Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW – Episode 385 Paul Comfort – Part 2

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 385 – Paul Comfort

 

The majority of the episode focuses on isometric training.   Due to the amount and quality of information the full podcast review will be split up into two parts.  This is a Part 2 of 2, which will focus on practical applications of isometric training and eccentric training.   Click here to read Part 1.

Paul Comfort

 

Paul Comfort is a Reader in Strength and Conditioning and programme leader for the MSc Strength and Conditioning at the University of Salford, and is this week’s guest on the Pacey Performance Podcast. He’s here to talk to Rob about isometric testing and training, and why there has been a recent resurgence in its popularity.

 

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🔊 Listen to the full episode here

 

Discussion topics:

 

Isometric Testing & dynamic performance

 

”Just try to make this transition over into the isometric training side of things. And I probably should have mentioned this at the start actually, what are the links to dynamic performance when doing isometric testing? How is that link made?”

 

”So if you look at something like the isometric mid thigh pull or the isometric squat, there’s a huge number of studies out there that show strong correlations between your ability to produce very high forces, so the peak force or peak force relative to mass, and performance in other dynamic strength tests or tasks. So 1RM squat, 1RM deadlift, snatch, power snatch, clean, power clean performance, etc. And in weightlifters, they’re almost perfect correlations, which isn’t surprising because they’re so used to getting into those positions for the isometric mid thigh pull.  But even if we look at how they relate to things like sprint performance, jump performance, there are still strong correlations there. Now correlation doesn’t mean cause and effect just because there’s a strong correlation. It doesn’t mean if we increase peak force in an isometric mid thigh pull, you will increase your 1RM performance or your sprint performance.

 

However, there are a few studies out there that do indicate that as your peak force increases, your ability to accelerate increases. Or as force at a specific time point increases, your ability to accelerate during a sprint or a jump, etc increases. Now that makes sense if we go back to your basic biomechanics, because we know that it’s your relative net impulse, with impulse being force x time and relative meaning dividing it by your body mass. As long as your body mass stays the same, if you can increase the amount of force you produce in the same given time point, your ability to accelerate will have increased.

 

 

Now when we evaluate it in a isometric task, then we’ve got to hope that the athlete can actually use that force and still produce a higher force in the same time frame when they perform their dynamic task. But if you’ve got the right balance between what you’re doing in the weight room, and their skill specific training, the sprint drills you might do, the jump training, the bounding and plyometrics. If you’ve got the right balance there, you should get that transference. No amount of work in the weight room will immediately transfer to a really highly skilled task. But even just on observation, if you get somebody much stronger and their peak force goes up and then their force at 150 milliseconds goes up, their ability to accelerate when they’re sprinting, jumping, does start to improve.

 

There is sometimes a lag time. So the problem with some of the research is that you do a four week or a six week block of training. You get to the end of that block and you retest them [without doing a deload first]. Well, actually, if you’ve used progressive overload, which we should all be doing, you’ve had a progressive increase in possibly load or intensity, definitely in volume. And therefore we’ve added fatigue across that few weeks of training, whether it’s four or six weeks. And you look at some studies, there’s not an unloading week, there’s not a deload week, but that’s what we do when we train people normally. You have an accumulation of fatigue during that three, four, five, six week buildup. And then we have a week where we back off, we deload, we taper, whatever term you want to use for it, then retest them when fatigue is dissipated.

 

 

And the reason I mention that is if you look at a lot Dr. Andy Fries early work on overreaching, over training, they really battered people. Some of their training programmes, you look at them and think how the hell did people get through that? And you find that peak force or their maximum strength is pretty stable. It doesn’t decrease dramatically. You can push people really hard and maximum force production doesn’t go down. But their ability to produce force rapidly decreases. So if we’ve got a similar approach where we’ve got a progressive increase in volume and we then test them right at the end of that block, it’s not surprising that you’re going to see a slight decrease in their ability to produce force rapidly because they’re fatigued. So we need that appropriate deload or taper before we retest.

 

And it doesn’t always happen within the research. Partly due to time constraints, partly due to them getting the athletes to actually take a bit of time off. And sometimes because people just don’t know any better, which is problematic in itself. So, there is that strong correlation, but it all comes down to your ability to produce force, high forces in a short duration, which is why it’s so important to have that. If we do an isometric testing to really try and quantify how much force they can produce in a certain time point, because that will indicate that they can generate a greater impulse and therefore if they can apply that greater impulse during sports specific tasks, we will get greater acceleration, whether that’s of their mass or whether that’s of an object they’re throwing or whatever it might be.”

 

Isometric Training

 

”Transitioning to the isometric training side. So as you’ve said right at the start, this is a complementary method of training to your traditional strength training, but just taking it back again, what are the benefits of isometric training and what areas does it plug that traditional strength training maybe doesn’t?”

 

”Well, I think one of the things that’s really useful is it’s minimally fatiguing. So because you are actually not moving through a large range of motion and you can easily control the duration of each isometric muscle action, you can minimize fatigue. It doesn’t have the eccentric component in there, which we get with traditional strength training, which while really beneficial, actually, if you are using an unfamiliar task may cause muscle damage, may cause DOMS, pain, inhibition and that’s one of the concerns with athletes when you introduce a new stimulus is if they come back in a day or two later complaining to the medical staff that they’re really sore. Some of them, if they’re not used to that type of training, we’ll be saying they’ve pulled the hamstring or they’ve pulled the groin or whatever.  No, you are just sore because you don’t train hard enough.  That’s what happens most of the time. It’s unlikely they’ll have pulled something in a structured weight training programme or resistance training programme if you’ve been appropriately progressive in nature. So it’s not as fatiguing.

 

And then the other benefit is everyone has sticking points during certain exercises. You start trying to do a squat, a deadlift, if you fail, there’s always a specific point you’ll fail at, normally somewhere midpoint through the range of motion, depending on where your weakness is. So you can train people in those weak positions and that can help them get through those sticking points.

 

 

And you can do that without adding a huge amount of extra volume. But as I mentioned earlier, and as you’ve just restated, it isn’t a substitute for your standard resistance training. Otherwise you’d have to train at so many different joint angles to get that transference throughout that full range of motion that you’d end up with all sorts of issues in terms of time.  For example, I’ve been trying to do an isometric squat. It’s taken me an hour to get all these different positions for enough repetitions with enough force while that was really counterproductive because I could have done that just with a few sets of squats doing a dynamic squatting type task.

 

So, you know, there are some benefits, but you’ve also got to take a step back and think, what do I really need from this?”

 

”What does the research say around that transference of specific positions? So if I’m training at a particular angle, what’s the transference?”

 

”Well, a lot of the early research seems to indicate that you’re looking at plus or minus 15 degrees from the joint angle you were training at. And that seems to be correct if you are just doing isometric training. Some of the more recent studies that have been published seem to show a slightly greater range, but that is when they’re combined with dynamic heavy strength training. So that probably helps with that transference, because you’re still doing other training and that’s the problem you get sometimes when we’ve got to do really well controlled studies in very controlled environments so that we know that whatever our intervention is, is what’s had the effect.

 

But then we also have to do those studies where they’re more ecologically valid. They are what we would do in an applied environment. So they are what we’re going to do with our football team, with our rugby team, with whatever that sport is. And then that’s when we seem to find that either what was done in that control lab environment doesn’t work or it doesn’t work as well; or sometimes, oh my God, this works much better because it’s in addition to other types of training. Some of the early studies on isometric training showed an increase in rate force development, but a decrease in jump performance. Well, how does that work? You would assume that if your rate force development increases, your jump performance should increase, but actually they were assessing rate of force development during a single joint isometric task. And then comparing that to jump performance where you’ve been training at zero velocity for the last six weeks.

 

So, and your jump height is determined by your velocity at takeoff and you are used to training at zero velocity. So is that really surprising when we think about specificity of training that your jump height decreased? No, it’s probably not. But again, look at the studies where it’s combined as an addition to your normal training and we tend to get beneficial adaptations. And it’s not just about the performance side of things, there’s a lot of research showing the benefits for isometric type training. As an analgesic, if you’ve got tendon pain before training in competition, actually to create adaptations in your tendons to make them stiffer, to increase the amount of collagen, etc. So they’re more resilient to stress strain and therefore injury.

 

However, bear in mind a tendon doesn’t know what type of muscle actions are occurring. It’s just got stress and strain applied to it.  But the benefit is it’s very, very controlled when it’s isometric. And if somebody has got a bit of pain, you can ramp that up progressively. Whereas it’s not quite the same because you suddenly throw them into a plyometric task.”

 

”In terms of the manipulating the variables when it comes to isometrics and potential recommendations, how can we manipulate isometric to get what we want? And if there’s any recommendations out there, that would be great?”

