Daniel Martinez is the head strength and conditioning coach at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and recently completed the demands of the Edith Cowan University M.S. in Strength and Conditioning.
Freelap USA: What are the main pieces of information that a coach can gain from a force plate that they may not be able to from a simple switch mat?
Daniel Martinez: A force platform is basically a fancy scale that allows us to look at the force-time relationship and, using forward dynamics, identify characteristics within a given movement that demonstrate an output and how athletes performed that movement across all phases of contraction (eccentric, isometric, and concentric). This is an important differentiator, as there is a large body of research demonstrating that these characteristics vary widely by individual, sport, and task.
A switch mat is a good first step, especially if we consider the “compared to what” question, but a switch mat cannot differentiate across the contraction phases. A lot of my testing demonstrates that athletes interpret much of performance testing with a concentric output focus. Additionally, I often critique velocity-based training by stating what we largely describe is concentric velocity-based training and, if training becomes unnecessarily biased towards the concentric phase of contraction, based on VBT or switch mat outcomes, we still leave a large amount of adaptation on the table.
This is one of those biases that many of us are generally aware exists but do not always take specific steps to address: Analyzing forces without consideration for time is narrow, as is analyzing time without an understanding of forces as they need to be applied. This is most commonly expressed with respect to force as a weight room issue where strength is not contextualized properly in terms of its impact on a specific performance. The same is true of just looking for movements that are rapid (e.g., fast foot drills or even drop jumps), but not assessing whether this optimizes the development of force within that time window from a needs perspective with respect to desired movement outcomes.
At the same time, I often tell colleagues that most disagreements we have regarding the structure of the strength and conditioning program and performance testing are more likely longitudinal and sequential considerations. Critics of classic periodization often get caught up in variability or task specificity, but the reality is that there is something to be said for aligning stressors in a way that allows the workload distribution to create greater harmony. Our willingness to zoom in or zoom out on this depends on a load of contextual factors, which makes superficial discussions on the subject reek of an unnecessary agenda. If performance is a symphony, then we first need to understand that it is not always about louder drums (e.g., a hypertrophy or strength block), but sometimes we do need the drums to be louder! With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense to line up a training plan as a vector quantity towards a target, with both a magnitude and a direction, but this will also require some critical thinking.Consider aligning #stressors in a way that allows workload distribution to create greater harmony, says @entheosathletic. Click To Tweet
The easy example of this is the common practice of longer duration eccentrics as a first step in a specific program. This addresses the force side of this contractile characteristic, but leaves out the force-time element of eccentric stress that in team sport is most commonly expressed in landings, decelerations, and change of direction with large eccentric/negative velocities. Most of us would not propose to utilize classic “plyometrics” early in a training plan. However, that does not mean we should not address the qualities of gross deceleration capability, especially if doing so will smooth out the return to team sport practice and the chaos it contains. (Where inevitably, and despite heaps of weight lifted, the starting and stopping leads to wide-scale soreness across many teams.) The key is the workload distribution and the dosage: Training deceleration in small doses early functions like a vaccine and can generate a resiliency effect if done properly.
Freelap USA: How can this information steer the direction of an athlete’s training?
Daniel Martinez: Returning to the training structure and periodization issues from the previous question, we have a clearer picture of where we need to go and where an athlete is coming from. We often see an athlete who has either optimized these relationships or is in the process of adapting. Athletes who have optimized relationships will demonstrate greater harmony in their symphony and the force-time relationships will check a lot of boxes, resulting in very solid performance outcomes.
If an athlete is adapting, then we may see specific characteristics that are either amplified or lagging in their contribution to performance. For example, during heavier workloads—especially those that emphasize eccentric characteristics properly—we see eccentric characteristics spike, but concentric outputs come out flat. This makes a lot of sense if we consider that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The forces being overcome now are larger and therefore set the athlete up for some nice delayed training effects as we get that bonus effect of overload and adaptation (super-compensation, if you will).
So, the eccentric values spike and in one common relationship we will see concentric impulse (force x time) creep up slowly through the training cycle while concentric impulse up to 100 milliseconds stays depressed. So, do several other readiness measures in line with what you would expect, while the athlete’s force absorption capability slowly adapts to larger acute and chronic workloads. Eventually, harmony is achieved as both values are optimally expressed, leading to more problem-solving in the chase for competitive excellence.
To make actionable decisions on where the adapting athlete and the optimized athlete should go, we also always need to know what the timeline contains regarding important performance targets and/or competitions, and this is an area where there is room for compromise regarding periodization structure. Using the example from above, if the athlete has optimized these relationships and they have important competitions almost immediately, then one would not stray too far from this optimization with shorter training cycles and a more balanced distribution of work that is vertically integrated and sequenced in a rational form. If, however, they are far away from competition and we sense that we are far enough from our primary aim that we can disrupt this harmony in the hunt for the athlete’s best efforts not yet achieved, then we do exactly that.
