Physical Competency Assessment

Whenever I take on new coaches at APA one of the first things we go through is the Physical Competency Assessment (PCA).  In this week’s blog we take a closer look at this assessment.

I’ll previously written about one of the assessments- the Overhead squat in a previous blog- which you can read here

The assessment methods described there are slightly different to the ones we use at APA.  I have to give credit to Kelvin Giles for first putting me on to the Physical Competency Assessment.  I had tried the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) but just felt it was too time consuming and replicated some of the musculoskeletal assessments the physio was doing.  I met Kelvin at one of the early UKSCA conferences where he was presenting.

Use with Lawn Tennis Association

At one point Kelvin was also a consultant advisor to the Lawn Tennis Association and introduced it into the profiling that was done with National level players at the National Tennis centre.  This has changed and evolved over the years.  Below is a snap shot of the current profiling taking place at the LTA.

The flexibility, y-balance and core endurance assessment is the domain of the physio team.

With regards the physical comps, the tests have remained the same (OH squat, SL squat, Forward & Lateral hop & hold and Press-up) for quite some time.

The purpose is to assess range, patterning and stability in bi-lateral, uni-lateral and dynamic balance exercises plus a measure of trunk / upper body stability & function too.

In rather simplistic terms, a score of 1 represents poor range and dysfunctional movement, 2 is fewer and/or smaller dysfunctions, 3 is appropriate and repeatable technique.

Over the last 9months, feedback has almost exclusively been related to OH squat as there was enough to highlight here rather than open a bigger can of worms with the single leg exercises.


Use with Athletic Performance Academy (APA)

Rather than type lots of words here I will simply share with you a video that I made for my coaches.  You can have it too!


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FREE Ebook: Endurance training for kids

This blog is one I am really excited to write.  I have been really enjoying being part of a Youth Strength & Conditioning forum on Facebook.  So in the last few days a couple of questions came in that got me fired up and excited to contribute to the discussion.  One question was about sport specific training for children and another was about endurance profiles of children.  I thought I would share some of the learnings here and I’ll address the second topic in this post!  You can also read more about this topic in my FREE Ebook:

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”Random question…from an adaptation perspective kids are aerobic animals and can play all day quite naturally without much/any training…was just wondering if anyone could shed some light on where this ability (effectively work capacity or aerobic capacity if you will) disappears to as kids get older? Is it simply that their aerobic system has adapted faster than their body size so relative to bodyweight they’re aerobic system is in better shape than it will be when they reach adult weight/height?

Just wondering why most kids can seemingly play all day if given the chance despite no/minimal training yet most adults can’t? I’m sure there is plenty more context (young kids are much less sedentary than adults for example) but interested to hear what literature people have come across…”

I have underlined two statements above which I want to focus on.  Let me start by setting the scene.

Long term athlete development

Youth Training is one of my passions.  I think practitioners like Rhodri Lloyd have done great work to pave the way for new understandings of the training process and long-term athlete development (LTAD) principles.  It’s thought that when working with children certain biomotor abilities such as speed, strength and stamina have ‘windows of opportunity’ wherein they seem to develop at an accelerated rate in response to growth and maturation.  However, I’ve never been comfortable calling them ‘windows.’  First of all it implies that the opportunity is only open in a discrete period- ie at any other time the development of these abilities will be less.  It also implies that growth and maturation status should be the determining factor for tapping into a specific biomotor- ie. don’t focus on strength and stamina until after peak height velocity (post-puberty).

Figure 1. Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development.

The YPD model above highlights that all physical qualities can be worked on all of the time but with a different emphasis.  This model was acclaimed for showing that strength should be focused on THROUGHOUT the training journey.  As it relates to Endurance and metabolic conditioning, it suggests that Endurance should receive more focus toward mid to late adolescence, in the years post Peak Height Velocity (PHV).

This supports the argument that children respond better to endurance training once they are physically mature.

What does the Research say?

As a headline I would be more inclined to extrapolate the same findings on strength training to endurance training- namely endurance capacities are trainable throughout childhood.

Take a look at the article below:

The influence of training status on the aerobic and anaerobic responses to exercise in children: A review

Muscle fibre type

Are children aerobic animals as the coach points to in his opening question?

I have always been taught to view children as ‘metabolic non-specialists.’  This means that young children are equally happy and adept at running a school cross country event or a 100m sprint race, and show a capability to do both well.  They can respond well to training of both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems at all ages as the research paper above shows. However, once they reach PHV the body will develop the muscle architecture and energy pathways that favour accelerated development of these systems.

So what did the coaches make of this debate?

”I wouldn’t say kids are aerobic animals adolescents and adults will still out perform kids. Kids anaerobic system is yet to develop meaning they rely on type l fibres. Kids show increased aerobic enzyme activity (SDH & ICDH) & decreased anaerobic enzymes (PKF) compared to adults. A result of an under developed anaerobic system means decreased anaerobic byproducts leading to fatigue.”

One of the coaches kicked off the debate by talking about muscle fibre type

”From what I know, it is linked to muscle fibre type, kids can’t develop type 2 fibres, only type 1, so they’re naturally built (in a way) for aerobic activity.”