 

”If you look across the research, it’s pretty varied. I don’t think there is a true consensus because the studies are set up to get different results. Some are tendon related, some are for performance. If you think about it practically, if you identify where someone’s weak point is, that point that they slow down,  unintentionally during an exercise. So if you are going to use an isometric squat to supplement your dynamic squat training, find what that sticking point is. Find the point that they’re really having to grind through and you don’t need to assess velocity of the movement. That point with a heavy load where they really start struggling, we can all see that. They can tell you that posture. They know it because they thought they were going to fail at that point.

 

That’s the point that their face goes purple as well. So it’s really easy to spot. So actually doing some repetitions, not necessarily for a prolonged duration because you still want a really high effort. And again, the problem is if we do a really prolonged duration and a near maximal effort, we will induce fatigue. So you’re looking at your three to five second efforts, we know that you should be able to achieve peak isometric force in under two seconds. And from looking at all the forced time data that I’ve collected with isometric squats and mid thigh pulls, within five seconds, everyone’s force production starts to go down. So if you’re looking at a three to five second effort near maximum, I personally find that to be one of the most effective ways of getting people to get through sticking points. And we also want to train our athletes to express force rapidly.

 

So actually doing really prolonged holds may be grate for rehabilitation purposes. And if somebody’s had a niggling injury and that’s continued, that might be really, really beneficial, but from a performance point of view, doing three to five repetitions, three to five seconds per effort. And if you can assess that with a strain gauge or with a force plate setup, that will give you some additional feedback, but even without that you can tell if they’re working hard or not.  Watch an athletes’ face, are they holding their breath? Are they gasping for breath when they finished a repetition? Are they shaking during the task? Most people will. So you can see most of that without the strain gauge or without an isometric mid thigh pull. But actually if you’ve got the force plate to do this type of testing during their training you can also get people really competitive.

 

So if you and I were training, we can both, if we’re sort of a similar stature, we can both get onto a force plate, and do an isometric squat. I do a five second effort. Step away, you do a five second effort and we compete against each other. You’re really going to get maximal buy-in and maximum intent then. And you might not need to do it with your whole squad. There may be some athletes you think, right, this will be really useful for them. And again, a good way of sort of judging those joint angles based on where you perceive their weaknesses to be. And that’s easy during some of those dynamic strength exercises. You’ll really see that.”

 

Eccentric Training

 

”I’m just conscious that we’ve talked about isometrics been supplementary and not to miss out eccentric and concentric contractions, which you’ve mentioned as well. So where does eccentric focus training fit into this and what are the benefits? What we can gain from eccentric training?”

 

”So with eccentric we can again get really, really high forces being produced. We’ve got to implement that eccentric load appropriately though. And I’ll come to that in a moment. We know that if you’ve got a high eccentric load, which is greater than the load during a concentric task, that we can increase fascicle lengths. And if we can increase muscle fascicle lengths, we increase the potential for those fascicles to shorten at higher velocity. So I’ll try not to go off topic here, but if you look at the force velocity relationship, the majority of people get that wrong and I’ll hold my hands up. I’ve probably made that worse with some figures I’ve put in publications, textbooks, etc, but the force velocity relationship comes from fascicle shortening velocity and individual fascicles and the amount of force they can generate.

 

It’s not movement velocity, which is how most people interpret it. So it’s how quickly your fascicle can shorten. Now if your fascicles shorten more rapidly because they’re longer and you’ve got the optimal pennation angle for that, you will undoubtedly get a higher movement velocity from those individuals.  Eccentric training increases fascicle length because you are getting the muscles being stretched while it’s producing a high force. And that’s the key. You need a high force, so you can do tempo type eccentric training. We can get people lowering down over a prolonged period of time. That increases time under tension that may create a hypertrophic stimulus where we get more muscle mass. But it’s not truly eccentric training.  You’re moving at a really low velocity. 

 

[Personal communication with Paul: ”it’s not truly eccentric training because as was stated earlier, a high eccentric load has to be one which is greater than the load during a concentric task, in order to increase increase fascicle lengths.  tempo training prescriptions are usually around 80-85% 1RM for 3-5 seconds lower and you the lift it back up concentrically.  This is a good introduction to the controlled tempos but the load is insufficient to overload the eccentric component.] 

 

The goal of eccentrics is to get a higher force at a higher velocity but how you train that in the weight room is focus on the higher focus component. Imagine trying to squat down quickly with a high load.  That doesn’t happen if you are squatting and you put extra weight on the bar. If you want to move at high velocity, you relax and gravity accelerates you down. You can’t move any quicker than just relaxing and letting gravity push you to the floor. With safety bars and stuff like that in your power rack, obviously you don’t want to get squashed or crush your athlete.  So the key thing is if you are trying to apply really high force or using a high load, the eccentrics in that situation with multi-joint movements need to be slow and controlled.

 

Personally, if I’m doing it and I’m trying to use an eccentric overload, I’ll do a front squat because it’s so easy to drop the bar rather than a back squat. You’ve got to be good at jumping out from under that bar if you start to move too fast or have it set up inside a rack with the safety bar set just around your minimum squat, your maximum squat depth, the minimum height you’re going to achieve.

 

They’re really, really beneficial, but again, as an addition to your normal training. Now, if you’ve got no equipment and I’ll just stick with a squat as an example, because it’s probably the easiest one. If we want to create eccentric overload, go above your 1RM, set those safety pins. Go to about your maximum squat depth and do a very slow controlled squat. Probably going to take three to five seconds to get down there. If you think about when you’re going for a 1RM anyway, you squat down slowly. You don’t go down rapidly, because you’re going to get squashed. So you go down slow. If you’ve gone 10% above that (concentric 1RM), you’ll go down slower. The only problem is then you need a couple of strong people to lift that bar back up or you need to unload it and then lift it backup.

 

So it’s not always practical. There are some commercial devices on the market where you can do that and it’ll winch it back for you. But most people won’t have those. The other option is to use weight releasers, the j hooks that hang on the end of the bar, you can put weight on it. You get to the floor, they’ve got an angle on them, so they’ll actually flip off when you get to the bottom. Just make sure you set the height of those weight releasers, five to eight centimetres longer than you need so that when you get to the bottom of your squat or whatever lift you are doing, that they do release and make sure you’re symmetrical when you squat down because if one comes off one side and not the other, you’re in a whole world of trouble there.

 

 

So practice it with the warm-up weights and slowly build up. And you’ve got a whole range of things you can do with that. You can do it to almost try and potentiate or enhance your propulsive phase. So you could put 80% of your 1RM on the bar, 30% of your concentric or your traditional 1RM on the weight releases, you’ve got 110% 1RM. Squat down, then release, and then you come up as explosively or fast as you can. You can use it for hypertrophy as well. So we get that increased time under tension on the way down and we can use it for actually just getting that higher eccentric stimulus. As long as you squat, you get back to the top and then two people hook the weights back on for you.

 

The nice thing is for that you can end up doing that as a cluster set. Somebody put the weights on, you then pick the bar back up, step back, squat again. It takes a little bit longer, but actually you do less volume if you’re doing that high loads eccentric type training because it does create some muscle damage.

 

Now the other thing to bear in mind with this is that muscle damage is not a bad thing because it gives you the repeated bout effect. And it’s not just from eccentric training. You get that just from a novel stimulus. So if you’ve been focusing bilateral training, front squat, back squats, deadlifts, and you suddenly throw in a load of split squats, lunges, rear elevated split squats, you’ll ache in different places. The next day you’ll feel it more in your glutes and you groin, etc, because you’re stabilizing.

 

That’s not because it was a much higher load. It might have been a lower load overall. If you work out the total load lifted, it might be a lower volume. But it’s a novel stimulus. So when you introduce a novel stimulus, whether eccentric or whether they’re just going from bilateral dominant to unilateral, ideally build it in progressively because you will get a little bit sore, but that initial bout of, especially if it’s eccentric training, protects you against some of that muscle damage and the soreness and the inhibition during the subsequent bout. So your first bout, do a really low volume. If you’re doing it with squats, maybe do it on your first repetition of a squat or weight releasers. So if you’re training at 80% of 1RM, you put that extra 30% on, so you lower 110% your 1RM.

 

Do do it for one rep. Your first rep of a set and do it on the first rep, maybe the three or four sets. That is likely to give you a protective effect. Next time you can do it within the set. You know, you can cluster your set. If you’re doing sets of six, rep one as the weight releases on, then you do two and three normally, rank the bar, put the weight releases back on, do rep four with the weight releases five and six or without you’ve doubled the volume of eccentric training. So build it up progressively, because the last thing you want is your athletes coming back in telling you how much they’re aching the next day, turning around to the coach saying that they’re in bits, turning around to the medical staff because they won’t want you doing that type of training again, but it can be really beneficial.

