The success and capabilities of a good sports performance/strength & conditioning program should be evaluated by the effective and efficient use of the program’s resources, processes, and priorities.2 Resources are primarily the staff, equipment available, technology, and relationships. Processes are the way in which your resources, notably your staff, communicate and coordinate their work. Resources and processes balance each other out as you can have good resources and bad process, or vice-versa, and your program can still be garbage. How your organization makes decisions on how to go about using your resources and processes is a statement on what your priorities are as a program and ultimately determines the type of work you do and the kind of athletes you develop.
Evaluating the performance changes you need to make currently, consider timing (the point in the year you are competitively) and whether you have the resources to take effective action. Using mountain climbing as an analogy, current conditions, timing, and resources are the first things major expeditions must contemplate when planning a major summit attempt. One notable mountain is K2 which kills one climber for every four who summit. Coaches do not have to generate plans that take survival into account, but they will experience the greatest resistance at critical points in the training year, especially near important competitions when training loads are highest. At these points, changing course may be either impossible or ineffective because timing for peak performance, like summiting, may need to occur at X time and Y place. Therefore, your training velocity and time are critical components in how to orient the process of physical preparation (Figure 1).
In elite sport, this is not a hit or miss proposition, and there are times when success can only be guaranteed by demonstrating successful peak performance. As Steven Plisk said, “we do not land on top of the mountain by falling there.” Straying off course or encountering poor conditions forces everyone to use adaptive planning, but this process is always enhanced by better information and an understanding of why we humans choose to climb mountains or go to the moon.
Peak Force, Power, and Velocity
This is important for the overall process but also true down to the orientation of even a single physical performance act, demonstrated here through a countermovement jump (Figure 2).
It’s easy to see what Cal Dietz was thinking about regarding triphasic training, force, and muscle contraction.7. But look beyond force and consider the timing and sequence of events with respect to the relationship among force, power, and velocity. In the jump component of this data, on the left, peak forces precede peak power which precedes peak velocity. Will asymmetry, demonstrated by the green and yellow curves, take you “off course” or impact force-velocity relationships? Absolutely they will.
Neuromuscular forces have a direct relationship with power and velocity. Power’s transitional nature creates multiple peaks just before and after the peak forces of either eccentric or concentric nature. The exception to this is in the impact nature of the landing which offers an extreme “Verkhoshanskyian” shock, demonstrating the complex nature of eccentric contractions (high force, high power, and high negative velocity being fundamentally different than concentric performance).
This validates everything from plyometrics to post-activation potentiation to periodization and also provides an argument against reductionist thinking. We cannot chase one quality without the others, nor can we neglect power loads for high force or high-velocity movements alone. Peter Mundy, et al. (2016) demonstrated that countermovement jump net impulse was positively influenced by increasing load, while average and peak power both reduced.15
There is also evidence that there is no definitive optimal load for the development of power, as many of these differences are quite minor across a specific bandwidth based on the training exercise selected.11, 15 The focus instead should be placed on how to best sequence these loads to coincide with the sport, programming variables, and competition schedule.11, 15 We cannot oversimplify the interrelationship among force, power, and velocity in applied practice even if we love to do so with generic theoretical frameworks. Isolating each component’s development may be simpler when planning training loads, but it does not capture or represent the full complexity of the adaptation process.
Let’s explore why sequencing and timing are important to periodization, planning, and performance. In strength and conditioning circles, it is appropriate to develop a specific strategy and tactics to develop athletes capable of achieving high performance. Other practitioners who hope to gain from this experience must consider why this strategy may not be successful for them as much as why it may.
The rationale provided by Cal Dietz and triphasic training, phase potentiation, and conjugate sequential periodization, demonstrates that, with respect to magnitude, physical preparation depends upon strength development and volume load. For rate-limiting factors, depending on the sport and position, velocity and/or momentum underpin performance (with momentum, i.e. mass x velocity, being equal to impulse). This is why Bondarchuk’s system was so successful with relatively large athletes imposing their physical might upon a smaller object. High specificity, combined with high amounts of velocity and momentum, are applied across a range of training loads with great technical precision. Also note that maximum force is de-emphasized beyond a specific point.
Peak force, peak power, and peak velocity all share in a relationship with peak performance. When applying this in practice, there should be consideration for how these elements are achieved and the tools we use to achieve them. An isolated snapshot of such measures, often from athlete monitoring, has limitations. We need the full context to create effective analysis.
