Knowing What I Now Know

Having just submitted the thesis for my Masters degree, I want to share a few thoughts of the transition from Undergraduate study to Masters degree. Hopefully this will give some students who are about to finish their Undergraduate courses a bit of prospective of what to expect upon graduating, and some of the things they can act upon right away to set them on their journey.

It’s About Who You Know

This is probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt since completing my Undergraduate course. However, this doesn’t mean it’s the most important, for some this might be the case though. When I was doing my degree I thought people who networked with guys with big jobs were just sucking up in hope of getting a job, maybe they were who knows. The more I realized how important it is to reach out to successful (and sometime unsuccessful) coaches to learn from them and pick their brains, the more I know it’s about taking an actual interest in someones work, and them as a person. I probably thought people were sucking up as I was bad at communicating with others. I’ve always been quiet but sharing lectures with people who already worked in elite sport, I soon found out that the ability to communicate is crucial to coaching success and building relationships. Yeah the majority of jobs are posted online for HR reasons, but we all know most will already have someone lined up, as people hire who they believe they can trust. This is built through networking and getting to know people. This can be done through various forms: email, conferences, Skype, Twitter etc. I’ve lost count the number of emails I’ve sent to coaches and researchers asking for advice, or asking a question about one of their research papers. But your reputation should be built on a trail of success and integrity, not mindless self promotion for the sake of trying to attract attention. Help others learn and achieve their goals and you will get your rewards as a consequence.

It’s About What You Know

Yeah I’ve just said the biggest thing I’ve learned is who you know, but your first step to the job is gaining that foundation of knowledge. Undergraduate study is just the firsts step, there is no two ways about it. I look back a few years, I was applying for so many positions after I graduated. I don’t think I ever got one letter back and I’m not surprised. Obviously at the time I was annoyed because I though I could fit the role, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Whereas in some professions a degree may get you the job, in sport a degree is paramount, but more of a prerequisite for further Graduate study, and rightly so. I have heard Dan Baker say that if you pass your degree it means you can pass exams, etc. It doesn’t demonstrate your ability to coach. So true. Degrees are a great chance to show evidence of your practical and theoretical knowledge, demonstrate an evidence based approach, and gain an insight into professional sport through University links with clubs/athletes. More jobs require MSc on the applications now. The jobs aren’t increasing like the rate of students are, hence competition is only getting fiercer, and if you can show that initiative to better yourself by taking on additional study then you are already separating yourself from the weak guys who don’t want to spend another 1-3 years putting in the work. People think MSc study is tough and they are wrong in my opinion. My study was 3 years part time, which allowed me to still work on the side to pay the tuition fees. There are courses in the UK that offer 1 year full time and these are great institutions which I advise any students interested to pursue these options. Personally, I was in no rush to complete in 1 year, as I know I still have lots to learn and can feel myself improving all the time through study, coaching, networking and personal growth. I know you can scrape through the MSc if you want just to get the three letters, but you’ve shown the initiative to better yourself by enrolling on the course, so why settle for just passing 50%? When you go to interviews you want to be proud that you took on a beast that most people will avoid, and absolutely smashed it by gaining another top grade by going above the requirements. Attention to detail, initiative, integrity, trail of success – do you think employers desire for people who have all these?

Get to Conferences and Workshops

This links in with the first point. Most of the National Conferences will be full of leaders in the field. Most are approachable but one thing I like to do is before I attend an event, send certain people emails asking to meet up. If they’re successful, it’s likely that they’ll be busy meeting up with people for the duration of the conference, so it’s always good to send a note asking to schedule 5-10 minutes. Again, this allows you to communicate with a huge number of people, as you’re all there fore the same reason; to learn and develop yourselves. This has been a big factor for me as I’ve been able to travel to conferences and workshops within the UK and USA, opening up many opportunities by simply demonstrating the ability to communicate with others. Even after meeting people I like to stay in contact over email and other avenues. These do cost money of course, but again it shows your initiative. The profession is worldwide, but it’s a small pond with lots of big fish. If you can get people to associate your name with a job application through previous meetings/contact with them, this might be the difference between turning to the second page, or it going in the trash.


Choosing a Periodization System to Maximize Individual Performance

Here is a link to another video from 2012, this time from Nick Winkelman at the 2012 NSCA National Conference titled ‘Athlete Profiling: Choosing a Periodization System to Maximize Individual Performance’. Nick is the Director of Training Systems and Education at EXOS (Formerly Athletes’ Performance) overseeing all mentorship education courses and heads up the NFL Combine preparation at the EXOS Arizona facility alongside his colleague Denis Logan. He has completed his Masters in Strength and Conditioning at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, and presents all over the USA on the Perform Better circuit. Nick was recently a Keynote speaker at the 2013 ASCA National Conference and will be a Keynote speaker at this years UKSCA National Conference. I was fortunate to work with Nick during my Internship at EXOS last summer when he wasn’t around the world presenting or coaching on mentorships and  it was a great honour to go to him for advice and I learnt lots from someone who is playing a pivotal role at the forefront of improving athletic performance and education. This video is a great resource for any coach/student and you don’t need to be a member of the NSCA to view the video. Below are some notes which I took from the presentation and I have also attached the lecture slides courtesy of the NSCA.

