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Giving Feedback- Why Less is More- Part 2

In this second part to my blog series on Feedback we are still looking at the feedback from the coach known as external feedback.  Here we get into the detail a little more and look at what to say and perhap also what NOT to say!

For an excellent review of the literature on feedback check out Mattspoint latest blogs on the topic.  Part 1 and Part 2. Below are some extracts from Part 2 where he talks about Feedback Timing and feedback Frequency.

Feedback Timing

Overall, coaches and researchers caution against the over-reliance of concurrent -meaning during the skill- (and constant) feedback as it often turns into ‘white noise’, not benefitting the athlete in any meaningful way. From a player and parents perspective, this may sometimes be a challenge – “the coach doesn’t say much”. Truth is, the coach is likely purposely holding back their feedback, allowing the player to ‘figure it out’ before attempting to intervene.

Now of course there’s a difference between an absent-minded coach, one that just isn’t in tune with what’s going on, and one that’s withholding feedback for the player’s sake. But those of you reading this post are likely part of the latter, rather than the former.

Key pointwait until you see a consistent error before jumping in and correcting! Don’t create athletes that can’t operate without your feedback. Allow them space to develop their problem solving ability – this actually builds confidence.”

Feedback Frequency

Interestingly enough, research has indicated that when athletes are given the choice, they prefer to receive feedback about 30% of the time. In many tennis settings, however, the reverse (or worse) is true – coaches are giving feedback 70% of the time or more!

It does depend on the athlete you’re working with and where your skills as a coach lie. Younger coaches tend to say a lot to prove that ‘they know what they’re talking about’. Experienced coaches have ‘been there and done that’ and don’t need that validation.

For instance, ever seen a practice session with two pro players and an experienced coach? Very little is said during the actual session. When I work alongside elite coaches, we purposely set objectives before practice, provide minor cues during breaks/changeovers and a more in-depth debrief at the end of a session. This is even more true as we approach competition periods – I should reiterate, players need space to problem solve on their terms.

Faded Feedback

With faded feedback, a coach will initially provide feedback on every (or almost every) attempt. Research suggests that this helps accelerate the learner’s path towards the movement goal. As the movement becomes more proficient, feedback is provided less frequently – in effect, fading out. The ultimate goal being that the learner can achieve the intended movement without a dependence on the coach and/or the feedback.

The beauty here is that feedback can also be faded back in – in case the movement has regressed in some way. Once it’s back on track, the feedback again is withdrawn.

Bandwidth Feedback

With this form of feedback, a preset ‘degree of acceptability’ is established – with no feedback given when performance falls within the bandwidth and feedback given when it falls outside of the band of acceptability. The key here is that the learner is aware, before the fact, that if nothing is said, the movement is basically ‘correct’.

Research (Sherwood 1988) found that when the band was larger (~10%) compared to the target goal, it was more effective than smaller bands (1-5%). The theory being that less feedback (because of a larger bandwidth) will produce stable and consistent actions over time.

Summary Feedback

Here, feedback is given after a series of attempts – like 5 or 10, for instance. Interestingly enough, this feedback type has been shown to be more effective than trial-to-trial feedback – even though mistakes can be higher during practice, with this approach.

Interestingly enough, researchers found that getting feedback after every attempt promoted too much dependence. At the same time, feedback that was too infrequent (say, after 100 trials), didn’t guide the learner efficiently enough. Based on several experiments, feedback post about 5 trials seems to be most optimal when it comes to longer-term learning.

Tip: If you’re basket-feeding, try for multiple series of about 5 attempts, before intervening with feedback (even if you detect an error beforehand). This approach might have several benefits – first, the player has freedom to self-correct. Second, 5 attempts is still relatively low, so they won’t ingrain a bad habit. And lastly, from a physical standpoint it’s more specific to the demands of actual tennis-play (i.e. work:rest ratios).

Learner-Determined Feedback

This is pretty self-explanatory – feedback is only given when the learner requests it. I’ve encountered this on many occasions when working with elite players. But is it effective?

According to a throwing task study, participants that self-directed feedback, had better throwing accuracies compared to a group that was given faded feedback (feedback frequencies and types were matched). How can this be? Wulf and others in this field of study found that when feedback is learner-determined, it tends to be requested more following successful/correct attempts, compared to poor ones. Isn’t that interesting?

[Daz comment] As a coach I have to say I still feel like I need to be saying things more often and giving feedback and tips to correct their errors as soon as I see them.  It’s partly because I feel parents expect it and it’s partly because I am in the habit of wanting to correct an error as soon as I see one- rather than giving them a few reps to figure it out!  Wait until you see a consistent error before jumping in and correcting!

How I feel when I see a technical error- I need to stop myself from wanting to get involved and ‘tell’ them how to solve the problem!


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Giving Feedback- Why Less is More- Part 1

In recent months the Tennis Academy where I am based have been challenging the coaches (including S&C coaches) to coach less explicitly.  This got me thinking, what types of feedback am I providing as a coach, and as the leader of my company?  Is my feedback impactful? Is it driving the quality of movement and athleticism that ‘transfers’ onto the tennis court under time and fatigue pressure? Or am I just fixing a skill that looks good in a drill?

In this three part blog I will first look at explicit feedback, this is the feedback given by the coach. I’ll talk about the difference between Knowledge of Results (KR) versus Knowledge of Performance (KP).

In the second part I will look at the different types of external feedback form the coach.  In the third blog I will look at implicit feedback, which is feedback that you get from your interaction with the environment.  This is a way of getting feedback without conscious awareness of technique.

Part 1- Performance Playground

I must have written at least 10 blogs on how to create an optimum learning environment.  Only recently did I listen back to Craig Harrison speak on the Pacey Performance Podcast about what we can learn from the skate parks that kids love to spend hours at.  For one, it’s a place where there is no formal coaching taking place!  yet they will happily spend hours and hours there just trying out new tricks with their mates.

Craig spoke about + – = coaching

+ These are the children who are older and/or slightly more advanced than you- so you have someone to reach for

These are the children who are younger and/or slightly less advanced than you- so you have someone to help

= These are your peers and/or children of the same level as you who you can really compete with!



In a skate park you will naturally see all of these children exploring together- and not one adult telling them how to skate!  I thought this was a nice analogy and I have previously heard both Nick Grantham and Darren Roberts talk about the ‘Performance Playground.’  I have to say I have struggled to fully embrace the concept of giving children a space to play in with obstacles that either I have created or ones that they have created…..and let them play and explore.  I think partly I have wanted to control the environment a bit more so there is more intentional OVERLOAD via repetition of a particular movement I want to develop- through ‘drilling the skill.’