Make sure athletes understand they will move closer to and further away from their peak performance, based on the necessary sequence and timing of training loads. These loads have to challenge their recovery and adaptive ability to address limiting factors that may not limit their current speed and power expression but do inhibit the development of greater physical performance. This is where periodization may be most effective. Training loads must disturb this homeostasis. Understanding how they do so, at the micro and mesocycle level, is important when determining a performance target.High loads have an inoculation effect generating resiliency, robustness in physical performance. Click To Tweet
As explained by Dr. Jeremy Sheppard, high training loads have an inoculation effect and generate a resiliency and robustness in physical performance, but how you get to those high loads is important (training dosage). Athlete monitoring helps manage these workloads as we measure responses associated with loading that pushes athletes to the necessary adaptations.
The coordination of force and velocity development requires an appropriate distribution of the workload across mechanical and energetic specificity, according to the principles of dynamic correspondence. This allows for a more organic reduction in how “linear periodization” is performed and can reduce accommodation, monotony, and strain.3, 8, 17
Dr. Prue Cormie’ research found that stronger athletes adapt to ballistic training at a faster rate with a greater magnitude and with more of a velocity-specific adaptation. Weaker athletes improve but with more of a general response and with limitations to the rate and magnitude of improvement.5
Dr. Cormie’s research also has some specific limitations. During the study, athletes stopped strength training, and stronger athletes experienced slight detraining that may have interfered with further improvement in ballistic strength (-4.6% in Back Squat 1RM/BM). Also, the training program was highly specific with limited training variability which may have also limited further improvements, especially in stronger athletes.
Dr. Sophia Nimphius’ research demonstrates this as well. Dr. Nimphius studied the effects that stopping resistance training, common in a performance taper, had on countermovement jump performance.16 Over a 14-day period, jump height was the same on the 4th day and the 14th day, but how athletes jumped changed substantially (Figure 5). Athletes changed their force-time characteristics to jump with greater velocity, with reduced force and greater power. Once again, how athletes reach their target is an important part of physical preparation.How athletes reach their target is an important part of their physical preparation. Click To Tweet
These findings parallel research from Andersen and Aagaard (2010) showing a 7% reduction in myosin heavy chain IIX composition (fast-twitch fibers) across a 3-month training cycle and then a rebound to 15% after a 3-month detraining period.1
Another study from Andersen showed this rebound effect was complemented by an increase in rate of force development, a critical adaptation in power-speed athletes.1 Again this points not only to the specific training loads themselves but also to the importance of when and how these training loads are applied, and subsequently reduced, and when performance is fully actualized with taper length or a simpler reduction in training density.
Reactive Strength Index
Looking at these relationships another way, we see that biological system redundancy covers a wide range of training and recovery demands. The reactive strength index (RSI) and reactive strength index modified (RSImod) are jump tests that evaluate the fast stretch-shortening cycle (RSI) and the slow stretch-shortening cycle (RSImod).13, 14
These specific measures tell us how high an athlete jumped and how long it took them to do it, linking force production to output, and they tell us this specifically in meters/second. If we perform the assessment with a force plate, the force and velocity measures can provide information that we can immediately apply in the weight room (Table 1).13 Profiles like this can influence a training program specific to an individual athlete’s current needs, not to team averages or generic strength goals. This economizes training efforts directed toward what are often key performance indicators.
The timing for when to make specific changes to support these profiles involves current day to day stressors as well as long term timelines for an athlete’s development specific to their training phase and their final destination. For example, emphasizing max strength at the start of the competitive season may be possible depending on training level, but will require significantly more thought than working on strength in the athlete’s off-season.
|RSImod Profile||LOW FORCE||HIGH FORCE|
(PRIORITY: MAX STRENGTH TRAINING)
(PRIORITY: MAX STRENGTH TRAINING, FOLLOW WITH EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH/BALLISTIC TRAINING)
(PRIORITY: EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH/BALLISTIC TRAINING)
The recovery pattern of the stretch-shortening cycle has a short and long recovery period. The short cycle occurs at 2 hours, and the long cycle takes up to 8 days.4 This corresponds with local inflammatory processes and recovery followed by more systemic inflammation and regeneration. Gathercole, et al. (2015) reported this relationship with a decrease at zero hours, recovery to baseline at 24 hours, followed by another decrease at 72 two hours.10
This information can positively influence program design for typical high-low microcycle organization, as there is the potential for consecutive training days with higher relative intensity without negative effects. This is noted empirically in the work of Dan Pfaff and others based on specific organizational and/or athlete constraints. RSImod is a simple way to support this process by assessing training readiness, influencing the quality, quantity, or the concentration of the work to be performed with the potential to do so with three or fewer countermovement jumps.
Higher performers have greater variability in their force production to maintain jump height and to mask fatigue. They do this by lengthening the time to generate force, increasing contraction time, and reducing power. Depending on the sport, this can be an important distinction. Reductions could be significant to competitive performance but otherwise not be accounted for in training if we assess jump height alone.
