All You Need to Know About Training Part 2

So last week, I looked at some general concepts that were applied by the Australian Institute of Sport strength coach in training their track cyclists.  To finish up today, I want to look at some of the specific details that he provided regarding their training.  Remember that this was a small country with few resources that just kicked ass internationally for many years until the UK took over the sport.  They knew what they were doing and this gives some real insight into how training works.  Again, I’ll intersperse his information with my comments.

Oh yeah, if you look at the original post, you’ll see that my numbers don’t match his since I divided up some of the sections to make my comments more detailed.

10. Gym is generally 3-4 sets of 3 max lower body strength or power lifts – early in the phase, two strength and one power, later, two power and one strength. I don’t use cleans, jerks or snatches with our current riders – they are too technical for maximal efforts unless you have years of experience.

A few things here.  Recall from last week that, in terms of the requirements for track cycling, strength, power and speed are required but only the first two can be dealt with in the weight room.  People often forget that the fastest movements (perhaps outside of the Olympic lifts) are about an order of magnitude slower than anything that occurs in high level sport which is why the idea of training speed in the weight room is nonsensical for the most part.

As I also mentioned last week, this coach uses a scheme were basically everything is trained to one degree or another throughout the year, just in varying proportions and the first sentence goes to that.  Earlier in the year, the focus is strength but power is kept in the training.  Later on it reverses to focus on power while maintaining strength.


All You Need to Know About Training Part 1

I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for a while and I guess I’ve finally gotten around to it.  It will assuredly be multiple parts but will be somewhat self limiting.  The title should be fairly self-explanatory with a caveat or two.  The reality is that many (including myself) drastically overcomplicate training.  I actually identify three phases of coaching:

  1. You know you know nothing
  2. You think you know something
  3. You realize what you don’t know

It’s usually during phase 2 that folks overcomplicate such.  In college, oh my, the complex periodization programs I’d draw up.  It was a spreadsheet exercise with pie charts and graphs and I’m sure in hindsight I had more fun drawing things up than I did actually doing the training.

Anyhow, what I’m going to do in this (hopefully) short series, is look at a post that was made a bunch of years back about the Australian Institute Sport (AIS) track cycling program; and it was written by their weight room coach so this isn’t some second hand account.  This is the guy that was coaching the athletes that were, at the time, kicking serious ass.

They aren’t as dominant now that UK Track Cycling has taken over but for a bunch of years they truly ruled the roost.  And for a country as small as Australia, that’s something.  Note: and this is for the people who claim that sports science has contributed nothing to sport, the AIS is tied in with a lot of sports science research which was being applied directly here.

One caveat, and the author mentions this at the end: this really describes elite training.  This is for guys who have learned the skills and have the technical background, have the genetics to be this successful and train full time.   It’s also for a sport with a limited number of capacities that have to be trained which simplifies it somewhat.   It wouldn’t be appropriate for a developing athlete and not everyone could survive it.   As he says, take concepts from it even if you can’t apply it completely.  This won’t necessarily apply to sports with more technical requirements.


Determinants of Strength Performance Part 3

So last week’s discussion of the Stretch Shorten Cycle and strength performance got a little bit away from me which is why I had to add a third part to this series.  But I will wrap up today, first by looking at the contribution of neural factors to strength performance before trying to summarize the series.  Now, for reasons I am unclear on, this was originally meant to be the shortest section and yet it’s turned out to be the longest.  Originally I was just going to skate on details but The Sickness (TM), what I call my obsessiveness, kicked in so I had to get up to date with this stuff.  So it’s a lot longer than it should be and it’s a little bit disorganized (.  For even more details than I’m providing, get one of the two books I mentioned last week.

Neural & Muscular Factors in Strength Performance

Back in the very early days of the study of strength training, an observation was made that people’s strength went up far more quickly in the early stages of training than their muscle size.  Quite in fact, it was often observed that strength increased fairly significantly before any measurable muscle growth had occurred.   This indicated that there was some other adaptation, usually taken as neural/neurological (because there isn’t a hell of a lot else that it could be) that was occurring to explain it.

