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Thread: Strength and Conditioning overview

  1. #1
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    Default Strength and Conditioning overview

    First post, thought this might be useful to those who want to get a bit of background info on S+C.

    All my own work except the stolen

    Chapter 1.

    1(a).1 What is training?

    The term "training" refers to the planned, systematic presentation of gradually more difficult challenges in order to increase an athlete's state of preparedness, all for the purpose of achieving a specific goal or goals. To an athlete, these challenges are known as "workouts," but the important thing to realize is, without the bigger picture in mind, someone is not really training, but rather, simply exercising. This distinction reveals the significant differences between being an athlete and a being a regular gym goer. If you train in a regular gym you will see very few people actually engaged in systematically presenting themselves with ever-greater challenges - most are content to stagnate. This is NOT training. It may be socialising or exercising or something else entirely but it is not training. Training requires that you have a very definite purpose in mind when planning and executing your workouts.

    1(a).2 How to train.

    A mixture of three things will determine the actual ways in which you train on a day-to-day basis:
    a) Your goals.
    b) The means available to you to achieve them.
    c) The technologies available to you.

    Goals and means form the backbone of this publication but I would like to briefly discuss the various strength training technologies before moving on. The four technologies of strength training equipment are as follows:

    1(a).3 Constant Resistance Devices.

    Constant resistance devices are barbells / dumbbells and cable machines with round pulleys. Disadvantages of these pieces of equipment are that they do not provide increased loading in positions of increased musculoskeletal leverage, so the loading is determined by what can be utilised in the "weakest" part of the lift. This leads to less than maximal stimulation during the parts of the exercise where musculoskeletal leverages are better, although this can be at least partially circumvented by using compensatory acceleration training to increase force output at these points. For example the hardest point of the barbell squat is the low position with the knees fully bent. The load the athlete can full squat with is determined by how much weight he can lift in the low position, which will often be substantially less weight than he could lift from the mid-point upwards. The next class of technologies aims to remedy this potential problem.

    1(a).4 Variable resistance devices.

    Variable resistance devices utilise an offset cam, sliding fulcrum or some other means in order to provide a varying level of resistance through the rep stroke of an exercise. Examples of variable resistance devices are Nautilus and other similar exercise machines. The idea is to match the resistance to the athlete’s strength curve in order to maximise possible loading throughout the range of motion; in other words the resistance increases as the athletes ability to produce force increases. Unfortunately due to individual differences in leverage and force production, force curves vary from person to person so a machine is unlikely to be "perfect" for any one user. Some people believe that this variance from the natural force curve of a movement slows growth and development by "confusing" the parts of the brain that interpret force. I cannot comment on that assertion but obviously an athlete will not apply force in the competitive environment through an offset cam or sliding fulcrum. The principle of specificity dictates that any attempts to strengthen the athlete should be made under similar physical conditions to those in which the increased strength is to be displayed. Therefore I make limited use of variable resistance devices. This concept of specificity is discussed at length in chapter 2.

    1(a).5 Accommodating resistance devices.

    Accommodating resistance devices seek to achieve the same results as variable resistance devices but by a different means. They work by limiting the speed at which the rep stroke can be performed, so regardless of how hard they athlete pushes against the resistance, it does not move any faster. This allows the trainee to exert maximal force throughout the rep stroke without producing any ballistic movement. This allows for a greater loading throughout the rep stroke but has an inherent downside in that most athletic movements are relatively fast, and to remove the stress of incurring ballistic forces is to my mind to reduce any possible carryover to explosive athletic movement. Once again, if an athlete is to produce and receive ballistic forces on the field of play then he must train to do so in the weight room.

    1(a).6 Static resistance devices.

    Static resistance devices are those in which effort is exerted against an unmoving resistance. These movements are often referred to as isometric movements. The great problem with this type of training is that it only causes adaptation in the exact joint angle at which the resistance is applied. To make a muscle stronger throughout a range of motion you must stress the muscle throughout that range. For this reason isometric training has almost disappeared from the strength training programs of serious athletes.

  2. #2
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    1(a).7 My opinion on training devices.

    Of the 4 technologies I have an inherent bias towards constant resistance devices and variable resistance devices over and above the other technologies. At Results Gym the constant resistance devices are barbells and the like, along with a solitary cable. In order to use variable resistance we make use of various elastic devices such as bungee cords and jump-stretch bands in conjunction with the barbells. Varying percentages of the total resistance may be applied by the mass on the bar and the bands in order to produce different effects. This method allows for greater transfer of strength gains than using a machine as the barbell still reacts quite normally to changes in the direction in which force is applied. There are no offset cam machines at Results Gym; in fact there are no machines at all. This alone should indicate my opinion of resistance machines - they are of little worth in that they do not provide any advantage that cannot be matched by a simple barbell.

    1(a).8 Advantages of free weights.

