Friday, October 21, 2011

The Complete Keys To Progress

With an extraordinary amount of training information available on books and online, it's easy to forget time-tested basics and the ultimate prerequisite of any endeavor; consistently applied effort.

John McCallum's The Complete Keys To Progress, a true classic in every sense, is a collection of his writings for Strength and Health magazine from back in the 60's and 70's. A book with a number of entertaining short stories on training, recovery, nutrition, along with the mental and emotional factors necessary for progress in one's training.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Cornerstones: Strength and Power

From the book: "The Charlie Francis Training System":

"To what degree do you apply a conversion phase to the strength work?

I would question the value of a traditional conversion phase where you go back down from a higher weight and then try to increase the number of repetitions and the speed at which you are performing the lifts. I would simply leave the repetitions low and the load high year round.

My understanding of the purpose of using lower loads and higher repetitions is that you expect to get a conversion of strength to power by using a higher rate of movement. How that relates to sprinting where the limb speeds are far beyond anything you can produce in the weightroom is beyond my understanding. The actual applicability of traditional conversion work to sprinters then becomes relatively small. This low specificity is clearly evident, when you realize that if you lower the weight to enable a 10% faster lifting movement it still represents only a small fraction of the actual limb velocity of the sprint. What you should be trying to do is maintain strength while maximally challenging the CNS.

To illustrate this point, Ben's foot moves to from 0 to 80 kilometres per hour and back again to 0 during a stride. This equates to approximately 20 metres per second. The average speed during a squat movement is .5 metres per second. You can see that even to double the speed of the squat to 1.0 metre per second has little relevance to the actual limb speeds during sprinting. Furthermore, trying to increase the speed of the squat work heightens the risk of injury.

As an example, when Ben is performing 2 sets of 5 repetitions in either the bench press or squat he is moving a heavy weight as fast as he can. The CNS stimulation/activation is optimal. He is maximally involving his nervous system via maximum recruitment of motor neurons. He is challenging his organism. However the actual lifting speed of a maximal weight is moderate to slow."

There are few strength movements that can be safely loaded to do exactly what Charlie espouses by 'challenging the organism'. The basics of barbell lifting have withstood the test of time because of the consistent and certain results they can produce while minimizing risk of injury (compared to more radical means).

There has been a push to change methods of developing strength and power to what, on the surface, appears
to be safer means, but looking deeper athletes are left resultless and just more fatigued.

The new ways are single-limbed to reduce back stress and use dumbbells for snatching and cleaning... for what I do not know. One only needs to view these with the naked eye to logically deduce that the power output is less than necessary for anything real to happen, and the challenge to the organism's CNS is less than maximally activating motor unit recruitment throughout the entire body.
Stolen from Christian Thibaudeau's absolutely great classic: Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods... which I think he got the numbers/chart from Dr. Mike Stone.
 I've also heard about new, esoteric ideas of "sports specificity" lifts which mimic certain components of specific athletic skills as being the "new" strength training and it being called coordination training under load. This confuses me more and more as to at what point does coordination training become redundant and developing little in the way of horsepower, structural integrity and morphological adaptations?

I may be beating a dead horse talking again about basic barbell training under heavy loads, but where my beliefs stand now and seem to lean more and more each year, is that heavy strength training with a barbell is the biggest factor in making at least some sort of change in physiology.

I am all for single-leg training with different forms of lunging and single-leg squats, but bilateral lifting with maximal weights seems to speak to the nervous system with a much louder voice; and while we might not see tremendous changes in certain other performance measures, I argue to anyone to show me the methods that do make better and faster changes. I thought Mike Robertson did a nice job of explaining things in his article: The Truth About Single-Leg Training.

Strength training obviously improves strength, but more than just strength of muscle, but bone, joint integrity, the ability to tap into higher and higher threshold motor units. What's to say of the neuroendocrine responses to heavy lifting? Is greater increases in circulating testosterone and growth hormone, among other biochemical changes, not conducive to better internal chemistry that promotes healing and performance changes? The more muscle mass invovled, the greater the hormonal response.

I've done my best to look at other possibilities, but following the light (and research, and other bright coaches, and empircal observation), always leads me back to a few certain truths and heavy squats, cleans, snatches, and deadlifts shine the brightest... easy to teach (if not, learn how), the technique has been mastered by great ones that have come before and are currently coaching and practicing, and provide some of the safest means to get closer towards intended goals.

As the history of stength and conditioning began with the farm kids who threw heavy hay bales during their summers taking it to the city kids, and the observations of a few "innovative" coaches who noticed the changes from lifting weights (word is Knute Rockne instructed his players to strength train as early as 1922), lifting weights was the center piece of off-season training. (A former colleague of mine with home roots in Nebraska told me that in the Cornhuskers true glory days, they would bring their weight room via semi-truck to the bowl games). That doesn't seem so much today... at least outside of college football ( "Football Training" ), but maybe it is just me.

Where we should be at is a refinement of the history of what works, and this isn't a call for more meatheaded led screaming and yelling, but a move towards the reality of what makes changes, and what doesn't. It is not about leaving out the vitally important stuff like mobility and flexibility work (while good Olympic lifting and full range strength training can do that too and maybe even better; a plug for my fellow University of North Dakota colleagues!), plyometrics (awfully important), agility, and sprinting (goes without saying).  It doesn't matter the sport as there are usually only a few tweaks here or there between training for one sport and training for another; strength and conditioning is general physical preparation, not specific prep. Jim Wendler put it right: 1. Stretch 2. Lift 3. Sprint.

Or as Jim Steel, head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Pennsylvania put it so well in his article: The Truth. A must read.

