Home Posts tagged "Periodization"

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 32

In light of the busy baseball offseason, I'm long overdue for an update to this series. So, here goes!

1. Have a long-term plan, but not necessarily a long-term program.

The other day, an observational visitor to CSP-FL asked me if I had a big, overarching goal for all our professional baseball players. My response was simple: "Minor league guys need to get through five 4-week programs, and big leaguers need to get through four."

The MLB regular season always ends on a Sunday, so the math is actually easy to do. We know most MLB guys report around February 14, which gives us 19.5 weeks for the offseason. That 3.5 week "buffer" accounts for some time off, some vacation, a few days over the holidays, and travel to Spring Training. We "give" a little bit on guys who played well into the postseason in the previous year.

Over this 16 weeks of training, we transition from active recovery, improving mobility and building work capacity, to building strength and power, to transitioning into more specific skill development. It's all something we've become comfortable handling as long as we can get in those four program blocks. However, while we have a long-term plan, we don't write all the programs up in advance. Why? Very simply, what you put on paper for a January program when you write it three months in advance almost always needs to be modified prior to the time when it's actually being executed. Even the best players on the planet who've established really good offseason routines have to call audibles on the fly as various things come up throughout the offseason.

Have a general framework in place, but don't be so rigidly adherent to it that you can't pivot on the fly over the course of several months. It'll save you time and make your programming more effective if you write the specific components of your offseason progressions when the time is at hand.

2. Good coaching always comes back to relative stiffness.

Give this video of a back-to-wall shoulder flexion a watch:

Now, think about what's happening from a stiffness standpoint. When the arms go overhead, we're asking good stiffness of the anterior core (rectus abdominus, external obliques), glutes, and scapular upward rotators (upper trap, lower trap, and serratus anterior) to overpower bad stiffness of the lumbar extensors, lats, and scapular downward rotators (levator scapulae, pec minor, and rhomboids).

This good vs. bad stiffness interaction is taking place in every single movement we prescribe and coach. If we don't appreciate functional anatomy and understand how to tone down the bad and tone up the good, we simply can't be efficient coaches.

If you're looking to learn more about relative stiffness, I'd encourage you to check out Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement.

3. Be careful with predicted max charts.

Last week, I hit a personal record (PR) with five reps at 600lbs on my conventional deadlift.

PRs asid, though, it was actually a pretty good example of how off the predicted max charts really are.

After this set, I plugged 600 pounds and 5 reps into four separate predicted max calculators I found on the internet. The projections for my 1RM were anywhere from 675 pounds all the way up to 705 pounds. That 675 might be a possibility, but taking that to a 705 might very well be two years worth of specialized deadlift training.

Predicted max calculators have their place, but don't think for a second that they're perfectly accurate. And, they're even less accurate with a) more experienced lifters and b) lifters with a heavy fast twitch profile.

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The Best of 2017: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2017 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

Installment 26
Installment 27
Installment 28
Installment 29

2. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success

Installment 5
Installment 6
Installment 7
Installment 8

3. Periodization for Teenage Athletes - I thought this three-part article from Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil was outstanding. If you work with athletes, it's a must-read.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Best of 2017 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes – Part 3

Today is part 3 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 now. -EC

Programming for athletes that have a higher training age, skill level, and level of maturity becomes much more complex than the methods I outlined in part two of this series. Before some of the concepts I’ll be discussing are even worthwhile, the athlete needs to have achieved close to everything they possibly could from performing basic training OR be at such a high level of athletic skill that we need to weigh several more variables. In this final installment, I’ll outline the main variables that we need to consider and the execution of the programming itself.

Outlining The Variables

1. Athlete Type
2. Athlete Performance Level
3. Time of Offseason & Congruency With Skill Development

Athlete Type: It’s assumed that you’ve either had this athlete for a period of 1+ years or have the ability to figure out what type of athlete he is within a fairly short period of time. Analyzing an athlete’s needs isn’t just checking out how many degrees of motion are in individual joints; it’s about weighing where they fit on the force-velocity curve and figuring out their best avenue for exploitation. Is this athlete incredibly strong, but not fast? Put more of your eggs towards training elasticity/reactive qualities. Is this athlete incredibly fast-twitch, but struggles to deadlift 1.5xBW for sets of 3 to 5? Sounds like someone who needs to put more time into developing maximal strength. While your training should cover all ends of the spectrum, different athlete types need to emphasize different qualities.

