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Maximising Speed: with strength and power training

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If you’re an athlete (or coach) whose event requires speed – and LOTS of it – then make sure you read this new report...

Speed is the most precious sporting commodity in the sports conditioning world. That’s because, all else being equal, the fastest athlete is the superior performer.

In sports conditioning terms, speed is the product of strength and power training, utilising weights, body weight, plyometric (jumping) and a myriad of other types of training types. When carried out correctly, strength and power training can yield significant results – and a truly massive jump in athletic performance.

Yet many athletes (and coaches) are unable to train in the most effective way to optimise athletic speed.

That’s why I asked John Shepherd – a longstanding contributor to the Peak Performance sports science newsletter – to put down on paper everything he’s learned over the many years he’s been an elite-level athlete (he was an international long jumper for Great Britain, a top coach, and a writer for Peak Performance and its sister sports conditioning publications.

So in this specially-written, brand new work book, John provides the practical answers coaches and athletes want to the question: how do we train and condition athletes for maximum speed?

In seventy-one concise, clearly written pages John shows you how to develop new levels of speed you probably never thought you were capable of. How? Through the practical consideration and application of power and strength methodologies – and a clear explanation of how you correctly use these to build an effective training plan that’s relevant to you and your sports event.

Where applicable, John also provides specific training programmes that clearly illustrate the type of training that should be done by athletes at different times of the training year.

You see, the latest sports science behind speed and specific strength and power training has shown that there are certain training methods that work on the athlete – both physically and mentally – in such a way as to create more reactive, stronger and powerful muscles, ones that can generate substantial amounts of force in the blink of an eye.

Specific conditioning is an obvious must – athletes need to train in ways that are not detrimental to the enhancement of performance in their specific event.

But while this may sound obvious, you’d be amazed how many athletes (and their coaches) train in ways that are actually counterproductive to optimising specific speed and power.

Take weight training as a specific case in point. So many training myths and misperceptions persist about the right ways to train, what training loads to lift, how much rest to build into the programme, and so on. John Shepherd’s special report, Maximising Speed: with strength and power training cuts through all the myths to explain exactly how to structure a periodised (systematically planned) conditioning programme and why different types of muscular action, for example must be utilised to specifically create the optimum adaptive conditions.

He even explains the crucial role of the central nervous system when it comes to constructing a speed, strength and power training programme – a factor too often overlooked by even the most well-informed coaches and athletes.

Remember, John is eminently qualified to write on the subject – bringing the level of personal insight and experience to the subject that only an elite athlete can.

That’s because John is himself a former international long-jumper – as well as a coach to elite athletes in the UK – who has written extensively on sports, health and fitness and is the author of 8 books, including 101 Athletic Drills for Young People and the Complete Guide to Sports Training. And, as I mentioned earlier, he has also been a regular contributor to Peak Performance and its associated products for over a decade.

So he’s able to write a report that goes way beyond the ‘usual’ topics to be found in sports training publications. Take, for example, the chapters he’s written on such critical issues as body-type specificity and strength gains (chapter 4) and the role of the central nervous system (chapter 7).

It’s essential information for serious athletes and their coaches, all of it based on the very latest sports scientific research into how best to ‘engineer’ an athlete’s body for blistering speed – and medal-winning success in 2012.

Periodising Strength, Power and Speed: how to start out on the right foot

Strength training is key to sports performance. The athlete – in the widest sense of the term – has recourse to a myriad of methods, plyometrics (jumping/ballistic exercises), weights, body weight exercises, hills, vibration machines and so on.

However, the myriad of options – coupled with the need to marry these specifically to sports performance – can make producing a relevant conditioning plan very difficult and confusing, a state of affairs that is made worse by a great deal of misinformation on the topic

So the central objective of the first section of Maximising Speed: with strength and power training is to provide an A-Z overview of how to best construct a periodised conditioning plan for enhanced speed, power and strength.

Training variables such as volume, intensity, duration, frequency, loadings and rest are set against training phases so you can see precisely how to make periodisation work for you. Throughout, examples of workouts are provided during the explanations to add further clarity.

NB: This section includes a little-known variant on periodisation often overlooked by coaches – one that can deliver significant improvements in athletic performance, if correctly understood and implemented the right way...

By the end of the discussion – and through the more detailed considerations of other relevant factors provided in subsequent chapters of the book – coach and athlete alike should be able to develop and construct an overall conditioning programme for their sport.

Maximum Strength Training: getting the right balance for peak athletic performance

All sports performers want to get maximum returns from their weight training. But many don’t – they will waste hours and hours in the gym doing exercises that will not significantly boost their actual ability to do their sport better.

Many become preoccupied with getting as strong as they can, particularly track and field athletes and rugby players, and then find that they are less agile or no better at running, throwing or jumping when it matters.

Worse still, they may develop a more injury-prone body due to the creation of muscular imbalances.

So in the next section of Maximising Speed: with strength and power training we give specific attention to the construction of a phase-by-phase conditioning programme that develops speed, power and strength commensurately and relevantly.

But first we begin with a discussion of the three different ‘strength types’ and the varying ways that they can be developed using five different types of muscular action.

