Strength & Conditioning part 4 – What is strong enough?

06 Apr

Introduction

The following blog post will outline key performance indicators (KPI’s) in both Senior athletes and Junior/ Youth athletes.
Where possible I will reference sources and provide evidence on claims.

Strength, in many sports, is the foundation for athletic development. Whether it be general, for injury prevention, or specific for athletic performance, any good training programme should address the athletes weaknesses and develop their strengths.

On my previous blog post, I referenced what it takes to be strong enough in order to develop towards more specific methods of training for explosive, power/ speed events.
The demands of velocity based training require a sufficient level of strength to minimise injury risk and maximise the improvements available to the athlete.

An athlete new to strength and conditioning, who is relatively weak, would benefit greatly from basic high volume, low intensity training, eg. 1×20 on each compound movement as a method of general physical preparation (GPP) the volume teaches the athlete the movement pattern through repetition and develops the muscle tissue to become resilient to load.
Muscles don’t understand repetition, but rather fatigue and the methods for fatiguing our muscles should vary depending on the time of year and the training age of the athlete.
Following a GPP phase, basic improvements will be made week by week, the strength improvements made within the first few months of training are by far the most significant one can expect to experience.

A good specific physical preparation (SPP) is tailored more to the qualities of their event/ sport and dictated by the athletes ability. This phase is typically more intense and the more advanced the athlete, the more advanced the training should be.
If they have good movement patterns, their repetition need not be so high and their intensity can be greater.
It’s important to note that these phases will generally last longer and the more experienced the athlete, the more variation of the Force Velocity curve can be use in order to reap greater rewards and not stagnate.

Before working towards higher velocities in the weights room, there are KPI’s in which good Strength & Conditioning coaches look to work towards, this is to minimise any injuries from weak muscles and movement patterns and to maximise the benefits and drawing on the most basic elements of strength training first for the quickest improvements possible.

If an athlete is weak, they’re more likely to get injured and they’re also not able to produce large amounts of force, therefore when they try to produce large amounts of force at speed, they also won’t be able to.

KPI’s for Strength Training
The following KPI’s are commonly used for strength coaches to assess athlete development and are relative to body weight. The charts I have used are from Elon University over in the United States. Addressing Pull Up/ Bench, Barbell Split Squat and Hex Bar Deadlift.
Once their athletes have achieved sufficient levels in each exercise they can progress to more advanced methods of training. Body weight included in Pull up. 

(Women’s first 3, Men’s last 3).
How do you or your athletes compare to Elon Universities KPI’s?

Elon Performance is a great account to follow if you have Instagram and if you’re looking to follow similar accounts to broaden your knowledge on coaching drop me a DM, I’ve found some great coaches and institutions over the past 5 years. Instagram is a really useful tool for coaches across the world.

As for how I structure KPIs for my athletes, I follow a similar principle on strength training, measuring KPIs within their gym programme and having standards and I also collect data on 9 overall key performance indicators of which have their own standards which we test and record over each training block.

This not only helps me structure a better programme for my athletes but gives them a clear visual understanding of where they are and what they need to work on outside their event to directly impact their performances.
Below is a graph the current graph on my fastest athlete who ran 10.5 as a U20 last year.
No doubt after the lock down period ends I will have to reassess and lower his score.

Eg. Explosive power I address multiple jumps and hops for height and distance as an indicator for explosive power and take the mean value to determine their overall score, this correlates better to the 100m sprint but is directly influenced by maximal strength.
Here is blog post to support jumps as a KPI in elite sprinters.
https://www.naseinc.com/blog/key-performance-indicators-in-elite-sprinters/

Speed data and acceleration data are taken from tables off the internet from athletes performances relevant to their PB’s. Standing 30m sprint, flying 30m sprint, the basics. 

Specific Mobility is one of the more questionable ones to measure, all of our stretches for improvements in range of motion are done so during the gym programme, as stretching under load creates greater improvements in flexibility and balance, which is the most important measure in my opinion, a perfect score would meet balance on both the left and right hand side of the body and pass the tests for mobility in the gym.
If you’re looking to improve on your flexibility and mobility and have reached a plateau, try 6 weeks of stretching with some light to moderate dumbbells.

When I was studying at University and training full time to be an athlete I was obsessed about developing a system that would highlight key areas of athleticism and it has taken me years to refine this process in my own training.
Before I finish writing a programme for my athletes I always think to myself, is this the best possible programme I can write with all the information available to me, which is why it is essential for collect data and information on each athlete or the coach is doing a disservice to them as I know how important it was for me to have the best possible training for me to improve.

I prefer to avoid testing 1RM and have the athletes perform 3 rep maxes to avoid any unnecessary injuries and it’s less taxing on their body. Generally I would add 5-10% depending on the exercise, a technically difficult exercise like the power clean would be 5% where as a back squat would be 10%. 

Performing 1RM on exercises such as the Power Clean are widely regarded as safe, assuming the athlete has a level of competency.

Not everyone needs to learn the Olympic lifts, a variety of weighted jumps would produce the same peak force output without the learning time.
Some elite athletes never Power Clean’ed in their life, but for those who are interested you may enjoy the next paragraph.

