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APA Philosophy 2- Strengthen the strengths

I am hoping to share my philosophy over the coming weeks and months and it seems apt to give a little background first on my coaching experience and influences to date.  The biography on the website pretty much sums up my actual coaching experience but what it won’t tell you are all the countless coaches that I have learnt from over the years.  While I haven’t had the fortune of meeting all of them I have always taken something from their experiences and things they have had to say.

 

I think Vern Gambetta summed it up when he said nothing is new; I believe in standing on the shoulders of giants so I make no apologies if I seem I am constantly quoting others.  Once I take all the bits I like from different people and put them together it has become MY PHILOSOPHY.

 

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

 

Bruce Lee

 

So to start this process, I thought it would be interesting to share the thoughts of Bill Sweetenham, who is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005.  At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007).

 

In describing his experience level as a coach he discussed FOUR periods in a coach’s life:

 

1.  FIRST 5-7 years coaching: one solution to every problem

 

2.  SECOND 5-7 years coaching: for every one problem you have 7-8 solutions

 

3.  THIRD 5-7 years coaching: you don’t have any problems, you see them coming

 

4.  FOURTH 5-7 years coaching:you create problems to teach lessons.  You make it hard for the athlete to get through, but you do help them get through.

 

Well, I took on my first coaching role in 1999 helping coach football to some local primary school aged children under the guidance of Butch Fazal.   So I guess 13 years later I’m sitting at the end of my Second period of coaching development in my life!!!

 

Bill said a lot of things that have stuck with me but I want to speak more to those comments he made relevant to my coaching philosophy and relevant to working with children in this Post.

 

> ”An athlete will always WIN because of their STRENGTHS. But they will ALWAYS fall short of their goals because of their WEAKNESS.”  

 

”The area of weakness is the area of greatest improvement; the area where you can make the biggest difference.”  Basically Bill is saying prioritise your coaching to improve their weaknesses.

 

I personally would start my introduction to my OWN philosophy by saying I believe in an approach a bit more along the lines of the great Frank Dick (From 1979 to 1994 Frank was the British Athletics Federation’s Director of Coaching).

 

1  Prioritise strengths

  People achieve because of what they are good at, not what they are bad at. So that is your development (and motivational) platform.

 

I agree with Frank that it is important to find out what the athlete you are working with is actually best at and train that to be a weapon.   It is also wise (from personal experience) TO START OFF giving the athlete more opportunity to do the things they are good at or like doing to build some motivation and get them on board.  Obviously as they begin to trust you more you can start to talk about spending some additional time working on things they need to get better at.

 

As a coach of young athletes (mainly 5-18 years) my job is to work with the technical coach to determine if those attributes that are creating success at the junior level NOW will stand up at the world class level LATER.  It is also necessary (but even more difficult) to determine whether we think the physical attributes they have now might change as they mature.  Are they winning now because they are more mature than their peers?  What will happen when the others catch up physically?

 

For example John Hicks and Jim Edgar were asked in ‘Coach Magazine’ to describe qualities of great junior tennis players (8-16 years).  They described two stereotypes in respect of fitness that come through in the Men’s game:

 

> The player with the SPEED and incredible will power and unshakable consistency- aka Leyton Hewitt

 

>The player with less natural speed and consistency but HUGE POWER on serve and forehand aka Andy Roddick.

 

It is easy when looking at the finished product to say how obvious it is that Hewitt and Roddick would end up playing the way they do.  However, consider without the benefit of hindsight whether this was so obvious when they were 13! Perhaps not!

 

2 Prioritise weakness if it interferes with strengths

 

So again using the Tennis example,  take for example a player who has a western grip that they naturally want to hold (for the non Tennis coaches out there this basically means you hit the ball quite high in relation to your body so you can’t afford to let the ball drop too low- you can’t afford to be slow around the court!).  But if you believe they are not fast enough to use a short lever you can work on their speed to build up a weakness which would interfere with their strength.  In this case their strength is  the ability to hit a missile with a Big forehand!!!
 

In summary, this links back to my overall coaching mandate of building a complete athlete who has no limitations (physical or otherwise).  Sure, there are professional athletes out there who we might consider have poor aspects of their game relative to their strengths but they don’t loose because of it- it’s good enough and it’s not a limitation.  

So now you have established the importance of maximising strengths and bringing up weaknesses (so you don’t lose because of them or risk getting injured) Frank says next assess strengths and weaknesses by whatever assessment instruments you have at your disposal.

 

Then, there is a 7 step process that Frank uses to assess progress once the key areas have been identified:

 

On the basic platform of full range movement and balanced all round basic strength:

 

I put this in bold because this part of the process of Athletic Development and ultimately Athletic Performance is sometimes assumed.  This actually represents a very large part of my role as an S&C coach working with Young Athletes!!! But I digress.  Here is what Frank went on to say!!

