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5 reasons to do General training

In the last blog we looked at Transfer of Training in Sports and focused on two key aspects- Improved Sports Performance and Achievement of Physical Normalisation.  You can also think of this in terms of: motor skills (cognitive) and physical skills (physiological).

I’ve written several blogs on topics related to early specialisation, sports specific training, and the importance of building a volume base

Today I want to share more thoughts on why Physical Normalisation is important, not just for making the body more able to handle the stress of training per se, but actually how to improve sports performance.

Win Now 

The need to achieve short term improvements is what I mean by the ‘Win Now.’

A Sports coach (Tennis coach) will obviously want to talk about Sports Performance- how will what we are doing physically with the athlete improve their movement as a tennis player / help them hit the ball harder / last longer  NOW! (read that as anything that they can ‘see‘ is helping them win Tennis matches).

I like to view the ‘Sport’ as a Graphic Equaliser- Representative bar chart of the relative contribution of different biomotor abilities during sports performance.

Each sport will have it’s unique profile, like a display on a graphic equaliser.  This is what the Tennis coach sees, They see a specific profile for Tennis.  We need to acknowledge the peaks- there are fitness components that are clearly worked closer to a theoretical 100% level, and could be considered ‘specific’ to the sport.

Coaches will have a top down approach- looking first at the components of fitness that seem to be used most in Tennis, and pop up above the average level.  Typically in sport fitness qualities such as agility and reaction speed will be closer to their theoretical 100% level.  But you’ll notice that none of them will reach close to 100% because there are so many competing demands on the body.

Importance of High Intensity Training:

Let’s be clear, most sports are a high intensity activity.

So it follows that Higher intensity training will lead to the biggest return in terms of improvement in the short-term.  Lower intensity training is necessary to aid in recovery so that the athlete is fresh for the priority sessions or ‘hot sessions,’ as Dan Cleather referred to them as.   Dan also suggested that if you only do high intensity training there is the potential for stagnation.

However, assuming high intensity training is important to short term improvements in sports performance- how do you make an important (specific) fitness component better?

In regards to the sports performance I think it is really important to recognise that Sport is not the ‘best’ stimulus for improving Fitness, due to the competing demands placed on the body.

There is no sport that truly ”optimises” any single component of fitness.  How many of those bars on the graphic equaliser are at 100%? None right?  Therefore in order to reach high enough intensities you may actually have to address certain components separately.

 

Train in a less specific way to encourage greater overload

Because just playing the sport will only ever keep taxing the body at that same relative level.   This is the reason why we shouldn’t just simulate Tennis even when you’re trying to improve qualities that are highly associated with success in Tennis.  There are too many competing demands on your body.  At some point you will hit a barrier to further gains.  In order to bring up your current level you have to train in a less specific way to encourage greater overload.  This means breaking the game down into its component parts.  So even to maximise short-term gains you still need to train less specifically, by breaking the sport up into its component parts.

 

Now let’s turn our attention to the need to train more general qualities.  These might be movements that don’t look like Tennis.  It might also be movements performed at speeds that don’t look like Tennis. These are often the qualities that are thought to build a ‘base’ of fitness.  Perhaps the most compelling argument for doing activities that are not specific to a sport to improve sports performance- is to do with the proficiency barrier.

 

Proficiency Barrier

In the short term performing high intensity activities that replicate the sporting movement will lead to short term improvements in sports performance.  But what about the long term?

We really ought to all be developing a general base of physical skills for the reasons everyone has already mentioned a) injury reduction: early burnout, over use and b) proficiency barrier => maximise performance”

I do believe that the wider and deeper someone’s movement vocabulary is the more easy it will be for the child to acquire the more specific advanced skills of a sport later down the track.  Athleticism is developed by practising a range of movement skills to make you more adaptable on the sports field.

I know that muscle pattern overload/over use is extremely likely if you keep hammering away at the same movement patterns inherent in one sport, over and over again.  So even if I did believe that the key to getting great in one sport is to just play one sport or replicate the movements exactly (which I don’t), I would enforce that the athlete plays a few other sports and performs slightly different exercises, simply to work the muscles a little differently, and give the overworked ones a rest!

We can discuss the benefits for playing a range of sports in another blog from a motor skills point of view.  For now let’s look at some other reasons why doing general physical training will augment sports performance from a physical standpoint:

 

Win Future

The need to achieve long term improvements is what I mean by the ‘Win Future.’

You ‘cook em slow’ and build them up to more advanced training methods.  You wouldn’t expect a child to be grasping complex aspects of University maths and physics. Unfortunately most parents (and coaches) don’t understand principles of sports biomechanics or motor learning!!!  They want them to be doing things that look like the sport.  However, what most people fail to recognise is that sport is VERY STRESSFUL on the body.  We need to prepare the body for the demands of it and that’s why we need to do general work to prepare for the more specific high intensity high speed work that is part and parcel of sport.

 

Volume base is important for long-term improvement:

Dan Cleather also said he believes long term improvements require a volume base and he believes in building work capacity.   This got me thinking about what I understand about this term ‘work capacity’ and the need for a volume base
In terms of strength qualities  you will hear a lot of S&C coaches saying that you need to do a ‘strength endurance, anatomical adaptation, work capacity, strength foundation, strength base, robustness [insert other name] phaseFIRST to prepare you for the higher intensity work to follow.
For those people who believe that you need to build a volume base FIRST I  have been trying to think of other reasons why you might need to develop volume first as a base and came up with the following:

1. To build up your average level of Fitness

-Only as strong as your weakest link

-The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

 

My view is that every sport has a minimal level of fitness required- let’s say that’s 50% of the theoretical maximum.

Why would you want to top up a [general quality] that seems to be less important in the chosen sport?  For me your long term sustainable performance level will ultimately be limited by your ‘average’ level which includes general fitness.  I like to believe that a Tennis athlete needs above average physical qualities in all components– even just to be competitive. Think about the definition of an athlete for a moment.

 

Definition of an athlete- can be described as a person with above average physical qualities.  An old Greek word for game is ‘athlos.’  The people who were part of the original Olympic Games were called athletes.

First an athlete, then a specialist

There should be no physical shortcomings or limitations that could impact on sports performance

Do you have the number of basic motor abilities that support an athlete’s functional performance in a sport?

The things that we associate with elite performance such as high speed efforts, explosive serves and ground strokes will all be limited by the extent to which the body can provide a general foundation.

Increased quality of movement ‘in general’ is important for both sports performance and health status, by lowering the risk of injury and improving cognitive function

When an S&C coach looks at the fitness qualities of a sport I feel like we look from the ground up- looking at the graphic equaliser upside down.  We see that all fitness components that need to reach a minimum level for the body to be able to meet the demands of sport.

2. Skill acquisition– lower intensity higher volume work enables high levels of repetition to enhance skill acquisition. This is my strongest case for doing more volume earlier in a training cycle.  For me the type of base I need to develop is a movement competency base so I might focus more on higher volume training as a base is because it enables me to get more practice (more reps) in a particular skill.

3. Tissue integrity– lower intensity higher volume work prepares the connective tissues for the later training phases. Take the squat for example; in the squat the lower back might fatigue and in return the hips will rise faster than the chest. The lever becomes longer, the stress becomes greater, and the already fatigued muscle tires faster. And soon we are seeing squat-mornings. So perhaps some work capacity training of the supporting local muscle system is necessary to create stability strength before going onto maximal strength training to tax the gross muscle system.
In my opinion if something is capable of improving performance requiring a lower intensity / stress on the body then start with that.  I have included three analogies below which basically speak to this point.
Minimal effective dose
-Pick from the low hanging fruit
-Don’t show your Ace cards too early

 

[break]
4. Phase potentiation–  Some training modalities serve to potentiate/ enhance the gains made in the subsequent phase.  Could developing the slow twitch muscle fibre characteristics enhance one’s ability to develop greater force production during more demanding tasks such as maximal lifting in later phases? Or help recovery to be faster between sets in later phases because of more efficient energy pathways?
-Cart before the horse
It is generally agreed that strength is the foundation of power in most sports.  So in most developmental athletes they can expect to see improvements in power simply by getting stronger- so keep doing that until it stops working! At that point you need to do more targeted power work as the focus.  Trying to develop power without building a strength foundation first is like putting the cart before the horse- the expressio is an idiom or proverb used to suggest something is done contrary to a conventional or culturally expected order or relationship.  We need to develop the force capabilities of the body first before learning to apply those forces at higher speeds.

-Size principle
According to Michael Ranfone (see full article here) a deficit in the aerobic system can negatively affect immediate (alactic) and intermediate (lactic) energy system brackets, especially for athletes seeking to increase their proficiency in short duration, high intensity type activities.

This occurs because all three energy systems “turn on” at the same time, and as each one maxes out, it taps into the next higher bracket for assistance until full recovery can be accomplished. Since the aerobic system serves as the base for substrate recovery and repeated bouts of high output, if inadequacies exist, fatigue will occur faster due to an over reliance on the less-equipped energy brackets to handle restoration, and power output will be compromised.

This same phenomenon exists with muscle recruitment- where all the muscles turn on at the same time but the Type I smaller fibres are preferentially recruited when smaller forces are needed.

5. Force Production

This is kind of related to point 4 but I wanted to hammer the point home.

Parents (and coaches) focus in on the kinematics- they want to see the movements that look like the sport (same acceleration, velocity, position).  I get it! But they don’t make the link that it is FORCE PRODUCTION that is the underlying cause of motion.  To get more explosive you first need to build a general foundation of strength.  The END.

As Des Ryan said in the forum, ”Tail doesn’t wag the dog!”

Specific training is the ‘realisation’ and expression of those qualities that we need to build in a general sense such as movement efficiency (balance, coordination, mobility/stability, basic strength). We can then apply those physical skills to more high intensity and high speed sports skills. When the kids are young I am comfortable that they get most of their ‘realisation’ opportunities from playing the sport. Let’s work on the foundation in the early years.”

