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Monthly Archives: December 2010

In the January issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Australian authors Crewther, Heke, and Keogh published a study looking at Olympic weightlifting and cortisol concentrations.

They are taking a look at cortisol from an interesting angle, perhaps cortisol isn’t “evil” after all. We’re all used to thinking of cortisol as a catabolic hormone that interferes with anabolic adaptations. Their hypothesis is that we may need cortisol to be present in order for those anabolic adaptations to occur and for performance to be high.

To test this, the authors studied five male and four female weightlifters who ranked in the top five nationally for their weight classes.

Subjects completed a five week training protocol, with “high volume” and “low volume” weeks. High volume meant more than 200 sets on the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat. Low volume meant less than 100 sets on those lifts.

During these five weeks, there were two simulated competitions (weeks 1 and 4) and two actual competitions (weeks 2 and 5).

Before and after the first workout of each week, and before and after each competition, salivary cortisol was assessed.

The results are interesting and bear further study:
• Training volume (i.e. a high volume week vs. a low volume week) had no significant effect on cortisol levels.
• Cortisol levels were greater as a result of actual competition, so were the 1-RM lifts.
• There was a relationship between salivary cortisol levels in simulated competition and 1-RM on simulated competitions.

Now, some things need to be taken with a grain of salt:
• There may be a number of reasons why the weekly training volume had no effect on cortisol levels. These include the fact that the training may not have been stressful enough, the cortisol may not have been assessed at the right time (in the sense that a measure on Monday may not give an idea of the impact of the entire week’s volume), and it may be that elite athletes respond differently in terms of cortisol to training.
• The subject pool is very small and it is difficult to apply these results to other athletes or even to other weightlifters.
• The training protocol may or may not be a one that other athletes or weightlifters can follow.

Having said that, the results seem to imply (to me at least) that cortisol may have a role in psychological arousal that may explain why some individuals are better able to perform when in competition than others. In other words, this may enable us to find a way to measure psychological arousal and predict/influence an athlete’s ability to perform. As I said in the beginning, this is one that needs further study and wider applicability.

Crewther, B.T., Heke, T., and Keogh, J.W.L. (2011). “The effects of training volume and competition on the salivary cortisol concentrations of Olympic Weightlifters,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(1), 10-15.

In information letters 10-156, 10-157, and 10-158 the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) is proposing to reduce the amount of money paid to Home and Community-based service providers, Intermediate Care Facility for persons with Mental Retardation providers, and Nursing Facility providers by 2%. This is being proposed to meet to Governor’s, Lieutenant Governor’s, and House Speaker’s December 6th directive that Texas state agencies must identify a 2.5% savings on the current fiscal year.

The 2.5% is based upon the amount of general revenue that was appropriated at the beginning of the year. This is problematic as the fiscal year began in September and it’s now almost January and many state agencies have already spent or committed a great deal of their funds. This means that the cuts are going to be much larger than 2.5% on the remaining funds.

DADS has decided that the way to do this, and they have nothing but terrible choices here, is to pay the people that provide services to our disabled and elderly populations less to provide those services. While providing services to needy people, those providers are also businesses that are (clearly) providing these services for money. They have payrolls, it is already difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff, and it can be a difficult and frustrating job. By reducing the amount that they are paid, this has the long-term ramification of eventually reducing the number of providers, making services more challenging to access and reducing the quality of the services. Perhaps it even encourages the kind of issues seen in the state supported living centers, which largely springs from staffing shortages.

Many people feel that individuals with disabilities are best served in family or community environments, as opposed to being institutionalized.  This approach to solving the budget problem, in the long run, seems to work against the community/family option and would seem to leave institutionalization as the only option for some families.

It’s also a bad harbinger of things to come. With Texas having an estimated $18 billion shortfall over the next biennium, the Legislature will have to prioritize what to save and what to cut. It’s easiest to make cuts to people you cannot see and who do not have a voice.

