Rest at some point along the training continuum becomes an actual training method! An increase in volume should result in an upgrade in your restoration methods. Without the body being able to recover between sessions, the desired physiological adaptations are not maximised! Massage, contrast therapy, cryotherapy, proper nutrition to name a few are methods to aid in the recovery process.
A common sight today, and I blame this on the ever popular social media phenomenon, is the upload of athletes maxing out in the gym in-season. I look at it this way; the most important factor in the competitive season is how you perform on the battle field. That energy expended on Thursday morning whilst you were pulling 105% of your 1 rep max could have been used in the scrum driving your opposition backwards, or maintaining that top speed for an extra 5 yards to successfully complete a touch down to win the game.
Charlie Francis compared the Central nervous system (CNS) to a glass of water. Throughout a training cycle you fill the glass as the water is used as an analogy for stress, once the water overflows you are over trained. Regaining a well recovered nervous system can take a while, in season this could cost your team points which at the end of the season could be the difference between winning the championship or being relegated. Train smart!
Knowing when to call it a day
As a coach this is a skill and I believe one that separates good athletes from world class. This refers to break down in form or realising when the athlete has reached their current physical capacities, and the best thing to do is to get their stuff and go home to relax.
The season can be a psychological as well as a physiological deterrent on the body. Slogans like “no pain, no gain” or “go hard or go home” need to be thought about twice when you are dealing with athletes, as their strength and conditioning program is secondary to their sport. It is meant to help not hinder.
There are several ways to skin a cat (Don’t report me to the RSPCA). The back squat is not the only exercise for the lower body, neither is the bench press for the upper. During the season the body structures change as a result of playing the sport. I have seen it many times in the past – an athlete training on a Monday following a game on a Saturday afternoon, barbell back squatting and favoring one side or falling forwards/backwards through the pattern. As this is done under load and with regular repetition it could start a chain of injuries, or worse, ruptures/tears during the session.
A decent warm up can be used as a movement screen for the day and you should be able to pick up on any asymmetries or areas of poor mobility to decide whether you can have them lift bilaterally under load. A go-to exercise for me in season and out of season is the single leg split squat. It comes in many variations and can be adjusted to suit. Remember the athletes aren’t powerlifters or Olympic weight lifters, they don’t have to squat, bench or deadlift for optimal training. Choose wisely and be prepared to change at any given time.
A big discussion that has been ongoing in the strength and conditioning industry for a while now is “do I need my athletes to do the olympic lifts to perform better?” Personally I think they have their place, however, they are not the be all or end all. In season for example, a grid iron player withstands a lot of force from the opposition putting the hands, wrists and shoulders under an excessive amount of stress. Prescribing power cleans in season for the majority can just be adding to the problem. Absorbing/catching the load at a high velocity whilst demanding the shoulders and wrists to be in an uncompromised position to decelerate the weight is a recipe for disaster.
Olympic Weightlifting is a sport within itself and the lifts are very technical. The lifts take a lot of time to learn and this time can be spent elsewhere to develop explosive power. A safer alternative to these are medicine ball throws. Medicine ball throws also let you step out of just developing power in the sagittal plane by adding a multi directional component. Furthermore instead of using the full Olympic lifts, variations can be used. A great example is the clean high pull which takes away the risk of the athlete catching it awkwardly or jamming their wrist under the bar. However the athlete must demonstrate adequate triple extension (ankle, knee, hip) for it to have optimal transfer.
An additional point was brought up whilst I was on the phone the other day with my good friend Ben Rhodes who is a strength and conditioning coach/sports scientist in England for the Northampton Saints (rugby union). They are in their competitive season and in his own words he had this final point to add.
Understanding training load
As a strength & conditioning coach, an understanding of the demands of the game should be a given. However having an understanding of training load (including games) and modifying your gym loads is essential for player maintenance. In the ideal world we would all love to have a periodized program that is designed to improve our athletes throughout the season. However the truth is we just try and maintain the physical qualities we have developed in offseason while keeping the players as healthy and robust as possible. In truth the game itself (a brutal sport) and the training provides a lot of strength stimulus from week to week. For example during a scrum players are required to express a maximal isometric effort (front row especially) and line out jumpers producing maximal jumps and landings numerous times during a game and during the training week. So how much additional loading do they require? I think that answers itself.
These are just 6 key points I felt the need to bring to the surface. Points that I have encountered through my time in the industry.
Keep your athletes healthy and in the game, what might get you a lot of likes on Instagram may not get you a lot of points on the pitch. Which matters most?
“There is the opinion of the expert, the opinion of the coach, the opinion of the athlete and the opinion of the athlete’s body. The athlete’s body is always right, their bodies talk to you every session. ARE YOU LISTENING?” – Buddy Morris.