Elite Athletes KPI’s
By far one of my favourite websites/forums back when I was at University was EliteTrack.com athletes and coaches from across the world would share their data, experiences and perspectives and I remember this post vividly as athletes shared what they or their training partners could lift,(back squat and power clean).
As I was studying in Bath and had close links to Jason Gardener and Colin Jackson, I can confirm these numbers are true.
https://elitetrack.com/forums/topic/elite-athletes-powerclean/

Colin Jackson 12.91 74 142.5 1.93

Jason Gardener 9.98 74 140 1.89
PBs, Body weights, Power Clean PB and Ratio to body weight.

Incredible and superhuman statistics, which is why they were such exceptional athletes, They would reportedly lift twice a week for the majority of the year and achieve world class lifting numbers, their genetics/ ability to produce large amounts of force at speed are what made them so fast. 


The highest ratio is from
Jonathan Edwards 72 150 2.08

Who still holds the WR to this day. Over twice his body weight in a power clean. This requires exceptional strength to produce exceptional power.
I don’t believe enough coaches and athletes realise the importance of being able to produce incredible amounts of force.

https://elitetrack.com/forums/topic/elite-athletes-powerclean/

 

Junior athletes KPIs 

As you can imagine, studies done on junior is a lot harder to pass through ethics boards and a lot of research on junior athletes and strength training are anecdotal, which doesn’t satisfy some people. However a lot of benefits from the studies on adult athletes can still be applied from adult strength measures to juniors. 

This is coming from someone who has lived with and worked directly with the athlete on the front cover of Strength and Conditioning for Young Athletes.

Being strong, relative to body weight as a junior athlete is an incredible advantage and should be addressed, measured and trained if the athlete wishes to pursue elite sport.

I find it very common amongst coaches to hit the jackpot with a good junior athlete, which they believe will be the next big thing but the reality is they have no idea how to get them there and the odds are they’ll get injured. 

It is also address that junior athletes develop at different ages and some can elicit greater physical attributes at the same age, where one could do 10 pull ups, and a much higher vertical jump, their overall athleticism is much greater and so is there chances of success at that age, managing these differences could be essential for keeping junior athletes in the sport.
This is why I am a big advocate of junior athletes performing circuit based sessions as they don’t have the time to ask the others how many reps etc. they did, or doing what I did, as there were no Strength and Conditioning coaches back when I started lifting, perform the exercises at home.

Junior KPI Strength Suggestions

Below are my suggestions for developing Junior KPI’s and methods on which to go about training them. These are easy to perform exercises with minimal equipment that can be done at home and are very safe.

  1. Press Ups 
  2. Pull Ups

Both of which performed to failure with their scores recorded.
If pull ups are not possible, a variation of rows and hanging from the bar for as long as possible.

  1. Isometric Split Squat Hold
  2.  Isometric Single Leg Hold
  3. Straight Arm Plank Hold
    All of which performed to failure with their scores recorded.
  4. Vertical Jumps
  5. 3x Horizontal Jump 

6 attempts in total, 3 on each side for vertical jump and 4 attempts in total for the horizontal jumps.

Methods of training for juniors
As these exercises are general, developing specific training measures to improve these performance is sensible, eg. doing more of the exercise to get better at the exercise.

I would recommend performing 3-4 sets of each exercise in a circuit method for either 80% 100% of the repetitions, duration and distance, over the course of 8-12 weeks for a minimum of 2 sessions a week, up to 4 sessions a week.
The more regular the sessions, the less number of sets need to be performed.
Eg. 2 x per week, 4 sets each every session, 4 x per week, 2 sets each every session.

I would also like to state again that I pro  against children lifting weights, if done correctly. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic ,I highly recommend this post from APA.
http://athleticperformanceacademy.co.uk/2020/04/is-lifting-weights-safe-for-children/

 

Conclusion

What I hoped to have achieved from this blog post is for the reader to have a greater understanding of what is strong for explosive, power and speed based events.
What KPI’s can be used to measure an athlete’s level of strength before moving to more advanced training methods and why it is important to keep track of data for development, the more data you collect as a coach, the more informed you are on the athlete and where they can improve.

Elite athletes, in one way or another are incredibly strong, some of you may be thinking well what can Usain Bolt squat or power clean?
Not many people know, they can speculate but from what I understand from when I’ve spoken to members of the Jamaican track team, Glen Mills focuses more on leg press for strength and volume within their gym programme and this can also work really well.
Other Jamaican’s like Asafa Powell has reportedly power cleaned 160kg, here he is with 140kg


Why don’t we train like Usain Bolt? Leg presses are expensive and awkward to load, but you could, finding KPI’s on these are more difficult.

 

As for junior athletes, if you’re a parent or a coach of a junior athlete and you’re struggling for ideas to keep them focused and training through this lockdown period, hopefully this blog and the links I’ve posted have given you a few ideas on what they could do and why it is important to start them young to give them the best chance and headstart over their competition.


Thank you for your time reading this and if you have any questions or requests on blogs, please feel free to send me a DM.
The next video I will post will be on a home core/trunk circuit that everyone can do from beginners to intermediate to elite.
All the best,
Connell