Dr. Lawrence Judge et al published a study in the Winter 2011 issue of Track Coach looking at predictors of success with the hammer throw. This is a significant contribution to the literature for a number of reasons.

First, the hammer throw is a pretty esoteric event in the U.S. High schools do not contest the hammer throw, so most athletes pick it up in college. As I’ll talk about later, this influences success with the event.

Second, the article comes up with some aspects of training that help to direct the thrower’s training.

The authors mailed a survey out to 212 NCAA track and field programs across the U.S. and got an almost 35% return rate. Based upon the result, they developed a model that (in statistics terms) explained almost 65% of the variance in hammer performance. According to the authors, the following were important predictors of performance: number of throws per year, back squat 1-RM, hammer technique, years throwing the hammer, and NCAA Division (which was included in the model, but by itself was not statistically significant).

Most of these results are pretty self-explanatory. The more experience with the event, the better one is going to be at it – especially something as technical as the hammer. The number of throws per year is actually meant to make up for the lack of experience that most collegiate throwers have with the hammer.

The results note the importance of strength, but there is a qualifier here. Often strength can be used to overcome technique/experience deficiencies. According to the authors, almost have the respondents had suffered weightlifting-related injuries in an attempt to accomplish this. The authors found it interesting that back squat strength was a predictor of success, but the Olympic-style lifts were not.

After pointing this interesting result out, the authors tried to spend a lot of time explaining why the Olympic lifts and power training are important for the conditioning of throwers, but the results certainly raise the question of strength plus specific technique/conditioning would be more beneficial to the hammer throwing then a more generalized approach to strength training.

Judge, L.W., Bellar, D., McAtee, G., and Judge, M. (2011). “Predictors of personal best performance in the hammer throw for U.S. collegiate throwers.” Track Coach, 194, 6196-6203.

In “Managing the Training of Weightlifers,” Nilolai Laputin and Valentin Oleshko put forward an interesting hypothesis about what they call biorhythms. They suggest that physical, emotional, and intellectual biological rhythms have a major impact on learning motor skills, physical performance, and psychological arousal. They quote a great deal of research about this, but a lot of this is dated and inaccessible to the Western reader. Basically:
• Physical cycle covering 23 days. The positive first half of the cycle (first 11.5 days) is characterized by higher work-capacity. During the second half of the cycle strength, energy, and speed decrease.
• Emotional/psychological cycle covering 28 days. The first 14 days is positive and the athlete is able to cope with work and competition. The second 14 days sees an athlete that has challenges coping, fatigue, and diminished work-capacity.
• Intellectual cycle covering 33 days. The first 16.5 days is when skills should be taught as the athlete is best able to learn, the second 16.5 days is a period when material should be consolidated.

The idea is that the athletes are at their absolute best when the physical and emotional cycles are both in their positive phases. It also suggests that athletes are most susceptible to injury when two or three of the negative aspects of the cycles coincide.

Does this in fact occur? Laputin and Oleshko cite research looking at both weightlifters and track/field athletes that support this on a micro scale (looking at a month of training) and on a macro scale (multi-year biorhythms). On the micro scale, based upon one training study of 49 weightlifters, if the training of weightlifters is geared around biorhythms (training more intense during positive phases), it resulted in a 12.9% improvement in the biathlon. The other group (training was not geared towards biorhythms) improved by only 10.2%.

On the macro scale, Laputin and Oleshko suggest that there may be a multi-year rhythm, basically the best results are achieved every three years or so.

I’m unaware of Western research looking at this. One always needs to be cautious using this type of information. Few of the Eastern European coaches and training gurus have had success in the West, the situations are just too different. Most of these publications, while fascinating to read, are taken out of context and the supporting research is inaccessible to us.