Athlete Performance Level: What athletic achievements does the athlete expect to gain from training? How much playing time or what level of competition they are getting recruited to play at next often answers these questions. In our setting, throwing velocity and the fact that college recruiters often bank on it is the determinant of if our training is working. If a HS kid only throws 75 and wants to be recruited to play in college, training needs to be more markedly different than it is for the HS kid who throws 95.

Time of Offseason and Congruency with Skill Development: How much time does the athlete have to train consistently with you before the season begins, and, how does your program align with their skill development? At CSP, our offseason programming is directly aligned with our throwing programs for pitchers. It’s important to appreciate the stress that skill practice can have on your athletes and how this can affect qualities you are trying to train in the gym. All inputs are inputs, all stress is stress.

Programming Principles

At CSP, we use a conjugated periodization scheme with elements of Charlie Francis’ High/Low model. While these posts between concurrent and conjugated periodization schemes are separated, there is a huge gray area between the two. Concurrent periodization doesn’t abruptly end and conjugate periodization begins. Instead, programming becomes slightly more complex as the answers to the questions I outline in part 2 of this series begin to change: they’ve acquired more of a training age, they’ve likely become better at their sport, and hopefully they’ve gained some level of personal maturity. There is a difference between a strictly conjugate and a strictly concurrent program, but many athletes will live in the middle. It’s important to understand what you would do with someone at one extreme, from a raw, 13 year old beginner to an 18-yr old who throws 96 and has been training with you for years.

Within this conjugated scheme, exact exercise selection matters less. This athlete doesn’t need multiple sessions to figure out how to work up to a load that actually creates an adaptation. This concept was originally popularized by Westside Barbell, where their powerlifters changed max effort day lifts as frequently as every 1-2 weeks. With our athletes, people will see the same exercises for at least 4 and often 8 weeks. It’s assumed that the athlete can perform a progression all the way up the chain on a progression/regression scale.

We need to pick exercises that allow the athlete to endure stress that will create a favorable adaptation while avoiding biomechanically offensive positions. That’s it.

[bctt tweet="How we scale stressors in the week and month matter more than the squat/deadlift variation we use."]

In this video, I elaborate on the differences between beginner and advanced periodization within our model and how we address the variables listed above in conjunction with our programming:

I hope this look into our periodization model with teenage athletes gives some insights that help you to manage the training of your up-and-coming athletes.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 2

This is part 2 of Cressey Sports Performance coach John O'Neil's look at periodization for teenage athletes. In case you missed part 1, you can check it out HERE. -EC

When assessing a youth athlete, the most important information we can gather isn’t the only the specific or general movement-based assessments we run. The importance lies in the questions we ask and our ability to judge what kind of training program for which the athlete is ready. If we assume too simple, it’s easy to still see progress and transition to a more advanced program. Conversely, if we assume too complex, we’ve not only stalled progress, but we’ve potentially caused a host of issues – both physically and psychologically – that we will have to address. The industry is full of people using overly complex methods with people who haven’t earned them yet. Don’t be that guy.

Here are the main points I focus on in making this distinction:

  • Age
    • Actual age: If they’re under 16, it’s definitely going to be a concurrent program, and 16-18 year olds maybe approached the same, based on the answers to the following questions:
    • Biological age: How physically mature are they? Do they present like their actual age?
    • Training age: Have they trained for any period of 6 months – or multiple 3-month periods?
  • Athletic Skill Level
    • How far off from being an elite athlete are they? In our setting, throwing velocity for pitchers is often the determinant of this question.
    • At what level do they compete athletically? Chances are that your middle school, freshman, and JV level players don’t need anything fancy.
  • Personal Maturity
    • This one is much harder to quantify, but a typical fail in this category would include the kid who has his/her mom do the talking for them, or, someone who has no quantifiable goals and has no idea why they’re training.
    • Will they follow a program to a “T?” Or, is this an individual who’ll cut corners and omit the items he/she doesn’t enjoy?