 

1 Establish and constantly refine a sound technical model

 

2 Develop fitness framework which ensures consistently effective technical delivery

 

3 Develop speed of technical delivery without compromising technical quality

 

4  Develop capacity to operate in training, competition and lifestyle with consistent quality where optimal approaches maximal, and maximal continues to progress

 

5 Rehearse extremes and interference to performance environment/conditions

 

6  Learn to read the game and join up the dots in competition and preparation to leverage competitive advantage

 

7  Win and win and win . .. . .

 

I agree with this approach and as I unpack my own philosophy (using the 5 S’s and 6 stages of LTAD) you will see how I too build an athlete on the same foundations of SUPPLENESS > SKILL > STRENGTH > SPEED > STAMINA

 

Well that sums up the first principle and in the next Post I will talk more about a few of the things I learnt from listening to Bill.

 

APA Philosophy 1- Winners never quit, and quitter never Win

Before I get into the Training Philosophy that underpins the design of all programmes that APA coaches write I think we need to spend some time talking about the Mindset that is required of a champion athlete.  It’s an old cliche but a bad programme that is followed consistently is probably better than a great programme that never gets done!  The point is that consistency is key to achieving success and so developing the mindset of an athlete is a key priority of all APA coaches.  

Bill Sweetenham  is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005.  At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007).  If you read read my next post on APA Philosophy 2 you’ll see I give Bill a big mention.

 

Bill had a number of interesting things to  say but relevant to this post was his views on the mindset of winner:  Below are some bullet points on what he had to say:

 

THE ATHLETE has a job to:

 

1.  Train and prepare the fitness of the mind to match the fitness of the body.

 

Bill always gets a feel for athletes he may potentially invite into his programme by asking them,

 

>’What are you prepared to do/willing to commit?’

 

>What are you going to bring to the programme? The programme is going to contribute a lot to you.  Are you going to bring a work ethic that is better than the one we have in the programme now?

 

Bill wants to work with athletes who have a WORK ETHIC in advance of their TALENT level.  You can’t win unless you have this!

 

>Bill says  ‘T- it’s the difference between CAN and CAN’T.  Negative people never win.  You have to be CAN DO people.  Positive people always win.

 

They don’t work hard enough……

The key frustration I have experienced in my coaches who work for me is them feeling like there is an incongruence between the aspirations of the athlete and what they are currently willing to put into their training.   Coaches often tell me an athlete needs to work harder; they are ‘supposed’ to be an elite performer.  The key is to meet them where they are at and constantly give the child (if a junior) and the parent/coach HONEST feedback on how closely the behaviours and actions of the athlete are aligned with their GOALS.  If there is a mismatch for a period of time this usually is addressed by a revision of the goals or a shift in attitude of the player.   Something will have to give.

 

 

THE COACH has a job to:

 

1.  Convert involvement and participation into commitment.

 

Bill describes the image of Bacon and eggs.  He says the Eggs represent Involvement because the chicken is only involved in the process- they lay the eggs for the meal.  But the Bacon represents Commitment because the pig gave up it’s life.  Which one are you?

 

2.  Keep athletes out of the Twilight Zone

 

In Swimming Bill describes the twilight zone (I’m sure it exists in all sports).  At one end of the participation level, athletes might do 5 x 1 hour sessions a week.  They’ll never make it but they do it for fun and fitness.  At the other end there are athletes who do 20-25 hours a week including gym and swimming.  These athletes expect a tangible reward for competing.  They’re really hungry for winning and even more hungry for the rewards that go with winning.

 

In Swimming 80% of swimmers are training BETWEEN this 5 and 20 hour week.  So they are in a Twilight Zone.  They’re doing too much for it to be enjoyable and fun but not enough to get the real benefits from it.  So Bill says try and avoid the Twilight Zone!

 

My experience of working with athletes in all levels of participation tells me that it isn’t always so black and white.  Sometimes athletes would like to commit more but can’t afford to.  Sometimes parents are unsure whether it is in the interests of their son and daughter to specialise in one sport at such an early age.

 

Broadly speaking I feel it is important to encourage diversity of activity in children between the ages of 5-12 years

 

Certainly after this age it is increasing important to narrow the focus towards the sport in which the child wants to excel.

The key point in sports such as Tennis which are highly skill dependant is that the child is given ENOUGH time in the sport at a young age, to acquire fundamental skills of stroke production (serves, ground strokes and speciality shots like volleys and smashes).  Now the more ‘Talented’ the athlete the more quickly they may acquire those skills!

 

My final point to make is:

 

Do what makes you happy!

 

If a child is absolutely in love with one sport and that is what they wake up and go to bed dreaming about doing then I don’t have a problem with that.  I also don’t have a problem if they wake up tomorrow and decide they don’t want to be David Beckham any more.   They want to be Bradley Wiggins!!

 

 

 

APA Developing a Philosophy

I started a company

 

In June 2011 I officially registered as a limited company, hence the birth of ‘Athletic Performance Academy.’  I felt that by operating as a company I could offer my services to a larger sector of the market and expand out of Tennis BUT importantly I wanted retain the credibility and reputation I had earned personally from 13 years coaching.

 

I wanted to put together a philosophy for the company first because when you start employing other staff to represent your own company you need to be able to convey to other coaches how you want things done. So during the whole of 2010 and a large part of 2011 I was doing two projects:

 

1.  Reading BLOGS of coaches I respected to get insights into how they run their facilities and organise their programmes- what are their philosophies?

