The Importance of Strength Training in Combat Sports

The Importance of Strength Training in Combat Sports

Strength is an attribute that cannot be significantly improved through the practice of participating in Combat Sports, therefore it makes strength training a wise investment, particularly if you want to win. The purpose of increasing strength is to develop physical capacities necessary to handle the unpredictable nature and stressors of the sport. Athletes need to be prepared for all aspects of physical combat including punching, kicking, takedowns, takedown defense, arm bars, guillotine, grappling, and clinching, not to mention proper conditioning and muscle endurance. A simpler way to say it would be, to achieve victory an athlete needs to be faster, more explosive and last longer than their opponent. Also, let me make it clear before I go any further, strength does not replace technique — wrestlers should prioritize wrestling, just as martial artists should ultimately work to perfect their discipline — but improving strength will transfer to better technical performance (e.g., technique) on the mat or in the cage.

Deep Thoughts, Even Deeper Squats

Are deep squats bad for my knees? The prevailing wisdom on this topic would lead you to believe that squatting below parallel will cause injury to your knees by placing an unusual strain on your ligaments leaving the knee unstable and prone to injury. This theory was brought to light in the late 1950’s when Dr. Karl Klein was trying to understand why there happened to be a rise in the number of colligate football players sustaining serious knee injuries. He suspected it was due to the use of full ROM squats in university strength programs so he crafted a special instrument to analyze the knees of several of these football players who frequently performed deep squats.

In 1961, Dr. Klein released his findings, which recommended the squat be limited to a parallel depth. His reasoning stated that the use of deep squatting is detrimental to athletic development and “should be discouraged from the standpoint of its debilitative effect on the ligamental structures of the knee.” The following year, Dr. Klein’s findings were picked up by Sports Illustrated which became the catalyst to spread the fear of deep squatting. Next the American Medical Association weighed in on the topic cautioning against the use of deep squatting. It went so far as the Marine Corps even eliminated the squat-jumper exercise from its physical conditioning programs.

There has been a lot of pushback on this theory ever since its inception almost 60 years ago. Dr. Klein’s findings have failed clinical replication, even with the use of his special instrument. Fortunately, now in the present day we can use the advancement in exercise science and biomechanics research to settle this debate once and for all.

When we squat, our knee sustains two inversely related forces – shear and compressive – meaning that when the knee flexes during the squat, compressive forces increase while shear forces decrease. These shear forces are measured by how much our bones – femur and tibia – want to slide over one another in opposite directions. These forces challenge the small ligaments of ACL and PCL to hold our knees together and limited excessive forward and backward movement. In contrast, compressive force is determined by the amount of pressure the body is pushing on two parts. There are two areas that sustain this compressive force; 1) the meniscus as it absorbs the opposing stress between the tibia and the femur, and 2) the backside of the patella (kneecap) as pressure increases through the descent of a squat.

Science tells us that the ligaments inside our knees are under very little stress at the bottom of a squat due to the mechanics of this inverse relationship. Harmful shear forces are dramatically decreased due to an increase in compression and it seems that the deeper we squat the safer it is on the ligaments of the knee. The most well-known ligament, the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), is under little stress in the bottom of a squat.  In fact the stress to the ACL during a squat is actually highest during the first four inches of the squat decent (around 15-30° of knee flexion)* and continues to decrease the deeper the descent. The lesser known ligament, the PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) sustains it’s max forces just above a parallel squat (around 90° of knee flexion).

It seems that Dr. Klein’s detrimental claims of the deep squat stretching out our ligaments, ultimately leaving them unstable is but a myth that just wont die. Science has since shown repeatedly that squatting deep may have a protective effect on our knees by increasing stability. In 1986, researchers compared knee stability among powerlifters, basketball players and runners. After a heavy squat workout, the powerlifters actually had more stability in their knees than did the basketball players did.  In 1989, another group of researchers were able to show that competitive weightlifters and powerlifters had knee ligaments that were less lax than those who never squatted. The prevailing research continues to show that the deep squat is a sage exercise to include in a healthy athlete’s training program.

-Adapted from The Squat Bible by Aaron Horschig

LADDER DRILLS DO NOT INCREASE SPORT PERFORMANCE

 

Good luck being able to see a defender coming while you are staring at your superb footwork!

Ladder drills have become hailed as a top training tool for producing athleticism, but do the claims about creating faster feet really equal more speed and greater agility?

