April 24, 2017 • Strength & Conditioning

Powerline: 5 training tips all coaches must know

It has been said to never let the things that matter the least get in the way of things that matter the most. In the wide and varied world of training activities, that axiom holds special meaning. It can be easy to get caught-up in superficial, insignificant sideshow “fluff” that detracts from what’s truly important.

In this edition of Powerline, let’s take a closer look at five important training talking points that represent standards we should all know and use regularly.

1. Training for power sports must be geared to the anaerobic energy system.

Any sport that relies on rapid acceleration, deceleration, change of direction (COD), high-speed running and demonstration of power movements (e.g., blocking, tackling, jumping, throwing) is locked into the anaerobic energy system. It’s believed that the phosphocreatine (PC) system provides about 90 percent of the energy production for these types of sports, and glycolysis — or the lactic acid system — kicks in the remaining 10 percent.

The energy compounds, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and PC, are heavily relied upon in this process. Unfortunately, they are in short supply, providing for only mere seconds of an all-out effort. The good news is we can restock those energy stores relatively quickly. After about 30 seconds, 50 percent of the depleted energy is replenished, and after about 60 seconds, that number jumps to 75 percent. Training this system to be more efficient at what it does is key to “getting in shape” for some sports.

This can be accomplished by working up to training intervals that are specific to those required in competition. Of course, this is a gradual, progressive build-up at varying intensities and covering lower-to-moderate, and then moderate-to-higher volume scripts. Eventually, over as many as six to eight training weeks, a critical mass juncture is reached where drills should be conducted with competition tempo and at game speed.

Training procedures that require an all-out effort for repeats lasting approximately three to 20 seconds fall into this anaerobic category. Eventually funneling these training reps down to the average time range of the sport in question is the goal. The respites between intervals should start as high as a 4:1 (relief:work ratio), and gradually intensified to 3:1, 2:1, and 1:1 respectively.

Lactic acid, a byproduct of intense exercise, is an ally in the anaerobic training process. Once believed to be the culprit in exercise cessation and the shut down of muscle activity, we now recognize its importance in producing fuel for future bouts. It’s actually the accumulation of other metabolites (e.g., inorganic phosphate) and the inability to maintain the rate and force of contraction due to the loss of potassium that induces muscle fatigue. Highly trained athletes can utilize lactate in manufacturing new glucose (an energy source) through a process called gluconeogenesis. Some lactate is also sent to the brain and heart for fuel, or to the liver to be converted to glucose.

2. Balance training procedures to develop tendon stiffness and compliance.

We know that a certain degree of tendon stiffness is required for fast, powerful, explosive movements and skills. Conversely, it’s also understood that too high a degree of tendon stiffness, without concomitant tendon compliance, can be a precursor for injury (Baar, 2014). Simply stated, the forceful pulling of an extremely stiff tendon at either the bone or muscle junction, with little compliance, can produce injuries.

Just about any type of high-speed, short-duration movement lends itself to developing stiff tendons. These movements can be performed in the weight room (e.g., Olympic-style lifts, or similar lifts), or on the field (e.g., sprints, various plyometric exercises, full-speed agility runs,). Regardless of the time of year, there is no shortage of these types of activities; they are natural, built-in components.

This type of training increases the collagen (i.e., structural protein in the extracellular spaces in connective tissue) crosslinks, hence increasing stiffness.

Having even this rudimentary understanding of the stiffness and compliance issue with tendons, it’s important to include some longer-duration strength training movements throughout the year. For example, perform time under load (TUL) sets of six to 10 reps, dictating a two-second raising phase and a three- to four-second lowering phase. This is one protocol for training the compliant aspect of tendon tissue, and hopefully reducing the incidence of injury to this area.

3. Understanding some basic elements of speed improvement. Coaches always request our “speed program.”

And while we’ve discussed our cues and approach in previous columns, I caution coaches on not being overly enamored with any one-speed system before understanding the following:

Straight-line speed and multi-directional differences. You would be hard-pressed to name a sport other than track and field that requires solely straight-line speed. Multi-directional speed is a requisite to performance in all other sports, and it requires very specific training. A great track sprinter spends hundreds of hours perfecting starting block techniques, first step, acceleration posture, top-speed mechanics and finishing at the tape. It’s a “closed” skill, or one that has very little variability every time out. Other sports are “open” in nature, meaning that there is constant variability, a multitude of diverse movements and directions, and require the responses to a host of verbal, visual and pressure cues. To improve your speed in these situations, you must practice them with as much exactness as possible.

A fast mind can result in a fast body. If your athletes are more knowledgeable in skill timing and execution than their opponents, they are probably at least a step faster in competition. Athletes who have the encoded engrams in the motor centers of their brains on when and how to move based upon the cues they decipher are more efficient and respond quicker. Don’t underestimate the importance of “minimal mental delay” in skill execution. It can be the equalizer.

Body composition is a key factor in speed, quickness and power improvements. A certain amount of body fat is crucial to the function and protection of many internal organs, and it also serves the body in other capacities. However, excess fat can slow you down. Fat has no contractile properties; it’s merely an extra load being hauled around. Athletes should be counseled by their primary care physicians and educated, certified fitness practitioners for their optimal body composition. From there, a sensible, gradual and progressive strategy can be incorporated. An exception to this would be with athletes who have been earmarked in having body image and self-esteem concerns. Body composition evaluation can prove to be a very sensitive and personal area, and decisions must be made with mental and emotional variables closely considered. Alternative strategies and educational approaches should then be designed.

4. Program design must match physical development and maturation levels.

It must be understood that there can be a significant difference between the chronological and physiological age of your athletes. Before implementing a program used at a university, or from the internet, it’s your responsibility to troubleshoot it for adaptability and safety. Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid heavy, low-repetition strength training at the onset. The focus in the early phase of training for beginners should be on exercise technique and learning the proper teaching sequences and progressions.

In this age group, proper resistance training can enhance strength without the concomitant hypertrophy (i.e., increase in muscle size/girth). These gains can be attributed to nervous system adaptations. With proper instruction, strict overload progressions and continual technique emphasis, outstanding strength gains can be made by both male and female athletes. There is no need to rush it, nor is it wise to have the young athletes attempt to demonstrate their prowess in low-rep, heavyweight sets until they are older and physically ready for the increased demands.

5. Design workouts that balance agonist and antagonistic muscle compartments.

It’s crucial to pair pressing/pulling, flexion/extension, abduction/ adduction, and internal/external rotation movements in the program design. Too many programs neglect the posterior chain (rear deltoid, latissimus, rhomboids, trapezius, gluteals, hamstrings, lower back, etc.) and set up their athletes for imbalance and potential injury.

Adhering to this principle accomplishes the following:

• Increase the functional range of motion for the involved joints.

• Improve the structural stability of these joints.

• Increase power output, as the agonist is more suited to accelerate for a longer period due to the ability of the antagonist to decelerate the limb efficiently.

Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine. 


Baar, K., Training and Nutrition to Prevent Soft Tissue Injuries and Accelerate Return to Play, Gatorade Sports Science Exchange, #142, 2014

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