Winkelman Athlete Profiling

Nick began his talk with special thanks to a handful of people including Mike and Meg Stone – again recognition to two of the most influential people within sports science. Nick outlined that there has never been a lecture explaining the entire continuum of periodization, coaches will present how they periodized their athletes training, but is that how we should train all athletes? This presentation gives us perspective of which periodization style to use in your environment.

There are certain critical factors that allow you to select a form of periodization such as environment (gym space), time in season (in-season, off-season), level of athlete (elite, youth, college, military, beginner, untrained).

Just as the body is dynamic in adaptation, we must have periodization that is dynamic to match that adaptation.

You do not get performance enhancement until you walk through the door of recovery.

Maximize recovery to elicit performance effect, to coincide with in-season capabilities.

It is important to monitor training. How do you know if volume, intensity, and volume load is doing precisely what it’s prescribed to do? Tracking volume load (sets x reps x load) daily, weekly, and monthly gives the coach an objective view of the training process. We also need a subjective view (rate of perceived exertion) to make adjustments – one athlete could report a 4 whereas another 9 for the same workout, one finds it easy, another hard.

Why periodize? Diminish overtraining by managing load, intensity and recovery.

The goal is to optimize performance over the sporting season (longitudinally).

Sports specificity vs. sports relevance. Is a back squat specific to sprinting? No. Is it relevant? Yes. Relevance creates the basis for specific work. By working on strength in say, the back squat. You are increasing the strength and anatomical adaptations needed for when it comes to progressing to more specific exercises (bounding, plyometrics, accelerations). Nick used the analogy “take the care in the garage to work on the motor. We’re not working on the driver, but if we work on the motor we optimize the drivers capabilities on the field”.

Winkelman Considerations

Ask yourself, is what we are doing in the weight room transferring to their sport?

Understanding what the sport helps you develop/maintain is different to understanding what they need to be successful in the sport. What do I need to train vs. what can I get as adaptations from the sport.

Use of an unload gives the body time to catch up (supercompensate). For example a 4 week training cycle would usually require 4 weeks to achieve a peak. The taper in the NFL Combine at 4 weeks prior to combine has given athletes more consistent performances.

Elite athletes can push past the typical 3:1 paradigm, sometimes 4:1, 5:1 or 6:1.

Using sequential/potentiation will merge qualities – hypertrophy >> strength >> maximal strength >> power. Optimal transfer = result of complimentary sequencing.

If using a concurrent approach, we want no change or an increase, definitely not a decrease in performance.

More overload during the off season is non specific, but does its job to maximize overload. The most specific task athletes can do is play their sport, every other derivative in non specific.

Strength in appropriate areas will build coordination. Using the back squat and plyometric example from before, back squat will provide the overload, the plyometrics decrease ground contact time, provide morphological and neural  adaptations – resulting in greater transfer to sprinting than the pure back squat itself.

Winkelman Progresseion

Early to ripe, early to rotten. The shorter you have to develop a quality, the shorter time you have to use it. If you have not worked on a quality long enough and enter the in-season, the quality (or lack of) will decrease quickly.

Winkelman Residuals

Novices will adapt to anything.

Non-periodized periodization works with untrained due to their lack of training history. There is no difference in undulating vs. linear theme of periodization. Lack of differences due to laying down the anatomical adaptation from new stimuli, without knowing how to express that new found strength.

A linear model seems to prepare the body better moving forward through longer exposure for anatomical adaptation by saturating the system, laying the foundations for future higher intensity work. If performing daily undulating or weekly undulating periodization – the body has less exposure for saturation to occur, therefore no sequencing for adaptation.

When working with intermediates increase variation on 3 levels – phase, weekly, and daily through summated microcycles and heavy and light days.

Phase by phase to weekly undulating intensity manipulations provide suttle manipulations rather than large variations. See the slide below with the changes in relative intensity rather than changes in themes. The sets and reps can stay the same, but by simply reducing the intensity by 10% the focus can shift from strength to power rather than a completely different theme.

Winkelman Undulating

Off-season = focus on saturation
In-season = maintenance. Don’t over saturate by changing between speed and force days, not themes! Think exposure but not depletion.

Long season sports – manipulate the 3 levels – phase, weekly, daily.

Advanced athletes can make use of delayed transformation through concentrated loading in conjugate sequence model. Focusing on one stimulus saturates the system with limited concurrent development of other biomotor abilities.

Conjugate Sequence

Conjugate sequence is ultimate overreaching and best for high level athletes. Preferably with an Olympic sport, but can be done in team sports/long season sports in short dosages.