I also think it is partly the curse of the parent! I often feel parents expect the children to be busy, and the time it takes to set up an obstacle course (which is part of the fun!) might be seen outwardly as a ‘waste of time’ if they are paying for ‘coaching!’  I somehow feel the need to appear ‘busy.’  This extends to me feeling like I need to be saying things more often and giving feedback and tips to correct their errors as soon as I see them.

For an excellent review of the literature on feedback check out Mattspoint latest blogs on the topic.  Part 1 and Part 2. Below are some extracts:

In Part 1 Matt talks about feedback types.

Feedback Types

When it comes to feedback types, at the core, there are 2:

  1. Knowledge of results (KR): this feedback type is related to the outcome.
  2. Knowledge of performance (KP): this feedback type is related to the quality of the movement, mechanics or process that produced the outcome.

In tennis, KR could be related to where the ball lands, how fast the ball is travelling, how much spin was generated etc. In the gym, it could be feedback on the amount of weight lifted, how far/high someone jumped, how fast they performed an agility task and so on.  Overall, KR is more number driven.  I often don’t provide any feedback on stroke mechanics as I want full focus on the target.

Knowledge of Performance

In contrast to KR, KP feedback relates to the movement that produced the outcome. KP feedback is a bit more complex as it’s less objective and thus can be more open to interpretation.  For instance, because KP deals with how a player executed a certain movement or action, we can use different forms of feedback to reinforce good mechanics or to correct a technical flaw.

  • Tell the player what they did or didn’t do well
  • I can show the player by demonstrating the movement
  • I can show the player by using video or still photos
  • I can guide the player to feel it by moving their racket
  • I can use a sound to let the player hear it such as clapping or making sound effects

Most experienced coaches will intuitively provide either KR or KP feedback, depending on the aim of the session/drill. Other times, however, it might be appropriate to combine the two types of feedback: “That ball landed short of the target line (KR), because you didn’t accelerate your hand/wrist through contact (KP)”.  

The issue as I see it, however, is that players are getting this type of feedback too often – sometimes after every single shot! This is the frequency part of the equation (which we’ll explore in next week’s post). But there’s one important factor we must consider in all this; whether a player knows it or not, there is always an internal dialogue in their heads – i.e. self-feedback.

This self-feedback is called intrinsic feedback; while KR and KP feedback (which is provided by the coach or could be by some other observer/training partner etc) is referred to as extrinsic (or augmented) feedback. Here is Reid et al’s (2007) take on this:

“The provision of too much extrinsic feedback is suggested to breed an over-reliance on the coach, and impair an individual’s ability to independently process and evaluate information. This may manifest on-court with some players becoming anxious at the prospect of having to problem-solve without direct, extrinsic feedback or guidance.”

As coaches, we all want what’s best for our players – at times, however, that might mean to let them be. I’ve dealt with this situation many times; a player constantly looking towards me after every lost point in a practice set. While my instinct is to provide them with the solution, I try to bite my tongue and give them the platform to ‘figure it out on their own’. In the moment, they aren’t always happy, but after the fact, they realize the benefit of this coaching strategy.

A lot of this is dependant on the level of the player, and their subsequent stage of learning. Motor learning literature (Reid et al 2007), does suggest that as player’s skill develops/augments, there should be less and less reliance on extrinsic feedback, allowing intrinsic self-talk to carry the brunt of the work.

[Daz comment]  I always say to my coaches that every drill should have a clear outcome (KR) and process (KP).  I also say that with naturally competitive people you need to ‘keep score‘ to keep them engaged.  Naturally, KR lends itself to this so you can do a speed drill and time them or simply see who crosses the finish line (target) first!  But I also like to keep score with ‘how well’ someone performed the exercises (KP) and award points for the best performed movement even if it wasn’t the fastest.  Obviously ideally we need both- fast and high quality movements!

As a coach I have to say I know I have a tendency to give quite a bit of KP feedback, perhaps too much! With poor moving athletes I have a tendency to start with a high level skill and then try and correct all the errors that I see with KP every rep! What I am experimenting with is starting with a more simple skill and then adding progressions so that they maintain the basic skills without too many errors and have time to make corrections themselves as the level of difficulty increases.

For example:

Level 1- Sidesteps across court

Level 2- Sidesteps from middle of court out to one side and back to middle

Level 3- Sidesteps to Left or Right according to coach signal

Level 4- Sidesteps to Left or Right but you start from a standing on one leg position

Level 4- Sidesteps to Left or Right AND when you get back stand on one leg


If I let them perform several reps at each level this will allow for a range of abilities.  It does mean the most capable athletes will be waiting for a few reps before the task gets more challenging, but in the meantime they can still stay motivated by having a race with their peers!


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Curious Coach Episode 1- Speed

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 183 – Derek Hansen.

Derek Hansen




Derek is 48 yrs old now and coached track as early as 18 yrs old when he was in college.  In his career he has been coaching young kids, college athletes, elite athletes jumpers and sprinters and made the transition in the late 1990s to working with athletes in different sports as a strength & conditioning coach.  Now a consultant with professional teams (NFL, NBA, MLS) and upper level NCAA College Teams.

Discussion topics:

Derek on it being en vogue that guys that have track backgrounds are being involved as a strength & conditioning coach in Team Sports

‘It’s a really good foundation to be working in a physiological based sport, whether it’s track, swimming, maybe cycling.  I like to think that most team sports involve running- everyone has to run, so running is kind of an important thing and I think a lot of people forget that.    When you say, running is kind of important you often get the response, but what do you mean, don’t I get to lift a weight?!  You have a leg up on a lot of coaches because you understand how to get the locomotion piece going”

Derek on the challenges he came across when he made the transition into team sports

”The biggest one is that everybody perceives running as one unified thing- work capacity type running.  A coach will often feedback, ‘Oh we want you to work on speed, but a lot of people are standing around they’re not moving around the whole time, to which Derek replies, well, yeah, that’s because I’m working on speed!” Sprinting versus working on the glycolytic or on the aerobic systems. Know the difference.

Team and coach need to understand that to get better at very short distances they need to run really fast and then rest for a bit with a specific approach- you can’t just get it from practising.  People think people should look tired when they run- oh you didn’t get a good workout because you’re not huffing and puffing and your heart rate is through the roof.  We must feel like we’re exhausted.  Everyone wants to feel like they got their ass kicked.

