Is this the year when you will get stronger, improve your fitness, focus on your form, or simply become a better version of last years model? Speaking with many of our clients, many have set goals to become better at their chosen sport, pushing themselves to achieve a higher level of performance. However, many don’t have a plan or know the best way to reach this goal? Where do you start? A Sustainable Program is always a great option.
The individual demands of different sports should be taken into account when designing a training plan to improve performance.
Improving body composition
Increasing training volume (number of repetitions, number of training sessions)
Increase training intensity (weight)
Doing more energy system training (anaerobic & aerobic conditioning)
Doing more Olympic lifting (explosive power)
Doing more gymnastics
Improving Vo2MAX scores
Eat more carbs
Eat fewer carbs
Getting more rest and recovery
Train twice a day
.... the list goes on
These are all important factors that can impact performance, but what is the best bang-for-your-buck?
Many athletes think along the lines of getting stronger and improving their conditioning by focusing primarily on energy production, how can they produce more? They concentrate on lifting more weight and pushing themselves to the limit in their sport specific conditioning. Many are failing to consider the bigger energy equation, what about energy expenditure and energy efficiency? It's not solely about the energy we use in training, what about the daily energy demands, weekly energy expenditure, monthly expenditure, or event the sporting season energy demands?
If athletes are going to be efficient in their energy expenditure, they need to understand the energy demands of their lifestyle, and they need to learn to conserve energy in training. Every movement has an energy cost. Top level athletes tend to move with better technique and hence perform at a higher level than those who have movement faults. Those who train with this in mind can often recover faster and train harder because they have more energy saved up from moving effectivly.
If you watch Rich Froning thrusters closely you will see a slight pause at the top of each repetition, this allows him to find balance and be more stable in each repetition. Controlling the tempo of his thrusters allows him to keep his heart rate under control and move at a sustainable pace.
Sam Briggs (ex-triathlete) is one of the fittest women on the planet, but her pull-up technique is far behind that of Camille. Sam fatigues quickly on the pull-ups because her technique is much harder and more energy expensive than Camille's.
If the training priority is "work hard," "put more weight on the bar," or "move faster," what typically happens to movement quality? Far too often we hear coaches shouting these phrases to try and motivate their athletes, but moving faster and lifting more weight at the cost of movement efficiency is never going to deliver the desired results. If we centre your attention on improving movement quality, the number will take care of themselves and the athlete will be able to train more effectively due to their energy. High-intensity training is an opportunity to teach and develop these skills, not just work hard. Stop trying to work harder and let movement quality dictate the result of working smarter.
It is impossible for athletes to separate movement quality from energy usage because they are directly related to each other. Our energy expenditure is largely a function of our movement quality, skill level, and brain function (motor control). The more energy we expend, the more energy our body needs to produce. The more efficiently we move, the less energy we expend and the less our body has to produce. Inefficient movements have a poor application on force production and force output. Moving efficiently saves us energy and puts us in strong position to move large loads over greater distances.
"Conditioning is nothing more than an extension of movement.”
In other words, conditioning is a function of movement because movement quality inherently dictates the energetic cost and overall performance outcome. To have the best conditioning possible, you have to train to the highest level of movement quality so that your body can regulate the energy it produces.
Movement qualities govern motor learning, which dictates how skills and techniques are developed. An athlete who puts 65kg on the bar and repetitively fails to perform a snatch is successfully teaching themselves to fail. By lowering the weight to 60kg and hitting every repetition the athlete is learning and improving the snatch technique, and will subsequently end up snatching more. Skill and technique ultimately determine the energy cost of movement. Inefficient movement results in the poor transfer of force and thus increases the cost of movement for any given level of power output. We can decrease the cost of movement per level of power output by developing our movement qualities:
Joint mobility and stability (focusing on mobility and stretching)
Joint stiffness (understanding of stiffness like abdominal pressure, lifting without a belt)
Lever Length/Length-Tension (understanding gymnastics and body leverage advantages)
Fascial Chains (the inter-muscular connection and motor control required to perform complex movements)
Fiber Type (slow and fast twitch)
Fiber Size (hypertrophy)
By moving with high efficiency, our body conserves energy. The more energy your body conserves, the less it relies on the anaerobic system for energy production and the slower it will fatigue. Good movement qualities support a high level of movement variability, exactly what CrossFit athletes need to be competitive. The goal of training is not to perfect a single movement pattern or patterns, but rather to develop the greatest range of stable movement variability.
The following are strategies from Joel Jamison (www.8weeksout.com) for improving our movement qualities to decrease energy expenditure:
Ensure each joint (ankles, knees, hips, etc..) all have proper movement qualities. Mobility at the ankle will impact the performance if every other joint in the body.
Improve the quality of connective tissue with TEMPO training and plyometric work
Improve tissue quality with regular soft tissue work (massages, stretching, foam rolling, sauna, etc..)
You’ve probably heard of the Central Nervous System (CNS), but have you heard of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)? This is the coordination of muscles, cardiovascular outputs, and the unconscious bodily functions, which can be improved
Introduce and practice new movements in simple, controlled, low-stress environments, not at high intensity (lower stress environments). If you are only just learning how to perform overhead squats (OHS), why would you throw them into a high-intensity environment (i.e a WOD)? Learning to move in a controlled environment (sets, reps, and rest) builds strength and motor control. The next step would be performing OHS in an EMOM (work and rest, increase volume and slowly decrease rest time), before finally moving to a high-intensity setting (WOD).
As movement quality improves, first add load, then complexity, then stress and fatigue.
Only once movements are stable across different conditions, add variability (add load, movement complexities, low to high levels of fatigue)
As a coach or trainer, it’s our job to teach athletes how to move properly and efficiently in low-threshold, high-threshold, and fatigued environments.