Summary

Developmental athletes are building a movement efficiency base to get good at lifting in later cycles. Strength/Power athletes are building a fatigue base to get a rebound in performance in the next strength cycle.   Fat loss clients are building a fat loss base to improve insulin sensitivity and general fitness enthusiasts are building a general base of fitness which doesn’t serve a particular purpose for future cycles.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning Coaching

Dates: 19/20 Jan and 16/17 Feb 2019, 09:00AM-17:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

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Transfer of Training in Sports- from the gym to the court

I’ve not been posting so much in recent months- very much a case of being in the business rather than working on the business I’m afraid.  But I’ve still spent plenty of time reflecting about my training philosophy since my visits to PaceLab and Portugal.

Yesterday I was invited to attend a Pixolar inspired ”Brain Trust” session at the invitation of British Tennis to discuss all things strength & conditioning in Tennis.  It was a great opportunity to meet up with professional colleagues and good friends, and share our views with the newly appointed Head of S&C at the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

I had known about this meeting for a few weeks and at one point I had even said I would be happy to give a presentation which could be used as a conversation starter for discussion.  In the end a presentation wasn’t needed but I wrote it any way and decided to share it with some of my APA coaches in person, and record it for everyone else.  Apologies in advance, everyone these days seems to like bite size bullets of take home messages.  This presentation hits the 1 hour mark.  But I’m confident there is some good info and though provoking stuff in there!

Here it is in all it’s glory for your viewing pleasure!

For those that can’t wait for the punch line, below are the Cliff notes:

In this presentation we looked at:

  • The role of the Strength & Conditioning Coach
  • General and Specific Means of training for Tennis

 

I am reflecting on the role we play as a strength & conditioning coach, and it essentially comes down to:

  1. Preparing the body in a General sense to handle the stress of training and competition
  2. Preparing the body in a Specific way to improve Sports Performance
  3. Monitoring the body’s response to fatigue to enable repeated high level performance

 

Achievement of Physical Normalisation

In regards to the Training methods I think it is really important to recognise that Sport is not the ‘best’ stimulus for improving Fitness.

There is no sport that truly ”optimises” any single component of fitness.  Even a closed skill sport like a 100m sprint doesn’t optimally develop maximal velocity, as for a significant period of the race you are accelerating up to top speed and then there is a period of speed endurance where you try your best to keep running at as close to top speed as possible.  This means:

Don’t play sport to get fit- get fit to play sport!!

So I regard general training as those types of training that help to fill up all the buckets of fitness (speed, strength, stamina etc) to prepare you to play sport- any sport.  Because the body first and foremost recognises stress! It’s about developing ‘Physical capacities.’

The task is physical ‘normalisation’ not achievement of high sports results.  It may create a ‘base’ or foundation (potentiation effect), in the training of low level athletes.  However, in high level athletes transfer of training to the competitive event can take place only with specialised preparation means.

The evolution of my training philosophy has seen me review how much of what I thought was specific is actually just high level general training.  So maximum strength and maximal power methods including maximal effort explosive strength (half squat, snatch and power clean), jumps (SLT, STJ, VJ) and throw exercises (shot put forward and backward) is all just General training??!!  That’s the question I’m asking myself!

Improve Sports Performance

Let’s be clear- sport is the most specific form of training.

Sports skills are complex movements often performed reflexively and at high speed.  It is the speed of movement which in many cases separates the training we do in the gym from the training we do in our sport.  It is probably also the main reason why sports coaches don’t buy into training methods that they can’t see in some way simulate or connect with the actual sports technique- in speed and/or in joint position.

Now some S&C coaches will say, ”Is it our job to improve Sports Performance?” My view on it is this, if you see your role as being primarily to make the athlete more robust by filling up their buckets of general fitness so they can better handle the stress of sport and training then that’s great.  It’s a very important role.  I personally think you are then putting a tremendous amount of faith in both the sports coach and the athlete to ensure that the ‘general’ physical potential you have helped raise with then suddenly realise itself in higher speed, time pressured specific movements.

Why not get involved and see if you can help with that process? After all, if you truly want to be an integral part of the interdisciplinary team, then that means being collectively accountable for the performance on the court!  As a colleague of mine said about an Elite Netball coach they once worked with, she would only rate an S&C coach if she could tell that our intervention had visibly improved some aspect of their on court performance!

Given that I have started to see a lot of my classic power development exercises as more general power development exercises, what would I now classify as specific? Well essentially it comes down to those activities that are focused on:

  • Velocity capacity- incl. Early and Late RFD
  • Motor (Skill) capacity- aka Applied or Coordination Strength

I haven’t fully tested these methods to make a leap of faith yet with my philosophy.  But if we go down this route then what we have here are tasks that will involve:

  • Early rate of Force Development- Maximal Isometric contractions
  • Late rate of Force Development- Stretch-shortening cycle jumps and throws
  • Weighted Implements
  • Weights vests
  • Over speed work
  • Skill-stability exercises (Frans Bosch)
  • Contrast sets with a physical task paired with the sports skill

 

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

 

 

Get Fit to Play Sport- Don’t Play Sport to Get Fit

In this blog article I am going to talk about some of my reflections since returning from my week in Portugal, where I was attending the ‘‘International Meeting for High Performance in Training” October 15th-20th.

This was a conference unlike no other I have been to.  I wanted to go for several reasons.  Yes, the line up of keynote speakers was fantastic but truthfully I had heard at least three speak in person already at UKSCA conferences, and everyone else speak either on a podcast or online.   But it was because I knew all the speakers would be there all week because they were all taking it in turns to speak there throughout the week.  This gave us a real opportunity to start conversations with them in a relaxed environment without the scrap to get your question answered at the end of the presentation before they would exit the building! And- yes because it was in Portugal and I hoped it would be a final opportunity to get some sunshine in this year in Europe.

It was intense- 8am first presentation all the way through until 8pm Monday to Saturday- with a 1.5 hour lunch and 30 min coffee break, so 60 hours of presentations.  At some point I will write a summary blog of my favourite presentations and a few take homes for each.  But right now I just wanted to let some things simmer and reflect on how what I have heard has impacted my training philosophies and methods.

I have taken a week to digest my experience and not surprisingly I have come right back to my basic beliefs and principles of strength & conditioning, my role in enhancing Sports Performance and the methods that I feel are most appropriate [for Tennis].

Know your Sport

Several different themes have been going on in my head- but essentially it always came back to ”let’s get rid of the noise, and find out the things that we really need to focus on [in our sport or athlete population] so we can improve performance.  What all the keynote speakers had in common was a clear appreciation for the demands of their sport that they were most associated with whether that be Rugby League- Dan Baker, MMA- Brett Bartholomew, Australian Football- David Joyce, Track & Field- Mike Young, Alpine Skiing- Matt Jordan, Team sports- Sophia Nimphius or Football- Mladen Jovanovic.

The themes that they covered focused on a mixture of topics related to knowing how fit athletes are in these respective sports by

a) doing a needs analysis to determine workload profiles

b) designing appropriate physical performance tests and

c) designing the resultant physical training intervention that goes alongside that.

 

I’m pretty happy with the performance tests for Tennis that I both like to do now, and I am considering doing in the future. There was a lot of talk about the role of muscles in certain sports and how to prepare them specifically for their role in sprinting, jumping, or change of direction, but I’ll cover that in the summary blog.

As far as the needs analysis goes I sometimes get frustrated that technology such as GPS is not widely used in Tennis.  Physiologically we have a lot of information on Tennis and also a lot of kinematic information.  But not much on the kinetics- the forces we experience from running and jumping.  I could appreciate that when the GPS units were all we had, they can’t measure accelerations and jump elements that are so important to Tennis.  But with advances in technology so that GPS units have in built Inertial Movement Units (IMUs) we can surely do better.

But frustration aside, I wanted to take this blog down the path of actually understanding how we might go about getting to know our sport better from a Loading stand point – and building up a workload profile. This lead me to Load Monitoring.  Ultimately if you know what the demands of the sport are- you can get fit to prepare your body to meet the demands of it- hence the title of the blog.

Using internal and external load to answer performance questions

As a Tennis coach or sports coach of any sport you have no doubt had a conversation at some point with a strength and conditioning coach or sports scientist who wants to tell you about how much work your athlete or team has done in the last match or last training week.

So What?

Well if we are all in the business of helping players win matches then hopefully they are coming to you with useful information that will help you to make decisions about their training plans.  This in turn will give your players the best chance of winning.  There are probably a few questions you should ask from your sports science team:

  1. How will we know if they have improved their fitness?
  2. How will we know if they have increased their fatigue?
  3. What is the typical workload profile of a match in competition?
  4. How much of our training week needs to be done at or above that workload to improve their fitness?
  5. How much of our training week needs to be done at or below that workload to reduce fatigue?

Being able to answer these questions is essential to being able to design a safe and efficient training programme.  Remember for some athletes, they will not be fit enough to meet the demands of the game.  Others will find that playing matches will actually undertrain their fitness capacities and need more work.  And at other times you will want to give them an easy day so they are fresh for a match. So it is important to consider everyone’s needs individually.

A well-designed training programme will expose athletes to a range of stresses, all of which will induce fatigue and adaptations to that stress to differing degrees. Without an objective measure of the stress being imposed on the athlete, or their response to that stress, coaches and sports scientists are unable to quantify the true effectiveness of their interventions.

The consequences of failing to correctly measure those loads can be under- or overloading of athletes, either of which can lead to injury or illness, contributing to sub-optimal performance levels. So how can practitioners measure the load being placed on their athletes? More importantly, how can they use information to derive meaningful insights to help address performance questions and support the work of coaching staff?

 

MEASURING EXTERNAL & INTERNAL LOAD

Fitness can be seen when a player is capable of doing more work in a given time period.  Fatigue might be shown when they do less work in a given time period, or if they are unable to repeat the work in a defined period.

To help us build up a picture of the typical amount of work (Training Load) we experience on a Tennis court and how we respond to that stress we need to talk about External and Internal load.   Over time, you will be able to build up a workload profile of what a player typically does in a training and match scenario.

