different recovery tools (Theraguns, foam rollers, massage, cupping and about a million other things etc) that people employ. If you have gotten sleep, nutrition and hydration nailed than you can think about implementing these. It should be remembered, that for most of these modalities, the effect is largely psychological. The majority of the research on physiological impact of these modalities for recovery predominantly suggests that they don’t have any real impact on physiological markers of fatigue & muscular damage such as creatine kinase levels, RHR etc. The research that does suggest they help is usually sketchy and quite poorly conducted. The results are usually explained by poor methodology rather than being ground-breaking, but that’s a separate discussion.

What is often forgotten by the “hard data” crew (I myself have been guilty of this in the past) is the effect these modalities can have psychologically. People often feel and perceive themselves to be in a far better place following these treatments or practises. And something like massage can be really good for de-stressing and unwinding (I openly admit I get massage work done, why? It feels damn good!). People are often quick to dismiss the psychological aspect of training and focus entirely on physiology or biomechanics. And it is incredibly narrow minded. If someone believes something helps them, then you best believe it helps.  

So if you feel better from these modalities or treatments, use them. They can help with the perceived effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and they are unlikely to hinder performance. And I admit I do get massage work done and occasionally a gun myself.

However, as a quick note on these modalities, they are not for “injury prevention” and shouldn’t be labelled as such (this really grinds my gears when people do). Technically speaking, injuries cannot be prevented unless you stop doing the activity where the injury may occur in the first place. But you can reduce the likelihood / risk of an injury occurring. However, it is not from foam rolling, theraguns etc, but from strength training. Being strong and improving strength has the strongest correlations with reduced  (not preventing) injury risk, because you are building up strength and robustness in the muscles, connective tissues joints and bones. Through strength training, you are literally making yourself harder to break and to kill. Being more mobile (for the sake of being mobile) or flopping about on a foam roller isn’t going to stop you from breaking. Being harder to break in the first place will.

Cold water immersion, friend or foe?

One method of recovery that has gained a lot of popularity recently is cold water immersion (CWI) therapy, and I do want to give some advice with this. That advice is, use it sparingly. CWI can be great for people who are very close to competition, particularly if they have 2 sessions a day. But, and this is a big thing, CWI downregulates  anabolic signalling. What does this mean in layman’s terms? Well when we do resistance training, the growth and repair process is “anabolic”. Anabolism is induced by adequate nutritional intake and through signalling of hormonal processes (Such as mTOR upregulation). When we undertake CWI, these signals are blunted, thus the rate of adaptation is affected. Particularly for strength, power and hypertrophy.

There are some arguments for CWI for aerobic adaptations, but, the argument for CWI helping to improve aerobic performance is nowhere near as strong as the argument for developing strength and power to aid aerobic performance. So if you are using CWI, use it very sparingly. Typically, they are used by people who have 2-a day sessions and are closing in on competition. I admit though, it does feel bloody good to get into some cold water (Sea or a Loch is my go to). Overall, there are multiple modalities at your disposal with varying degrees of efficacy from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. It might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what suits you best.

And that is all she wrote! Thank you for tuning into this gargantuan 4 parter. I appreciate that it is a lot to read in one go, and this hasn’t covered everything that is involved with concurrent training. I will cover more on hybrid training at some stage at some stage. However, this will be in the future. I will be covering some different areas next, so stay tuned!

thank you for taking the time out of your day (or evening) to read these. I hope you enjoyed these articles and got some good insight into the world of concurrent training. If you did, please please share with fellow endurance & hybrid athletes, friends, family etc that you know!

Personally, I admit that Hybrid athlete’s are some of my favourite to work with. So if you are a Hybrid athlete, or if you are either 1) and endurance athlete looking to develop strength, power and muscle mass or 2) A strength sport athlete wanting to dip into endurance training, but unsure how to approach it.. shoot me a message. I would LOVE to have you on board, and I can definitely help your performance in both aspects.

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 3: Resistance training & Programming considerations

In part 2 we covered aerobic training and conditioning for Hybrid athlete’s. It covered some practical applications and considerations for maximising results. If you haven’t already checked it out, it can be found here ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-hybrid-training-part-2-aerobic-cardiovascular-training-for-hybrid-athletes/  ). Leading in to todays article. You will need to have read it (and instalment 1), as there is considerable crossover.

Resistance training recommendations for hybrid athletes

Todays article will cover  resistance training (yay) for hybrid (and endurance) athlete’s. This section is not going to be “what is the best exercise for x”, more it will give you framework in which you can build from. If you are a hybrid athlete and actively partaking / competing in strength sports, your exercise selection is going to be based around your phase of training and proximity to competing, as the exercises selected will be to varying levels of competition “specificity”. If you are just an endurance athlete reading this, but want to maximise both your strength and endurance training, you have much more variation to choose from.

First up, we will look at a traditional approach to resistance training. If you have partaken in resistance training before, this is probably what you have done in some capacity or another. As a rough overview, a traditional approach may typically look like this.  

Strength: Typically 1-7 reps over 3-10 sets. Usually between 77-100% of 1rm

Hypertrophy:  8-15 reps over 3-6 sets ranging from 55-80% of 1rm

Within that. Rest periods are generally shorter for hypertrophy work, and longer for strength work. For shorter rest periods, there is an accumulation of by products associated with hypertrophy, and longer rest periods allow for higher quality movement and outputs. Fairly straightforward, and not too ground breaking.

Strength training for hybrid athletes using a traditional approach

From a strength training perspective, a traditional approach will involve working at relatively high intensities for lower reps and higher sets. This will mean repeated exposure to specific movement patterns, thus developing more efficient neural pathways. You will also get stronger (duh). But a common question is, “What has strength training got to do with endurance training?”

Well, quite a bit. If you want to be good at endurance training. To put it bluntly, if you are an endurance athlete and not doing strength training, you’re seriously limiting your own performance.

Strength as a quality, has an impact on movement economy (runners will be familiar with the term running economy) for endurance athletes. In that, increased strength levels are strongly associated with improved movement economy.

Got your attention now, huh?

Movement economy is simply put, the relative demand in which the body requires for locomotion. So if you had two people, both running at 6km per hour, but one was a distance runner and one was sedentary. The movement economy is going to be poor for the sedentary person, because the effort (both physical exertion and energy supply) for them to maintain that speed is going to be much higher, than the distance runner. Now movement economy isn’t just strength / power (it is also your aerobic / anaerobic conditioning as well – previous article will help with that) but in this article, we will just be looking at the resistance training side of things.

When you are moving in your endurance training / events, it is repeated muscle contractions & relaxations over a period of time. If you need to speed up, the demand becomes higher, and if you need to slow down, the effort is lessened. During these actions, you will be recruiting a certain amount of motor units and muscle fibres to allow movement. When moving at competition or race velocity, this will remain fairly constant from an energy perspective. However, that velocity will be different from person to person (as state above). By increasing your strength levels (i.e maximal strength), submaximal work becomes easier, and the relative intensity of what is actually submaximal changes (I know it can become confusing, stick with it).

Say for examples sake, your squat 1 rep maximum (heaviest weight you can lift for 1 rep) is 100kg. 60kg would be 60% of your 1rm. But if you increased your squat1rm to 120kg, 60kg is now only 50% of 1rm. So if you were to squat 60kg, the relative effort is now less. This will (or should, as long as your training programme is appropriate) have a positive impact on movement economy.

In terms more meaningful to you, Your 60% of race speed or effort, would now be at a higher velocity. I.e you would be moving faster at 60% after strength training, than before strength training (e.g old 60% was 3.5 m/s and new is 4 m/s -please note, these are arbitrary made up speeds). Or, if you were to match your old 60% velocity (3.5 m/) you would do so with less effort, as it now only 50% effort vs 60.