Ladder training typically involves following a set footwork pattern – moving the feet inside and outside the rungs of a ladder that is laid flat on the ground – where the goal becomes to increase speed while maintaining the pattern. These drills have become hailed as a top tool for producing athleticism, from youth leagues to the pros, yet the science of creating faster feet does not equal more speed or greater agility come game time. In fact, drills using speed and agility ladders under the guise of increasing on-field performance is counterproductive.

Before we dive in, let’s all agree that…

  • Everything done in a gym should be seen as physical preparation for sports not performed in the gym. Any attempt to correlate athletic performance to any drill is futile due to the chaotic nature of sports and the processing of multiple variables in any instant of gameplay.
  • For any training modality to work effectively, it has to replicate or produce similar benefits of the end goal. This means the given exercise or tool used should closely replicate the speed, force application, change of direction, as well as the metabolic and neural demands of the activity. If it doesn’t, then it will not produce the desired results.
  • And when it comes to youth or beginner, everything works in the trainers favor to improve all aspects of strength, endurance, quickness, etc. (However, it could be argued that doing body weight squats would have the same benefit.) Additionally, ladders can be a great tool for developing neuromuscular coordination and provide an excellent multi-planar dynamic warm-up at any sporting level.

That said, this article is aimed at addressing why ladder drills do not increase athleticism or on-field performance by improving speed and agility.  It should be seen that producing speed is more than the ability to move your feet fast, just as agility is more than the proficiency of learning footwork patterns. If we think about the ground as a springboard from which we draw speed, it is not how fast you can dance over it, but how much force goes into it, and how an athlete overcomes inertia to generate a powerful movement; then we can see how ladder drills do not increase performance in your sport of choice, unless it happens to be salsa dancing. Therefore we need to have a better understanding of speed and agility:

Speed is defined by the following equation: (Stride Length x Stride Frequency) / Time. Research has shown that the fastest athletes are not faster because they take more strides, but because they cover more ground with each stride. This is possible because they put more force into the ground enabling them to cover a given distance in a shorter amount of time. It is a matter of power generation; driving the foot against the ground, enables the extensor mechanism from the hip extensors (the all-powerful glutes and hamstrings), the knee extensors (quadriceps), and the plantar flexors of the ankle to propel the body in a forward motion. When you apply greater force into the ground with a forward lean and at a horizontal angle in a smaller time, you generate more speed. As that force increases there is an inverse relationship between ground contact and distance covered. Taking steps that are more powerful than your competitor, will ultimately allow you to outrun them, at least in a straight line. An example would be how Usain Bolt can complete a 100 meter sprint with a stride count of 42, while everyone else in the field managed to 46-48; his stride length was much higher (force) but his stride frequency was about the same.

Agility is the ability to decelerate one’s momentum, stop, overcome inertia and accelerate one’s body mass in another direction in as little time as possible. Essentially, if you’re running straight forward and a defender jumps out of the bushes, you want to be able to create a powerful movement that allows you to turn or change direction in a split second. The most effective way to change direction involves having the legs move outside of vertical alignment of the center of mass, and driving them into the ground at as horizontal of an angle as possible to create a strong impulse against the pull of momentum to continue in another direction. From a physics perspective, momentum along with impulse and inertia, are critical components of agility. The ability to decelerate and stop one’s momentum in as short distance/period of time as possible requires great amount of relative unilateral strength and power, particularly in the extensor mechanism musculature of the lower extremities. Equally important, impulse can be found in the period of time where switching from eccentric action (deceleration) to concentric action (acceleration) occurs. Thus, the quicker an athlete can decelerate, overcome inertia, shift impulse momentum and propel in another direction the more agile an athlete is seen to be.

Given the above description on speed and agility it should be seen that performance is inherently predicated on the application of speed in concert with the impulse of agility. The ability to generate forward momentum/force is equally as important as being able to act and react to the chaotic unpredictability of an outside stimulus. With this understanding of performance we can see that any drill that is directed toward constricting an athlete to tip-toe through a series of 15 x 15 inch boxes without posing a challenge to displacement of an athlete’s center of mass or an effort in creating forward momentum through the development of proper mechanics will only serve as a deterrent to the claims of improving performance.