Another coach adds:

”Their lack of an ‘anaerobic’ system means that they are reliant on predominantly aerobic substrates for energy. As they hit PHV, type II fibers grow and neurogenesis/left and right brain hemisphere cross education brings more of a balance between aerobic and anaerobic contributions to a task.  It’s down to muscle type differentiation, so type II fibers exist, but they mimic the characteristics of type I pre PHV and transition with maturity.”

Click on the PDF Link below for some fascinating insights into this topic.  This concurs with the observation that children are not fully capable of utilising the recruitment of type II muscles so they mimic the characteristics of type I.

Child Adult differences in muscle activation

This might explain why younger kids hit top speed sooner because their anaerobic systems aren’t as developed, and that’s what impacts their sprint speed over longer distances? They have type II fibres but they are not yet efficient in being recruited maximally.

The UKA Athlete Development Model speaks to the Physiological adaptations in more detail and says that the anaerobic glycolytic system does NOT fully mature until after puberty.

It also says that there is little variation in the ‘alactic’ system with age.

In terms of the Biomechanical factors it shows that the capacity to utilize the energy return is a function of improved strength through firstly coordination (recruitment) followed by cross sectional area.

On this point a coach says, ”Plenty of studies that show kids do adapt to anaerobic training and it isn’t contraindicated at any age….I have no doubt that in years to come science may tell us how these adaptations occur differently in a child vs adult. I think of sports like 400m and boxing that will come with high lactate regardless…but then I also think if kids aren’t very powerful…they won’t be producing much lactate anyway...”

In addition to the discussions on muscle fibre type there were a few interesting discussions on some related topics such as fat mass and role of skill in running economy.

Running economy

Body composition:

Children have less visceral fat and also less muscle.

Role of Skill:

Check out this article below.  Despite the above advantage of the older children having larger body composition (and probably more muscle mass) the results indicate that in both females and males, individuals with larger body composition had faster speeds but individuals with smaller body composition and with greater technical skill were as fast as or faster than those with larger body composition regardless of technical skill.

The Relationship between Speed and Technique in Young Speed Skaters


Enzyme Utilization

There is also a reduced ability to produce anaerobic enzymes?


At this point I’d like to get involved in the discussion.  I majored in Exercise Physiology as an undergraduate and did my Masters in Exercise physiology so I’m passionate about this.  As I have stated before in the previous blog about misunderstanding of principles biomechanics and motor learning, there is also a fair amount of misunderstanding about physiology too!

Aerobic Endurance

All data from personal communication and presentations by Alex Ferrauti, ‘Characteristics of the Endurance Demands of tennis,’ European Coaches Symposium, 2008.’

Biochemical profile: children in comparison to adults

Anaerobic markers • Similar resting values for muscle ATP and PCr • Lower glycolytic enzyme activity (e g PFK) lower adrenergic stimulation • Smaller glycogen stores, less fast‐twitch muscle fibres? • Lower maximal blood lactate concentrations • Better regulation of blood pH and blood [H+] Schwankungen

Aerobic markers • Quicker VO2 response • Higher relative volume of muscle mitochondria and aerobic enzyme activity • Lower RER with better fat utilization

Children ‘seem’ to have lower anaerobic capabilities (in terms of enzyme activity, glycogen stores and blood lactate concentration) and a good capacity for aerobic exercise on the first view of their biochemical profile, but this has no implications for aerobic and anaerobic fitness and endurance training!

Let me explain!!! Research has now shown us that while children have a better aerobic profile than adults in as much as they can attain steady state quicker than adults, the biochemical profile does not correspond to aerobic performance.

The fact remains that older children always outperform younger children on running tests even when matched for VO2max relative to body mass.

VO2max related to body weight has no indication for aerobic performance. Running economy in children is lower (force production, co‐contractions).

In spite of a high biochemical capacity, the aerobic performance has biomechanical limitations!

Anaerobic Endurance

Just as with aerobic exercise, anaerobic capacity is adapted to body composition meaning adults always outperform children in terms of the absolute amount of power that they can produce repeatedly. Evidence to support this inability of children to work anaerobically comes from the research which shows that children produce a lower concentration of Blood Lactate ([BLa]).

However, as the figure depicts below, children have a lower relative and absolute muscle volume and a relatively higher blood volume.

As a result of having less muscle volume and more blood volume children will not produce as much blood lactate. But this is no evidence of a lower anaerobic fitness– if you define anaerobic fitness as ability to repeatedly work at a high intensity within a defined drop off of power. Adults will continue to produce more and more blood lactate as they repeat the same anaerobic work whereas children will only produce so much blood lactate. They have a smaller engine but they produce smaller emissions. They are efficient at being able to reproduce fairly stable levels of power!

But what is interesting is that even with this smaller but stable amount of blood lactate in the blood stream children are still able to regulate their pH at a constant level. This compares to adults where as the [BLa] increases there is a reciprocal decrease in pH. Consequently during repeated sprint activity children will achieve lower absolute power output values in every bout but the drop off in performance will be relatively lower as a percentage and they can maintain a higher overall level of performance!

Training Application

Develop their aerobic system fully or try work on improving what they aren’t as good at naturally (glycolytic)?

According to one coach:

Develop the aerobic adaptations through high intensity aerobic games.