Concurrent Programming Overview

If we look at a force/velocity curve, it’s our job as strength coaches to shift the curve up and to the right as much as we can. When we have a beginner athlete, every quality needs to move in that direction, independent of their sport or time in their competitive calendar. If we look at each quality as a bucket, all of these are empty and we need to fill each of them up. With advanced athletes, we need to assess which buckets are already filled and which buckets are the most empty. The empty buckets need to be filled up for the person to become a better athlete, and we need to consider their competitive calendar. The later in the offseason it is, the more closely the exercises we choose and speeds we prescribe will we need to reflect the movements they’ll actually encounter in sports. With beginner athletes, this doesn’t matter as much.

Strength-speed and speed-strength are also not qualities that we’ll focus on in beginner concurrent model programming. These are more advanced concerns. In beginners, we’ll stick with strength, power, and speed as our big three. Each of these three qualities are going to be trained somewhat equally during an athlete’s first 3-6 months. Chances are these athletes aren’t coming in six days per week, so we will hit each of these qualities every time they walk in the door. A typical session will include a dynamic warm-up, speed work, power work, 1-2 technical lifts, and 4-6 GPP style movements done in a more circuit-based fashion.

In block periodization, there is a phase of accumulation, a phase of transmutation, and a phase of realization. In concurrent periodization, our goal is to accumulate, accumulate, and continue to accumulate strength, power, and speed until we have deemed the athlete ready for more advanced programming.

Exercise Selection

When selecting exercises, there needs to be some form of linear exercise progression that begins with the exercise that is easiest for the athlete to not only learn quickly, but to load in the safest and most efficient manner possible. Lowest barrier to entry is a great term to summarize the exercise selection for this period. Pick movements that are hard for the athlete to screw up. We are looking to pick the exercise that combines the two following principles:

1) Can the person master the technique in an efficient and timely manner? How quickly can we make this exercise safe?

2) Can the person load the exercise in a way that progresses their main performance qualities - strength, power, speed – without technical difficulty of the exercise itself stalling progress?

External load should be the limiting factor for an appropriate exercise progression, as opposed to an athlete being held back by an inability to handle the implement being used (dumbbell, kettlebell, bar).

[bctt tweet="Limiting the learning curve may be the safest and most effective way to maximize the loading curve."]

There’s nothing wrong with keeping a main exercise the same for 12-16 weeks in a beginner. Provide variety in your dynamic warm-ups and unloaded exercises, not your staple loaded exercises. If your reason for programming variety is fun, maybe you should look at your training environment and your personal relationships with the athletes instead of choosing loaded variety to make the athlete enjoy training more. Especially in beginners, everything involving external loading should have a reason; picking a loaded exercise for fun is an asinine reason to program it.

I have these progressions mapped out for each main movement, with a theoretical end point before you change an exercise. For a squat, my progression is as follows:

• Goblet Squat to Box – until the person has awareness of and has owned the bottom position
• Goblet Squat – until the grip becomes the limiting factor towards loading the lower body
• 2KB Squat – until the person can complete sets of 8-10 with 16/20kg bells
• Safety Squat Bar (SSB) Squat – until someone can load 1.5xBW for sets of 3-5

*An athlete might do a front squat in the same spot as an SSB, but I usually find that the SSB is easier for athletes to learn first. We don’t back squat our baseball guys, but other athletes may progress up the chain to that exercise, especially if they’ll have to do it at school.

While these guidelines of progression don’t need to be adhered to strictly, sometimes I will veer off the Goblet or 2KB squat if I think the athlete is either ready for something else for or has stalled on an exercise. My point is simply that it’s important to have general guidelines for progressing exercises in beginners. The key is to make sure you’re not putting someone under a bar when they’re not comfortable with the technique of both the setup and the action.

This is not only true on loaded exercises, but for sprints, jumps, and throws as well. Many sport coaches these kids will have will crush them with lactic work: repeated sprints with inappropriately assigned rep schemes, distances, and rest times – but very few athletes we evaluate have ever been taught a thing about how to sprint more efficiently. As an industry, I think that we have a good understanding of lifting progressions, but power and sprint work isn’t as highly prioritized. If we look at the qualities of the best athletes – the fastest and most powerful with the best rate of force development, but not necessarily the highest strength – this doesn’t make any sense. We need to prioritize these qualities from a young age, at least from a technical proficiency standpoint.