Structural Differences in Athletes
Garhammer provides a great example in a study on snatch barbell velocities at the 1984 Olympic Games (Figure 6).9 The SW lifter is 56 kilograms (123 pounds) while DL is just under 140 kilograms (just over 300 pounds). There are other obvious discrepancies in their proportions, notably height.
Athletes adapt different strategies based on their specific constraints to demonstrate effective sports performance, and a change in specific tactics may be required to be successful. This velocity-time trace illustrates why transitions are so smooth on Olympic weightlifting movements with smaller, shorter lifts and why the transition phase and double knee bend are so critical for taller, larger athletes.
Repositioning around the knees in the transition phase is imperative for taller athletes. However, it is crucial to teach the double knee bend without talking about the double knee bend; the athlete should not concentrate on rebending the knees. They should concentrate on getting their legs back underneath the body to “stay low,” as noted specifically by Chinese coaches, to allow for better tracking of the bar and improved leverage, setting up better leg drive in the second pull.
This intent, rather than the overextended and backward (jumping back) pull common in weightlifting and “rock and stomp” techniques, shapes the desired outcome more closely to mechanical and energetic specificity while reducing the cost of adaptation.
The more vertical trajectory provides a more even distribution of work from the trunk through the high pulling action, through the hips, knees, and ankles through a better aligned first pull from the floor to the second pull and jumping finish. Alternatively, an overextended pull increases demand on the extensor chain, that is more consistently seen now as overpowered, rather than a more even distribution with the trunk (anterior chain).
The outcome may be the same, even if you use external cueing successfully, but the distribution of the work is critical. Without it, we may end up far from the performance target. Performance may be driven by outputs, external cueing, and ultimately training load, but how we get there may require a back and forth dynamic, including internal cueing and process-based reflections and adjustments.
On a biomechanical, bioenergetic, or coordinative level, the cost of poor performance does not validate the return. If we improve the efficiency and timing of exercise, microcycles, and mesocycles, we will improve program effectiveness. Per Peter Drucker, “Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right thing.”
If there are elements in your programming framework that concentrate on getting better by emphasizing more work, then there may be some adjustments to make. Many coaches understand work but not periodization and programming, and this can result in staleness and poor timing of bad performances and injury. A majority of training in your program does not necessarily have to be progressive (i.e., more than yesterday), but instead can be executed with greater purpose and mindfulness. The weight of an exercise’s value is not determined solely by its increase in volume load, but by the change in an individual athlete specific to their needs.
Dr. Jeremy Sheppard classifies this type of work and how it may fit into your overall scheme as loads that are performed “a lot, a little” or “a little, a lot.” Be less concerned with minimal effective dose and more concerned with showing adaptive readiness and amplifying training effects through effective programming at the microcycle level day in and day out.12
Far more important is phase potentiation showing how these loads are vertically integrated, effectively surfing the force-velocity curve from warm-ups to max efforts, and horizontally summated to best impact performance.12 “The juice is worth the squeeze” as Dan Baker said.
“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure,” according to Goodhart’s Law. In sports performance and strength and conditioning, however, we can argue that key performance indicators have a domino effect on other qualities that justifies violating this law.
Solving Program and Performance Problems
It’s important to understand the overall framework of the sport, training phase, and athlete. Know when it’s beneficial to work toward specific targets or when athletes need to keep the goal the goal. The Cynefin sense-making framework helps explain how to find solutions for periodization, programming, and performance problems: identify whether you are in the simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic domains (Figure 7).18 With this knowledge, a coaching staff can use the information to organize the decision-making process in either a deliberate, mechanistic way or in response to emergent issues.2.
The author thanks ForceDecks for the software images shared here.
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- Martinez, Daniel. “The Use of Reactive Strength Index, Reactive Strength Index Modified, and Flight Time: Contraction Time as Monitoring Tools.” Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning. 24(5): 37-41, 2016.
- Mundy P., N.A. Smith, M.A. Lauder, and J.P. Lake. “The effects of barbell load on countermovement vertical jump power and net impulse.” Journal of Sport Sciences. p. 1-7, 2016.
- Nimphius, S. “Lag time: The Effect of a Two-Week Cessation from Resistance Training on Force, Velocity and Power in Elite Softball Players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010; 24(Supplement 1), 1. doi:10.1097/01.JSC.0000367186.47762.66.
- Plisk, Steven S. “Effective Needs Analysis and Functional Training Principles,” in Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance. eds. Ian Jeffreys and Jeremy Moody (New York: Routledge, 2016), 81-199.
- Snowden, David J. and Mary E.Boone. “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” Harvard Business Review. (Nov 2007; retrieved April 18th, 2016).