    Four key advantages of free weights are as follows:

    Barbells and dumbbells are more versatile. With a small amount of equipment you can perform literally hundreds of different exercises, which over time will lead to more complete development.

    Free weights better develop the synergists and stabilizers in a given movement. For instance, in a barbell incline press many non-targeted muscles are involved in providing a stable foundation for the press and keep the barbell parallel to the ground. The same cannot be said for a typical machine incline press.

    Power is more efficiently developed and to a greater degree with free weights. Machines are often not designed for the type of training required to maximise power output. Many machines do not withstand being used for fast movements or compensatory acceleration training, and gym owners are often loath to see their machines used in this way.

    Free weights allow movement patterns that would be impossible with any machine to be executed. Almost all resistance machines serve to limit movement to particular planes or arcs of motion.

    1(a).9 Arguments against free weights.

    Opponents of free weights often put forward the following arguments against their use.

    Adjustments in weight require changing plates and collars, a time consuming and sometimes awkward business.

    Training alone can be dangerous, loss of control can cause severe injury. For example, a trainee can not bench press alone with free weights as the danger of becoming "pinned" beneath the bar is all to great.

    You need large spaces to use free weights. The likelihood of injury is greater if you have several people training with free weights in a given area.

    1(a).10 Overcoming objections to free weights.

    These arguments are easily refuted. If you find changing plates and collars too much work then frankly you don’t deserve to be in the gym. The gym is a place of work after all. If you are training alone without a spotter then utilise a 4-pin power rack to ensure your safety. If you have several people training with free weights in a given area then safety can be assured simply by educating lifters as to how to behave in a gym. All too often gym owners avoid free weights simply because they do not wish to have to put in the effort to educate lifters as to there correct use. If you lift in such a gym then please review the guidelines on gym safety and etiquette in chapter 9.

    1.(a)11 Further disadvantages of machines.

    Further disadvantages of machines are as follows.

    Most machines require the movement to be performed along a guided path. This negates development of the synergists and stabilizers involved in the equivalent free weight movement.

    Machines are designed for the average person. Tall people, very short people or those with large muscle mass may find it difficult to fit in to some machines or to utilise them effectively.

    The cams utilised on machines often produce force curves for movements that are nothing like the actual force curve of the equivalent free weight movement, which results in far less than optimal results and a lack of carryover to competitive free weight movements e.g. the squat, bench press or snatch.

    1.(a)12 Advantages to machines.

    Occasionally machines can be useful in isolating a particular muscle or movement pattern that must be trained in isolation due to weakness or imbalance. Some can also be worthwhile in that they allow a trainee to load movement patterns that do not readily lend themselves to other training means or they fix range of movement within a comfortable boundary for an athlete with a particular injury or movement limitation. There are of course other advantages to machines as well, but they tend to only be advantages in terms of time, convenience or lack of instruction or supervision required. These are not matters of importance to a well-motivated athlete. These are things that matter more to marketers, gym chains and those who stand to make millions out of selling equipment. Please, don’t believe the hype. For information on what equipment you really need in a gym see chapter 9.

    Training Methods.

    1(a).13 The 3 main methods.

    The 3 main training methods are the repeated efforts method, the dynamic method and the maximal effort method. Each of these means have different effects on the bodily systems; they train differing abilities and effect differing bio-motor qualities.

    1(a).14 Repeated, Dynamic and Maximal efforts.

    The repeated efforts method is the lifting of a submaximal weight (usually 55 - 85% of a 1 rep maximum) for many repetitions, usually 6 - 12 but sometimes much higher. The dynamic effort method is the use of submaximal loads (usually 40 -55% of a maximum in Powerlifting, but much less in many other sports) moved as quickly as possible.
    The maximal effort method is the lifting of a maximal or near maximal load for low repetitions, usually 1 - 3.

    1(a).15 The use of the repeated efforts method.

    The repeated efforts method is primarily used to increase hypertrophy and maximal force (Fmax) to a lesser degree. Typically the repeated efforts method involves lifting a given weight until fatigue forces the cessation of the set. This is incorrectly referred to as training to “failure”. Athletes training to “failure” do so in order to maximise the recruitment and fatigue of motor units (MU’s) during the latter stages of a set. It is only when smaller MU’s are fatigued that larger MU’s will be recruited by the repeated efforts method so training to failure allows one to (theoretically) recruit and fatigue as many motor units and subsequently muscle fibres as possible. The downside to this method training is that recruitment and fatigue of all possible motor units equates to a large stress on the nervous system and consequently a long recovery time between bouts of exercise. When sets are not performed to failure there is little increase in Fmax from the repeated efforts method, but there is still a large effect on hypertrophy. Read that again, it has massive implications. If less motor units are recruited, but it is still perfectly possible to induce hypertrophy then we can see that we have a means of increasing hypertrophy and overall training volume whilst inducing little or no residual fatigue on the nervous system. This is called the submaximal repeated efforts method and it will be discussed in detail in Chapter 6, section H.

