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Tag Archive: strength training

  1. Weight training for women: Lessons from 1957

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    “Continuity of exercise is most essential”

    health and strength magazineThe 1950s were the age of physical culture. Jack Lalanne was doing his TV show and “Health and Strength” magazine offered a monthly look at different aspects of training.

    This April 1957 edition includes an excellent article on Weight Training for Women by A.J. Mannix who was the Chief Instructor of Camberwell Ladies’ Weight-Training Section.

    The article looks at five leg exercises that use a dumbbell, a barbell and a chair as equipment. They require balance and co-ordination as well as strength.

    He managed to write the whole article without the word “functional”!

    “It is true of all forms of exercise that regularity gets the results in the long run”. Mannix emphasises quality of technique, as well as coaching points and motivation for the women readers.

    A well written article without gimmicks, fads or “groundbreaking” sport science. Unfashionable nowadays, but sound advice that I try and implement. (You can download our free ebook for women here).

    Prevention is better than Cure

    I got the magazine for its article on weight training for women, but it contained some excellent other articles. The clue is in the title: Health is prominent.

    “Every effort should be made primarily to train our youth so that it takes a keen interest in health; to make it become as fit as possible in the organic sense.” says Capt Knowles principle of “The Institute of Breathing.”

    Coming in the week of the leaked Ofsted report on P.E. in schools, this is the type of education that is needed in schools. Competitive sport is different from Physical Education (as I have discussed here).

    gymnastics triple rollAn article on tumbling and amateur acrobatics by Ken Woodward (Principle of the Woodward School of Physical Culture) shows what has been lost in the last 60 years.

    I am a firm believer in the old saying that in order to get the best out of exercise, one must thoroughly enjoy it.”

    You can see the boys from an Air Cadet force trying the gymnastics triple roll. This requires strength, co -ordination, balance, team work, trust and it is fun!

    Woodward managed to write the whole article without mentioning the word “core”. I can tell you that the athletes I work with (young and old) enjoy this type of training immensely, once they have got the tools. He offers variations and progressions on these tumbling exercises that can be done on simple mats in schools or clubs.

    Basic gymnastics is an important skill, that is why we incorporate that in our Athletic Development programmes and warm ups (read how here).

    Or, you could line your players up, get them to do the plank for endless minutes, tell them to “engage your core” and then bemoan the fact that girls are disinterested in physical training.

    “Chest Size is not important”

    Says Don Doran in an article about the need for an increase in lung capacity. “The size of a man’s chest does not always give a correct sign of its usefulness or efficiency”.  He stresses the need for a “natural action” in exercises.

    Doran then emphasises the need for health first, strength training second. This connection between health, fitness and performance seems to have been forgotten. This was an article written for bodybuilders, an activity I have little time for, but it contained a lot of common sense and sound coaching advice within it.

    John McCallum’s “Keys to Progress” offers further practical advice on pure strength training from this era. Further reading on 1950s strongman training here.

    What now?

    weightlifting for women

    Excelsior female athlete

    I was inspired and frustrated reading this magazine. Where the heck are the Schools of Physical Culture and Institutes of Breathing nowadays? Our Universities are advocating Crossfit and kettlebell training instead of sound programming and development in order to cater to fashion and sell places.

    Physical Education and Athletic Development have many similar aspects. Without a sound health basis, physical literacy and role models in school teachers and parents, our children will never become engaged in fitness.

    Competitive sport is now the universal panacea according to the politicians. I am working hard in conjunction with fellow coaches to try and educate the next generation of athletes and future coaches through our Athletic Development Club. I hope that you can be part of it.

    Further reading: Weight Training for Women A modern female perspective. You can come and train with us if you are interested in weight lifting exercises for women.

  2. Principles of Training: Overload variations

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    “If your only tool is a hammer, then everything becomes a nail”

    If your only way of overloading an athlete to cause adaptation is adding weight, then you are limiting what they can achieve. The overload principle is often defined by external load only.

