International Conference on Strength Training Review

I'm back from Italy, a little fatter (thanks to the ice cream and pasta) and a little smarter (thanks to a couple of decent presentations and lots of good conversations with colleagues at the bar). Before I headed out to Italy for ICST 2014 (the 9th International Conference on Strength Training) I told you that I was particularly looking forward to seeing the following speakers; Keijo Hakkinen, Inigo Mujika, Avery Faigenbaum and  Dietmar Schmidtbleicher.

So did they deliver or was I left wanting more?

Keijo Hakkinen - Neuromuscular adaptation during combined strength and endurance training: the role of different modes of combined training. Concurrent training is the 'sexy' topic at the moment so I was looking forward to this presentation from Hakkinen. The content was fine but there was a lack of contemporary findings so it pretty much boiled down to a historic overview of the area drawing on pretty old studies (not a problem - just because they're old, doesn't mean you shouldn't refer back to them). Take home messages were: Short term - low volume concurrent endurance + strength training doesn't have a negative impact on strength Acute fatigue from endurance sessions will have a negative impact on the ability to develop tension in the muscle 1-2 sessions of concurrent training optimal for development. Nothing earth shattering there, so I was left a little flat (that could have also been due to his delivery style - something a number of presenters were guilty of - great content - terrible delivery!)

Inigo Mujika - Enhancing endurance performance through strength and power training Mujika delivered on both fronts - good information and decent delivery! He was already off to a good start! This is a guy that works with endurance athletes so it was great to see some of his supporting evidence that flys in the faces of traditional views from the endurance community who love a 'more is better' badge of honour! If you're an endurance athlete - sit up and read this!


32% drop in endurance training in favour of strength and power training improved 5km performance, reduced ground contact time and oxygen cost! Basically strength training works! Plyometrics has a big impact on running economy, particularly when you are whipping along at competition pace (16-18km/h) 8-weeks of strength and power training has been shown to be highly effective at improving endurance performances. This is the killer one for me,  comprehensive literature review couldn't find a single study (0%) that showed a reduction in endurance performance as a result of strength and power training. At worse, endurance performance was maintained but most studies showed improvements!


Strength and power training has been shown to be brilliant at developing the 'final push'. A 12-week combined programmed looked at the final 5minutes of a 3 hour effort and the study showed that the strength and power group were able to put the big licks down in the final 5 minutes and show the other cyclists a clean set of heels! Why? Improved pedaling characteristics due to improved strength characteristics. Once again - there are no studies (0%) that show strength and power training reduces cycling performance. No point having a £3k bike and 50p legs!


Well trained athletes respond well to concurrent training. Novices will need more time to adapt. Lift at <6RM to get the biggest bang (neural adaptations). Forget the bullshit 8-10RM range typically employed by endurance athletes and coaches to improve strength. This type of training only hits peripheral adaptations and there's a huge amount of interference between that and the endurance work.


Luc Van Loon - Nutritional strategies to support adaptive responses to prolonged strength training in strength and power athletes: effects of age. This session was the surprise bonus for me. I was going to swerve this session in favour of a coffee and ice-cream but colleagues convinced me he was worth listening to. They were right - anyone that buys a cow and feeds it with radioactive markers is worth listening to! Van Loon delivered well and cut through the BS associated with protein supplementation. Here's the take homes:

Exercise before eating improves muscle protein synthesis (20% more of the ingested protein is converted to muscle protein for up to 5 hours after the meal)

20g protein is all you need for a maximal post exercise response.

Milk better than Soy (up to 33% better due to improved digestion and absorbtion) but Whey is even better due to higher leucine content (but no need to supplement with additional leucine).

Adding carbohydrate to the mix doesn't make a difference (doesn't drive an anabolic response) but may be useful for glycogen resynthesis (know why you are taking it is the message!).

When? get it in ASAP after training and if you can, get some in before bedtime!

Breakfast is a key opportunity to increase your protein intake as this is typically the meal that has the lowest protein content.

Avery Faigenbaum - Strength training in children: new perspective and future directions

Avery had more energy in his delivery than all of the other speakers combined (probably because he's on the floor coaching every day rather than being stuck in a lab with only artificial light and the hum of a centrifuge to keep you going!).

Key points from his talk:

Reinforce the effects of play - sport participation should evolve from physical activity, not the other way.

Many children are not ready to take part in sport, let alone physical preparation, they need fundamentals first (per-preparatory physical fitness)

Worldwide, kids are getting slower and weaker

What sport are you training the child for? Who know and who cares! Train them to become an athletes and they will move to any sport they like.

'Hold on Nick, What about Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, you were really looking forward to seeing him' I hear your cry!

Well, I saw him. He was at the conference but unfortunately he figured his PhD student could present his study whilst he sat in the audience. I'll tell it how it is. I was really disappointedt not to hear him speak in person. I think it's really poor form to have a headline act (one of the reasons I booked to attend the conference), only to be palmed off with the support act.

The talk was average, looked at army recruits and showed that training with a high level of specificity was more effective than simply running! Thanks for that, but I think I could have figured that one out on my own!

Next time I'm asked to speak at a conference I'm going to get my wife, Kate to deliver the session!

So overall the conference was decent and for me there were 3 great presentations (Mujika, Van Loon and Faigenbaum). There rest were at best, bang average and at worst, poor. Italy, the food and the company made up for the rest!

Take Homes

The brightest people are often terrible at getting their message across. They need to tell stories and engage their audience.

Don't turn up at a conference and sit in the audience whilst your PhD student delivers your talk!

For the 10th ICST get some more coaches on board. Research is great but lets hear from people that put the science into practice

Italy knows how to do ice cream coffee and style!