The authors of this text point out a number of concerns, which are interesting food for thought. First, they point out that there needs to be a great deal more research on this topic. Second, it’s unclear when the biorhythms would begin (is it from the day of birth or some other time?). Third, would it be helpful for an athlete to have this information? Or could it set up a self-fulfilling prophecy where the athlete performs poorly/becomes injured just because he/she thinks they are in a negative cycle?

Laputin, N.P. and V.G. Oleshko. (1982). “Managing the Training of Weightlifters.” Kiev: Zdorov’ya Publishers, 1982. Translated by Charniga, Jr., A. Livonia, Michigan: Sportivny Press. Pgs. 93-103.

McCurdy et al had a study in the December issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the relationship between the kinematics of jumping and sprinting with division I female soccer players.

It’s an interesting premise. Sprinting involves exerting force so that an athlete can travel in a horizontal direction. During sprinting, only one leg is exerting force against the ground at a time. The idea behind the study was that those exercises that involve exerting force in a horizontal direction are going to be most effective on sprint performance, particularly if they are performed unilaterally.

To test this, the authors had fifteen D1 female soccer players perform 10 meter and 25 meter sprints. The athletes also performed bilateral and unilateral drop jumps (bilateral from 40cm, unilateral from 20cm) and bilateral and unilateral counter-movement jumps. Jumps were performed for height (i.e. vertical jumps) and again for distance (i.e. horizontal jumps). In other words, each jumping condition was performed as a vertical jump and again as a horizontal jump.

Selected kinematic variables were measured on each jump. These included jump height/distance, reactive strength, and flight time to contact time ratio (FT/CC). Correlations were then run between all the variables and sprinting performance.

The results are interesting:
• First, none of the bilateral jumps variables correlated with 10 meter or 25 meter sprints.
• Second, unilateral jump results were inconsistent in terms of correlations. For example, on the unilateral vertical jumps, the right leg jump height and FT/CC were correlated with the 25 meter sprint, but the left leg was not.
• Third, pooled (i.e. both legs considered) unilateral jump height was correlated to both 25 meter and 10 meter sprint time. Unilateral jump distance was correlated to only the 10 meter sprint time.

It is difficult to take these results and draw meaningful, actionable conclusions. There are several reasons for this:
• First, unilateral jumps take a lot of skill and practice. The authors themselves acknowledge that this may be a limitation. Athletes with more or less experience with these jumps may have resulted in a study with different results.
• Second, based upon the correlations you cannot draw any conclusions about whether training with unilateral jumps would benefit sprinting. There was no effort in the study to look at the impact of training.
• Third, coaches need to understand that there are some inherent risks with using unilateral jumps. To my mind, this is an exercise for advanced athletes with a serious strength and technical base. Again, performing this study with that caliber of athlete may have generated different results.

Part of the concern that I have with studies like this is that it appeals to the “magic bullet” crowd. These are the coaches, athletes, and parents looking for a magic exercise or drill. At the end of the day, D1 soccer players need to be practicing sprinting to become better at sprinting. Once that has been exhausted, then it’s appropriate to look at resisted/assisted sprinting and advanced plyometrics.

McCurdy, K.W., Walker, J.L., Langford, G.A., Kutz, M.R., Guerrero, J.M., and McMillan, J. (2010). “The relationship between kinematic determinants of jump and sprint performance in division I women soccer players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3200-3208.

Brad Schoenfeld had a great review article in the December issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research on the back squat. A lot of this is information that I’ve seen before from the standpoint of what’s going on at the knee joint, what the various muscles during the squat, and how different techniques (high bar, low bar, feet wide, feet narrow, etc) influence everything.

Having said that, he had an interesting take on the role of the ankle joint during the squat, the gluteus maximus and the squat, and the role of the hamstrings during the exercise.

