Supporting Female Athletes

With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

Supporting Female Athletes

This lockdown I have been fortunate to gain some more knowledge from leading practitioners in strength and conditioning & sport science. A few weeks ago I was enlightened by some great speakers at the “The Well HQ”. The topic was around female health and performance. This was pertinent to me, as I am a male coach who currently works with a large amount of female athletes. I wanted to share some insights from this talk to enhance the awareness around this topic. This blog will be a synopsis of the webinar but will also contain some of my experiences training young female athletes, which will hopefully create some provocative insights. The blog will contain the following topics:

  • Knowledge gaps
  • What we do know about training female athletes
  • Menstrual cycles and how it can affect performances
  • Potential Barriers to sport and engagement
  • Steps we could take to support female athletes better

 

“80% of active women said they haven’t had enough education in relation to their body and how it affects their sport”- Dr Bella Smith.

 

What we do know about training female athletes

 

There is a great book the “female athlete handbook of sports medicine” which I encourage you all to read. This book is quite extensive so I will give a very brief summary on parts of chapter 1&2 that stood out to me.

Female athlete triad

The female athlete triad is defined as a spectrum of three interrelated medical conditions 1) energy availability, 2) menstrual health and 3) bone health (ACSM, 2007). These conditions range from optimal/healthy range to a pathological state of low energy availability, amenorrhea, eating disorders & osteoporosis. It is said that in order for female athletes not to suffer any components of the triad, it is paramount that they understand their energy needs and train and live in an environment which supports healthy energy availability.

Non-contact ACL injuries

Female athletes are reported to have higher risks of non-contact ACL injuries. Interestingly, the research is trying to determine whether ACL injury is a result of gross failure of the ACL in one episode or multiple episodes over time. However, valgus of the knee and change in upper body trunk mechanics tend to be high risk factors for this. Although the research is said to be transient and the best intervention is not yet identified, changes in dynamic loading, proprioceptive training and sound coaching go a long way in mitigating these risk factors. Training programs containing a healthy dose of strength, power, plyometric and neuromuscular training, seem to have promising results.

From the Well HQ talk it was said that women are 4.5 times more likely to sustain an ACL injury. Although the skeletal structure and the anatomy of pelvis is non- modifiable, factors such as muscle imbalance, proprioception and landing mechanics can be trained.

Knowledge gaps in coaching female athletes

 

The aforementioned quote is alarming right? A high proportion of female athletes still to this day are not educated enough about their bodies. Why? It was suggested, that there may still be a reluctance to talk about it, due to feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Whilst this is perfectly understandable, the more we communicate about this the easier it will become.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair”

Gaining trust is vital for clear communication pathways especially about sensitive subjects so this quote is important to bear in mind. Furthermore, I would like to note that it is important not to take offence if a female athlete does not immediately open up to you about what she is experiencing, this is a delicate manner thus, it is important to guide her to someone she feels more comfortable talking too. Women, unlike men, appear to value the quality of a relationship as opposed to the quality of a coach, meaning you have to take the time to cultivate and nurture the relationships you have with your female athletes.

In my experience, I had a young female athlete who was going through her first menstrual cycle, you can imagine this was very troubling and awkward for her to mention. So she just gave me a sign and then I took the hint, to adjust certain exercises for her. Now whilst this is not very “scientific” it lead the way for her to download an app, which allows me to see when she’s entering that phase.  A pretty huge breakthrough if you ask me. More on this in “Steps we could take” Section

Lastly, the women at Well HQ gave another profound statistic. I was pretty shocked about this myself. As little as 4% of sports science research is done on women only. Moreover, they had mentioned that the 70% of research done on mixed groups fails to control for the changing physiology and psychology during the menstrual cycle.

Performance and the menstrual cycle

The team mentioned that a 28 day hormonal cycle can really affect a woman physically and emotionally. From a performance perspective an elite 1500m runner with a 4:03 minute time could, on the day before  (or on the same day of her period) run the same event in 4:15 minutes. That’s a colossal difference. Interestingly, determinants of performance such as VO2 max, running economy, strength and power are not significantly affected during a healthy cycle. However, how a woman feels emotionally and physically fluctuates as her hormones change. As a result, this challenges her ability to tap into peak performance.

