A lot of what people believe about strength training is based on decades old information and ideology. While these antiquated training practices can still result in improved athletic performance, they also are notorious for high injury rates and motor patterning issues. With young athletes this is often masked due to fast healing rates and not yet fully developed strength levels.
Additionally, there has been almost no analysis of more modern training techniques and philosophies in comparison to the traditional approaches in the literature. We are thus forced to rely on deep understanding of human movement, anatomy, and physiology, combined with decades of training experience with thousands of clients in order to understand and deliver a more modern approach to strength and conditioning for athletes.
Fortunately there appears to finally be movement in the right direction and athletic training programs are finally catching up with the most advanced techniques.
How the body works.
The human body does not work in isolation during any movement. Sport is a beautiful display of this and watching the human body compete demonstrates this principle.
For example, while it might appear that arm strength is the most important factor of a volleyball arm swing or volleyball block, this is far from the case. The strength of the back muscles, the hips, and the functionality of the feet and ankles play a vital role in these movements.
Even more important is the act of training each of these areas to function as a coordinated unit. Surrounding our muscle tissue is another tissue called facia. Recent research in anatomical science has definitively shown that the facia surrounding our muscles is not an isolated covering of each muscle but instead is a single layer of tissue surrounding the entire body. Because of this, when you swing your arm there is an effect on the leg (particularly the leg on the other side of the body). All of this must transfer through the centre (core) of the body, which truly functions to connect the strength and power generated at one part of the body to every other part of the body.
You can see a beautiful example of this by looking at Olympic 100m sprinters. They would have a hard time keeping pace with the lead runners if they were to hang their arms by their sides. Even though technically the arms are not the direct power generators for the motion of running, they are integral to the gait and proper full body functioning of the movement. Take away the movement of the arms and those runners will not be able to run anywhere near their top speeds.
It is important to make note, that training any part of the body in isolation should only occur in the world of bodybuilding where function is sacrificed in order to design aesthetics. Never should an athlete train their body in a series of isolated movements.
Even splitting the body into larger pieces should always be avoided. Traditional upper body days or lower body days are also outmoded ideologies that stifle the development of an athletic body.
There is also a gross misunderstanding of cardiovascular development generally in the realm of health and fitness and especially when it comes to athletic training.
Traditional approaches to athletic training resulted in an apparent separation of cardiovascular training and strength training. One day you would train ‘cardio’ and the next you would train ‘strength’. This is a perfect example showing a complete lack of understanding of human physiology.
There is no instance in human movement that we separate the cardiovascular system and the muscular system. This is simply impossible. They are designed to work together to achieve movement outcomes. Training them separately is illogical and pointless. You will quite simply stunt an athlete’s development and hinder their long term potential by attempting to train either aspect individually.
The old school notion of sending power athletes on a ‘jog’ to improve their ‘cardio’ for their sport is frankly ridiculous. Development of an athlete should be in sync with the demands of the sport they participate in.
Lastly, we must take a moment to appreciate a very basic fact. There are very few movements that the human body undertakes. Without delving into too much detail the basic movements are divided into three planes of motion (frontal, sagittal, and transverse). Good athletic training will incorporate only movement and conditioning that utilizes all three of these planes all the time. Traditional fitness separates not only individual muscles and body parts but also separates movement into a single plane at a time as well.
This is not only ineffective and inefficient; it is extraordinarily dangerous and you want a recipe for injury and poor sport performance that would be about the perfect way to accomplish it.
The base movement of the body can be best understood as consisting of six basic movements.
1 – Pushing
2 – Pulling
3 – Carrying
4 – Chopping
5 – Jumping
6 – Lifting
Great athletic training focuses on including all six of these basic patterns into combinations of movements. Once the movements have been mastered increasing the difficulty of those movements is accomplished via more complicated patterns, increased load during the movement, or increased time under tension (duration of performing the movements with no rest).
This allows us to accomplish all of our athletes training requirements: better resiliency, increased strength, increased power, improved proprioception, faster reaction times, and overall better cardiovascular conditioning.
Purpose of conditioning program and sport specific training
The primary purpose of an athletic training program is to:
1) Increase the strength of the athlete
2) Increase the power of the athlete
3) Increase the resiliency of the athlete.
Strength is the total force a muscle can apply. The stronger a muscle is the more total weight can be moved. This is often misunderstood in athletic training as there is no need to develop MAXIMAL strength for most athletes. The goal is to develop adequate strength for the demands of the sport, which improves performance without adding the additional risks that come from maximal strength development.
Power is simply how quickly an athlete can accelerate a specific load, either his or her own body or an external load such as a stick, puck, ball, or spear.
Increasing power is a product of two things: 1) Training the muscles to move faster, and 2) Utilizing the elastic properties of the facia.
Taylored Training Athletic Conditioning programs are primarily focused on developing these two aspects of power and then combining that with specific energy system development.
This is easily the MOST overlooked aspect of athletic training programs. Even if it is incorporated into programming it is done so poorly as to be completely irrelevant.
