Archive for Goals

The Smallest Worthwhile Change

Posted in Health, Nutrition, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
There is a concept in high performance of the smallest worthwhile change. It is a concept borne out in statistics about what type of intervention is necessary to change your placing in competition. For example, the 100m dash in the Olympics. The SWC is a change necessary to affect your placing in the 100m final. It uses the typical variability in competition within the sport to quantify whether a change in a performance metric is meaningful. I have the good fortune of working in high performance sport and I can say that it is often fascinating to find different ways to create this SWC. It can come from recovery, training, equipment modifications, technique changes, the list goes on and on.
You see, for an athlete who is going to the Olympic games, maybe even for the second or third time, you are turning  over every leaf. At this point in there career, they have likely tried and mastered many things to bring them to the top of their sport, and it gets harder and harder to find more ways to improve performance. If you want to win gold though, sometimes it’s necessary.
The flip side of the coin though, is when this concept arises in developing athletes. You see it all the time. Think about a friend who bought new shoes, or cleats, thinking it will change their performance. The new pre-workout supplement, compression gear, or even workout track. We see it all the time, not even thinking about it, but people love to seek out the SWC at every age.
The only problem is that while it is really sexy to find this secret sauce, for most athletes the focus should be on the Largest Worthwhile Change. You see many of these “elites” that I just spoke of have gone through many yearly training plans, maybe even a quadrennial or two…
The LWC can be thought of as a consistent approach to the basics. It is surprising how many athletes don’t put in a full-year of focused training before going to college. I am referring to an approach to training with full mental engagement and consistent adherence for a yearly plan. Too often athletes think that one workout, or maybe a good 2-3 weeks is enough to create an adaptation. The truth is, most athletes haven’t learned to push themselves hard enough to make that a reality. With our experienced Olympian from the last paragraph, maybe 3 weeks is enough to get a SWC in the middle of a competition period, since they should have technical mastery of the training methods, and the ability to focus all their effort to it’s execution.
The developing athlete though, whether they want to or not, doesn’t have the experience to really push themselves as hard as they need to for that to happen. So true adaptations may take months to achieve. This is nothing to get discouraged about, it is the standard process that everyone must go through.
Let’s take complex training for example. Typically, it is done by pairing an exercise of high load (lets say squat, 1-3RM) with an exercise of high speed (lets say countermovement jump) to elicit a performance improvement. Without going into all of the reasons, the belief is that the exposure to high load will make performance of the high speed activity better. There is research to support this. However, the research also shows that until you have reached a certain training age, and met certain strength criteria, this second exercise may in fact have a reduced performance, the opposite effect. It’s simple really, you are fatigued after a hard set of squats and don’t have the reserves to create the high output jumps…
The complex just serves as an example of a training method, that while effective, doesn’t need to be used with every athlete you train. Taking time to be patient with the basics and develop mastery can go a long way in improving your performance significantly now, and setting you up for more SWCs in the future.
The LWC that I am referring to can appear in a variety of ways including: consistent training throughout the year (even DURING competition periods), focused effort on movement quality, recovery/regeneration methods, sound and consistent nutritional intake, a growth mindset, and deliberate focus and attention to detail.
The most recent example I can think of comes from the platforms at a local weightlifting club. Every week I see athletes come in with the best shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and workout supplements. Then they proceed to underwhelm in their performance. Now I am not saying any of these items are bad, or that every athlete has to be amazing, we all have to start somewhere. I am just saying, before rushing out to buy all the toys (for SWCs) and accessories, spend time working your craft! Most of these lifters aren’t being held back because of the knee sleeves, wrist wraps, or shoes!
Focus on the Largest Worthwhile Changes before you waste money on the smaller details. You will thank me in the end.

 

LTAD and Going Through Puberty

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance

I see a lot of parents and coaches, who concerned about the safety of ‘strength training’ for their children, choose to wait until after puberty before starting athletic development. Coaches may call this the end of Training to Train and the start of Training to Compete.

While I understand where everyone is coming from, there is a major piece to the puzzle missing. Once a child goes through puberty, coordination usually falls behind, because their limb lengths are now much bigger, and they didn’t know how to control the smaller ones!

Gaining coordination as a young child, whether resisted with external loading or not, is extremely important to avoid this awkward stage that sometimes comes about with puberty. Resistance training is not unsafe for children (assuming you are supervised by a qualified individual…) and athletic development coaches will want to see effective use of body weight first none the less.