So how does this happen?

Strength training underpins something known as rate of force development (RFD) and is underpinned by maximal strength training (to a point). Rate of force development, is simply how quickly you can apply maximal, or close to maximal force. This is achieved through quickly recruiting motor units and muscle fibres to allow muscles to relax and contract.

Top end sprinters are excellent for producing high RFD levels. As they can apply tremendous amounts of force, very quickly. Powerlifters are fantastic at producing force, but the velocity is low. Something like a javelin throw is high in velocity, but doesn’t produce as much force (relatively speaking). To help with understanding, I have attached a force / velocity relationship diagram

However, to have a relatively high RFD, you have to be able to produce the force in the first place. You simply cannot produce force which doesn’t exist. And strength training helps with force production. So there, that is how strength training helps to improve endurance performance. Hybrid athlete’s will still need relatively high RFD to be successful in aerobic training and any power training they do.

(Worth noting – there are limitations with the force / velocity diagram & relationship discussion. It implies that things which are high in speed, are low in force e.g sprinting. This is not the case – but is a separate discussion. This will help with some illustration however)

Hypertrophy training for Hybrid athlete’s using a traditional approach

Going back to hypertrophy training, in a traditional approach it is typically higher number of reps per set, and shorter recovery sets. Now some of the hypertrophy crew may come forward with “wElL AkShuAlLy… research has been shown that hypertrophy can occur from 30-85%+ 1rm” and reps ranging from 3-20. I do not dispute this. I never have. But there are caveats with these findings (which are often overlooked when people fail to remember life exists outside of P= <0.05 values..) which I have previously discussed in an article dedicated to hypertrophy (which is found here –  https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-winning-the-hyper-trophy-the-keys-to-getting-jacked-and-tanned/  )… so read that. Please. Back to the main point…

From a hypertrophy perspective, a traditional approach utilises a higher number of reps (duh) which in turn increases the TUT that the body is exposed to. TUT, is a mechanical factor (not the only one) in eliciting hypertrophy. There is also a greater demand on muscles from an energy standpoint. This can help with developing a greater local muscular endurance (LME) effect, whilst still working with relatively high loads.

LME is important, particularly for endurance focused sports. The longer you can “endure” the more efficient your movement comes from both a biomechanical and substrate (energy) usage perspective. You may hear of runners discussing “running economy” and by improving running economy, the relative effort of a given task decreases. The same principle applies to other movements when you develop the capacity and efficiency of the joint actions and tissues related to said joints. Consequentially, you can maintain a higher power output during propulsion. i.e. you can travel further, faster and for longer. 

We know that increasing the height of the ceiling (i.e improving maximal strength) will help with LME, so you don’t need to do any of the stupidly high rep sets that are typically associated with LME training. Traditional LME training ranges between 30-50% of 1rm, but if you increase your overall 1rm, that relative 30-50% also increases. This is what is meant by “increasing the height of the ceiling”. Simply put, it is increasing your strength potential. This is very much related to the above points on strength training. Revisit if needs be.

You may think this is a support for cluster training (discussed below), as during clusters you are working at a higher relative intensity. But cluster training is not taken overly close to failure. As a result there is no exposure to what it’s like for muscle fatigue feels like, nor the ability to adapt to this fatigue sensation (both from a physiological perspective and psychologically speaking). Anyone who has competed in a long-distance event (which may surprise some of the readers but this does include me – highland cross finisher 2011 #humblebrag) will testify how bloody awful that jelly leg, depleted and just generally gassed feeling is. A traditional approach, and training taken close to failure does give some similar sensations here

Do you want bigger muscles as a hybrid athlete?

The answer to this question is highly individual to you. So I will give you some considerations for being jacked whilst a hybrid athlete.

  1. A bigger muscle has the capacity to produce more force, however, bigger muscles also require more O2 to be oxygenated. Thus, the energy demand for contraction can increase
  2. Increased muscle = increased total mass. This means there is more mass to move which again, has an energy cost
  3. However, if you compete in strength sports as well, you may need to fill out your weight class

Now, these aren’t the only considerations for whether you should or shouldn’t be looking to gain muscle as a hybrid (or endurance) athlete. But these are some things you might want to consider.

Concluding a traditional approach

Overall, a more “traditional” approach encompasses the best of both worlds. You are getting exposure to training closer to failure (which also has hypertrophy & strength benefits), a greater oxidative stress & the ability to oxygenate muscles during exercise (again, important for performance) whilst still developing strength and hypertrophy. Which ultimately is the goal. You can still use a traditional approach to build power and explosive contractile qualities as well. It (like everything) takes experience and application to do so effectively, from an experienced coach.

So what about a non-traditional approach? Cluster training has joined the chat

The use of Cluster sets can be very useful for concurrent training. Particularly when applied to lower / full body exercises which demand a high level of Central Nervous System (CNS) Activity (Squats, deadlifts etc) and there are a few reasons for this, which we will look at. For those unsure about cluster training, there are 2 main ways in which you can perform clusters, and we will look at both below. In this context, both the benefits of strength and hypertrophy will be discussed. Rather than rehashing what strength and hypertrophy are, and why they help performance. Whilst eh application of how, is different with cluster training, the end results are theoretically the same in principle.

Cluster type 1 

Cluster training is when you “Cluster” multiple subsets into 1 big set. For arguments sake, we will use simple numbers. Your target no reps for your big set is 9, so you’ll do 3 repetitions, rest 10-15s do another 3 reps, rest 10-15s and perform the final 3 reps, totalling 3 “clustered” subsets into 1 big set of 9 reps. This is then repeated for the prescribed number of sets. In between the “clustered” sets you take adequate recovery based on the desired training adaptation, and the load being lifted. Typically subsets are made up of 1-5 reps. 3 seems to be a bit of a sweet spot for most. 

Cluster type 2

These clusters are performed over a longer period of time, and are also a variation on density training. This method uses a technique called EMOM (Every minute on the minute) repetitions, over a prescribed timeframe. These can also be  E2MOM in which it is every 2 minutes on the minute you go. For example, you could perform 3 repetitions EMOM over a 10 minute time frame, giving you a total of 30 working repetitions in a short time frame.

Cluster type 1 can be progressed by increasing the number of sets, and by increasing the number of reps, which will increase the no of clusters done. Cluster type 2 can be progressed by either changing the number of reps done EMOM / E2MOM, lowering the reps but increasing intensity (Weight lifted) or by simply extending the length of your work set. E.G 3 EMOM’s over a 12 minute period, not 10.

Regardless of using option 1 or 2, the goal is the same. To maintain a higher bar speed velocity (How fast the bar moves measured in metres (m) / seconds (s)) and high movement quality. In traditional sets we will see a decrease in bar speed in the later reps. Depending on the training status of the individual, there may also be a decrease in movement quality. This decrease in movement quality 1) Reduces the efficiency of movement & can engrain poor movement patterns and 2) may increase the risk of injury. In theory (And practise), clusters can improve strength whilst maintaining high velocities, which may transfer more effectively into sport for athletes

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There is also an argument for using cluster training to elicit hypertrophy in athletic populations vs traditional hypertrophy training. The argument comes back to functional vs non-functional hypertrophy (There are various definitions of what this is). The proposed argument (In the context of this article) of functional vs non-functional hypertrophy, is that hypertrophy elicited via mechanisms which can maintain high velocity in contraction are going to be more “functional” vs more traditional hypertrophy training. The theory is that muscles elicited via cluster training produce more force, thus more “functional”. Some will agree, some will call bullshit. I’m not here to dispute it either way, just laying out information for readers to do with as they please

“Traditional” hypertrophy & Strength training typically has a greater mechanical stress from a greater time under tension (TUT) but a significant drop in barbell velocity as fatigue sets in and muscle contraction is impeded. We know that whilst 10×3 and 3×10 equals the same total reps, they don’t necessarily cause the same adaptation. The actual volume load (Total work completed) is likely to be far higher on 10×3, as you can lift more weight for less repetitions, even with a far higher number of sets. We also know that volume & volume load is a far bigger driver for hypertrophy than TUT.