    Not every sport, or every athlete needs to be loaded in the same way. One way of defining overload (as I learnt from Jim Radcliffe on GAIN 2011) is shown here:

    overload variations

    Power= Force x distance/ time.

    You can get more powerful by increasing force, or distance, or reducing the time to apply force or to cover distance.

     The 3 overload variations being:

    • Resistive: using gravity or external resistance.
    • Temporal: do the same work but faster, with less rest, or less contact time.
    • Spatial: train outside of the platform, small variations leading to big ones.

    When planning training programmes, it is best to focus on one aspect at a time, whilst maintaining the others.

    For example:

    A fencer needs to be able to cover big distances, fast, with little or no external resistance, except gravity and air. It makes sense to work on spatial and temporal overload, rather than resistive.

    Conversely, a tight head prop has to overcome massive external resistance in both the scrum and in the contact areas. It makes sense to concentrate on resistive overload, rather than spatial overload (although the latter is always amusing).

    The relationship between the three

    training overloadWhilst there needs to be a different emphasis at any one time, all 3 are inter related. It is diffcult to cover more distance (spatial) without the ability to produce force. That can be aided by resistive training. Similarly, having great strength, without the ability to move fast, or cover distance is useless in the sporting environment.

    The problem occurs in training environments where one is the focus to the exclusion of all else. One current example is that British fencers are being told they have to be able to squat and deadlift twice their bodyweight! This shows a complete lack of imagination and understanding of what the sport requires.

    Yes, most fencers could be stronger, and need to be, but that has to be applicable to what their sporting requirements are.

    Conclusion

    When setting out your plan, look at the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, look at the sport requirements and adjust accordingly.

    The 3 types of overload may help you start to systemise what you do and why.

    “The best way to get better?…. is to get smarter!” Jim Radcliffe.

    Read about our Get Stronger programme 

  3. Jack Lalanne- mind body connection

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    I was recently asked if I could make someone fitter if they gave me £30,000. I think Jack Lalanne answers that quite well in this clip.

    The only proviso I would make is that the converse is true. I see a lot of young athletes who have no interests or hobbies outside of their sport.

    I think a hobby or interest outside of their main sport, including mixing with non-team mates is essential for balance.

    Read more in our Jack Lalanne interview.

  4. Exclusive Jack Lalanne Interview on his 93rd Birthday.

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    “Hello Students”

    Jack Lalanne interview

    Jack towing boats

    Jack Lalanne was famous for his TV show in the USA which ran weekly for 34 years. In it he also did some simple exercises (trimnastics) and gave a 2-3 minute monologue on how to stay healthy and enjoy life.

    His advice was years ahead of its time and if you think that the healthy food and moderate, regular exercise messages are new- think again! Jack said it all 50 years ago!

    Feats of Strength

    Jack was also known for his feats of strength including:

    • 1,033 press ups in 23 minutes. 
    • 1,000 star jumps and 1,000 chin ups in 1hour 22 minutes
    • He swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco whilst handcuffed and chained;
    • He is famous for towing boats when swimming including towing 70 dinghies with 70 people for 1.5 miles whilst handcuffed- on his 70th birthday!

    Jack lalanne swimHe featured in an episode of The Simpsons towing the old folks.

    The Interview

    Jack died last year, but I was lucky enough to interview him previously on his 93rd birthday (I say interview, I hardly got a word in- he was in fine form).

    JM- Happy Birthday Mr Lalanne, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me.

    JL– No problem (starts singing Happy Birthday to me) I love to help people, that’s what I do. I’m 93 years old and I’ve never been busier, I help people to help themselves. I live in the here and now, I say to people forget about what you used to do, do something now. Dying is easy, living is a pain in the backside. People who are 50 or 60 come up to me and say “Jack, what I used to do” I say this is the moment. The one thing in my mind is to help people.

    JM– (only now gets a chance to ask a question!) how did you get into exercise?

    JL- I was 15 years old and a sugarholic, I attended a healthy living lecture and it saved my life. I joined a YMCA gym, became a strict vegetarian for 6 years I got rid of my headaches.