If you want to be a well coordinated athlete who can stay injury proof through your teens, learning how to move and control your body before puberty is much more efficient than waiting!

If you want to talk performance, you are able to get strong and powerful SOONER!

Kids are allowed to run and jump all they want in sport without restrictions, so why are we afraid to allow them to learn how to control their bodies under supervision? Something is missing here…

The Combine is a Trap!

Posted in Performance with tags , , , on March 11, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

Editors Note: This post was orginally written at http://www.fitstoronto.com, but is written by Cory Kennedy, so there is no conflict reprinting it here!

As someone who is in the performance enhancement industry (for sport that is…), combine season is kind of exciting. It’s like the little brother of Track and Field at the Olympics. This is a time for the best football players in the NCAA to take a step back from some of the skills and complexity of football, and get an opportunity to display their athleticism for all of the NFL teams. It also proves to be a money maker for supplement companies, apparel companies (Under Armour sponsors it, but Adidas is trying to get in on the action too!), and of course Athletic Performance facilities. While everyone has their eyes glued to the screen of NFL Network for the 4 days, I ask young football players (and athletes of other sports as well) to heed my warning: Forget about combines!

I know how hard it is though. Everyone wants to be associated with their numbers…I jump this high, run this fast, and change direction in under 4 seconds…It is much simpler than just saying, I am really good at football!

The problem isn’t that the combine is broken, or that athleticism is bad, it’s about priorities! The NFL pays players millions, so players need to prepare specifically for this ‘job interview’ in order to ace it. The key take-home though is that these players spent 4 years of high school DEVELOPING…then 4 years of college DEVELOPING…finally 8 weeks mastering the test. Young athletes need to remember there is more to being a great football player than mastering these tests…

Case in point, Athletes Performance, probably the world’s most popular performance enhancement facility. Every year they represent close to the top 100 athletes in the NCAA to prepare them for the combine. At the same time, they are also working with players from around the NFL and NCAA on their regular off-season development. I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure the pros who aren’t at the combine have their own specific program, and rightfully so. All of the combine guys though? They all do the same thing…why? They aren’t developing as football players, they are merely mastering expression  of different tests.

Proper development is about doing the things necessary to prevent injury, prepare the body for movement variability, and to build a foundation that makes it possible to continually improve. Expression on the other hand, is the end stage. This is where you put the finishing touches on a particular quality to make it come to light. Most professional athletes will aim for this expression one or more times per year as their competitive season unfolds. A developing athlete though? It may not happen for the first few years. Why? Development is the most important part.

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(***Case in point…RGIII performing a Vertical or Broad Jump at 2012 Combine…contributing factor to later injury??)

It is easy for an athlete to get frustrated when they want that 4.5s 40 in high school, or a 35” vertical. As a coach, it is important to always make sure the compass is pointed the right way, and sometimes it means holding off on EXPRESSION to really make an impact on an athlete’s overall DEVELOPMENT!

