Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why should you care about Physics?

Power = Force x Distance/Time =Force/Velocity, Force = Mass x Acceleration +Weight of Mass,  Rate of Force Development= ∆ (force)/∆ (time)

They say that you cannot defy the laws of physics.  That is true, however sometimes when you watch athletes in sport you wonder if that is always true.  The three equations above are of great importance in training athletes and must be addressed in the training and evaluation of athletes and the development of training strategies.  

I have mentioned in the past that different sports require the body to produce power at a multiple of an X factor.  In other words how much volume and how much intensity of power does a particular sport require?   These differences in the type of power place different metabolic energy needs on the body.   The X factor is determined by the requirements of the specific sport.  For example a shot putter has an X factor that is very small.  There are only a handful of throws at maximum power necessary to compete in a track meet.  A boxer has an X factor that requires power to be produce in much greater volume.  The boxer has to produce power in punches hundreds of times in a match.  Understanding this X factor and how the body produces power is where the understanding of how physics comes into play.  
Let’s start by looking at the first equation.  People confuse power with strength on a regular basis.   Strength is the ability to generate a force.  If you were pushing against a wall with your hands you are creating a force.  The force could be measured using a force plate to determine how many units of force you are creating.   Force is a measurement of Mass x Acceleration plus the weight of the mass.  It is typically measured in Newtons. Once again, strength  is the ability of an athlete to generate a force. If you look at the equation for power it takes Force (strength) and incorporates the time it takes to generate the force over a particular distance (velocity).  
Think about getting out of a chair.  You rise up and generate enough force and velocity to overcome the weight of your body and gravity to lift you out of the chair.  If you continue to increase the speed at which you go from sitting to standing eventually you would increase the speed to such a point that your body would leave the ground.  In each subsequent time out of the chair you are producing more power as you increase the speed of rising up.  So it is one thing to have the ability to produce enough force (strength) to rise from your chair and overcome the weight of your body and gravity.  However, once velocity is increased you will rise higher and higher as you rise from your chair generating greater and greater amounts of power as the velocity increases.   
Rate of force development equals the change in force and the amount of time to make that change.   What influences your velocity greatly, and subsequently your power is the rate in which your muscles produce the force.  If the rate of force development is increased then you will be producing force at a faster rate and velocity will increase if all else is equal.  If you have ever played the game when one person is standing with their hands clasped in front of them, and the other person is facing them with hands to the sides and then you try to slap the person’s hands you have a little idea about force development.  Ouch, if you are slow at force production in this game.  We used to play this as kids and someone was walking away with red hands. If you were the hitter you would stand there and concentrate to try to increase the speed at which your body moves your hands.  The faster you were able to fire the muscles and produce a force the faster your hands would cover the distance delivering a resounding slap.  In boxing they call this beating your opponent to the punch.    
Why are these physics equations important to training?  When evaluating an athlete at Titan we look at all of the parts in these equations to see where the athlete has the biggest gaps.  Much of the short term gains in strength training are neuromuscular in nature.  In other words we see strength gains in an athlete before we see size gains.  If you were to focus on nothing but strength gains there would be gains in strength but not necessarily in rate of force production. Rate of force production increases are seen more readily in explosive types of exercises where high levels of power are being produced.  (Hakkinen et al., 1985) A strength coach needs to determine the best course of training needed for a specific sport, and tie that to the athlete’s current strengths and weaknesses.  This type of evaluation is ongoing with the athletes training at Titan to determine areas of fitness that need the most attention.   For example, an athlete may come to us with a good base of absolute strength, but is lacking in the velocity side of the equation.  In many cases you can eyeball this lack of velocity.  With more highly trained athletes we utilize our Isokinetic equipment to measure the time to peak force and get specific measurements of our starting point and subsequent progress.  This piece of equipment can measure time to peak force and give us a window into the rate of force development. The faster an athlete gets to peak force the faster the rate of force production.   With this information we can develop a training program that will improve the athlete’s ability to generate a force and subsequently more power for their specific sport.  
In previous posts I have discussed tipping points in training.  These are gains in fitness that have a huge impact on an athlete’s performance and are visible after a short amount of training.  Utilizing the equations above in the evaluation of your fitness can oftentimes lead you to an area of training that could result in a big improvement in your performance on the field. 
Understand the physics and you will be able to better utilize the training time you have available. 

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why each training session should have a Primary Training Objective:

At Titanwe not only look at the long term strategy of the training based on a well developed evaluation of the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, we also spend a lot of time on the tactics of each training session.  The long term or grand strategy evaluates the long term objective of the athlete for the off season training and beyond.  If someone is not an athlete we like to create seasons for them.  This allows them to “peak” at different points in the year and give them psychological breaks from training year round. 