 

And the few studies that are out there that there’s one by Mellissa Harden, where she used a control group trained athletes and some very well trained athletes. It was some GB cyclists, and they showed within a four week period substantial improvements in maximum and rapid force production from doing that type of training, using an eccentric leg press. Now there is an issue with that. No one else has access to that eccentric leg press apart from British cycling, but hey it worked. It shows, you know, the theory holds true. There’s a couple of studies by Simon Walker, which I think both Rob Newton, Keijo Häkkinen and Gregory Haff were part of that research group at that point, looking at different types of eccentric training in a more applied environment, more ecologically valid. So not just isolated, single joint eccentric training. And again, they’ve shown big increases in a short duration.

 

But again with a relatively conservative loading paradigm that they’ve used and I think that’s the key thing is you have to do a small amount because we know it will create some muscle damage. So be conservative with it. A lot of the research, researchers will say, we need to get this stimulus. We need to make sure it has a positive effect, but you know, if you turn around, look at some of the early studies on Nordics where they were doing 50 plus repetitions in a week, or sets of 10. I know after three, my subsequent reps are pretty poor because it feels like everything’s going to cramp up. And we now know that those lower volumes are maybe not quite as effective, but you get much better adherence and longer term, they will be more effective.

 

So you’ve really got to be conservative with how you apply that eccentric load. There’s lots of different ways to do it. But there are some pretty simple and easy to apply options in a normal setting if you haven’t got specialist equipment. And the weight releasers you can buy those for probably 200 pounds or if you know anybody that’s good with metal work, they can probably make some for you.”

 

Top 5 Take Away Points:

  1.  Isometric training/testing – use it for maintenance of strength during periods of fixture congestion.
  2.  KPIs for isometrics – Peak Force (relative to body mass)and Rate of Force Development (RFD)
  3.  Validity/Reliability – be aware of different time points used for testing and also the different tests (isometric squat vs IMTP, and 50, 100, 50 ms etc).
  4.  Time period of isometric – for peak force perform 3-5 trials of up to 4-5 seconds and for RFD use a 1-second explosive effort.
  5.  Strain gauges could be a less expensive alternative to force plates, but will be less reliable.  Likewise single joint tests will be more useful than multi-joint isometric assessments.

 

Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?

 

Paul Comfort Research Gate

You may also like from PPP:

 

Episode 383 James Moore

Episode 380 Alastair McBurnie & Tom Dos’Santos

Episode 372 Jeremy Sheppard & Dana Agar Newman

Episode 367 Gareth Sandford

Episode 362 Matt Van Dyke

Episode 361 John Wagle

Episode 359 Damien Harper

Episode 348 Keith Barr

Episode 331 Danny Lum

Episode 298 PJ Vazel

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

 

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Task based drills vs Game based skills- why it matters

This year one of my friends and colleagues Sergio Gomez-Cuesta (who is the Head of Performance, Science and Medicine Support and 10U Player Development Lead at Gosling Tennis Academy) has been running some coach education for Gosling coaches on coaching frameworks designed to maximise skill acquisition and development in Tennis players.

 

 

Despite constraints based coaching being a rapidly evolving part of skill acquisition theory and practice it is certainly not new.

 

I can’t believe that it is 2014 when I first wrote about the influence of cognitive factors on physiological performance.  How time flies!

 

Truth be told, at that point in time, I wrote about it but didn’t make any real changes in my coaching framework, and from speaking to coaches I get the sense I wasn’t alone.  A lot of coaches seem to be aware of these new coaching terms such as ecological dynamic systems, constraint based coaching, implicit versus explicit coaching etc.  But for whatever reason are not necessarily incorporating them into their current coaching practices.

 

This was me in 2014.  It’s less me now in 2022.  So what changed? Well, first of all I have a coach to thank, Gabe Fishlock, who was a breath of fresh air.  He had just joined the team and started working with the existing syllabus at APA for 12-under and 10-under players for one term (April-July), and asked if he could re-vamp it for September, and put his mark on it.

 

Having the Courage to Change

 

This was a break through moment for both of our coach development- for Gabe- because he was a new kid on the block and showed tremendous courage to ask if he could tinker with something that he knew full well was personally written by me and at the time I was pretty happy with.  A break through for me, because I had to have the courage to let go of any attachment to something, acknowledge there were better ways to do things, and hear it from/trust someone with much less experience to show me how to do it!

 

To summarise the change in curriculum, it went from task-based drills to game-based skills

 

Now before I go any further with this blog, I want to discourage any coach from seeing this in black & white- I’m not here to tell you that drills are bad and you should never use drills to enhance technique, and neither am I here to tell you that you should only use games.

 

Instead, I just want to share with you a clear ”shift” in my approach with an ”emphasis” on a few key principles.  I’ll talk about some of them below and try and illustrate them with examples.

 

Coaching Principles

 

Technique

 

  • Perception- shapes our actions (not instructions from coaches)

 

  • Self organisation – leads to individualised optimal technique

 

  • Optimal technique – leads to adaptability

 

The first time I learnt about the difference between ‘technique’ and ‘skill’ was on by Football Association (FA) Level 2 Certificate in Football coaching in 2000.

 

Technique – the action without the context

 

Skill – the technique in context

 

Style – the individual adaptability of technique

 

 

”Expert tennis players apply the same biomechanical principles and technique BUT with DIFFERENT individual styles.”

 

 

👆 This photo went viral on social media showing Daniel Medvedev (current World Number 1 ATP Tour) getting into a ‘sub-optimal’ position.  Strength & conditioning coaches were cuing up to comment on this.  Okay, so it doesn’t look great, right?

 

You wouldn’t want to use this as the ‘technical model’ of movement to a running backhand.  But I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind being World Number 1 in one of the most brutally demanding sports on the planet (my opinion)?  Now, I’m not going to get too side tracked and make this a post about Medvedev’s technique but it is a good illustration of technique versus style.

 

For the record, I can’t remember what the outcome was of the point- I don’t know if he made the ball, he played a winning shot or he stayed in the rally, so someone please feel free to let me know!  But what I can say is that several tennis coaches have already done various commentaries of his ‘technique,’ and found that although it doesn’t look easy on the eye, it apparently conforms to the most important biomechanical principles (which I’m guessing are things like contact point of racket in relation to body etc).  It’s not just about how you get there, it’s about where you get to.

 

As I said in my 2014 post,

 

It is only the level of performing skill based tasks under pressure that creates the ranking in terms of the best performers.’

 

This doesn’t mean I no longer pay attention to the textbook technical model, or have a preference for one way of executing a task over or another.  Neither does it mean that I no longer guide beginners towards this technical model.  But, as we will see below, it’s about how you guide the learner with your coaching.  This is what I mean by the coaching framework.

 

So, moving onto the topic of coaching framework, let’s say we now have some understanding of the difference between technique and skill, how do you actually coach that?

 

 

Coaching Framework

 

I’ll break this down into the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW

 

The WHAT

 

Below is an adapted version of a slide Sergio shared with us.  An example of information led coaching would be a tennis coach standing next to the player (BOTH ON BASELINE) while dropping a ball for the player to hit, while they are standing still.

 

An example of context and constraints led coaching would be a tennis coach feeding the ball to a player across the net.

 

 

Information Led Approach

 

I was educated in the 1990s and 2000s so a lot of my knowledge and education in skill acquisition was based on the traditional motor learning theory of skill acquisition, which basically says that the ‘motor programme’ is the key thing.  Essentially it views skill learning as a software programme (or technique) that we need to upload to the hardware- and our bodies are like robots that learn by MEMORISING techniques in isolation as the most effective way to ‘upload the programme.’

 

Learning is DONE TO THE PLAYER-  learning is about the player practicing and repeating solutions GIVEN TO THE PLAYER by the coach.

 

Constraints Led Approach

 

In this approach the perception-action coupling is the key thing.   The context in which the skills are learnt is the most important thing.

 

Learning is DONE BY THE PLAYER-  learning is about practicing and repeating the process of finding the solutions BY THE PLAYER.

 

The WHY

 

What [information] the player PERCEIVES shapes their ACTIONS (this is referred to in the scientific literature as ACTION-PERCEPTION coupling).

 

What the player perceives shapes their actions MORE OPTIMALLY and without consciously thinking than instructions.

 

Example – a player has an elbow too close to their body when hitting a forehand.  The coach can ‘instruct’ them to straighten their arm, or the coach can create a physical barrier to increase the height of the net, which affords the player the opportunity to solve the problem by perceiving what happens to the ball when they explore different ways to get the ball over the net.

 

This leads nicely to the last point of today’s post- the HOW.

 

The HOW

 

Create a boundary within a competitive GAME-LIKE SITUATION that requires the technical/tactical skills instead of giving explicit detailed solutions and instruction.  This brings us back to where we started which is the title of the blog – Task based drills vs Game based skills- why it matters.

 

I still don’t feel I’ve done a good enough job of going over the WHY – yes I’ve mentioned that what the player perceives shapes their actions MORE OPTIMALLY than instructions.

