Daily Tips and Advice
Strength & Conditioning...and Coordination
Posted 3 years ago
Here is a little something for you all. An article by Ben Young Strength and Conditioning Coach based here in Cheltenham - Throwing some light on the way and how you might want to be training...
Coordinating an Effective Training Programme
When implementing & designing a goal orientated training programme, it is important to understand what physical attributes you will need in order for you to be successful.
In Strength & Conditioning circles this would be called a Needs Analysis, the same goes for business with a SWOT Analysis where by you plot your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
A Needs Analysis helps you identify which physical capacities should have priority for you to meet the demands of the environment you will participate within.
Extreme polar opposites in running would be Usain Bolt, whilst preparing for his 100m Olympic Gold will undertake vast amounts of strength, power & speed work, which will predominantly all be under anaerobic & maximal effort conditions in order to be explosive and extremely fast over a short period of time.
Whilst a marathon runner will need a vast aerobic capacity, a high lactate threshold, lean muscular strength endurance and economy to ensure they expend as little energy as possible for maximum return.
In court & field sports like Tennis, Basketball & Football you will require varying degrees of agility, speed (acceleration & deceleration), aerobic & anaerobic capacities, power, mobility and a deal of robustness in sports where physical contact can occur.
When you then add into the mix your own physical deficiencies and areas to improve, the resulting list of training priorities can be quite overwhelming.
However, when planning a programme there should be one underlying factor that influences all physical qualities: Coordination.
Coordination is more then just telling your Left from your Right. It’s an innate ability to subconsciously organise, sequence and recruit all the physiological factors required for you to physically move.
From as minute as the muscle fibres contracting & relaxing at the precise moments needed in order for you to move, to the perception-action coupling that occurs when you see a ball and manage to catch it instinctively within one hand without looking at it.
Coordination underpins everything. It also acts as an umbrella for all physical qualities.
The above graphic demonstrates how each physical attribute can influence and contribute to each other.
Power is the result of speed multiplied by force (strength). Strength cannot occur without mobility. Speed cannot occur without power and technical proficiency that agility provides, which also can’t be effective without the appropriate mobility.
All of which will be significantly inhibited by a lack of cohesion.
Where most amateur athletes become unstuck through performance or injury, is how they incorporate all facets with their training programme.
If we consider power, which is a pure form of strength, where maximal muscle fibre recruitment is needed at the required speed to produce an explosive outcome. The intent of a powerful movement is extremely high. This means that the coordination of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the muscles required needs to be highly effective & efficient.
Strength underpins power. There are three types of muscle fibres in the body that influence your strength, they are; Slow Twitch (ST)(predominantly used in low intensity movements like jogging), Fast Twitch Type 1 (FT1) (predominantly used intermittently in court & field sports where several attributes are need as described previously) & Fast Twitch Type 2 (FT2)(predominantly high explosive sports like 100m sprints & Olympic lifting).
The significance of this is that depending on how intense you train, and thus stimulate the muscles; it will determine which muscle fibres are recruited. The higher the intensity, the more likely you will use either FT1, or if the intensity is maximal you will recruit FT2.
As an amateur runner, whose training solely consists of hard earned miles, without appropriate strength training, you’re body will not be conditioning all muscle fibres sufficiently due to the lack of CNS stimulation & training intensity.
The greater the neural demand of an activity, like sprinting which has a very high intent demand, the more frequently you need to train it in order for it to be effective. If you go longer than 5 days between sprinting/ power based sessions you’re body will detrain.
Where coordination comes in, is that the CNS needs to be able to recruit the appropriate muscle fibres in order to achieve the desired outcome with maximum efficiency, whilst being able to contract through its desired range of motion. If the CNS can’t recruit the muscle fibres necessary to produce the force required, then excess demand will be placed on tendons & muscles fibres that are ill-equipped for the task, the result at best will be a performance decrement or at worse potential risk of injury.
The CNS governs mobility. When you perform a stretch, the CNS will restrict unfamiliar ranges of movements that it does not feel confident it can deal with to protect the muscle. Should this occur through an movement dictated to by momentum, like running, and the forces are too great for the muscles to counter then a musculo-skeletal injury will most likely occur as the CNS fights against the momentum unsuccessfully. Therefore within a training programme mobility should be paramount for reprogramming the CNS to accept ranges of motion that will be required within performance.