Each individual training session is another rung in the fitness ladder.  In order to make the next step up in fitness, each of these sessions must be developed in a thoughtful manner.  At Titan we have Primary Objectives for each training session.  The Primary Objective may be lower body strength, power, stability etc.  The Primary Objective may be active recovery.  The point is that if you do not have a Primary Objective you may want to look at incorporating this concept into your workout.  The Primary Objective of a workout allows our training staff to focus on one area of training that is the most important part of the grand strategy for that day and choreograph a workout accordingly. This will improve performance and move the athlete forward at the most rapid rate possible.   The Primary Objective must be dynamic.  In other words, if the Primary Objective was to obtain an overload in lower body power utilizing plyometric exercises, and the athlete was not able to perform at a level that produced the overloads necessary, we would need to change the session and revisit the Primary Objective.  We would determine what factors are impacting the athlete’s inability to perform at the expected level.  We would  determine if it is the intensity of the exercise being too great, maybe the rest between reps and sets is not long enough, volume may be too great etc. There are a number of factors that may be in play.   Typically, the lack of performance  is driven by recovery time or some exigent factor (a cold about to come on) . We would then make adjustments to accommodate the athletes lack of performance and not blindly complete a particular session.  We would reschedule this session into the future and evaluate why the performance was not at the level we expected making the necessary adjustments.    

Time is the real enemy of an athlete who wants to compete at the highest level.  Establishing Primary Objectives for each workout insures that workouts are not wasted or contributing to overtraining. 

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why do we perform high force activity on legs prior to training for lower body power?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a talented basketball player about the "Whys". My last blog entry discussed this concept and I gave him the example of how we will train legs with high force production exercises prior to leg power workouts and he asked “Why?”  

I told him that it is based on  the principle of Post Activation Potentiation or PAP.  As athletes become fitter and fitter it becomes harder to get overloads when training.  PAP helps to increase the ability of an athlete to produce greater amounts of power in exercises subsequently to a high force activity. 
Most of the research has revolved around jumping.  The act of jumping is a good measurement of power production in an athlete’s lower body.   The research looked at performing hack squats at 90% of the athlete’s one repetition prior to jumping.  Subsequently the ability to jump was increased when the intervention was utilized. This also has validity in a number of other power exercises. The optimum time between the heavy lift and the power exercise seemed to be around 12 minutes.(Andy V. Khamoui, MS, CSCS, Edward Jo, MS, CSCS,and Lee E. Brown, EdD, CSCS,*D, FNSCA )  At Titan  we utilize this science in training the body for many different types of power production training.

Keep this idea in mind the next time you perform your plyometric workouts both for upper body and lower body exercises. The practical application of the science allows a strength coach to experiment with different types of loads and rest dependent on the athlete and the part of the body you are training. 
Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The WHY!!

In a previous entry I touched on the discussion I have with my trainers about what separates a great strength and conditioning coach from an average coach. Unfortunately, many fitness professionals are taught using a particular training method and never really understand the Why? What is the Why? A good  example starts by picking an exercise that you have performed during your last workout.  Let’s say it is an interval session on the Versaclimber.  By the way, this piece of equipment is an integral part of our training and we use it regularly at Titan. I feel it is one of the best pieces of cardio equipment anywhere.  If you can find a commercial center that uses one it is a good sign.  In most centers this equipment collects a lot of dust. So, you are going to do intervals of 30 seconds with a 15 second rest for a total of 6 min. When you start evaluating this exercise the whys add up quickly.  For example, why 30 seconds? Why a 15 second rest? Why not a shorter interval and a longer rest or vice versa?   What intensity will you produce and why?  How many 6 min intervals will you perform and why.  Why did you perform an exercise or did not perform an exercise before the intervals and why will you do what you do after.  Why is it on this day of the week?   Why are you performing these intervals 1-2-3 times or more per week if at all?  Why are you performing them at this level of volume and intensity this time of the year?  What will follow in the days and weeks to come and how and why does this session impact those exercises.  
The answer to these questions and understanding the science behind the answers is typically where the wheels come off in training.  If you are looking for the best use of your training time you better start asking why you are performing a particular exercise.  Ask a trainer and you will be surprised at the answers or lack of answers.  In many cases it is similar to when you were a child and your mom or dad did not have an answer so they said “because”.   Intensity of a workout is oftentimes the smoke and mirrors and the “because “of poor training.  Many trainers make a workout so hard that you will crawl out of the session and the perceived value will be greater so you will not ask why.