The best athletes who have a lot fast twitch fibres don’t want to do the work capacity stuff.  They want to move fast and be high quality athletes.  It’s intuitive to them.  You might need to appeal to the coaches slightly differently, as they want to look like they’re doing something and they’re busy. You have to talk to coaches about deliverables and end results- GPS data has been useful to show them what a typical game speed has been.  If we work on speed we can raise that average up by getting to higher top speeds.  In the final analysis we will have numbers that show your guys are getting faster and will get to the ball faster etc.

Derek on micro-dosing (loading)

During some taper periods for track & field athletes with Charlie Francis he asked him in a 10-day taper how do you change things? Typically in the main part of the training season he would have a high and a low day.  In a tapering period he would do high intensity qualities every day!  Doesn’t this deviate from your high low approach Derek asked Charlie? Yes but we are probably operating at 40-50% of the volumes for the high intensity components so you’re not going to have the same impact on the nervous system, so you can actually do high intensity training every day and not have the same negative impacts because we’ve dropped the volume.  So I asked why can’t we do this all the time? It actually may be a great way to maintain high intensity explosive qualities.

When we look at classical periodisation we think of blocks and the problem with blocks is you think you have this space of time where I need to plough all this volume and all this work in (plyo, aerobic, lactic, weights, speed).  When you can probably do things every day in smaller amounts, less overall volume but maybe a higher volume of higher intensity components because you are stripping away all this crap! It’s a more precise way of dispensing work, in smaller amounts where the effect on the organism is more profound.

Derek on sprinting In-season

Yes but you have to do it in the off-season too! So if my volume in the off-season is 100 units then it’s not that difficult to bring it down to 30 in the season. So if you don’t accumulate a certain amount of work in the off-season then you’re very limited in what you can do in-season.  You have to build a base of work in the off-season so you can be exceptional in-season and have more tools available to you.

Derek on what an in-season week would look like in a Team sport

Be strategic with what what you do.  You are very limited with how much time you have with a professional sports team.  You ask the Head coach for 30 minutes for warm-up and they say, Well How about 10 minutes?

Within that warm-up that’s contact time you have everyday, so how can I use the warm up to get some explosive elements in? Whether it’s an explosive med ball throw, or an acceleration, a sprint from different positions (off your back, off your front), plyometrics.  Rather than doing locomotive stuff (sidesteps, carioca and all this other bulls@#t  muscle confusion etc) let’s ramp people up a bit quicker because (1) we habituate very easily as human beings so if you place less demand on people guess what, they’ll expect less demand,but if we start ramping people up a little quicker and we start getting in this habit of adding more high intensity elements progressively but more rapidly then you get quicker responses and people fall into being in a high intensity zone more quickly.  We should ramp up to sprints.

An easy way to do it would be short to long progressive sprints, 15, 20, 30 35 40m tc change up the start type to ramp up intensity (walk in start, falling start, 3 point start,etc).  Getting to a high intensity (1) get’s them warmed up better (2) we are chipping away at this microdosing principle of getting high intensity elements in that are not present in the practice.  So by the end of the warmup I get two reps of 30m sprints at 95% of their output capability that’s better than anything they are doing on the field.  Over a week that’s 10 x 30m or 300m of high quality sprint work that they weren’t getting in the practice, which will add up!! What is the exposure to stress and if it’s not happening in practice then you need to find ways to drop it in as frequently as you can- which is probably the most simple way of using micro dosing concept- by making it part of your warm up and sneaking it in.

The other thing you can do is micro dose low intensity components as part of your cool down such as tempo runs that don’t have the residual fatigue affect but you can get things moving and accumulate aerobic abilities with this high frequency approach.

Derek’s thoughts as far as a Saturday to Saturday week in season

There could be a rise and fall depending on what’s happening.  One day is more skill based and one day is more work capacity and full field based.  Look at what your coach is giving the players and then you need to work on the other end of the spectrum.  So if they’re doing something that is work capacity focused then you need to step up your high intensity components as that is what is lacking in the practice. You’re always looking at what you’re missing and then trying to sure it up by adding in these micro components.  I do not want to provide what is being provided in practice nor necessarily in games because that is already being done.  So I have to look at other training components that aren’t being worked on, going back to the idea of preparing players to not get injured by building qualities that aren’t being addressed in practice and making them more resilient.

Derek on Tempo running and why he would use it

It’s basically shorter interval runs- 100-200m segments where you run them on a soft surface like a grass surface probably from anywhere from 50-70% of maximum speed.  Now you have to be careful with that because a 100m sprinter who runs 100m in 10-seconds would do 70% at 13-seconds which is still pretty fast.  Fitness based activity but also a recovery modality, which is also accumulating a pretty decent amount of volume if you do it three times a week.

Basically you are using the shorter segments to target the aerobic system.  Charlie Francis said whatever the velocity of the first one, then let’s say you do fifteen, the fifteenth one should be completed at the same time.

Sprinters typically do 2000m of tempo runs three times a week so 6000m per week. So I started to think why couldn’t I do 1000m six times a week? So I started to gravitate towards more of that approach and the results were as good as good if not better. The idea of doing something every day is interesting to me because I think it helps with your ability to achieve readiness quicker– rather than do this undulating method of going high intensity and exhaust you and then low intensity and try to recover you.  Why not do a steady baseline of work that keeps you ready all the time but also improves your fitness over time.  He will still do more of a high low approach throughout but he will not have any hesitation to doing things on consecutive days in the early part and also the later part of an inseason scenario as well as tapering and peaking, and even for NFL combine prep.  When you test in a combine scenario or a track meet you have to perform on consecutive days.

He used to have people do sprint training and then wait until they started to have a couple of bad reps.  So if they were at 10 flat for 100m he would wait until they went to 10.5-sec after a couple of reps and then stop.  He said rather than wait until then, nip it in the bud a little earlier with less volume, so I can do something again the next day.

Author opinion:

It is worth considering whether in your training philosophy you want to ‘contrast’ or ‘compliment’ the work that is being done in practice in a particular day.  Derek is suggesting he would probably contrast it with work that is being done.  ”One day is more skill based and one day is more work capacity and full field based.  Look at what your coach is giving the players and then you need to work on the other end of the spectrum.  So if they’re doing something that is work capacity focused then you need to step up your high intensity components as that is what is lacking in the practice”

At APA it is more likely that the S&C work will compliment the main theme of the practice- so if the practice is more neurally fatiguing we would be doing a neural session such as sprints, plyos and heavy weights day.  If the practice is more metabolic then the S&C would likely be either a metabolic day with light cardio (such as tempo runs) or a metabolic day with higher intensity cardio (such as high intensity interval training-HIIT).