There is very little to gain with the incorporation of ladder drills, as such drills are merely displays of an already present athleticism. Natural athletes learn skills quickly and replicate movement efficiently within a very short period. Within a few weeks of practicing with a ladder, an athlete can become very proficient in the drill, yet when it comes to performing in the game there is very little transfer. Why? Because ladder drills are learned patterns without the influence of an outside stimulus, like a ball or a defender coming at you, and all the hours and effort spent learning how to tip-toe properly while staring at the ground is only working against the athlete who needs to see and react. When athletes who use these drills as a main focus are required to respond in a chaotic environment like a game, their own muscle memory could work against them—tip-toeing gracefully around a defender instead of creating a quick and powerful movement, only to get blasted by a guy the athlete didn’t see because they’ve been trained to staring at the ground. Simply put, fast feet do nothing if you don’t go anywhere. Getting better at predetermined movement patterns is not indication of on-field performance as there is very little transfer from a learned movement to a chaotic gametime environment. In the end, there is no way to practice the perfect pattern for football, soccer, hockey, ultimate frisbee, or any other sport for that matter. It is a requirement to react powerfully and quickly, and there certainly isn’t any benefit to staring at the ground.

Instead of wasting precious time on ladder drills, a strong focus on strength and power development with emphasis on both bilateral and unilateral movements are the best approach, not only for performance but injury prevention as well. An example would be the following:

  • Bilateral Strength – Squats and Deadlift variations
  • Bilateral Power – Olympic lifts, Box Jumps and Depth Jumps
  • Unilateral Strength – Split Squat variations and Step-Ups
  • Unilateral Power – Olympic lifts, Sprints and Penta-Hops

Thinking of the springboard example used earlier, the ground is where we draw speed, how much force we apply to it is the amount of speed we are going to get out of it. Elite-level sprinters can produce over 360 pounds of force per leg when moving at top speed. Good luck tip-toeing your way to those numbers. Force into the ground equals forward motion, this is because speed is a matter of force production and being agile is the ability to react, absorb and overcome inertia, therefore the ability to maintain strength and generate power is the real solution to generating more speed and creating better agility. Once an athlete has corrected any structural imbalances, increased relative strength and reactive/ballistic ability, then and only then is it acceptable to place emphasis on drills utilizing the ladder. However it is important to remember that no drill is a better substitute than having the athlete play their specific sport, as the ladder will never juke one way or try to cross you over.


Recommended Reading:

Fixing the Flaws: A Look at the Ten Most Common Biomechanical Weak Links in Athletes

Written on January 31, 2008, by Eric Cressey

Even the best athletes are limited by their most significant weaknesses. For some athletes, weaknesses may be mental barriers along the lines of fear of playing in front of large crowds, or getting too fired up before a big contest. Others may find that the chink in their armor rests with some sport-specific technique, such as shooting free throws. While these two realms can best be handled by the athletes’ head coaches and are therefore largely outside of the control of a strength and conditioning coach, there are several categories of weak links over which a strength and conditioning specialist can have profound impacts. These impacts can favorably influence athletes’ performance while reducing the risk of injury. With that in mind, what follows is far from an exhaustive list of the weaknesses that strength and conditioning professionals may observe, especially given the wide variety of sports one encounters and the fact that the list does not delve into neural, hormonal, or metabolic factors. Nonetheless, in my experience, these are the ten most common biomechanical weak links in athletes:

1. Poor Frontal Plane Stability at the Hips: Frontal plane stability in the lower body is dependent on the interaction of several muscle groups, most notably the three gluteals, tensor fascia latae (TFL), adductors, and quadratus lumborum (QL). This weakness is particularly evident when an athlete performs a single-leg excursion and the knee falls excessively inward or (less commonly) outward. Generally speaking, weakness of the hip abductors – most notably the gluteus medius and minimus – is the primary culprit when it comes to the knee falling medially, as the adductors, QL, and TFL tend to be overactive. However, lateral deviation of the femur and knee is quite common in skating athletes, as they tend to be very abductor dominant and more susceptible to adductor strains as a result. In both cases, closed-chain exercises to stress the hip abductors or adductors are warranted; in other words, keep your athletes off those sissy obstetrician machines, as they lead to a host of dysfunction that’s far worse that the weakness the athlete already demonstrates! For the abductors, I prefer mini-band sidesteps and body weight box squats with the mini-band wrapped around the knees. For the adductors, you’ll have a hard time topping lunges to different angles, sumo deadlifts, wide-stance pull-throughs, and Bulgarian squats.

