Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "Speed Barrier" and Knowing

If Ivan Abadjiev had been a sprints coach, would he have been concerned about the so-called "speed barrier"?

I've heard "avoiding the speed barrier" from some well-known coaches and am genuinely curious as to it's validity, or is this just some coaching folklore? 

Who has had athletes experience this supposed stabilization of speed? If so, was it because they were tired? Might sticking with it, instead of 'giving-up' too soon, lead to the eventual breakthroughs? Is it just a matter of necessary variation to adjust for diminishing returns or reduced will? Does diminishing returns reduce motivation, or does reduced motivation diminish returns, or both?

Sometimes, I think we think we know, but we might not. Prediction (from instinct or data) or wait and see? How much false confidence do we gain from successful predictions?

We must make choices and observations of occurrence with confidence, but certainty of why is risky.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Charlatan Nonsense

I felt compelled to post these questions along with links to present some of the glaring problems in the profession of strength and conditioning/athletic development.

Here is the link to the following question. I quoted the question and answer below in which I highlighted specific parts of the answers (in bold italics):

Hi Coach! Thanks for the great response! I love the idea of contrast sled pulls and sprint work. when I worked my backs and receivers we did sled work at 10 yard intervals followed by 10 yard hill work. We did this four weeks! We then did sled walks for 20 yards followed flying 20's great results. However, I was wondering if you did medicine ball throws with hurdle jumps? Also, did you cut exercises with weights down to a minium? 

An e book would be great!

Warren, we did do hurdle bounds and explosive medball throws ( both backward scoop and extension throws into a large mat , which ate my favorite because you talk about full triple extension following the momentum created by the medball, its awesome) our first 4 week block hurdle bounds were max effort single respinse. Second four weeks reactive. Last block, even though we were in alactic capacity i did a few reactive hurdle bounds to a 10 yd sprint, which was accounted for in the overall volume. If in a large group 15-20 they were split , 1/2 medball and 1/2 hurdle bounds. Now you can do hurdle biunds holding a medball and after landing the last bound use the medball in a acceleration sprint , which is highly effective but advanced. You must perfect hurdle bounds both max effort and reactive before adding the load of the medball and the lack of arm lift ( since the arms are holding the medball ) this was usually done with big skill and skill. It was enough to get the big guys to reactively bound over hurdles but when we left they could all do it with minimal ground contact time ( strive for .15 secs on ground). Now they do all this olympic lifting and they are less explosive!!!! How do i know? Athletes still call me and tell me how shitty they feel on game day cause the head strength guy uses maximal loads during the season to get them strong. There's a time and place for everything and during the season when the primary emphasis is the game , is NOT the time. Again i sit unemployeed while stupid stuff like this goes on. Its embarrassing the bullshit that goes on in this profession. Lets lift heavy to get strong in season, total moron!!!!"

My issues:
-So in stating that they could do it with minimal ground contact time and that they were striving for .15 secs, we would assume testing/evaluation to be done with accelerometers/force platforms.

-The claim that the athletes do "all this Olympic lifting and are now less explosive" (what is explosiveness?) requires comparison of previous metrics with current ones

-And the last part falls under many different logical fallacies, such as ad hominem and appealing to emotion.

... and the link to the following question. I quoted the question and answer below in which I highlighted specific parts of the answers (in bold italics):

"Coach while at your various stints as a physical preparation coach I was wondering what methods you used to track and record data besides visual and short term monitoring system. Did you track player data from their freshman to senior year? I was just wondering as I am starting to track my high school athletes but am having trouble putting it all together via excel. Thanks for your time and input."

"JJ, let me it this way, i hate computers ! I had a " Louisville" sluggar right next to my desk and i used it! I believe i was on my third computer when Coach Wannstedt was let go. I usually left that to James and i believe he used excel sheets. Listen youe are either a researcher, a data collector , a a phoney , or a coach. I chose to coach. All my energies went to making my athletes better ! James and i only tested occassionally. We did not want to waste time losing a training day. You'll see your athletes getting better. I was fortunate enough in my career to have the majority of head coaches let me do my thing. Thanks"

-It is possible to record information without the use of computers.