It is known that having a period is a healthy sign of bodily function and health. On the other hand, 30% of female athletes lose their cycle at some point. To give an illustration of how significant this is, lack of periods meant a promising runner did not produce enough oestrogen (An important hormone in the cycle which aids bone strength) and thus developed osteoporosis in her 20s.

Interestingly, Oestrogen creates a great physiological environment for muscle growth and repair. So much, that strength gains in the first half of the cycle can improve by 15%.

 

Potential Barriers to sport and engagement

I wanted to share some barriers to sport and engagement which, perhaps, is overlooked by trainers, coaches or Teachers.

Bras

It was mentioned that 80% of female athletes had poorly fitting bras. Furthermore, ahead of the Tokyo Games 72% had reported pain in training as a result. A poorly fitting bra can have significant effect on performance by up to 4% which is large at the elite level, where margins are thin. On the engagement side it was said that 33% of women with a cup size of D or above say they don’t exercise because of their breast size

Pelvic floor

It is common knowledge that pelvic floor issues affect older and post-natal women. However this is not the only category of women it affects, it also affects athletes. Leaking urine during training and competition as a result of pelvic floor issues (even in women who have not had babies) is quite common in high impact sports such as trampoline, sprinting or basketball. Pelvic floor dysfunction is an understandable barrier to sport. Positively, this can be rectified by including gym based pelvic floor exercise.

Steps we could take to support female athletes better

I wanted to share some ideas in how we could support our female athletes better, this is not an exhaustive or very descriptive list however I wanted to create some discussion and more awareness around this area.

 

Education

With such a large amount coaches and females themselves not knowing their own bodies, the first stage is education. However, educating is nothing if we do not create a safe space for female athletes to speak out and share what they are going through.

 

Monitoring the menstrual cycle

There are many apps out there including Clue, Flo and Eve. Although collecting this data is sensitive it would be great if we got to a stage where we had this information on the female athletes we worked with and tailored workouts accordingly in every club or academy. For example, focusing on strength and reducing the volume in speed and plyometric training during certain stages of the menstrual cycle.

Environment

As alluded to in the first paragraph, creating a safe space also means creating an environment where there is no scarcity in items such as sanitary towels or menstrual cups as an example. If this is evident in academies then I believe this will positively add to female athletes being comfortable enough to share their feelings.

Training

I will not go into this in too much depth as there is a lot of great work out there. Conditioning programs will have to address the areas of proprioception, muscle imbalance and strength to serve the needs of the female athlete better. It may be, that we spend longer in phases that address these qualities and spend more time to focus on things like landing mechanics and single leg squatting.

“Check, Challenge, Change”

 

Thanks for reading guys,

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and Conditioning coach.

 

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Find out more about Female Health at the Well HQ

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Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW- Episode 331 Danny Lum

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 331 – Danny Lum

Danny Lum

Research Gate

Background: 

Danny Lum

Danny is Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Singapore Sports Institute for seven years,and also currently doing a PhD with a research focus on Isometric Strength Training for Sports Performance.  Prior to that he was the Strength & Conditioning Officer for the Singapore Armed Forces so was dealing with Military Training.

Danny completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia (UWA) prior to doing the role in the Military for two years.

Discussion topics:

What options have we got when it comes to Isometric testing?

”There are single joint testing options as well mainly using the biodex equipment for rotator cuff internal/external rotation of shoulder, knee flexion/extension.  We also have multi-joint isometric testing such as isometric squat, isometric mid-thigh pul (IMTP), isometric bench press and isometric prone bench pull.”

 

Why would we go down that route in the first place with Isometric testing vs. something more dynamic?

”The information we can get from isometric testing includes not just the peak force, but also the rate of force development (RFD) and if we combine the data we get from the counter movement jump (CMJ), and IMTP for example, we can actually calculate the dynamic strength index, which I believe many coaches are using it as an indication of whether they should train their athlete more with plyometrics or with heavy strength training.