    JM– I like your message of exercising little and often, eating right and having a positive mind set- do you ever have a down day?

    JL– No, never, you only live once, why be miserable? Fat people are miserable- you are carrying 50lb on your shoulders all day you get a disease called “pooped-out itis”. Don’t tell me that they are happy with the way they look and feel. I have to be honest, that is all I have, so I exercise and I eat healthily. Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, together you have a kingdom.

    I eat out in restaurants every night, but they cook the way I want my food cooked. I have 10 vegetables a day, eat 5 portions of fruit. I only eat fish and lean cuts of meat. The only grains I eat are wholegrains- I put the right fuel into my body.

    JM– I work with a lot of young athletes, have you any advice for them?

    JL– I say to young kids “do you want to feel better, look better, live longer, be more attractive?” You gotta work at it. Don’t blame your parents for how you are. You inherit your skin colour, your hair colour, your bones, the rest is habit. My Dad was overweight and unhealthy and he died young. I wasn’t going to let that happened to me.

    All athletes would be better if they eat better. Junk in equals Junk out.

    I get letters from people asking for advice, I say “start doing something for yourselves”, “God doesn’t offer to do your workout for you.

    Jack LalanneJM- What life experience can you share with us younger people?

    JL– I treat people how I want to be treated. Without people I would be nothing. One million per cent of my time I am thinking about helping people.

    My 53rd wedding anniversary was yesterday, the secret to a long and healthy marriage is to work at it and “don’t try and change each other”.

    JM- What feat of strength are you going to do today?

    JLI’m going to tow my wife across the bath tub. I’ve lifted weights for an hour and a half this morning, and I’ve swum for half an hour, I got this new pool I designed where you swim against the current. I live in a beautiful house, right by the Ocean.

    JM– Thanks again for your time and enjoy the rest of your birthday.

    JL– You’re welcome, I love England, my parents are from France, I have been to both places a few times.

    Jack’s series of talks on you tube are well worth watching. Especially when someone tells you about the latest research or fad! I use them as an example of good advice when delivering our own workshops and courses.

     

  5. Weight training for women

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    Being a woman in the gym!

    (By Fran Low) So I’ve spent the last 4 to 5 months telling you about the challenges that face training female athletes, however I have not once related it to my own experiences.

    When I used to go to the gym I would perform:

    • 20 mins on the cross trainer
    • 20 mins on the bike
    • a few sit ups (maybe a plank or two)
    • some fixed weights
    • 10min treadmill run

    Sound familiar??

    weight training women

    Excelsior weightlifter enjoying training

    When I looked around the gym (whilst cruising on the cross trainer listening to ‘Take That’), the free weights section was dominated by men with little notebooks recording what they were lifting. Never once did I see a woman with a little notebook! It was an intimidating area of the gym that I knew little about and therefore would avoid it.

    Having started this internship and going through the level 2 strength and conditioning course I am now comfortable using free weights, yet I still seem to be one of the only girls in the gym using them! James has taught me, as well as the other girls we train, enough knowledge to feel comfortable in what is normally a male dominated environment.

    First came focus…

    Now I’m not a world class athlete (not even close) but I do play hockey regularly for a weekend side, cycle a bit (You are too modest Fran, she cycled length of Britain JM)and go to the gym.

    This schedule probably sounds similar to most ‘weekend athletes’. Before I started this internship I thought I had a good grasp of exercises or activities to do to help my hockey but there was no focus to my training.

    I would just stick to this routine without ever questioning why I was doing what I was doing. So I changed my programme and thought about what I wanted to improve and how I was going to go about doing it.

    Then came progression…

    weight training for women

    Lifting weights to help running and jumping

    So once I changed my program, applied focus to it so that it was actually benefiting me, I then needed to begin to progress it. Making it more challenging as I improved.

    This is exactly what James has been doing with all his athletes. Without progression there is no point in training, you will just plateau and never improve.

    Now each week I increase the load as well as change the exercises to keep the sessions interesting.

    And finally evaluation!