-It is my belief that a coach should be all of those things - a researcher, a data collector, and a coach. Making a statement that all one's energy went into making athletes better is a fragment. Better than what? I am all for being present when coaching athletes and using subjective judgement is a big part of coaching, but when making claims that athletes are better, or as in a previous post that a specific program makes one "explosive as f***", is fallacious without data to back up claims. 

-I also believe that testing is not a waste of a possible training day. I use the mantra of 'training is testing, testing is training'. Testing often requires a maximum use of the athlete's specific resources to accomplish the tests, which to me suggests that it is a physiological stressor, and applied at the correct time can lead to an adaptation of possible improvement of the skill tested. I would argue that Usain Bolt's 100 meter times have improved to what they have because of the realization that takes place in the races (World Championships/Olympics), not necessarily the practices. Training can get you to the starting line, but the race can change you even more.

-Telling another coach that "you'll see your athletes getting better" helps no one. Sure as a coach, you become better skilled at spotting nuances in technique that may or may not be improved with feedback and certain cues, but how do you know your feedback or cues worked? And again, better at what? I can accept the subjective idea of improving technique, as this is formally logical in that many coaches will agree on certain techniques. But after that, improvement in technique is simply improvement in technique. At that point the technique should lead to improvement of performance, and performance requires a metric(s).

Talking about subjective outcomes and opinions is fine, but when it is used for arguments of certain coaches or training methods being better than others, then the arguments become anti-intellectual and the profession of strength and conditioning/athletic development spins in the same place, staying in an authoritarian state of a few gurus leading the blind; which is eerily familiar to many of today's institutions (certain states and religions). If coaches were explicit with what they did and tested (pre/post), then we can make better comparisons and actually have intellectual discussions. Track coaches rarely have to worry about this because their work gets quantifiably evaluated in every meet. A person like myself, or the 'coach' above, who works with team sport athletes can easily sound like an expert and get away with subjective claims because team sports provide a protective barrier of so many variables to hide behind. 

All these arguments and claims are the realm of gurus, and I feel this is a major problem in coaching. If you are not testing and retesting, then making arguments is illogical rhetoric. Coming from a site such as where many of the writers talk of indicators (specific data points) to determine the effectiveness of a method or program, is quite disappointing. 
My suggestion is that this profession, as with many other subjects with a search for a best practice, needs more science, reason, and logic. They are arguably the best tools we posses in order to have a shared reality. We owe it to the athletes.


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Break From Breakfast

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

Maybe, if that is the only time you can eat, or it's the only time you are not putting garbage into your body. Otherwise, I call this a fallacy.

"Breakfast jump starts your metabolism."

Wow. As if metabolism stopped (you'd be dead). Exposing yourself to sunlight requires metabolism. Moving requires and changes metabolism. All processes in the body require metabolism.

"Breakfast will help you feel not so hungry later in the day."

Maybe or maybe not. A high glycemic meal (as many breakfast meals are) could lead to a drastic drop in blood sugar from the excessive insulin release, making a person feel hungry again.

And the word BREAKFAST: breaking the fast.

As if 8 hours is really a fast... and as if a fast is really a bad thing. I've noticed that people often think they will actually die if they don't eat every few hours... I'd say America does not need to worry about missing a meal. There is also mounting evidence that fasting can have some potential positive effects. This doesn't necessarily lend credence that everyone should fast and for exactly how long, just that things related to diet are highly variable... and a little variability might be a good thing. Just as muscles need rest after being worked, the digestive system might use a break too.

I've been as guilty as any in promoting these myths regarding breakfast in the past, however I have long since quit touting breakfast as the ergogenic that so many claim it is. Eating food is very important, however, as crazy as it may sound, it might not be essential to be eaten first thing in the morning.

As if the lion awakes to omolettes, pancakes, and sausages, only then go out on the hunt and athletically perform her best.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Skeptical Empiricism

I read a Q & A thread on popular website in which an "expert" coach who made the claim of employing superior training methods and that his team was "explosive as f*%#".