However, in both approaches what is common is there is a high low approach.  Furthermore, APA believe in the micro dosing approach to speed, strength and coordination to name but a few.  Most of this takes place in the form of a targeted warm up to get a daily dose of a few high intensity sprints, a few bodyweight strength exercises and regular hand eye coordination.


Round up: want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?  Be sure to visit:


You may also like from PPP:

Episode 227, 55 JB Morin

Episode 217, 51 Derek Evely

Episode 207, 3 Mike Young

Episode 204, 64 James Wild

Episode 192 Sprint Masterclass

Episode 175 Jason Hettler

Episode 87 Dan Pfaff

Episode 55 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 15 Carl Valle


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Middlesex Student Conference 2019

It’s a little bit later than planned but just wanted to do a review of the 10th Annual Strength and Conditioning Student Conference, at Middlesex University London, Saturday 9th March 2019.

Thanks to Dr Anthony Turner who has done a terrific job in organising it over the last 10 years and will be handing on the job to Chris Bishop!  I’ll devote a whole blog to JB-Morin talk as I have a few more things I’d like to go through there!

Talk 1- Chris Bishop: Inter-Limb Asymmetries: Calculating Differences, Effects on Athletic Performance, and Methods to Reduce Imbalances

I wouldn’t be doing this justice with the slides I’m about to post as there was a lot of information.

Key Points:

  • Wide use of Methods for Calculating Asymmetry
  • Useful to Determine Day to Day ‘Variability’ before assigning significance to a change
  • Limb Difference Varies Across Tasks
  • Useful to note Direction of Asymmetry

It appears there is conflicting research regarding the correlation between asymmetry and athletic performance.  In one research paper showed us, a strength imbalance (asymmetry) did not make any difference to how well you performed a change of direction test.

  • In Chris’ 2017 Systematic Review he found 12 out of 18 studies may indicate a harmful correlation (negative) between asymmetry and athletic performance
  • In his 2019 Updated Review he found 19 out of 28 may indicate a harmful correlation (negative)between asymmetry and athletic performance
  • Eccentric Impulse is more stable than Jump Height
  • Strategy based metrics need to be investigated (the ‘How’) as well as the outcome of the Jump Performance (the ‘What’).

So what? Chris was astute to point out that in elite sport the bottom line is who finishes first! So he gave a hypothetical example of three sprint cyclists who have different levels of asymmetry resulting in varying power outputs between limbs.  While the rider A had the biggest asymmetry he was also able to produce the highest mean power most likely resulting in the fastest time.  So context is king and the process and the outcome have to be looked at together to determine the impact and directions for future training.


Talk 2: Professor Kevin Till- Who, What, How- Plan, Deliver, Review: A Framework for Decision-Making in S&C Coaching

Key Points:

  • Reflection is done better when Planning is done well!
  • The more time you spend planning the more beneficial reflection will be
  • Reflection IN ACTION – During session
  • Reflection ON ACTION – Immediately after
  • Role of Coach: Problem setter NOT Problem solver


Talk 3: Dr John McMahon- Optimising Force Plate Assessment of Vertical Jumping in Team Sports

This talk was arguably my favourite- not least because I’m on a personal crusade to better understand Forces in Sport and John did a terrific job of breaking down a Force-Time curve for me!

Key Points:

  • Set up (calibration) of the Force Plate is key!
  • Use simple and consistent cues and protocols
  • Drop jump (30cm box <250m/s) vs Depth jump (greater heights and would spend more time in contact with ground with increased knee flexion)
  • Be aware of Fall Height vs. Box Height (if an athlete raises centre of mass at take off rather than just stepping off could cause errors of 10% or more!)
  • Consider different types of jump profile for further assessment- such as Repeated jumps x 10 and his ‘Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) jump which is a countermovement jump into a pogo jump)

I particularly loved the break down of the Force-Time curves for consideration of the different components we typically measure:

Notice how it is the Force that the athlete generates creates the Impulse which then causes the acceleration, which causes the velocity and so on…


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Daz Drake on Maximal Strength Training

I have Duncan French to thank for putting me on to a journal article in his 2018 UKSCA UFC presentation- when he was going through his needs analysis for MMA.  He actually didn’t even say much about it but as soon as I saw that slide a light bulb went off in my head and I knew when I finally got the copy of the presentation I needed to read the original journal article.

This blog is the cliff notes of the presentation Duncan gave and it sets up my rational for the importance of maximal strength.  This blog will make it more clear what maximal strength will and will not directly help in sports performance.

I like the use of the word ”underpin” when referring to high force qualities and their relationship with high-velocity techniques.  He then followed that up with this slide which featured the journal article I was talking about.  If you want to get a copy of it for yourself click the link HERE.

What does this mean?

Well let’s start by exploring what these terms mean.  Rate of Force Development (RFD) is measured as the slope of the Force-Time curve obtained during isometric contractions.  This is important to study as the time allowed to exert force in a range of sports is typically very limited (~50-250ms).  In contrast longer time is needed to exert maximum muscular force (>300ms).

Critically for this discussion, RFD in various time intervals from the onset of contraction is affected by different physiological parameters.

In the study above they examined the relationship between voluntary contractile RFD and (1) voluntary maximal muscle strength and (2) electrically evoked muscle twitch contractile properties.  Maximal muscle strength is also known as Maximal Voluntary Contraction (MVC).

The main finding from the study was that voluntary RFD became increasingly more dependent on MVC and less dependent on muscle twitch contractile properties as time from the onset of contraction increased (Figure on the right).

Put another way, contractile RFD during the very early phase of muscle contraction (<50ms) is related to the intrinsic contractile properties of the muscle, whereas RFD during later time intervals (150-250ms) is related more closely to maximum muscle strength

The graph on the left indicates that the voluntary RFD measured at the time interval of 200ms was strongly correlated with MVC, where the explained variance (r=0.89) was 89%.  This means that 89% of the variance in voluntary RFD at 200ms can be explained by the variance in MVC.

In conclusion this means Maximal Strength training has a great influence on Voluntary RFD >90ms especially around 150-250ms which we might define as Late RFD.  So for things like acceleration in sprinting, jumping and change of direction maximal strength could have a big impact on directly enhancing sports performance.  When it comes to things like the ground contact during top speed sprinting and unloaded striking and kicking, maximum strength could ”underpin” high velocity movement.  However, training would need to be more targeted to early RFD training methods to improve these qualities.


How do you Measure Maximum Strength?

Now we know maximum strength is important how do you measure it?  The traditional weight training method is to determine your 1 Repetition Maximum on a Back Squat or Deadlift.

