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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is deloading, and why should you do it?

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

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

When should you deload?

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

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

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

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

How should you deload?

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

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

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

Opportunities within deload weeks

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

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

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

Callum

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What drives progression when exercising?

Some key terms for understanding the article.

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

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

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

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

Driving adaptation

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

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

Progressive overload

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume

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

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

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

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

Intensity

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callum

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What fuels performance? A beginners guide to the energy systems

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

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

Energy systems overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Until next time and as always, stay strong.

Callum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking a coach

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

What do you need from the coach?

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

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

What is the coach like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the coach / athlete relationship

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

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

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

Until next time and as always, stay strong.

Callum

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What is strength and conditioning (And why you might consider hiring a coach)

Some of you have maybe stumbled upon my social media platforms by chance, some of you may have sought them out because you know what it is I do as a Strength & Conditioning (S&C) coach. Regardless of your knowledge of what S&C is, the purpose of this article is to clear up any confusion & leave you with a better understanding of this discipline.

S&C is the integration of a training programme to elicit specific adaptations in a specific cohort. Laymans terms? It is training designed to improve certain physical qualities (E.g speed, strength, Aerobic fitness etc) in specific populations. Many assume that S&C is only for athlete’s and it doesn’t apply nor benefit them, however this is not the case. S&C can (and has) been successfully implemented with youth populations to help develop key movement patterns and aid with growth maturation and development and reduce the risk of injury when they begin to participate in sport, particularly when they begin to specify in a particular sport.

S&C has been used in general populations to help improve quality of life and improved well being & health markers (such has resting heart rate, blood pressure etc) as well as the reduction in injuries from workplaces, day to day life and any recreational activities they take part in.

S&C has also been used in ageing populations to help reduce the negative effects of muscle atrophy (Wastage) and sarcopenia, both of which have been linked to causing injuries in ageing populations from trips, slips and falls. Improving their strength, stability and balance can help reduce the risk of this occurring, which is huge for improving quality of life as a trip or fall in an aged person can be devastating and unfortunately can have negative impact on them for the rest of their lives.

And of course, S&C is used within athletic populations. Simply, the purpose of S&C is to 1) improve the physical qualities required for their sport and 2) reduce the risk of injury. Noticing a pattern here in the purpose of what S&C is? You may come across some interesting descriptions of what S&C is, but that’s it summed up in a nutshell. The purpose is pretty simple, the implementation of it becomes more complex, however these complexities will be discussed in coming articles.
The majority of professional athlete’s and sports teams employ S&C specialists to help give their athletes the edge when performing. Looking at Rugby union as a prime example, a sport where physical strength and power is hugely important for the collision areas such as rucks & scrums. Bigger, stronger more powerful athletes are more likely to dominate these areas than weaker counterparts, assuming their technical ability is also adequate. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an endurance cyclist requires cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance that may seem beyond comprehension. Improving their performance becomes a more complex process due to the physiological demands of strength / power training vs aerobic training (which will be discussed in a later article) therefore requires specialist knowledge to achieve this.

You may be thinking “but I am not an elite level athlete, so it wouldn’t benefit me” however, you would be wrong. S&C is implemented across all levels, however the cost of hiring specialists is one of the main reasons why amateur level sports rarely have S&C support. Occasionally, clubs and athletes will go to the gym or have a group session together. This is one of those occasions where “something is better than nothing, but that something might be slowing you down”. Often people (through no fault of their own) haven’t got the first idea about integrating a training programme in line with their sport demands or personal needs. Unfortunately, this is often coupled with the “more is better, go hard or go home” bullshit that is often found in gyms.

“ If you aren’t dead and can’t walk by the time you leave the gym, you ain’t worked out brah!” – The zyzz brah dude in the string vest who does Chest & biceps every other day and has night terrors thinking of a squat rack.

“If you haven’t run 50 miles each week you won’t get fitter” – the “long distance runner” who is constantly fatigued, has chronic shin splints and the cognitive function of a walnut

These are extreme examples, but we have all come across them. Chances are the majority of them have 0 malicious intent with their advice. However, it’s pretty useless advice. At best, you’ll make marginal improvements that likely have 0 carry over to your sport. At worst, you are looking at a repetitive strain injury or heading toward non-functional overreaching (Definitely don’t want that, it fucking sucks).

At this stage, you are perhaps more uncertain of what to or how to help improve your athletic performance and gain that physical edge. If this is something you definitely want to do, and something you are willing to commit to, then it might be time to hire an S&C coach.

Hiring an S&C coach may seem like a daunting task. How do you know who is good? How do you know they are worthwhile or reliable? Do they know what they are doing, or just good at spouting fancy words and using the ”baffle them with bullshit” method. I feel your pain, I personally went through the same issue when looking to hire a coach, but it is a process that is worth diligent thought. I will be covering “how to pick a coach” in a separate article, however in the meantime I will highlight the benefits of having an S&C coach in your corner (assuming they are the right one for you).

Firstly, they will take any guesswork out of the programme. They know what they are doing and will create a tailored programme based on your individual needs as an athlete. These adaptations will help to improve the physical qualities you specifically need for your sport and position if required.

Secondly, they can look at your programme objectively, you cannot. Anyone (Myself included) who has written programmes for themselves finds it all too tempting to make changes. For example, you have one bad week of a specific exercise? Nah screw it that’s getting replaced with something else it clearly doesn’t work, when in reality the poor session is due to having a shitty day at work causing excess stress. We justify these changes our heads saying, “we are different”, however we aren’t, sorry to break it to you. Having a coach ensures that any changes are made objectively, not subjectively.

Thirdly, it frees up your time. Even if you have a fairly good understanding of what you need / require from an S&C programme, it is a fairly time-consuming task. Particularly if looking ahead at a full years’ worth of planning based around competition schedules. Hiring a coach takes that work away from you, allowing you to do whatever you want to do.

Hopefully this article has helped you understand what Strenght and Conditioning is, and what benefits you can gain from having S&C coaching for. If you have any questions, shoot me an email or slide up in the social media DM’s and as always, stay strong

Callum