”It would be a bit of waste of their time to develop their lactate system as you wouldn’t see a great deal of adaptations. As others have noted, the FT fibres aren’t recruited as much so they wouldn’t adapt to the stress. I would imagine that hormonal changes after puberty have a massive impact on glycolytic enzyme and LDH production after this longer high intensity work, but in pre-pubescent children, we wouldn’t release anywhere near the amount of hormones to cause significant increases to their ability to utilise the lactate system. This type of work would impact on mitochondrial density, the heart, blood and vascular system… but you’d be better off getting these adaptations from repeated high intensity work with shorter rests (e.g. playing a tag game), or longer duration work at a low intensity.”


I personally wouldn’t say it would be a ‘waste of time’ but I understand the sentiment.  I would however agree that playing some high intensity aerobic based games would be well suited to the younger athlete.

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What is sport specific training and how much should kids do?

This blog is one I am really excited to write.  I have been really enjoying being part of a Youth Strength & Conditioning forum on Facebook.  So in the last few days a couple of questions came in that got me fired up and excited to contribute to the discussion.  One question was about sport specific training for children and another was about endurance profiles of children.  I thought I would share some of the learnings here and I’ll address the first topic in this post!




Hey Guys,


Just looking to start a bit of a discussion on sport specific training.


I was asked the other day if I would be giving their 12 year old daughter sport (tennis) specific training. I simply stated I would be working on the fundamentals that underpin any sport such as movement competency/efficiency, strength, mobility, balance/coordination etc and that this would be most beneficial for his daughter. The father did not seem very convinced after our short discussion. Maybe I should have stated that the child needed ‘individual specific training’ in order to make her the best she can be.


I was wondering what you guys would say to any parent who asks for sport specific training for their child?



I’ve already written quite a bit on this topic.


How much should junior athletes train?


Early Specialisation: To much of a good thing?


I personally think that of the 170 + blogs I have written since 2012 the early specialisation one is perhaps my best one in my opinion.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


There was some good suggestions which spoke to the importance of global parent education around topics such as:


Health Education



=> overuse injury

=> burnout

=> proficiency barrier 


In my blog I refer to research that show that the incidence of injury goes up significantly once adolescents are doing more than 16 hours of one sport per week.  It’s a good idea to educate parents on the risks associated with doing high volumes of sports practice (including sports specific training!)


Agree the definition


It was also suggested to define clearly what the parent meant by the term sport specific. It’s best to ask the parent what his definition of specific training is first. Then explain you will be programming individual, sport, maturation and training age specific training.


Set the context


It’s amazing how much more buy in you will get if you just take the time to show how something will improve performance indirectly.


‘Link it back to their specific sport. Show the parents how mobility/balance/strength will improve their child’s performance. I find most parents idea of S&C or any sort of performance coaching is very uneducated. They don’t understand how the body works and are then quite sceptical about anything they haven’t “seen before”. If you can give a clear example of how a certain exercise will improve their kids physical performance (in the specific sport), in my experience, they are far more accepting of my methods.


So basically, if you say you will be working on the fundamentals that underpin the physical demands of tennis, then give an example, you’ll get a far better reaction. Of course the fundamentals underpin every sport, but the parents are paying you for tennis specifically, so gear everything you say back to tennis performance.”  Cathal Murtagh.



Agree on some level with the notion


According to one coach.


1. Tennis is an early specialization sport so their parents are right


2. If the athlete hasn’t trained before then a general strength program will make the most improvements and set up for power training later.


3. Make the dad happy and yourself…compromise.


4. Use things like med balls (or back it up to isometrics) for the extra power and can work on techniques right away. I’ve worked with many female tennis players and parents at this stage.


Understand Long Term Athlete Development: It’s all in the Blend!


Every athlete should do a blend of training that falls on the spectrum from very general to very specific.  This wasn’t mentioned in the discussion but for me it’s the big piece of the puzzle that needs to be discussed.  If you read my content regularly you’ll hear me say it time and time again.  My APA Training System is all about concurrent programming of all the biomotor abilities.  This means that in any given training session or training cycle there will be a blend of different types of fitness components (suppleness, skill, speed, strength and stamina) AND……….there will be a blend of means and methods that develop both general and more specific qualities.



So in the example above the 40% proportion of the training session might be very general in nature for a athlete with limited training experience.  The same 40% might represent very specific training with a more advanced athlete.  But the question you need to educate your parents on is why???????? Why is it necessary to do exercises that don’t look like the sports movement???


Here’s what I had to say:


”There is a difference between specificity and specialisation. Specialisation infers you have a major focus in one sport. We don’t encourage specialisation in most young athletes. However, specific training simply means that you are training the particular skills of a given sport at a moment in time. You can be specific in training without specialising. This is appropriate.


When a young child comes for a tennis lesson the parent expects the coach to be teaching the ‘specific’ sport skills or ‘techniques’ of tennis- not necessarily doing skills like football passes, rugby throws and so on- ie multi sports. They want forehands, backhands and serves. In S&C the parents therefore have the same impression- that you will be doing ‘physical skills’ that are specific to tennis. I can see their logic- maybe they expect to see multi directional sprints, throwing a medicine ball using the same muscles as the shots etc. Therefore we have to appreciate why the parent might have this perception.