 

I tend to read Alwyn Cosgrove, Pat Rigsby at the IYCA, Joe DeFranco, Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Nick Grantham, Vern Gambetta, Brendan Chaplin because these guys all have established facilities and/or public profiles.  I don’t read as much as I would like to but I always make sure in my holiday time I have a quick catch up on the last few months of posts to see what they are talking about.

 

2.  Designing a Player Development Model

 

Basically this is my interpretation of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Windows of Opportunity. I wanted to articulate to my team what biomotor abilities need to be prioritised at certain stages in an athlete’s development and what kind of drills might be used and progressed to serve this purpose.  I came up with 6 levels  across the big 5 Biomotor Abilities (Suppleness, Skill, Strength, Speed, Stamina).  Each level has a selection of drills that can be used as examples of how to develop that component.

 

I don’t believe in creating robot coaches who wheel out the same cookie cutter programmes every term.  So to this end I don’t prescribe all the drills I want coaches to do.  I only ask that they cover the relevant abilities and get the right blend appropriate to the athlete in front of them.

 

Of course, neither of these projects ever stop but I am now at a point where I feel I can give a new coach a great insight into all the different biomotors and where they all fit.   Based on these projects I came up with a Coaching Mandate a list of bullet points that articulates what APA coaching is all about.

 

Below are a selection from the Document:  These are the Most important ones about the overall role of S&C and the role of the Coach.

 

 Goal of S&C Training

 

Priority #1 Keep your athletes healthy so they can train consistently and get better at their sport

 

Priority #2 Build a ‘complete’ athlete fully capable of competing at their highest level without any limitations

 

Basically Priority 1 and 2 relates to reducing the risk of Injuries.  Mike Boyle adds:

 

> Preventing injuries in the actual training process, and 

 

> Reducing incidence of performance related injuries

 

Basically, we can’t afford to get anyone injured in the gym.  There is an assumption of risk on the field so if someone gets hurt in a match, ‘well, it’s part of the game.’ But in the weight room then that’s our deal.

 

There is a difference between putting someone in a situation where you think they could get hurt (Sport) and then deliberately putting them in that situation and calling that training (trying to recreate the stresses of sport in the gym).

 

Priority #3 Integrate your inventions into an inter-disciplinary framework to serve the Overall Goal of Performance improvement in the Competitive Arena.

 

The sum of the parts is greater than the whole Aristotle

 

 

 

Suck it up coaches!  Leave your Ego at home and remember that it’s only by all of the experts in the team working together to agree on a SHARED GOAL for the athlete that Performance Improvement will be realised.  Success is an improvement on the sports field!!

 

 

The Coach

 

> It’s not about the recipe it’s about the cook (delivery counts)

 

> Be a coach, not a trainer- act accordingly. Organise. Teach. Communicate. Inspire

 

> It’s not about the drill, it’s about the skill

 

I guess these are my top 3 things I look for in a coach.  The Top two are DELIVERY ability (how do they deliver their knowledge- do they get their messages across) and linked to that specifically is their ability to INSPIRE.  Then a close third is ability to actually TEACH something rather than just doing work!!

 

Gil Stevenson Workshop: Questions Answered 5-7

 

 

5.  How would you deal with a (tennis) coach who believes their player should not be lifting heavy weights.  It will slow them down and could injure their back.

 

 

 

Gil actually answered this question in the context of Football (soccer) because this is a sport where he has experienced this sort of comment.  Don’t be confused by the photo above of an American football player.  This was not the sport Gil was talking about.  But I saw the picture and I thought it was a good stereotypical image of a coach that came to mind and illustrates what we’re up against!!!   One thing I must mention that Gil said (which I did not expect) is that professional footballers are truly exceptional athletes; every young boy aspires to become one but most are just not born of superior genes and end up filtering into other sports.   Given Gil’s association with Rugby it was refreshing honesty-something we must acknowledge about footballers once we look beyond all the drama with diving players and the lack of existence of an S&C culture at the top level!

 

 

Gil went on to say that they really are the most robust kind of all athletes when you think that they play 60 games plus each season  and seem to get by with a quick patch up job by the medical team and sub-optimal S&C programmes!

 

 

Anyway, back to the question!!!!!   Gil’s reply was succinct.  ‘The bottom line is coaches don’t know what they don’t know.   They are unconsciously incompetent.’

 

 

Gil gave an example of a unnamed Team whose medical team were giving the S&C department ear ache for doing too heavy squatting with their players which was causing them (it was alleged) back pain and pain during matches.  The S&C coach asked Gil for advice as this was a very difficult situation.  For the record these were male professional footballers and squatting 65kg!!!!!!  Gil has a 13 year old female overhead squatting half of that!!!!

 

 

To me this is unbelievable and if you look at this logically it isn’t a stretch to say that perhaps the reason these pro players are breaking down in matches is because they are so weak they can’t tolerate the impact forces of the contacts/collisions that take place in football.   How awesome might our pro footballers be if they actually delivered somewhere close to their athletic potential in the gym????