Weightlifting is the Answer! Here is why…

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance
We have spoken a number of times on this page about why weightlifting exercises (SEE Snatch, Clean, and Jerks) are awesome for developing speed and power in athletes, and thus why they should be included in many training programs.
While that is still true, I am going to discuss why weightlifting is EVEN BETTER for recreational athletes, and for that matter strength and conditioning coaches!
Let me talk about the second group first, because that is my cohort. As strength and conditioning coaches we are usually a competitive bunch (most are former athletes) and so love to compete no matter how old or out of shape we get. Add to that thought the concept of the high power output that is present in these exercises and it makes for the perfect avenue to compete in that still stays true to what we preach all day in the weight room! Wait, there is a cherry on top…these lifts are highly technical, and require a lot of practice and some good coaching. So as strength coaches, we always want to be working on our craft to provide the best coaching to our athletes. The more you can practice the lifts on your own, the better you get at coaching them and picking them apart.
Now let’s get to the recreational lifter and with that the crossfit population. I will go on record and say there are some things I really enjoy about crossfit. People seem to love it and love getting to the gym. This is great for the health and fitness of overall communities and the individuals within them. It is a system that also works well to improve overall physical capacities and body composition. So why do people hate on it, especially in the health and fitness community? Probably because they break people…some of it is from the crazy amount of volume everyone is expected to do, and some of it is just from the fact few members get taught proper technique for the weightifting exercises (let alone basic barbell exercises!!)…
Here are a few reasons why they are actually amazing lifts for the recreational lifter, even though they seem too technical and only for the ‘elite’…
Mobility! Here is the world record holder in both lifts at 77kg class, Lu Xiaojun. I have a huge man-crush on him for his weightlifting abilities. Not only are we talking about crazy amounts of power to move the bar, but he is catching the weight in a full-depth overhead squat. Even go back and see his starting position; Weightlifting requires a high level of mobility in your hips and ankles, as well as shoulders and upper back. These are the kinds of things the office-warrior loses quickly as they age, so just working on getting to these positions is highly valuable. Posture is such a large emphasis for these lifts that these muscles will get a ton of attention, and have no choice but to get their act together!
Metabolic Demand! These lifts use the entire body. So when you do a set of 8 or 10 reps at a submaximal weight, you are burning a ton of fuel. No wonder all the elite lifters are shredded (save for superheavy’s)…
Even working with a dowel (wooden stick, step 1) to get the positions and transitions correct, will be a great workout for most people as the volume is typically high and the attention to detail as well.
Cool Factor! Because they are so technical, not a lot of people do them well…walking into a gym, taking over the platform, and rocking some double body weight clean and jerks will definitely get you some attention. You will make a lot of friends that day. A lot of people can squat, but throw the same weight overhead as fast as you can? My mind just got blown.
It is with all of these reasons that we have begun a weightlifting club out of FITS Toronto where we work with weekend warriors to master these lifts, and so far the response has been impressive. If you want to really kick your training into another gear, and find something that you can really pour your focus into…then start learning how to weightlift!! (Consult a professional!!)
BONUS: Here is me hitting some PR’s yesterday as I journey to a bodyweight snatch…join me!
DOUBLE BONUS: Here’s Kyle beating Cory‘s PRs

Progress Update

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , on May 29, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

So last time I posted, I mentioned that I was trying an aggressive approach to building up my squat to new strength levels.

The truth is, I am doing it because the squat is the ultimate foundation lift for all things strength and power. Being strong doesn’t guarantee you speed and power but you can’t expect those things if you are weak.

So i’ve just started my 4th week of Smolov Squat Program, an old russian formula for aggressively improving your strength. Week 1 was three days in a row, week 2 was another 3 days of squatting but with very little volume and high intensity. Think singles, triples, doubles, and a five rep set.  Each day I basically worked up to 1 working set. So it was about staying familiar with the squat and heavy weight, but giving the body a bit of a rest. I’ll talk some more about that in a bit.

 

Week 3 is when the fun starts, because there is 4 squat workouts. Since I was coming off the Victoria Day weekend, that put me at Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. So I didn’t get a full weekend off to rest up for Week 4. It’s the same protocol, same 4 workouts with the same rep scheme but with 20lbs added to each day. So in week 3 I lifted 235 day 1, 250 day 2, 270 day 3 and 285 day 4.

So far this week i’ve done 4×9 at 255, and 5×7 at 270. I get a rest day tomorrow (where i’ll focus on bringing my max bench up, which i hit a PR of 285 last week) and then the heavy days are Thursday and Friday.

Here are the videos from the last two workouts.

 

 

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

The key to bringing up a key lift, or really accomplishing anything related to your body is to do it often. Frequency is key. Adjust the volume and intensity when you need to in order to stay healthy, but you need to constantly remind your body of something if you want it to adapt. If you want to lose fat, do SOMETHING everyday…if you want to get huge, lift SOMETHING everyday. Even if it’s just pushups. If you want to improve a lift, practice it at every workout.

Hope this helps keep you going in the right direction for your current goals!

 

It’s About Getting Better!

Building That Squat

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , on May 9, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

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I’ve decided that my squat isn’t near strong enough. I need to do something about it.

There is an old Russian coach who had a ‘foolproof’ (except the soreness and discomfort) way to build your squat by up to 100lbs in a short period of time (13 weeks to be exact). His name was Smolov, and his squat protocol is now famous in the training world.

If you want to try it, google Smolov Squat Program and go to the link from stronglifts.com, they give you a spreadsheet all setup with the weights you’ll need based on your 1 rep maximum.