Some of the advantages of isometric training is that it is much safer because there is no movement involved you don’t get injured that easily, and it’s pretty quick, 5-seconds and you’re done.  The disadvantage is you can’t really use it for exercise prescription, like a 1-RM strength test.

Quite a lot of studies have shown the peak force and the RFD are significantly correlated to activities like sprinting, jumping and change of direction.  There are also studies that have looked at striking, throwing and recently we did a study with sprint Kayaking.  I want to think that isometric strength assessment data will have a high correlation with activities that has mainly concentric contractions like cycling and sprint Kayaking, but the relationship with dynamic activity that requires the stretch-shortening cycle with the eccentric and concentric phase might not be as great.

If you look at the literature and take IMTP and isometric squat for example, the relationship you get from the peak force with CMJ range from R = 0.30-0.80 so the range is pretty huge.  There could be a lot of reasons for this; it could be because of the familiarization, different athletes with different training experience and different strength levels and also the time of the year and the training phase they are in.

Another thing to look at is the joint position where the test is conducted.  So for example, if you look at the literature you will see that the isometric squat when tested at a 90 degree knee angle vs. 120 degree knee angle; the relationship between the isometric peak force obtained and CMJ jump height will be higher when the peak force was obtained at a 90 degree knee angle, and same for sprint performance.  What we can get from this, is that if you want to conduct the isometric strength test to see if there is any relationship with a certain activity, probably get the person to adopt a joint position whereby the concentric force is initiated at 90 degrees.  This makes sense because the CMJ is usually initiated from a position where the knee is at an angle of about 90 degrees.

But there is something interesting- that works for squat, but IMTP doesn’t work that way!  You can see that a IMTP is usually conducted at a knee angle of around 130-140 degrees, yet the  magnitude of the correlation with the CMJ height is as high as that obtained for the isometric squat at 90 degrees!  This is something I personally do not understand!!”

 

What is the dynamic strength index and why would coaches be interested in it/calculate it?

”First we collect the peak force from IMTP- theoretically that is the highest amount of force your lower limb can produce.  You can also obtain the peak force of the CMJ.  Then you can divide the peak force of the CMJ by the peak force of the IMTP

Dynamic Strength Index = Peak Force IMTP / Peak Force CMJ

The isometric peak force on an IMTP is the maximum amount of force you can produce and how much of this force can you translate into a dynamic movement.  The Dynamic strength index provides you with an indication, so I think if it is below 0.65 this indicates that your athlete might need a little more ballistic training like plyometrics.  But if the dynamic strength index is above 0.80 then the athlete probably needs more heavy strength training.”

 

Isometric training as a training tool- what benefits are people going to get from isometric training?

”First of all, similar to the isometric testing, it is simple, the risk of injury is very low.  You can see that in most of the injury cases, injured athletes will start off with isometric training to get the muscles activated (even when they are in a cast).  The exercise physiologist would advise the patient to perform some form of isometric contractions.

The disadvantage is that people believe that with isometric training you only gain strength in that specific joint angle that you train at, of course when you look at the literature, this is not true.
It really depends on the joint angle.  If I position the knee angle at 90 degree vs. 150 degrees.  At 90 degrees my quadriceps will be stretched more compared to at 150 degrees.  So if I train my quadriceps at a knee angle at 90 degrees where it is stretched a little more then the strength gains will increase across a greater range of motion as compared to a quadriceps at a short length.  So based on literature, if you train your muscles at a longer length using isometric strength training, then the strength gain might range up to about 40 degree from the angle you train at.  But if say, you train at a short muscle length, which is about 150 degree knee angle, then the strength increment might range up to about 15 degree from the angle you train at.

The adaptations from strength training are similar to dynamic strength training.  You still get increased neural firing, neural recruitment and hypertrophy of muscle.  One of the adaptations from isometric training that is superior to dynamic strength training is the increase in tendon stiffness.