Now maybe they were "explosive as f*%#", but how does a coach know? Making subjective claims when arguing training methods, to me, is just 'wooing the crowd' to maintain guru status, or more hopefully just a logical fallacy. There are times when it is ok to claim that a certain exercise or program has potential for greater "explosiveness" outcomes vs others without evidence, so long as logic and reasoning can be easily applied. However, just stating "explosive as f*%#" is fiction, until it has been specifically defined and reliably tested.

-Define "explosiveness".

-Evidence of "explosiveness": Vertical or standing long jump? Clean or snatch numbers? 40 yd dash? Agility test? Is the test repeatable and reliable?

-Baselines of "explosiveness": what were the athletes' initial "explosiveness" scores prior to the commencement of training (and even better yet, an athlete's career training statistics)?

And before patting ourselves on the back for a job well done... analyze and interpret the data. What are some of the variables? What are the uncontrollable factors, and possible adjustments that could skew the outcomes positively or negatively? Also, most performance coaches do not have, or can afford to have, controls or use blinding.

These would be just a few of the factors to consider. Someone with a greater scientific background than me could come up with many other things to look at.

I've heard athletes say, or even tell me, "Coach, I feel more explosive" or "I feel faster". This might make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I am very glad for the positive feelings the athletes have, but I still ask them and myself, "how do you know?"

It's the struggle I fight with in my head daily. I am a skeptical empiricist.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stoic Lifting

*To clarify, this isn't directed towards competitive O-lifters, as many already know this through experience and shared knowledge.

Maxing on Squats and Deadlifts Everyday. I really liked this article by Greg Nuckols. He gives a very clear and concise description to the often misunderstood Bulgarian Method of training: high frequency, high intensity training on a daily basis. Basically working up to a training max on a couple lifts everyday (or at minimum of 4-5 days per week). The program worked well for Greg, and I have witnessed to be very effective for one of our competitive Olympic lifters here at UND.

The details of the Bulgarian method are pretty straightforward, however the key point that I believe so many miss is as Greg stated:

"Here, the daily max is a weight that you can move without mental arousal (no death metal and ammonia) and without any aberration from perfect form."

The Bulgarian Method has been chastised by many lifters and coaches claiming the impossibility of maxing daily without the assistance of drugs. The problem is their definition of maxing is to think of testing/evaluation or competition day efforts. The type of efforts resembling borderline psychosis, training partners slapping each other on the face prior to each attempt, lots of yelling and chest beating... to the point that the whole pre-max attempt celebration and max attempt requires an automatic defibrillator to bring back to life the lifter and spotters. This can be fine at the right times (competition, evaluation at the end of a meso/macrocycle) but it will limit the frequency that one can train with high intensity, because it's not just the intensity (load and/or speed) of the work, but one's psychological state.

And this is often the crux of the issue. So few are aware enough to realize the amount of effort required for performance enhancements, while governing this effort 'to live to train another day'. Very few can find, nor understand, the optimality of arousal to elicit the desired outcomes of training. Excessive arousal will deplete energy stores and make a mess hormonally, and lethargy leaves everything to be desired. It's an amazing skill to be acquired to fully direct nervous energy yet still tempering the nerves. The goal is to minimize arousal and increase performance. Truly, the mind is the body and the body is the mind.

As I stated, high levels of emotional energy are ok at carefully selected times and with simple tasks (Yerkes-Dodson Law) - it's just difficult to sustain and very depleting. And when trying to improve a skill, hyperarousal and not sustaining a regimen will obviously make the acquisition of the skill(s) very difficult (in the case of a strength, power, or speed skill). There are no secrets, just a guiding and balancing of energy. I do believe the Bulgarian Method or more generally high frequency, high intensity training can be very effective, even without drugs (of course abiding by appropriate recovery ettiquite). It just takes an athlete or group of athletes with the right desire, action, and emotional intelligence: Stoicism

"When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What can this man want?' If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious?" -Epictetus

And within that quote there is great insight into both an athlete's approach to training and a coach's approach to coaching that athlete.