The importance of rest between sets, and recovery post-session, is crucial, so this issue gets special treatment. Too many athletes (and their coaches) make the fundamental mistake of training with inappropriate volumes, loads and rest periods – inappropriate, that is, to the sports events they are training for.

Because what might be ‘undertraining’ for one athlete, can be ‘overtraining’ for another. Our new report helps you work out which situation may currently apply to you – or your athletes.

The maximum strength method, which we extensive discuss in this section, is frequently misunderstood, and misused in sports gymnasiums up and down the country. As John Shepherd so cogently puts it: “...strength for the sake of strength is a conditioning potential blind alley.”

To help the reader put into practice everything he has learned, the section includes speed, power and strength workouts, and a periodised annual training plan for achieving your speed, power and strength performance goals. The periodised plan is suitable for a sprinter, jumper or thrower athlete with 5-6 years training maturity and with a national standard competitive record. It also includes a detailed explanation, helpfully colour-coded, of which types of conditioning are best suited to a particular mesocycle period in the plan.

The section concludes with a detailed 1-year (macrocycle) periodised programme for top-level cricketers, especially fast bowlers, specially provided to us by the lead conditioning coach of a top UK county cricket club.

It’s a rare insight into the training techniques that are proven to work in elite athletic circles – and now made exclusively available to you!

Body Types and Strength Gains: is the way you currently train correct for you?

Somatotypes are body type classifications. They describe the ‘natural’ physique that we are born with and mature into.

NB: somatotypes should not be confused with ‘body shape’, which refers to changes to body type brought about by training and, for the majority of the population, lack of exercise and unhealthy food choices – which leads more often than not to being overweight and potential obesity.

There are three main somatotypes: ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs. These can be described as ‘skinny’, ‘athletic’ and ‘rounded/big framed’. (It should be noted that in reality no-one is normally 100% of one somatotype; rather, we are parts of each. Indeed there are various classification systems that attribute parts of each somatotype to a person.)

Because different body types will respond to training in different ways, it is essential to recognise this when it comes to designing and implementing programmes for optimising athletic strength gains.

So the next section of Maximising Speed: with strength and power training is devoted entirely to an explanation of somatotypes – and a thorough discussion of their relevant to successful strength and power training for speed. We show you how the differing body types vary in their training requirements – and how to go about satisfying these.

However, the section also integrates this new level of understanding with a discussion of the training maturity of the athlete, injury and performance history.

The result is a series of truly sophisticated insights into the most effective ways to train for maximum athletic speed.

Plyometric Training: a ‘hidden weapon’ in your speed training armoury?

Plyometric training is a key component in the periodisation of strength, power and speed – especially for the maximisation of strength development in training-mature athletes. Less training-mature athletes should be introduced to plyometrics gradually, but it should be noted that their sporting performance will still benefit from their incorporation.

This is because at this stage of training development, the benefits of performing plyometrics within a periodised maximum-load weight-training programme will not be required. Indeed, it is possible to develop great specific sports performance condition with plyometrics alone, particularly in the earlier stages of training.

A plyometric exercise involves a specific set of muscular contractions – it’s because of this that these exercises are also known as those that involve the ‘stretch, shortening cycle’ or the ‘stretch/reflex’. On landing from a jump, or during the stance phase of the running action, the muscles of the ankles, knees and hips will be ‘put on stretch’. Specifically, they undergo an eccentric contraction as they absorb the impact. In a split second they then ‘shorten’ as the muscles perform what’s known as a concentric contraction to move the athlete into the jump or next running stride.

The eccentric/concentric (stretch/ shortening/stretch reflex) transference enables immense levels of power to be produced in the athlete’s muscles. With relevant conditioning, including plyometrics and the MxS (maximum strength) method, this power release can be enhanced.

So the next section of Maximising Speed: with strength and power training is devoted entirely to plyometric training – what is it, how is it done, and what’s the best way to get maximum returns in the form of significant gains in speed?

The chapter includes ten top training and conditioning tips for the correct use of plyometrics by athletes and coaches – it’s well worth reading this report for this section alone.

Along the way we also discuss the concept of ‘leg stiffness’ and why it is so important for speed athletes like sprinters, and why specificity of movement matters so much when it comes to transferring strength gains in plyometric traning to athletic performance on the running track, court or sports field.

And we give you a handy table that ranks the eight most useful plyometric exercises by their level of intensity – so you know which exercises are safe to use on less-advanced athletes, and which are more appropriate for the more highly-trained and experienced individuals.

We finish off the discussion with three sample workouts, each designed for a different phase of a sprinter’s periodized training year.

It’s powerful stuff!

Hormonal Responses to Weight Training: how to get maximum return on time spent in the gym

Athletes obviously weight-train to improve performance because, all else being equal, a weight-trained muscle will be more enduring and better able to express force, i.e. more powerful.

Now there are numerous weight-training systems on offer to coach and athlete, the effects of which, in terms of promoting a specific fitness response, are relatively well known. However, the same may not be said of the effects that these have on the endocrine system and hormone production (notably testosterone and growth hormone).