This has high implications on RFD, so with greater tendon stiffness the force transmission from the muscle can be more efficient and will improve force production and RFD.”

When creating isometric exercises in some very sport specific positions what kind of creative process are you going through when thinking about integrating some of that into these sports?

”Two things.  First thing is I’m always looking where the concentric action is initiated, and second is the position which reflects the bio-mechanically most disadvantageous position, for example the sticking point of a squat.
With a group of Kayakers I replaced two sets of squats, two sets of bench press and two sets of bench pull with the isometric version of it, and the joint position they adopted was initiated from a similar place where the pull phase of the Kayak stroke was initiated.   What we found was that by replacing two sets with isometric training as compared to a normal traditional strength training programme, the Kayaker’s strength actually increased and performance on the ergometer 200m time trial was improved more than the group that only did the traditional strength training.
What I believe is that by performing the isometric training at the position where the stroke was initiated this increased their ability to overcome the initial drag force they would face as they initiate the pull phase.

I just completed one study with recreational runners where we compared plyometric and isometric training for endurance running performance.   For the isometric training they did a IMTP and an isometric plantar flexed ankle, so the ankle was in a neutral position when they did the plantar flexion.  What we found was that running economy was actually improved with the isometric group as compared to the plyometric group.  One possible reason is because recreational runners tend to avoid heavy strength training so with the isometric exercises as a stimulus that greatly improved their strength.  In that sense, people might ask if that would work with elite runners, and that would need to be researched.”

When it comes to programming isometrics within the wider programme (annual plan) where does it fit?

”That is an interesting question, and honestly, I have no idea at this moment in time.  Personally what I do with my athletes is slot in the isometric training somewhere in the middle of a strength phase, because we know that if you have been training with the same method for a long period of time you tend to plateau.  So with the addition of the isometric training for a few weeks that might help to break the monotony and you might see some improvement.
We don’t know at this point in time that if we continue to get the athlete to perform isometric training, will there be a long term benefit (because all my studies have only been 6 weeks long)?
The next thing I do is as we get closer to important competitions I get my athletes to perform complex training, and I usually use the isometric exercise as the conditioning activity to induce the post activation potentiation (PAP) effect, before they move onto the ballistic exercise
One reason is because they get to perform maximal contractions so that helps to maintain their maximal strength and because it’s an isometric movement we are reducing the risk of injury close to competition.”

Is it possible to manipulate some of the variables within isometric training to target different physical qualities such as hypertrophy etc?

”When you look at the research you can categorize isometric training into two different methods- yielding and overcoming.

Overcoming

Overcoming- is the method I have been researching where you push maximally against something you can’t move.