Logically speaking, there is some merit to this theory. We know a larger muscle has a greater potential to produce and express force than a smaller muscle (Yes there are caveats here, but the potential is higher). However, in a sporting context, what use is it if the muscle can’t do it quickly?. Because most sports (Out with powerlifting and some strongman events) don’t happen slowly. They happen fast!. And if you could get a bigger muscle that can also produce force quickly, and repeat this then.. you are onto a winner

Resistance training conclusions

I will wrap up the lifting recommendations here. I’m not saying you have to do clusters. You can absolutely build strength, power & hypertrophy with more traditional training whilst still having explosive contractile qualities. This has been done by many coaches (myself included). I am just saying, these are another tool in your toolbox. I (personally) tend to favour a more traditional approach, but clusters absolutely have their purpose within a training programme for definite. One may be better suited to you, depending on your desired adaptations etc. Use what you feel is more suitable for your current needs (or hire a coach)

Structuring concurrent & endurance training

Finally, we will look at waysin which you can structure your training blocks. Programme structure is very important for concurrent athlete’s, so get your notepad an pen at the ready. If you try and wing it, you are most likely going to fail. Concurrent training is absolutely possible, but it does require a greater level of planning and structure. So the first recommendation…

Consolidate your high days

Consolidatecombine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole.

This is something I have talked about in a video on Structuring your training week (https://www.instagram.com/p/CMANHRwHs8L/ ). This video will be particularly useful for concurrent training, if you haven’t already, I would recommend you check it out. There is however a couple of specific points made in that video which I will address here, as they are pretty useful. The next points are incredibly important for all types of athlete’s. However, I am going to predominantly focus on hybrid athlete’s here. But it still applies to you, irrespective of sport and  / or goals.

In the context of training, “high” days are training days in the week where they are particularly high in stress. This can be high in CNS demand, physiological strain, biomechanical strain, volume etc. Essentially within a training week, you should have some High days, some low days and some moderate days. One of the reasons that consolidating your high sessions into a “high day” is to reduce the overall impact on training and recovery throughout the week. If you have 2 hard endurance sessions a week, and 2 hard resistance training sessions per week, all on separate days, that is 4/7 days of the week as high. And that is 1) disgusting and 2) not ideal. Why?

All stress and fatigue is related to the CNS. The more it is stressed, the more fatigue starts to play a part. Overshooting on fatigue leads to non-functional over-reaching. If this is is left unchecked it can lead to overtraining syndrome. If you reach a point of overtraining (And I mean true over training) it will take months, possibly even years to recover from depending on how badly you overcooked yourself.

By consolidating your high days you are reducing frequency in the number of high days the CNS is exposed to, which will help to manage fatigue and also allow effective medium and low days. Remember, not all training needs to be super hard to be effective. Whilst the high days are going to be tough, in the long run (no pun intended) consolidating them may be effective. In terms of structuring high approaches, there are 2 particularly effective ways of doing this. I will explain both, and also the pros and cons of each option.

Option 1

You cycle the “high” based on the training. What do I mean by this? ,If you are pushing for improving resistance training focused adaptations, and endurance focused adaptations then you are going to need high days. But strength training and aerobic capacity both have long training residuals i.e how long it takes for each quality to begin to detrain. Which is helpful for option 1.

I am going to use a 4 week training block as an example. In week 1, on the high days you will push the intensity and really try to improve on your endurance training, whilst maintaining the resistance training adaptations. In week 2, you will push the resistance training adaptations, and maintain the cardiovascular training adaptations. Week 3, you repeat the same idea as week 1, but a little more (Going back to the G.A.S theory). Week 4… yup, you guessed it. Repeat the same idea as week 2 but again, a little more.

With this approach, you can then adjust your medium & low days accordingly, and deload whilst necessary. This is still consolidating your high days, but a little easier on the body and mind.

Option 2

Now this option is a good bit tougher from both a physical and psychological perspective, but it might improve the rate of adaptation (Assuming that training is structured in a sensible fashion and not full on YOLO). The principle is the same in that you are consolidating your high days, but you are not undulating the focus week in week out. You really drop the hammer on both cardiovascular training and resistance training on your high days. So rather than maintenance on 1, and pushing on 2, you push on 1 & 2.

For fairly obvious reasons, you can see why this would be the tougher of the two options. But it means you are never running on maintenance (Out with structured deloads) hence why adaptation is theoretically going to be faster. If you opt for option 2, you are going to have to pay much closer attention to detail on recovery, performance etc. Think of option 2 as higher risk higher reward. The gains might be faster, but it will be much easier to overcook yourself. You will need to keep a very close eye on recovery, and have solid recovery metrics in place such as RHR, Sleep, nutrition tracking etc. I will be discussing recovery in another article.

Another important thing to remember, is how you consolidate your high days. In a high day, if you choose a high-volume session for 1 training mode, but high intensity for another, you are likely to have a pretty terrible time regardless of which way round it is. When consolidating your highs, try and make it the same type of high. Got a high intensity Cardiovascular session? Pair it with a high intensity resistance training session not a high-volume resistance training session. And in terms of what will be worse to consolidate, volume vs intensity? Volume is gonna win that round easily.

You also want to think about how you are going to separate out these sessions. Higher volume or intensity Cardiovascular sessions are more likely to have a negative impact than a higher intensity resistance training session. Higher volume resistance training sessions might be a little trickier, but as long as you aren’t training your legs like a bro / bodybuilder you should be ok. In an Ideal world you’ll have between 6-10 hours between sessions, but we know the ideal world and the real world don’t always coincide..

Training splits

Firstly you wanna look at how you are actually training in terms of structure. This is what is known as a training split. How you structure your splits will have an influencing factor on overall structure of your programme. If you are an athlete you are most likely to be following full body splits, the exception to this may be powerlifters (However full body splits are not uncommon). If you are gen pop its likely to be either 1) Full body split 2) Lower body split or 3) body part split / bro split such as chest day, leg day etc (Screams internally). For the purposes of this article, I will cover full body & upper / lower. I’m not covering a bro split because I think they are fucking woeful.

Full body training splits

Full body splits / full body training sessions = Working your whole body (Anterior & posterior, upper and lower) in the same session

If your training split (I.e how you organise your training) is made up of full body sessions, you would look to do your resistance training first, followed by your cardiovascular training. The reason being, the cardiovascular training is likely to have a greater negative effect on your lifting session, than if performed in a reverse order. Particularly if you are including power work (squat jumps, Olympic lifts, plyos etc) within your lifting session. Which you probably would be. Your lifting session is unlikely to have too much of an effect on your cardiovascular training, unless you are training like a moron. Ideally, you would space them out a bit (am & pm), however, this is not always feasible.

Upper / lower splits

Training sessions are split into upper and lower days. Typically 2x lower & 2x upper per week. Emphasis on these sessions can be manipulated depending on exercise selection, intensity etc.

If your training is broken into an upper / lower, you have even more scope for manipulation. Depending how many cardiovascular sessions you are planning, you can either add them on to your resistance training sessions or as separate days. However, going back to consolidating your high days, I would recommend you perform them on the same days and take some proper recovery days.

