Archive for power

The Conundrum of Sport-Specificity…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
(This article was partly motivated by the story out of the NHL combine about the top-ranked prospect being unable to complete a pull-up in testing…)
 
This one is a doozie. There is no right answer, just multiple perspectives to consider. 
Sport-specificity creates an interesting dynamic for sport scientists and coaches because it can be ALL THAT MATTERS or very restrictive at the same time.
The first thing to mention is that as a sport scientist (or performance coach, or strength coach, or physiologist, biomechanist, athletic therapist, physiotherapist, chiropractor, or anyone that works in sport regarding athletic performance and injury prevention) all of your efforts are measured by the goal of the athlete in their sport. Improving speed, power, strength, flexibility, etc. are all great but at the end of the day people want to be more successful tomorrow than they were today. The attraction to sport specificity is around being as efficient as possible, to affect those things that can translate directly to sport. It is the reason you see so many training tools on the market that simulate many sporting activities. If you can create overload on the exact same move you do in sport, then you should improve and succeed. Or so the belief goes.
 
This can lead down a very closed-minded path though. Some people will believe that you can’t predict or correlate performance with metrics in the gym, because the sport is more complicated that that. Or other people will say that attempting large-scale changes in the weight room via weightlifting for example are a waste of time because the given athlete doesn’t compete in weightlifting, therefore there is no need to develop the skill.
 
The truth is sport is so dynamic and unpredictable that we constantly need new ways of inching closer to our goal when we are limited in what we can measure or impact. Let’s look at the weightlifting example. There is only one sport that uses these lifts officially and we will leave that out of the discussion, because it is the definition of sport specificity. Then there are secondary sports i’ll call them, where a sport skill is directly reflected in the performance of weightlifting exercises. For example, athletes who perform jumping in their sport would likely benefit directly from the triple extension that occurs. What is sometimes lost though, is the specificity of neural recruitment. The nervous system can behave similarly anytime you want to do something explosively, or at high velocities. Think about changing the speed that your watch keeps time. If you tried to do your daily activities in the same amount of time as usual, but your clock moved twice as fast, you would be running all over the place trying to be super-productive. Your ‘normal’ pace would now likely be twice as fast. On the other hand, if you slowed the clock down to take twice as long, your behaviour would likely slow down as well. (This has never been proven, but the concept just came to me, and seemed to validate my point…so take it with an open-mind!) When performing activities at high velocity then, like weightlifting, we serve to increase the rate that we do most of our work at. So any sport that involves movements of high velocity then could see potential benefit of weightlifting exercises. Yet how often do you hear coaches say, “This sport is different, we don’t need that stuff”, or some version of that.
 
When it comes to predicting performance improvements then, sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to work through a possible checklist. If your sport involves an opponent and weather conditions, you can never be truly sure of performance outcomes. However, we can’t let that hold us back from finding ways to measure progress toward mastery. Going back to our weightlifting example, if after a given mesocycle we can say that athlete X has higher power and rate of force development, then we can probably assume an improvement in the sport. If we have an energetic test (or conditioning test, or whatever you want to call it), and we determine an athlete to be more fit, then that will likely confer a competitive advantage. What about mindset and sport psychology principles. Often in sports, coaches and commentators will call them the intangibles, or people will say “he/she has that something you can’t teach”. Over time, research has looked at talent identification and development, and you know what, there are many times where these things are measurable. So how many people are doing questionnaires and profiles to measure these so-called things that can’t be measured? (Maybe another story for another day!)
 
One thing that has always resonated with me form my time at Edith Cowan University with Dr. Haff and Dr. Nimphius, is the concept of building capacities. Every time you improve on one of these outcomes, you expand an athlete’s physical capacity for competition, which is rarely ever a bad thing! Sometimes just because you can’t see how a specific metric or test fits into actual gameplay, doesn’t mean it’s improvement won’t somehow impact performance. When we open our mind to the possibilities that many roads lead to Rome, we can usually find that improving physical and mental capacities give athletes a better chance when going for gold!

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.

 

Got Snatch? – An Easy Progression

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , on March 5, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

When it comes to olympic lifting, the hardest part is getting direction. It looks like an awesome lift but if you try for the first time, or any time without having been coached, you could be totally lost or just horribly wrong. Even when you think you know what you’re doing, you may be missing certain key steps which will show themselves once you get to a much heavier load. You wouldn’t want to find out your technique is flawed because then you’d have a tough road of backtracking and damage control.

