How Do We Determine The Right Strength Training Volume?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. –Goethe”

What is the optimal amount of strength training? The short answer is the least you can do while making credible gains.

Why would you do more? Like anything we pursue in life strength training has a point of diminishing returns. At some point x in no longer equals y out. Eventually 2x in starts to equal y out, then 3x and 4x in is required to equal y out.  You begin to lose ground.

Think of recovery like a cup. The more volume you add the more the recovery cup is emptied to get you ready for the next workout. If you have more volume than the recovery cup can handle, you aren’t recovered in time for your next workout.

Life is very busy for the high school athlete.  Numerous demands are competing for their time. In addition to the normal academic demands, athletes have sport demands. Sport demands can further be broken down into strength training demands.

This time demand is cumulative; so, if you can save some time somewhere, it’s a good thing. Time saved can be shifted to be utilized to improve another area the athlete needs improvement in. Also though, time saved can be banked, that is not spending the 20 minutes saved by having them practice 20 minutes longer at something else. This can foster improved recovery both physically and mentally from sport.

How Do We Determine The Right Volume?

The key is to monitor your progress and keep accurate records. From that point if you add more volume you can see if your gains keep up, or slow. Conversely you can reduce volume and if the gains stay the same, then you’ve got a win on your hands. You can reduce the strength training stimulus while getting the same strength gain. This allows better recovery for the athlete. As stated earlier, don’t be quick to spend the reduced volume by filling it with other exercises. Less can and often will be more.

What Are Some Ways To Reduce Volume In The Weight Room?

The obvious answers are:

Reduce the sets – An obvious way to reduce the amount of volume. Many studies show one set is enough stimulation for strength and muscle gains and diminishing returns set in on the third and subsequent sets.

Remember, one of the key reasons powerlifters and olympic lifters do many sets is for the practice of the lift itself. Their one and only goal is to lift more weight in that movement. Set upon set helps to build motor memory for that movement and when you are lifting for competition, you want to be able to hit the efficient groove 100% of the time.

Strength training for athletics is not the same. You are trying to make the athletes stronger, but you are not trying to turn them into a world record squatter, so having them squat as a world record pursuing lifter doesn’t make sense. It’s waaay past the line of diminishing returns.

Reduce the total reps – This one is also an abvious way to reduce volume. This one can also cut down on DOMS that your athletes may experience. Delayed onset muscle soreness primarily comes from the eccentric phase of the movement and the more reps that are done, the more eccentric contractions. I’m not saying go to heavy singles, but you can cycle in some lower rep sets from time to time. What I’m really saying is reduce the reps by reducing the sets and NOT changing the amount of reps in your existing sets. Go from 3×10 to 2×10, not 2×15.

Less Obvious answers

Fewer Exercises – Look at decreasing assistance work on some of the prime movements, but also consider reducing the prime movements temporarily and focussing more on the assistance movements.

Many times the assistance work is not done with enough intensity as it’s an after thought to the prime work. As such the assistance work doesn’t reach the intensity level required to stimulate optimal gains. Consider dropping prime movements one week of every four. This will allow more intensity on the assistance work and allow the prime movers to get some much needed rest. I think you’ll find the benefit of doing so. Just be sure not to add more assistance work that week. You may work to up the intensity of what is in place, but don’t add more exercises or you’ll defeat the purpose.

Wrap-up

If you look around at what you are doing you will find places and ways to save time and wear in your strength training program. This is also an activity where another set of eyes can help. Talk to other strength coaches and agree to critiqe each others programs with an eye toward reducing the work. That other coach will probably spot ways that don’t occur to you and vice versa.

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Dumbbells for Training Athletes

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats. — Howard Aiken, IBM engineer

Dumbbells for Training Athletes

There are plenty of ways to train your athletes. Barbells, Machines, Bands… basically anything that provides resistance to the targeted muscles. Of course dumbbells belong on that list as well, simply because they provide resistance too. However there are some reasons to look a little closer at what dumbbells bring to the table. I will point out that some of the advantages or unique points to training with a dumbbell are also true of resistance bands or cable / pully machines. For most schools though, a complete set of dumbbells will be a better investment than cable/pully machines as the machines tend to be focused on a single or only a very few movements. Dumbbells and resistance bands are not limited in the same sense.

Some advantages or unique properties of Dumbbells

Cost – Dumbbells typically cost less than barbells and plates which in turn cost less than machines. They offer a lot of value for the schools athletic equipment budget.