2. Weak Posterior Chain: Big, fluffy bodybuilder quads might be all well and good if you’re into getting all oiled up and “competing” in posing trunks, but the fact of the matter is that the quadriceps take a back seat to the posterior chain (hip and lumbar extensors) when it comes to athletic performance. Compared to the quads, the glutes and hamstrings are more powerful muscles with a higher proportion of fast-twitch fibers. Nonetheless, I’m constantly amazed at how many coaches and athletes fail to tap into this strength and power potential; they seem perfectly content with just banging away with quad-dominant squats, all the while reinforcing muscular imbalances at both the knee and hip joints. The muscles of the posterior chain are not only capable of significantly improving an athlete’s performance, but also of decelerating knee and hip flexion. You mustn’t look any further than a coaches’ athletes’ history of hamstring and hip flexor strains, non-contact knee injuries, and chronic lower back pain to recognize that he probably doesn’t appreciate the value of posterior chain training. Or, he may appreciate it, but have no idea how to integrate it optimally. The best remedies for this problem are deadlift variations, Olympic lifts, good mornings, glute-ham raises, reverse hypers, back extensions, and hip-dominant lunges and step-ups. Some quad work is still important, as these muscles aren’t completely “all show and no go,” but considering most athletes are quad-dominant in the first place, you can usually devote at least 75% of your lower body training to the aforementioned exercises (including Olympic lifts and single-leg work, which have appreciable overlap).

Regarding the optimal integration of posterior chain work, I’m referring to the fact that many athletes have altered firing patterns within the posterior chain due to lower crossed syndrome. In this scenario, the hip flexors are overactive and therefore reciprocally inhibit the gluteus maximus. Without contribution of the gluteus maximus to hip extension, the hamstrings and lumbar erector spinae muscles must work overtime (synergistic dominance). There is marked anterior tilt of the pelvis and an accentuated lordotic curve at the lumbar spine. Moreover, the rectus abdominus is inhibited by the overactive erector spinae. With the gluteus maximus and rectus abdominus both at a mechanical disadvantage, one cannot optimally posteriorly tilt the pelvis (important to the completion of hip extension), so there is lumbar extension to compensate for a lack of complete hip extension. You can see this quite commonly in those who hit sticking points in their deadlifts at lockout and simply lean back to lock out the weight instead of pushing the hips forward simultaneously. Rather than firing in the order hams-glutes- contralateral erectors-ipsilateral erectors, athletes will simply jump right over the glutes in cases of lower crossed syndrome. Corrective strategies should focus on glute activation, rectus abdominus strengthening, and flexibility work for the hip flexors, hamstrings, and lumbar erector spinae.

3. Lack of Overall Core Development: If you think I’m referring to how many sit-ups an athlete can do, you should give up on the field of performance enhancement and take up Candyland. The “core” essentially consists of the interaction among all the muscles between your shoulders and your knees; if one muscle isn’t doing its job, force cannot be efficiently transferred from the lower to the upper body (and vice versa). In addition to “indirectly” hammering on the core musculature with the traditional compound, multi-joint lifts, it’s ideal to also include specific weighted movements for trunk rotation (e.g. Russian twists, cable woodchops, sledgehammer work), flexion (e.g. pulldown abs, Janda sit-ups, ab wheel/bar rollouts), lateral flexion (e.g. barbell and dumbbell side bends, overhead dumbbell side bends), stabilization (e.g. weighted prone and side bridges, heavy barbell walkouts), and hip flexion (e.g. hanging leg raises, dragon flags). Most athletes have deficiencies in strength and/or flexibility in one or more of these specific realms of core development; these deficiencies lead to compensation further up or down the kinetic chain, inefficient movement, and potentially injury.

4. Unilateral Discrepancies: These discrepancies are highly prevalent in sports where athletes are repetitively utilizing musculature on one side but not on the contralateral side; obvious examples include throwing and kicking sports, but you might even be surprised to find these issues in seemingly “symmetrical” sports such as swimming (breathing on one side only) and powerlifting (not varying the pronated/supinated positions when using an alternate grip on deadlifts). Obviously, excessive reliance on a single movement without any attention to the counter-movement is a significant predisposition to strength discrepancies and, in turn, injuries. While it’s not a great idea from an efficiency or motor learning standpoint to attempt to exactly oppose the movement in question (e.g. having a pitcher throw with his non-dominant arm), coaches can make specific programming adjustments based on their knowledge of sport-specific biomechanics. For instance, in the aforementioned baseball pitcher example, one would be wise to implement extra work for the non-throwing arm as well as additional volume on single-leg exercises where the regular plant-leg is the limb doing the excursion (i.e. right-handed pitchers who normally land on their left foot would be lunging onto their right foot). Obviously, these modifications are just the tip of the iceberg, but simply watching the motion and “thinking in reverse” with your programming can do wonders for athletes with unilateral discrepancies.