 

But just to add to that, we as coaches can all probably agree we want LONG-TERM transfer to performance.  We want the skills to stick under high pressure, this is something we call ‘self-organisation.’  This is the natural ability that humans have to find solutions under constraints and without micromanaging and instructions.

 

”The technical skill blueprint that emerges is the most individualised, stable, flexible, context dependent and rapidly available movement solution to deal with pressure situations and super-fast sports.”

(S Gomez-Cuesta)

 

Now before all the purists jump in and say that beginners need to be instructed first, and they don’t have the tools to get to the ‘correct’ or ‘optimal’ solution on their own, can I first please refer you back to my 2014 blog.  In it I talk about working with beginners.  I totally hear you, you’re worried that athletes may learn poor movements and adopt bad habits.  This would only happen if you did the equivalent or throwing someone who couldn’t swim into the deep end and watch them drown.  Of course you have to guide them, and choosing where they need to spend their time so that they can safely progress.

 

 

To use the swimming analogy, they still get in the water, and you might even have them get their feet off the floor (even if it means wearing arm bands or using other flotation devices) but they are still swimming.   No swimming teacher would expect a child to learn to swim if they just stood still in the shallow end up to their waist in water swinging their arms backwards and forwards- yet this is what we do every week on the tennis court!

 

Working with Beginners

 

In the case of working with beginners or any situation when we are introducing a new skill to an athlete we could look at giving minimal coaching technical feedback and simply letting the athlete come up with the solution.   They will bring their own inherent variability to the party because they are learning to coordinate their body.
Ives and Shelvey (2003) say:

 

”To illustrate for functional training, we suggest that athletes not be told to perform weight training exercises with specific techniques. The athlete, within the bounds of safety, should be free to explore the exercises and become aware of their own movement effects and perceptual outcomes.  Rigorously defining ‘proper’ form and the use of mechanical stabilization and anti cheating aids excessively constrain athletes’ exploration and problem-solving movements, and bear little resemblance to that which occurs during athletic performances. With no instruction, however, the athlete may search endlessly for a proper movement solution.

 

Athletes may learn poor movements and adopt bad habits. The coach or trainer can guide the athlete by providing purposeful intent, ideas about where to focus attention, and clues to key perceptual cues. In this fashion, athletes are able to resolve problems and begin to understand the nature of movement on their own, and determine optimal solutions for themselves.”

 

In summary we can view the role of the coach as guiding the athlete to optimal performance through giving them a clear instruction on the intent we are looking for, and a few attentional cues BUT letting them solve the movement problem!

Hope you have found this article useful.

 

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Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW – Episode 385 Paul Comfort – Part 1

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 385 – Paul Comfort

 

The majority of the episode focuses on isometric training.   Due to the amount and quality of information the full podcast review will be split up into two parts.  This is a Part 1 of 2, which will focus on isometric testing.  The second part will focus on practical applications of isometric training and eccentric training.

 

Paul Comfort

 

Paul Comfort is a Reader in Strength and Conditioning and programme leader for the MSc Strength and Conditioning at the University of Salford, and is this week’s guest on the Pacey Performance Podcast. He’s here to talk to Rob about isometric testing and training, and why there has been a recent resurgence in its popularity.

 

Twitter

 

🔊 Listen to the full episode here

 

Discussion topics:

 

”It comes up all the time that people like yourself or even those in very much applied positions in professional and collegiate sport have come through having done personal training. How important is that being throughout your career to have that grounding of, like you say, just hours and hours of coaching and hours and hours of convincing this person to come back and pay you?”

 

”I think it’s huge. It’s having the right communications skills and being able to build the right rapport with people quite quickly as well. But it is different on an individual level to when you’ve got a group of athletes and also different than when you’ve got a group of different athletes. You know, even if you look at Rugby League and Rugby Union, they come from totally different demographics. And then if you look at football, they generally don’t want to do much to stuff in the weight room. So you’ve got to get buy-in really quickly. So the ability to communicate and get some relatively complex concepts across to them but in really simple terms initially is really, really important. We see that with university students all the time that those that have done some personal training, while their knowledge may be lacking in some areas based on whatever course they’ve done, you know, they can be a weekend call sometimes, which really isn’t going to qualify you.

 

Athletic Performance Academy

 

But if they’ve got the experience of coaching, whether that’s as a personal trainer, whether it’s as a sport coach, you know, a technical coach, whatever that is because they’re used to communicating, they actually pick things up so much better and they can get that information across the people so much in a much more user friendly way. And it comes across fluid and fluent rather than almost stage. You know, we teach students how to do this and you sort of give them a recipe of this is how you should approach it. And you can see them thinking, you know, almost that tick box approach, but it has to be natural otherwise it just looks forced.

 

So having develop those sort of skills to communicate effectively, whether it’s as a personal trainer or as a coach is really, really important. But also identifying that, you know, that there is a notable difference between what personal trainers normally do and what strength coaches normally do. There are some distinctions between them.

 

Get Relevant Experience

 

It’s definitely a big thing that we try and emphasize to our students from the first day they turn up, go out and get experience coaching.  Yes, you may need to work in a bar or whatever to earn some money as a student, but go out and get some relevant experience which will develop those skills.

 

Unfortunately, as with every university, those students ignore that for the first two years, get to the third year and start panicking. They’ve got no experience in the areas when they look at what is required to get a job, or to get an interview for a job. But you know, some of them do go out there and do it and the students that I’ve seen, certainly over the last 13 years at the University of Salford have done that from day one and gone over and above with things like placement hours, etc, in their final year.   They’re the ones that get the jobs at the end of it. And they’re the ones who we see develop that ability and their ability to communicate. Because I think sometimes if you’ve been through a university education, you forget how much you’ve learned and you forget all the technical terms you’re using, because everyone you’re around is using them. And then you say something to an athlete of any age and sometimes you just get a blank look and think, okay, that didn’t work and is being able to realize that they just didn’t understand at all what you’ve just said.

 

So yes, it’s definitely a really important skill for people to develop and you continually develop that over time. You know, even watching other people coach or train an individual and see how they cue them and they cue them in a different way and think, oh, brilliant, I’m stealing that, I’m using that next time.”

 

”In terms of hot topics on the podcast, one thing in particular is isometric testing and training, which is why I want to speak to you.  If you combine it with speed the interest off the charts. People love speed. People love isometrics. So why do you think there’s been such a resurgence in the last couple of years of interest?”

 

”Well, I think you can look at it from two perspectives. One is the isometric assessments and now force plates are so much more available than they were. They’re so much cheaper to conduct those isometric assessments. And obviously you’ve got strain gauges, etc, that you can use for it as well.

 

But it means that that equipment is much more accessible. If you go into the majority of sports teams that I can think of, I think in fact, all of the ones at the higher levels that we work with through the university or that I consult with separately, they’ve all got force plates. And actually a lot of them invite you in not to discuss the training aspects, but right, we’re collecting all this data. We’ve got X number of metrics coming out. What the hell do they all mean? Which do I need to use because I want to try and inform my practice on a daily basis. But if I’ve got a hundred plus variables, which ones do I choose? So how do I rationalize that?

 

 

So I think that’s one reason that the testing has become far more popular and it’s been used more in the research and obviously as people read more research, then they start thinking, maybe I should use this method of isometric testing. And then with the isometric training, I think there’s a few things, you know, Alex Natera has done a fantastic job of making this popular and some of the information easily accessible. Danny Lum more recently as well, but actually there’s still that culture of avoiding heavy lifting which is a problem in itself. But at least if you have a strength type stimulus during isometric training it’s better than nothing. In my opinion, it should be used in addition to that sort of normal traditional training and still make sure you get progressive overload, but it definitely makes it more attractive in some situations.

 

And especially if you can try and use it for maintenance of strength during periods of fixture congestion, maybe you can just about give enough stimulus so the athletes don’t start to detrain over a short period of time. So I think that, they’re probably the two main things: it’s become more popular in terms of people promoting it on social media, and it’s something which people don’t fear like they do with heavy lifting. And there is still that culture at a whole range of different sports. And then the testing side, I think it’s just the fact that force plates are so much more accessible now.”

 

”In terms of the testing, so you’ve mentioned force plates, hundreds, and hundreds of metrics that are going to pop out. How do we distill that, understand what we need to use, what we want to use in our specific settings, what will be your process to try to understand that and the right end point?”

 

Peak Force and RFD

 

”Certainly with the isometric testing, it’s relatively straightforward from my point of view. People can disagree with me, but you need to know their maximum force production capability. We need to know what the highest force is that that individual can generate. So we need peak force and ideally you need relative peak force. We need to be able to scale that and divide that by their body weight, to make sure that it takes body mass into account, especially with youth athletes.