Developing higher levels of human performance is a dynamic process.  There are so many variables that affect the progress of an individual that if a trainer cannot answer the why progress will slow dramatically.
With the concept of “Why” in mind I am going to change the format of the blog.  I am going to begin with a concept that is important to training and discuss the why. 

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Evolution of Your Fitness: Getting Fit Enough to Get Really Fit!

At Titan I always tell our clients that I have to get them fit enough to get really fit.  This morning I was working with two women who are fit enough to get really fit and their training is reflecting this fact. As a trainer it was enjoyable to train them because we can create workouts that allow them to make great strides in improving their fitness and the impact can be great on their daily lives.  In addition they can have an hour workout that would bury the average person and then head off to the rest of their day feeling great about what they just accomplished.  So how do I measure this level of fitness?

In all honesty fitness takes some work and a measured amount of suffering. Those of you who are training at a level that never gives you some higher level of stress on the body will walk in the no man’s land of fitness year after year.  The main culprit is the marketing of fitness today.  Most individuals want a magic trainer that will tell you that you do not have to work hard in order to accomplish your goal.  This person can magically transform their client’s body into the body they want without any real work.  It is a bunch of nonsense.  What a great trainer can do is regulate the progression of the training to ease some of the pain; however there will be some measured amount of suffering.  If regulated appropriately this suffering can be very tolerable and overcome. 

The evolution of fitness that we have seen with our athletes and our non athletes is that first we must obtain a general level of fitness.  That means that the body has the ability to stabilize and mobilize.  This takes a minimum level of strength, balance, flexibility, power, and cardiovascular fitness in order to perform certain exercises correctly.  This minimum ability greatly reduces the risk of injury. We define minimum as the ability to control the body with body weight only.  Control does not mean being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  

At the start of a workout we utilize a dynamic warm up (Peak Performance Online has a great explanation of a dynamic warm up, ) Titan’s dynamic warm up would be considered by some as a workout within a work out to prepare the body for more intense forms of movements.  After we have established that body control is sound then we start to focus on the ability to produce more intensity and volume in the movements.  Intensity can be defined as movements that are more complex or at higher speeds or under greater loads.  These speeds require a minimum level of strength and power production as well as the ability to stabilize the body so that the athlete is not injured.   We want the ability to stabilize effectively engaging the core, adequate balance, strength, and power. There are very few movements of the body that do not employ the core in stabilizing the body.  However, the type of complex multi-joint exercises we utilize are regularly taxing the core and forcing a client’s body to stabilize effectively.  If this cannot be accomplished the exercise would be determined to be too advanced.  To get a better understanding of engaging your core, imagine a 100 meter race on your bicycle but you have to sprint without your hands on the handle bars.  You would be hard pressed to beat your opponent without gripping the bars.  Once you grab the bars you have a kinetic chain that starts from your hands and travels all the way to your feet and back.   If your wrist was injured the kinetic chain would be compromised and your performance would be affected.   This is a good example of core strength.  It does not just come from your torso.  It is the coordination of multiple muscles that all tie to the center of your body.  The contact points are sometimes different and in some cases we see examples of body control by elite athletes in  mid air that are absolutely incredible and leave us jaw dropped with the body control displayed.

Volume is the amount of a particular exercise that is performed.   It can be measured in repetitions, time, foot pounds of power, wattage, miles, feet etc.  I like to define it as total time in the zone.   The zone to me is the training goal of a particular exercise and how much time you spend producing that particular goal.  For example you are doing short intervals on a bicycle of 1 min at a power output of 350 watts.  The volume would be the total time spent at 350 watts.  If you did 10 of these intervals then the time in the zone or total volume would be 10 min at wattage of 350.   So volume must be measured and tied to the intensity in order to have any relevance in your training.  It is for this reason that recording workouts is so important. 
I have talked about the no man’s/woman’s land of training where many spend hours and hours of training time.  This is a training level that is too hard for recovery and not hard enough for an overload.   Without recording volume and intensity most fall into this type of training.  Overloads can come from both volume and/or intensity.

When we train a professional athlete they typically have an adequate general level of fitness that is well developed.  However, even the best athletes of the world have dimensions of their fitness that need to be addressed to lower the risk of injury in the future.  

Once you have obtained this general level of fitness the workouts change and the focus begins to narrow.   Both intensity and volume can now be increased and major changes in fitness can be obtained and we can begin to get someone really fit.  We incorporate exercise that will focus on energy systems necessary for that particular sport.  We begin to stair step to higher and higher levels of fitness.  Periodization and long term strategy become very important as well as tactics to produce greater and greater overloads as the client becomes fitter.  