5. Weak Grip: – Grip strength encompasses pinch, crushing, and supportive grip and, to some extent, wrist strength; each sport will have its own unique gripping demands. It’s important to assess these needs before randomly prescribing grip-specific exercises, as there’s very little overlap among the three types of grip. For instance, as a powerlifter, I have significantly developed my crushing and supportive grip not only for deadlifts, but also for some favorable effects on my squat and bench press. Conversely, I rarely train my pinch grip, as it’s not all that important to the demands on my sport. A strong grip is the key to transferring power from the lower body, core, torso, and limbs to implements such as rackets and hockey sticks, as well as grappling maneuvers and holds in mixed martial arts. The beauty of grip training is that it allows you to improve performance while having a lot of fun; training the grip lends itself nicely to non-traditional, improvisational exercises. Score some raw materials from a Home Depot, construction site, junkyard, or quarry, and you’ve got dozens of exercises with hundreds of variations to improve the three realms of grip strength. Three outstanding resources for grip training information are Mastery of Hand Strength by John Brookfield, Grip Training for Strength and Power Sports by accomplished Strongman John Sullivan, and www.DieselCrew.com.

6. Weak Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO): The VMO is important not only in contributing to knee extension (specifically, terminal knee extension), but also enhancing stability via its role in preventing excessive lateral tracking of the patella. The vast majority of patellar tracking problems are related to tight iliotibial bands and lateral retinaculum and a weak VMO. While considerable research has been devoted to finding a good “isolation” exercise for the VMO (at the expense of the overactive vastus lateralis), there has been little success on this front. However, anecdotally, many performance enhancement coaches have found that performing squats through a full range of motion will enhance knee stability, potentially through contributions from the VMO related to the position of greater knee flexion and increased involvement of the adductor magnus, a hip extensor (you can read a more detailed analysis from me here. Increased activation of the posterior chain may also be a contributing factor to this reduction in knee pain, as stronger hip musculature can take some of the load off of the knee stabilizers. As such, I make a point of including a significant amount of full range of motion squats and single-leg closed chain exercises (e.g. lunges, step-ups) year-round, and prioritize these movements even more in the early off-season for athletes (e.g. runners, hockey players) who do not get a large amount of knee-flexion in the closed-chain position in their regular sport participation.

7 & 8. Weak Rotator Cuff and/or Scapular Stabilizers: I group these two together simply because they are intimately related in terms of shoulder health and performance.

Although each of the four muscles of the rotator cuff contributes to humeral motion, their primary function is stabilization of the humeral head in the glenoid fossa of the scapula during this humeral motion. Ligaments provide the static restraints to excessive movement, while the rotator cuff provides the dynamic restraint. It’s important to note, however, that even if your rotator cuff is completely healthy and functioning optimally, you may experience scapular dyskinesis, shoulder, upper back, and neck problems because of inadequate strength and poor tonus of the muscles that stabilize the scapula. After all, how can the rotator cuff be effective at stabilizing the humeral head when its foundation (the scapula) isn’t stable itself? Therefore, if you’re looking to eliminate weak links at the shoulder girdle, your best bet is to perform both rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer specific work. In my experience, the ideal means of ensuring long-term rotator cuff health is to incorporate two external rotation movements per week to strengthen the infraspinatus and teres minor (and the posterior deltoid, another external rotator that isn’t a part of the rotator cuff). On one movement, the humerus should be abducted (e.g. elbow supported DB external rotations, Cuban presses) and on the other, the humerus should be adducted (e.g. low pulley external rotations, side-lying external rotations). Granted, these movements are quite basic, but they’ll do the job if injury prevention is all you seek. Then again, I like to integrate the movements into more complex schemes (some of which are based on PNF patterns) to keep things interesting and get a little more sport-specific by involving more of the kinetic chain (i.e. leg, hip, and trunk movement). On this front, reverse cable crossovers (single-arm, usually) and dumbbell swings are good choices. Lastly, for some individuals, direct internal rotation training for the subscapularis is warranted, as it’s a commonly injured muscle in bench press fanatics. Over time, the subscapularis will often become dormant – and therefore less effective as a stabilizer of the humeral head – due to all the abuse it takes.

