Archive for Training

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!
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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.

 

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!

Updates

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

A couple of things to share with everyone today. We are now entering Christmas party season so it’s important to be doubly focused on your workouts since you are definitely going to go overboard in terms of alcohol and junk food consumption. This is more or less unavoidable. It’s the holiday season, don’t kid yourself. So the only defense is high-intensity workouts. They don’t have to be 2-3 hours long, just get the hard work done quickly, then the after-party won’t have as many negative effects on you…

Secondly, I have been seeing some amazing improvements in my vertical jump lately and I have written an article on the FITS website to outline some of the reasoning.  Check it out here.

Thirdly, we are proud to announce that we are the health and fitness voice at a fantastic new website, http://cavemag.com

Check out the first major article here.

CaveMag is a fantastic online magazine that provides health and fitness, lifestyle, sports, style, entertainment, and many other categories of great insight from a group of great writers. Make sure you check it out regularly to read all the latest.

That’s all for now, we’ll be back soon with some fresh content!

It’s About Getting Better!

Cory

 

What do you want to see?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

Hey everyone!
We’ve been posting articles for a while now but we usually post on things we see, things we read about, or maybe something we’re focusing on with our athletes. Let’s change it up and post some of the things you’d like to hear about. So send us an email or comment below and give us some ideas of things you’re looking for! It could be nutrition, training or anything else based on performance. Let’s get the ideas coming so we can research a few good articles for you guys!
K

Information Overload

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , on August 16, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

If there is one thing I dislike about being part of the health/fitness/training/performance industry, it’s the way information is taken and used. We have so many credible professionals working in the field with countless degrees and hours upon hours spent learning and researching the human body and methods to change it;  yet, that doesn’t stop everybody else from sharing their views on what is right or wrong in the gym. This KILLS ME! When it comes to teeth, people will refer to a dentist. For most people, they will leave car repairs to the mechanics. In the spring, our taxes get sent to the accountants. For training advice? Ask anyone and they’ll have an opinion on what is right or what is wrong. Here are my two favourite gym personas.

The Hater

We all know a few of these. In fact, we have all probably been this person before at some time or another. The hater loves to watch somebody else workout, then trash every part of what they are doing. I’m not saying that said exerciser is perfect by any means, but The Hater is usually not qualified to decide that they know better. Yet here they are, high and mighty, insisting that they definitely know better. Meanwhile, the organization or commitment to any training program for The Hater is usually scattered at best.

The Helper

For the most part, getting help from someone who knows better is awesome, and should be taken well, unless you are a stubborn mule who refuses help for anything. The Helper goes beyond this. The Helper has learned enough to know better, but not enough to keep his mouth shut. Instead of distributing hints or tips to some of the local gym buddies, The Helper insists that his way is the only way, and takes it upon himself to let EVERYONE in the gym know why they aren’t exceeding expectations right now. The Helper doesn’t take into account programming goals and individual differences because he doesn’t take the time to find out your back story. He merely inserts himself into your workout with his ‘can’t-lose’ training nugget and insists it is appropriate and a guaranteed improvement.

Realistically, nothing is going to change anytime soon, because very few people are willing to admit when they are wrong. Ideally though, these things will start to happen in the near future…

1) Experts who can walk the walk will use appropriate tact when offering help, and understand there is a time and a place for it

2) Anybody who is not a certified trainer will understand that while they may have some useful tips for other gym-goers, they don’t necessarily know better

3) Even those people who have a basic knowledge in training can see the benefit in seeing an expert every now and again to refine their approach and technique

For many of us, training is a legitimate field of expertise with a very high level of scientific knowledge and experience providing the foundation.  I look forward to a day where this is recognized by a lot of people not just a select few.

It’s About Getting Better!

Razor’s Edge is Representing

Posted in Performance with tags , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2011 by razorsedgeperformance

It’s official: Razor’s Edge Performance is going to bring some awesome to the National Invitational Combine in Toronto this coming friday. I’d like to wish Willie and Mario luck in showing off their athleticism and skills for the attending CFL scouts. Both of these guys have been working their tails off and we’re proud to say they train with Razor’s Edge Performance.

Not only do we have athletes showing themselves off and measuring up to competition this week, in a way we’re also doing the same. This is our first year doing combine prep with CIS players. This is exciting because it’s a whole different type of training. Training an athlete over a long offseason for their sport is much different than a 2 month intensive program for a specific battery of tests. Not only is strength and power essential but the technical aspect of all of the tests cannot be overlooked. These athletes are training for agility, power, top end speed, lateral speed, explosiveness, as well as a significant mental component. That’s a lot of different things to try and focus on in such a short period of time! Due to the strenuous nature of this type of training, recovery is crucial. That’s why it’s important to have our guys eating and drinking well as well as taking care of their soft tissue, mobility and flexibility.

For those of you who don’t follow football or the scouting aspect, you now have an idea of the immense effort needed for such a short time. This is essentially the biggest job interview of their life thus far and depending on their success, may be the only one. The days are winding down and we’re excited to see Willie and Mario show off all their hard work. Look forward to a post next week with their results and other observations from the NIC and CFL E-Camp this coming weekend.

NOTE: Here’s a video of Willie’s results at the NIC.

Remember,
It’s About Getting Better!

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