However, where we are different is that the child probably has sport skills coaching from different sports coaches which allow that child to develop a broad range of sport skills (throwing, catching, kicking etc)- think of it as a sport skills foundation. But they probably don’t have that same multi-lateral physical development because we may be the only coach they see for S&C. Imagine if they were seeing several S&C coaches- one S&C coach for speed, another for strength, another for endurance etc then maybe they could come to you and say we want you to be the ‘speed’ guy and do a narrow type of fitness specific to that sport ( I get asked to do tennis specific speed work all the time because it happens to be an area I am well known for)——> but I also totally agree that even if that was possible for kids to work this way 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”


Proficiency Barrier



APA’s slogan is ”Maximising your Athletic Potential.”  Potential takes time to be realised.  I compare the athletic potential journey to the academic learning one.  Apart from the 2% outliers of proteges who are members of MENSA- the society for bright people who have an IQ in the top 2%- most of us need time to develop our knowledge and skill. But the good news (see Figure above) is that if we start them early doing Strength & Conditioning they have a greater chance of realising a higher neuromuscular performance potential!! Most important for this discussion is that the potential is higher than doing sport alone.


However, starting early doesn’t meaning rushing through or skipping steps.


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.


Let’s look briefly at sports biomechanics- understand the difference between kinematics and kinetics.



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.”




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Nutrition tips for the hot summer days

We have had some seriously hot weather these last few days.

I’m not used to it and have found it hard to concentrate.  But with summer upon us it is also making me think about getting myself in a bit better shape.  I recently did a bodyfat test and I was at 15%.  I have been as low as 9% two years ago and would be happier walking around the beach if I could get closer to that this summer.

I have to be honest I’ve not been as disciplined with my nutrition these last few weeks so took inspiration from a few places on the internet and came across a few interesting sites.  I’d also like to point you back to some of my previous nutritional blog posts which I will link up below:

Best of the Blog

Fat Loss

The following blogs are based on specific strategies I have used to decrease my fat percentage.

How to lose 10% body fat in 8 weeks

So how did I lose 7% bodyfat in 2 months?!

How recovery can help you lose weight and gain strength


Smoothies, Salads and Stir Frys

In addition to targeting fat loss strategies I have also written about general nutrition principles.

Nutritional 101: What supplements should you take?

Nutrition for Dummies

Proper nutrition can help my athletes stay focused especially when it is very hot.  It’s a good time of year to encourage them to try more fruit and vegetables.  Salads are the order of the day when it’s hot.  No one wants to have the comfort food we normally have in winter.  So foods like egg, salmon, kale, tomatoes, nuts, avocados, berries are great foods to eat as snacks or have as part of a smoothie, a salad or even a light stir fry.

Here is a good article I found on Ways to Improve Focus Naturally

Game Day Nutrition

One thing I haven’t done is provide a comprehensive guide to Sports Nutrition- those nutritional strategies you adopt in the lead up and wind up of a major sports competition.  Well thanks to some more digging I don’t have to because my friends in the hockey world already have done! Your’re welcome!!

Pro Stock Hockey, came up with a nutrition guide for hockey players that features a game plan taken straight from NHL trainers and staff. It really benefits players considering nutrition is greatly overlooked and is a very important part of excelling at the game.

Click arrows in the bottom right hand corner to expand to full screen

NHL Performance Nutrition from Pro Stock Hockey, an online source for authentic pro
stock equipment (


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Which is better- Back squat or Split Squat?

Mike Boyle wrote Functional Training for Sports in 2004, and since then has been a proponent of unilateral or single leg training.

Death of Squatting

During promotion for his Functional Strength Coach DVD he went on record to say, ”Squatting is not a lower body exercise.  It is a lower back exercise.  At some point your lower back doesn’t allow you to transfer any more force through your legs and you stop.”  Meaning at a certain point for most athletes, the ability to stabilize through the core/torso during the back squat becomes the limiting factor to increasing squatting load.

He talked about some of his athletes who could do 115 lbs split squat for 15 on each leg.

”If I had said you are going to back squat 230 lbs for 15- absolutely no conceivable chance they could do, and I don’t think they could even do 5.  It’s so far out of whack what they are capable of doing on two legs.”

Mike is referring to what is known as a Bilateral deficit, meaning the sum of force production from each leg individually is greater than the force production of both legs together.  A full definition of a Bilateral deficit is below:

During maximal contractions, the sum of forces exerted by homonymous muscles unilaterally is typically higher than the sum of forces exerted by the same muscles bilaterally. However, the underlying mechanism(s) of this phenomenon, which is known as the bilateral strength deficit, remain equivocal


Mike affirms that in a back squat the failure, the injury area, is always the lower back.  ”If we can take the load and cut it in half that has to be a good thing.

Let’s say you can back squat for 300lb for 10 but if you can split squat 150 lbs (75lbs dumbbells in each hand) for 10 that is the same equivalent load on that one leg.  But the difference is that the spine is experiencing half the load.”

[author’s note- as we will see later 150lb is not the same equivalent load on one leg, it’s actually more!!  However, for the bilateral proponents the point I feel is worth discussing is how the total body system responds to working against 150lbs or 300lbs!!! From my personal experience the ‘stress’ of managing a bigger weight across two legs has to have a different effect on the nervous system than doing less across two separate efforts on each leg,   But for now let’s focus on the single leg topic. ]

So what are the best options for single leg training??

Thanks to years of experimental data with Mike Boyle he was able to suggest a tried and tested progression.  Before progressing on to unilateral work Mike suggested that you want to build up to around 50% bodyweight for a bilateral Goblet squat.  