Resiliency is simply the body’s ability to accomplish physical tasks while minimizing the chance and instance of injury. There are a multitude of factors that must be trained to maximize the body’s resiliency to injury.
Overloading the body in specific isometric positions is the first aspect. From there we must ensure proper muscular action during movements including body position and proprioception. Lastly, we must train muscular and metabolic endurance with each of the six primary movement patterns.
The strength and conditioning program is NOT designed to teach or to practice the specific skills or movements of the sport itself. That is accomplished during sport practice and participation. Attempting to create movements that specifically mimic a sport in the conditioning program is a sure-fire way to create dysfunction and to greatly decrease the athlete’s resiliency.
This is also why there should be very little difference in the movements between different types of athletes. As we have seen, the body has six primary movements and the goal of the conditioning program is to improve the athlete’s competence with those movements. What sport or activity they participate in becomes essentially irrelevant.
Volleyball, rugby, football, rock climbing, swimming, rowing, martial arts, dance, and just about every other sport you can think of will have basically the same movement patterns to the strength and conditioning program.
There is carryover between the various energy systems in each sport. A marathon runner does need to have a basic level of strength and the ability to generate power. A volleyball player needs to have strong cardiovascular capacity.
A well designed strength and conditioning program ensures that all six basic movement patterns are trained and all energy systems are trained. Specificity to each sport is accomplished by shifting focus of energy system training to match the metabolic demands of the sport being trained for.
This will be an extremely basic overview of the bodies energy systems, of which, there are three general categories. There is NO HUMAN ACTIVITY that relies exclusively on one particular system and all athletes develop best when each system is trained. Note that the emphasis of which system is targeted and makes up which percentage of the training program is specific to the sport being trained for.
Creatine Phosphate System: This system lasts 2-8 seconds and requires many minutes to recover. It requires no sugars or oxygen and is designed for very fast and very powerful movements.
Glycolytic System: Divided into fast and slow glycolysis this system is simply sugar that is stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. This fuel source is almost exclusively created from consumption of carbohydrates in the diet. This system lasts between 20 and 120 seconds and is necessary for most sport. Volleyball makes use of this system more than any other.
Aerobic System: This energy system derives most fuel from the conversion of oxygen, hence why it is believed that ‘cardio training’ is the best way to keep the heart and lungs healthy. While this theory has been thoroughly debunked the myth persists.
A strength and conditioning program for athletes has no need to specifically target this energy system as the training protocols for the other energy systems have more than enough carryover to the aerobic system. Any aerobic based athletes (such as long distance runners) obtain more than enough specific aerobic training from participation in their sport and do not require specific aerobic energy system training if the total program is well designed.
Rest and Recovery
There is a well-circulated idea that 24-48 hours of recovery is necessary between strength training workouts; this is completely false. There is no more risk from consecutive training days on a well-designed program than there is from having a sport practice on consecutive days. Athletes in sports that have multiple training practices in a day will be well conditioned to more than one conditioning workout a day.
Common sense dictates that new athletes or those who have not completed any strength and conditioning programs in the past will require more rest period than well-conditioned athletes. The ability to handle this training program on a daily basis and off-season is a good marker of an athlete who is strong, powerful, and resilient.
How frequently should an athlete participate in their strength and conditioning program? Our GENERAL rule of thumb is 5 to 9 sessions per week during the off-season and 3 to 5 sessions per week during the sport season. More rest is required pre-competition depending on the specific competition and is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Training the Youth Athlete
Many mistakes are seen in the current landscape of youth athletic training. At Taylored Training we are constantly sourcing new information on this topic and remain at the forefront of athletic training.
There are many things to take into consideration with athletes before full physiological maturity. While it is easy to say ‘youth athletes’ or attempt to create definitive lines when a person moves from youth to adult training protocols, such as being 18, this is FAR too simplistic.
Physiological maturity typically occurs between 17 and 19 for men, and 16 and 20 for women. Strength and conditioning programs have to be very aware of this as training protocols for people before physiological maturity can dramatically effect he athletes long term athletic potential as well as cause or prevent long term adverse health issues.
Young athletes MUST:
- Follow a full body, multi-planar training program
- Focus more on energy system development than muscular strength development
- Avoid maximal lifting (including 1RM and 3RM testing)
- NEVER train on machines
- Avoid muscle isolation or body part specific training
- Minimize long endurance activities such as running and cycling
- Train proprioception and balance
- Incorporate holds and carries
- Eat adequate calories from whole foods
- Minimize sugar and processed food consumption
First and foremost the start of creating change and improving programming for youth athletes is education.
Educating parents, coaches and athletes on what they need to look for, what coaching credentials and programming requirements are necessary. Encouraging physical activity, fitness and sport at an early age is incredibly important to foster a lifetime appreciate for self-care, but it is also a time in which the programming, coaching and training needs to be designed with consideration for long-term health care.
I encourage you to take time to investigate not only who your young athletes are working with, but what programming and coaching are going to be best for their health and fitness both today and in their years to come.