I have hit 365lbs before on a full-squat, but haven’t done anything heavy lately due to training ADD…so I decided to go conservative and set my max at 335lbs to start. Half way into the program you retest your max to adjust the weights for the 2nd half, so if I was way off, it will be corrected there.

Basically, you start with 3 straight days of high volume squatting, then a few heavy singles and doubles the following week before hitting the grind. This is 3 straight weeks of squatting 4x per week.

Saying i’ll be a little stiff and sore is an understatement but I think it’s the price to pay to really boost up my lift.

Strength truly is the gateway to higher levels of athleticism, so I want to be well over a 2x bodyweight squat.

I am done the first two days, starting the 3rd day tomorrow.

I will try to keep you guys updated to my progress regularly.

At the same time, I am trying to build the strength of my bench up as well…I’m using my own programming for the bench portion though, so we’ll see how it goes…good results so far starting this week off…

 

 

It’s About Getting Better!

An Overlooked Aspect of Coaching in Athletic Development

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , on January 6, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

In our athletic development programs we work with a lot of highly skilled athletes and just as many uncoordinated youth, hoping to one day become highly skilled athletes. No matter what level they are at, they are constantly being introduced to new movements, drills, and exercises that we feel will help them get better at their given sport. When teaching an athlete to perform a given task, there are a lot of different factors that go into the success you’ll have in getting the desired result.

A Deeper Understanding of the Activity

One of the best things you can do to speed up learning a new task is to properly explain the reasoning and the details before you start. Let’s use sprinting mechanics as an example. We think it’s important to teach sprint mechanics to all of our athletes, yet with some sports where running isn’t used often, some great athletes can struggle the first few times we go through it. Just having an athlete start running, then cueing them on specific details will not have a lasting effect on how well they repeat proper technique. Instead, it is better to describe proper sprint mechanics, throughout the whole body, and elaborate on how these mechanics improve the speed of the runner. Most athletes won’t remember all of the key points after the first explanation, but what they will see is how each correction fits into the bigger picture. This improved awareness provides much more meaning to them when you say things like ‘hammer the elbow back’ and ‘step over the stick’. I know that many people say that athletes don’t need to know how everything works, they just need to be told what to do, but I believe a deeper understanding in the mechanics of movement helps athletes use coaching cues better.

A Growth Mindset Atmosphere

An athlete with a growth mindset will see challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. An athlete with a fixed mindset will see a challenge as something that can’t be done, and something that can be avoided. It goes back to the ‘white man can’t jump’ concept. Some people will say, “Oh I’ve never been able to jump, that’s just not me” and avoid the concept of learning and improving, writing themselves off before they start. An athlete with a growth mindset will see a small vertical as a chance to improve their athleticism and accomplish something great. As coaches and professionals in the training field we know that you CAN teach the ability to jump, and you CAN teach speed. When tackling new exercises and techniques, fostering a growth mindset will help your athletes tremendously. Helping your athletes understand that they won’t be perfect at everything they try, but instead will meet a challenge, learn, improve, and overcome the difficulty. Don’t let your athletes get discouraged when trying something new because it doesn’t feel right or go as well as hoped. Learn more about different types of failure here.

Different Types of Cues

It would be interesting to record yourself coaching your athletes. Do you always give the same cues? How many times do you have to repeat ‘faster’, ‘harder’, and ‘stronger’ before you realize those instructions aren’t working? It’s important to think about the types of cues you use when coaching and try to change them. You can use internal and external cues. This means relating the cue to the athlete and how they control their body versus what is happening with the training implement or the environment around them. Another good approach is to be more interactive with the athlete. Ask them what they feel. Ask them the difference between two different techniques or repetitions or sets. Sometimes it’s not the athlete’s failure to understand or execute, but rather the coaches failure to give proper direction when searching for a specific result.

Coaching is a very important part of athletic development but it is also a very subjective activity, and often its success is measured by the success of the athlete or team in competition. This doesn’t always tell the whole story though, so it’s important to sit down every once in a while and ask yourself, am I doing the right things to help my athletes succeed? Everyone has effort, but sometimes misdirected effort can be a tough pill to swallow. Don’t confuse passion and effort for proper coaching. Those are two important factors that every great coach should have, but they don’t guarantee a great learning environment. Go through a checklist and figure out some things about your approach. How are you cueing? Do your athletes know why they are doing something? Are you providing a supportive and growth-centred environment? Your answers may surprise you.

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