External Load:

External Training Load (TL) describes the work completed by the athlete in terms of distance, speed or power using micro-technologies including time-motion analysis, accelerometers or power-meters, respectively

At a basic level, external load can be characterised as the sum of the work completed by an athlete during a particular training drill, session or period. In terms of wearable technologies, measures of external load can be categorised as locomotive (e.g. distance covered, average velocity, number of sprints etc.) and mechanical (e.g. Player Load).

Locomotive Load with GPS- Running velocities:

The GPS data calculate running velocities, which are traditionally expressed as distance covered, time spent, or frequency in different velocity categories. For intermittent sports such as tennis, this approach is potentially inadequate because maximally performed changes in running velocities and directions over short distances are misinterpreted as low to moderate intensities because the attained velocities are not high.  Furthermore, GPS won’t give information on things like jumps, tackles and kicks important in a range of sports.

Mechanical Load- Inertial Movement Units (IMU)-accelerations with respect to movement direction

In addition to running, mechanical loads of intermittent sports involve other activities such as jumps (e.g., split steps in tennis) that cannot be quantified by GPS data.  Consequently, 100-Hz triaxial accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers were also integrated into GPS devices to determine total mechanical loads more accurately. The most common accelerometer-derived parameter is PlayerLoad, which is a vector magnitude and is calculated from changes in accelerations measured in all 3 movement planes. One limitation of PlayerLoad is that changes in all acceleration directions are considered universally. An enhanced approach using accelerometer data is inertial-movement analysis. This approach combines accelerometer with gyroscope and magnetometer data, allowing the examination of accelerations with respect to movement directions

GPS and IMU data in Tennis.

The use of this technology in Tennis is limited.  I have read a journal article which has quantified Player Load and other external load variables for a 2 sets Singles Tennis match.  But even in the absence of specific information on External load we must make steps to define our sessions according to some categories of Activity that we believe will elicit different workload profiles.  If you haven’t read Matt Little’s article on his LinkedIn profile ‘A Paradigm Shift in Measuring and Monitoring Tennis Players’’ I have put the link below:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/paradigm-shift-measuring-monitoring-tennis-players-matt-little/

I have paraphrased part of his article below to include the categories he mentioned, and added my comments.  Even if we cannot accurately assess running velocities and accelerations we can at least measure Heart rate to give us an idea of physiological load- more on this later.

Categories of Workload: A suggested model for Tennis

Technique– drills should not be fatiguing

Rhythm and patterns– drilling.  Can be used for on court cardio.  Consider if 80% of ralleys are less than 4 shots, do elite players really need so much time to develop rhythm and timing and confidence?

Serve & Return– typically practised later in a session when fatigue has set in.  Given its importance should it be done early in practice?

Points based play– playing sets, or drills that simulate match based scenarios.  Typically done later in the week.  Should it always be done in the afternoon and later in the week?

Speed work– single ball feeds at flat out speed and lots of recovery.  How much of this work is really done?

Let’s say, for example, that a singles match exposes the player to a 450 PlayerLoad amount of work. In addition, each match requires around 60 acceleration efforts (from 2-4 m/s) with a total distance covered of 3000 metres in the whole match.

You might set a Technique, Serve & return and Speed work session as 300 PlayerLoad.  A Points based session might be 450 PlayerLoad (same as a match) and a Rhythm and patterns session (used for volume and conditioning) as 650 PlayerLoad for example.

Internal Load:

Okay- so let’s say we have started to plan our training schedules optimally so there is enough work to prepare our players for the actual workload demands of the match, and get them fitter without getting them too tired.  What’s next?  Well, we need to determine if the planned workload actually had the desired level of stress on the body.

The resultant physiological or psychological stress imposed, described as internal TL, drives adaptation in the relevant metabolic, cardiovascular and neurological systems

The outcome of any training intervention is therefore the consequence of both external and internal stimuli and reliable monitoring tools are vital for the optimization of athletic performance.

External load may be more easily observable for practitioners, but it is internal load (the cardiovascular and metabolic stresses placed on an athlete during a bout of work) which determines the overall outcome and an athlete’s subsequent adaptation to that stress. Ultimately, the majority of coaches will look at the relationship between internal and external load metrics to measure athlete efficiency.  I have suggested two levels of Internal load monitoring according to the resources you have available at your club.

Level 1 Monitoring- Internal Load

The monitoring of intensity of sessions at Level 1 is conducted using a metric called Session RPE. RPE stands for Rating of Perceived Exertion, and requires a subjective assessment from the athlete of how hard each drill or session was based on a scale 1-10.

The session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) provides an alternative method of quantifying internal TL, which describes a subjective, global rating of intensity and is the product of training duration, and perceived exertion using Borgs CR10 scale

Level 2 Monitoring- Internal Load

At Level 2, a method of quantifying internal training volume is introduced. Heart Rate Exertion (sometimes known as Training Impulse) breaks down athlete heart rate into a series of bands proportionally related to an individual’s maximum heart rate.

However, the use of these HR-based methods in intermittent sports may underestimate near maximal short high and very high intensity efforts due to the heavy reliance on anaerobic metabolism

So whether you use a Level 1 tool or a Level 2 tool you can now quantify the physiological stress (internal load) imposed on the body by the training session/match (external load).  I personally would ideally like a combination of the two.  Having a heart rate monitor will be very useful for the Rhythm and patterns session.  But if you’re doing a technical and/or speed session the Heart rate may not be very high but the sRPE might be higher accounting for the higher mechanical and/or psychological stress.  At the end of the day, if you are the sport scientist you are giving information to the coach to let them know if the session was effective in achieving its goal, whether that be to increase fitness or reduce/minimise fatigue.

 Image result for fitness-fatigue model

FITNESS VS FATIGUE

Planning the Week

The final piece of the puzzle is monitoring the day to day fatigue.  In some cases you are trying to increase fatigue so you can improve fitness.  This may involve doing a session that is ‘‘tougher than a match.’’  So you expect them to be fatigued. But how many fitness based sessions can a player handle in a week and how do you plan them in the lead up to a match?

My example is actually going to draw from team sports first.  This is because in these sports the match itself is usually the most stressful activity of the week in terms of workload.  Everything is about building up to that important Game day at the weekend. We will discuss Tennis after that.

Peaking for the Weekend

So let’s assume match demands and intensities are known, and we have set a weekly practice plan for use during the season. We have also tested through trial and error what we expect the Internal Load to be.  Using a Football example, let’s say that a typical PlayerLoad on a Saturday match is 600 AU.   If these are their normal demands on match day, it would stand to reason that achieving similar numbers a day or two before the game would not be ideal. The only gains that occur a day, or week, before competition is fatigue. Athletes cannot expand their gas tank in such a short time frame, they can only burn the gas already there. The best teams are at their optimal capabilities on match day. Therefore, tapering practices as the match draws closer is vital.  The other side of the coin is that if athletes are not exposed to some of the match-like speed and volume demands in practice, then they are more likely to perform poorly, and be more prone to injury, during the match.  In general, having one practice that approached match like demands early in the week (3-4 days before competition) with each subsequent practice decreasing about 25% from the previous one is a good starting point.

EXAMPLE 1: MATCH DAY SATURDAY

SUN MON TUES WED THUR FRI SAT

OFF  300     600   450  300     0    600            Total PlayerLoad 2250

 

EXAMPLE 2: TRAINING WEEK NO MATCH

If said athlete maintained this weekly plan for four weeks, their chronic average would be 2250 per week. Now, imagine if that athlete had a bye week (no match at weekend due to International break).  So they stay at their club and plan to do a tough training week where practice looked like this:

SUN MON TUES WED THUR FRI SAT

OFF  800     600   900   600   500    0             Total PlayerLoad 3400

It’s a bye week so no harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Scientifically speaking, the acute: chronic ratio for this athlete would have gone from 1.0 (i.e. 1:1) to 1.51.  This 51% increase in activity would result in an increased chance of injury during the week and the next week.

So what you do in one week can have a consequence in the next week. When you resume your 2250 PlayerLoad week they will be more tired so you need to account for this.  Usually athletes need to plan for a lighter week every 5-6 weeks with a few days off.  Ideally they will have a complete week off at least every 12 weeks.

 

Preparing for a Tennis Match:

Tennis is a bit different.  If you are a younger player then it will look quite similar to football as you might train during the week and play a match (or two) at the weekend.  But for a junior international player or a Professional player you are often competing for several days each week, and sometimes more than one match a day.  If you are at the bottom of the draw success might be winning the 1st round so you need to be in peak condition for the first match at the start of the week.  If you lose early, then you can resume training for the rest of the week. That means your training in the previous week might be a bit lighter in the few days leading up to the first match.

If you are one of the favourites then you might need to plan for being there until the end and need to try to recover so you can play 4-5 matches over 4-5 days and still be as fresh as you can at the end.  This means there will be no physical training as such until the tournament has finished.

Unlike Team sports, I personally find that going out competing for several days can in some ways be a bit of a vacation away from training at base-from a physical stand point.  Let me explain.  A typical match contains only 20-30% of the time hitting balls.  In training it is often the case that players will be doing sessions where they are hitting balls for much more than 20-30% of the time.  Having said that players will often rate their matches as hard, so if they played a match that lasted 2-3 hours it can be comparable to a training session.  But again, if you are smart, you can look at the PlayerLoad for each day in competition and compare it to their normal training and competition PlayerLoad and start to get an idea of how stressful that match is on their body.  The Internal load data you have will support this observation.

This is when day to day fatigue management is key. When you’re playing matches every day it’s still a good idea to monitor fatigue levels the next morning (How to do this-we will save that for another post).  This way you can determine how well recovered they are from the previous day’s match.  If they experienced a big external load and reported a big internal load but their fatigue markers are not significantly down- you know they have recovered well.  If they haven’t, it’s not like you cannot play the match but it is helpful to know in case you were planning to do more than the usual 30mins practice before the match or possibly do some extra fitness because you thought the previous match was quite easy.

Training week at base

When you’re back at base training you also want to monitor day to day fatigue. If you find they haven’t recovered well after the previous day’s practice you may make some modifications to the day’s workout- especially if you’ve planned another hard day.