Lu

In the video below, you’ll see a very simple snatch progression. It includes: Snatch from the pocket, Snatch from mid thigh position and Snatch from below the knee position. The only other position after this is right off the floor and if you’ve gotten the technique down until that point you should have no trouble at all. If you’re a true beginner and have just begun to dabble in the olympic lifts then this video should be broken up. Spend lots of time being comfortable catching from the pocket and getting  a full depth overhead squat. Then, in subsequent weeks you can progress through the other positions.

If you’re a seasoned vet, or at least an intermediate, then this is a great warm up progression to make sure you’re moving well and catching well before moving up to higher loads.

As is always the case, if you’ve never done any olympic lifting then I suggest you hire a professional for guidance.

Without further ado, happy snatching!

 

Two Determinants of Speed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 22, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

One of my big pet peeves is when I hear people talking about speed and the conversation typically starts with ‘there are two ways to improve speed: stride length and stride frequency’. The thing that bothers me the most is that these aren’t truly determinants, but simply characteristics. If you take an athlete out onto the track and ask them to increase their frequency or increase their stride length, do you expect to get immediate improvements? Mathematically you can describe the results of a 100m sprint through these two variables but it doesn’t give us much to go on as coaches. Whether looking at linear speed or change of direction speed (COD for our purposes) there are really just two determinants. These are OUTPUT and POSITION.

OUTPUT This is the favourite of the strength and conditioning coach because it is more or less the horsepower that the athlete has. Two of the more important outputs are overall force production (strength) and rate of force development. Each one of these can have a major impact on stride length and stride frequency. If you produce more ground reaction force than you can probably create a longer stride. If you can reach that max force quicker, you can spend less time on the ground and thus stride more frequently. So for the intent of improving speed or COD our output becomes a very trainable factor. With the right tests, we can easily monitor how well we are able to change these. Using force plates you can look at countermovement jump data, maximum force production through an isometric mid-thigh pull, or look at different aspects of the profile during a weightlifting movement like the snatch or clean. Tracking things like maximal force and rate of force development (and if you wanted, the marriage of the two via power measures) can tell you exactly how much your outputs have changed. We know if all else is equal, improving these outputs should improve speed and COD. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and that brings us to our second determinant.

POSITION This is the second major determinant and just as important as the first. Position can be thought of as the skill component or technique of a given task. Let’s think about sprinters for example. We have seen sprinters that look absolutely perfect when they run but don’t win…we have also see some that run ‘crazy’ with limbs flying around still end up on a podium. Then the world record holders seem to have the best of both worlds. The runner with technique who doesn’t win is likely lacking in output, while the runner who looks lost but does well is producing plenty of output but in the wrong position. The same thing can be noticed in the sport of weightlifting. The snatch, or clean and jerk, are both very technical lifts. At the same time, they are still very different from darts or golf in that they require the most weight to be lifted as possible. With this combination you see the interplay of output and position displayed very strongly. It is believed that the chinese lifters are currently the best because their technique (position) is almost flawless, so they can complete lifts to the absolute maximum of their output. Some other countries use different methods, and although they get lifters very strong, possibly stronger, they cannot complete lifts as close to their maximum output levels, making their totals lower. So how does position come into play for a strength and conditioning coach? Well, it really depends on the situation you have and the time you have with your athletes. At FITS we prefer the term athletic develoment specialist for a few reasons. First, we are about all-around athleticism so we want out job description to reflect that. The second part is that we truly embrace the term development when it comes to our athletes. We understand that for every bit of output you add in the gym, position needs to be taught and solidified on the court, field, ice, or snow. When a field sport athlete wants to get faster, building output is definitely a great place to start. Once a sufficient amount of strength and RFD has been developed it is important that it is utilized in a way that maximizes speed in the appropriate direction. This means force application has to be as efficient as possible, and this is dictated by angles. Angles of joint position, body lean, and foot strike. At FITS, we use a variety of tools to ensure we are coaching athletes to be better, not just stronger. We have a comprehensive approach to development that is second to none and I am so proud to be part of the team!