You can calculate the Peak Force in Newtons once you convert your body mass into weight, and add the weight of the bar.  A elite level of strength on the back squat might be around 2 x body mass so for a 85kg male (weight of 833 Newtons plus weight on bar of 1666 Newtons) that’s a total Force of 2,499 Newtons.  This is sometimes represented as a unit of acceleration as a multiple of body weight, which in this case is 3.0 times body weight.

The back squat is limited by your concentric strength in the weakest part of the movement (the bottom of the descent).  A preferred method to determine strength is using the isometric method.  Elite levels on an Isometric Mid Thigh Pull (IMTP) are as high as 4.0 times body weight.  We know that we can create more force isometrically than we can concentrically so a goal to aim for would be to develop 3.0 body weight concentrically and 4.0 body weight isometrically.

What’s next?

Having built Maximum Strength as measured by strength in the Isometric Mid Thigh Pull (IMTP), we need to transfer that strength into sport specific attributes.  I’ll go into this in more detail in a follow up blog but this is the first time I have seen the concept of ”Dynamic Strength Deficit”

(CMJ Fpeak / IMTP Fpeak)

Using the results of the study by Kawamori_et al (2006) they recorded a Peak Force on the IMTP of 3,177 Newtons, and 1,449 Newtons on the Counter Movement Jump.  Using this example the Dynamic Strength Deficit would be (1,449 / 3177) or 0.47 indicating extra training time should be spent on dynamic strength training.

In terms of Speed-Strength monitoring to see if the dynamic strength is improving, Duncan went on to share the initial findings they have been getting from the use of the Landmine punch throw– which I believe ”Boxing Science” first came up with.


In the next blog I’ll look a bit more in detail at the Power Protocol used here and the Jump profile I use in Tennis.  This way you can profile you athlete in terms of Force and Velocity.  I hope you have found this blog article useful and now understand how maximal strength can help improve sports performance.


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Are you a good Story Teller?

A few weeks back I received an email from a parent who felt the session her son was doing with one of my APA coaches was not individually tailored to her son’s needs.  Individualisation is one of the key principles of training- as you can see in the graphic below it is also a key principle of customer service in business (in this case the customer is the parent and her child).

General Training is Specific to Untrained Athletes

I’ve made my feelings clear on this topic several times before.  Sometimes it gets interpreted that I don’t believe in sport specificity, or even individualisation.  Technically speaking, that’s not accurate- however I will say that in athletes with low training age I do feel that EVERY athlete regardless of sport- needs to learn and train the fundamental movement skills in the gym associated with ‘resistance overcoming.’  By that I mean the fundamental patterns of squat, lunge, push, pull, rotate, brace.

I also believe that if an athlete is weak then they need to learn to express force with the exercises which are best suited to doing that- exercises such as squats, before we start getting overly concerned with how closely the squat simulates the joint angles of the sport.  I call this putting the ‘cart before the horse,’ and obsessing about KINEMATICS (Direction of Force-joint angles and contraction types) before getting the basics done with KINETICS (Magnitude of Force).

However, there is a big BUT………… must be a good storyteller and show the athlete how this exercise (which is perceived as not sport specific) IS ACTUALLY helping them improve in their sport.  That is part of the skill of being a great storyteller and knowing how to create context for your work in the gym.

A word on storytelling:

We have all heard that the best stories take you through an emotional experience, and if you’ve ever learnt sales technique you will be taught that people buy based on emotion, how the product you’re selling made them feel.  S&C coaches are also salesmen and women because like it or not, at some point we need to get BUY IN.

In this case I wasn’t expecting Anthony to make the rugby player feel emotional about squatting!!!  But I wanted him to connect the work he was doing in the gym with his PASSION for Rugby- by educating him how each exercise was going to help him perform better at Rugby.

I’ve asked permission from this coach to share this story as we did a great job of handling the situation and I thought it might give a good practical example in case it happens to you.


What did we do?

The first thing I did was share the email from the parent to Anthony- and let him know that we have had some feedback and we need to manage the situation.

For your information this was a teenaged boy who plays Rugby and sees Anthony for 30 minutes once a week.

The programme was based on picking a different theme each week which was the main athletic skill focus for 15 minutes (be it sprinting, change of direction, plyometrics) and a 15 minute strength section in the gym.

My email to Anthony:

”A parent has suggested that her son’s session is not individually tailored to her son’s needs.  She has commented that he has been doing sprinting outside, crawling and other activities.  If he is going to keep doing ‘general’ fitness, then she would rather not continue with the S&C, as he already doing general fitness in school sports.  She commented that she thought he was going to be focused on lifting weights to get him stronger for rugby.  He did 15 minutes sprinting with you, and then he did more sprinting when he went and did his training later in the day.”

I’ve had a look at your programme and it seems fine.  Parents will always be concerned that sessions are sport specific and individualised.  The secret is in the story telling and showing how what you are doing is linked to their sport.

Have a think and get back to me.  I suggest you draft an email reply and I’ll look over it before we sent it to the parents.”

Anthony gave me a call before he drafted the email and I said that he should write a little sentence on each exercise to explain a) why it was chosen and b) how that will help with Rugby performance

I also said that because he only has 30 minutes we should go for the fitness component that will give the biggest bang for our buck.  The parent wants it to be a strength based weights session and I have to agree this is the best thing to do.  I appreciate the intent- to give him exposure to a range of athletic skills including sprinting and change of direction- but unless the parent wants to invest more in his S&C let’s get some quick wins by improving his strength.

For the purpose of anonymity I have referred to the rugby player as [son]

Anthony’s email reply:

Dear [Parent’s Name],

I would firstly like to apologize [Her son] was dissatisfied with the session on Tuesday.

I would like to explain how I have programmed his current sessions and give the reasoning behind my choices. Additionally to this on reading your feedback I can make some changes to my initial plans for [son] to specifically target his desire to only work on a ‘strength’ component of physical development in the sessions he receives.

Session Plan for Tuesday 22ndJanuary

1.      Crawl Complex – Bear, Crab, OT (focus linear, inclusion of transitions)

My explanation: Crawling is compound movement pattern which requires large muscular activation which within the short time I have to train [son] is a good way to begin the sessions as it has specificity to rugby. Crawling (in various ways) is a valuable way to increase loaded shoulder stability through large ranges of motion. This is influential in rugby in both attacking situations (hand offs) and in defence (tackling – due to impact on shoulder)

2.     Turkish Get up (Derivative) – unloaded, medicine ball loaded, DB loaded (focus progression of load and limitation)

My Explanation:good exercise to use with athletes of low training age – compound exercise (focused around hip range of motion) + stimulates problem solving ability using the body, important foundation to have progressing onto heavily loaded compound exercises.I progress this movement by increasing Load, this causes greater trunk activation (initial movement) then during the standing phase requires increased leg musculature activation.