As we discussed earlier there needs to be variation in the day-to-day workload exposures placed on the athletes so that they do experience match-like demands, but with the opportunity to recover so as to limit the injury potential of several high demand days in a row.  Again, the lower workload days should be as crisp and fast as the higher load days; the only decrease is in volume.

Doug McKenney (Sports Performance Specialist at Coach Me Plus) said he used to programme in for his NHL teams 5 possible workouts:

Extremely hard workout

Hard workout

Average workout

Recovery workout

Day Off

For tennis we might refer to the categories of workload we spoke about earlier to determine the best implementation of the Plan depending on the goal of the week, and the athlete’s response to the workloads.

 

Reporting the Information

In an environment where there is sophisticated monitoring technology, a good starting point is to relate metrics back to the work an athlete usually does in a match, then report training data relative to match equivalents. For example, a training session reported as 60:80 for volume: intensity would mean that the athlete has performed 60% of the work they would do in a match, with the average training intensity being 80% of a match. In terms of distilling internal and external load data down into actionable insights, this is as good a starting point as any.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

WORKSHOP:

STRENGTH & COORDINATION

 

Dates: 4 Nov 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

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Fitness Testing for Tennis with Tennisbrothers

For the last two weeks I have been testing Felix Mischker of Tennisbrothers social media fame as part of our new collaboration to get him in peak physical condition and share his fitness journey with our communities.

Check out our first two videos below

 

Video 1

Video 2

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

WORKSHOP:

STRENGTH & COORDINATION

 

Dates: 4 Nov 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

My visit to PaceLab

This blog is the final instalment in my three part series.  In Part 1 we reviewed the principles of Motor Learning and the concepts of Variation as a form of Overload.  We also looked at the concept of Isometric muscle actions forming the basis of strength training for skill transfer of complex movements that take place at very high movement speeds.  In Part 2 we looked at models of Periodisation.  In this final blog in the series I will share some insights into my two day visit to PaceLab in Wellington, Somerset.

I first started following Steffan on social media.  Steffan is an ex professional cricketer, and is the Director of Sport at Wellington School, Somerset.  He also has his own business called ‘PaceLab.’  What attracted me to his ideas was his interesting application of special development exercises that I had only really seen popularised in track and field and his interest in isometric training methods for enhanced skill transfer.

I went down to the first two days of one of his summer training camps for fast bowlers and he was kind enough to let me ask him some questions, while watching the testing.  Being totally honest, I haven’t grasped it fully so I would encourage you to reach out to Steffan if you have more questions.  But here is my take home messages.

Prepare them for the Chaos

Sport, just like the body’s adaptation response, is not predictable! But ultimately the goal is an improvement in the sports performance.  My former Tennis Director, Matt Willcocks always used to refer to the rowing quote: ‘Will it make the boat go faster?”

 

The Assessments

The higher the stakes and the higher the level of the athlete the more important it is to narrow down on those exercises that will result in a positive transfer of training- that will make the boat go faster!

Steffan did all the classic strength/power and speed tests to build up a picture of the athletic profile, and determine if the athlete was more spring or static- in terms of how they develop velocity (through muscle effort or elasticity, respectively).

However, what I really came to see were the sport specific assessments.  Steffan really captured my imagination because he always uses bowling speed as his most important KPI.  Every exercise is ultimately designed to improve bowling speed.  Steffan not only measures ball speed with a speed gun  (Stalker Pro II) but he also measures arm speed (Motus Global).

He also measured the effect on ball speed from different run ups (those with and without a run up) as well as ball speed measured with the bowler working against variable resistance from the 1080 motion resistance trainer.  Finally, he also measured ball speed using different weight balls.

So what?

Well for a start, the assessment showed that the person who had the fastest ball speed had the lowest arm speed.

Don’t assume fastest arm = fastest bowl

Interestingly, the person with the fastest arm speed had one of the slower ball speeds.  It is critical to know where the ball speed comes from.  Somewhere who has a fast arm but lower ball speed needs to focus on getting stronger.

Once you have their best speed with the actual 156g ball and full run up knowing how they perform with different run ups, different weight balls and different resistances to overcome helps build up the picture further.

There should be about a 10mph drop off from a 110g ball to a 260g ball.   More and it probably means you don’t throw the heavy ball fast enough and need to get stronger.  Less likely means you don’t bowl the lighter balls fast enough and need to get faster!

You gain about 25mph from momentum of a run up but the length of the run up is probably going to be less important to a static ‘knee-dominant’ bowler as they like more time in contact with the ground to use their muscles to generate force.  An elastic hip dominant bowler will get off the back foot extremely fast and will rely on a fast approach to build up momentum.  Seeing the drop off between the two bowls (one with and one without run up might confirm your observations about their bowling type).

Finally, knee dominant bowlers typically enjoy resisted bowls at 5% and 10% of bodyweight as it gives them even more time to use their muscles, as the resistance slows them down.

I found all these different types of specific assessments fascinating.

 

The Training Exercises

According to Bondarchuk’s exercise classification we have four levels of specificity.  Steffan has put a lot of exercises on social media which focus on the Specific Developmental exercises but first let’s explore the exercise classifications in more detail.

I like to think of the first two categories developing physical abilities and the last two motor skills specific to the competition exercise.

General Preparatory Exercises (GPE)- Exercises to get the body in a general ‘biomechanical efficient’ state based on sound knowledge of kinetics- higher force production and lower speed (so different recruitment systems to competitive exercise).  These exercises are not going to directly help you be more powerful, and may in the short term have a negative transfer to sports skills and technique.  However, it will give the tissues the necessary strain to maintain mobility and tissue aspects.

As Max Schmarzo of Strong by Science says:’ not every exercise needs to be directly related to your goal or KPI.  There should be exercises that are used to support other exercises.”

Kier Wenham-Flatt of Rugby Strength coach adds: ‘chasing bigger squat numbers, even relative to body weight probably did very little to make us faster or more explosive.  But it may have given us the foundation to do the stuff that did- ballistic movements, jumps, plyos, sprints.

Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE)– Exercises which bridge the gap between strength and speed.  These exercises are typically more explosive (replicating time frame of sport) and use the same muscles as the competitive exercise.  In my opinion, this is also the place to be a little bit more specific with the movement pattern, so I’ll use more uni-lateral exercises and power cleans from a hang, for example.

Exercises such as half squat, snatch and power clean, jumps (standing long jump, triple jump, vertical jump) and throwing exercises (throwing a shot put forward and backward) are common place. However, according to extensive research across 7000 athletes Bondachuk says ability in these exercises does NOT to any degree determine the amount of increase in competitive exercises.

Just as with GPE, what you get here is a positive transfer of physical abilities to the competitive exercise.  They serve only in the display of motor potential of an athlete and achievement of a definite level of physical preparation.

However, this is where Isometric training regimes also come into play and I was introduced to Steffan Jone’s Skill-Stability Paradigm.  

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

A movement is only controllable if it can withstand external pertubations (surface of  ground, weight of a ball, and any other unexpected movements) as well as internal pertubations (fatigue).  One of the most important mechanisms for controlling movements and making them robust is the influence of co-contractions in what is known as ‘speed/accuracy trade-off.’

So if you are training for a high speed action such as sprinting or cricket fast bowling then perhaps a dose of isometric training is more suited here.

Steffan talks about technical (skill) interventions.  You need a layered approach, starting with learning the bowling skill and then at the same time removing any obvious structural dysfunctions and building general strength qualities.  All of the things we have talked about so far.  But if you’re observing that a bowler is not able to consistently repeat the positions aka ”attractors” of a skill then certain types of ‘strength exercises’ can bridge the gap to assist with skills learning. The exact intervention depends on whether you have a problem with your hardware or software.

Hardware vs. Software Flaw

Hardware problem- use skill-stability paradigm to overload key positions using isometric work (part kinetic chain) and heavy weighted balls to groove the skill (whole kinetic chain).

Software problem- need repetition, variability of technical drilling and constraints based coaching

Below I will take a look at the isometric progressions as part of the skill-stability paradigm.

 

Skill-Stability Paradigm:

Full disclosure- I still haven’t got the grips with the Stages 2-4 exercises that Steffan uses.  But I do believe the first two stages are part of the Special Development Exercises (SDE).

Stage 1 – isometrics (static)– holding the key bowling positions.  This is a ‘yielding’ isometric held for up to 90-sec.

Stage 2-  isometrics (dynamic)– constraining parts of the action while adding in movement in others.

 

Stage 1 has four levels: isometrics static

Level 1– bodyweight yielding

Level 2– bodyweight yielding with bands or external load such as an aquabag

Level 3– overcoming isometric drop and block (through partner resistance or power rack pin press)

Level 4– functional isometrics with supramaximal weight

Specific Developmental Exercises (SDE)– Exercises which approximate the competition exercise in part, such as a jump with different distance approach run, or variations in the distance run for a sprinter.  For a thrower this would revolve around different weighted implements.

Here you are getting  a positive transfer of motor skills using the variable practice conditions that Frans Bosch was speaking about.  This is where the weighted balls also come in that Steffan was talking about.  However, I believe Steffan regards the weighted balls as a Competitive exercise in his system and instead here uses exercises to develop power and usable strength which are Stage 3 and Stage 4 of his Skill-Stability Paradigm.

Stage 3- ballistic– adding explosive and coordinative aspects to the sequence (locked position MB shot pass throw)

Stage 4- complex– combining all the above methods

 

Competitive Exercise (CE)– the actual event.  In Steffan’s system he would put weighted balls here as part of his ‘arm speed’ programme where heavier (200-300g) balls are bowled with maximum intent to increase bowling speed.

I will perhaps follow this up with some insights into how I have seen isometrics used successfully by Alex Natera in sprinting as I think that’s quite a bit to be getting our heads around.  For now, I hope you found that a useful insight into my visit to PaceLab.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
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Does Periodisation even work?

Part 2- The Bondarchuk principles of Periodisation

Does Periodisation even work? It’s a surprisingly valid question to ask.   As we saw in the last blog Frans Bosch challenges a coaches’ tendency to view adaptations in a predictable linear fashion.  The body’s response to training is unpredictable.  All we have established so far is that periodisation with variation is better than training without variation.