At APA I personally recommend the following progressions:

  • Step Up
  • Lunge
  • Pistol squat (single leg squat)

Let’s look at how you can progress the Lunge pattern into the single leg squat.


Regular split squat

Start with a goblet squat hold.  This helps to keep the torso upright.

But when you get up to a certain weight….Mike found athletes complained that the big toe was killing them on the back foot.

Rear foot elevated split squat

Quadricep dominant version– in this version with a tall torso the centre of mass is back right over the hip and because of this the quadriceps are having to do a lot more work.

Glute dominant version- in this version the trunk flexion drives hip flexion and now the centre of mass has shifted forwards in between the hip and knee and increases the demands on the glutes.

Benefits of the elevated rear foot placement:

=> takes the pressure off the rear foot toe

=> takes the load down (with less stability from the rear foot you can’t lift as much)


Tips for correct technique:

=> mid foot to heel pressure on front foot

=> it’s an elevator not a saw- vertical orientation of push, with knee just a little bit posterior to hip so you get a gentle rectus femoris stretch.

The idea is Goblet load until you can’t goblet load any more- you can’t get the weight up anymore.  At that point go to dumbbells held down by your side.

Target: Split Squat

1.0 x Body weight for 10 reps.  So a 200lb athlete could lift 100lb in each hand.

Single leg or Pistol Squat

The “pistol type” version Mike used initially (see above) caused some low back pain in some athletes, particularly those with long femurs. He solved that by using two boxes, one to stand on and one to squat to.  They solved that by using two boxes, one to stand on and one to squat to (see below top two images).

Target: Single Leg squat:

80lbs x5 is good for a one leg squat and 110lbs x5 is excellent 110 lbs (50 lb vest w/ 30 lb DB’s).


Load Comparison Ratio

At the recent Child to Champion Conference Alex Natera spoke about how he uses single leg work in his training with track and field athletes.  [authors note: the single leg squat is to quarter squat depth- not parallel]

He said track coaches often get ‘twitchy’ about doing heavy squats once it gets closer to important competitions but they were only too happy to let him put 10-50% body weight (BW) through them on one leg!!!!  This was a sneaky way to keep going with strength training.

Owing to the fact that 68% of the total system mass is supported during double leg movements versus 84% of the total system mass during single leg movements we find that you can use ”less load” with single leg work BUT have the same effect as doing very heavy double leg work!!!

Assuming an equal load distribution between limbs in a double limb movement, the SL movement equates to 1.62 times the intensity in one leg of the double leg movement.

To be honest, the mathematics is a little too much for me but Alex was pretty clear in estimating the following:

BW Pistol = <1.0 x BW Back squat

10% BW pistol =1.5 x BW Back squat 

50% BW pistol = 2 x BW Back squat 

100% BW pistol = 3 x BW Back squat




Mike doesn’t have his athletes back squat heavy.  He teaches them the squat pattern early on with a goblet squat so that they can be set up for the olympic lifts which he does use in his programme- but the back squat is not a focus.

Like anything in life it is never black and white.  I respect Mike for taking a stance on this because he believes the compressive loads at high weights is not a good situation for the lower back.  I personally think you need to train both double and single legs with the highest safe load you can manage.  But I think it’s really smart to recognise that you can focus a bit more time on single leg work knowing that the spinal loading might be lower but the overall stress through the lower limb is significantly higher.

I hope this has been of interest to you.

Since you’re here…
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Use of Heavy Sled Training for Improving Horizontal Force Output

Hey Everybody!

This week I delivered a presentation to my team of coaches on a case study of the work I am currently doing with a 14 year old female Tennis player.  One of the physical goals of the programme is to improve acceleration technique over short distances.  The athlete in question ‘pops up’ very early in her acceleration creating braking forces in front of her rather than pushing back under her centre of mass.

I thought that resisted sled sprints might be a good way to improve this.

This blog is a short review of some of the blog posts and journal articles I reviewed to help me develop a programme for improving acceleration performance.  I also talk about this in the latest episode of Daz Dee TV

Resisted Sprinting

To develop speed, most power athletes lift weighted loads, sprint and do some jumps.  This kind of training allows you to work speed and force from both ends by driving maximal power and strength in the weight room and doing long accelerations with light load.  The light load accelerations help to improve efficiency of the physical output using a very specific method.

Typical resisted sprinting programmes advocate use of loads equating to 5-10% body mass, and typically we then observe that the time taken is within 10% of the unresisted performance of the athlete.  I call this the 10% rule.

Indeed a recent study showed that a resisted sprint with a load equating to 5% of body mass prior to a short sprint (20 metres) does not appear to affect sprint times or kinetics.  However, it does appear to enhance the rate of force production.

More recent advances in this area have lead to the term ”Maximal resisted sled load, or MRSL”, which is the maximal load at which the athlete remains in sprint acceleration from 10 to 20m in a 0-20m resisted sled sprint.

I learnt today that it is also fairly common to use very heavy sled training protocols to improve the initial acceleration over the first 5m.  This makes sense because initial acceleration is all about overcoming your inertia in the first few steps.  Beyond 5m maximal forces don’t matter as much as how athletes create body speed.  A study by Morin et al in the Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance showed very heavy sled training (at 80% body mass) increased maximal horizontal force capabilities, resulting in moderate and small improvements in 5m and 20m respectively.