This exercise is applicable to rugby in various ways. Firstly strength of trunk muscles during dynamic movement, rugby requires large movements of the body, stronger trunk muscles allow for the athlete to hold optimal positions through the duration of a movement this links to decrease injury risk. Additionally rugby is a game which requires players to transition from standing to the ground (and ground to standing) regularly. This exercise allows athletes to learn and practise effective methods of transitioning from the floor to standing……

3.      Hop & landing task (focus knee / hip – progression hop complexity; direction & distance Tuesdays session included multiple progressions of complexity)

This exercise trains absorption of force, this is a key attribute to improving running and jumping performance. Rugby requires players to change direction throughout the game at various intensities and this combined with the contact element of the game leads lower leg injuries to be common and impactful on performance.

This exercise enables athletes to be more robust to potential lower leg injuries as tolerance to force in the joint and muscular structures has increased. It also benefits performance in a task like outside foot cutting (in rugby known as a side step), this move requires the complete absorption of force and then to push in the other direction.

4.      Broad jump / Broad jump with plyometric entry

The Broad jump is a good exercise to train power production at maximal velocities. It also teaches an athlete the technique of force production in a horizontal vector (a challenging skills to master), this quality links directly to sporting performance in rugby as it is critical to acceleration. Acceleration (0-40m sprinting) dominates the game of rugby in both attack and defence. In attack improving acceleration can help an athlete get over the gain line, arguably the most important aspect of attack.

Additionally to the broad jump, a progression I have added is the introduction of a plyometric start. This has a training effect – improve force production when ground contact time is short, Also improves tendon stiffness which impacts on power production at maximal velocities, both of these being impactful on acceleration.

From a teaching perspective introducing plyometric activity enables me to progress [son] to move onto more complex plyometric activities (repeating broad jumps and bounding activities).

5.      Squat, decline Press up, Reverse lunge (Sand Bag Loaded – front loaded)

This circuit is a combination of key movement patterns, I have implemented this to ensure [son] has mastered the safe technique and strength to move onto using more complex strength exercises

It was my aim to start to progress him to more advanced method within the coming weeks.

Now to explain how and why I chose to load these exercises using a sandbag – as a sandbag is an odd object it requires increased muscular activation around the active joints during a lift. This is not only a great method to give the athlete the required strength to progress to heavy loading through the use of barbell exercises. It also directly relates to rugby as these exercises increase the ability for the player to train for longer periods of time, increase injury robustness during their playing time and also

Front loaded to increase intensity (load is further away from centre of mass) – additionally front loading means squat becomes knee dominant exercise – links to acceleration and robustness to lower leg injury

6.      Acceleration (sprinting)
    1. Kneeling start
    2. Standing start (split stance

Sprinting is a complex activity where small technique changes can have a large impact on speed, sprinting is categorised into either acceleration or top seed, as acceleration is more impactful on rugby performance I have chosen to use it in my training programme for [son].

I am skilled and experienced in coaching sprinting mechanics and have determined that this is an area [son] needs to improve on to be more successful at rugby. So my session on Tuesday was focused on body lean, foot carry through and head position in the initial steps of acceleration. This is why I made [son] do multiple sprints from a kneeling start as it is the ideal position to teach these technical points.

As rugby is played in a standing position, acceleration mechanism need to also be practised from standing positions, so during the session I progressed [son]from a kneeling start position to a standing start position to be more specific to his rugby.

Information about the structure of training

I am rotating between session focuses on a bi-weekly basis. My reasoning behind this is I have only got 30 minutes to work with [son] a week and at this stage in his maturation it is beneficial to expose him to the largest variety of fitness components as possible. So using a bi-weekly system I can increase the training stimulus he receives to multiple attributes.

Programme changes to allow [son] to train the desired fitness quality

Now I have explain the Tuesday session and the use of a rotation system I would like to explain my Solution to [son’s] current dissatisfaction with the training from Tuesday’s session.

From the email feedback I have read, [son] would like to solely work on a Strength component of fitness. I agree this is an important part of playing rugby, which is why it is included in my rotation of training stimulus’s for [son], but I will now use this as my sole focus of the programming.

My plans is to train [son] in lower body strength, which correlated Acceleration and upper body strength which is correlated to the level of rugby the player reaches.

The exercises which I will use as key performance indicators are the trap bar Deadlift (high handles) and the bench press, for lower and upper body strength respectively. Both of these exercises are commonly used in research as valid methods of assessment. Therefore they will be used as the main focus of the new programme and I will use a combination of other exercises to further improve the performance of [son] in these two performance indicators.

Both of these are free weight resistance exercises. I am an expert in the coaching and application of free weight resistance to improve strength and other strength qualities. I am more than capable to implement this style of training within his new programme.

The effective use of free weight resistance exercise is built on excellent technique and focus during lifts, these qualities are earned not given and it will require [son]to be dedicated to the gradual process which is free weight resistance training.

I believe this solution to [son] dissatisfaction is the right way to take his training and to use the 30 mins sessions effectively each week to meet his needs


What did the parent say?

She was really appreciative of the feedback and was able to understand how the original plan was in fact supportive of his Rugby.  She was also happy to continue on the basis that her son was going to focus the 30 minutes on strength training.

This was a good result for APA and enabled us to move forward with a potentially unhappy client.  The learning for Anthony, and for any of you reading this is that you need to be doing the selling from the beginning and storytelling to show how what we do in the gym connects with their sport- which is their passion!

I wanted to share Anthony’s email because I thought he did a fantastic job of explaining how each exercise supporting the boy’s Rugby development.

Anthony Hunt Biography

Anthony is an APA Strength & Conditioning coach as well as an Intern S&C coach and Sport Scientist at Middlesex County Cricket Club.

Anthony has a Bachelor of Science (BSc) Sports and Exercise Science from Oxford Brookes University ( – University of Edinburgh ( – 


Where I am next presenting?


Speed, Agility & Quickness for Sports Workshop

Date: 24th Feb 2019, 09:00AM-13:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.


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  • 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

Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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Is Your Training Sport Specific?

There are two comments or requests that parents regularly make to me.  The first one is about lifting weights- some parents are against their child doing anything more than bodyweight until after puberty so want to check that I won’t be doing that.  That conversation usually happens before we start working together.  I think I’ll be spending my entire career busting that myth that weight training before 16 stunts your growth! But that topic is for another post.


