I was recently asked by the editor of Sports Injury Bulletin to reflect on four developments over the past decade that have influenced my practice as a strength and conditoning coach. My answers have an injury reduction bias (given the nature of the article) but have all influenced the way I work with my athletes and clients.
What would your answers be?
Four developments over the past decade have influenced my practice as a strength and conditioning coach.
Core stability and Strength
For me the work of people such as Shirley Sahrmann, Stuart McGill and Steve Saunders, has helped shape my approach to core stability and strength training. The key is to establish stability first, then develop movement. But achieving stability is not just a matter of activating a few targeted muscles; it changes as a function of the demands placed upon the musculoskeletal system. Gone are the days of 1000's of crunches. My athletes now spend much more time working on the ability to stabilise and resist movement.
I first used the pool when helping to prepare the gymnast Craig Heap for the Sydney Olympics. He had sustained a hand injury six weeks out from the games. To keep him as strong as possible, we incorporated a twice-weekly trip to the pool into his training schedule - it is great for maintaining an injured athlete's fitness (strength, power and cardiovascular endurance). Subsequently I used pool-based plyometrics to keep an England Netball player competing while she was battling chronic knee problems. Numerous athletes have since spent time with me at the pool, reaping the performance benefits it has to offer. Angela Calder was the first person to show me the benefits of the pool for recovery and regeneration. For many athletes it is a particularly useful replacement for ground-based training as the competitive season drags on and the constant repetitive nature of sport takes its toll on the body.
Recovery and Regeneration
I had never even thought about recovery and regeneration until I started working with England Netball in 2001. I've never doubted its importance since. Recovery is arguably more important than the training itself, yet it is often neglected. My continuing interest has led me to develop the recovery pyramid to help organise the various interventions. I've also come up with what I think are the top five mistakes when it comes to recovery and regeneration.
1. Not having a recovery strategy - The biggest mistake of all. We all have mobile phones, iPods, and laptops and they all run off batteries. If we don't charge the batteries they won't work. The human body is no different. Increasing your rate of recovery increases your ability to train.
2. Concentrating on the percentage points - all serious and elite athletes focus on getting the â€œedgeâ€, looking for the one thing that will make the difference. They concentrate so hard on the 2% that they forget about the other 98%. Get the fundamentals of recovery sorted before you go for the fancy stuff. Walking round in compression garments all day is not going to help your athlete's recovery if they have crappy nutrition, crappy training programmes and insufficient time to rest (active and passive).
3. Endlessly repeating the same intervention - Prolonged reliance of any given form of recovery will result in diminishing returns. East European experts recommend that the same recovery strategy should not be applied more than once or twice a week (Mel Siff, Supertraining). Fatigue is multi-factorial, and the form of recovery should reflect the dimension of fatigue being addressed.
4. Not keeping a training diary - Simple but effective, a good training diary can act as an early warning system, sending out red flags that highlight when an athlete needs to pull back from training. The athlete should track the quality of their resting heart rate, sleep quantity and quality, energy levels, training quality, motivation, health, and nutrition.
5. Short-termism post-training - Recovery and regeneration is a 24-hour thing. Your client may well be training one to two hours, and three to five times a week. If they do any recovery work, it will probably be immediately after the training session for, say, 30 minutes. That's 1.5 to 2.5 hours a week of focused recovery, leaving more than 165 hours when they are not thinking about recovery.
I first appreciated the importance of massage while working at the English Institute of Sport in 2003 but initially struggled with it because of the complete lack of robust research to validate it. Nothing has really changed, other than my acceptance that massage is an important component in training and injury prevention/rehabilitation strategies. As an adjunct, I wouldn't be without the increasingly popular foam roll. I remember watching Mike Boyle's Foam Roll Techniques DVD back in 2005 and rolling around on the floor to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn't long before I felt the benefits! The foam roll, or 'poor mans massage' as I like to call it, is a fantastic and simple tool for helping to maintain tissue quality. Every client of mine spends time on a foam roll; it has changed the way I work with clients.