Why does Heavy Sled sprinting help acceleration?

It gets them comfortable with very aggressive angles so they get greater exposure than just a few steps like in falling sprints for example.

Falling starts are useful but you don’t get to feel the forward lean posture for very long.  The efficiency of the physical output following heavy sled sprinting involves a foot strike more under the centre of gravity and thus increasing the time for propulsive force production.  This doesn’t mean longer ground contact times.  It means it teaches the athlete to use more of the ground contact time to produce propulsive force. This all amounts to more practice of horizontal force application.

=> Trunk lean

=> Horizontal application of Force

=> Rate of Force Development


Typical protocol

2 blocks of 5x 20-metre sprints (2-minutes recovery between the five sprints and 5-minutes recovery between the two blocks).

There is a great article on programming for resisted sled sprint training on

Read the whole article here


I hope this has been of interest to you.

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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What’s all the fuss about Velocity Based Training??!!

Last week I had the pleasure of spending the morning with my former lecturer Dr. Iain Fletcher.  I love popping in to see ”Fletch” who oversees the BSc in Strength and Conditioning at University of Bedfordshire, is an external examiner for a number of Universities and is also a Tutor and Assessor for the UKSCA.

My original purpose of the visit was to get Iain’s take on the ‘Role of the University to prepare students for the workplace,’ as it’s a topic that I’m very passionate about.  It was a pity that my video camera had a meltdown and I didn’t get us both in the shot- but what Iain had to say was really interesting and you should definitely check it out below:

Daz Dee TV Episode 9

But like all visits to see Fletch the topic nearly always turns to Strength and Power and I wanted to give you the low down on what we talked about.  You see, as anyone who knows me will testify to, I’m a curious coach and I’m always questioning why I do things.  If something doesn’t make sense it really grates on me so I have to seek out people and try and make more sense of things.  The nuts and bolts of our discussion were focused on two topics:

  1. Strength endurance– why bother?
  2. Velocity Based training– who cares about Power any way?

At first glance these topics might not seem related- but on closer inspection I think there is a common element- our preoccupation with the need to do work, and the ability to do ‘more work’ in a given time.

I’ve previously written a couple of blogs on these topics:

Strength endurance:

Building Strong Foundations- Volume and Intensity

Do you need to build a Volume Base?



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

Why the midthigh clean pull is all you need to develop power

What is Power and have you got some?


Strength endurance

Strength endurance is a term I like to use which is similar to muscular endurance but is somewhat of a bridge between the classical 3×10 with incomplete recovery and the pure strength 5×5 programmes with full recovery.  I’ve previously spoken about doing 5×5 prescriptions with incomplete recovery and calling it ‘strength endurance.’  But whatever you call it these type of concepts for me fall into the greater topic of work capacity.

The fascination with work capacity is there for all to see- many coaches believe you need to put in a foundation block of ‘work capacity’ training to have the basic level of fitness simply to be able to train properly for an hour with good quality.  But what does this mean?

Work Capacity: definition

Workout Density: The amount of exercises, reps, and sets that are performed per workout. Think super-sets.

 Work Capacity: The amount of work performed per given allotment of time.

Density builds capacity.

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.

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?
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.
Mike Stone goes on to  say that starting with a Volume base causes a short term volume load increase to prepare for his strength cycles!!! This SHORT-TERM VL INCREASE POTENTIATES  INCREASED PERFORMANCE – AND MAY BE RELATED TO HORMONAL ALTERATION which are based on the concept of creating fatigue through Concentrated Loading.  You are producing a lot of testosterone but due to the high volume you’re also producing a lot of cortisol which induces stress/ fatigue.  This is a tried and tested method which seems to produce a greater rebound performance in subsequent cycles once fatigue is removed.

So onto my discussion on strength endurance.  For years I have been sticking to my guns that 3×15=>4×10=>3×12=>4×8 (or something similar) is a nice progression for athletes to work up to the holy grail of strength programmes around the 5×5 range- where we start approaching and exceeding the magical 85% 1RM load.

If you go back through those blogs on strength endurance you’ll see I talk about how higher reps is better because it allows for more reps since the intensity is lower.  This is great for skill acquisition and connective tissue adaptations.

But having spoken to Iain and also some personal communications with Alex Natera (senior S&C coach at Aspire Academy) they both said that you can still get the adaptations as long as the total volume load (sets x reps x load) is high enough:

Alex Natera- personal communication: 05/06/17

Rare cases and certain sports will have me chasing growth but most of the time I’ll push for growth using lower rep schemes, with higher loads and high total volumes.

Even in early GPP I shoot through the higher reps ranges with each week and by week 4 or so I am already down to 5’s.

Even in athletes who might not have “earned the right” I’ll still focus on quality through lower rep sets. I’ll get the volume in with increased number of sets instead.


He went on to say on how you develop strength endurance:

Agreed- for sure with this type of athlete endurance will be gained for getting stronger. When they are an advanced athlete then schemes for endurance based lifting may have importance.

Connective tissue responds well to high loads, and volume with high loads so don’t be too concerned about the anatomical adaptations purported to come from a 3×15 scheme. In fact most of the evidence for that comes from text books and articles looking at untrained or recreational trained.