Yielding 

The yielding or ”holding” method where you lift a weight that you can actually lift around 60% of your 1-RM, get to your sticking point and hold it there for about 10-seconds before you push it concentrically.
When you look at the research on isometric strength training, in order to get maximal strength increases you want to be contracting as near to maximally voluntary contraction (MVC) as possible in a range of 80-100% MVC and each contraction you don’t want to be holding for too long, otherwise you might compromise the adaptation.
When it comes to hypertrophy you want to perform the contraction at a lower intensity and sustain the contraction for a longer period of time, as long as 10-30 seconds in one go.  Recently, there is one study which showed that the inclusion of isometric training might be able to induce a stimulus similar to blood flow restriction training.  So when you are sustaining the isometric contraction you are actually constricting the blood flow.
Another study by Brett Shaunfield showed that performing isometric contractions in between sets increased the hypertrophy training effect.  So during the hypertrophy phase one of the things you could do is perform a lighter load in the final set and doing a long duration isometric contraction at the sticking point to increase the hypertrophy effect.
In terms of other variables, first we need to know what we want to achieve before we start talking manipulating the variables.  Variables we can manipulate include the joint position.  I mentioned earlier that if we train at a joint position that induces a longer muscle length your strength improvement will be greater throughout a greater range of motion.
At different joint positions you might induce hypertrophy at different parts of the muscle.
So for example, if I was sustaining isometric contraction at a long muscle length most of the hypertrophy training effect might take place at the middle of the muscle belly (midsection).  If I perform it at a shorter muscle length, most of the hypertrophy might occur at the proximal or at the distal portion of the muscle, so these are things that people will need to consider.
To increase maximal strength you will need to contract at a high percentage of MVC, and to increase RFD you will need to contract at a high contraction speed, so in sports performance you should always try and contract explosively because we are not just talking about how strong you are but we must also ensure the athlete can produce the force as quickly as possible.”
Are there any gaps we are looking to plug in the research?
”Firstly there is training at long muscle length vs. multiple joint angles.  I mentioned that if you train at long muscle length the strength gains will be higher through a greater range of motion but if we train at multiple angles it might actually be more beneficial.  So if I compare 3 sets of bench press at 90 degrees vs. 1 set of 180 degree, one set at 90 degrees and one set at another angle we could compare multiple joint angles
The other limitation of what we know is how long this beneficial effect can last?
The other one is comparing the training effect of a yielding method (more similar to an eccentric method) to the overcoming method (more similar to a concentric method).  So get someone to push against 80% MVC and the other guy resisting against 80% MVC and comparing the adaptation.
When doing this in training I would probably a certain number of sets so for example if I am going to get the person to do back squats 4 sets I might have them do two sets dynamic and two sets isometric.  The isometric is better at improving the strength at a specific joint angle, but when it comes to a full range of motion, isometric effect is still not as good as dynamic strength training, so I wouldn’t use isometric training as the main bout of the training but I would recommend the isometric training as a supplement to improve the force production at the sticking point or at the bio-mechanically disadvantageous position.
In a complex setting, I would do the isometric exercise as the conditioning tool I would reduce the number of repetitions rather than trying to get them too fatigued.  But at the moment I haven’t done a study to identify the ideal number of sets.”
Can you explain to us what we mean by quasi-isometrics (I know this is something Alex Natera has mentioned?
”Take the hamstring for example, which is a bi-articular muscle so when we are running and the hip is flexing the proximal portion of the hamstring is stretching but when the hip is flexing the knee will be flexing as well.  So the distal portion of the hamstring will be shortening.   So in that sense one portion is lengthening and the other portion is shortening, so that pretty much looks like an isometric contraction, and that is what is meant by a quasi isometric contraction.
So if you take the hip thrust but with the knee in a slightly more extended knee position (around 150 degrees) with the shoulder on the floor, with the hip in the air, the hamstring closer to the knee will be trying to produce a concentric contraction so you can stay up.  But while the hip is heavy gravity will be pulling it down so the proximal portion will be in an eccentric contraction.  So the distal portion will be in the Push isometric contraction while the proximal portion of the hamstring will be performing a yielding contraction.”

Top 5 Take Away Points:

  1. Isometric is a safe and effective way of performing strength testing and training.
  2. Dynamic strength index = Peak Force IMTP / Peak Force CMJ
  3. Importance of range of motion- strength gains will increase across a greater range of motion as compared to a quadriceps at a short length.
  4. Importance of tendon stiffness- one of the adaptations from isometric training that is superior to dynamic strength training is the increase in tendon stiffness.
  5. Considerations when choosing position- the place where the concentric action is initiated, and the position which reflects the bio-mechanically most disadvantageous position.

Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?  Be sure to visit:

Twitter:

@DannyLum82

You may also like from PPP:

Episode 297 Cam Jose

Episode 295 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 292 Loren Landow

Episode 286 Stu McMillan

Episode 272 Hakan Anderrson

Episode 227, 55 JB Morin

Episode 217, 51 Derek Evely

Episode 212 Boo Schexnayder

Episode 207, 3 Mike Young

Episode 204, 64 James Wild

Episode 192 Sprint Masterclass

Episode 183 Derek Hansen

Episode 175 Jason Hettler

Episode 87 Dan Pfaff

Episode 55 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 15 Carl Valle

Hope you have found this article useful.