    This I am still working on. Being able to look back at your training and evaluate its effectiveness helps you keep focus and monitor progression. Just performing planned sessions won’t always work. You need to keep asking yourself,

    • Was that too hard?
    • Was that too easy?
    • Was that too much/too little?

    Being able to monitor your progress is also an important evaluation tool. Things as simple as comparing maximal press ups effort, weight lifted, timed run pre and post training to examine improvement is imperative.

    So this is where I am at with my training. I have learnt a lot in a short time and am trying to apply it to myself as well as other athletes.

    So does this relate to your training program? Please feel free to comment.

    Fran Low

    Here is a short interview with Jo Calvino, English weightlifting record holder about her tips for Women:

    Free ebook on Strength training for female athletes here

  6. Front Squat vs Back Squat

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    Squatting is essential for female athletes

    Barbell squatAssistant coach Fran Low was an experienced hockey player when she started working with Excelsior.

    However, she had never done squats. Part of her role was to research the difference between front and back squats. Here are the results:

    Unlike most males who spend many hours swanning around the weights in the gym, the squat was a relatively new and daunting exercise to me.

    Having not spent much time strength training (reasons highlighted in this piece about females in the gym) I was unaware of the importance of the squatting movement and how it underpins most strength training exercises.

    how to squat properly

    Body weight squat

    I realised the true importance of squatting during the first few seconds of my first session with James. If you cannot squat correctly then don’t even think about lifting any weights!

    I wanted to learn how to squat properly.This article aims to highlight details and techniques of the front and back squats as well as looking at the power ratios between the different exercises.

    Back Squats:

    It is one of the only exercises that directly trains hip drive (the initial movement out of the bottom of a full squat is hip drive).

    Hip drive is important for any sport that involves running, jumping or lunging (so most sports really!).

    The squat uses the whole of the so called posterior chain, that is the calves, hamstrings and glutes working together.  Due to the large range of movement, the squat is very effective at synchronising and enhancing this movement.

    It works the whole body requiring stabilising muscles to be trained as well as the gross muscle groups.

    It also replicates a movement used in everyday life and most sports.

    Variations:

    1. Back squat: Barbell rests on back of the shoulder, more info below
    2. Front Squat: Barbell rests on front of the shoulders, more info below.
    3. Overhead squat: a squat performed with a weight/item (barbell, medicine ball, dumbbell, broomstick) above the head.
    4. Hindu Squat: body weight exercise, squatting down onto toes, bringing heels to bum, and swinging arms down, straightening legs standing up and pushing from the toes.
    Back squat

    bar too high

    Back Squat Technique:

    1. Approach bar in either power or squat rack.
    2. Grasp bar using pronated grip (width dependant on placement on back).
    3. Stand upright with bar resting across upper back (supported by 1 or 2 spotters, if required).
    4. Feet width self selected, but no wider than shoulder width.
    5. Elbows high and as far forward as possible, to support bar.
    6. Prior to descent, take a breath and hold it.
    7. Bend slowly at the knees and hips.
    8. Maintain a flat back throughout descent.
    9. Keep heels on the floor and do not allow the body to fall forward.
    10. Try to keep the knee in line with the toe (don’t allow knees to buckle, this leads to injury!).
    11. Stop descent at appropriate depth for athlete, ideally when legs are/past parallel to the floor.
    12.  Without bouncing raise bar by extending hips and knees.
    13. Keep back flat and head up.
    14. Keep hips under bar.
    15. Hold breath through sticking point*.
    16. At completion of set walk forward and replace bar in stands.

    Back Squat – The good vs. bad

    ProsCons
    Total body workoutCannot perform with back problems
    Improve posture and balance

    Trains the posterior chain

    Can be dangerous if incorrect technique

    Squats can be uncomfortable

    Trains stabilizing muscles leading to reduced risk of injury
    Build Muscle/gain strength
    Improve/maintain flexibility
    Used to exercise everything from endurance to power

    Front squat techniqueFront Squats:

    This movement is more upright and so places a more direct workload on your quads. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as in the back version, though.