Olympic Lifting for a Bigger Vertical

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

If you don’t know how important a great vertical jump is, you’re either living under a rock, or I’m failing you as a coach/writer. An explosive vertical jump has carry over to nearly every sport; A vertical jump is an expression of power. The better the vertical, the better you are at putting force into the ground in an instant. There’s no such thing as a high vertical that happens slowly, its impossible. This is why it’s a test that most coaches/organizations use as an assessment and performance marker.  Let’s take sprinting for example, since this carries over to an incredible number of sports; during ground contact in the acceleration phase, you have a mixture of vertical and horizontal forces, these are the basis for how fast you move. Mastering how much of each is another part of the equation, but the first step is maximizing how much force you put into the ground in the first place. Plain and simple, a good vert is important. So how do you build one?

Many people think if you just get bigger/stronger legs you’ll automatically get a better vert. This COULD be true, and you’d have to test and retest to find out, but that’s like playing the lottery for your income instead of getting a job; you MAY get rich with the lottery, but a job will definitely bring in cash. In this case, the money maker is olympic lifting (and other explosive movements). While performing a heavy squat, it’s very easy to move the weight slowly and take your time to move through the movement. With an olympic lift, that is not an option. You need to explosively apply force to the ground in order to accelerate the bar up to the rack or catch position. One way to think of olympic lifting simply (perhaps overly simlpified) is to try to do a vertical jump with a loaded bar in your hands. Although this only applies to one part of the lift, its an easy way to express how closely the vertical jump and olympic lifting are related. This is not shared with traditional weight lifting exercises to the same extent.

As I stated before, building a strong squat, deadlift or lunge CAN carry over to your vertical but that is not necessarily the case. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that an olympic liting program improves jump performance as compared to a traditional weight training program: “The OL program improves jump performance via a constant CI, whereas the TW training caused an increased CI, probably to enhance joint stability”. To clarify, CI is the knee muscle coactivation index, this is obtained by taking the EMG of the antagonist muscle and dividing it by the agonist muscle. Essentially what they are saying is that when olympic lifting, the different muscles around the knee are always activated in the correct ratio (which stays the same with continued training), whereas traditional weight lifting will change the ratio of knee muscle activators. No matter how hard you try to stay balanced, if you’re doing a number of different exercises it will almost be impossible to keep them at an constant ratio. For this reason, olympic lifting will have a greater effect on your vertical jump.

Now, that being said, I don’t work with any athletes whose only goal is a greater vertical jump. By no means am I going to program ONLY olympic lifts and by no means is it the only way to increase your vertical jump. Ballistic movements including plyometrics are also a great way to increase explosiveness and power. This article is meant to share with athletes and coaches how valuable olympic lifting can be for athleticism. If you haven’t learned how to properly do them, then now would be a good time to hire a trainer/coach or find a good website to teach you (HERE is one that I really like or a VIDEO here). If you’d like to get started right away, here is a very easy progression plan to start doing power work.

– Do “explosive” shrugs. This means bend at the waist and extend the hips (squeeze glutes) into a shrug.

– Do Jump Shrugs. Beginning in a hang position (mid thigh bar, bent at the hips), explosively extend hips, knees and ankles (triple extension) and shrug as the bar begins to rise.

– Do High Pulls. This is nearly identical to the jump shrug except we’re keeping our arms loose and allowing them to bend so that the bar can travel up to rack height (shoulders).

– Do Hang Power Cleans. This is a high pull but we rotate our elbows up and catch in the power position.

If you’re a beginner, you don’t necessarily have to progress further than this, but if you’re enjoying the results or the exercises themselves then continue on to floor cleans, clean and jerk and snatches.

As a bonus, here’s callum crawford of the minnesota swarm doing 225lbs for his first time!

Remember,

It’s About Getting Better!

Reference article from JSCR -> ( Olympic Weightlifting Training Causes Different Knee Muscle–Coactivation Adaptations Compared with Traditional Weight Training by Arabatzi, Fotini; Kellis, Eleftherios) [ August 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 8 – p 2192–2201 ]

Do You Know What You Are Training?

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

Training can be a tricky thing. Most people will tell you it’s just about effort, and for the most part that is where it starts. If you put in lots of work, good things will happen. If you don’t, it becomes hard to make change. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s talk specifics…

If you are looking to improve body composition, sometimes it doesn’t matter WHAT you do, as long as you are doing enough work in general. If you have plenty of room for improvement, then almost anything works, as long as you are doing SOMETHING. However, when your goals are more specific, you need more specific ways of structuring your training and I’ll outline some of these.

You can learn more about this from THIS ARTICLE.