At the most extreme, it was felt that all of the gains in strength were neural although this is kind of questionable:  protein synthesis goes up after the first workout even in beginners and it would seem unlikely that there was no increase in muscle size occurring at all.  Certainly it could be that beginners ramp up muscle protein breakdown initially (and an interesting new paper suggested that the early increase in protein synthesis isn’t related to growth since it’s repairing damaged tissue) so that the effect is cancelled out.  Just as likely is that the technology that was available at the time wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up relatively small changes in muscle size that may have been occurring.

Irrespective of this it’s clear that at least some fairly major part of the initial strength gains.  It may not explain 100% of the changes in strength but something is happening.  To look at some of what is happening along with what can be accomplished later in a training career, I first need to run through the neural control of movement.


Determinants of Strength Performance Part 2

Continuing from last week where I looked at the contribution of inherent mechanics and muscle cross sectional area, I want to finish up this week by looking at the next factor that determines overall strength performance.  This was originally meant to be a fairly short bit as I was trying to keep it line with the mechanical and msucular factors I discussed last chapter but it turned out to be far more involved.  So it’s long.  Too long.  And while I will try to sporadically link out to references (which I know most don’t care about), most of it will be coming from two primary sources which are Enoka’s Neuromechanics of Human Movement and Strength and Power in Sport edited by Komi.

The SSC and Strength Performance

Although it kind of fits in with the impact of muscular factors on strength performance, I want to discuss the stretch shorten cycle (SSC) separately.   This refers to a situation where a muscle is first stretched (an eccentric muscle contraction) before shortening (a concentric muscle action); there is also a brief isometric muscle action where the muscle doesn’t change length in-between the two.   When this happens, a greater amount of force is generated than would occur otherwise and this improve strength performance.

You can demonstrate the existence of the SSC for yourself by comparing jump height for a squat jump (where you jump as high as possible from a crouched position) to a countermovement jump (where you squat down and immediately jump up).  In the first there is no SSC since there is no initial lengthening of the muscle (it starts from an isometric position) and in the second there is; this increases force output.

The basic reason that the SSC exists is to make movements more efficient or effective since more total force is being generated, often with less total effort. In the most general sense, force can be generated through two major factors: muscular/metabolic and elastic.  Elastic here has to do with the presence of connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons (and I suspect things like titin) that can stretch or compress and then spring back, producing force.  Any force that can be generated through elastic forces is less that is required to be generated by muscular forces.


Determinants of Strength Performance Part 1

In a long-ago written article (that was written while I was doing a lot of endurance training, go figure) I wrote about the primary determinants of endurance performance and today I want to do sort of the equivalent article to that for strength production (of no surprise, I’m doing mostly lifting now).

Now, if you want to get technical, you can define different kinds of strength.  What is often measured in the lab is isometric strength using some kind of tensiometer (that will give you force output in Newtons, not the Fig kind, or whatever the units are) but in practical sense most will be more concerned with how much weight they are lifting in some gym movement. Even that can be subdivided and some folks might really get up their butts by worrying about concentric strength (how much weight can be lifted), isometric strength (how much weight can be held at some position in a movement) and eccentric strength (how much weight can be lowered under control).

The weights would go up from concentric to isometric to eccentric (i.e. you can lift less than you can hold and hold less than you can lower) but for the purposes of this article, I’m only going to worry about concentric strength.  Most of what I will write still applies but there are some slight differences that I can’t be bothered to talk about.  So concentric strength, how much weight can be lifted through the range of motion for some exercise is how I will define strength here.

Muscles, Bones and Force Production

Without getting into a big physics wank about the forces acting on the body let me talk briefly about how muscles generate force.    Muscles are simply bundles of individual fibers that, when they contract, attempt to move the bones that they are attached to.  By doing so they translate what is linear movement (muscles contract linearly) into rotational motion (all joints move in a rotational fashion).

So when the biceps contract in a straight line, they cause the forearm to curl upwards as it rotates around the elbow (I’m not getting here into torque, axis of rotation or lever arms here; at some point I want to do an overwritten series on that topic alone but this is not that time).