The same principles of technical mastery, erring on the side of too simple and then progress, and lowest barrier of entry apply to sprint, jump, and throw training. While these concepts open up another broad topic, my initial block progressions in a beginner concurrent model are as following:

• Sprints: Work on mastering arm action, marching, and skipping
• Jumps: Learn how to decelerate bilaterally in the sagittal plane before getting into unilateral work, frontal/transverse plane, accelerative and reactive jumps
• Throws: Stationary sagittal plane work, focus on intent and outcome-oriented throwing before going transverse plane and increasing complexity

In part three of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a conjugate method of periodization for our athletes with a higher training age.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Periodization for Teenage Athletes: Part 1

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) coach, John O'Neil. This post was inspired by my Instagram post from 9/1; check it out HERE. Enjoy! -EC

There’s a big flaw in the way we as an industry (myself included) try to learn things. We assume that we have control of all of the variables and often times assume that an athlete is far more advanced than they really are. I get it: it’s fun and exciting as strength coaches to learn a new advanced technique and try to decipher how to best fit it into your model. In this series, I will attempt to define how we differentiate periodization schemes for our beginner and advanced athletes at Cressey Sports Performance CSP). Part one will focus on separating the different types of periodization used at CSP.

At CSP, we use a concurrent/conjugate style of programming that doesn’t strictly adhere to principles of block periodization. The more advanced an athlete is, the more their program might look like it’s block periodization, but there are still elements of it that are far more similar to a concurrent model. The reasons are simple: we train primarily athletes who need to train a multitude of qualities in off-seasons ranging 3-6 months – and they don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year. For our high school athletes, this could mean 40-50 games, and for our pro guys, this could be as many as ~190 (spring training, regular season, and post-season). We refer to this hybrid concurrent/block periodization scheme as a conjugate model.

First, let’s define these terms. Taken from Supertraining (Siff, Verkoshansky), a concurrent model “involves the parallel training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance, over the same period, with the intention of producing a multi-faceted development of fitness.” A conjugated sequence, as defined by Periodization (Bompa), is a “method of sequencing training to take advantage of training residuals developed within periods of concentrated loading.” We will distinguish between these terms by using concurrent to refer to our athletes with a lower training age, and conjugate to refer to the periodization used with our higher training age athletes. The same book defines block training as “a sequential approach to structuring training in which individual blocks of training which have a distinct focus are linked together.”

(Author’s Note: In researching for this article, I found conflicting definitions of these terms. For the sake of consistency in this series, I will be using the terms as defined in this paragraph.)

Put simply, concurrent is where there is no one main focus; conjugate periodization will have one main focus but will also be training other qualities as supplementary work; and block periodization is a period where we are training one quality at a time. Concurrent periodization will be for athletes who need more general physical preparation (GPP), and conjugate periodization will be for athletes who have earned the right for more specific physical preparation (SPP).

For our beginner athletes, usually ages 13-15, it’s our job to develop and train a multitude of qualities, so the programming will be in a concurrent model. In addition, this could include slightly older athletes (16-18) who don’t have much training experience. While a youth baseball player’s program might look slightly different than someone playing another sport, this is where the greatest overlap between programs for athletes of different sports occurs. If they have something in their program that looks baseball-specific (e.g., a rotator cuff exercise), it’s mainly so they can learn good technique on it for when they’re ready for a more specialized program. It’s also generally used during rest periods from a more important exercise for this age group.

These athletes need everything: strength, speed, hypertrophy, power development, and a host of other things. Everything is in a GPP phase. They need to learn technique on basics such as sprinting, jumping, and changing directions. They need to learn technique on basic lifts: squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushes, and pulls. Most of these athletes only train with us anywhere from 3-6 hours a week, meaning we have a lot of possible information to fit into a concentrated time period.

Using the speed-strength continuum, these athletes will train in every facet of it. They will sprint, throw med balls, move weights relatively fast, and move heavier weights slower. We don’t yet consider time of the competitive season as there doesn’t need to be anything resembling peaking.

Programming for these athletes won’t have anything resembling a block; instead, it will focus on mastering the fundamentals of training so that by the time they’re able to have higher levels of output, they won’t need to spend immense amounts of time learning technique. Loaded exercise selection will be kept within a narrow scope, and they might stay relatively the same for 12-16 week periods. Instead of changing exercises, the variables we’ll change are intensity and volume: basic progressive overload techniques will win. We need to pick the exercises that allow the person to progress towards a position where we need to consider having a more specialized.