Periodization and Programming for Strength Power Sports

The link below is to a video from the 2012 NSCA Coaches Conference where world renowned sport scientist Dr Mike Stone presented on “Periodization and Programming for Strength Power Sports – the Short Reader’s Digest Version”. Dr Stone is the godfather of sports science with 40+ years of strength and conditioning research and application. I travelled across to the USA in late 2012 to see him present and witnessed a true passion for developing the most efficient training methods through extensive research, and this has been passed on to all who have had the honour of studying under him.  This video is a great resource for any coach/student and you don’t need to be a member of the NSCA to view the video. Below are some notes which I took from the presentation.

There is no substitute for being strong, and there is no substitute for talent.

Some people’s window for adaptation is bigger than others.
Training is a process, therefore plan ALL aspects of the training process. Think long-term multi-disciplinary approach than early specialization

Question if athletes are actually “well trained”. College athletes go away for breaks from training several times per year and don’t come back the same athlete. This issue can also apply at the elite level, see the following quote from GB Cycling Coach Shane Sutton regarding GB’s lack of medals at the recent Track Cycling World Championships “They got it wrong. They went out for the festive season, came back and weren’t where they should have been. We’ve just gone backwards and I think the accountability rests with the riders.”

Be creative in exercise selection, utilize post activation potentiation, cluster sets, compound sets

You MUST monitor training – document what happens. Ask yourself “are they adapting? Which programmes work better than others?”

Rapid gains are not always in the best interest for the athlete. The rate of gain is directly related to the average intensity of training. Final performance level is inversely related to the rate of gain (think long-term). The time period of maximum performance is inversely related to the rate of gain.

BE WARY of going to maximum every time you step in the weight room. The use of RM Zones (e.g. sets of 8-10 RM) will result in quick gains, but will fall off long-term.

Fitness-fatigue – a drop in volume = potential for preparedness, likely leading to increases in performance

Overload = the intensity (force, power, RFD) of work
Specificity = metabolic & mechanical transfer
Variation = how we as coaches manipulate overload & specificity. Variation is the most important factor in fatigue management. Variation is the removal of linearity to cause specific adaptations by reducing overstress/overtraining.

Periodization vs. Programming

The overall concept can be broken down into specific periods (strength, power, strength endurance etc). Programming is how you make these periods occur (sets, reps, exercises, density, frequency, intensity)

Periodization is cyclical in nature bu manipulating variables to reach specific goals.

Goals of periodization
Reduction of overtraining potential & fatigue management
Maximize specific adaptation
Elevate performance at the right time (event/competition)

Focus on general to specific (remember specificity relates to metabolic and mechanical aspects)
Progress from high volume to low volume, there is usually an inverse relationship
Active rest results in rapid drop in fitness, so it may be better to drop volume & intensity to reduce dramatic losses in fitness

Athletes can’t hold a true peak performance for more than 3 weeks. This brings implications for when peaking if competing in sports/events with multiple competitions.

Simultaneous development of different physical & physiological characteristics or motor abilities presents a problem. A mixed methods approach (strength, strength endurance, power, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance etc) results in high volumes, and poor fatigue management.

In the weight room, recovery time is likely to be greater after a higher volume load. However, a lighter volume load does not represent a “light day”. Sets of 10 with a lighter weight result in greater metabolic disturbance even though the amount of work is equal to sets of lower reps. Mike referred to this publication by Jeff McBride’s group at Appalachian State on Acute Responses to Different RT.

The number of competition days has increased, which reduces the number of days available to train. If you can’t train you won’t perform well.

The specific  phase you’re in now potentates the next phase through concentrated loading & volume manipulation.

If you drop volume, strength can be maintained for some time.

If you develop bad technique you may be stuck with it for the rest of your life. When learning technique you may be limited by your strength. (In gymnastics stronger athletes pick up technique faster, e.g. ability to hold an iron cross will be limited by strength).

Freshman (strength endurance & basic strength)
Sophomore (basic strength)
Junior (basic strength & power)
Senior (strength & power)

Fluctuate light & heavy days. If there are too many consecutive moderate – heavy days you never allow the athlete to recover and this mutes adaptation. By applying a big stimulus (heavy day/high volume) followed by an unload (light day/low volume) gives the athlete a chance to recover and adapt. See this paper by Carl Foster who has published numerous research on the use of Rate of Perceived Exertion in resistance training Foster Monitoring Training OTS MSSE 98.

Examples of Microcycle day-to-day variation

Stone Day-To-Day Variation

The use of relative intensities (eg. 60% 1RM = L/Light) minimizes the risk of overtraining athletes. Heavy and light days are created by adjusting load, not the repetitions/sets which changes the overall volume load. One method of programming called Daily Undulating Periodization which varies daily from e.g 10-12 RM on Monday, 6-8 RM on Wednesday, and 2-4 RM on Friday. Looking back at the acute hormonal responses to a training workout depending on the load/set/rep scheme, “lighter days” e.g. 10-12 RM are actually increasing the volume load, therefore actually become the “heavy day” as it will take longer to recover from. Again this causes problem for fatigue management and the likelihood of overtraining syndrome.

See Periodization_Strategies for more information periodization and programming, including basic, intermediate and advanced periodization strategies.