The Training isn’t Sport Specific

The second one usually comes a little while into the working relationship.  It usually happens after the parent has either observed a bit of the session or has been given feedback by their child.  It goes a little something like this, ”I’m concerned that my child is not doing sport specific training.  If s/he’s not going to be doing exercises that will help with their [insert sport] then I’d rather not continue.”

To me the two comments are interesting because to me they’ve got their priorities back to front- it’s like putting the cart before the horse.  They want to do all the exercises with a speed component first.  But likely they don’t have muscle balance, or they can’t go through their full range of motion, and they’re not very strong.

For the parents asking for sport specificity it seems to me that building the basic qualities of athleticism (the ones I just mentioned above) isn’t valued.  Now if they also ask me not to do weights then we have some real challenges because they are effectively asking me to fire a cannon from a canoe!

Newton’s Third Law

What exactly is that key ingredient that many sports have in common with each other? To me, what stands out is this: most sports require us to efficiently transfer energy from the heaviest part of the body to a lighter part of the body.  I specialise in working in Tennis, which is a rotational sport where the first critical event in the kinematic sequence, before rotation starts in the tennis swing, is the ground reaction to the applied force (what we often refer to as ground reaction force).  This occurs when an athlete attempts to gather energy in their lower body by pushing into the ground so that essentially the ground pushes back and this energy release is transferred up the body in an efficient sequence.  Thus having great footwork to get into the best stance ready to hit the shot is key.  It’s also why you hear the tennis coaches shout ‘use your legs!’ all the time.

But because this ground reaction force is something that isn’t observable to the eye (unless they are doing it on a force platform with a TV monitor!) it gets overlooked.  This is because the energy works its way up the chain so that you can observe maximal speed in the distal segment or implement (bat, racket, club) but you just don’t see where the energy came from.  So you are only concerned with seeing your child do things in the gym that mirror those movement speeds you saw on the court.

Now don’t get me wrong we mustn’t be afraid of getting sport specific- and in fact everything we are doing to get the body moving more efficiently (read that as moving better) in a general sense, is so that we can transfer all the energy into a sport specific task, rather than it leaking out as we compensate by using the wrong muscles to do the work.  Or we use the right muscles but they aren’t strong enough to handle the task.

This is why I sometimes have to challenge the idea that general training (any training that doesn’t exactly replicate the sporting action is general to some degree) isn’t sport specific.  If it is going to help improve a specific task indirectly then in my book it is specific.  It is certainly athlete specific even if it isn’t task specific (or sport specific) because it is still improving the athlete’s ability to execute in their sport!!! We are just getting to it one step at a time.

Driving to a final destination in a car we have to start at the beginning and there will be some specific land marks along the way to make sure we know we are going in the right direction.  It takes time to get to the final destination and its the same for developing sport specific fitness.  We have to reach some general landmarks (known as key performance indicators) along the way.  Speed is a destination- along the way we need to stop off to learn how to move efficiently (move well) and get strong (which helps us further to move well!)


More Rotational Work!!!!

Going back to that idea about parents wanting to see their child doing lots of exercises with a speed component it also follows that they want the movements to be plane of motion specific.  That’s why parents (and tennis coaches for that matter) love medicine ball training.

Let’s say for a minute that we have taken care of the set up position of a tennis shot or golf swing (the stance). Now we want to practice the swing and make it more explosive so we can hit the ball harder.

The core which I consider the glue holds the swing together and ‘transmits’ force from the lower body into the upper body, and helps you rotate the torso.  In the back swing the shoulders turn more than the hips and this is known as the ”separation angle.”  The separation angle is certainly smaller for the Tennis backswing (around 25 degrees) compared to Golf which is around 45 degrees and has been recorded as much as 65 degrees in Rory McIlroy.  In the back swing the movement is initiated with the shoulder turn but near the top of the back swing while the shoulders are still turning, the legs and hips will be pulling to change direction into forward swing.  This is important because this puts the trunk muscles under eccentric tension temporarily (17-55 milliseconds in a golf swing) just before the shoulders finally turn.  The gap will be longer in athletes with more slow twitch muscle fibres.  So the back swing is so important because it is the action of the swing itself which ”dynamically tenses” the torso muscles.

Now all that is fine and dandy if the body is functioning well but what if the body can’t rotate the hips and shoulders far enough, with the shoulders turning further relative to the hips. Or maybe they get the turn but compensate  to get it by swaying to the side, or by arching at the lower back because they don’t have enough internal hip rotation or thoracic mobility.  How many parents think about that before they reach for that 3kg medicine ball?  If the body is broken from an efficiency point of view asking it to work at high speed against a load even a small one could be a recipe for disaster.

A note on when Specificity is Appropriate

The principle of specificity or the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) principle is also of utmost importance when designing training programmes for sport.  The SAID principle essentially means that the body will adapt to the specific training stimulus placed upon it.  For example, regular jogging at a slow pace for long periods will make you better at jogging, but it will not make you better at sprinting at maximal speed.

I personally think that the principle has a lot to answer for because it is the first thing that is thrown out there when coaches want to criticise another professional’s programme- it’s not specific, meaning it’s no good!  Yes there are obvious pitfalls we can avoid such as the jogging one mentioned above, and yes, in a advanced athlete it wouldn’t make sense to not be doing something that has a large carry over to sport.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s an either or discussion- general or specific? Why not both?

For professional tennis players we must understand that the competitive tennis season is a long one, whilst amateurs (and quite a few pros!) typically don’t have a lot of exposure to physical preparation for Tennis.  Therefore it is safe to say that most tennis players have spent their whole life executing movements on the furthest end of the general-specific continuum.  Therefore, the GREATEST TRAINING EFFECT according to the law of diminishing returns, and largest portion of their workload should be dedicated to work that falls on the other (general) end of that continuum.  This is most easily identified as standard maximal strength training type modalities.

To put it another way, ‘tennis specific’ strengthening exercises are not appropriate or necessary when the athlete is generally weak.  Sure go ahead and do the technical work with the tennis coach which is the most specific form of training by the way! But you’ve got bigger fish to fry first in the weight room than exercises with a high speed component.

I’d take that argument a stage further and say that a lot of exercises that appear at face value to be less specific are in fact very specific- and my biggest component to go in that category is maximal strength.  Yes, it’s not as specific to a high speed rotational competitive exercise as say a rotational cable exercise or medicine ball throw.  But to the lower lever athlete it is probably the biggest thing that will help to improve the athlete’s sport form in that moment- just getting stronger! As I said earlier, if it is improving the sports form then in that moment it is specific.