One of the things that caught my attention when I started following Steffan’s PaceLab programme was that he was using a form of Bondarchuk’s Periodisation system.  What makes this unique is the exercise classification system. I highly recommend you read Bondarchuk’s book ‘Transfer of Training in Sports,’  which was translated from Russian by Dr. Michael Yessis.   It can be a bit difficult to understand in parts as the translation to English is not perfect but you can get the main messages.

He describes four categories of exercises you can see in the image above:

  • General Preparatory Exercises (GPE)
  • Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE)
  • Specific Development Exercises (SDE)
  • Competitive Exercise (GPE)

In the final series of this three part blog I will describe some of the exercises Steffan uses in his Pacelab programme for these categories and I will reflect on what sort of exercises we might use for Tennis and Track & Field.

In his book, he sets the scene by saying that there are means and methods of developing physical abilities, and ways of learning and mastering technical skills but really what matters is training transfer- does the training ‘transfer to improved sports results in the competitive event?’

Peak physical condition is described as a state of ‘sports form’, in the exercises (events) in which they are involved. According to Bondarchuk there are three main theories of transfer- general, specific and holistic.

Are you are Generalist, Specialist or a Holistic Coach?

Generalists– place high value on building a (physical) base.

Potentially (depending on who you speak to) they don’t believe that simultaneously introducing technique work into the training process develops the physical abilities together with improvements of technique.  You have to build fitness first and then technique.

It’s about harmonious, all-round development of the athlete and the general level of the body’s Functional capabilities.   The typically lower intensity, higher volume general work creates the prerequisites for increasing sports achievements in the specialised area later on.

 

To my mind you are prioritising ‘physical normalisation,’ not achievement of high sports results.  There is nothing wrong in my opinion, with the goal of all round development of the physical capabilities of the body for low level athletes.   In fact it is well known that in low level athletes this foundation work will actually transfer to high velocity sport specific tasks.  However, with high level athletes they will have already achieved physical normalisation and the transfer of training to the competitive exercises can take place only with specific preparation exercises.

Specialists– place high value on those exercises where there is some kind of concurrence (identicalness) of elements.

There are some coaches that favour a focus on specific exercises all year round but in my experience most coaches still use a number of general exercises too.  In my opinion, when you are working with a low level athlete you use a certain number of general and specific exercises in the general preparation block (say 3:1 as a ratio of time spent general to specific) which later changes in favour of specific exercises in the specific preparation block.

However, with elite level speed-strength athletes we need to be smart to avoid unnecessary development of muscle groups that might have a negative effect on the competitive exercise, so timing is key and increasingly general exercises will only be used for warm ups/accessory strength work and during the time of using restorative measures.

Holistics– believe the body appears as a single unit and internal or external action affects all of it’s systems to a certain degree.  It follows that development of a single ability cannot take place without the involvement of others.

It might also be suggested that because of this knock on effect, holistics believe that one form of training which let’s say increases the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system should therefore also cause corresponding adaptational changes to the neuromuscular system.  Certainly Frans Bosch makes the argument that you can’t separate coordination from strength but perhaps my example of the cardiovascular and nervous system is an extreme example!

Whatever your belief we all agree that a periodised plan with variation is better than training without variation- so how do you go about putting the plan together?

Periodisation Models

Linear (Block)

I was taught in University about Linear or block periodisation, where the idea is that you build a foundation (or pre-requisites) of more general physical qualities.  You are laying down a foundation for the more specific work. I was taught it takes around 12-15 weeks to achieve sports form and in this time you might move from general to specific to competitive exercises.

The trouble is, if you change the nature of exercises within a short period of time this leads to an ‘unfinished’ base.  In reality, ALL forms of training need 12-15 weeks to achieve their peak level, the ones that are most closely associated with the competitive event are said to be at their ‘sport form’ by the end of this period.

Not only can you not enter sport form if you move on to another type of training after 3-4 weeks but it prevents the transfer of training.  It would be possible to ignore this IF the general functional levels achieved in general exercises were maintained while the athlete was still achieving corresponding increases in their physical preparation in specific training means.  However, if you move from a block of general work to a block of specific work the general fitness will decreases long before you get to sports form in the specific exercises.

Even if you had the luxury of a long preparation phase of several months the base might be finished but it would still fall down if the general work isn’t maintained.

What use would a pyramid be if the building blocks at the bottom would not remain but instead would slowly erode like sand?

Any progressive linear model assumes the foundation building blocks are going to remain- but in reality they will detrain if you follow a classic linear model.

Concurrent (Conjugated/Complex)

In more recent times the conjugated method seems to work best.

 

Rather than totally exclude general preparation means for the duration of the specific (specialised )training blocks, we should keep the general exercises in throughout but use them with significantly less volume.

In the schematic above it looks like the amount of training time devoted to the four exercise classifications is equal (based on the size of the rectangles) but in practice it will vary according to the athletes needs.  We will get into the exact type of exercises for each category in the final blog (Part 3) but for now I would say that the focus is going to be based on one of three main goals:

  1. Increase Maximal Strength
  2. Increase Coordination Strength
  3. Increase Rate of Force Development (Early or Late RFD)

 

Increase Maximal Strength

Physiological Adaptation- Load capacity

We are challenged to review our thinking which bases strength training on the qualities in the contractile parts of the muscle associated with force production.  Instead, also appreciate that neuromuscular factors linked to coordination have a role to play in regulation of force production.  What truly limits maximal force production ”during athletic movements?”

I’m starting to appreciate that maximal strength training is designed to increase your potential (physiologically), not your performance.  Strength training can aid in your sports training but the increase in muscular contractile capabilities that may aid in ability to produce force at higher velocities will diminish as the training level of the athlete increases.  Ultimately it comes down to how much force you can access during the time frame of your sporting movement.

However, for low level athletes I believe it is important to reach a critical mass level of strength in order to ‘normalise the physical capabilities of the body’ in a general sense.

So what do you do when you reach a critical mass level of strength?  Focus on Rate of Force Development and/or Coordination Strength.

 

Increase Coordination strength

Motor learning Adaptation- Motor capacity

Sport-specific strength training means coordination training against resistance.  Approaching sport-specific strength training from a purely physiological angle disregards the way in which the ‘learning system’ organises movements and transfers between them.  The most difficult choices coaches have to make are in the grey area between strength training and technique training.  Ultimately as a coach you have to decide if the root cause of the problem is with ability to produce enough force (increase resistance) or technique (reduce resistance).

In technically somewhat complex sports, increased force production does not automatically lead to improved performance.  The more speed, the more noise or ‘variability’, the more co-contractions, the more the speed of movement will be inhibited.  So the movement will be limited by coordination issues before the load capacity is reached.  The joint is protected by the mechanical properties of the muscles, but at the expense of speed movement.

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

The idea of training with lower resistance and somewhat less predictable external forces is important not only in sport specific training but also in rehabilitation.  Being able to cope with unexpected external forces may be more important when relearning how to function in every day life than learning to cope with large external forces that can be easily estimated.

Higher parts of the system ensure ‘general’ more abstract rules of the movement, while ‘specific’ muscle actions and ranges of motion tend to develop from self-organisation of the musculoskeletal system.  This capacity for self-organization is used to prevent at risk positions

 

Increase Rate of Force Development

Sports that require early RFD- high speed events (elastic strength)

Now, most rapidly performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  The muscle can use its elastic components IF the force does not exceed the maximal isometric force in the contractile elements (CE).

You want to limit the eccentric action of muscle fibres.  Any lengthening that occurs is mainly due to slack muscle becoming taut.  What this means for training of high speed movements such as sprinting and single leg hop with a run up is that counter movements should be avoided.

To train the muscles to limit eccentric force you need to train them to produce isometric force using cocontractions.

 

Sports that require late RFD-high power events (stretch-shortening cycle)

Now, most explosively performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  If the forces are applied over a long enough period such as in braking when changing direction or when gathering forces using a counter movement then use of the stretch-shortening cycle will be the focus of this training.  This uses the eccentric-concentric muscle contraction that takes place during fast muscle actions.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

What can Tennis learn from Fast Bowlers?

On the 16th and 17th July I went down to Wellington School, Wellington, Somerset to attend the first two days of Steffan Jone’s Pacelab training camp for a group of fast bowlers. For those of you who haven’t been following my tweets and posts on social media I have been taking the time recently to get to grips with some motor learning theories that at first glance fly in the face of established principles of strength training based on Newtonian laws.

My original intention was to summarise my trip and give some insights into what I learnt and how I can apply that to the APA Training method and Tennis. But there was just so much information to digest and much of it hung on my understanding of some of the motor learning principles pioneered by Frans Bosch and Periodisation concepts of Anatoliy Bondarchuk.  So I thought I would do a three part series on this, and having established the theory, do a round-up of my trip.

  • Part 1- Strength Training and Coordination- Frans Bosch
  • Part 2- The Bondarchuk principles of Periodisation
  • Part 3- Putting it all together- my visit to Pacelab

 

Part 1 Strength Training and Coordination- Frans Bosch

This book is one of about 30 books that stay on my book shelf, ready to be re-read again and again.  It isn’t a easy read, definitely more on the advanced end of sport science principles.  It reminds me of ”Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches” which is another of my favourites.  Every time you read it, you learn something new.

In the interests of not making this blog too long (if you’re really interested in the topic you’ll buy the book yourself!) I want to summarise my take away learnings from the first four chapters.  For me, these first four chapters set the theoretical underpinning for the remaining three chapters to give practical examples of overload, specificity and sport-specific training examples.

The introduction criticizes our tendency to compartmentalise the trainable aspects of the body into basic motor properties of strength, speed, agility, stamina and coordination.  The book sets out to demonstrate that this is not so, and that the basic motor properties can hardly exist in isolation.  Strength and coordination are thus closely related, and should in fact be treated as a single unit.

Sport-specific strength training means coordination training against resistance

I had to chuckle because the very back bone of the APA Training Method is the 5 S’s of Biomotor Ability.  However, I know that I am consciously simplifying the complexity of the body, in order to create a starting point for a common language.  I am not suggesting that physiological systems operate in isolation.