Another option is to perform them after upper body sessions. Arguably, this may be the better option depending on the mode of cardiovascular training you go for. If you opt for running or cycling options, your legs will be fresher, therefore you can produce higher outputs and get more out of your session. If you opt for the rower, ski erg or swimming, you may want to consider when you do your cardiovascular training based on your sessions and mode. Either way, I would still recommend consolidating your days. If you are looking at more than 2 cardiovascular sessions per week on an upper / lower split, I would look to utilise SIT after your lower body sessions, and longer intervals or continuous cardiovascular training after your upper body sessions. SIT has the lowest interference effect, and also it is over the quickest. On the longer intervals / continuous training, you will be fresher on your upper body days. 

And a final point. There may be times where you have to perform your cardiovascular training before your resistance training on the same day, whilst not ideal, there are ways to mitigate the effects of this.

One way to do this is by separating your cardiovascular session from your resistance training by a good chunk of time, ideally by 6-8 hours. Within that time, you will be looking to really dial in on recovering and refuelling. You will be wanting to consume a good amount of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, to ensure you have some energy moving into the session. In terms of recovery, this is about as much as I would recommend doing between sessions. You may be tempted by ice baths, electrotherapy and other fancy recovery modalities. However, they usually come at a cost. Whilst they may mitigate short term DOMS and feeling better, the often suppress the physiological pathways that are needed for adaptation. So they may “feel good” but in reality you are just slowing progress down considerably. Part 3 of the concurrent training articles will look at recovery in greater detail.

So that concludes part 2 of the concurrent training article (s). Next week we will look at monitoring training and recovery. Both are crucial in success for a hybrid athlete, so don’t miss it!  If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 2: Aerobic / Cardiovascular training for hybrid athletes

Welcome back to part 2 (of 4)of the concurrent training article. Last week we covered the underpinning science of concurrent training, as well as some practical nutrition recommendations. If you have stumbled across this article by chance, I would recommend checking out part one ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-hybrid-training-part-1-physiology-and-nutrition/ ) first. Now, on to the fun stuff. Training to become a hybrid athlete.

The training itself will be split into 2 articles. Firstly, we will look at aerobic training, and also look at the lactate threshold and lactate training. The 3rd article (2nd part of the training section) will look at resistance training for hybrid athlete’s, as well as some recommendations on structuring a training week, & training block.

The first training recommendation is exercising the art of patience when trying to become concurrent AF (AF = As f*ck for everyone who isn’t down with the kids.). Yes, we know you can concurrently make progress in both cardiovascular fitness (and performance) as well as strength, power and hypertrophy adaptations. However, progress is going to be slower. Particularly if 1) you are not using exogenous anabolic hormones (PED’s / steroids) 2) you’re female or 3) you’re in your mid – late 20s & upwards. Sorry, I don’t make the biological or physiological rules. It just do be like that sometimes.

Assuming you have the patience and your nutrition is nailed down, then there are training considerations which need to be made. These considerations will largely be down to your sport or activity, as will be discussed. If you are a long distance athlete (e.g marathon / ultramarathon runner), it is going to be an incredibly slow process, as your training will involve a large endurance component. This type of cardiovascular training has a bigger interference effect (i.e slower rate of adaptation) vs higher intensity cardiovascular training (such as 5k runner, sprint cyclist etc). Therefore, this should be considered when designing & implementing training.

If you are recreationally active or a intermittent sport athlete, you have more wiggle room and things become less tricky. As a result, concurrent adaptations will occur more quickly. You might currently be thing “what the fuck you on about?” But by the end of this article, it will make a bit more sense.

So how can you become concurrent AF?

There are certain training modalities which are more successful for developing adaptations concurrently. Regardless what category of athlete or person you fall into, you can successfully utilise the following modalities effectively. But remember, these are not the only way to achieve concurrent adaptations. Merely recommendations. Some more traditional methods, such as low and moderate steady state training (LISS /MISS) can still be effective. If you are a long distance athlete, you will need to have LISS/ MISS as part of your traing (not as much as you may think however – more on this later). Howver, If you are unsure, you can save yourself a lot of hassle with one simple step

Hire. A Professional!

One training modality which is particularly useful for concurrent training is HIIT. HIIT =High intensity interval training (For those unware) is an exercise modality which is made up of specific intervals (W = work) which are set at a specific time, to emphasise specific energy systems for the appropriate adaptations. These intervals are interspersed by periods of rest (can be active or passive, depending on the modality and other factors).

People like to over complicate HIIT to the high end, with about a million different acronyms for different types. It’s something that can be a bit of a grievance for me. However, I will be yielding to the use of a couple of acrobyms (Don’t @ me)

Specifically, there is a HIIT modality known as sprint interval training (SIT) which has been demonstrably one of the most effective methods in minimising the interference effect. Especially those in the general population and intermittent sport athletes. For those whom are unfamiliar with SIT, I will explain below

A SIT session is made up of short, maximal (And I mean maximal) efforts typically between 5-15s in duration. The Work : Rest (W : R) is also small, typically 1 : 1-5 W : R.

For an example, we will look at a Watt bike session (Settings – Airbrake @ 5-8, Mag brake @1). You will perform 6, 10s sprints, interspersed with 30s rest (W:R = 1:3_ , for 1-3 sets… grim stuff. However, SIT particularly effective in minimising the interference effect, and it has a lot of “bang for it’s buck” . But why?

The maximal nature of the SIT

Sit is supramaximal in nature and highly anaerobic (initially anyway), thus it predominantly recruits’ type IIx & IIa (Fast twitch) fibre types, and high threshold motor units. These are the same fibre types & motor units associated with strength, power & hypertrophy training. As a result, there is much less of an “interference” effect as both are predominantly relying on the same structures & substrates for performance, they are just being stressed in a very different manner. Essentially the training types can compliment each other, but if structured poorly they can be a hinderance (More on this later)

Due to the fibre type / motor unit recruitment it also primarily relies on anaerobic substrates for energy. The short W : R ratios indicate that there is incomplete resynthesis of anaerobic substrates (Intramuscular PCr & glycogen) therefore it has to switch to aerobic pathways. However, aerobic metabolism cannot supply energy as quickly. This substrate degradation / incomplete resynthesis is reflected in the decrease in both peak and average power produced as the number of sprints

Despite SIT appearing (And actually being) a highly anaerobic activity, there are improvements quantifiable in Aerobic capacity from SIT training interventions. But there are caveats. The research (Thus far) indicates that VO2 max plateaus after 3-4 weeks of training SIT training. But, there is generally improvements in both peak and average power produced in the later sprints (Sprint 3 onwards as represented by the second graph), over the later stages of the interventions. This indicates there are still positive adaptations occurring (Despite VO2 plateau), but what?

The improvements are coming from 1) Improved oxidative enzyme activity and  2) Improved lactate kinetics . Looking at point 1, aerobic improvements in HIIT (and SIT) training are from upregulated aerobic glycolytic enzyme activity (a mouthful I know). The firstrate limiting step in aerobic glycolysis is the efficacy of an enzyme known as Phosphofructokinase (PFK).

By increasing the efficiency of PFK (and other glycolytic enzymes – but I’m not making this too physiology heavy) activity, the body is able to produce energy more efficiently via aerobic pathways, thus we see an increase in the later sprints. The improvements in PFK (and other glycolytic enzymes), thus resulting in improved aerobic capacity, have been demonstrated in multiple studies. Whereas, there has been little to know improvement in fat oxidative enzyme activity / no increases in Beta (Fat) oxidation. So. The next time someone tells you that HIIT is “great for burning fat”, you can politely tell them to foxtrot Oscar 

Onto point 2, SIT training is well above the lactate threshold (refer to previous video) thus there is a large amount of blood lactate (BLa) accumulated. Through exposure to higher BLa concentrations, the body becomes more efficient at using lactate as a substrate. Improvements in lactate kinetics, and is reflected in multiple studies measuring BLa in different ways.