For the scapular stabilizers, most individuals fall into the classic anteriorly tilted, winged scapulae posture (hunchback); this is commonly seen with the rounded shoulders that result from having tight internal rotators and weak external rotators. To correct the hunchback look, you need to do extra work for the scapular retractors and depressors; good choices include horizontal pulling variations (especially seated rows) and prone middle and lower trap raises. The serratus anterior is also a very important muscle in facilitating scapular posterior tilt, a must for healthy overhead humeral activity. Supine and standing single-arm dumbbell protractions are good bets for dynamically training this small yet important muscle; scap pushups, scap dips, and scap pullups in which the athlete is instructed to keep the scapulae tight to the rib cage are effective isometric challenges to the serratus anterior.

Concurrently, athletes with the classic postural problems should focus on loosening up the levator scapulae, upper traps, pecs, lats, and anterior delts. One must also consider if these postural distortions are compensatory for kinetic chain dysfunction at the lumbar spine, pelvis, or lower extremities. My colleague Mike Robertson and I have written extensively on this topic here. Keep in mind that all of this advice won’t make a bit of difference if you have terrible posture throughout the day, so pay as much attention to what you do outside the weight room as you do to what goes on inside it.

9. Weak Dorsiflexors: It’s extremely common for athletes to perform all their movements with externally rotated feet. This positioning is a means of compensating for a lack of dorsiflexion range of motion – usually due to tight plantarflexors – during closed-chain knee flexion movements. In addition to flexibility initiatives for the calves, one should incorporate specific work for the dorsiflexors; this work may include seated dumbbell dorsiflexions, DARD work, and single-leg standing barbell dorsiflexions. These exercises will improve dynamic postural stability at the ankle joint and reduce the risk of overuse conditions such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.

10. Weak Neck Musculature: The neck is especially important in contact sports such as football and rugby, where neck strength in all planes is highly valuable in preventing injuries that may result from collisions and violent jerking of the neck. Neck harnesses, manual resistance, and even four-way neck machines are all good bets along these lines, as training the neck can be somewhat awkward. From a postural standpoint, specific work for the neck flexors is an effective means of correcting forward head posture when paired with stretches for the levator scapulae and upper traps as well as specific interventions to reduce postural abnormalities at the scapulae, humeri, and thoracic spine. In this regard, unweighted chin tucks for high reps throughout the day are all that one really needs. This is a small training price to pay when you consider that forward head posture has been linked with chronic headaches.

Closing Thoughts

A good coach recognizes that although the goals of improving performance and reducing the risk of injury are always the same, there are always different means to these ends. In my experience, one or more of the aforementioned ten biomechanical weak links is present in almost all athletes you encounter. Identifying biomechanical weak links is an important prerequisite to choosing one’s means to these ends. This information warrants consideration alongside neural, hormonal, and metabolic factors as one designs a comprehensive program that is suited to each athlete’s unique needs.

Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Training Wisdom from Ed Coan, Charles R. Poliquin and Matt Wenning

Bench Press

Correct Grip Width

Grip width is a function of your biomechanics and needs to be set according to this. Biomechanics change from athlete to athlete due to shoulder width, length of the humerus and length of the forearms. A simple way to figure this out is to go into your natural push-up position, the body automatically selects the grip width you’re the strongest in and feels the best. That’s your competitive bench press grip. Just because you´re allowed to grip wider doesn´t mean it’s good for you.

Bench More with Structural Balance

Train your rotator cuff muscles and scapular retractors for a big bench and healthy shoulders. How are you supposed to bench big weights if you can´t even stabilize them? That’s like putting a Lamborghini engine into a Civic while still relying on the Civic’s breaking system. You´re just begging for an injury. 

Drive your head into the bench on the concentric phase of the lift

This activates your neck extensors and puts another 2-7 kg on your bench. Strong neck extensors potentiate every upper body lift.

Squat

Always keep your Sternum high

And pick a spot somewhere in front of you that’s slightly above to look at. This ensures that your head is high at all times. Your eyes dictate where the body goes. Look down and you’ll round forward.

Warm up your weak and/or inactive muscles before you train

Pick 3 exercises to address them and try to get those muscles working. Don’t smash yourself on the warm up, just potentiate those muscles. If you sit on your ass the whole day your glutes are most likely inactive and the lower back will take over a large portion of the work. I´m sure you experienced this at some point: your lower back is completely fatigued after squatting. That’s because your glutes are not firing.

60-70% of your total training volume should be traction based exercises for your spine

Heavy squatting and deadlifting always compress your spine so make sure you decompress it when doing your accessory work for more longevity.

Deadlift

The deadlift has a disadvantage to the bench press and the squat

This is because there´s no eccentric movement preceding the concentric phase. In the other two lifts it´s possible to correct your form on the way down but with deadlifts you can’t. That’s why the starting position is most important.