 

You can see this in all the research where people have assessed force production capability in youth soccer players or youth football players, indicating that they get stronger with age. Well, of course they do. They’re getting bigger, they’re getting heavier. Ratio scale it divided by body weight and it’s very, very rare you find anything in the literature in youth athletes that they get stronger. Which for me is a massive problem, because that tells me actually your strength training programs probably haven’t done anything. They’ve just maintained and allowed them to continue their ability to generate force relative to their mass.

 

If they didn’t do that training, maybe they would actually be relatively weaker. We don’t know, but it tells me that the strength training practices are far from optimal or far from ideal because they should be getting much stronger. And you can see that if you look at some of the work that Dan Baker has published in the past, where he’s looked at people over a 10 year period, and you might not only have small increases in strength, it wasn’t isometric strength, but only small increases in strength per year. But let’s say for example, you put 10 kilos on your back squat every year for five years. That’s a pretty impressive back squat. Put five kilos on body mass on every year for five years, you are going to look like a different person. You know, you’re going to look pretty impressive physically.  Your increase in strength is outweighed by your increase in mass. So that’s a positive adaptation. 

 

So we need those increases in peak force and we know that there’s a strong relationship between peak isometric force and rapid force development or rate of force development (RFD). So it’s definitely important to push that ceiling up. And then the other thing we need to look at is rapid force production. So how much force we can produce in certain time periods. So then you’re looking at anything from 50 milliseconds up to maybe 250 milliseconds and you can either just use force at those specific time points (so force at 150, 200, 250 milliseconds), or you can calculate rate of force development.

 

The only issue you have with rate of force development, because you are running additional calculations, you can introduce additional error to that. And there are loads of different ways of calculating rate of force development.  It’s  force divided by time, but is it from the onset of your force production to the peak? Is it from 100 milliseconds to 150? Is it the average across that time? There’s a really good study by Professor Greg Haff published back in 2015, where he looked at a whole range of different methods and recommend using a 20 second moving average window across the time points of zero to 150, 0 to 250, etc.

 

But not all software packages do that for you. So from my point of view, rather having to try and unpick exactly what your software package is or try and set up an Excel spreadsheet, which will look at the average across a moving average window of 20 milliseconds within 250 milliseconds, which even as I say it that sounds complex. If you just look at force at 100, 200, 250, whatever time points, if force increased at that point, your rate of force development at that time point must have increased over that duration because it goes up as almost a straight line.

 

It’s not like when we look at more dynamic tasks where that force-time curve can fluctuate. So if you just then look at force at specific time points, the other thing we can then do is identify if you’ve got an increase in strength, has your force production at certain time points increased in proportion to that? So if you look at the force at let’s say 250 milliseconds as a percentage of your peak force, how much of your peak force can you express in 250 milliseconds? If it’s currently 75% and we do a more plyometric, ballistic type of training and you find that goes up to 85% brilliant. That’s probably the desired adaptation you wanted.

 

If we do maximum strength training and you find that that force at 250 milliseconds drops from 75% down to 60%, we then need to take into account both what that peak force has gone up to and what your force at 250 milliseconds is. Because if you force at 250 has still increased, that’s fantastic. And that can still increase, but it’s just not to the same magnitude as your peak force. In which case then that tells us our max strength training was really effective. We haven’t suffered issues in terms of the ability to produce force rapidly, which some people worry about. That’s normally when you have a really high volume of training, but you would know that was about to happen because you’d plan to increase volume over time. And then what we look at is if that force is now 65% and it was 75%, well, the force at 250 was 75% of your peak force. Now it’s 65%, we’ve got to focus on the ability to express that force rapidly.

 

And as I said earlier, your maximum force generating capacity does have a strong relationship to your ability to produce force rapidly, but only if you’re not fatigued at that point. So if you’ve done a high volume of training, you need to back off a little bit. So that might tell us we need to focus on the more ballistic and plyometric training, not completely exclude heavy resistance training, but focus more on the ballistic and plyometric to shift that percentage up.

 

So sometimes what we’ve got to do is move that percentage, the ability to express force rapidly is got to move up in terms of the percentage of peak force you can generate. Other times if you’re up at 85% of your peak force being expressed in 250 milliseconds, your athlete’s ability to express that force in ballistic dynamic task is fantastic. And actually just chasing after that extra few percent, you’re not going to get anything. You’ve probably hit a threshold. Now, I don’t know what that exact threshold is, so don’t take me on 85% but if you find that that’s not improving dramatically, then you need to increase that ceiling. You need to increase your threshold. You need to get that maximum force production capability up.

 

Rugby versus Football

 

And as to give two examples, I’ve regularly seen when people have done sort of this type of testing with football players, that their ability to express force rapidly is good because of the nature of the sport and the type of training they do. But their ability to express a maximum force that we would consider to be high is pretty poor. So they need to emphasize more strength development in most cases, not all, but in most.

 

Athletic Performance Academy

 

Whereas is if you look at rugby players, it tends to be more of the reverse, especially with Rugby Union forwards, their peak force is phenomenal. Their ability to express it rapidly is not as good as it could be, but actually if they’re your front row forwards and they’re always in scrums, and they’re a wrecking ball, they probably don’t need to express that force quite as quickly as some of the backs would do.

 

 

So you’ve also got to get the context on this. What do we really need from our athlete? And sometimes go back to the coach and say, how are you going to play this athlete? Are they just going to be that destructive person on the pitch, but they never run more than 20 metres so their contact times are still relatively long compared to if you get to top speed.

 

Isometric squat versus Isometric Mid thigh pull (IMTP)

 

So I think the key thing is if we go with peak force relative to body weight, and if we also express their force at different time points, probably 150, 200, 250 milliseconds, look at those alone, but also look at those as a percentage of your peak force and see how they change over the time. That’s giving you a really holistic picture from one test, but at the same time, those values and those variables will change depending on the test you do. So if you do an isometric squat, the forces are consistently higher than you get from an isometric mid thigh pull. So you need to bear that in mind. Some people don’t like the isometric squat because of the compression when you’re trying to push rapidly. So with some individuals, there’s a lot of familiarization then required.

 

You get the same with people with the isometric mid thigh pull because of the lifting straps, which you must use, otherwise grip strength will mean that you don’t get a maximum force production. If they’re not used to lifting straps and they dig into their wrists, that pain creates inhibition. They won’t push as hard and fast as they can. So that in itself is a bit of an issue.

 

And then if you look at most of the research it’s been done so far, it’s just looking at ”push as hard and fast as you can.” But we can improve the reliability of the rapid force development if we adopt the strategy that’s done with single joint isometrics, when you tell them to kick out as fast as possible, to be explosive, to be ballistic. Now that might seem strange (and I am a bit of a stickler for using the correct terminology and the semantics) to say that as it can’t be explosive. It can’t be ballistic, it’s isometric, but that’s your cue to the athlete! So they know they’re aiming to explode. Nothing explodes, we know that, but they’re aiming to be explosive. They’ll understand that term.

 

So you can actually do two different protocols. And David Drakes published this a few years ago on the isometric squat and Stuart Guppy one of Greg Haff’s PhD students has just had something accepted in, I can’t remember now whether it’s sports, biomechanics or journal strength and conditioning research, it’s one of them which will be out soon, looking at the isometric mid thigh pull. And if you use that approach, so you do an impulsive effort, an explosive effort of only one second, you get much higher rates of force development, much higher forces at different time points. And it dramatically improves the reliability of those rapid production capabilities. But your peak force comes down because you’re only pushing explosively for one second. Your focus is fast force production, not maximum force production.

 

So in that situation, you probably need to do your three to five maximum efforts for peak force. So four to five -second efforts and if you can see the force trace on the screen and it starts to come down, let them stop at that point. They’re not going to get any higher. They’ve already started to fatigue. Do those three to five trials (for peak force). And then at the end of that, get them to do some one second efforts to get that rapid force production (for RFD). One second effort, 30 seconds to a minute rest and repeat. It adds two or three minutes onto your testing, but you’ll get much better data out of that in terms of your rapid force production.

 

Now, a word of caution with that though, there’s minimal data out there published on those forces at different time points or rate of force development using that explosive ballistic or impulsive protocol. So you can’t then compare that to most of the other published literature. But if you are a practitioner using this to monitor your athlete’s performance, it’s a more stable measure when you use that sort of ballistic or explosive approach.”

 

”Would the time points that we’re interested in differ based on the type of athlete that we’ve got or the type of sport that we’re working in, or would that be pretty consistent?”

 

”I’d say for most people probably stick pretty consistent with 150, 200, 250 milliseconds, but there are some examples when you might want to increase or decrease that. And if you are looking at the shorter time points a hundred milliseconds and 50 milliseconds, the only issue with that is sometimes the data isn’t reliable. So for practitioners, if they’re going to do that, they need to try and establish reliability between sessions because we’re not worried about a change in a session. We’re looking at change between sessions.