As for VO2 plateau? I think its down to the methodology used within HIIT / SIT research. Essentially, the vast majority of the research kept the training variables the exact same. I.e, the intensity & volume of SIT training did not change throughout the entirety of the interventions (typically 4-8 weeks in duration). We know from the G.A.S theory (If unsure what that is, I have a video here –https://www.instagram.com/p/CK3UUNYnGAQ/ ) that a stimulus needs to be changed (Positively) to elicit positive adaptation. So if week 1 in the intervention was 6x 10s sprints, with 25s recovery, then week 8 would be the same. Ergo, no change in volume or intensity.

You will need to indulge me here. This was actually what my Masters by Research (MbR / MScRes –whatever the f*ck you wanna call it) project was on before I had to abandon it (Thanks Covid). In my Study, I took some simple linear progression and applied it to a 9 week intervention. In my study, the total workload (volume) was increased every 3 weeks, through the addition of another sprint per session (2 extra reps per week). Within each session, the intensity of the sprints were set against a relative % of the individuals body mass. Intensities themselves undulated (in a controlled manner) between 6-8% for females, and 6.5 – 8.5% for males.

This may not have seemed much, but it was enough to elicit adaptation. VO2 maximum was also tested very 3 weeks (Sorry for the participants who are reading this) to monitor any potential changes. With the preliminary data collected, I seen an improvement in VO2, every 3 weeks, in all participants in the training group (regardless of participant height, weight, training status, sex etc). So I was most probably on to something, but alas, it had to be abandoned. Thanks Covid.

This improvement in VO2 indicated that O2 kinetics and maximal O2 uptake will continue to improve if training variables are manipulated to achieve a progressive overload stimulus. Whilst this may seem fairly intuitive, to the best of my knowledge there has not been a laboratory-based study which looked into this (one of the reasons I went down that route). However, if you are a coach you probably have some data from your own athletes (or maybe even yourself) which does support this. Overall, if you are looking into programming conditioning sessions to develop a lot of “bang for your buck”. SIT is a useful tool in your toolbox. But it is not the only one.

What about mid – long distance competitors?

You are probably thinking “that’s all well and good for average joe’s and intermittent sport athlete’s. But what effect does SIT have on mid – long distance events?”. And it is a fair question. It can still have a positive effect for sure, but is not necessarily the most effective method for long distance events. However, it is a common misconception that you have to be doing multiple long distance sessions each week. Well I’m here to tell you that you don’t (I can hear the  “wait, what?!” comments now) and that this may actually be hindering you.

These kinds of sessions take a huge physical toll from a biomechanical / structural perspective. This is especially true for runners / running which involves repeated contacts on a (usually) hard surface. Stress fractures and repeated strain injuries (RSI’s) are particularly high in endurance athlete’s due to this misconception that if you aren’t clocking up huge miles, you aren’t improving performance. So how can you improve mid – long distance performance, without turning into Forrest Gump?

Intervals again are the solution here, but in a slightly different format. When we are doing aerobic or anaerobic conditioning, we are trying to stress a specific energy system. However it is important to remember that when exercising, the energy systems don’t work independently of each other, but cohesively. However, the emphasis / contribution of each energy system is dependent on the stressor the body is exposed to (more on the energy systems can be found here https://www.instagram.com/tv/CKOpn8wnTha/ ).

SIT raining predominantly stresses the Alactic (also known as the ATP-PCr or Phosphagen system) for energy. Thus, SIT is predominantly used for developing the Alactic system (although there are aerobic benefits). So by the power of deduction you can probably guess what these intervals will be focusing on..

Yup, you guessed it. They will be aerobic or glycolytic intervals (depending on what your needs are). These intervals are also pretty horrible (I’d actually say worse but that’s just me) but, no one said training would be easy. The principle is the same in that there is a specific W : R ratio, it’s just the times change depending on the energy systems. Essentially, the heart and the body will adapt to the stress that you put it under. It doesn’t really give a shit how it is stressed, just as long as it is done in a manner which is conducive to your specific needs & requirements of your sport or activity. There are factors such as orthopaedic, biomehcanical and structural adaptations which also need to be considered, which is where a thorough understanding of training, and exercise anatomy, physiology and biomechanics is important for designing a sensible & appropriate training block.

Many of the improvements for aerobic and anaerobic glycolytic intervals are the same in terms of uprated glycolytic enzyme activity and movement economy. However, BLa concentrations will also be lower (specifically when performing aerobic intervals), perhaps even working in and around the lactate threshold on some intervals (more on this below). But rather than going into too much more detail on HIIT (And basically repeating myself) I will leave you with an interval cheat sheet.

Conditioning cheat sheet

Lactate threshold training – all its cracked up to be?

If you have been around any hybrid or endurance athlete’s for a period of time and discussed training with them, the “lactate threshold” and threshold training will have undoubtedly been mentioned at some point. Many endurance athletes like to talk about the lactate threshold and “threshold training” as the holy grail of endurance training (it is important, don’t get me wrong) but they are often unsure what the lactate threshold actually is. Usually what they referred to as the lactate threshold, is actually something else (I have also made this mistake in the past, don’t worry!). So why do people get it wrong?

This is partly due to discrepancies within literature and in writing. Different papers and authors use various terms around Lactate interchangeably, and it confuses matters. Sometimes, the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) is referred to as the lactate threshold, but this is incorrect. The actual lactate threshold varies between person, and is defined as “the point where blood lactate (BLa) levels rise 1mmol-1 above baseline. Baseline BLa levels vary between 0.8 1.5mmol-1 and are dependant on a variety of factors. OBLA however, occurs at 4mmol-1, (regardless of training status and is a different thing) and is the point where BLa production exceeds the rate of clearance.

However, the time taken to reach OBLA does vary between individuals, and is dependant on training status. More well-trained individuals (i.e those with a greater aerobic capacity & lactate kinetics) will take a longer time to reach OBLA than less trained individuals. They are also able to sustain higher outputs during their activity. I.e, they are moving faster, for longer before OBLA hits. For mid – long distance events you want to delay the time until OBLA occurs for as long as possible. This is referred to as maximum lactate steady state (MLSS).

MLSS is the key part for endurance type events, as it is the point where an athlete can sustain their highest outputs, over an extended period of time, without a sharp increase in BLa. Essentially the highest point in outputs where the rate of BLa production is matched by the rate of BLa clearance. I have covered the lactic acid cycle (including the lactate threshold) in much more detail on a video (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CKTJlcuH4Ne/ ) so rather than reiterating what I have done, I will give you the link to watch it. If you are unfamiliar with the lactic acid cycle, check this out. So how do you train around your MLSS threshold?

For training around MLSS, there are a couple of pieces of equipment and data you will need. If you don’t have this, any approximations are wild guesswork. But if you are at least semi serious about mid – long distance events, you’ll probably have them. Firstly you’ll need some heart rate (HR) data, specifically, your maximum heart rate (MHR). There is a method where you subtract your age from 220 (bpm) to give an estimated MHR, but this method is incredibly crude and usually highly inaccurate. A more accurate way to determine MHR is to do a ramp test (such as a VO2, Ramp or step test – not a sprint test such as a wingate) where MHR is achieved. When doing this test, you need to wear a HR monitor (discussed below) and simply record your MHR during the test.

As you probably guessed, the equipment you will require is a HR monitor. Without your MHR data, you won’t be able to accurately determine the intensity you need to be moving at for MLSS training. For your HR monitor, it will ideally be a fairly decent one (not necessarily lab spec but not from a Mcdonalds happy meal either) that fits around your chest / sternum area. This would be preferable to HR monitors on a smart watch (for obvious reasons) but in this instance, something is definitely better than nothing. HR data is what your MLSS training will be based off (as you presumably don’t have access to VO2 kit in a lab environment but if you do, great!).

OBLA itself occurs at approximately 85% of your HR, and 75% of your VO2 max. Reading this, you are probably thinking “fuck, that’s intense”. And you would be correct, it is. So for MLSS training you need to be just under this – Now you see why you need the HR monitor?.