    1(a).16 The Dynamic efforts method

    The dynamic method is NOT utilised to increase maximal force, but rather the rate of force development (RFD). RFD is a measure of how quickly an athlete can create a given proportion of his / her maximal force. Very few sports allow for actions that last long enough for true Fmax to be demonstrated; in fact Powerlifting is probably the only one that does. As sports actions occur much quicker than the time it takes to develop maximal force, RFD is really the deciding factor in most sports performances. As an example, if 2003 Worlds Strongest Man Mariuz Pudzanowski and myself had a contest to see who could throw a cricket ball the furthest, Mariuz’ bench-pressing strength will not affect the outcome much. The outcome will be determined by which of us can generate the most force in the amount of time it takes to throw a cricket ball. Pudzanowski would still win, but it would because of his incredible RFD, not his maximal force. Training for RFD usually involves accelerating light loads as quickly as possible and avoiding fatigue during training; when you are fatigued you cannot accelerate even sub maximal loads at any great speed.

  3. #3
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    1(a).17 The maximal efforts method.

    Finally we have the maximal efforts method, which is the most efficient training means possible for increasing Fmax. The maximal effort method is the lifting of a maximal or near maximal load for low repetitions, usually 1 - 3. With the maximal efforts method it is possible to work with low total volumes of work whilst still increasing Fmax substantially. Most top athletes spend a majority of their time on Fmax, with the proviso of RFD noted above in mind! It is worth noting that the constant use of the maximal effort methods with the same exercise can lead to a drop off in performance after a few weeks (or less in more experienced athletes).

    1(a).18 F Max versus RFD.

    As you can see from the above examples there is a cycle of diminishing returns when it comes to training for Fmax. There comes a point where it is no good to get any stronger in almost every sport, after which the deciding factor becomes how much of that strength can be demonstrated in the time frame allowed. That’s not to say that Fmax is unimportant, it is very important, but merely to point out that training a tennis player to press 400lbs is worthless for increasing his serve speed.

    1(a).19 Deciding which methods to emphasise.

    In order to decide what proportion of training time should be devoted to a given training method it is first of all necessary to decide what exactly it is you are training for. Most athletes know that they are trying to get “bigger, faster, stronger” when they train with weights but there is much more to it than that. There are many different types of strength, speed and muscle growth and each requires a specific type of training.


    Summary of Chapter 1A.

    “Training” is both systematic and progressive.

    The way you train must be determined by your goals.

    Of the available strength training technologies I favour free weights.

    The 3 major methods of training with free weights are the repeated efforts method, the dynamic method and the maximum effort method. All 3 are effective for specific purposes.

  4. #4
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    Chapter 2.

    2) Specificity of training

    a) Specificity of neural patterns, movements and bio-motor qualities.
    b) Specificity of fatigue.

    2(a).1 The SAID Principle.

    “SAID” stands for specific adaptation to imposed demand. This means that your body will adapt in a very precise and predictable manner to any stimulus that you expose it to. In short, you become what you train.

    2(a).2 Types of Specificity

    Trainees must pay particular attention to 2 applications of the SAID principle: the specificity of neural patterns and the specificity of bio-motor qualities. When training to improve fine motor skills the work done must identical to the skill itself. When training to improve general sporting abilities the bio-motor qualities trained must be similar to those utilised in the sport. Training for sport therefore becomes a matter of training the underlying bio-motor qualities and integrating them in to the requisite skills either simultaneously or at a later date.

    2(a).3 Some examples of specificity.

    For example a sprinter looking to improve his speed out of the blocks may train the skill itself (going on the “B” of “BOOM!”, footwork etc) but also the requisite bio-motor qualities (starting strength, acceleration, power). When attempting to improve skills (very specific neural patterns) the skills themselves must be practised; to get better at acceleration, accelerate! When attempting to improve the underlying motor qualities the work can be more disparate (anything from throwing medicine balls to weightlifting can improve sprinters speed) but it MUST train the required motor qualities. It is unlikely that you would have a sprinter run long distances slowly, or perform low intensity strength endurance (high rep) workouts in the gym.

    2(a).4 Examples of how non-specific training can lower performance.

    If the training means selected does not train the correct bio-motor qualities then the training effect will not be nil, it will be negative. Adaptation in one direction does not occur abstract and separate from all other adaptation. Every training input will be expressed in the athletes performance. Consider an extreme example of applying the wrong bio-motor qualities in the wrong skills in the wrong environment - let us take the hypothetical sprinter in the example in paragraph 2.3 and make his whole training program consist of repeatedly swimming 800 metres breast stroke. Will his sprint technique improve? Will he increase acceleration strength on land? Will he increase rate of force development or starting strength out of the blocks? Of course not. On the contrary he will reduce his sprinting abilities by interfering with the motor patterns and abilities required by building those needed for something else entirely, whilst at the same time building great fatigue that will prevent a performance increase even if the training stimulus had been correct.