Deadlift cycles are the shortest due to their demand on the nervous system

Stretch your hip flexors statically before deadlifting

This will put another 5-15 kg on your deadlift. Tight hip flexors inhibit the strength of your hip extensors.

Endurance vs. Conditioning

The statement is simple – Endurance is the most overrated of all sports specific qualities. Why Because endurance is neither necessary nor the limiting factor in most sports. Conditioning is. Where is the difference?

Definition of Endurance and Conditioning as follows:

Endurance is the ability to maintain a certain effort with minimal fatigue – A classic example is a marathon. At a marathon it´s crucial to run 2+ h in one go with minimal fatigue.

Conditioning is the ability to repeat a certain effort with minimal fatigue – Classic examples are team sports like Soccer, American Football, Basketball and Ice hockey. In those sports it is crucial to keep fatigue between the first and the last sprint (and all the others in between) as minimal as possible.

Most Olympic, Team- and Combat Sports are cyclical, that means certain efforts must be repeated. A 100m sprinter has to repeat his performance in heats, semi-finals and finals. A thrower has 6 attempts per competition and an olympic weightlifter has 3 per discipline.  If the performance decreases too much from attempt to attempt then his conditioning is the limiting factor.

A more extensive example is soccer. Depending on the position of a player he runs about 8-12km per game. From which he runs 400-1200m above 85% of his top speed. The remaining 8-10km are walking, trotting and hardly relevant for the game.

These 400-1200m are crucial. The average sprinting distance is about 17m. Sprints over 30m, thats the distance between mid- and penalty line, are very rare.

The critical distance is 0-5 m. That´s the famous “one step faster”. Based on player statistics of the English Premier League, players with the highest salary, regardless of their position have one thing in common, they are the fastest over 0-5m.

At an average sprinting distance of about 17m and a game-relevant total distance of 400-1200m those are about 24 to 70 sprints per game. Assuming a uniform load density, it is a load of 2-3 seconds followed by a 1:20-4:00 minute break. I sprints are repeated with minimal rest its more than 3 in a row before the ball is out of sight.

So what is critical for a game in this case in terms of physical qualities?

Endurance or Conditioning?

Critical are those 24 to 70 sprints in under 90 minutes game time and their repetition with minimal fatigue, not endurance. Endurance isn´t relevant in soccer because of the short bursts of sprints they do.

To run 10-60 minutes at once has very poor correlation with the ability to repeat 24 to 70 sprints in 90 minutes with minimal fatigue.

2 FORMS OF ENDURANCE

Endurance at high intensity – that is the ability to maintain a stress of high intensity upright with minimal fatigue. A good example is a 100m sprinter. A sprinter reaches his top speed after 60-70m. From 60-70m the critical factor becomes maintaining the top speed as long as possible without getting tired. In this case we speak of speed endurance. Usain Bolt is a great example for this. His greatest advantage over his opponents, and the reason why he is even more dominant over 200m than over 100m, is his exceptional speed endurance, the ability to maintain his top speed with minimal fatigue and leave all his opponents behind after 60-70m.

Endurance at low intensity – that is the ability to maintain a stress of low intensity upright with minimal fatigue. A good example is the marathon. In a marathon it´s crucial to maintain a performance for 2+ h with minimal fatigue. In one go and without interruptions.

Intensity – definition: Intensity is the load of a performance in relation to the maximal performance. A performance at high intensity for example is a sprint over 50 meters at maximum speed or BB Back Squats for 3 reps with 90 % of 1RM. In contrast to this, a performance of low intensity is a run over 10000m at maximum speed or squats for 25 reps with 50 % of 1RM. That means intensity is not defined on the subjective level of effort but correlates performance with maximum power/effort.

Both forms of endurance, especially the last one, are not relevant in most Olympic-, Team- and Combat Sports because the duration of the load in those sports is far lower.

In most Olympic-, Team- and Combat sports conditioning is critical. The ability to repeat a performance with minimal fatigue.

2 FORMS OF CONDITIONING

Conditioning at high volume – the ability to repeat a certain performance very often with minimal fatigue.  The best example is soccer, where depending on the position of the player the average sprinting distance has to be repeated up to 70 times per game with minimal fatigue.

Conditioning at low volume – the ability to repeat a certain performance a few times with minimal fatigue. Best example is Olympic Weightlifting. There you only have to repeat an attempt 3 times per discipline and competition – so 3 Reps of the Snatch and 3 Reps of the Clean & Jerk, thats it.