    This key difference is highlighted in an image below and due to the greater hip angle, reduces the useof the hamstrings in the movement.

    This means it does not activate the posterior chain and although good for working the quadriceps, can neglect the hamstrings. For this reason it is not advised to solely use the front squat in training.

    Front Squat Technique:

    Same as back squat although instead of having bar placed on back of shoulders it is placed on the front of the shoulders:

    • Keep elbows high (upper-arm, almost parallel to the floor) and chest up.
    • Your shoulders support the weight, not your hands. Open your hands, relax them. Two/Three fingers under the bar is suggested.
    • Perform same squatting action as the back squat; however you will find that your back will stay straight as you need to keep your chest out to balance.

     Front Squat – The Good vs. the Bad

    ProsCons
    Requires/helps flexibilityMax front squat will be lighter than max Back squat.
    Harder to ‘cheat’Does not target the hamstrings and glutes unlike the back squat.
    Build Muscle/gain strengthOften Limited by stabiliser muscle flexibility rather than quadriceps fatigue (wrists, shoulders, ankles).
    More emphasis on quadricepsDoes not train the posterior chain
    Can improve other lifts
    Considered safer than the back squat

     How I Learnt how to squat properly

    The best way to gain a true understanding of these two squats is to try them yourself!  So that’s what I did….

    Firstly I would say I felt more comfortable and stable during the front squat. I was able to squat lower. However my wrists did begin to ache suggesting I should work on wrist flexibility!

    I could lift heavier with the back squat but I also felt more wobbly! The key coaching point I took from James was “Sit down”. Everything else is very technical, but to get started that simple cue was the best.

    Overview

    There are many differences between the two squatting techniques which this article has aimed to highlight. To sum it all up it is evident that the back squat should be an exercise in every athlete’s repertoire.

    To help with the back squat technique you can use the front squat, however don’t rely solely on the front squat as you will be neglecting the hamstrings and it isn’t as possible to lift as much weight.

    Good coaching is essential for both types of squat.

    Happy Squatting!

    Fran Low

    *Sticking point – The most difficult part of a lift, i.e. when the bar will not go any higher.

  7. How to take charge of your fitness training

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    herschel walker“If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.”

    Herschel Walker

    Training hard is one part of fitness training, but any idiot can get tired (or indeed make you tired)!

    I want to give you ideas that will help you get fit for your purpose.

    That may be to run faster, get stronger or jump higher in your sports arena.

    It may be to get you fitter so that you can deliver the goods at the end of a match, or for life in general.

    Here are the key points that I have developed over the years that work with people just like you.

    Preparation

    how to warm up for runningKnowing where you are going is essential before you start out on your journey (I have covered this previously in The power of goal setting). You need to know what you are trying to achieve this month, this week and today in your training.

    #Key tip 1: write down what you want to achieve for the month, for the week, for your next training session.

    An example might be “I want to be able to run 5km in less than 20 minutes by the end of January. This week I will do a time trial and 3 other runs. Tomorrow I will run 1km fast, walk for 2 minutes and repeat for a total of 5 times“.

    Your resistance training programme must be more specific than “best workout plans” gained from a magazine. Now you know what the aim of your session is going to look like, you can plan your warm up accordingly. Start with the end in mind.

    If your session is running, or lifting weights explosively, then by the end of the warm up you should be performing activities that resemble that.

    But, at the start, you will probably be feeling tired, stiff or lethargic after a day of school, work or from previous sessions. The picture of me is doing a pre track warm up, using hurdles to help warm up my hips.

    #Key tip 2: You need to increase the range of motion, speed, and complexity of movements gradually in your warm up.

    (Read more on how to design your warm up).

    Adaptation

    split jerkThis is the meat of your training session. What changes are you trying to make in your body? If it is to get stronger, then what movements are you trying to get stronger: a push, pull or a squat? Are you trying to develop speed? Then you need to be putting fast work in here.

    If your goal is to increase speed, then what aspect of speed: acceleration, deceleration, maximum speed, repeat speed, reaction speed? 