Minimal other equipment required – Dumbbell’s are often utilized standing and require nothing more than a space for the athlete to stand and have freedom of movement. Some dumbbell exercises require an adjustable weight bench. Even top quality adjustable benches are reasonably priced. An adjustable bench and protection for your floor assuming you don’t have rubberized or similar flooring in your facility are all that are needed for exercises requiring a bench for exercises where it’s difficult to place heavy dumbbells down gently.

Safety – No athlete will ever suffer a fatal injury from dumbbell bench presses by becoming pinned beneath the bar as there is no par coming down on the lifters chest. Unless you are doing an exercise that brings a dumbbell over your face, dumbbells are inherently safe.

Single Limb – Dumbbells are most commonly held one per hand. As such they can be used to train around injuries very well. An injured right shoulder need not hamper training the left when one is using dumbbells. There are numerous medical studies

Balance – Some times an athlete will have a stronger side. Lifting with Dumbbells will quickly make this apparent as the weaker side will lag the stronger when pulling or pressing.

Stabilization – Because dumbbells are held in each hand and there is not connection between them as in the case of a barbell, each limb is free to move independently of the other. This places more stress or activates more of the stabilizer musculature along the spine. Working these muscles will help the athlete to be more resistance to injury. In many sporting activities, forces act on one side of the body and not the other or at least not equally. The stabilization muscles help to absorb or counteract that force. It stands to reason that stronger stabilization muscles will make the athlete better prepared to handle those forces.

Fast Weight Changes – Assuming you have either a set of fixed weight dumbbells or selectorized dumbbells, it’s very quick to change the weight for different exercises or sets if doing multiple sets. Dumbbells can be carried to another workout station and used to pre-exhaust a muscle group if desired as well.

Targeted – Dumbbells work great if you want to target an individual muscle with a simple movement whereas barbells tend to be more suited to compound movements. This is a great way to target a specific muscular deficiency.

Conclusion

Dumbbells also offer a nice change of pace for the athletes and help keep things fresh which has been shown to be important in training not only for the mental aspect of the athlete but also for the body and central nervous system. If nothing else pick one barbell exercise per week and have your athletes work with the dumbbell equivalent and observe the athletes, their attitudes and outcomes. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Dumbbells offer many pluses and should be a part of any coaches repertoire. They are of good value to the school and the athlete alike. Their advantages in training effect and safety make it almost irresponsible not to be using them. If you aren’t using them today ask yourself why and look into the many advantages yourself and proceed accordingly.

Introducing… Corporate Warrior

In the next few months, I’m going to make a an effort here to talk a little bit about some of the folks on our Sites Of Interest.

The links you see there are people or organizations that we feel are doing good work by promoting the correct training methodologies and have some unique information that we think would benefit our readers.

The first one I’m going to talk about is the newest addition to our Links, Corporate Fitness. Corporate Fitness is the effort of Lawrence Neal. Lawrence states he started the site

“after having the epiphany that redefined what I considered to be “effective exercise”.

My journey starts here…

It’s Sunday evening 22nd July 2012. I’m sitting down planning my workouts for the week:

Monday – Running and “Core” Work

Tuesday – Upper Body Strength Training and Grip

Wednesday – Interval Sprints

Thursday – Lower Body Strength Training and Grip

Friday – Hill Sprints

Saturday – 45 Minute Run

I pointlessly penciled in other activities in the few available spaces, knowing full well they weren’t going to get done.

I planned my life around the workouts that should have come second to my relationships, family, and mission. The result: my career suffered, businesses failed, and I never saw family. I was pretty unhappy.

14 months later, things were different. I watched this video by Dr Doug McGuff. It was a game changer.

On a Sunday evening (29th September 2013), I sat down to plan my week. I planned when I was going to see friends and family, work on my business, network, develop/acquire skills for my day job, attend seminars, and play sport.

Once I had filled this in, I penciled in a single 15-minute workout for Tuesday evening, knowing it would provide all the benefits and more of my previous 6 to 8 training sessions per week with minimum wear and tear on my body.

My journey took a turn.

I realised that, like exercise, I was ineffectively managing my life. I started to hunt for the critical counterintuitive in everything. Looking for the principles, strategies, hacks and tactics to more effective living. Default living just didn’t make sense to me.”

[Excerpt from http://www.15minutecorporatewarrior.com/about-us/

Lawrence came across the high intensity training and saw what positive it gave him and then sought a similar approach to living life. I don’t think we’ll try coining the phrase High Intensity Living (HIL), but it’s clear that Lawrence has made every effort to maximize his progress by investing quality time into the things that matter to him.

Just as we do with high intensity training.

I’ve listened to some of the podcasts on Lawrence’s site and really like them. Lawrence asks good questions and probes for answers making the podcasts more interesting and valuable to the listener.