 

 

6.  What is starting strength and how do you train it?

 

 

Well, if you already read Lessons 2 you will have seen the definition from Mel Siff’s Supertraining.  But here it is again,

 

 

“starting-strength” refers to the ability of the muscles to develop force at the beginning of the working contraction before external movement occurs and is always produced under conditions of isometric muscle action. This fact alone has important consequences for strength training, because it dispels the opinion that the once-popular method of isometric training should be completely abandoned in modern training. On the contrary, the ability to generate starting strength rapidly can exert a profound effect on the dynamics of an entire movement, not only in terms of the magnitude of the impulse, but also regarding the psychological sensation of “lightness” that it creates during the crucial initial stage of a highly resisted movement.

 

 

Gil said that the basis for all acceleration based movements comes from isometric muscle actions and training to develop this would definitely help greatly with acceleration.  I questioned what sort of weight because I have read on more than one occasion that starting strength has been described as the ability to initiate movement quickly using moderate loads which enable you to get the bar moving quickly.  From discussions with Gil he said that I shouldn’t confuse acceleration speed of the bar with acceleration strength.  Yes the bar travels at its fastest during the 2nd pull when RFD is highest (peak RFD) but acceleration strength is initially gathered under isometric conditions which is best done under heavy load– using the principle of an immovable load!

 

 

Below is an example of APA coach Fabrizio Gargiulo demonstrating a 5-10sec isometric 1st pull using a load marginally greater than his 1RM Deadlift so that the focus is on starting strength.  (For the record he could do a lot more but he hadn’t done a proper warm-up!!!)  Something to consider is that this type of isometric work could actually be very appropriate for a complete beginner to learn how to gather up their force to ‘feel’ what it is like to properly brace and develop those internal forces that Gil was talking about so important in getting the right POSTURE!!!

 

 

Now one point to note is that resisted running is quite popular for a neural overload at the speed end of the continuum.  When asked if you could put athletes in harnesses with resistance from the coach or with a really heavy weighted sled to train the sprint motion isometrically Gil said you could, but he wouldn’t, because you could affect the sprint mechanics. For me personally, I quite like the use of ‘bungees’ to run against for agility work or light sleds for sprinting but if I want to do something really heavy to help develop sprint starts I’ll squat and deadlift!!!!

 

 

Once you get over the fact that they are not actually going to lift it then actually the heavier the better!! You might want to inform the parents of the 11 year old girl what you’re doing first though!!

 

Gil discusses the benefit of isometric pulls

 

Below is an example of APA coach Fabrizio Gargiulo demonstrating a 5-10sec isometric 1st pull using a load.  This is at a weight that you could normally rep out for 3-5RM but doing singles for 5-10sec isometrics soon adds up!

 

 

 
7.  How do you organise speed, plyometrics and strength/olympic weight lifting into a microcycle?

 

 

If truth be told we didn’t get into this in great detail as by the time Gil spoke about the underpinning theory, answered our questions and did some practice at the first pull and 2nd pulls from hangs we were running out of time.  There were a couple of key messages I took about how Gil organises his programmes:

 

 

1.   Train the qualities of strength, power and speed concurrently.  Gil has never done a plyometrics session in isolation for example it has always dovetailed with a weights session or even a speed session.  Gil likes to have plyos always present somewhere; in general strength blocks this might be in the warm-ups for proprioception.  In strength blocks these might happen before or after the weights and in the strength/power block they will be more than likely complexed together with the weights!!

 

 

A typical progression over several mesocycles might be:

 

 

General Strength >  Maximal Strength >  Maximal Strength/Power > Maintenance of Strength > Taper

 

 

Gil was suggesting he would take out the plyos and heavy power work in the phase before the taper.  I have seen this before where you actually get a rebound effect as the true neural transfer takes place AFTER you stop doing them!!

 

 

2.  Vary the Training Load weekly.   Gil personally favours keeping the sets x reps fairly constant so say 4 x 6 for the whole mesocycle of 4 weeks but varying the percentage between H, MH, VH, M where on the Very High week you push for a greater percentage of the Repetition Maximum determined in the first week microcycle say 105% plus.  I am a bit more traditional and like to keep going heavier over 3 weeks gradually then have a bigger Deload on the 4th week or even 5th or 6th week with my youngest athletes.  But perhaps this is because I am working with younger athletes who have a bigger window for week on week gains.

 

 

I also quite like the ideal of changing it up in some cycles so rather than increasing Training Load with increases biased towards the Load end, I like to start with 3 x 6 and build volume at that same weight over 4 weeks such as 3 x 6 > 4 x 6 > 3 x8 > 4 x 8

 

 

3. Combinations for conditioning.  Gil talked about using combinations- where you do 3 similar exercises back to back to make one rep.  So this could be derivatives of the Olympic lifts such as a pull from hang into a high pull from hang into the full catch.   Or it could be 3 big movements such as a clean into a front squat into a push press.

 

 

Gil has used these successfully both at the initial basic strength block to develop connective tissue adaptations and work capacity as well as at the end in power cycles to really get some anaerobic conditioning work in.  He has used a 3 rep combination for 10 rounds (30 reps) with a goal of 2 minutes or under looking to drive the heart rate up to >200 bpm and then going again once it drops to below 140 bpm.