    Here is where your exercise choice, equipment choice, rest periods and amount of work done need to reflect the aim of the session. It is a common mistake to see a new exercise or new piece of kit and then jump straight into using that, without knowing why.

    #Key tip 3: Make sure your choice of exercises reflects the aim of the session, rather than dictates the session.

    For example, you read about Mo Farah’s 120 mile a week training and you see that he does a circuit in the gym. You copy that circuit without knowing why he is doing it, or even if it helps him. Worse still, you are a 15 year old runner with very little training background, you are in danger of getting hurt!

    Here are two example session plans for rugby players (other sports can follow the same principles), one in the field and one in the gym:how to start your fitness training

    how to start getting fit for sportI have left the sets/reps and loads blank because that is down to each individual. But the adaptation theme is for lower body strength in the gym, and for acceleration up to 20 metres on the field.

    I usually recommend using only 2 major lifts, plus minor lifts around that in the gym. The exercises in brackets will be lighter loads and are complementary to the major lifts. This allows you to practice those movements in what otherwise would be down time. (Picture is of hurdler Becky Brown doing the power snatch).

    #Key tip 4: Makes sure you work hard on the adaptation part of the session, allowing adequate rest between the major exercises (unless work capacity is your goal and rest will be reduced).

    (See how this works in practice with young athletes )

    Application

    how to start fitness trainingThis is the dessert of the session, or indeed the week. It is very,very easy (and common) to get caught in a numbers trap in the gym or field.

    But, unless you can apply your new found strength, speed or endurance on the field/court/mat or track what is the point?

    An example would be squash players only running on treadmills to improve their VO2 max (aerobic endurance) score to satisfy the physiologists who are unable to measure endurance where it counts: on the squash court!

    Your body has undergone some fatigue in the adaptation part of the session. It will remember this fatigue: you will be slower, weaker or more tired after this (every time you put a barbell on your back you move slower).

    Now you have to teach your body how to apply better movement that resembles or even better, replicates movements in your sport.

    This may mean getting out of the gym to run, jump or throw things! (picture is of Modern Pentathlete Greg Longden doing some hurdle jumps after squats).

    #Key tip 5: Get your body moving faster, further or in a complex pattern at the end of your training session. 

    This video shows an example of a good application exercise: the fire hydrant start.

    Regeneration

    Finally we come to regeneration. This includes physical, mental and emotional recovery, repair and renewal. The cool down in the session should gradually restore your body to its resting state, rather than stop abruptly.

    If your training session has included a lot of one type of movement, then you might need to do some of the opposite movement in the cool down to restore balance. This video shows an example of what to do ensure your shoulders and back stay healthy.

    You need to think about what food and water you consume immediately post training, and later that day or evening (you will have prepared this previously of course!)

    You need to think about showering or bathing (I work with school age rugby players, so please forgive me as assuming this is a given is a mistake) as this can help speed the recovery process.

    But, what is often forgotten is the fact that you need time away from your sport (and especially team mates) so that you return to training refreshed and invigorated. Of course, for some of you, your sport is your time away from work/ family and is your chance of regeneration.

    # Key tip 6: The most important recovery tool is sleep, and all your post training activities should be designed to help increase the quality and quantity of your sleep.

    Read more here about our recovery pyramid and how much sleep you need after training

    Summary

    fitness trainingI hope this has given you some insights into how to take charge of your fitness training. These methods work with the athletes I coach, whatever their sport.

    (This does apply to females too, read more from one female coach here)

    The detail of each session is changed according to the sport, but more importantly to the individual person.

    If you would like to benefit from this type of training, then you might want to use the programmes contained in my 3 books: Run Faster, Get Stronger or Jump Higher (all are readable on tablet, or pc and contain detailed training programmes with video clips).

    Or, if you want individual advice please contact me here 

    Good luck.

  8. Strength training for young people

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    “You never see an oak tree with huge branches and a tiny trunk”

    strength training for young people

    Strong trunk

    Kathryn “Wiggs” Catto on a last week’s level 1 coaching strength and conditioning for sport course.