In general, training needs to be focused on a specific characteristic. The one’s we’ll discuss here are Strength, Hypertrophy, Power/Speed, Body Composition, and Conditioning.

NOTE: These categories overlap, and improvements will generally be seen in multiple areas, but the biggest improvements should be seen in the area of FOCUS.

Strength

Typically this is where you will see a lot of the focus for athletes and powerlifters. The average gym goer will opt more for hypertrophy or fat loss due to the aesthetic effects rather than the performance gained from a strength-focused block of training.

When training for strength, a large portion of the adaptation comes from the nervous system and its ability to coordinate the use of your muscle tissue. Synchronization of motor units, inhibition of antagonist muscle groups, and increased recruitment of motor units all contribute to lifting heavy weight on top of some increases in muscle mass.

Here are a few examples of strength work. This is typically compound movements (lots of muscles used) for high load and low repetitions.

Hypertrophy

This is definitely the most popular category for young men, because your biceps can never get big enough. Truthfully, having a decent amount of muscle mass is important for self-confidence and filling out half your wardrobe, so I definitely don’t know it. I think almost every guy has thought about putting on 10lbs of muscle, and every woman has thought about seeing a nice flat stomach. There is nothing wrong with being sexy.

There are a lot of different programs and approaches that are used for hypertrophy but there is definitely a best-way and all the rest. The catch is whether you want muscle mass and strength and power to all improve together. This goes back to the concept of specificity. You can accomplish all 3, but much slower.

Ideal hypertrophy training involves a high amount of volume per body part along with reaching that dreaded fatigue mark (1). In strength and power training this is discouraged, but with hypertrophy training this is the way to go…

Here are a few examples of the kind of volume you want to get for hypertrophy gains!

Conditioning/Fat Loss

If you think about the Crossfit approach, that is definitely the path to go for the best in conditioning and fat loss training. You want to work in a high-intensity heart rate zone with low amounts of rest. The key here is to build circuits with a strong resistance training component so that you are either building muscle mass or maintaining what you have, while shedding body fat. That will ultimately make for the best body composition (Think Percent Body FAT!). If you could do a 30-40 minute mixed workout while avoiding going over the 40 second rest mark you will probably build quite a body composition workout. If you take this version of a Hypertrophy program, cut some of the volume down and make it full-body, you’d have a great workout.

Power/Speed

This is the bread and butter for athletes, but should not be the primary focus year round. The key to power/speed is that you need a sufficient base of strength in order to express high levels of power. Power involves moving high amounts of force quickly. Moving a tiny weight quickly is just annoying, not powerful. There are a few different approaches for working on speed and power. First, are the weightlifting exercises, clean and jerk, and snatch. These are difficult to master so if you want to do them well, find a coach who knows how to teach them. If you are weak, go figure out the strength part first! The second method is complexing a strength and speed movement to maximize power in the second movement. This is also an advanced technique that works best in experienced strong lifters, so feel free to try it out, but don’t make it a staple of your program if you aren’t strong (think 2x bodyweight squat for STRONG). Finally, strictly plyometric (jumping) or sprinting workouts are great ways to improve speed/power. These can be box jumps, bounding, broad jumps, sprints, hill sprints, etc.

Here are a few variations of speed and power work..

Conclusion

The key to getting the most out of your training is knowing WHAT you want to accomplish, then executing properly on the HOW. Think about sticking in one category for 4-6 weeks in order to see some adaptations!!

It’s About Getting Better!

Razor’s Edge Performance

1.    Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, Holwerda AM, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, and Phillips SM. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS One 5: e12033, 2010.

New Things are Happening!

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

It’s a really exciting time for me this fall. Not only am I finishing up my first semester of a Masters of Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) with a great program at Edith Cowan University, but i’ve also joined forces with some extremely bright and talented professionals. I am happy to announce that I am working as an Athletic Development specialist at FITS in Toronto. FITS was started by Dr. Thomas Lam who is just an absolute pro, with a background of knowledge and experience that is world-class, in rehab and performance enhancement. He is going to have an enormous influence as a mentor and teacher for me, as I continue on my journey to become a true expert in this field!

I will continue to provide content here as well as provide content for FITS so keep an eye on that as well.

Do any of you guys have any exciting changes coming up?

Let me leave you with a video of my training partner Mike and his recent demolition of his previous pull PR! We’ve been crushing it lately in the gym and its showing!!

Cory Kennedy

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