Gil Stevenson Workshop: Questions Answered 1 to 4

 

 

So now that you have hopefully read the Lessons posts 1, 2 and 3 (if you haven’t check out the previous posts!!) I can finally get to giving you Gil’s responses to the group’s questions:

 

 

1.  How much weight should a tennis player lift?

 

 

Another way of asking this question is how strong is strong enough?  Well, Gil said ‘the real answer is you can never be strong enough.  How strong you become is dependant on how long you spend training it.  Sports which traditionally have long competitive phases (i.e., Tennis) don’t spend long enough training it.  Of course maximal strength doesn’t go away so once you have built it up it sticks around and you don’t need to work as hard to maintain it BUT……at some point you need to put some time aside to build it up in the first place.’

 

 

2.  What would you prioritise in a typical 6-8 week training block for a professional player who maybe only has one opportunity a year like this to work on their physical qualities?

 

 

Gil would using a concurrent periodisation model and focus on Maximal Strength and Power development.  Obviously the bias of the programme would be based on individual results from assessment but this should be a main goal of a programme bearing in mind this is the only time in the year when there is a significant reduction in playing volume.

 

 
3.  How much rotational work would you put into a tennis player’s S&C programme?

 

 

The focus of the training is to Control rotation not create it.  The rotation happens naturally as a by product of stroke production.  The job of the S&C coach is to get them strong and powerful and then it is the role of the tennis coach to transfer that force to the skill.  The moment you start trying to replicate every sport specific skill is the moment that you are no longer seeking to develop force and power qualities that will overload the body.   But you can use ‘complexes’ to add that sport specific element.  This is where you pair a heavy barbell exercise with a lightly resisted or unloaded sport specific skill such as a single arm medicine ball chest pass.  But remember, the focus is still on choosing an exercise where you can focus on the initial creation of force and then the subsequent control of that force.  Don’t try and load a movement that is exactly the same as the sport skill.  The ultimate transfer comes through repetitive practice of the actual stroke.  The complex will enable force production using light implements in similar but not the exact same movement pattern.

 

 

Gil showed us a good exercise for development of production and control of rotational force should we want one good rotational exercise in our toolkit!  Apologies that the photo is not the best but the Barbell twist can be very effective.  Be cautious and start with a broomstick and gradually build up to an Olympic Bar.  Focus on explosively creating the force to generate the movement and then the control to stop it before you over rotate.  This is a velocity dependant exercise in that you need to develop a certain amount of bar speed to challenge your ability to control it.  However, some of the multi-joint ‘functional type’ exercises you see like Barbell Lunge and Press or Medicine Ball Lunge and Rotate are not velocity dependant so these would serve better as Rotational warm-up exercises.

 

 

 

 
4.  How important is single leg work to your S&C programme for a tennis player?

 

 

This is not an instead of issue, it’s an as well as issue, meaning to say that it is not necessary to look at bilateral or unilateral exercises as being  more or less important.  They are both equally important.  There is no question that you must do Bilateral exercises because this is the most important way to develop the qualities of Maximal Strength and RFD.   They simply allow the most amount of load to be overcome.

 

 

Unilateral exercises are important because they address some of the stability issues where there may be potential energy leaks.  Gil gave the example of a very well conditioned triple jumper who was incredibly strong and powerful but was not able to translate that into his jumping perforance due to not being  able to control the pelvis during take off!   They also iron out imbalances between both sides of the body and obviously develop strength in acyclical movements that happen in most sports!

 

 

Stand by for answers to questions 5 to 7 and that will wrap up my summary of Gil’s workshop!!!

 

 



Gil Stevenson Workshop Lesson 3: Adaptations to Strength and Power training

 

So I am almost ready to get stuck into answering some of the questions posed by the group but just before I do , one last bit of theory!  Gil also showed us two other graphs;  graphs which most S&C coaches worth their salt should be familiar with! The first comes from a famous study by Hakkinen and Komi (1985a, 1985b).

 

 

 

 

Here are the references if you want to read them!!

 

 

Hakkinen, K. and P.V. Komi, 1985a. Changes in electrical and mechanical behaviour of leg extensor muscles during heavy resistance strength training. Scand. J. Sports Sci 7:55-64.

 

 

Hakkinen, K. and P.V. Komi, 1985b. The effect of explosive type strength training on electromyography and force production characteristics of leg extensor muscles during concentric and various stretch-shortening cycle exercises. Scand. J. Sports Sci 7:65-76.

 

 

Powerful Athletes:

 

 

Gil makes a case throughout the workshop that being able to produce A LOT OF FORCE is key to a robust and ready athlete.  But Gil also reminded us that most movements which occur during sport occur within 200 milliseconds and that the bottom line is that if you only train using maximal strength methods then at this key point in time you will only be able to produce about the same force as an untrained person.  Compare that to the explosive strength trained group (performing Olympic weightlifting and plyometrics) and notice that at 200 milliseconds they are able to produce much more force!!  So it’s important to train using concurrent methods that train you to produce a lot of force and produce it quickly!!!