Iain explained that you could use the 5×5 prescription but if you only give them 45-60 seconds rest between sets it will negate the desire to lift heavy and you can include several warm-up sets too so you are getting in the volume.

Iain said that for sports like rowing, cycling and even wrestling and so on where there is a need to have a lot of muscular endurance you could make a case for doing 15-20 reps at a time although if training time is limited you might as well let the sport take care of the endurance adaptations.  For most sports that are acyclic you need to produce short bouts of strength, rest and repeat so he agrees with Alex on the way forward.  Get to the 5×5 soon and use more sets and less rest and you’ll get endurance come along for the ride.


Power and Velocity Based Training

I’ve been thinking again about what are the key performance indicators that discriminate among sub elite and elite.  I would normally always answer with the response, ‘Power.’  Lately I’ve been reflecting on this and an article that Iain wrote on Biomechanics made me question why we still put so much focus on Power.

Typical thinking about Power puts the emphasis on measurement of Velocity.  Let’s look at why.  Peak Power is measured during the concentric portion of the movement and typically occurs with a medium force and medium velocity.

Power= Work / Time

Work = Force x Distance

STRENGTH (Force) is required to produce work.  So it follows that coaches value doing the same work in less time to develop power.


Since Velocity = Distance / Time => Power = Force x Velocity

Going back to this idea that time is the limiting factor you can see why coaches are really concerned with velocity.


Velocity is concerned with the time to complete a given distance.  It follows that we then want to focus on any exercise which might decrease the time to complete a given distance. Assuming that the distance is constant then yes, moving something in less time will increase velocity, which will increase Power.  This has led to the proliferation of exercises like speed squats, speed deadlifts and speed presses, and the coaching cue of lifting ‘everything fast.’  But the problem is that these correlations with athletic performance are based on the concentric portion Force-Velocity curve without considering how the musculotendon unit functions in sport where there is usually an eccentric and isometric component.

We are focusing on how quickly the work is performed in the entire CONCENTRIC portion of the movement.

This is why something like a counter movement jump will produce very high power outputs if you can jump higher but to do this you will have a slightly longer jump cycle (time on the ground) which you will not be rewarded for in most sports actions.

These type of moderate load speed exercises which emphasise the concentric muscle action make sense for ballistic striking actions like punching, kicking and even hitting a ground stroke in tennis where there is little to no external resistance other than your limb. But this isn’t the full story!

Assessment of the concentric portion of the curve does not grasp the underlying principles of acceleration which states that accelerations are linked to the production of Force.   The F-V graph doesn’t account for HOW we produce that force.

Acceleration = the rate of change in velocity  and  Acceleration = Force / mass.  

I think we need to start thinking about the increases in how the forces are occurring over the entire sport movement, not just the concentric portion of the F-V curve.  The forces required for sports movements which involve displacement of our ENTIRE BODYWEIGHT in time frames of less than 250 milliseconds are huge.


If we only focus on the velocity component we might focus on doing things like jump squats with 0-40%1RM loads because that would produce the greatest bar speed in the concentric phase, believing we are training acceleration optimally.  This is often called ‘starting strength.’  I personally don’t like this term.  I think it is fine if you are using these loads to augment improvements in the fast striking actions or even eccentric loading of the tendon- which we will talk in more detail below.

I think we need to put more focus on what happens at the onset of the concentric contraction, particularly when it takes place as part of a ballistic movement involving the stretch shortening cycle, or at the onset of movement from a stationary position.  The graphic below really captures for me the difference between acceleration and velocity.

When a pendulum swings from side to side, its velocity and acceleration vary — both in magnitude and in direction — at each point during the motion.

The magnitude of velocity of a pendulum is highest in the center (think ‘power’) and lowest at the edges. On the other hand, the magnitude of its acceleration is highest at the edges (think ‘Rate of Force Development’) and lowest at the center.  For me this is like what we do when we focus on velocity and power- we look at the velocity at the middle of the movement at the concentric portion. But the acceleration at the start of the movement is key in the initiation of the concentric muscular contractions.

Scenario 1: Onset of Concentric Contraction: Heavy Load

If you are trying to improve your ability to start better as in ”get off to a good start in a 100m race” I would put emphasis on heavy isometric loads and heavy Olympic lifts- where you will need to gather large forces quickly, as well as traditional heavy strength lifts such as the Back squat at >85% 1RM.  When you have to accelerate your body from rest you will have more time to produce higher Forces.

The heavy strength exercise will help with initiation of movement and the explosive strength Olympic lifts will help with acceleration over the first few strides during acceleration.

The forces on heavy strength lifts will not be associated with high velocities but the intent to produce maximum rate of force development (RFD) will be!!!

According to Mel Siff- starting strength occurs isometrically before the load is moving.


Scenario 2: Onset of Concentric Contraction: Light Load

Most sporting movements take place in less than 200 milliseconds- we have limited time in which to produce force in order to be competitive.  We know therefore that being able to produce force quickly in order to accelerate our body and other objects is vital.

In order to produce the required High Forces in only a few hundred milliseconds relies on the eccentric storage and release of energy in the tendons while the muscle tries to maintain an isometric contraction- until the point of release of energy in the concentric phase.  This is why ballistic exercises that utilise the ‘Stretch-shortening Cycle (SSC)‘ are more correlated with athletic performance.