    This was her way of describing to young teenage boys the necessity of developing strength in a safe and progressive manner.

    Unfortunately in the rush to “look good nekked” a lot of bad advice is heeded by these boys.

    huge arms tiny body

    Top heavy

    In the desperate attempt to develop limb size (rather than strength) the training programme negelects the fundamental needs of the developing body.

    “No one ever died of weak biceps”

    Roy Parsloe: lecturer on my A level p.e. course in 1991.

    Why on earth would we put a preacher curl into a school gym? The kids spend all day sat down in classrooms as it is.

    If you train sat down or lying down, then your entire trunk area is made redundant. We then have a situation where people need to work on their “core stability“.

    preacher curl

    Pull ups are better

    This lady may be trying to “tone” her arms, compared to the boys who would be trying to “get hench“, but they are all sat down.

    Every dumbbell exercise and 90% of the bodyweight exercises I demonstrated on the course were done standing up or in prone support. This limits the overall weight you can lift, but it is our ability to apply strength on the field that is important.

    The young person has to learn how to control their own body weight in different planes of movement and at varying speeds before picking up a weight. The quick fix is to sit or lie down (and have a mate pick up the weight and pass it to them) but there are no benches or chairs on the rugby pitch.

    Thanks to all the candidates who threw themselves with abandon into the practical sessions and the classroom discussions.

    I hope I managed to stimulate some thoughts into how they go back and work with all their players: solid foundations and sound programming beat fads and short cuts every time.

    Further reading:

  9. How to get stronger in pre-season

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    Why do I need to start  pre-season strength training ?

    pre-season fitnessWell, ideally you won’t be starting from scratch. Hopefully you have been doing your foundation work throughout the off-season.

    This means that you are moving efficiently and can control your body through a full range of motion.

    Now, as we saw last week, we are looking to make you more robust. This will allow you to do those movements Faster, Further or with Resistance.

    Strength training will make you more resistant to injury too. This is is true of all sports, and if you are a junior player or female, you might think “strength training isn’t for me”.

    But females are 4-7 times more likely to get Knee injuries than males, strength training is an essential part of helping prevent ACL injuries (See Free ebook on S&C for females here).

    If you are able to move Faster, and Further and against Resistance (gravity, another person) and you are less likely to be injured, you will be a better player.

    Getting stronger does not necessarily mean getting bigger (if you want to get bigger for Rugby, then see here).

    Key message: Strength training is essential for all athletes. The type of strength training differs depending on age/stage and sport.

    What exercises should I be doing?

    pre-season strength testThis very much depends on your age, stage of development and the sport you play. But certain principles are important:

    • Work the whole body, not just isolated parts.

    The body is a very complicated system, it is not a series of individual actions or jigsaw pieces.

    Your strength programme should reflect this. Exercises like squats, jumps and pull ups use lots of different movements together.

    If you are sitting or lying down doing exercises, you are not using your whole body.he bench is good for doing step ups, not for doing 80% of your exercises! You can sit on it between doing proper work.

    • Start in the middle and work out.

    A weak trunk means that anytime you try to generate power in the upper body, or hold a position like a tackle, or keep your body upright when running, you will struggle.

    The trunk must be trained in 3 planes, and with slow, fast and stabilising actions. If you are making your athletes hold a plank for more than 2 minutes then you are wasting their time and yours (see this medicine ball sequence for an idea.)

    • mini band exercisesProgress according to individual pace

    Not every athlete will be good at every exercise. They will move faster along the progression with some exercises, and slower at others. Recognise this and adapt your programme accordingly.

    For example, if some of your team are having trouble with squats, they could do Goblet squats, the intermediate group could do overhead squats, the advanced group could do squat jumps.

    Mini bands are a good tool to help balance and control.

    • Combine big movements with single leg/single arm work.

    It is tempting to just work on big lifts because you can test and measure them. But you need to make sure that any strength gain is applicable to the field/court, or is helping to prevent injury.