Great care needs to be paid to the design of a weight training programme because the hormonal effects can significantly impact on the amount of lean muscle gains. And this goes a long way to determining your exercise outcomes, affecting your power-to-weight ratio negatively or positively in terms of sport performance, depending on the specifics of the activity.

So the ramifications for athletes and coaches are immense.

Which is why we devote the next section of Maximising Speed: with strength and power training to an examination of the interactions between hormones, the endocrine system and weight training.

Our discussion of this advanced strength training issue begins with the workings of three key exercise-related hormones:

Growth hormone (GH ) – GH is released from the anterior pituitary gland in the brain soon after exercise commences; however, the precise effects of this GH release seem to be a function of the age of the exerciser (of which more later). GH is often regarded as the ‘sport hormone’ because it is involved in numerous anabolic functions relating to cell proliferation and division throughout the body. Specifically, GH stimulates bone, cartilage and muscle growth and can play a very significant role in lean muscle mass and fat deterioration/ accumulation. This explains why it has been used as an illegal ergogenic aid. GH release via exercise is also augmented by a further chemical reaction. Basically, hormones that would otherwise act to blunt GH production (eg somatostatin) are suppressed by the production of other chemicals produced during exercise (endogenous opiates).

In short, GH’s ergogenic training-induced effect can contribute toward creating a leaner, stronger, more powerful athlete.

Testosterone – Testosterone is produced in men through the testes and in women (though to a much lesser extent) via the ovaries. The primary role of testosterone is to augment the release of GH and to interact with the nervous system. To clarify the latter, hormones can influence mood and behaviour. An increased level of testosterone could, for example, result in greater feelings of aggressiveness/dominance through ‘interpretation’ by the nervous system and brain. The mechanisms behind this process (and other hormonal influences on behaviour) are complex.

Cortisol – Cortisol is released from the adrenal gland and its levels are also elevated by exercise. Cortisol stimulates protein breakdown, leading to the creation of energy in the form of glucose in the liver. This is not good for those looking to build muscle, as amino acids (released via dietary protein breakdown) become preferentially used for energy production rather than muscle building.

Read Maximising Maximising Speed: with strength and power training and you’ll find out which forms of weight training produces the greatest acute hormonal elevations (notably testosterone and growth hormone). Different programmes encourage a different hormonal response -- with very specific outcomes in terms of both strength and muscle mass. For example, the amount of growth hormone that is produced in an athlete's body can be ‘manipulated’ by performing particular types of weight training workouts.

You'll also learn what Charles Van Commenee (the coach of Olympic heptathlon gold medalist Denise Lewis and now head of UK Athletics’ coaching team) advocates for athletes and coaches targeting peak performance.

We even share the training secrets of triple jumper Jonathan Edwards’ weight training workouts – the ones that helped him to Olympic success and to successive world records in his event.

Our analysis includes such crucial issues as the impact of age and sex on hormonal release – two crucial variables to take into consideration when putting together a weight training programme for athletes.

Not least because older track and field athletes can boost their athletic performance by adjusting their weight training activities along lines that encourage the right kind of hormonal response.

This vitally important chapter ends with a description of individual weight training workouts designed to get the best results for a variety of selected sports, age groups, and across both genders by targeting the elevation of growth hormone in athletes.

It's essential information for any coach (or athlete) wanting specifically to target speed development as the key to competitive success in 2012.

The Central Nervous System: its vital contribution to speed and power development

When it comes to providing energy for sports activities, the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems would probably be at the top of most coaches’ and athletes’ lists.

However, there is another ‘source’, perhaps less well known, but which might be the most important – the central nervous system (CNS). That’s because the CNS interprets and relays signals from around the body, via the spinal chord and brain. It is a complex system, a sort of control system for the body, one that is involved in and inextricably linked to sports performance.

Its behaviour has traditionally been thought of as conscious, involving interpretation through the senses; however, it is highly plausible that much of its activity functions at an unconscious level. If the coach and athlete can understand its operation and relevance to sports training and planning and optimally tap its potential, then achieving personal best performances, avoiding burnout and maximising training adaption will result.

Why is the CNS important for sports performance? Research indicates that playing a sport for a long time influences the way the CNS ‘controls’ muscular recruitment, i.e. the way the athlete moves their muscles when performing any sports skill

So we wrap up this specially-written report for athletes and coaches on the development of speed with a section entirely devotes to this crucial issue.

In Maximising Speed: with strength and power training we share the fascinating findings of some recent sports science research into the way in which the CNS can be trained to improve athletic performance. Then we show you precisely how to achieve this training objective, drawing on the top-level coaching insights of several of the world’s foremost athletic coaches long the way.

We also share with you ‘a ‘secret’ way of harnessing the power of the CMS to get new levels of performance enhancement out of training activities like weights or plyometrics.

It’s a simple trick – but one that is known to very few people outside of elite coaching circles...

Finally – because targeting the CNS in training can so easily result in excessive fatigue – we list a number of high-intensity training options that should be carefully monitored and controlled in terms of the frequency of their inclusion in an athlete’s training programme.

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