The SSC is associated with a Rapid rise in Force as measured by the Rate of Force Development (RFD).  Remember that this concentric measurement occurs after the eccentric loading.  In this type of work Plyometric drills are most suited.

What are the Best Exercises for developing RFD?

Both plyometrics and Olympic weight lifting exercises are a great way to obtain RAPID impulses as measured by the gradient of the Steep part of the Force-Time curve above.  These activities are represented at opposite ends on the concentric part of the Force-Velocity curve for simplicity sake.  But in reality both are associated with a massive build up of eccentric force on the left side of the curve before delivering the concentric output on the right side of the curve.

Dan Baker- Exercises can be deemed by their biomechanical attributes as either “strength” or “power” oriented. In power exercises, the velocities are high and acceleration continues to the end of the range—the forces do not have to be decelerated. Basically the energy is released into the air through jumps, hops, and throws. Olympic lifts also fall into this category (they are jumping exercises, essentially). If the force is safely dampened at the end of the movement, like hitting a heavy bag, then throwing punches and kicking are also power exercises.

Strength exercises have a deceleration phase at the end of range when resistances are low (< 50% 1RM)= to avoid stressing the tendons and joints. On major strength exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, with resistances below 50% 1RM, more than half the ROM is spent in deceleration, making them less than ideal for power training even though at this low level of resistance the velocity may be high.[agrees with my previous comment about the practicality of speed squats and deadlifts at lower loads]

The length of the deceleration phase decreases as resistances go above 65% 1RM. By 85-90%, there is no real deceleration phase, but the velocities are so low at this level of resistance that they cannot be classified as power exercises. So using light resistances below 50% 1RM in traditional strength exercises to develop power is often counterproductive as it is training the body to decelerate for much of the ROM, rather than continuing to accelerate.

So we do strength exercises with heavy resistances to develop force/strength, and power exercises with the appropriate resistance to train the body to use force with high velocity until the end of range. If you want to use “strength exercises” to develop power, you need to use resistances of 50-70% 1RM. Something to dampen the ferocity of a rapid lockout (such as bands and chains) also helps.

The results of the study below nicely summarise what I have been inferring to in this blog- peak power (watts) is produced at the lowest load for the mid thigh clean pull (40% 1RM power clean) whereas the highest rate of force development (N/s) was produced at the second highest load (120% 1RM power clean).

J Strength Cond Res 26(5): 1208–1214, 2012.  This study specifically looked at the force-velocity characteristics of the mid-thigh clean pull across a range of loads.

Rate of Force Development across loads

midthigh clean pull RFD

Peak Power across loads

midthigh clean pull power2

When training to maximize peak power output, lower loads are recommended. Moreover if the goal is to train force, impulse or RFD higher loads, of 120– 140% 1RM, are recommended

And Finally……

I couldn’t do a post that mentions Dr Iain Fletcher, Dr Mike Stone and Alex Natera and talk about strength training without giving a quick shout out to my friends at Emerge Fitness in the USA, who specialise in provided training products for serious strength athletes.  They have some great knee wraps for weightlifting.  Check them out HERE.

Do these drills and you’ll get Faster!!!

Hey Everybody!

In this week’s Blog I am going to give you some examples of the Speed DRILLS that APA use to get our athletes Faster.

I take a lot of time at the front end to make sure that the athlete and coach understand what type of speed quality we are working on.  This is because even though the goal is similar- perform the movement as fast and efficiently as possible- the technical model changes in accordance with what type of speed we are working on.


APA Training Method

In this blog we will focus on the first two types of Speed.  In the next blog I’ll give you the videos for the other two!!

4S System

  • Straight Ahead Speed
  • First Step Speed
  • Multi-Directional Speed
  • Sport-Specific Speed

6 Stages of Progression

  • Basic 1– Stationary
  • Basic 2– Dynamic
  • Basic 3– Combination => Randomisation
  • Advanced 1– Intensification (Strength)
  • Advanced 2– Intensification (Power)
  • Advanced 3– Accumulation (Endurance)


Drills- Straight ahead speed – Acceleration

Skill developer

Basic 1: Stationary- Posture

  1. Wall drives
  2. Arm Action

Basic 2: Dynamic

  1. Falling accelerations
  2. Power accelerations (Crouch, Half kneeling, Prone)

Main Activity

Basic 3: Add Complexity

  1. Rolling accelerations- combination
  2. Catch me if you can- randomisation

Advanced 1: Intensification

  1. Heavy Sled- Strength overload

Advanced 2: Intensification

  1. Harness/Parachute- Power overload

Advanced 3: Accumulation

  1. Repeated accelerations- 2 x (4 x 20m)


Drills- First Step Speed – Starts

Skill developer

Basic 1: Stationary- Posture

  1. Cone drills

Basic 2: Dynamic

  1. Starts in any direction on ‘Go’

Main Activity

Basic 3: Add Complexity

  1. X drill – combination
  2. X drill: coach or partner cue- randomisation
  3. Two ball drill- randomisation

Advanced 1: Intensification

  1. Weighted vest- Strength overload

Advanced 2: Intensification

  1. Bungee – Power overload

Advanced 3: Accumulation

  1. Repeated X drill- 30-seconds

Training Systems I Recommend You Check out


Also if you’d like to see these drills in real time then come along to the next SAQ for Sports Workshop.