When someone is more specialized, the programming will become more of a conjugate model. Exercise selection will be more geared towards training qualities needed for the specific sport. We might change loaded supplementary exercises more frequently to give athletes more exposure to joint positions they need to be strong in, and, each phase will have a specific focus.

Using the strength-speed continuum, the phases will reflect the competitive season. In early offseason, weights might be heavier and the speed of movement will generally be slower. The focus will be closer to the absolute strength end of the spectrum. Late in the off-season, weights may decrease as speed of movement increases, and the focus becomes mimicking speed of sport. Actually playing the sport will start to coincide with training and we have a new host of variables to consider.

Programming for these athletes will be more built around their actual sport training; for example, a baseball pitcher’s throwing program begins to become primary to his training program as the offseason progresses. Exercise selection, while more variable and through a much wider selection than the beginner athletes, will all have a specific purpose that relates back to performing at their sport. Instead of changing intensity/volume primarily and exercise selection secondarily, the intensity/volume will be scaled directly with the offseason of the sport. The exercise selection might vary more because we don’t want our athletes to become specialists at exercises they can load exceptionally well like deadlifts and squats.

In part two of this series, I’ll take a deeper dive into how we program using a concurrent model for our athletes with a lower training age – and when we might consider switching their programming to a conjugate based scheme.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength Training Programs: You Can’t Force Adaptation

A few weeks ago, when we handed a relatively new athlete his second strength and conditioning program from Cressey Performance, he asked:

What different things are we working on this month, compared to the last month?

I was candid with him and emphasized that we'd be working on some of the exact same stuff - but progressing on what we did in Month 1 with new strength exercises and subtle shifts in what was prioritized in light of where he'd improved the most.  In short, the answer was to trust in the program, and allow time for adaptation to occur.

"Assuming" adaptation is one of the biggest mistakes I see coaches and athletes make in strength training programs, as the truth is that everyone responds to a given stimulus differently. 

For instance, I've had professional baseball players come back from long seasons with horrendous rotator cuff strength that takes a good 10-12 weeks to get back to baseline.  On the other hand, I've had guys come back from the same long season with outstanding cuff strength.  It'd be a disservice to these two types of athletes to hand them the same arm care programs, at the same time, with the same progressions.  Unfortunately, it's something that happens all the time in a wide variety of strength and conditioning programs simply because folks may be married to a long-term periodization approach, when more of a short-term "wait and see" methodology may, in fact, be far more effective.

In a linear periodization model (which research has proven inferior to an undulating approach in terms of strength and muscular endurance), one might approach the baseball off-season with the following progression: muscular endurance training (sets of 12-15) in September, hypertrophy training (sets of 6-12) in October-November, strength training (sets of 1-6) in December-January, and then power training (lower-load sets of 1-8) in February-March.

The problem with this model of athletic development, of course, is that you get very proficient in one quality at a time while detraining the others.  And, each athlete may not need a specific phase of this scheme.

For instance, a baseball player who is an insanely reactive athlete might not need any true power training; he could get that from his sport exclusively - and would therefore be better off emphasizing maximal strength.

Conversely, an athlete who is insanely strong, but slow, would need more power training and less work on maximal strength.

Finally, baseball players don't really need much, if any, muscular endurance training.  They build that in a more specific approach later on with the volume and intensity progressions in their throwing and hitting programs.

These are just a few of the many reasons we use a concurrent periodization model for all the strength training programs we write at Cressey Performance.  This broad approach affords us the flexibility we need to make specific changes for each athlete based on the adaptations we observe, not something we assume has taken place.

It's perfectly fine to implement variety to keep training fun, expose an athlete to a rich proprioceptive environment, and ensure that overuse injuries don't occur, but never lose sight of the goals of any good strength and conditioning program: addressing an athlete's most glaring weaknesses.

If an athlete is painfully weak, don't stop all strength work 6-8 weeks out of the season because you're supposed to be working on power and conditioning at that time period.  Just tinker with things; don't overhaul.

If an athlete is strong as a bull, but always deconditioned, you may need to cut back on the maximal strength work and prioritize metabolic conditioning more.

The body will always have a limited recovery capacity, so when it comes to writing strength and conditioning programs, one must always prioritize the most pressing needs, not simply adhere blindly to a long-term plan that doesn't take into account these opportunities for adaptation.

To learn more about sequencing an athlete's yearly training calendar, check out The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, now available as an e-book!

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