Just because these movements don’t necessarily look like the tennis swing does not mean they will not provide a huge amount of benefit.

Disclaimer– I am not against doing some speed work in the gym from the get go- after all we can’t just expect an athlete to patiently wait until they hit their strength KPIs in the gym before they get to throw their first med ball.  It needs to be in the programme from the beginning but the focus will be more on slower speed higher force exercises.  As far as what type of speed work I’d start with? I’d actually start with how to slow down believe it or not.  The ability to absorb forces generated in a tennis shot is important in staying injury free and generally associated with eccentric strength.  This means learning how to land as part of jump training and learning how to decelerate as part of sprint training.  This means learning how to keep the torso stable while the arms and/or legs move independently of it.  The goal of any training programme first and foremost is to stay injury free.

Another way to kick off with sport specific training is from a ”skill” and ”suppleness” standpoint- so not only from a strength point of view (we are talking about strength as it’s the focus of this article).  So to satisfy the parent’s concerns that you’re doing sport specific training (and also because it is the right thing to do!) you can be working on proper mechanically sound set up positions to hit your forehand for example- wide base, ensuring adequate hip internal rotation and thoracic mobility. (suppleness-mobility)  Making sure the tennis player can keep their chin on their shoulder so they keep looking forward as they turn their shoulders.  You can also be working on the stability of the body to ensure a large shoulder turn relative to hip turn and ensuring the hips don’t turn excessively in the backswing (suppleness-stability).  By doing this we are taking care of the (athletic) ”skill” so that the sports coach can build the sport skill (racket work) onto the athletic one!

Good exercises for unloaded or low loaded sport specific training include:

Set up (stance)

  • Dowel or light Kettlebell Hinge pattern
  • Planks
  • Band pull parts or bent over rows


Backswing (rotation)

  • Seated trunk rotation
  • Cable rotation


So When is it Appropriate to Get More Specific ?

As my comments above elude to, it’s about when the ”focus” needs to change- not when to start getting more specific.  All of the APA programmes are concurrently working on all parts of the Force-Velocity curve.  But for the purpose of this section I’m talking about what type of strength we are focusing on from a loading point of view. This means:

  1. Maximal Strength
  2. Explosive Strength
  3. Coordination Strength (sport specific)

I have recently been referring to sport specific strength as coordination strength- as I feel that is an accurate term to describe what we are doing here.  Although it’s ultimately associated with high speed movements more sport specific movements can be learnt and trained at slower speeds especially when trying to improve efficiency first.

I think it’s a neat way to educate strength & conditioning coaches too on the importance of doing sport specific training.  If you have a black and white rule (as I used to) that general qualities such as maximal strength must come BEFORE specific qualities you will loose clients and more than that, you aren’t properly preparing your athlete for their sport by bridging the gap between general good movement and the specific way the body needs to move for their sport!

In the early part of training I am going to focus on developing Maximal strength.  A cool thing to do is to keep monitoring something like serve and groundstroke ball speed or even racket speed- chances are in a low level athlete (or someone who hasn’t done much strength training) you’ll see increases in ball speed during the period of the first exposure to regular strength training.  This might be any where from 8 to 16 weeks.

Remember when general strength levels are low, just concentrating on increasing strength as opposed to Rate of Force Development (RFD), or explosive strength as it is also known, will often increase power.

When an athlete is strong, further increasing strength levels may not carryover to increasing power very well.  These type of athletes generally have better results incorporating more high velocity movements.  They have the ability to produce lots of force, they just need to get better at producing it more quickly.  So once the strength standards are met, a tennis player should focus on explosive and coordination strength.

Strength standards

  • Barbell Back squat 1 Repetition Maximum (RM)- 2.0 x bodyweight  but more commonly aim for 3RM of 1.5 x
  • Barbell Split squat 5RM – 1.0 x bodyweight
  • Dumbbell Split squat 8RM- 0.5 x bodyweight (25% in each hand)

Final thought: I made the point earlier that sport specific training has to start from the beginning.  I spoke about learning how to absorb forces and get into efficient positions (having adequate mobility and control).

Ultimately if we get the body to move well and then get it maximally strong we can then focus on moving fast- and use a little bit of external load to overload the body.  Usually we will start to add speed in exercises that are less specific to the sport- because we can still get quite a lot of load in them.  These are known as explosive strength exercises.

Explosive Strength

  • Fast half squats
  • Loaded jumps (jump squats, split squat jumps, Olympic lifts such as a snatch and power clean)
  • Plyometrics (SLT, STJ, SVJ) and throw exercises (shot put forward and backward)

Then we can get a bit more specific still and start using more unilaterally exercises (meaning using one arm or one leg) and move in the transverse plane.  It also means doing the competitive exercise in full or in parts with weighted implements such as a medicine ball, weighted ball, weighted racket or moving on the court with a weighted vest!

Coordination strength

Some of my favourite ways to get more specific is to use rotational power exercises such as:

  • Rotational medicine ball throws
  • Explosive landmine rotations
  • Single arm cable press and rows (aim for about 40% 1RM, 25% 8RM press and 30% 8RM row)
  • Plyometric jumps (180 degree rotating jumps)
  • Weighted vest
  • Weighted racket
  • Weighted ball (100-500g)



Developmental athletes need to build a movement efficiency base to get good at lifting in later cycles. Once they can move well we can then start focusing more on moving fast in the gym- using more explosive strength and coordination strength tasks.


Where I am next presenting?


Speed, Agility & Quickness for Sports Workshop

Date: 24th Feb 2019, 09:00AM-13:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.


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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.  A bar at 100% would mean that biomotor ability is taxed maximally.

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% maximum 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.  Many of the fitness components that are taxed to a great extent are associated with high intensity.

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 actually reach 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 most coaches therefore associate specific training for sport with high intensity training.

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] phase FIRST 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.  Aristotle’s quote implies that the different biomotor abilities work together in a cooperative effort.  Even if agility is considered a high priority and specific to Tennis you can only express it to a certain degree before fatigue kicks in IF you don’t also have a minimum level of aerobic fitness.  So the different biomotors are all connected and rely on each other.  Make the weaker ones stronger and ‘together everyone achieves more (TEAM).’


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


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?
Strength/Power athletes are building a fatigue base to get a rebound in performance in the next strength cycle.  Doing higher volume work seems to cause a stress response associated with higher release of cortisol and hormonal disturbance which seems to cause a rebound effect later on.
-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 expression 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.”


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


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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?



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:

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


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.



OFF  300     600   450  300     0    600            Total PlayerLoad 2250



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:


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?





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

Book your spot HERE

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