Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Top 5 Program Progression Mistakes

The goal of any training program should be the improvement of strength, power, and work capacity. Without an increase in training loads positive adaptations will never occur. However, the training stimulus should be adjusted in a gradual and progressive manner to avoid overtraining which can result in lack of energy, poor performance, fatigue, depression, aching muscles and joints, and injury. This week’s article will attempt to address my top 5 areas of attention to insure improvement and limit the risk for injury.

#5 Perform a Proper Warm-Up

Muscular stiffness and lack of joint mobility result in greater muscle damage after exercise. A dynamic warm-up increases the body’s global core temperature, as well as, the localized tissue temperature for the specific muscles that will be active during sports movements. When the muscle tissue is “warm”, it becomes more elastic, more flexible, and less stiff. This greater elasticity means less tissue damage and less potential for injury. Aside from the overall increase in tissue temperature, an active warm-up prepares the muscles and joints for performance by “turning-on” the neuromuscular (brain-to-muscle) connections that will be utilized during training.

#4 Monitor Technique

Emphasis should be placed on “quality” over “quantity”. Often athletes will sacrifice movement technique for 5-10 pounds of resistance. Improper exercise form can lead to injury when the exercise pattern exceeds the limitations of a joint or muscle. Mechanical errors that create inefficient movement sequencing and timing will lead to a decrease of transferred energy and subsequently an increase in the torques and joint stresses produced. By stressing the importance of proper technique, not only will you limit this potential for harm, but the brain will ingrain and store more accurate movement patterns for future use. Ultimately, the use of proper technique can lead to more accurate programming of motor unit activation and much greater improvements in exercise performance.

#3 Adjust the Training Load

The amount of training load applied is very important. Too little exercise will have no effect on training. Yet, too much may cause injury. The Overload Principle states that the training stimulus must be greater than the normal level of function for the athlete’s body to adapt. The amount of the stimulus will depend on the athlete’s current fitness level. When working with the less experienced a lower intensity should be utilized. However, the more experienced athlete can use a greater stimulus. The training load should be adjusted in a gradual and progressive manner. One technique that can be used is to highlight the “Sets and Reps” scheme. For example, if the session or movement outlines “3 sets of 10 repetitions”, choose a resistance or weight that will allow for the performance of the designated number of repetitions (i.e. 10). If the athlete is unable to perform the 10 reps, then the resistance is too great and needs to be adjusted to a lighter weight on the next set. If he is able to perform more than 10 reps, the load is too light and needs to be adjusted to a greater weight on the next set. When progressing from session to session, begin with the training load used in the second set of the previous workout and adjust accordingly.

#2 Master the Fundamental Pre-Requisites

Choosing the proper initial movement “level of difficulty” is important. Too often, coaches and trainers choose an exercise or movement because it has “sizzle”. When in reality, the athlete may not have the proper functional platform of strength, stabilization, or mobility to perform the activity. An easy illustration is the athlete who cannot perform a Body Weight Squat without significant foot pronation and inward collapse of the knees. Yet, for some reason, his coach has him performing Resistance Band Jump Squats. Training progression should be viewed as an Inverted Pyramid. Without the mastery of the fundamental pre-requisites, the pyramid will topple over and fall. The end-result movement pattern can be broken down into smaller, simpler “building blocks”. Proper movement sequencing should progress from the improvement of isolated muscle strength to the more complex movement. In the Jump Squat example, initial focus should be placed on strengthening of the gluteal and hip abductors muscles. Next, the athlete may perform a Wall Squat exercise progressing to a Body Weight Squat followed by a Free Weight Back Squat. Once the athlete, can perform a proper squatting movement with external load, then he may progress to a Jump Squat and ultimately the Resistance Band Jump Squat.

#1 Allow for Rest and Recovery

Training is the application of stress. The constant exposure to physical stress results in a lack of energy, poor performance, and fatigue leading to eventual tissue breakdown and injury. Repair and regeneration occurs between training sessions. This cycle of stress and recovery progresses the athlete’s fitness level. The more fit the athlete, the greater the training stimulus needed for adaptation. Greater intensity or stress increases the need for rest and recovery. Monitoring the athlete’s training loads, performances, and his physical and mental responses can help to identify the need to adjust daily plans and stresses for maximal training efforts and optimal results.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

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