    2(a).5 How to use Specificity to maximise Training Economy.

    Taken to the absurdity of the above example specificity in training seems obvious but if we examine the training of most athletes you will find a lot of work that builds the wrong bio-motor qualities, reduces skill level and massively increases fatigue. A few examples are listed below:

    Boxers who do long duration (30 minute +) runs in the lead up to a fight.

    Rugby forwards who spend 90% of a training session jogging 60 - 80 metres in a straight line.

    Weightlifters who train the biceps and pectorals for hypertrophy.

    Sprinters who consistently use low loads for high reps in their weight training.

    Soccer players who spend hours jogging round the park in a group.

    More often than not these training errors are compounded by coaching staff who use fatigue as a measuring stick for performance gain. Let me make this very clear; any fool can fatigue an athlete. Your goal as a coach is to improve performance. The two things are completely independent of one another; in fact they are usually in opposition. Fatigue lowers short term preparedness, reduces skill acquisition, reduces motivation and increases injury risk. If you have to induce fatigue, then at least make sure it will have a worthwhile effect on long term fitness. This is the principle of training economy - getting the greatest possible improvement in sports performance from the least possible input of training time and / or subsequent fatigue.

  5. #5
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    2(a).5 The self-coached athlete.

    If you are an athlete coaching yourself then the same thing applies. Before you do any activity think about what effect it will have on your abilities. Will it build the required skills? Will it improve any aspect of your sport? If yes, how? To what extent? What effect will this have on your other training goals, skills or abilities?

    2(b).1 The Specificity of Fatigue.

    In much the same was as adaptation is specific to the stimulus presented, so is the fatigue incurred. Fatigue can be specific to motor pattern, force output, speed of force development, duration of activity, muscle groups and so on. Sadly many athletes treat fatigue solely as a general quality and subsequently train less often and less intensively than they could; it is a rare day in the gym that I don’t hear an athlete bemoan his / her fatigued state and request a lowered training load as a result. At times like these it is important to try and determine exactly “what” kind of fatigue the athlete is experiencing and why.


    For example if the athlete is unable to deliver force quickly he may still be able to have a very productive weights session focusing on hypertrophy, or even some mobility work if required. If the athlete is having trouble with his bench press a change in grip width of just 2-3 inches can change the pattern of muscular recruitment enough to allow for peak performance whilst still being similar enough to provide the required training effect.


    At the absolute worst fatigue may accumulate (sometimes deliberately during loading periods) to the point where the athlete is unmotivated or simply “beat”. Fatigue does of course have a general as well as specific effect. If this is the case and you can not train productively you can review skills with video, discuss recovery strategies for future avoidance of systemic fatigue and perhaps devote the session to actual recovery enhancing / restorative techniques as discussed in Chapter 8.


    The preferred strategy however is to have some measure of fatigue in place and monitor the accumulation of general fatigue over time, ensuring that sufficient restoration is provided in the training plan to ensure that the athlete never has to take an unscheduled break from training or overly alter the planned session. You can use a Recovery Index based on the one below to monitor your fatigue levels.



    Date: Time:

    The Recovery Index


    (5= very good, 4= good, 3= poor, 2= eat because should, 1=did not eat)

    Sleep Quality:

    (5=very deep, 4= normal, 3=restless, 2=bad with breaks, 1=not at all)

    Tiredness Sensation:

    (5= very rested, 4=normal, 3= tired, 2=very tired, 1=painfully tired)

    Training Willingness:

    (5= very good, 4= good, 3= poor, 2= train because should, 1=did not train)

    Bodyweight Shift:

    (3= within two pounds of average, 2= three or more pounds higher than average, 1=three or more pounds less than average)

    Waking Pulse Shift:

    (3= within two beats of average 2= three or more beats less than average,
    1=three or more beats higher than average)

    Using the Index

    * You'll first need to come up with your average bodyweight and waking pulse. Monitor both for a period of 7 days, and then use the average of both totals as your baseline for using the index.

    * Record your answers to all 5 questions within 30 minutes of waking each day.

    * The higher the total, the better recovered you are. Your score can range from 6 to 26 points.

    Summary of Chapter 2.

    The SAID Principle (Specific adaptation to imposed demand) should govern your training as in short you become what you train.

    Specificity applies to both skills and underlying motor qualities such as speed, acceleration, power or strength.

    Specificity also applies to fatigue; fatigue accumulated through one activity will have a lesser effect on a subsequent disparate activity than on a similar one.

    Fatigue and loading should be monitored throughout a mesocycle and future training planned around this data.

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