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How the ballistic quarter squat can support your athletic performance

With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

 

During Lockdown, I have tasked myself with gaining an increased knowledge of anatomy and physiology so I have greater accuracy in my prescription of exercises. By this I mean, gaining a thorough understanding of how this particular exercise can positively affect performance. Today I wanted to talk about the ballistic quarter squat. Particularly, a concentrically focused variation. People looking at athletes performing this exercise and criticising the “lack of depth” need more context.

So today, I wanted to talk about why I would like to include this exercise in my programme for field and court based sports. This blog will consist of the following sections.

  • Principle of specificity
  • What is the Ballistic quarter squat
  • Why is it relevant?
  • When to include the ballistic quarter squat

Principle of specificity in Strength training

I was digging up some old material and I found this book, which I plan to reread “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa. They say nothing is new, just repackaged so it seems prudent to go back over the old texts. I’ll briefly go over some of the components of specificity and give a brief summary of them. Specificity is of huge importance as the body adapts in specific ways to a recurring stress, see “SAID principle”. There is a reason you form callouses on your palm, not your face when participating in frequent weightlifting (I hope).

SAID

A common term used in the area of strength and conditioning is an acronym for “Specific adaptations to imposed demands” meaning that the body will make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at tolerating a specific form of stress that is placed upon it.  Some of the variables to consider when determining an exercise’s specificity to the sporting demands include:

Joint range of movement

This refers to the joint angles regularly displayed by athletes performing the sport. For example, a tennis player preparing to initiate movement from a ready position. Or a front row rugby union player pushing in a scrum.

Bioenergetics

This refers to the energy system demands of the game for example, a game of junior tennis is predominantly an aerobic based sport with intermittent bursts of anaerobic activity. Another example would be the short sprints with high demands on the anaerobic-alactic system. Understanding energy systems will help decipher the work to rest ratios of the sport you are working in. Check out my blog on the “demands of the game” for tennis performance.

Planes of movement

Body movements occur in different planes around different axis. The three planes that you are typically taught are the frontal, transverse and sagittal plane. Field and court based sports would typically move in all the planes mentioned. For example, when hitting a groundstroke in Tennis a player will be predominantly working in the transverse plane however, when moving forward for a volley or dropshot there may be more of an emphasis in the sagittal plane. This is quite reductionist and planes of motion in sport could be an article in itself.

Muscle contraction (type and speed)

This is interesting and most recent conversations in this lockdown period, have forced me to ask how a muscle is “behaving” during a specific activity. What is the contraction type? How fast and how hard does it contract? For example isometric activity of the glute maximus in the stance phase of sprinting.

When constructing a needs analysis a coach would typically have these in mind when preparing a training programme. See my blog on Fundamentals underpinning a physical development strength program for the youth athlete.

 

What is the Ballistic Quarter squat?

Firstly, a ballistic method is a type of training where the athlete’s body (or object) is explosively accelerated throughout the entire movement. If we go back over our notes and look at Henneman’s size principle we know that motor units are recruited in a precise order according to their force output. It seems as though there is a superior activation of type two fibres with heavier loads as opposed to lighter ones (Henneman, 1965). Additionally, when exercises are performed in a ballistic manner they seem to have a superior potentiation effect compared to non-ballistic counterparts.

The Ballistic quarter squat is a squat variation with a heavy concentric focus. The lifter is asked to concentrically propel the barbell vertically using upper and lower limb, from a quarter squat position, as shown in the picture below.

Why is it relevant?

The Ballistic quarter squat is an exercise that I have come across recently, what was interesting to me was the “Ballistic” element of this exercise and rate of force development required to perform this exercise well. High levels of Power is the result of work divided by time, or in simpler terms, applying the highest amount of force in the shortest amount of time, significant for most field or court-based sports.  With some more research I found that performing this exercise at around 90% of one repetition maximum had superior effects on sprint and vertical jump performances (Weiss, 2000).  Other studies have also advocated the integration of quarter squats in a conditioning program (Rhea et al, 2016).