 

 

 

 

Again Gil reinforced that you want to do a MIXTURE of Maximal strength and exercises designed to develop power and speed so you are working both ends of the curve.  If you only work on Maximal Strength you risk making the athletes slow and heavy in the legs and you will not be popular with coaches!  If you only work on speed you will eventually hit a plateau because the only way to reach new found levels of speed is to get stronger and produce more force.

 

 

Take home message:  Force x Velocity = Power

 

 

Gil Stevenson Workshop Lesson 2: The Science of Strength and Power

What is Strength Really?

 

 

Gil didn’t actually start with this question on his presentation.  He actually showed us a picture of an Olympic weightlifter doing a Squat Snatch and asked us to list ALL of the qualities of fitness required to initiate the movement AND more importantly complete the full catch.  (See Lesson 1).  Then we got into more detail about the strength requirements necessary to perform a Snatch (or Clean) and this is where it can get confusing !  But I hope to shed some light on this and it starts with understanding STRENGTH and what exactly it is!

 

 

So to give us an appreciation of strength take a few minutes to digest a great  overview of Mel Siff’s  voluminous textbook (“Supertraining”)  conveyed below by the man himself. I have taken extracts out relevant to this discussion.  To see the full article visit http://www.ptonthenet.com/articles/What-is-Strength-Really-1296

 

 

”I have found that the full scope of strength and strength training is very superficially understood and that many struggle to define strength beyond the belief that it “is the ability of the body to produce maximum force.” While some may think that accurate definitions are pedantic and unnecessary, it is essential to point out that what is left out of a simplistic definition may be precisely what hinders you from fully understanding and applying any given method of training and testing.

 

 

Let us first correct that basic definition that strength is the ability of the body to produce maximum force. It is not! Strength is the ability of the body (muscles) to produce force; the ability of the body to produce maximum force is maximum strength. Even then, this implies that strength is some sort of general property of human capability, which totally ignores the fact that strength depends on the way in which it is produced or measured. After all, we frequently are exposed to arguments about who is the strongest type of person – the weightlifter, the powerlifter, the wrestler, the footballer, the manual labourer, the Highland Games contestant, a world Strongman competitor….?

 

 

So what does one generally do when a client approaches you to develop sport specific”strength”, “functional strength”, “core strength” or rotator cuff strength? Well, you design a programme based upon your personal education and experience, often almost reflexively choosing to use Olympic lifting methods, circuit training, machine training, HIT (“High Intensity Training”), plyometrics and so forth, depending more often on personal bias than a thorough, objective analysis of what is involved.

 

 

Your client might be an experienced athlete like a gymnast, boxer or martial artist who challenges you with the very real point that most of the best performers in their sports never use weights, so how can doing a power clean, balancing on a ball or using a resistance machine really improve their sport specific strength? Anecdotes about all the results you have achieved may be to no avail because your client might detect that you do not fully understand the nature of the specific forms of strength (and power) required. This is yet another reason why it is vital to understand the whole spectrum of what strength really is.

 

 

DEFINING STRENGTH

 

 

“maximal strength” is the ability of a particular group of muscles to produce a maximal voluntary contraction in response to optimal motivation against an external load. This strength is usually produced in competition and may also be referred to as the “competitive maximum strength.” It is not the same as “absolute strength” which usually is associated with the greatest force which can be produced by a given muscle group under involuntary muscle stimulation by, for example, electrical stimulation of the nerves – supplying the muscles or recruitment of a powerful stretch reflex by sudden extremes of loading.  This is roughly equivalent to maximal eccentric strength- but this is difficult to measure because there are feedback mechanisms in the body which would prevent our body from continuing to produce enough force to the point of mechanical and structural failure- basically an injury!!

 

 

Gil also got us to recognise the role of creating force internally to create bracing forces and effectively achieve Posture , as well as applying external forces against an object to create movement.

 

 

 To prevent confusion, we also need to note that the term “absolute strength” sometimes is used to define the maximum strength which can be produced irrespective of one’s body mass.

 

 

It is also useful to recognise that one may define isometric, concentric and eccentric strength maxima, since every sport requires distinct levels of each one of these types of maximum. As a matter of interest, these maxima given in order of magnitude are: eccentric, isometric, concentric, which most of us already know from training experience – we can always handle between 25-40 percent more load during the eccentric phase of most movements.

 

 

STRENGTH AND FITNESS

 

 

Now that we have dissected strength in greater depth we can define “fitness” (“the ability to cope effectively with a given stress”) in more detail. Fitness comprises a series of interrelated structural and functional factors, which conveniently may be referred to as the basic S-factors of fitness (Siff, “Supertraining”): Strength, Speed, Stamina (general endurance or local muscular endurance), Suppleness (flexibility), Skill (neuromuscular efficiency), Structure (somatotype, size, shape) and Spirit (psychological preparedness). Within the scope of skill, there is also a fitness quality known as Style, the individual manner of expressing a particular skill.

 

 

We can now construct a comprehensive model of physical fitness from the functional motor elements of fitness, as shown in Figure 1.

 

 

Gil showed us this diagram and made the case that there are very few exercises that can adequately train all these components fully, but perhaps an Olympic Weightlifting clean or snatch could be that exercise??!!