 

So if they come in fresh on a Monday morning, establish the reliability of your athletes, performing the test and exactly the same way while they’re fresh, ideally pre-season so you haven’t got a game at some point over the weekend, so you can figure out what your measurement error is. And if that’s large, if you are getting a measurement error of greater than sort of 10, 15%, at force at 50 and a 100 milliseconds, it don’t bother because it’s not going to tell you anything and then go with those longer time points.

 

Sometimes you might want to go with a longer durations, longer than 250 milliseconds depending on the sport. If you have longer contact times, if you are really interested in your initial few strides starting to accelerate, or if you’re looking at other sports where maybe they have longer contact times involved, that might be important. But actually if you’re using 150, 200, 250, we know that that’s a pretty much a linear increase. It’s less stable at the bottom. It’s got a bit of a curve to it, which is why that 50 and 150 milliseconds can be problematic with reliability. But beyond 250, it pretty much just keeps going up at the same angle it was before. Without wanting to introduce a lot of extra variables, it’s probably easiest to stick most of the time without 100, 150, 200, 250 millisecond sort of frame because they come out as the most reliable as well.”

 

”If there’s practitioners out there who haven’t got access to force place, which there may be many, what other options have we got? What other options have they got?”

 

”Well, you’ve got a couple of options. One is try and get access that doesn’t necessarily mean buy the equipment. Contact your local university, if you know they’ve got a decent sports science department there and see if you can either go in and do the testing, or if they’ve got portable force plates, they can come out and assist you. Most universities will be willing to collaborate with you, because it’ll give them data. It makes their staff more credible and you can also give great opportunities for the students to be part of that testing, for them to gain additional experience. And the amount of jobs out there at the moment where people require the applicant to have an understanding of how to use that equipment, that’s essential. So that’s one way you can get access.

 

The other thing you can do is there’s quite a few strain gauges on the market which you can purchase relatively cheap. Probably not quite as reliable because you can get additional movement (anterior, posterior, mediolateral) and it’s not quite as stable as what you get when you set up an isometric mid thigh pull normally. But you can do that and Lachlan James has published a paper on the reliability of using a strain gauge instead and I think Anthony Turner and maybe Chris Bishop down at Middlesex University have published something similar as well. So you can get reliable force data out of it.

 

 

The biggest issue is if you are looking at force at different time points, is trying to really understand what sampling frequency is required. So if you are looking, just to make the math easier, if you had a strain gauge, which only samples at a hundred Hertz, and you are looking at force at a hundred milliseconds, you’re going to get 10 samples. You’re going to miss a load of information. So unless you’ve got a sample and frequency of thousand Hertz, you’re probably not going to be able to look at that rapid force production capability with anywhere near as much reliability. But that’s the same with the force plate. Ideally you want force plates where you can sample at thousand Hertz for assessing these isometric variables when you’re looking at those shorter time points.”

 

”What are your thoughts on using things like strain gauges in more sport specific positions?”

 

”Well, it depends what you mean about sport specific positions.  (@Rob: I’m just thinking of like a for potential for sprinting mechanics, looking at the horizontal one, two boxes and looking at the strength and them kind of positions).

 

If you’re looking at single joint isometric type testing with a strain gauge when you look at the huge amount of research that’s been done in that area, as long as you standardize everything about their position and their posture and everything else is fixed, it’s really reliable.

 

If you’re looking at trying to get multi-joint in a sports specific type task, because your posture in your position will vary, it tends to be very, very variable. The other issue is if you find that somebody’s not producing a huge amount of force, then you’ve got to try and figure out why. And if it is a multi-joint whole body type movement if it’s something through the upper body, are you looking at how effectively they apply force to the ground, how effectively they transfer that through the trunk, how it comes through the shoulder joint etc.  So as soon as you start trying to go to sport specific, we actually generally make the testing methods so unreliable that it’s not really telling us anything, or even if we can get them reliable, we don’t know where the weak link is. We just know, actually there’s a deficit here and then we’d have to scratch our heads and think, well, how do we find out what the problem is within this?

 

So the standard sort of testing with multi-joint, which relates back to performance and athletic tasks is probably your best place to start. If there is an issue with your athlete, they’ve been injured, they keep picking up injuries, you probably need to go to the single joint stuff to evaluate that and identify if there are any discrepancies between limbs or between agonists and antagonists. But the really sport specific stuff starts getting a bit tricky unless you can actually fix the lower body, for example. And if you are then looking at the lower body contribution, then it starts getting really tricky.

 

If you start trying to look through the entire kinetic chain, then we get all sort of issues. And that’s whether it’s a strain gauge or most isokinetic devices will have a weird and wonderful array of attachments, golf handles, baseball bat handles, all these sorts of things. But from my experience, because there are limited standardized protocols for them, and it varies dramatically between people testing, you just don’t end up with any reliable results when you try and go sport specific with it. For that you probably need to wait until good, markerless motion capture systems can do your 3D motion capture when you can then model exactly what’s happening in detail.

 

That’s far beyond my understanding in how you use them. But that’s certainly an area that people can look at if they want to go really sport specific, because then you are not constrained with your movement patterns or being in a lab environment. If you’ve got a good markerless motion capture system, you can really evaluate the quality of movement and potentially then approximate the forces that are being generated, etc.”

Top 5 Take Away Points:

  1.  Isometric training/testing – use it for maintenance of strength during periods of fixture congestion.
  2.  KPIs for isometrics – Peak Force (relative to body mass)and Rate of Force Development (RFD)
  3.  Validity/Reliability – be aware of different time points used for testing and also the different tests (isometric squat vs IMTP, and 50, 100, 50 ms etc).
  4.  Time period of isometric – for peak force perform 3-5 trials of up to 4-5 seconds and for RFD use a 1-second explosive effort.
  5.  Strain gauges could be a less expensive alternative to force plates, but will be less reliable.  Likewise single joint tests will be more useful than multi-joint isometric assessments.

 

Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?

 

Paul Comfort Research Gate

 

You may also like from PPP:

 

Episode 383 James Moore

Episode 380 Alastair McBurnie & Tom Dos’Santos

Episode 372 Jeremy Sheppard & Dana Agar Newman

Episode 367 Gareth Sandford

Episode 362 Matt Van Dyke

Episode 361 John Wagle

Episode 359 Damien Harper

Episode 348 Keith Barr

Episode 331 Danny Lum

Episode 298 PJ Vazel

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.

 

Remember:

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

 

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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Book Review: Winning – Tim S. Grover – Part 1

I read a lot of books on professional development, and love to get insights from coaches so I was fascinated to hear from Tim Grover, who was the strength & conditioning coach for most of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls NBA basketball career, which included 6 NBA Finals.

 

Tim Grover

 

 

This book looks at the concept of ”Winning” and thirteen rules for chasing it, and Tim talks about the prices some of his clients have had to pay to try and catch it.

 

 

I’ll go through a few rules at a time by highlighting a few passages that captured my imagination so we all have time to digest them and apply them.  I’ll share a few more rules in a follow up blog series.  Here goes Part 1.

 

Chapter – The Chase

 

”Winning is everywhere.  Every minute, you have the potential to recognise an opportunity, push yourself harder, let go of the insecurity and fear, stop listening to what others tell you, and decide to own that moment.  And not just that one single moment, but the next one, and the next.  And before long, you’ve owned the hour, and the day, and then the month.  Again.  Again.  That’s how you win.

 

It doesn’t happen all at once.  But if you can stay with it, if you can survive the battle-field in your mind, if you can tolerate fear and doubt and loneliness… winning would like a word with you.

 

Winning is the ultimate gamble on yourself.  Winning drives you forward.

 

Sometimes you take those steps one at a time, sometimes two at a time.  Some days, you’ll feel so good you’ll want to sprint, other days you’re crawling on your hands and knees, gasping for breath and wishing you’d never started this race.

 

Winners don’t need to be told how.  They figure it out and EXECUTE.  REPEATEDLY.

 

All my clients chased something.  A record.  A paycheck.  A legacy.  A ghost.

 

Because if you’re comfortable with sacrifice and pressure and criticism and pain, if you can learn to focus on THE RESULT instead of always focusing on the difficulty….you can chase winning, fight for it, and defend your right to catch it.

 

There is no map, no light, no pavement.  It’s the road to paradise, and it starts in hell.”

 

Chapter – Winning Makes You Different, and Different Scares People

 

”Crazy – combined with the willingness to take a chance – is the secret weapon of Winning.

 

It was about understanding the difference between knowing how to think, and being told what to think.

 

 

They (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk) weren’t afraid to think originally, they weren’t worried about what others would think about their ‘crazy’ ideas.  That whole BS about thinking outside the box is just that: BS.  Winners don’t see the box.  They see possibilities.

 

Every great creation and invention started with people who knew how to think and didn’t allow themselves to be told what to think.