With regards to the ankle:
• The gastrocnemius is highly active during the squat. It has two functions during this exercise. First, it assists with knee flexion (i.e. the descent). Second, it keeps the tibia from moving relative to the femur. Now, why don’t I get a “pump” in my calves while squatting? According to Schoenfeld, this is because the gastrocnemius (which is bi-articular) functions isometrically during the squat.
• Weak ankle muscles (gastrocnemius, tibialis anterior/posterior) may contribute to greater valgus movement at the knees (i.e. the knees move in towards each other), which puts you at greater risk of ACL issues.
• Poor range-of-motion at the ankle also contributes to greater valgus movement at the knees and leads to the heels lifting off the ground during the descent, which increases ACL forces.

The gluteus maximus is an important muscle during the execution of the squat, functioning as a hip extensor. Its activation is greatest during the full squat. This suggests that if an individual wants to develop this muscle, deep squats are going to be the way to go.

The hamstrings have an interesting role during the squat. They flex the knee, but they also extend the hip. In theory this means that they are active throughout the entire range-of-motion of the exercise. Schoenfeld points this out well when he notes that, as a result, their length is going to remain fairly constant during the exercise (i.e. they will function isometrically). This constant activation is important because it takes the stress off the ACL during the squat. This also reinforces why the hamstrings don’t get much of a “pump” from performing squats.

Schoenfeld, B.J. (2010). “Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to exercise performance.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Performance, 24(12), 3497-3506.

ego conventum exii de confirmatione eruditionis erat. notitia scholas requirent curationes est et id scholis illam eruditionem accidet confirmare necesse est. haec magnus impensas scholis facet. Id opera confirmas scribent creat et confirmas legent. hic opus eruditionem meliores non facet. ita situs operes creat, hic bonum est, sed pecuniam et temporem consumet et id pecuniam de institutione capet, hi mali sunt.

The strength and conditioning of youth (16 years old and under) is an area that is frequently challenging for strength and conditioning professionals. Many professionals assume that youth are little adults, so the same principles and approaches will work the same.

Besides the size and age differences, there are some fundamental differences between youth and adults that need to be kept in mind:
• Youth are still experiencing skeletal growth. Skeletal growth peaks somewhere between 16 and 25, so individuals under the age of 16 are still experiencing large rates of skeletal growth. It’s pretty evident that supervised strength training does not endanger growth plates, but what is interesting is that intermittent exercise such as strength training, sprinting, and plyometrics seems to be very effective at increasing bone mineral density. In fact, there is a pretty strong relationship between physical activity and peak bone mass.
• Youth don’t have the levels of anabolic hormones that adults do. This creates the myth that strength training is ineffective for youth. This is not the case, it’s just different. There’s plenty of research that shows that strength training improves strength, sprinting speed, agility, and jumping ability. But this information shows that the coach and the young athlete need to have realistic expectations for the program.
• Males and females, especially before puberty, undergo different maturation timelines and this impacts potential strength and conditioning programs. Up until the age of 13-16, males and females respond in a similar way to strength and conditioning programs in terms of muscular endurance and sprinting speed. After 13-16, males respond at an accelerated rate.
• Young athletes make great strength, power, and speed increases with a variety of strength training tools – they don’t just require free weights or specialized selectorized equipment. Young athletes respond well to medicine ball training, sand bag training, and even bodyweight training.
• Young athletes don’t respond the same to adult exercise programs. Young athletes seem to make the best strength gains from moderate intensities and volumes, which is different than adults.

The combination of the above leads to some important conclusions:
1. Strength and conditioning has to be fun for young athletes. This means that variety in terms of the exercises and also in terms of the exercise implements is going to be very important.
2. Strength and conditioning programs have to be properly supervised. This ensures the safety and the effectiveness of the programs.
3. Potential gender differences or similarities should be accounted for in a program.
4. Moderate volumes (10-15 reps/set) at moderate intensities (50-100% of 10-RM) seem to be most effective, except with power/speed exercises.
5. Strength training should focus on closed-chain activities to promote bone formation. Remember that bone forms as a result of loading, so exercising against gravity will promote the most bone strengthening.