 

 

fitness pyramid

 

 

Figure 1. Pyramid Model showing the major components of musculoskeletal fitness

 

 

The diagram illustrates that strength, endurance and flexibility may be produced statically or dynamically, unlike speed, which changes along a continuum from the static to the dynamic state.

 

 

The quality of flexibility has been placed at the centre of the base of the pyramid, because the ability to exhibit any of the other qualities generally depends on existence of some range of movement (ROM). It should be noted that static or dynamic flexibility refers to the maximum ROM that may be attained under static or dynamic conditions, respectively. The line joining all adjacent pairs of primary fitness factors depicts a variety of different fitness factors between each of the two extremes. The model thus allows us to identify an extended list of fitness factors.

 

 

Complex fitness factors should be viewed as convenient descriptors of qualities which are involved in different proportions in a particular physical activity. Nevertheless, this pyramidal model enables us to understand sport specific fitness and training far more effectively than with a simplistic model based only on the primary functional fitness factors of strength, endurance, speed and flexibility.

 

 

One may also consider the concept of “relative strength” (e.g., how much you lift divided by your bodyweight), especially since a client may grow stronger in terms of absolute strength, but her bodymass may also increase, so that in relative terms, she has grown weaker. The improvement in other fitness factors relative to bodymass may also be highly relevant. For instant, “relative power” (power per unit bodymass) is very important in cases where the athlete has to increase power without increasing bodymass (e.g. a weightlifter or boxer in a specific bodymass division). In sports which require the athlete to increase muscle endurance without increasing bodymass, “relative endurance” needs to be enhanced. In this case, one might even distinguish between “relative static endurance” and “relative dynamic endurance”. Depending on the sport, improvement of “relative speed-strength endurance” (or relative strength endurance) under repeated cyclic or acyclic conditions, may also be relevant.

 

 

STRENGTH FACTORS IN ACTION

 

 

So far, we have discussed different types of strength or strength qualities as components of fitness, but it is also very informative to analyse strength at the level of individual actions. This is best done by studying the curve of how the force changes with respect to time for any given movement, such as the idealised and simplified graph in Figure 2

 

 

Gil showed us the diagram below WITHOUT the answers filled in and asked us to come up with the 7 missing qualities of strength.  As a group we were about 50% or so on the money so clearly a few days with Mr Siff and Supertraining for a refresher are required!!!

80_what_i4

 

 

Figure 2 A typical force-time curve describing the lifting of a free weight from a given position and returning it to rest. Movement occurs only when the force exceeds the weight of the object, namely over the shaded portion of the curve.

 

 

Analysis of this curve reveals several characteristics associated with the production of strength, some of which we have not discussed yet, namely:

 

 

1. Starting Strength

 

2. Acceleration-Strength

 

3. Rate of Force Development (RFD)

 

4. Explosive Strength (Maximum RFD)

 

5. Maximum Strength

 

6. Strength-Endurance

 

7. Deceleration Strength

 

 

So to answer one of my questions which was, ‘ what is starting strength,’ below is the definition.  Remember also that a typical Force-Velocity curve is a Concentric representation of forces over time so technically the starting strength component (like the acceleration strength component) occurs up and to the left of the curve just behind maximal strength (it’s isometric)!! So it wouldn’t actually have a place on the typical curve like the one I have included below!!

 

 

Figure-3

 

 

Here, “starting-strength” refers to the ability of the muscles to develop force at the beginning of the working contraction before external movement occurs and is always produced under conditions of isometric muscle action. This fact alone has important consequences for strength training, because it dispels the opinion that the once-popular method of isometric training should be completely abandoned in modern training. On the contrary, the ability to generate starting strength rapidly can exert a profound effect on the dynamics of an entire movement, not only in terms of the magnitude of the impulse, but also regarding the psychological sensation of “lightness” that it creates during the crucial initial stage of a highly resisted movement. “Acceleration-strength”, describes the ability to quickly achieve maximal external muscle force once dynamic movement has begun.

 

 

“Explosive Strength” characterizes the ability to produce maximal force in a minimal time. It is most commonly displayed in athletic movements when the contraction of the working muscles in the fundamental phases of the exercise is preceded by mechanical stretching (such as any plyometric, throwing, kicking, striking or rebounding action in many sports). In this instance, the switch from stretching to active contraction uses the elastic energy of the stretch to increase the power of the subsequent contraction. Mathematically, it is given by the maximum value of the slope of the force-time curve (where this slope is called the Rate of Force Development, RFD).

 

 

“Strength-Endurance” characterizes the ability to effectively maintain muscular activity under work conditions of long duration. In sport this refers to the ability to produce a certain minimum driving force for a prolonged period. (Examples: any longer sprint events in running, cycling, swimming for dynamic strength-endurance, and any prolonged grappling in wrestling and scrumming in rugby for static or quasi-isometric strength-endurance).

 

 

“Deceleration-Strength” refers to the ability to slow down any movement whenever necessary, especially as a joint is reaching its end of range of movement. It occurs under eccentric conditions and frequently is called into play by reflexes, which are activated to prevent injury to the joints. It is vital that this quality be adequately developed in anyone who takes part in any rapid, ballistic or powerful sports, as well as in “plyometric” or rebound training, because many injuries can result from inefficiency in slowing down or halting a forceful movement.