1 The basic concepts of strength and speed

Frans challenges coaches tendency to view adaptations in a predictable linear fashion.  But the body’s response to training is unpredictable.  All we have established so far is that periodisation with variation is better than training without variation.  We get our first introduction to the term ‘dynamic systems‘ which refers to the overall structure of complex systems and its implications for how the body behaves.  When we move in sport, adjustments to movement have to be made in milliseconds and these fluctuations are self-organizing.

We are introduced to the concept of decentralised factors which cannot be readily controlled by central nervous system (CNS) and we need to ‘plan’ for a degree of ‘noise’ in the system which won’t be accounted for with a linear understanding of the adaptation to stress.

This means there are no fairly rigid motor programmes stored in the brain, but that movement is composed on the basis of flexible sets of movement rules that are generally applicable and can filter and shape incidental adjustment to the demands of the environment.  I always thought of fundamental movement skills and sport skills being a kin to uploading some new software onto your computer (brain) and you can access the relevant software to run the sport or task required.  This gives further insight into the way the brain remembers movement through movement ‘rules.’

This also calls into question the need to seek movement perfection seen in physical therapy, golf, and martial arts to name but a few.

The precisely taught lifting technique will NOT be remembered, if only because the objects that are lifted in every day life all differ in shape and weight.  Stable yet flexible movement patterns do not develop by learning techniques precisely, but through self-organization from complexity.

In terms of movement coaching, a whole-part-whole approach is encouraged.  The whole part guarantees a combination of sensorimotor factors that is relevant to the sporting movement.  Part practice will occasionally be required to ensure progression.  Out of interest, whole implies a tactical context so when a coach feeds controlled balls so the player can alternate practising forehands and backhands, this is a type of part practice!

Furthermore, approaching sport-specific strength training from a purely physiological angle disregards the way in which the ‘learning system’ organises movements and transfers between them.  The most difficult choices coaches have to make are in the grey area between strength training and technique training.  Ultimately as a coach you have to decide if the root cause of the problem is with ability to produce enough force (increase resistance) or technique (reduce resistance)

 

2 Anatomy and limiting influences on force production

I will spare you an Anatomy & Physiology lesson.  In essence we are challenged to review our thinking which bases strength training on the qualities in the contractile parts of the muscle associated with force production.  Instead, also appreciate that neuromuscular factors linked to coordination have a role to play in regulation of force production.  What truly limits maximal force production ”during athletic movements?”

For me the context of the actual sporting movement is finally starting to come home.  I’m starting to appreciate that maximal strength training is designed to increase your potential (physiologically), not your performance.  Strength training can aid in your sports training but the increase in muscular contractile capabilities that may aid in ability to produce force at higher velocities will diminish as the training level of the athlete increases.  Ultimately it comes down to how much force you can access during the time frame of your sporting movement.

There was a good summary of the Force-Velocity relationship indicating that a muscle fibre is not able to produce high force and shorten rapidly at the same time.  We also got to see that different types of muscles favour high force (gluteus maximus) or high velocity (rectus femoris) contractions or both (gastrocnemius).

For me the big take away was in the fantastic description of elastic properties of muscle and the concept of ‘muscle slack.’  For a comprehensive discussion on this topic check out Strong by Science blog Muscle Slack and High Velocity Training: An Integrative Approach and Muscle Slack, which are both well worth a read.

The elastic components of muscle known as serial elastic component (SEC) act as:

  • shock absorbers– resisting opposing external forces
  • energy storers– storing energy of opposing forces during elastic stretch

Now, most rapidly performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  The muscle can use its elastic components IF the force does not exceed the maximal isometric force in the contractile elements (CE).

Critical to this is the understanding that elastic muscle use is different from concentric explosive muscle use (speed skater push off, swimmer block start etc) or the commonly referred to stretch shortening cycle (SSC) which features an eccentric-concentric action.  High speed movements such as throwing, sprinting and jumping from a run up use an elastic muscle action, with muscle fibres acting isometrically and the musculo-tendinous units lengthen and shorten stretching the elastic parts.

Furthermore, if the change in knee angle in the stance phase of a jump exceeds 20-25 degrees there is little opportunity for short contact time and elastic muscle action, so amplitude of jump is a key determining factor in the underlying muscle action taking place.  Athletes are often unable to limit the range of the countermovement sufficiently because they lack the necessary mastery (and strength in my opinion) of the pretension technique.

I always just assumed that the bigger the range of the movement, the more effective the following muscle action would be, like firing an elastic band analogy (above).  However, where we get lost is that we often look at sports performance through the height of a jump as a measure of explosive power.  It is true that the counter movement jump (CMJ) will enable someone to jump higher than a squat jump.  But the higher movement velocity from the CMJ is the product of a longer movement time (ground contact time) and ”unnaturally” aided pretensioning and muscle slack reduction (unnatural because in sport there isn’t enough time for larger counter movements) which means early rate of force development (RFD) and reduction in muscle slack are not being trained.

You want to limit the eccentric action of muscle fibres.  Any lengthening that occurs is mainly due to slack muscle becoming taut.  What this means for training of high speed movements such as sprinting and single leg hop with a run up is that counter movements should be avoided.

The final section looked at neuromuscular function and in particular the size principle.  This means that the order of the recruitment depends on the size of the stimuli emitted by the central nervous system. We get stronger because we recruit more motor units (more of the larger FT fibres) through stronger and more frequent signals to the muscles, and later through improved synchronisation of the fibres.  So initially the idea in training is to progressively lift heavier weights in order to maximise the physiological potential of the FT fibres.

The idea of training with lower resistance and somewhat less predictable external forces is important not only in sport specific training but also in rehabilitation.  Being able to cope with unexpected external forces may be more important when relearning how to function in every day life than learning to cope with large external forces that can be easily estimated.

 

3 Analysing the sporting movement

The focus of this chapter was Dynamic Systems theory and the concept of attractors and fluctuators.  I said earlier that I always thought of fundamental movement skills and sport skills being a kin to uploading some new software onto your computer (brain) and you can access the relevant software to run the sport or task required.

The idea of having to improvise a movement and adapt it to the constantly changing demands of the environment does NOT mean that ALL of the components of the movement are constantly adapted.  Instead some are adapted and others remain unchanged

Effective movement is then a matter of changing the right components in response to the demands of the environment while leaving others alone.  According to the dynamic systems theory, the essence of motor control is more or less automatic elimination of superfluous alternatives or degrees of freedom.

  • Stable economical components of movement are referred to as ‘attractors
  • Unstable, high energy ones as ‘fluctuators

 

The fluctuators are needed in order to adapt the movement to the shifting demands of the ever-changing environment in which the athlete is moving.  When you learn a new movement, use is made of fixed components (attractors) of movements from other, already known movement patterns.  This is useful because it limits the degrees of freedom (the endless possibilities of movement solutions).

According to Bosch, this division into stable and unstable components cannot possibly develop from hierarchical top-down organization of the CNS.  Higher parts of the system ensure ‘general’ more abstract rules of the movement, while ‘specific’ muscle actions and ranges of motion tend to develop from self-organisation of the musculoskeletal system.  This capacity for self-organization is used to prevent at risk positions.

Bosch examines eight attractors of sport

  1. Lock position of the hip
  2. Swing leg traction
  3. Foot plant from above
  4. Positive running motion
  5. Keeping the head still
  6. Upper body first
  7. Extending the trunk while rotating
  8. Distributing pressure when decelerating

 

4. Fixed principles of training: contextual strength and coordination

In this chapter we learn about the importance of co-contractions to reduce muscle slack and we also look in detail at the laws of motor learning.  This whole chapter sets the scene for variation as a main means of training overload.

This chapter gets to the core of the issue- divergent theories about the relative importance of physiological adaptation (load capacity) versus motor learning adaptation (motor control).

It’s discussed whether maximal strength is a possible performance-limiting factor? If it was, Bosch argues, we would all work on making our muscles stronger, make passive structures more able to absorb more tensile forces, and the strongest athletes would always be the fastest athletes.  But this isn’t the case.

In technically somewhat complex sports, increased force production does not automatically lead to improved performance.

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

A movement is only controllable if it can withstand external pertubations (surface of  ground, weight of a ball, and any other unexpected movements) as well as internal pertubations (fatigue).  One of the most important mechanisms for controlling movements and making them robust is the influence of co-contractions in what is known as ‘speed/accuracy trade-off.’

The more speed, the more noise or ‘variability’, the more co-contractions, the more the speed of movement will be inhibited.  So the movement will be limited by coordination issues before the load capacity is reached.  The joint is protected by the mechanical properties of the muscles, but at the expense of speed movement.

In conclusion, the limit on performance in explosive movements is probably determined by the demands that motor control makes on intensive movements.

The second part of the chapter focused on the laws of motor learning

  • Cognitive schema theory– all information about how to execute a movement is generated by the CNS
  • Importance of Knowledge of Results (KR) feedback in terms of intention-action model
  • Importance of Variable learning

The problem with many strength exercises is that they lack a clear intention.  Children learn by copying an adult’s intention.  The body does not think in terms of processes, but in terms of the results of the movements.  If attention is focused outside the body on features related to the movement, the movement and motor learning processes will be controlled more effectively.

 

 

It is really important to look for KR feedback in practical coaching so that it can replace over-dominant KP feedback.  The KP would be instruction from a coach on correct technical performance, and KR would simply be using a tape measure to record how far the discus was thrown.  The KR feedback leads to external focus, which is a good thing.  This doesn’t mean that coaches no longer have any part to play, but that they should be gardeners rather than conductors!

Gardeners do not decide when or how fast plants should grow-when the next step should be taken in the learning process- but simply hoe and fertilize.  Create a learning environment with movement puzzles to solve and let them implicitly learn to recognize a biomechanically optimal solution.

The final topic discussed was the role of motivation.  Repetition has not only the advantage of imprinting a movement, but also the disadvantage of reducing motivation.  Sensorimotor ‘chaos’ is the basis for learning.  Variation in the execution of the movement in unfamiliar settings creates chaos- which is a good thing for learning.