"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general." -Mark Rippetoe.

I've seen it time and again, the athlete who trains consistently year round and develops a high level of general strength and real power output (Olympic lifts and jumping) usually doesn't get hurt by activities that a real athlete should not get hurt from (quality movement is a given and must, but that's not the point of this post)... which is the basis of my tweet on Twitter: "We can look at injured athletes and ask why they got hurt, but it's also important to look at healthy athletes and ask why they have not."

Dr. Mike Stone may not "captivate" the crowd like Steve Jobs was able to, but his presentations and information show the real science behind strength and power. I highly recommend his textbook: Principles and Practice of Resistance Training.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hill Sprints

Eastern North Dakota is pretty flat, but thanks to the mighty Red River and it's usual spring flooding, we do have some nice dikes built up in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks.
I am not sure what the exact grade/slope is of the hill, but I am sure it exceeds the exact % grade of what would be ideal for specific speed development with longer ground contact times (potential for hockey contact times). But, I figure that 1 or 2 strides hit somewhere on the acceleration curve... plus a key factor is intending to sprint up the hill, i.e. motor unit recruitment.

Regardless, I like to sprint hills at least a few times a month. This particular morning, we (Zach, one of our other assistant strength coaches) had some time to play, so we ran hill sprints. We did 10 sets of 3 sprints. Recovery between the 3 sprints was a walk back down. In between sets we recovered 2-3 minutes, which allows for maintain sprint performance... or the much talked about repeat sprint ability (RSA). I was able to finish most reps within 5-5.2 seconds; which kept things within range of high anaerobic work.

The nice thing about hills is you can push the intensity (effort) high with little or less risk of injury as the velocity is less than 0% grade sprinting and the strides are shortened on the front end (decelerating the swing leg; eccentric hamstring load); makes for nice general conditioning for sprint sports. You can also change up the "walk downs"; walking backwards, which creates a nice eccentric stretch of the triceps surae muscle-tendon complex (important to keep healthy and strong for jumping, sprinting, and agility), lateral walks and carioca walks which are can be ok for eccentric load of the hip abductors (another fairly important component found to be weak in our weak culture). Obviously care has to be taken with these walk downs, as the eccentric stress can lead to some multiple day DOMS.

I guess we could debate all the possible intricate details of what may or may not be going on but... hill sprints are just cool and tough; and cool and tough guys did them (Walter and Jerry).
Backwards walk downs...
A few bounds thrown in as well...

A tribute to "Sweetness"...

My hill...
Walter's hill...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More Mythical Methods?

The fall of the postural–structural–biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain
Eyal Lederman

Summary and conclusion points

• Postural-Structural-Biomechanical (PSB) asymmetries and imperfections are normal variations—not a pathology.

• Neuromuscular and motor control variations are also normal.

• The body has surplus capacity to tolerate such variation without loss to normal function or development of symptomatic conditions.

• Pathomechanics do not determine symptomatology.

• There is no relationship between the pre-existing PSB factors and back pain.

• Correcting all PSB factors is not clinically attainable and is unlikely to change the future course of a lower back condition.

• This conclusion may well apply to many common musculoskeletal conditions elsewhere in the body
(e.g., neck pain).

Lederman, E. The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. (2011) Apr;15(2):131-8.

Eyal Lederman certainly doesn't hesitate to challenge the status quo as in his previous paper The Myth of Core Stability.

One of the section summary points caught my attention and is something I tend to agree with:

• PSB factors are unlikely to change in the longterm by manual techniques or even exercise, unless rigorously maintained (exercise).

... basically shit's hard and has to be consistent; real training, over and over again. Beyond that, I really have no idea... I guess just try something and test to see if it works.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Just a reminder...

When Starting Strength came out it was an instant classic and is a book that needs to be promoted more. One of the best texts I have read, no check that... the best, covering the fundamentals of barbell training. The second edition is expanded, but the first edition cover is way more bad-ass, which is why I put it here.

Putting the 'strength' back in strength and conditioning...


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful Training

"History teaches everything including the future." -Alphonse de Lamartine
Thanks to Josh Leeger for directing me to an excellent blog post from Ross Enamait. The videos are the training of Russian Greco-Roman wrestlers. The training is refreshing to watch and the athletes are just that... athletes!

These videos reminded me of the Polish Olympic weightlifting training videos. As evident in these videos (10 parts on Youtube), these guys are far from just weightlifters, they are beyond athletic of what you might see today... and the weightlifting that they compete in sure as hell doesn't hurt their ability to display great power in the other exercises done in the video; real weights and real movement.

Weightlifting, gymnastics, sprints, plyos, throwing, playing basketball, soccer, flexibility, general conditioning/obstacle/adventure runs, training done outside... combined with sound coaching and thorough evaluations by the medical staff. Awesome stuff!


Monday, October 3, 2011

Pushing Limits

It's amazing to see the extremes of the capacities of human ability, and very few hold a candle to that of Alex Honnold (at least his mental capacity), an American free solo climber (free solo=nothing but a little chalk!). I've read about Alex before and was excited to see a 60 Minutes segment was being done on him. I thought 60 Minutes did an excellent job of filming and presenting the story.

No searching for glory or money here, just a pure uninhibited love for the freedom and challenge climbing presents...

There's also a great article in National Geographic Magazine in the May 2011 issue on climbing at Yosemite National Park which highlighted Alex among other climbers.

Daring. Defient. Free.
"The minute you freak out, you're screwed." -Alex Honnold in Outside magazine.

So you think you're a bad ass?

My palms sweat just thinking about it.