 

 

If the load is near maximal, then the initial slope of the Force-Time curve is small and the time taken to produce movement is prolonged. This requires the exhibition of the motor quality of “static strength-endurance”, (Examples: wrestling or rugby scrumming) as opposed to “dynamic strength-endurance”, which refers to the muscle endurance required to maintain movement over a given interval (Examples: gymnastics, track running, longer sprint swimming ). This quality may be involved in carrying out a set of repetitions with a load or by maintaining cyclic work of various intensities

 

 

Suppose that we now wish to use this information to compare the performances of two different athletes in executing the same exercise. Athlete A may not be able to produce the same maximum force as athlete B, but he can produce his maximum faster than A, so that if they are to compete against one another in a contact sport, A may well defeat B in very short duration, explosive encounters. In general, if the sport concerned requires rapid Rate of Force Development, then athlete A will often have the advantage. This quality is essential in any sports that involve jumping, hitting or throwing, such as basketball, martial arts, American football and track-and-field. In this case, any training aimed at increasing B’s maximal strength or bulk will be misdirected, because he needs to concentrate more on explosive strength (RFD) training. If the sport requires a high maximal force or a large amount of momentum to be exerted irrespective of time (Examples: as in powerlifting or prolonged scrummaging or strongman contests), then athlete B will prove to be superior. In such a situation, athlete A will not improve unless he trains to increase maximal strength.

 

 

Incidently here is a Force-Time curve that Gil also showed us.  If you take the same definitions above you can start to see that an Olympic Lift develops nearly all the qualities of strength due to the nature of the lift.  Qualities 1 to 2 above are achieved from the initiation of 1st pull.  The quality of Reactive strength (not in Mel Siff definition) is achieved during the double knee bend or unweighting phase where there is an eccentric stretch of the quadriceps. This is followed by the qualities of 3, 4 and 5 to the end of the 2nd pull.  Then finally as you drop under the bar to catch it there is a massive requirement of 7 to decelerate the bar!!!! What an exercise!!!

 

 

 

 

Gil Stevenson Workshop Lesson 1 – The Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

 

 

 

 

So,  Gil started his workshop on the ‘Application of Weightlifting to development of Speed and Power in Tennis’ with a photo similar to the one above.  He then asked us all to give our views on what fitness qualities someone would need to 1) pull the bar off the floor and up to the chest and b) catch the bar in the position above.

 

 

So what would you have come up with?

 

 

Well, we came up with the standard responses such as strength, power, flexibility, stability etc…..not earth shattering answers.  The next post (Lessons 2) will go into great detail on what strength is and  it’s proper definition- and which types are required during Olympic weightlifting.   But interesting though this was not the line Gil was going down initially!

 

 

Gil said in the initial pull the key qualities are:

 

 

>Core Strength

 

 

>Posture

 

 

>Balance

 

 

These are all inter-related as clearly having more core strength will help develop the bracing capability to hold a good posture which in turn will aid in maintenance of balance!

 

 

As far as the catch is concerned Gil outlined the importance of:

 

 

>Agility

 

 

>Motor coordination

 

 

 

 

This was really important for me as a light bulb moment because while we all wanted to talk about the gross qualities of maximum strength, RFD and dynamic flexibility Gil was really saying:

 

 

Look, these lifts reinforce FUNDAMENTAL QUALITIES first and foremost in our athletes such as Posture that we spend so long trying to achieve with indirect methods targeting individual muscles such as movement prep type exercises and goodness knows what other functional, remedial type of  exercises.

 

 

A lot of these interventions are all well conceived but actually if you get a beginner to lift a bar over their head (starting with a broomstick and progressing from there) they hit A LOT of qualities that will build a robust athlete!!!

 

 

Gil Stevenson Workshop: Burning Questions

 

 

October 19th  saw APA hosting it’s first guest speaker, Gil Stevenson for a thoroughly enjoyable morning discussing Gil’s  philosophy on speed and power development in the context of the sport of Tennis.

 

 

Aside from the UKSCA annual conference (which I will discuss my thoughts on in another blog post!!) it’s difficult to get the whole team out to see other coaches talk about what they do so this was a great CPD opportunity.

 

 

At the start of the presentation the audience were asked by Gil for their ‘burning questions.’  Below were a few:

 

 

1.  How much weight should a tennis player lift?

 

2.  What would you prioritise in a typical 6-8 week training block for a professional player who maybe only has one opportunity a year like this to work on their physical qualities?

 

3.  How much rotational work would you put into a tennis player’s S&C programme?

 

4.  How important is single leg work to your S&C programme for a tennis player?

 

5.  How would you deal with a tennis coach who believes their player should not be lifting heavy weights.  It will slow them down and could injure their back.

 

6.  What is starting strength and how do you train it?

 

7.  How do you organise speed, plyometrics and strength/olympic weight lifting into a microcycle?

 

 

I will attempt to give some of the answers that Gil came up with over the next few posts!!  But before getting to the answers I will summarise some of the theory that underpinned Gil’s presentation in what I am going to call my Workshop Lessons series.  Stand by for Lesson 1