More than anything the most compelling reason why periodisation models work is because periodisation lads to variation in training!

The learning system usually finds strength training monotonous and boring!  It also impairs coordinative transfer.  Perhaps one of the reasons we hit a learning ceiling is because training is too monotonous. But just as there is a point of diminished returns with strength training (Load capacity) there is also a limit to the value of variation.

When working with youths variation helps athletes develop the building blocks of movement control.  Spend a few years building up a good catalogue of basic components through variable training.  Only then does it make sense to start using larger barbell weights.

For example see below for some progressions in a step-up:

  1. Asymmetrically balanced bar on shoulders
  2. Vary the step up height
  3. Vary movement of the free (swing) leg
  4. Vary horizontal movement- placing more load on hamstrings
  5. Combine step up with torsion in the upper body

 

Repetition without repetition (Bernstein)

Differential learning and Random learning are the two forms of variable learning.

  • Differential learning– learn by frequently alternating many variants of one movement in one session
  • Random learning– learn by frequently alternating many different movement patterns in one session

 

The effects of learning the ideal technique and differential learning are different.  Learning the ideal technique will yield faster results- but this is deceptive, for the effect is usually temporary.  Not only is the solution quickly forgotten, but it can’t be easily transferred to other sporting movements.  In differential learning the immediate results (practice results) are not so good, but the eventual impact on the sporting movement turns out to be better and more lasting (the learning result).

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

 

 

 

APA are recruiting!!

This year Athletic Performance Academy (APA) have exciting partnerships with a number of fantastic organisations.  We are looking for inspirational, honest, professional and courageous strength & conditioning coaches to join our team.

Part-time Paid roles:

We are recruiting part-time strength & conditioning coaches at the following venues.

 

 

Gosling Tennis Academy

Details: Welwyn Garden City, UK

Week day evenings, starting September 2018

 

Legends Tennis Academy

Details: Hertford, UK

Week day evenings, starting September 2018

 

New Hall School

Details: Chelmsford, UK

Lunch times and evenings, starting September 2018

 

Remuneration for all the roles is £10-17 per hour based on experience.

 

Essential criteria for this role to include:

  • Passion for performance sports and coaching
  • Level 2 Gym instructor qualification (or equivalent)
  • Experience in the provision of strength and conditioning support to young athletes

 

Desirable criteria for this role to include:

  • Currently enrolled or recently graduated from an S&C BSc
  • Desire to work toward UKSCA professional accreditation
  • LTA recognised Tennis Coach Qualification

 

PLEASE SPECIFY IN YOUR APPLICATION YOUR PREFERRED SITE, ALTHOUGH YOU CAN BE CONSIDERED FOR WORK AT ALL

 

YOU MAY APPLY VIA Email: daz@apacoaching.co.uk              Please quote ref: APA.01

PLEASE INCLUDE: CV AND RELEVANT CONTACT DETAILS.       Closing date: 22nd July

Interviews will be held week commencing the Monday 30th July  2018 at Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, Herts. If you are successful at interview, you will be required to start work on the 3rd September

 

Internship role:

We are also looking for coaches wishing to gain experience in a high performance environment who are passionate about working in youth sport.  There is an opportunity to experience a range of environments that APA are operating in.

In addition to the above sites we also run strength & conditioning programmes at:

 

 

We need coaches who can volunteer 5-10 hours per week of their time.

This may lead to paid opportunities to cover our coaches as required and also do private coaching of your own as demand grows.

Opportunities to shadow/assist in sessions involving developmental all the way to elite professional athletes

  • Access to Coaching syllabus and additional resources to use during programme hours
  • Access to Coach mentoring including help to prepare for UKSCA accreditation if appropriate
  • Discounts on APA workshops and qualifications
  • Access to potential work at other clubs in the APA organization

 

PLEASE SPECIFY IN YOUR APPLICATION YOUR PREFERRED SITE, ALTHOUGH YOU CAN BE CONSIDERED FOR WORK AT ALL

 

YOU MAY APPLY VIA Email: daz@apacoaching.co.uk               Please quote ref: APA.01

PLEASE INCLUDE: CV AND RELEVANT CONTACT DETAILS.       Closing date: 22nd July

Interviews will be held week commencing the Monday 30th July 2018 at Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, Herts. If you are successful at interview, you will be required to start work on the 3rd September

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

 

LTA National Coaches Conference 2018 Review

Last weekend I attended my first LTA National Coaches conference. I have been working in Tennis since 2003 but have never been before.  The conference is for tennis coaches and since I’m not a licensed Tennis coach I don’t get invited.  This year I was asked if APA wanted to have a stand at the exhibitors area but I thought it would be more fun to be a delegate!

I really enjoyed it and there was a good mix of technical-tactical-mental-physical based themes so something for everyone. Sunday was a bit more focused on Tennis with Louis Cayer presenting on the British Tennis Doubles system and Julie Blackwood presenting on Sport Psychology for Tennis.  Simon Timson (LTA Performance Director) also presented on the LTA Player Pathway and the Performance Strategy, which has the objective of ”making GB one of the most respected tennis nations in the world for player development.”

Saturday had a bit more of a physical theme with Mark Kovacs and Ruben Neyens so I thought I’d summarise those.

 

Saturday 30th June

Mark Kovacs- Tennis Serve and Injury Prevention

Kovacs Institute and ITPA Executive Director

Mark took us through his 8 stage serving model and common faults and solutions.

The most common incorrect coaching cue is:

  • bend your knees more
  • push your hips forward over the baseline

In order to increase your serve velocity rather than focusing on these cues ask your players to load your back foot more.  Back foot loading and the ‘twist rotation‘, according to Mark, is the key to a fast and efficient serve.

He also took us through some injury prevention ideas for the hips and shoulder that can be done during warm-ups.  The main elements are:

=>hip stability and hip mobility

=>shoulder stability (scapular motion and rotator cuff function) and shoulder mobility

=>wrist/forearm

In the practical we went through some band walks for hip stability (see below). Mark said the closer the band is to the hips the easier the exercise- the closer to the ankle the more difficult.

We did some shoulder band work looking at band external rotations with elbows tucked against side of body and thumbs up (see below), as well as the 90-90 variation with elbow in line with shoulder.  We finished with a Y raise with band attached to net.  For shoulder mobility we looked at the side lying sleeper stretch as well as the standing version, where you place the back of your fingers against your lower back while you gently pull the arm forward with the the other hand by grabbing it from the tricep.

Mark also showed an example of a seated rotation exercise to improve thoracic rotation.  I had seen Sue Falsone show this at a coach education day with Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning but have never used it myself. You sit on the floor cross-legged with your hand up in a ‘don’t shoot’ pose on the side of your head.  Then rotate to one side, hold it for a moment, then perform a side bend.

The idea is that the side bend make use of the contract-relax technique.  When you side bend you contract the opposite muscle (obliques) which at the same time relaxes the latissimus muscles and trunk rotators on the other side.

A few coaches also asked how to improve posture of their players as they tend to slouch and have rounded backs.  Mark showed a standing version of the wall slide- it’s easier to do it seated against a wall as it allows you to tuck your pelvis into a posterior tilt so you can’t cheat by arching your lower back.  By bending the legs it makes it even easier to lock the pelvis into position.

 

 

Overall it was a good lesson for me in terms of what tennis coaches want to see, some take away exercises that don’t need too much equipment or expertise that they can confidently incorporate into the physical warm-ups.

Ruben Neyens- Kids Tennis Blue

Flemish Tennis Federation 12u Physical Trainer

If you have seen the last few blogs you will know that APA hosted a Speed Workshop in June with Ruben as one of the keynotes.  Today was interesting because he was able to show case the other aspect of his role, with his work with the ‘Tennis Blue’ programme.  This work focuses on children between 4 and 6 years old, which is the stage before the well established mini tennis pathway Red (8-under), Orange (9-under) and Green (10-under).

Ruben spoke about the training philosophy and how to develop skills of sending, receiving and sending/receiving combined.

Ruben stressed the need to create a performance playground, a really fun space that uses equipment to stimulate the children’s imagination and excitement.  We want the children to be asking Mummy and Daddy, ”when do we go to Tennis again?”

He was in favour of giving them progressively more difficult tennis puzzles to solve, which mirrors his ideas on physical development.  He also wants to promote interaction between the children.  Much of tennis is about the coach working with the child, but its also really important to get the children working together in pairs and small groups.

He said it is easier to send the ball rolling it along the floor with a racket, and then hit it with a bounce, and then with no bounce (volley).  It’s also easier to receive larger balls such as balloons and beach balls etc and have fun ways to receive them such as hoops with nets, and big trousers that the children wear. So to give children confidence start with challenges where the children roll the ball to each other.

One of the delegates said that coaches feel under pressure from parents that the children need to be hitting balls over a net.  Ruben said that if you really wanted to- to settle parents- you could easily put a net in front of many of the challenges that Ruben had created, but that kind of misses the point.

Ruben had created challenges which require you to send different types of balls into different types of targets which are different distances and heights away.  Having a tennis net and sponge ball (in my opinion) limits the possibility to explore tennis in a fun environment.

The biggest constraint is that you need lots of equipment and indoor space. He said it’s well worth investing in the equipment because it creates a fantastic space that children will want to ‘play’ in and parents will tell other parents about.  As far as it needing to be indoors, Ruben said that in Belgium all the Blue and Red programme has to be indoors.  But for these ages you don’t need tennis courts.  In fact sports halls in schools and leisure centres are perfect because often they have more of the equipment you need to run these kind of sessions.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

 

Guest Blog Post with Johnny Parks- COACH THE BEST TO BE BETTER

This week’s Blog is a guest blog from Johnny Parkes, Manager of Player ID and Development

I met Johnny while he was studying a Masters degree in the UK in 2012 and was coaching out of Gosling Tennis Academy as a consultant tennis coach.  We stayed in touch after he went to the states in 2015 and he now has a fantastic role with the USTA focusing on all facets of Player Development from 10 and Under to the professional game.