 

If you always do it the ‘normal’ way, you can be very good at what you do.  But if you’re confident and bold enough to believe that ”different” isn’t wrong it’s the difference between lighting your own fire and waiting for someone to light it for you.  To me CURIOSITY is the spark that lights the fire.

 

When you know what do think, you’re ready to compete.  When you know HOW to think, you’re ready to win.  Coaches and bosses tell you what to think.  Doing the work tells you how to think.  Your parents show you what to think.  Adulthood shows you how to think.

 

Thinking for yourself creates INDEPENDENCE.  If you can’t make a decision without consulting mentors and masterminds…..you’re being told what to think.  You may be getting a lot of great guidance and knowledge, until you question it, adapt it, and find out for yourself if it works for you.  Knowledge is power, but only if you use it.”

 

Chapter – Winning Wages War on the Battlefield in Your Mind

 

”When you’re in the race to win, you spend every night sleeping with the enemy.  And that enemy is YOU: the one person who knows all your weaknesses and fears.

Your THOUGHTS keep fighting even when you’re asleep, preparing for the threat of imagined battles that haven’t happened yet.  They might happen.  They might not.

 

 

Stress.  Insecurity.  Doubt.  Envy.

 

Sometimes it’s a stranger who puts them there.  Sometimes it’s someone close to you.  Sometimes it’s you.  Most of the time, it’s you.  Winners can detect these ticking thought bombs and defuse them before they can do any damage.

 

If you’re procrastinating, you’re DISTRACTED by your own thoughtsWe all have some kind of ”To Do” list, Winners have a ”Done” List.

 

If you want to manage distractions and get control of that battle, you need to put some ROUTINES in place.  I don’t want to see you just sleepwalking through your life, just getting by.  Blow up that (old) routine, and replace it with something that ENGAGES you mentally and helps you create new challenges and results.

 

A word on routines – a routine may allow you to set a portion of your journey on autopilot, but to get to your ultimate destination, you’re going to need total control over the outcome.  If you’re flying a fighter jet, you can’t leave complete control to the autopilot, you must be ready at all times to override the system and handle the unexpected.

 

Every routine has to factor in the possibility of UNCERTAINTY.  If you prepare only for one scenario, you have no chance of surviving the volatility of real-game conditions.

 

That’s all for now.  Stay tuned for Part 2.

 

Hope you have found this article useful.

 

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Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW – Episode 383 James Moore

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 383 – James Moore

James Moore

 

James is the leader of the specialist physiotherapy team at the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) in Harley Street.  James has 25 years of experience in physio, graduating with an honours degree in physiotherapy from Kings College London. He was Clinical Lead Physiotherapist to the English Institute of Sport, with a special affiliation to UK Athletics. He spent a period of time working as Head of Medicine for Saracens RFC, before moving on to manage the intensive rehabilitation unit (IRU) at Bisham Abbey for British Olympic Association and was Head of Performance Services for the British Olympic Association and Deputy Chef de Mission for the Rio 2016 Olympics and beyond. He is currently in clinic two days a week and also has a number of consultancies including with Andy Murray.

Twitter

 

? Listen to the full episode here

 

Discussion topics:

 

”Would you be able to talk to us about Andy Murray’s progress, is he on track for where he wants to be at this point in the rehab and the return to performance journey?

 

”From a physical point of view we are in a really really good place.  He played nearly 12-13 weeks in a row last year at the end of the season off the back of having some pretty major niggles and came through that without any issues.  He has come through the Australian Open including a 4 hour match.  Andy’s expectation is super super high and rightly so – he’s still got the talent, he’s still got the skills, he’s still got the tennis IQ to play at the highest level.

 

There is no substitute for what is in essence four years of competitive play, if you go back to 2016 I think he played 87 matches when he was world number 1 and last year we played about 40, so we are at about 50% and so you need to build that tolerance up and that 10% top end fitness.

 

 

His V02max is low 60s which is great, but at his best he was low 70s (ml/kg/min).  He’s strong, he’s deadlifting 270 kg, quarter squatting 260 kg at 84 kg and can produce 1500 W on a Watt bike so physically we are in a good place and what we need to do now is transfer that into the consistency on the tennis court.  That just takes time, good coaching and continuity from the rest of the team to help him deliver.”

 

”Why do athletes get hip and groin pain in the first place?”

 

”I don’t know that we have all of the answers yet.  Do we have the exact aetiology?  [MEDICINE- the cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease or condition.]  I don’t think we do.  I think we have strong indicators, for example, we know that if you play a kicking sport (football, rugby, Aussie rules, Gaelic etc) you have a much higher percentage chance (you’re probably 3 x more likely to overload your pubic joint and your adductors) than you are in any other sport.

 

However, when you start to shift from a kicking sport to twisting/turning sports (non primary based running sports so badminton, squash, tennis, ice hockey, short track speed skating), yes you might run as part of your conditioning to supplement the sport but it’s not a primary requirement of what you have to do in the sport.  Yes, you’re sprinting on the Tennis court but you may be covering 3 km in a two-three hour match, and we know that when you twist you increase your risk of hip related injuries.

 

We also know that if you run in a straight line you also really increase your risk of hip related injuries and a lot of that comes down to the cumulative repetitive force within the joint and what we know is that bones don’t like reciprocal movement- the same movement over and over again, so running in a straight line is generally one of the worse things you can do for bones.

 

We also know that women as a rule will have a lot higher risk of running related injuries in the hip and men as a rule will have a much higher risk of groin related injuries.  So when you put all that together, I think it’s really hard to find a place to hide on the sports field.

 

The lumbo-pelvic-hip complex as a unit is the hub for power creation in speed and power based athletes.  Yes, the soleus might be one of the strongest muscles in the body, if not the strongest, but when you’re really looking at peak torque in high level sprinting and running and kicking, you’re talking way over 9 x bodyweight of impact loading and in the triple jump it is 15 x bodyweight going through the hip!  So the forces are just huge and then it just comes down to capacity, tolerance and how much you can build up.  I would just call it supply and demand – there is a huge demand from the sport, and then you have got to build up the supply for the individual.

 

 

If you don’t get that right, in terms of training capacity and/or individual capacity, that’s when you’re potentially going to get an overload and injury.”

 

”So why are the sites of injury for males and females different, it is purely anatomical?”

 

”No, I don’t think it is, for a number of different reasons, although the reason why I hesitate is because there is more evidence coming out more recently starting to look at that (anatomical differences).  Around 15-20 years ago we were talking about width of pelvis and angles of muscles going into the groin, like you would talk about the Q angle of the knee and patella-femoral load, and really there was no evidence around it. So the morphological (structure of the body) may not make a difference.  Certainly the muscle mass and the forces being produced may make a difference.

 

There are also a number of other factors such as line of force (males tend to be more straight down and females tend to be more diagonal), angles at the pubic joint, and the anterior pubic ligaments being significantly stronger in the female, as well as hormonal profile and elasticity of ligaments in females.”

 

”How can we differentiate who needs surgery and who doesn’t’?’

 

”The decision making process around surgery becomes multi-factorial, and we certainly have advised surgery for a number of different reasons.  Certainly from a clinical point of view, there has been a anecdotal significant reduction in groin surgeries as there has been an improvement in core stability in terms of the functional load transfer across the anterior pelvis.

 

In football we typically see 15-20% of footballers having a groin related injury, so 1 in every 5.  The game is faster, the players are bigger, stronger, the ball is moving faster on the pitch, and it’s in play for longer, which increases your exposure.  So while we are seeing this transition we are still playing catch up with the demands of the sport.

 

The key really is that the physical signs should match up with the subjective complaint of pain.

 

If the pain is disproportionate to the physical signs then you have probably got tissue damage beyond the point of repair.  When we start to look at groin surgery, whether we are talking about abdominal or adductor surgery, with abdominals they can produce force but it’s painful and you’ve got palpable gaps or issues with the inguinal canal, and they fail a period of rehab (2-6 weeks) where there they just can’t put enough load the tissues without provoking symptoms.

 

You’ll genuinely know whether they are going to succeed in a programme of rehab.  We’ve looked at them and we’ve said ”this is surgery,” but they want to go down a conservative route but at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks they fail their markers, and so you then go through that.  That’s a really good process psychologically to let the player adapt as well as tick the box in terms of doing your strength work before you go down that route; and then there’ll be certain people who will have been told that they need surgery, but there will be some obvious deficits and when they start to load the pain subsides but the pain is usually fairly consistent with their physical signs.”

 

”Do athletes have to stop playing in order to recover from these kind of injuries?”

 

”Most groin overload injuries don’t stop you from playing but they just limit your performance.  So we will have lots of people who will just feel like they are at 60 or 80%, I can pass the ball, I can run but I can’t put some shape on the ball, and put my foot through the ball.  Everything has to be controlled, and if I do try and push it I get sharp pain, I’m a bit incapacitated for a few minutes but then it settles and I’m able to go again.