Possible reasons for this was again, the joint angle specificity but also the ability to overload the intensity at this joint angle. Highly trained athletes may squat 30-45% more in a partial range squat compared to a squat with full range.

Whilst this blog is not going to compare the differences between the full depth squat and quarter squat variations (readers are encouraged to read this paper if interested in that) it enables us to understand the relevance of the ballistic quarter squat.

  1. Joint angles

Although it is said that many explosive movements in sports are initiated from a knee angle of approximately 90° (Suchomel, et al 2015) these include sprinters in the blocks, wrestling NFL linemen etc, I would argue that knee joint angles shallower than this are also executed. Thus, if we remind ourselves of the laws of specificity, training explosive strength from these similar joint angle positions would be beneficial for performance.

  1. Propulsion

In order to overcome the body’s resting inertia, athletes need to be strong. How strong, is a topic for another day. But, muscles of the lower body (Glutes, Calves and quadriceps) most forcefully extend to project the body forward. If you look closely at my first picture under “What is a ballistic quarter squat” you will see the athlete forcefully extending knee hip and ankle. This extension occurs with high levels of intent and speed, although a heavy ballistic squat may not be specific to the speed of contraction, it will certainly enhance the force potential of leg musculature.

When to include the ballistic quarter squat

If we tie in the joint angle specificity, the muscle contraction type/speed, motor unit activation from heavy loads and the bioenergetics of the movement, the ballistic quartet squat seems to have a place in my exercise inventory.

Due to the reported benefits at performing this movement at 90% or 1RM it seems rational to include this in a power phase, more specifically a strength-speed phase of the annual plan.

 

Thanks for reading guys,

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and Conditioning coach.

 

Liked This Blog?

You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

as well as two recommended articles:

This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

And this one on Exercise Modifications 

Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

👇 TRAIN WITH APA 👇

Aspiring Pro Training Support Packages

 

 

Follow me on instagram @konrad_mcken

Follow Daz on instagram @apacoachdaz

 

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Are Banded Sidesteps Doing What We Think They Are Doing?

With the initiation of a third lock down in the UK we thought it would be a great idea to engage our readers in some motivating posts to help keep you motivated.  We welcome back APA coach Konrad McKenzie with a weekly guest post.

This Lockdown 3.0 I tasked myself with diving further into Anatomy to give me even more clarity as to what exercises I am doing, why I am doing them and how I can vary them to get the response I want. I quite like this personal auditing and I will be doing this more regularly.

The exercise I want to discuss on today is the popular Glute Band Side Step, a popular exercise used to “activate” or “wake up” the Gluteal muscles. Whilst there is research supporting Gluteal Amnesia, your glutes simply do not switch off. Reciprocal inhibition (Sherrington’s law) teaches us that overactive muscles could cause a reflexive relaxation on opposing muscles. In this case the over activity in the hip flexor complex may cause underactivity in the Gluteal. Lastly, low levels of glute activation and coordination may lead to altered biomechanics and extra stress placed through the spine, as the hamstrings and lower back are asked to compensate in hip extension.

The ”prehab guys” suggest that prolonged sitting may cause slight damage to the nerve supplying the glute however this is not significant enough to cause muscular atrophy in most cases. Moreover, your glutes do not simply turn off otherwise you would probably be a pile of human on the floor, due to the glutes’ role in keeping us bi-pedal humans upright.

 

The role of the Glutes in Athletic performance

The gluteals are the primary hip extensors, external rotators and abductors of the lower body. In athletic activities such as sprinting, jumping and throwing the glutes play a large role in hip extension. During sprinting it is said that the glutes play a vital role in hip extension velocity during acceleration and in the stance phase of sprinting.

When performing exercises such as landing from a box on a single leg the hamstrings contract the hardest and the earliest but the Glute Medius performs a higher degree of muscular work in the frontal plane. Additionally, knee valgus seen in lower body functional tasks such as bilateral or unilateral squatting may give us an indication that the Glutes are under performing.

The benefits of having strong gluteal muscles are now well established with more people more than ever hip thrusting, bridging or performing the glute banded sidewalks. But, is this exercise doing as much as we think it is doing? Is this an exercise being given, perhaps, too much of the limelight? Today I want to dive into this.