I think you will benefit from Lawrence’s information, positive outlook and energy he brings to the table. Visit Corporate Warrior and see what we mean.

 

Squats Should Not Be Considered A Default Movement For All Athletes

“Morality is contraband in war.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Question the importance of squats on any lifting forum on the net and typically youll get back a range of responses from necessary evil to better than sliced bread.

Some people love pushing the squat so much, they’ll tell you you need to do it if you want a bigger chest or arms. And then a breath or two later explain the principle of SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) without blinking.

Squats, though a good leg exercise, aren’t necessarily the best choice for every single athlete that comes through the doors of the weight room. In other words, as we stated in a previous article, we would like to emphasize that there is nothing magical about placing a bar across ones back to develop lower body strength.

Whether or not the squat is the right choice depends on several things:

  1. Does the movement fit the subjects body. Is he 6’10” or 5’10”?
  2. Is the movement mechanically sound for the athlete? Video on Squat and Body Mechanics that literally shows why the squat is not suitable to some athletes.
  3. Do you have a safe setup for performing squats? If a power rack is unavailable, do you have competent spotters available? Enough racks or spotters that you can run the team through the lift in a time efficient manner?
  4. Are there prior injuries that need to be compensated for, or that make performing barbell squats difficult? For example, if a players injured shoulder doesnt allow the hand to get back to grip the bar properly, then you should be looking in another direction than the barbell squat for leg and hip strength.
  5. There are various squat machines, leg press machines, hip sled machines, lunge movements and body weight squatting movements that also strengthen your legs as well as squats do and possibly in a safer manner.

Sufficient strength can easily be acquired with movements and methods other than the barbell squat. Many athletes are too tall or don’t have the right lever arm proportions for proper (safe) form in the squat.

I am working with an athlete that has very long legs and a short torso.   She cannot hit parallel without excessive forward lean and struggles to not fall over backwards.  (Read this to understand why)  I quickly ruled out parallel barbell squats as an exercise and have had her working the leg press instead and she is progressing nicely.

While for this athlete and others like her, squats are not a safe option, but that should in no way limit the strength development of the hips and legs.  Step ups, lunges, leg press, the list of alternates goes on and on.

In summary we should be thinking about the athlete, any limitations they have, and how to deliver that athlete a safe, effective, time efficient method of strengthening the legs.

The weight room is a tool for an athlete to utilize to develop strength. It’s how the strength gained in the weight room is brought to utilized on the playing field that matters, not how the strength was gained in the first place.

Don’t lose sight of that.

It’s Not Complicated

“Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life.” -Tennessee Williams

Don’t Complicate Strength

On my own, I have learned simple is best. Yet, what I read said, complex is best.

There are many reasons strength training isnt portrayed as simple, but perhaps the biggest is that the simple is not worth as much money as complex. Arthur Jones and other high intensity advocates had simple programs. Many of todays gurus teach a Soviet/Eastern European periodization that factors in the level of the tide, sunrise, moon phase, barometric pressure and the orbit of Halleys comet.

While those programs can work as well, they work because the body is made to work hard and to follow that work with a period of rest. I believe a lot of the reason for the pushing of the complex approach is because when you see all the factors that you must (according the the ones pushing the complex) consider, you are sure to understand why you need to be paying top dollar for this advice, probably need a personal trainer and could never make gains on a simple program. Reminds me of lyrics from Pink Floyds Mother

  • Momma is gonna put all of her fears into you.
  • Momma is gonna keep you right here under her wing.
  • She wont let you fly, but she might let you sing.
  • Momma is gonna keep Baby cozy and warm.

In our case Mother is the excessive periodization faction and their followers. If they told you it was as simple as putting more weight on the bar when you can or doing another rep when you can and changing exercises occasionally you would start to question the worth of the coaching you were buying. The more complicated it is, the easier it is for the coach to justify their existence.

Can it be that simple? The resounding answer is yes, not only can it be that simple, it IS that simple. Look for lifting programs from people like Ken Leistner, Matt Brzycki, Kim Wood and the like. These guys practice the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle. You wont see a workout called Double Negative Inverse Loading Periodization Protocol, but you just might find some effective workouts that make you stronger, larger and able to perform at a higher level in your chosen sport.

 

You don’t need to train explosively to exhibit explosiveness

A long while back in a “Dear StrongerAthletes: Success Story” (scroll down on page link takes you to) a father and mountain bike coach mentioned the improvement he’d seen in his team members and his son after utilizing the Stronger Athlete’s method of strength training. He mentioned his son’s improvement and if you would like to see some of the things his son can do with a bike – amazing stuff – really, you need to watch this video.