 

It’s very easy to manage people and keep them ticking over and then it comes to the bigger question of the relevance to the individual- if they are 80% fit are they better than the next individual coming in?

 

As a medic part of our job is to protect the athlete from themselves and protect them generally, but then also as a performance scientist is to push them to that red line and get them as close to that red line as possible and keep them there for as long as possible.  It’s easy to stop injuries, you just don’t train very hard, but if I want to win stuff I need to go right to that top end and push my body and that’s a difficult balance to strike.

 

With overload load related injuries, if we want to strip that back we need the reduce the load and then build it back up in a progressive overload manner and then you can build capacity.  So it would mean dropping them out of training, whether that means complete reduction of training or modified training (allow them to run but don’t allow them to kick) to reduce some of the markers.  So they can do part of the training but not all of the training, and it depends on the demands of the training.”

 

”How do we decide how to structure the rehab programme, are there some key approaches that need to go in no matter what?”

 

”Does the tissue that is the source of pain need to be loaded or unloaded?  I get a lot of people coming in with adductor related groin problems, and they’ve been loaded but the adductors are the strongest part of the chain when you assess it, and their abdominals and/or hamstrings are not functioning well.  So in that case, you want to reduce the adductor/adduction load and increase the abdominal/hip flexor load and maybe hamstring.  A lot of that comes down to asking where are we from a capacity and/or strength point of view which requires a little bit more investigation away from just the pathology point of view.  And that’s part of the trick of examining the individual from a pathology/pain source point of view and also examining them from a function perspective.

 

The adductors bring the leg across your body but they are also a significant hip flexor- and there is an argument that the adductor longus is the second most important hip flexor behind iliopsoas but they are also significant hip extensor, so once you go above 45 degrees of hip flexion they become your most significant hip extensors (and adductor longus decelerates hip extension in running mechanics).

 

The adductors are the main muscles that bring you out of a deep squat and they the are the main muscles of hip flexion and the adductor magnus off loads the hamstring, so maybe the adductors are over working because the hip flexor complex is not good enough, so maybe we need to bring up iliopsoas (which has an adduction moment arm).  Or maybe the hamstring and the glutes are not doing their jobs properly so we need to increase the hip extension function to take some pressure off the adductors.

 

So what makes it a little more complex is that your abdominals also aid in hip flexion and control hip extension moment arm, and your obliques also control side flexion which your psoas also controls, so my right side psoas is a controller of left side flexion.  So that becomes quite critical in terms of how the adductors, abdominals and hip flexors work as a unit to get a balance across the anterior pelvis.”

 

For every adductor load you give someone, you should give them an abdominal load to balance the pelvis.

 

For every abdominal and adductor load you give someone, you should give them a glute load to balance the pelvis.

 

  1.  Hamstrings first – as they produce extension moment and adduction moment at the hip and help to control the pelvis, and if the hamstrings are inefficient the adductor load will go up.
  2.  Abdominal load – in particular oblique bias including CSA of tissue not just control
  3.  Hip flexor load
  4.  Muscle capacity of running muscles – calves, quads and glute function as it relates to muscle capacity, and what does normal running look like technically, as if we can’t run then we are always going to struggle to kick or twist on the run?

 

 

It’s all about quads and calves

 

”So it’s about addressing the whole kinetic chain.  Also be cautious about having the philosophy of it’s all about posterior chain and hamstrings and glutes and a posterior bias.  If you just look at elite track & field athletes they have huge quads!  So the first point is you have to produce vertical force in order to start running and that’s all quads and calves which you need to get that right first to produce your stride length.  Then once you’ve got your stride length, it’s all about hip torque to produce your stride frequency.    Stride length gets you up to 7 m/s and hip torque gets you beyond that!”

 

”Would attention on running mechanics help with this return to performance following groin injuries?”

 

”I think we need to start with what do we think is the minimal dose that we need to apply to the individual to try and reduce the risk, and if that comes in the form of a running mechanics or another stimulus.  If the goal of a running stimulus is to improve the running mechanics and get them to move more like a sprinter I think that is really really difficult.

 

An elite 400 m sprinter will probably do near enough 2000 m of high quality speed work three times a week plus of all the drills which will probably be about 500-1000 m of work at the beginning of every session.   So we are then talking about 7,500-9000 m per week of high quality speed work and that’s done week in week out for about 9 months before you get to race season.  So the dosage to really get good mechanics and to really condition the tissues to that kind of load are really really high.

 

So maybe a footballer or rugby player is doing 1000 m of high quality speed work per match so I’m not sure you’ll necessarily see them get the same amount of dosage.  But with that being said, if our goal is to condition the tissues to increase limb speed, shorter foot contact and a cognitive stimulus to get the patterning from a central nervous system or Frans Bosch decentralised spinal reflex point of view, that is reasonable.  We’re not trying to turn them into runners, we are just trying to condition the tissue and not necessarily trying to hit the ”right positions’ from an elite sprinting point of view, but we are trying to get quick limb movement and short foot contact, where the outcome and the coaching cues will look different which is a very different coaching approach to coaching an elite sprinter on a track with spikes where you want a high knee, I want you to increase your stride length and that sort of thing.”

 

”Are there any key positions that you are looking for when you are observing a change of direction?”

 

”Different sports will have different strategies- e’g a rugby player may use muscle forces (concentric/eccentric) vs a basketball player using elastic/reactive (isometric forces).  A change of direction also looks very different if you are moving over 5-10 m and getting up to 6 m/s versus a winger bombing down the pitch at 9-10 m/s.

 

Look at it with a coaching eye.  Does it look efficient? Does it look effortless and free and I’d almost go back to coaching the individual and the way the individual moves and what feels right rather than getting into a very specific criteria for this is how you change direction.”

 

”Are there are any particular markers that you would look at as part of this return to performance following groin injuries?”

 

”We have different markers for different stages of rehab.

 

Early stage – start with clinical markers and reduction of pain such as squeeze test, abdominal load test and then can I get the abdominal to adductor ratios right (see next stage)?  Markers need to move away from pain/pathology to function around the groin so 20 kg HHD or 2 Newtons/kg force across the groin and progressing to 25 kg HHD.

 

Next stage – progress to running specific markers, and balancing the pelvis, looking at ratios of adductor/abdominal and adductor/hip flexor and hamstring/hip flexor ratio, so you can start to see where the weak link is.  Most elite level athletes get injured where they are strongest not where they are weakest, because they compensate to their strongest area which is the path of least resistance.    Most of the aspiring athletes get injured where they are weak because they are trying to produce force and they just don’t have the capacity to do it and don’t have the compensatory strategies.

 

We might also have a functional test such as split squat for indication of capacity across the pelvis.  When we get to return to running we can look at vertical force qualities, what’s their isometric squat like, peak plantar flexion force like, have they got some RSI markers we can look at?  As well as looking at the balance between flexion/extension ratios.”

 

Key ratios:

 

ADDUCTORS – 30-35 kg, and should be 60% of hip flexion, and 80% of extension.

 

ABDUCTORS – a little bit less than adductors- 20% behind adduction, and 60% of extension.

 

EXTENSION – should be primary torque producing force and FLEXION should be about 10% behind extension.  Adduction should be 20% behind extension.  You should be 40% stronger into extension than you are into abduction as a general ratio across the hip.

 

Look at those numbers relative to performance.  In order for the way you run and/or kick, what do we know is your norm or what is the ideal we need to get you to?  It’s about ratios around the hip rather than absolute numbers and it’s about the relative number relative to the numbers the athlete can produce in the demands of their sport demands.

 

 

Top 5 Take Away Points:

 

  1.  Surgery decision process – The key really is that the physical signs should match up with the subjective complaint of pain.
  2.  Rehab process – Does the tissue that is the source of pain need to be loaded or unloaded?
  3.  Muscle balance – For every abdominal and adductor load you give someone, you should give them a glute load to balance the pelvis.
  4.  It’s not all about posterior chain – you have to produce vertical force in order to start running and that’s all quads and calves which you need to get that right first to produce your stride length.
  5.  Use your coaching eye -Does it look efficient? Does it look effortless and free and I’d almost go back to coaching the individual and the way the individual moves

 

Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?

 

CHHP specialist physiotherapy clinic

You may also like from PPP:

 

Episode 380 Alastair McBurnie & Tom Dos’Santos

Episode 372 Jeremy Sheppard & Dana Agar Newman

Episode 367 Gareth Sandford

Episode 362 Matt Van Dyke

Episode 361 John Wagle

Episode 359 Damien Harper

Episode 348 Keith Barr

Episode 331 Danny Lum

Episode 298 PJ Vazel

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.

 

Remember:

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  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

 

Since you’re here…

 

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

 

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