    You could do a sequence of: Dumbbell squats (2 leg), single leg squats, Dumbbell Rotational Press (2 arms), lawnmowers (single arm with rotation). If you followed this with a bear crawl into a sprint, then your body is learning to apply its new found strength.

    • jaz sawyers trainingOverload is not just adding weight.

    Overload can be Spatial, Temporal or Resistive (more detail here). The answer is more than just “add more weight” or “you need to be able to squat twice your body weight”! It depends on your sport and your position.

    E.g. A rugby union winger might need to work on running around people, so she works on temporal and spatial overload. A tight head prop has to work on absolute strength so resistive overload is needed.

    •  Everything works, but nothing works for ever.

    It doesn’t matter how good your plan is, if you are doing the same exercises, in the same sequence in 4 weeks time, it won’t be as effective. Not only will your body have adapted, but your team will be bored stiff! (This is one of Dan John’s philosophies.)

    Try doing a series of 14 day or 21 day cycles that allow progressions and variety to be built in, whilst giving the body sufficient time and stimuli to cause adaptation.

    Get your Free pdf “Start Getting Strong in Pre-Season” with 5 Training Session Plans here

    What about strength testing?

    If you have read the above and have a good idea of what type of strength training your team will be doing, then it is relatively easy to test strength.

    Do not test your team with exercises they have never seen or done before.

    They will either: get a bad result which is irrelevant due to the learning effect or; worse still, get injured in the process.

    If you are working with junior/ developmental athletes the worst reason to use a test is “because the first team do it”.

    Time is precious, and testing lots of athletes takes a long time. I always prefer testing in the sessions, rather than having a “testing day“. That way the athletes are warmed up and I record what they are doing as part of their session.

    You don’t have to do all the tests at the same time.

    strength testingExample tests (not Gospel, remember the points above)

    Standing broad jump (yes, I know you might call this power but it measures spatial ability) 2 leg or 1 leg.

    Pull ups: Over hand, with extra weight if needed, or inverted rows for those who can’t do 1.

    Squat: number of body weight for juniors, a loaded variant (back, front, overhead) for experienced lifters.

    A push: hindu press ups, or behind head press are currently my favourites. Bench press is just not applicable, military press can lead to convoluted body positions to get  good score.

    Side leg lifts: Get into a press up position, lift one hand off the floor and point to ceiling, move that side’s foot onto the other one. Your body is now in a straight line perpendicular to the floor, resting on one outstretched arm. Lift the top leg up to head height and down again. Target is 25 each side.

    This seems to quickly identify those with poor single leg balance and control.

    Throw: A medicine ball or a heavy implement, either chest pass or overhead, but check how much of the body is being used. Whole body is fine if that is what you are trying to measure.

    5RM, 3RM or 1RM? I wouldn’t do 1RM tests at the beginning of pre-season, it is a good way of getting people hurt: they also can’t walk for 3 days afterwards! I prefer doing a 5RM as part of a session, or a max number in a minute for beginners.

    Choose a test that matches your programme, rather than design a programme to match your test!

    Next week we will be looking at getting more agile, using your new found strength and control.

    See our Get Stronger programme here

  10. Jack Lalanne – R.I.P.

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    Jack Lalanne died aged 96I am sorry to hear that Jack Lalanne has died. For those of you that don’t know Jack, he was a legend in the 1950s and 1960s, producing a series of TV slots that still resonate today.

    Here is an example of Jack talking about unhappy people. Please spare 3 minutes of your time to see what he has to offer.

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack on his 93rd birthday.  He was generous with his time and advice, and had just finished his 2 hour training session.

    He most recently gave a quote for last year’s blog festival. and has been featured regularly on this blog.

    In the day and age of quick fixes and gimmicks, and where young athletes want rewards for simply turning up and doing 10 press ups, Jack was a welcome link to simple, honest advice and some impressive feats of strength.

    1000 press ups and 1000 pull ups in an hour and 20 minutes is good going.

    Our thoughts go to his family.