The lower the volume, the more critical becomes the performance during the attempt itself. It is not that crucial to repeat that performance often.

The higher the volume, the more critical is the ability to repeat it. Therefore in weightlifting the ability to repeat a performance is less important than the absolute performance, namely to move maximal weight. In comparison with weightlifting soccer players need lower maximal- and explosive strength level than weightlifters – but higher levels of conditioning. As the ability to repeat maximal Sprinting Speed for the 90 minute game is critical.

TRAINING ENDURANCE VS. CONDITIONING

The training for Endurance and Conditioning is obviously very different.

The Training of Endurance basically includes a higher volume of total work, a lower -if any – number and duration of breaks and lower average intensity of effort. While the training of conditioning basically comprises a lower total volume of work and an increased number and duration of breaks at higher average intensity of effort.

51 rounds divided into 3 blocks á (9 rounds, 3 minutes pause, 5 rounds, 3 minutes pause, 3 rounds) with 10 minute pauses between the blocks. The rounds have to be executed with minimal 85% of world record time.

That´s a solution for a 1500m short track speed skater whose limiting factor is endurance over 1500m. That means he fatigues too much in the last 3-5 rounds of the 1500m race which is 14,5 rounds.

This is a program written by the legendary short track speed skating Coach Yves Nadeau, whose athletes won 204 medals at World Championchips and the Olympic Games since 1983.

Sample training program for Conditioning in Soccer

This is a modified strongman medley used to condition a soccer player

A1 Forward Sleddrag, 20m, 5s rest
A2 Prowler Push, High Handle, elbows extended, 20m, 5s rest
A3 Sprint, 20m, 120s rest
Repeat 4-10 times depending on the current Conditioning Level of the Athletes

This is a solution for a player or a team whose physically limiting factor is fatigue in the latter part of the game.

The ability to repeat multiple blocks of three 20m efforts with minimal rest has clearly a higher correlation to soccer-specific performance than 10-60min straight jogging. To train the sprinting power, speed and conditioning at the same time a combination of strength- and condititoning training in the weightroom can also be utilized. To see how it looks in detail, here is an example of a squat training program for conditioning in Ju Jitsu.

Sample training program for Conditioning in Ju Jitsu

 12 sets of 4 reps of BB Back Squats with a 30X0 tempo and 60s rest.

From workout to workout increase the average- and maximal weight used.

That´s a solution for a fighter whose physical limiting factor is fatiguing from effort to effort. The higher intensity and resistance on the squats allow for training conditioning and power of a single action at the same time.

This is the program used for preparation of YPSI Athlete Romy Korn for the Ju Jitsu World Championship 2014 in Paris where she became World Champion in the 70+ kg weightclass at a bodyweight of 71,2kg with all her opponents outweighing her by 15+kg.

Conclusion: For a coach it is crucial to identify whether endurance and/or conditioning are necessary for a certain sports and disciplines. And to assess which the limiting factor of the individual athlete is. So the training program can be specifically tailored to the needs of the individual sport and the limiting factor of the individual athlete. To maximise the efficiency of training and therefore increase pPerformance on the field, court, ice or mat.

Hamstrings Development

The evidence is mounting that a range of exercises are necessary, if athletes want to achieve complete hamstrings development. 

This new study shows that 4 different exercises produced very different responses in each of the 4 hamstrings muscles and 3 main regions (proximal, middle, and distal) when measured using MRI from pre- to post-exercise. 

This suggests that both hip extension exercises (e.g. Russian belt deadlift and hip extension conic pulley, as in this study) as well as knee flexion exercises (e.g. Nordic curl and flywheel leg curl, as in this study) are necessary to achieve increases in muscular strength and size of all hamstrings muscles and regions.

Smart Abdominal Training

 
 

Although you are regularly bombarded with exercises claiming to tone and strengthen the abdominal muscles, many of these exercises are inadequate and ineffective. Some exercises may actually lead to lower back pain, and do little to strengthen the abdominals.

The ‘villains’ of abdominal training are the hip flexors, which bring the legs and trunk toward each other. Muscles that flex the hip include the psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus and sartorius. Full sit-ups involve the hip flexors, which may cause the lower back to arch and unwanted back pain, particularly in individuals with relatively weak abdominals. Leg-raising exercises in a supine position challenge the hip flexors with limited involvement of the abdominals. Frequently, there is a muscle imbalance between the weaker abdominals and the stronger hip flexors in trunk flexing movements. The goal of abdominal training is to maximize the involvement of the abdominals, while minimizing the involvement of the hip flexors.