People miss the boat on this, believing periodization is just variability, because there are positions that will support improved load tolerance and resiliency. Additionally, training that supports these positions will create training effects that can and will be amplified in the cycle that follows. As mentioned before, critics often advocate for the timing of such a thing, and this may mean using such alternative methods in a less concentrated form.
The alternative of working with a traditional periodization plan may move the athlete further away from performances consistent with the current demands of their competitive season, but we cannot just insert plyometrics or isometrics into a training plan or specific cycle for shock value. A good training plan teaches athletes that every load lifted should have purpose and intent longitudinally and sequentially, and that this can be organized into a rational plan. Learning to do so properly teaches athletes the discipline necessary to surf their true force-velocity curve, where every movement has intent and purpose in the way it is executed.We can’t just put #plyometrics or #isometrics into a training plan or specific cycle for shock value, says @entheosathletic. Click To Tweet
The alternative is neglecting this deep work for the shallow sort, which is the equivalent of teaching an amateur surfer how to shred the crap out of the kiddie pool. They may feel explosive, but they do not learn to maximally express forces and velocities consistent with their intended performance target. In short, what makes these methods for everyone makes them not what they truly are. Compromise as you believe necessary, but remember most of us overreach in the short term and under-reach in the long term. As it has been said: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Freelap USA: What are your favorite jump tests, and why?
Daniel Martinez: The countermovement jump is the backbone of what my current role requires. It aligns closely with characteristics central to adaptation in the weight room and mirrors many of the demands that will be placed on many team sport athletes. Not to be redundant, but this is the point where the training’s longitudinal and sequential factors will influence test selection. The drop jump and 10-5 RSI are both outstanding additions to a testing protocol for specific reasons. But, then again, so are the isometric mid-thigh pull and both bilateral and unilateral posterior chain/hamstring tests.
It all depends on how zoomed in or out one must be in their role. I like the drop jump because you have a test that you can shift longitudinally as an athlete adapts, provided that you can spend the necessary time with the athlete to develop the requisite qualities. I also like the 10-5 RSI, as you have a surrogate for the drop jump but do not introduce factors that can negatively influence elasticity and the coordination of the effort. This is because the athlete initiates the test with a countermovement jump and uses repeat fast ground contact efforts to provide a measure of fast SSC reactive strength.
At the same time, Dave Hamilton’s work on the drop jump paints a very clear picture on the utility and limitations of the drop jump/RSI. If you move above the 150-millisecond window, you lose the ability to utilize the reactive strength index as a reliable readiness tool because a broader time window allows athletes to exploit a wider variety of mechanisms that will generate comparable outcomes (i.e., varying strategies lead to similar performances but also create a lot of noise in the measurement). An easy way to think about this is to consider whether there is truly a 1:1 change in the reactive strength index, or whether specific jumping positions will lead to more favorable outcomes on one factor while potentially compromising the other. This does not mean a drop jump test is useless with the potential noise that comes along with it, just that you introduce contextual factors that should give you pause in drawing any firm conclusions.
In line with these issues, we must also consider from what positions these forces are being applied and within what time window. Or, as I prefer to contextualize this problem: We use this test in order to do what? We want to relate these test performances to specific characteristics we can quantify, while keeping training performances authentic towards a performance goal and not towards a specific test outcome. (This is the reason that time normalization, as it is typically done in much of the research, has limitations. Time is a huge factor in how athletes generate a specific performance and their coordinative strengths and limitations will influence how this is expressed.)
Freelap USA: What would the tiers of athlete monitoring look like, in terms of budget, from low to high? What would you choose at each level and why?
Daniel Martinez: Moving across the three buckets I use in my process, we need to be able to effectively quantify: 1) movement (positions); 2) output (forces = gas pedal and brakes); and 3) readiness. I am terrible at moving towards the abstract, so I will just finish this by writing that the same processes we use to create effective training curriculums, syllabi, and training plans are the same processes for creating a monitoring system.Create a #monitoring system with the same processes you use to create effective training plans, says @entheosathletic. Click To Tweet
In line with dynamic systems theory, it must also align with your environment, task, and athletes. The more closely this can authentically zoom in and zoom out on performance characteristics of training and competition, the better. Anything that falls out of line with this orientation can potentially compromise your training culture and testing outcomes, as you have moved towards a monitoring for monitoring’s sake program.
Freelap USA: What are the greatest uses, and misuses, of sport technology right now?
Daniel Martinez: I don’t know that this can be so cut and dry. Part of improving sport/performance science is driven through hypothesis and good observation. With that comes overreaching, at times. This is the same process many sport and S&C coaches discuss when they talk about blowing athletes up… so we will make many of the same mistakes in athlete monitoring, analytics, etc.
But the question should not be whether science can improve our performance and understanding of sport, because we know it can. The question would be better if we had sport coaches and more traditional strength and conditioning coaches asking, “Do I want this guy/girl on my team?” I know several individuals like this who have grabbed onto specific sport technologies because they know it will make their team better.
We should make them feel the same way about “us.” I want people to not want to compete against me, and that lines up well with what many of these coaches desire. My willingness to use performance science and technology to do so will always be a big part of that, but so will my coaching instincts.
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