The significance of strength training is that you can utilise large compound movements, where multiple muscles & joints are working in unison to achieve a desired task. In one exercise you can address strength, power, speed & mobility.
In Olympic Weightlifting, the athletes are scored on their ability to perform a Clean & Jerk and a Snatch, both skills require the athlete to lift the bar off the floor and raise it above the head. The ultimate goal here is to lift as much weight as possible successfully. As the weight increases so does the intent, as the athlete has to overcome the increased force of inertia. As the weight increases the speed at which the athlete needs to pick up the bar off the floor and pull them selves underneath it in order to successfully catch it increases. This requires significant levels of strength to produce the speed, but also to decelerate the body through the large ranges of motion at the hip whilst the core stabilizes the upper body.
All of this has to occur in less then a second! A prime example of how important coordination is within movement & strength.
Coordination plays an important role in every facet of training. Strength developed through complex compound movements allows for pillars from which the body can rely on as a stable movement pattern. In open environments where movement patterns are unpredictable having fundamental movements that are strong and stable enables the body to adapt & recover more effectively. With this is mind, core stability is essential.
When we assess core function, exercises like the plank and sit up are frequently used & misunderstood, as previously mentioned during Olympic lifting, the core needs to stabilise the body whilst the peripheral limbs move around it. This is known as Anti-Rotation training.
If you were to split your body up into segments, one being your hips, then your abdomen (between hips & ribs) and above that you’re thoracic (bottom of the ribs to the neck). Your core wants to be an anchor allowing both the thoracic & hips to move through all the required ranges of motion needed for skill acquisition. If you’re ability to control the core through rotation is inhibited, then that area will rotate and the thoracic and hips will start to lose their mobility and become stiff. Therefore the coordination to be able to brace the core whilst mobilising the upper & lower parts of the body is imperative to efficient movement in any sport, especially when the exercises are performed in specific environments that they will need to function within (running = upright position). Therefore a static plank, or a sit up does not cross over well to the function of the core whilst running, however, that is not to say they do not play a fundamental role in developing a foundation from which to develop functional stability.
The final consideration with regards to incorporating coordination into your training is that of variability and thus Motor Learning.
The brain wants to be continuously challenged and will also search out the easiest solution to a problem, which for sports performance isn’t always the most efficient in the grand scheme of things.
Therefore repetition of the same exercises will overtime have a negative affect on performance, especially in varied sports like tennis & rugby where you need to react to an ever-changing environment. This is the true definition of agility, responding subconsciously to the environment with efficiency of speed, control & purpose.
In activities like running, without stimulating the brain, the body will drift into lazy patterns that get the job done with minimal energy cost, but puts too much strain on areas of the body that have the capacity to do more of the work. The Calf & Achilles are fine examples of muscle/tendon that will overwork to compensate for a lack of hip & glute function.
In order to learn the appropriate solutions to solve the problems a varied environment can produce, there also needs to be degrees to variation within you’re training. This can be termed as a constraints led approach, where by you change the dynamics of an exercise to produce a greater neural intent and thus a physiological adaptation to the new challenge.
In running this could be challenging stability on off road terrain or sprinting with a pole above your head to challenge the core, both create external environments that alter the way the body has to coordinate a skill like Gait. In the gym this could be performing lunges & rotating through the thoracic, jumping onto or off different height boxes or leaping over hurdles and turning to land in another direction whilst in the air. An exercise can be developed from being simple to complex depending on the skill level of the athlete and the context in which it is being implemented. All of which will require the body to coordinate all its motor skills to produce a positive outcome.
This is not to say that correct form in exercises like a squat or deadlift should be discarded, only that with a session or programme there always needs to be an element of variation amongst the core exercises to provide a stimulus for the brain to learn and apply its physical ability in varied ways. When learning a new skill, every repetition will have variety within it, not matter how simple the skill is. But at the skill starts to become subconsciously competent this is when a new stimulus needs to be injected.
Therefore, to maximise you’re potential so not to fall into the trap of mundane training, understanding the role coordination plays in everything is essential. It’s therefore always advised to consult a specialised Strength & Conditioning coach on how to optimise you’re training programme to reach you’re goals.
If you want to get hold of Ben to discuss any of the principles he mentions above, seek him out here:
Plenty to think about, Thanks Ben
Strength & Conditioning Coach