As part of his role Team USA offers support to US juniors through supplemental training opportunities via camps around the country and trainings at the USTA National Campus. Johnny was recently able to attend the GAIN Network, set up by an iconic Strength & Conditioning coach Vern Gambetta.  It’s something I have thought about doing before as a great form of professional development and opportunity to connect with the GAIN network.

Its $2000 to attend the four days the first time you go and then $900 every time after or $300 to access the network site if you don’t go.  Here what Johnny had to say below!

GAIN NETWORK 2018

Rice University in Houston Texas was the location of this year’s GAIN Network brought to us by Vern Gambetta, a world renowned athletic development coach. In its 11th year, GAIN brings together Strength and Conditioning/Athletic Development Coaches, sports coaches and sports medicine professionals into one location for high level collaborative professional development. Going into the program I didn’t know what to expect from the packed 4 days. Our Director of Athletic Medicine at the USTA National Campus and good friends with Vern had recommended me for the program. I was excited to dive into an area that I have ingrained as part of my personal philosophy developing tennis players and being exposed to this side of the development spectrum was going to be exciting.

The agenda was packed starting off at 6:30am and finishing around 8pm (10pm if you’re counting the interactions with other attendees and faculty staff). So rather than go through every presentation I will take you through some that stood out as it pertained the world I am involved with in tennis.

1. Theme of the Week:

We started Tuesday evening with Coach Gambetta setting up the theme for the week “Connecting the Dots – Getting back to basics”. Networking was the unsung hero of the week, where you got to connect with professionals from all walks of life from all over the world. This in itself is where a lot of the learning and sharing was done over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 

2. Morning Madness:

Each morning started off at 6:30am at the Track and Field facility with “Morning Madness”. This was three 20 minute stations presented by faculty coaches of the GAIN network.

“Educational Gymnastics” – James Marshall from Devon, UK delivered a session on the basics of human movement, rolling, jumping, blancing, which made you feel like an excited 10 year who couldn’t wait to get out of math class to get to PE.

“Sticks and straps” by Steve Myrland was a personal favorite due to the shoulder stability/mobility related to overhead athletes. It was fun and collaborative focusing on internal and external resistant exercises using only sticks and straps with push-pull motions in certain stances. Something I will be applying with athletes as it beats the standard band work most tennis players are bored with and perform with poor quality.

“Locomotor patterns” and “Reaction based games” by Greg Thompson delivered two purposeful game based warm-ups going through many different movement patterns in teams. It highlighted the FUNdamentals in a fun dynamic environment.

Sprint mechanics was emphasized in both class room and on the track. Coach Jim Radcliffe from the University of Oregon presented two sessions he calls “the rehearsal” with his athletes in the “Oregon warm-up” and “Plyo Progressions”. His ability to teach without saying many words and letting you work through the exercise was a great quality, and I took this as a lesson in how to take something complex and the danger of over coaching can exist and simplify it for students.

The rest of the morning sessions were rounded up by UK’s Nick Hill and Gold Medal Fiji’s Rugby 7’s coach Naca Cawanibuka on “Robust Running”, Nick Garcia and Dan Noble on dumbbell complexes. Nick also presented his periodization plan with his football athletes, which was well thought out and detailed. I really liked the concepts he presented, but tough to apply in tennis with no real defined seasons especially in the junior world.

All morning sessions can be incorporated with tennis athletes especially juniors. The generalized athletic movements are a pre-requisite to reaching the top of the game now and in the futre and must start early in the child’s development, but as I look at how to impact our athletes, the need to be combine this early on with tennis specific movement patterns on the court is essential.

3. Workshops:

The day was then scheduled with two morning presentations followed by lunch. After lunch interactive hands-on workshops broke up the day. These sessions were 1. “The Tensegrity model and how it changes the concept of stretching” emphasized the importance of extension. 2. “Balance and it’s Permutations” with Grace Golden was another favorite of mine as it allowed for creativity in team based environment. 3. A PCA and return to competition assessment took us through some exercises that we can do with our athletes to understand their instabilities and weaknesses which can inhibit their ability to perform certain movement. An example being an athlete has poor dorsiflexion of the ankles, which I see a lot in juniors, could be due to the ankle joint or down to tight calves, but this may affect their ability to squat or to get into a viable ready position with ease, thus then affecting their ability to accelerate. It truly is inter-connected.

The workshops were followed by two more presentations and finishing up with more discussion after dinner. In the interest of time, I will go over some of my favorite sessions.

4. SPEED:

Coach Jim Radcliffe, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Oregon presented two great movement madness sessions as mentioned above, he also delivered two stand-out presentations. One titled “Orientating your compass – Finding True North” brought you back to the essence of coaching which is teaching and educating first, an art that is slowly becoming extinct. We have to teach the athletes to learn the concepts, not just the drills; this was the presentation that set-up the mindset that is a pre-requisite to becoming a master coach.

His second “Robust Running”, centered on the development of running mechanics and technique via the hip in creating movement efficiency negotiating the ground. The piston position was emphasized and demonstrated which followed up with examples of exercises that promote the correct technique and hip mobility and projection.

Peter Weyand, a professor at SMU presented on “Science for Speed” creating an understanding that developing speed isn’t based around leg speed it’s based on improving peak ground force reaction and contact using three inputs, 1. Contact time, 2. Aerial time and 3. Ankle motion.

5. “Rehab and Return to Play”:

Grace Golden out of Colorado had a refreshing holistic approach presenting what the athlete CAN DO on their journey to returning to play. Fundamentals before sport specific and her progressions through the planes of motion in getting her athletes back to full health ready to train and compete. I was a huge fan of Grace’s workshop. She had a variety of equipment from balls, sticks bands, dodgeballs, gym balls etc. The idea was to take us through the planes of motions while stressing our creativity by giving us parameters and then the freedom to come up with our own exercises. It was a very clever way to engage us in her approach. The first centered on the frontal plane then the sagittal plane, the parameters was it had to be a balance exercise involving a push pull. We got together in groups and it really sprouted some great exercises from the groups. Made me think this would actually be a great idea to do with the athletes in expanding their thought processes and promoting creativity

6. “Endurance for What?”:

Coach Magness stressed the importance of developing the capacity needed for the demands of the sport, develop the awareness that it is about the athlete not the system and it’s about people and not numbers. Another example of getting to the core of being flexible with each athlete understanding that their needs may be different. This message particularly hit home being in tennis as you have athletes operating in different energy systems, all at different stages in their development and of course there is game style to take into account. It truly is an art to figure out how to help each individual maximize their bodies so they can compete at the highest level their bodies allow.

7. “LTAD – Sense or Nonsense?”

I was excited by the title of this presentation. The USOC recently came out with their “American Development Model – ADM”, to create a drummed down version of LTAD models that have had 7 stages or 10 pillars or whatever complex system the research has come up with. It left me feeling that year maybe the information makes sense but the way its presented makes absolutely no sense to coaches that are actually out there living it each day.

James Marshall whose background with athletes of different sports, NGB’s and now inspiring many kids at his own gym in Devon, UK was very well-versed in this area. He made comparisons to LTAD models and what is actually delivered provided an insight of making sure we don’t get away from what is most important, which is providing opportunities for our children to explore for themselves. LTAD models are too complex fictional and no possible way to execute. I agreed with all of his experiences and observations as he took us into the day in the life of his son, which showed us the many opportunities he had to free play, some facilitated by James, but a lot was through the natural environment. He simply put the question back to us, how do you measure that in your LTAD models? Free play is dying due to cultural factors, government policies with regards to P.E. as well as many factors deter our youth away from daily exploration of what their bodies can do athletically. With Generation Z, the iGen generation coming through, they will be the first generation that is grown up in a technological world. We must find ways to inspire free-play and let kids be kids.

8. A High Performing Culture:

I needed the tissues for Dan Noble’s story from the Hill Academy in Canada with a powerful journey through his development as a person and coach. Tragedy and strong cultural values drives an environment to come together to inspire greatness into groups of athletes and human beings. He implements daily journal time, free thinking and reflection, free play, where he showed us a video of his kids coming up with obstacle courses to go through in between classes, stressing the importance that it’s ok to fail. When it all comes down to it, the culture will create the environment, and he has certainly done an amazing job of that.

We finished up on a great open discussion on “Integrated Performance Teams and Scope of Practice” stressing the importance of communication across multiple fields which are becoming increasingly segmented due to specialty within specialty fields. In order to provide and plan in the best interests of the player, the sports coach who leads the athlete, the S and C / Athletic Development Coach / Sports Medicine and Nutrition all need to come together as one. We need to eradicate phrases such as “staying in my lane”, and do whatever it takes in the best interest of the person/athlete.

9. Conclusion:

There were many other great presenters that I could talk about. Overall, I was taken back by the level of detail and quality of the presenters and my fellow attendees. The coaches were very knowledgeable, highly experienced individuals. A lot of the learning took place in connecting with other attendees, understanding their sport and challenges and how they overcome those challenges to deliver their programs.

I took a lot away as predominantly a tennis coach who has a strong passion for athletic development and the art of movement within our sport. I firmly believe we have to specialize in generalizing but we must also have a very strong grasp on movement patterns and how to be as efficient as possible in those movements within tennis and to be able to do it with grace and ease. This has to be taught, trained and coached from an early age if a tennis playing athlete is going to reach their full potential. The skill as a coach working with the tennis athlete is balancing out the times where we can focus on the overall athleticism with the times we need to specialize with efficient movement patterns.

Vern closed us out with “The Champions Choice” posing the question to us as coaches “Do we make the champions choice in our coaching and with our athletes”, do we help the athletes understand and recognize what the champions choice is and what it means? The qualities of a great coach are being able to lead by example but unlock the potential of an athlete by the relationships we build with them and the quality work we put into their development.

It was reassuring and enlightening, overwhelming but simple, creative and collaborative. I have no doubt that I would go again year after year for my dose of professional development as Vern continues his quest to COACH THE BEST TO BE BETTER.

Contact Johnny at:

Instagram:
@johnny_parkes
@teamusatennis
Twitter:
@johnnyparkes1

Where I am next presenting?

 

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning

Dates: 27/28 Oct 2018, and 24/25 Nov 09:00AM-17:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

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