Banded sidewalks and glute activation drills

It is apparent that banded side step works the hip in abduction and external rotation. Not only does the band stress the stepping limb, it challenges the standing limb too, as the athlete is asked to perform a lateral walk. Some great research by Lewis et, 2018 has suggested that placing the band around the feet increases both Glute Med and Max activation

Glute activation is quite a common theme in an athletes warm up, the idea is that the athlete spends part of the warm up performing, as an example, two sets of banded sidewalks for 15 repetitions to increase Gluteal activity, or in some case “wake up the glutes”. But, is this too simplistic? And does the side band walk have an increased performance outcome?

Whilst, I take everything with a pinch of salt, the more I learn is that what’s occurring is a result of a pre-fatigue and whilst it may be great for an athlete to feel their glutes, I am not sure it helps with performance outcomes, such as fixing knee valgus. Some research even suggests that pre fatiguing muscles leads to muscle activation in the synergistic muscle groups as opposed to the specific muscle you are targeting!

The aforementioned leads me onto the next topic post activation potentiation (PAP) which is a short term improvement in performance as a result of a conditioning exercise. For example, a countermovement jump (CMJ) and a back squat.

A phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction” (Robbins, 2005)

 The conditioning exercises is said to place the muscles in a “potentiated” or “Activated” state thus, increasing (in this case) CMJ performance. Whilst the research of this is quite mixed, heavy loads (> 80% of 1RM) appears to be more effective than using lighter loads. If we are talking about activation, then this is quite a contrast. Whilst I am not throwing the baby out the bath water my question is.

“What assumptions are we making?”

Ok so do we not do this exercise?

Firstly, you will hear this in the strength and conditioning communities quite a bit. Context is king. There have been great research on side banded walks particularly in the rehab settings to help rewire neural pathways or to teach a young athlete muscle awareness.  I just do not expect a magical solution from this in athletic performance.

Before I dive into specific exercises, I want to take you back to basics and suggest that simply getting your glutes strong, increasing the your hip mobility and stiffness in your core will go a long way in getting in enhancing performance outcomes from the Glutes and enhancing cross sectional area (size). Great exercises include Barbell hip Thrusts, high step ups and good old fashioned back squats, performed with good technique.

Structural adaptation

We know that in order to create structural adaptions we can:

  • Increase Cross sectional area
  • Increase muscle activation
  • Increase muscle- tendon stiffness

The literature around PAP, forced me to think that high volume, low load was probably not adequate in the “activation” of these muscle groups for performance enhancement. So how could I alter what I do to potentiate these muscles? Here are some ideas (I would also love to hear yours)

  • Fewer repetitions
  • Higher intensity
  • Yielding Isometrics

Whilst these are not revolutionary or specific exercises it gives something to think about, for example take the typical clamshell exercise pictured below

There are ways that we could modify this, perhaps, by using a heavy plate loaded six second isometric or using a very heavy band that can only be pushed for 3-5 repetitions. With some of my full-time athletes I would typically use a heavier plate loaded isometric hold to “activate” the muscles of the glutes, which is progressed through time.

On a final note, I want to stress that I am not anti-band sidewalks, I just think they need to be taken a bit more lightly for activation purposes. They certainly have their place in clinical rehab or as a teaching method, to feel the muscle but this comes down to your “why”.

 

Thanks for reading guys,

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and Conditioning coach.

 

Liked This Blog?

You might like other blogs on this topic from APA:

APA review of the Middlesex Students S&C conference 2014

The Dubious Rise of the Corrective Exercise ”Pseudo-Physio” Posing as a Trainer- My thoughts

as well as two recommended articles:

This article on weak Glutes during Squatting

And this one on Exercise Modifications 

Do you feel that this would be a perfect time to work on the weak links that you have been avoiding? The things that you know you should be doing that you keep putting off? Would you like us to help you with movement screening and an injury prevention program? Then click on the link below and let us help you!

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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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