Also check out the America’s Got Talent Profile of Jeremy Vanschoonhoven.

 

Advantages of Resistance Cables over Free Weights and Machines

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” –John Ruskin

When Resistance Cables are Superior to Weights

As you well know, your muscles get stronger to demands of resistance imposed on them. Resistance and only resistance. It does not matter what provides the resistance. Whether it’s a can of soup, a gallon of water, a resistance cable, a weight machine, or a free weight, a log, a barrel of concrete (shout out to Steve Justa) or even your own body weight, it’s just another form of resistance.

Back story on cables / resistance bands. The very first versions were not bands at all, but rather were steel springs and were often called expanders. Later they started to be called cables as surgical tubing was used and finally fitness companies started offering commercial products dubbed resistance cables or in some cases resistance bands. For this article whether I say bands or cables, I’m talking about the same thing.

So, what makes resistance cables so special? Truthfully nothing, you can build strength just the same with anything else in the list of resistance devices I mentioned earlier. Just like there are things a wrench can do that a hammer can’t, there are some things that make cables more desirable than other methods of resistance. The smart coach or trainee learns the fundamentals and then can pick the particular tool that will meet the need at hand in the most efficient way.

Fred Crivello turned me on to cables years ago. Fred, an accomplished Jujutsu practitioner and coach uses cables to strengthen himself for Jujutsu and found them superior to weights for his needs. At the time I was lifting weights a lot and really had not used many other methods of strength training. Today I have different types of cables and they are a big part of the strength component of my workout.

Here are a few of the advantages of cables versus traditional weights or machines for strength training:

  1. Low Cost
  2. Cables don’t take up much room.
  3. Cables can’t smash your toe if you drop them
  4. Cables can provide resistance in any plane easily. Weights and most other devices usually only provide resistance in the plane of gravity unless you have pulley’s or some other means to redirect the resistance plane.
  5. You can quickly adjust the resistance level by changing to a heavier cable or by shortening or lengthening your grip on a cable or even doubling it up
  6. Unique strength curve. The further you stretch a cable the more resistance a cable offers. Your muscles are stronger near full contraction than when fully extended. A resistance cable matches your strength curve better than free weights.
  7. Can easily be taken on a trip to provide a workout

Low Cost

Cables are reasonably priced. In addition, if you live somewhere where you would typically need to mail order weights, then you know shipping is going to kill you. Not the case with cables. They weigh next to nothing yet can provide resistance of large heavy expensive to ship weights.

Safety

You are not going to get hurt if you drop a cable on yourself. The risk you do run with cables though is they can snap unexpectedly. You should always check them over prior to use. Also I wear safety goggles over my eyes anytime I’m using cables that don’t have a capture feature. A capture feature is usually a nylon type enclosure around the cable. If your cables have this, then the risk of injury due to breakage is many times smaller.

Multiple Planes of Resistance

There are many sports and activities in which you need to use strength in directions other than vertical. With weights the resistance is always toward the ground. You have to reposition yourself if you want to hit the muscles from a different angle. This is not always easy or practical. With a cable it’s easy. You want horizontal resistance, hook the cable to a support beam or similar and pull until your hearts content. Or take a short piece and hold with one limb well the other pulls away. If you purchase Fred’s cable course (highly recommended), you will quickly see what I mean and understand the many advantages cables can give you over weights.

Unique Strength Curve

In most if not all lifts with weights as you get closer to the fully contracted state your muscle is in a position of greater leverage. This means the weight that was so hard at the beginning of the movement is now very easy to lift.

Cables offer more resistance the further you stretch them. That means that at the end of the lift when the weights won’t offer your muscle enough resistance, the cables are giving more resistance than when you started the lift.

Travel Considerations

If you are a road warrior, you can’t always count on hotels having any sort of fitness center or having it open in the hours you can or want to use it. Cables pack nicely in your suitcase and are available to train whenever you are.

There are more advantages, but these are the biggies. A good set up cables is less than one month at the most gyms. They can be stowed in a duffel bag or hung up when not in use.

Probably the best benefit is the ability to provide resistance in any plane. Whether you have cables that attach to something or have a set in which one end of the cable is in each hand, you are able to work virtually any muscle at any angle. This is nice for variety sake and specificity. If you train for sports such as wrestling or martial arts you can work standing or on the floor and mimic the sport motion with the cables.

For the person training at home, or if who has a busy travel schedule and needs a way to get a decent workout on the road, cables could be the answer. It beats lugging the Olympic barbell with you to use at the hotel. I have read of people bring weights on a vacation with them, not athletes, but the bodybuilder type of folks that are in some cases addicted to working out.