How you approach this will vary depending on proximity to competition, the type of competition you’re prepping for and also the session itself. As the name suggests, MLSS training leans in favour of continuous training and not intervals as the purpose of this training is to maintain high output efforts continuously. However, you could look at long duration aerobic intervals at the same HR intensities outlined. Personally, I would recommend your intervals be focused on higher intensities, and keep your MLSS training for continuous work. Keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t overcomplicate it. Which brings us on to the conclusions nicely.

Cardiovascular training conclusions

And of course, you are going to have to actually do some distance training, that are at least somewhat close to your competition distances (especially for true endurance work). Or at least, clocking up distances (overall volume) similar to that of competition. You don’t need to do this weekly, but you will need to keep yourself ticking over with longer bouts (such as once every 12-20 days). This is also applicable to short – mid distance athletes, but you do have a lot more wiggle room here, and will get a lot out of good interval work (key part here is good…). However, the reasons for the exposure to the longer sessions (distance and duration) are 3-fold. You need to ensure that you are positively adapting in 1) a physiological manner 2) a tissue capacity / biomechanical manner and 3) a psychological manner.

The physiology is simply to ensure that you are ready to compete, and whilst HIIT and threshold training is important (and absolutely should utilised) you still need practise at “doing the thing”. Similarly, tissue capacity and biomechanical capacity needs to be developed, and that will be done by gradual and sensible exposure to increased distances / difficulty of terrain over time. And finally, you need to psychologically prepare for the event. Physical preparation is all well and good, but how can you know how to keep yourself going and pushing through the hard parts with dead legs, the wind battering in your face in an uphill slog if you have never experienced it or put yourself through it?

Now don’t take this as a “you must make your life more difficult to become mentally tough”. That’s largely macho bullshit. But you do need some exposure so that you have some idea what’s ahead of you.

And that concludes part 2 of 4 in the hybrid athlete training articles .In part 3 we will look at resistance training considerations, and also how to structure a training week. Be sure to check back for it!. If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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A beginners guide to Hybrid training part 1: Physiology and nutrition

To push the envelope on both resistance training and cardiovascular training, is known as concurrent or hybrid training. Examples would be people who engage in strength sports (Powerlifting, weightlifting & strongman) whilst also engage in endurance events such as distance running, cycling, rowing or triathalons.  Often, they will not only engage in the training for these events, but actively compete in both. These people are collectively known as hybrid athlete’s (and mad bastards), That being said, there are people who do it recreationally. Thus, this article series will be aimed at both competitive and non-competitive hybrid athlete’s (or those who are considering it)

The world of concurrent training is both niche and nuanced (and also super fascinating! Although maybe that’s just me..) with some layers of complexity to it that many other sports or training types don’t get. The aim of these articles (there will be 4 in total)  is to 1) help you understand concurrent training on a deeper level and 2) give some practical recommendations which you can apply to become a hybrid athlete from a training, nutrition and recovery perspective. These are big articles, so get a cup of tea or beer and strap in.

As an overview. Article 1 (this one) will cover the physiology underpinning cardiovascular training, strength / resistance training and how they interact with each other when it comes to hybrid training. There will also be some practical recommendations around nutrition and nutritional advice for hybrid athletes. Article 2 will cover some practical training recommendations around the aerobic & endurance training element of hybrid training. Article 3 will look at the resistance training and programming considerations for hybrid training and the final article will conclude with monitoring training and recovery methods & advice for concurrent training. But please remember, these articles are designed to compliment each other, and you will need each one to get a thorough understanding of concurrent training.

If you have ever spent any time in a gym, you may have heard a gym bro saying “cardio kills gains brah”. Looking around the gym, there are plenty of powerlifters / weightlifters who get out of breath tying their shoes, and anything above 5 reps is cardio. Conversely, you have the marathon runner who is a walking lung but built like the side of a fiver.

If you have ever spent any time in a gym, you may have heard a gym bro saying “cardio kills gains brah”. Looking around the gym, there are plenty of powerlifters / weightlifters who get out of breath tying their shoes, and anything above 5 reps is cardio. Conversely, you have the marathon runner who is a walking lung but built like the side of a fiver.

At a glance, you might be inclined to believe that cardio does indeed kill gains. Then you remember the existence of athletes like Rugby players and CrossFit athletes, reminding us that indicating you can get jacked and tanned whilst also still being incredibly fit.  

However, “cardio killing gains” has a modicum of truth to it…kinda. This is due to physiological phenomenon known as “the interference effect” (More on this later – it’s very nuanced) but as a very brief summary: The interference effect is when the body is placed under two different training stressors, causing a conflicting physiological adaptation. The phrase “you can’t ride 2 horses with 1 arse” kinda rings true. But, the biggest problem with the interference effect is not the physiology per say, more that people don’t understand concurrent training or how to minimise it’s effects. Essentially, people don’t know how to programme effectively for it. So I hear you asking “how do you programme for concurrent training?”. Patience padawans. We will get there. We all gon make it.

Before we get into the “how” we can achieve both. We need to understand what happens to our body from a physiological perspective when we focus on each style of training separately (i.e aerobic training & strength / hypertrophy training). With a better understanding of both training types individually, concurrent training as a concept will make more sense. We will kick things off by looking at aerobic training.

Aerobic or cardiovascular training

Aerobic exercise is done to improve your “fitness”. Aerobic training is often referred to as cardio or conditioning. Aerobic fitness can be measured in a number of ways, but 2 of the most popular within endurance & hybrid circles (and by popular, I mean reliable – no one enjoys doing them) is a VO2 max test and a 3-minute critical power test (this one is particularly rank). VO2 max is simply your maximum oxygen consumption during intense or maximal exercise, and is measured in ml / kg-1 / min-1. With VO2, the higher the number the more aerobically trained you are.

Critical power is slightly different, as it is measured on watts (power outputs) which can be normalised to bodyweight, or just outright outputs. A 3 critical power test is an all out effort for 3 minutes, typically on a bicycle ergometer against a fixed resistance. You are essentially getting 2 tests in 1 here. Firstly, you get a Wingate anaerobic test (WAnT – a 30s all out effort) followed by your critical power reading. Your critical power, is the watts outputted in the last 30s of a 3 minute critical power test. Seriously, this test is utterly vile.

The theory is that during the first 2 mins and 30s, you will have depleted pretty much all of your anaerobic substrates, so the outputs are reliant on aerobic metabolism. Thus, giving an indication of fitness. Whilst it doesn’t measure O2 (Oxygen – unless you are hooked up to a gas analyser during the test) it does give some data on aerobic fitness. However, whilst a useful test, many struggle to perform this test due to it’s grim nature. I know a fair few people whom have not managed to complete this test.

So these are 2 methods to measure aerobic fitness, however, there are many more tests for determining aerobic capacity, however that is likely to be a separate article in itself. Keeping things on topic…

What is the purpose in cardiovascular training? . To improve cardiovascular system and aerobic metabolism i.e aerobic pathways for energy during activity or performance. Aerobic capacity underpins all human activity to some extent. If it didn’t, we would die, as we kinda need O2 in our lives. How much O2? Well that entirely depends on what activities you do. The more aerobic your sport or activity (s), the more O2 you need. So adaptations occur in the body from aerobic training?

After prolonged aerobic training, the body undergoes various cardiovascular, neural and muscular adaptations. From a cardiovascular perspective, there is an increase in stroke volume (SV – blood ejected from the heart per beat). When this increase in SV occurs, there is a decrease in heart rate (HR) and resting heart rate (RHR). This occurs simply because of the increase in SV, more blood being pumped per heart contraction means more O2 transportation, therefore the heart doesn’t need to work as hard, so it slows down. This means that HR’s stay relatively lower at rest and during submaximal exercise. There is also an increase in maximal O2 uptake (VO2 Max), and over a prolonged period of time with consistent aerobic training, there is an increase in maximal cardiac output (Q). Q = SV x HR. This is a huge benefit from aerobic training from both a performance and health perspective.