All of these are wrapped into a dynamic training package that allows a client to become really fit and not just what I call average man fit. When you get to this level of fitness you will know it.  People will call you a fitness nut and you will start looking at yourself as an athlete, not just someone who works out. 
Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Strength training and the Female Athlete and Non-athlete

The commonly held myth that I constantly encounter when training women is that they do not want to lift heavy weights for fear of gaining bulk.  This is NOT accurate for a number of reasons; however it is one of the hardest hurdles that I often encounter with our female athletes and clients at Titan. 

First of all women are not men.  I know it sounds crazy but women see male and female bodybuilders and think that they will look like that if they begin a weightlifting regimen.  Second, men have much greater levels of testosterone, the primary hormone necessary for building large muscle mass.  Secondly the hours of lifting necessary to build that type of muscle is enormous.  Even if you are a Man!  Women typically have 1/7th the level of testosterone than men.  The women that are seen all bulked up in magazines will in many cases be supplementing the level of testosterone in their body to achieve this bulk.   So, all you women out there try to remember that gaining bulk is a full time job for men and is even more difficult for women to do because of the lower levels of testosterone.

Once we have established that our female athletes are biomechanically sound and functionally capable (see last post) we want to establish a good foundation of strength.  We utilize multi-joint lifts for all the major muscle groups. The mistake that many women make is to lift too light at 10-20 repetitions thinking that this will keep them small.  In fact these number of repetitions produce hypertrophy (increase in size) of the muscle.  This type of training comes from a body building mentality.

The weight necessary to establish strength in an athlete is typically an amount of weight that is difficult enough so that only 8 or less repetitions can be executed with flawless form.  We have our female athletes perform as low as 3 repetition sets that produce a neuromuscular response in strength and do not increase the size of the muscle.  In other words more of the muscle that is already there is recruited in order to accommodate the heavier load.   This is also the protocol we use for any athlete where power to weight is of great importance.  You cannot believe how many endurance athletes are also afraid of bulking up by lifting and subsequently lift light with larger number of repetitions. 

The first reaction of most women and heavy lifting is they will get big.  They have been fed a body of knowledge from trainers who do not know what they are doing and continue to have women do the old 3 sets of 10 or more routine.  In the past I have even encountered female trainers who are hesitant to lift heavy and reluctant to have their clients do the same for fear of getting bulky. 

It is amazing once we do start lifting heavy with women and they actually get toned and lean as a result of the heavy lifting.  Not only does it promotes lean body mass they have much greater functional capabilities and a wonderful sense of empowerment.   In addition the metabolic increase as a result of heavy weightlifting is wonderful in obtaining optimum body composition. 

So all you females out there that wonder about why you have not been seeing the change in you bodies that you would like should take a page out of how Titan trains women athletes as your first step to that toned, lean,  and athletic body.

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Functional strength, movement and what does it all mean?

My definition of functional fitness for an athlete is really no different than the definition for the layman.  The difference lies in the fact that the layman’s sport is everyday physical challenges that present themselves and the athlete’s ability to function is tied to an athletic challenge.  
For an athlete the idea of being functionally sound is of great importance.  At Titan we devote a lot of time and effort into making sure that our athletes are functionally sound before we begin higher levels of volume and intensity in training.  Functional capabilities in an athlete are demonstrated in the ability to move the body through space with a strong base of overall body control.  This control comes from overall body strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance.  This control of the body allows this movement to take place with a minimal amount of stress to the body.  In other words, if an athlete cannot adequately perform certain multi-joint combination movements then we have to determine where the gaps are in their fitness and take the proper steps to improve those weaknesses.  Gray Cook and Lee Burton developed the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as a tool to gather objective data on an individual’s ability to perform movement patterns and identify areas of weakness and prevent injury. 

At Titan we utilize the FMS to help us establish a starting point for developing the overall strategy of training an athlete or non athlete.  The data generated from this screen coupled with a biomechanical screen and additional fitness evaluation gives us a good window into the fitness of an individual prior to the start of training.  This is VERY important information.  Any individual starting a fitness training program should spend time gathering this data.  

The FMS helps to reduce injuries, identify muscle imbalances, provides benchmarks for evaluating training, and areas where a sport may be leading to chronic injuries or movement impairments.  

In the last entry I spoke about periodization.   The start of all of our periodization is functional movement capabilities.   Depending on the individual’s ability to perform functionally will determine the amount of time in the periodization devoted to correcting imbalances that are discovered in these screens.  Even if an athlete is determined to be functionally sound all of our training is driven by a foundation of human movement and the ability of the individual to perform movement at higher and higher levels of output for the given sport. 
We utilize the FMS throughout an athlete’s training time to give us an ongoing tool to make sure that athletes are improving their ability to perform movements efficiently. 

Train smart, have fun and you will prevail.