From a neural perspective, the body becomes more efficient at moving, and improves exercise economy (You may have heard of running economy). Basically, the cost of movement from an energy demand is educed. From a muscular perspective, there is a delay in which the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) occurs, which is a huge factor in aerobic performance. In short, the longer you delay OBLA, the longer your body can use the lactate it produces as an energy source (I appreciate that Lactate is complex, I have done a video  on Lactate which can be found here – https://www.instagram.com/p/CKTJlcuH4Ne/ ). More information on lactate & hybrid training will appear in subsequent articles.

Aerobic training increases the size (Hypertrophy) of type I muscle fibres. These fibres produce less force (relative to type IIa and IIx) but are highly oxidative in nature and very resistant to fatigue, an advantage for aerobic training & endurance performance. There is also some conversion of type IIx (fibre type with most explosive contractile properties but very susceptible to fatigue) to type IIa, which produce less force than type IIx, but still considerably force more than type I. However, they are a little less susceptible to fatigue than type IIx (But more so than type I – I know, that is a little complicated).  Essentially, type IIa are kinda like the middle ground.

Aerobic training also increases mitochondrial density through mitochondrial biogenesis. I can hear you asking “What the fuck does that mean?” In summary, this increases the efficiency in which ATP (energy) is produced, thus benefitting performance. 

Keeping up? I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s all important.

Finally, with cardiovascular training there is an increase in CaMKII (calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II) expression, and a downregulation in mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) expression. This is downregulation of mTOR is of particular importance, because mTOR (Alongside various other biological compounds) signal anabolic (muscle building) processes, including protein biosynthesis. Which we know, that protein metabolism is important for both growth and repair. Particularly, when trying to elicit strength, power and hypertrophy adaptations.

Keep all of this in mind and refer back to it if needs be.

Resistance training

Resistance training can be used to develop strength, power and muscular hypertrophy (Muscle gain) and is the key to getting jacked and tanned. I have covered how to achieve hypertrophy in a previous article ( https://stewartathleticdevelopment.com/a-beginners-guide-to-winning-the-hyper-trophy-the-keys-to-getting-jacked-and-tanned/ ) which I would recommend checking out. I won’t go into too much detail on it here, but there are elements I will need to cover for concurrent training.

When we partake in resistance training, there are 2 main changes with occur: Neural adaptations and Structural adaptations. Both of which are important and have a combined impact on strength, power and hypertrophy, but will occur at different rates, which needs to be considered.

Neural adaptations

Neural changes are one of the first adaptations to resistance training. You may be familiar with “beginner gains” where people who are new to resistance training see a large increase in strength very early into lifting. These beginner gains can occur for months, even up to a year before things begin to slow down. We know these adaptations in the first couple of months are largely neural, because structural changes (i.e muscle hypertrophy) takes months to occur (discussed later) even in beginners. But what are neural adaptations?

When we perform any kind of movement, skeletal muscles are sent signals (Action potentials) from the brain via neuron pathways. When we begin lifting, a lot of the movements are very unfamiliar to us and feel difficult. When we practise these movements, they become easier over time. This is because the body becomes more efficient at sending these neural signals to the joints and muscles via neural pathways, which create movement. Over time they learn the pattern and become more efficient throughout the movement and is one of the reasons thinking “movements not muscles” is a far better way of viewing training. From a neural standpoint, there is also an increase in rate coding, which is simply the speed in which action potentials are sent from the brain to the muscles. This becomes very important for strength, max strength and especially important for power training.

Neural adaptations are not just seen in beginners. They can be seen in athlete’s of all levels of experience. However, the more trained the athlete the slower the rate of adaptation becomes, and the magnitude of gains are also decreased.  Athlete’s who are more experienced may (not always) need more frequent changes (but still structured) in exercise selection to ensure the stimulus is consistently high enough to elicit adaptation. Neural adaptations can also occur when utilising variations of certain exercises. This is something strength sport athlete’s are very good at achieving. Examples being powerlifters and weightlifters using non-competition exercises / modalities such as tempo’s, pauses, speciality bars, accommodating resistance etc. Westside barbells Conjugate training (and variations of) are further examples of manipulation of exercises / training styles to elicit neural adaptations (And also structural adaptations).

Structural adaptations

If resistance training is continued over a long period of time, the body will undergo structural changes as well as neural. These structural changes take far longer to develop, but what are these changes specifically? Firstly, we will look at skeletal muscle anatomy.

Structurally muscle fibres are (broadly speaking) divided into 2 types. These are 1) Parallel-fibred muscles, where the length of the fibres are close to the length of the whole muscle and 2) pennate muscles. These pennate muscles are short muscle fibres which are at an angle to the main muscle fibres and connective tissue. This angle is referred to as “pennation angle”. When we get stronger and more powerful, the incline of this pennation angle increases, allowing more force to be produced. Increased pennation angle is also correlated with greater hypertrophy. As we know, a bigger muscle has the potential capacity (but is not always the case – training is an important factor here) to produce more force than a smaller muscle, due to this pennation angle as well as having a greater cross-sectional area (CSA).

 

And of course, from resistance training, we also increase muscular CSA (I,e more lean muscle tissue). The extent to which it occurs will depend on several factors such as nutrition, training and whether it’s a desired adaptation (i.e are you trying to minimise or maximise hypertrophy). As mentioned, I have previously written about hypertrophy in greater detail, so I will not be going into too much detail here, but there are some points I do want to discuss.

Looking at muscle tissue, we know there are 3 types (as a reminder – type I, Type IIa & Type IIx). When we pack on lean muscle tissue, it is typically type IIa (and to a lesser extent type IIx – depending on the training type (discussed in article 2) muscle fibres which grow. Which is great, as you now theoretically can produce more force. However, muscle is a live tissue, and therefore requires O2. The larger the tissue, the greater the O2 requirement to supply blood flow and remove waste products. The hypertrophy of type IIa & IIx muscle fibres, alongside the increase in skeletal muscle tissue itself means that the muscles are more susceptible to fatigue, and will fatigue quicker. This is why someone like a bodybuilder will gas out very quickly on repeated sprint training (as well as not being conditioned for it).

Finally we will look the biochemistry of resistance training. When we lift, and also when we recover from nutritional intake (discussed below) there are biochemical and hormonal signals sent out for growth and repair. These signals cause an upregulation of anabolic compounds (Testosterone, human growth hormone, insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1) and mTOR (A kinase which plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis – which we know is important for building muscle tissue)all of which over time will lead to an increase in lean muscle tissue.

See the problem? aerobic training suppresses mTOR expression while increasing CaMKII & AMPK expression. Whereas resistance training increases mTOR expression. Essentially, a conflict of interest occurs. This is physiological effect is known as the “interference effect” and is where the statement “cardio kills gains” essentially comes from. A broken clock is right twice a day, and occasionally a gym bro will get something right (or at least be somewhat right). Although I would bet you a fiver they couldn’t explain why if you asked them…

Does this mean you can’t get jacked as well as getting fit as f*ck?. No, not at all. You absolutely can. You can absolutely improve your aerobic fitness and get jacked and juicy as well. And not just in a general sense, you can push yourself and boundaries on both training times, concurrently, if you wish. You just need to know how (More on this later). It is not uncommon. Hell if anything, concurrent training and being a hybrid athlete is gaining in popularity. People are bored of one dimensional training, and want to be better rounded from a physical perspective.

But there are some extra considerations and caveats which go into concurrent training. That being said, with some smart programming, training and recovery.. the interference effect is not a big a problem as you may think. But concurrent training is tough going. It is very demanding from a psychological and physical perspective, and will require effort and grit on your behalf.

So where do people go wrong with concurrent training?

As I previously mentioned, one of the biggest issues people face when designing concurrent training (arguably all training – but for the purposes here, concurrent training) is a lack of understanding. Specifically, lacking understanding of the physiology underpinning concurrent training, how to structure concurrent training, the energy and nutritional demands for concurrent training and also how to monitor training loads and recover properly from concurrent training. However, by the end of these 3 articles, you will hopefully have a better idea of what all these factors involve.

So, now that you have a better understanding of the physiology and the science behind concurrent training, we are gonna look at some practical recommendations from a nutritional and training / programming perspective. However, if you want to see just how far concurrent training can be pushed, I recommend checking out Alex Viada and the other coaches at https://completehumanperformance.com/ – these guys are concurrent training guru’s and have achieved some ridiculous things). And even writing this article, my viewpoint’s on concurrent training and the interference effect have changed – So I would definitely recommend you check them out.

Nutritional advice for concurrent training

Nutritional overview

Unsurprisingly, concurrent training has a fairly high energy demand. This is especially true for the cardiovascular training portion of concurrent training. The greater the distance you cover in training, the more energy you need. That’s not to say nutrition for the resistance training portion is less important. Far from it. Both should be taken seriously.

The advice laid out in this article will be fairly simple, but easy to implement.  I will be covering nutrition for athletes in much more depth at a later date, but for this it will be nice and simple. If you are reading this and you are an endurance athlete (but not a concurrent athlete / undertaking resistance training) then a lot of this advice will still apply (also, start bloody lifting!)

When planning your nutrition, you need to have a clear idea of your goals in mind, from both a training and body composition perspective. However, body composition is likely to be less of a concern for concurrent athletes, unless your current composition is hindering performance (e.g carrying too much excess bodyweight). Simply, because your focus is going to be on fuelling performance and maximising recovery, and not your outward physical appearance.

As a broad nutritional overview, you are following the rules of calories in vs calories out (CICO) whether you realise or not. CICO is whats responsible for bodyweight, and inadvertently you will be doing 1 of the 3 things outlined below:

  1. Operating at maintenance calories – your calorie consumption is balanced with calorie expenditure (Both basal activity & exercise) Body weight will remain fairly constant (There will be daily fluctuations from salt, water and hormonal cycles if you’re female, but your average bodyweight will remain consistently )
  2. Operating in a calorie deficit – you are consuming less calories than maintenance, as a result you are losing bodyweight. Severity of deficit will dictate severity & rate of weight loss. Too severe a deficit / calorie restriction will inhibit performance
  3. Operating in a calorie surplus – You are consuming more calories than required to maintain current weight, therefore bodyweight increases. If trying to gain muscle mass, a small surplus is optimal. A large surplus will not increase the rate in which you gain muscle, but it will increase the rate in which adipose tissue (Fat mass) is gained. Too large a calorie surplus can inhibit performance.

The calories themselves will come from the 3 macronutrients which are discussed below, as well as some rough recommendations for nutritional intake

Protein – 4kcal per 1g of protein. Responsible for cellular function and muscle repair and growth. Will produce energy but is not efficient an energy substrate. Recommendations for endurance / concurrent athletes vary depending on the amount of resistance training undertaken, but can vary from 1.8 – 3.5g / kg of lean body mass (2.4g / kg seems to be optimal). If you are in a surplus, you can get away with the lower end of the recommendations (carbohydrates are protein sparing) and if you are in a deficit (not recommended -discussed below to why) you will need to be at the higher end of the scale to retain lean muscle mass. Ideally, spread between 3-5 meals per day, with 20-40g of protein per serving (20g minimum & 2.5mg + of leucine per serving). However, net protein over a prolonged period (e.g 72 hours) appears to be more important. So don’t sweat it if you miss a meal. As long as youre hitting your targets over a few days, you’ll be fine.

Carbohydrates – 4kcal per 1g of carbohydrates. Responsible for providing glucose for energy (through both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism) and also cerebral function. Carbohydrate requirements for athletes vary on the sport. For shorter, faster endurance events (such as 5-10ks etc) you may get away with 5-7g of carbohydrate / kg of bodyweight. For long / ultra distance athlete’s, it could be as high as 12g / kg of bodyweight.

Fats – 9kcal per 1g of fat. Responsible for providing energy through aerobic metabolism and also hormonal production / function and various other processes. For endurance / hybrid athletes intake, no less than 20% of total calories should come from fat (Although this p[retty much applies to anyone). The amount of kcal from fat will be dictated by your overall calorie needs, and also how much kcal are derived from protein and carbohydrates. Personally, I have found 22-27% of total kcal from fat to be fairly successful.

Nutrition in practise

You should be at minimum running around maintenance calories. How you operate at maintenance varies. Some people just like to consume the average maintenance. calories every day, not manipulating or undulating based on the training sessions in the week. Others may calorie cycle between surplus & deficit based on intensity & volume of their sessions. Essentially, they will eat more when training is higher in volume but lower intensity, and eat less when volume is lower but intensity is higher.

Cycling their calories in this manner will often put them at maintenance on average. If you are looking to either gain or lose weight, you can manipulate it as you see fit. It is worth remembering that when gaining weight, you want to at minimum maintain bw / kg outputs. No point gaining weight if you become slower (Applicable to explosive speed i.e sprinting and distance speed as well). However, if you are considering a deficit overall, I would take time to strongly consider why. Because concurrent training in a deficit is going to be infinitely more difficult.

Calorie cycling like this predominantly down to personal preference opposed to some super magic performance benefit. The logic is that you will need more fuel & recovery for the higher volume work, than the intensity work, which makes sense. As an overview, intake wise, you will require: 1) adequate protein to repair muscle tissue 2) adequate carbohydrate intake for energy and to allow recovery of glycogen stores & 3) enough fat for energy & also for hormonal & basal functions in which fat is required. This might seem simplistic, but in the case for the vast majority of cases in concurrent training (and all Strength and Conditioning) it is about mastering the basics.

However, a small surplus may be more beneficial, particularly if hypertrophy is a desired adaptation. By eating in a small surplus (typically 250-500kcal) you are putting yourself in a much better position to put on muscle tissue. Particularly, if you are stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) at multiple times throughout the day. Building muscle isn’t just about calories, but sending the right signals (i.e triggering MPS and other anabolic signals / pathways) enough times to stimulate growth. The other advantage of being in a calorie surplus, is that you can consume more carbohydrates. Carbs actually have a protein sparing effect, so you can actually get away with eating slightly less protein whilst in a surplus, and still gain muscle. The key part here, is slightly.

Overall, by eating in a small surplus (Accounting for the energy expended via training- particularly through long distance endurance training) you are putting yourself in a better chance of building muscle. At the very least, you should be eating at maintenance. This is especially true for long and ultra-distance event athlete’s. If your focus is on shorter endurance events such as 5-10ks or half marathons (and similarly equated distances on bike, rowers etc) you will have a little more wiggle room and could get away with maintenance, or even a small deficit. But, that deficit is going to suck, and you will need to take a closer look at tracking and monitoring training loads and recovery (discussed in coming articles.)

To conclude, nutrition is a huge part in concurrent training for both performance and recovery. Thus, it should be taken seriously if you are looking to become a hybrid athlete. In the next article we will be looking at some practical aerobic training applications, as well as a closer look at the lactate threshold and lactate training, so be sure to check back!

If you have any questions about concurrent training, then shoot me a message! Or if you want to become a hybrid athlete, get in touch and we can discuss some hybrid athlete coaching!

Until next time

Stay strong

Callum

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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

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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