Why do it on Two, When you can do it on One

A hot topic of discussion between us strength coaches is the benefits of unilateral and bilateral training. For years now, and we have been taught “if we can’t do it on two, we shouldn’t be doing it on one!” There is merit to this, no doubt. What your body does to accommodate loading on one leg is a totally different neural pattern compared to two legs, and it will lead to different training adaptations. Bilateral exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and RDL have been proven to be useful exercises to improve strength and power that transfers to on field performance. Unless you participate in a bar sport like powerlifting, you may not be getting as much out of these lifts as you think.  

We are asymmetrical creatures, we are never going to perfect balanced no matter how hard we to strive to attain symmetry. When you play an asymmetrical sports such as baseball, the asymmetries are further attenuated. While your body adapts to these asymmetries, the possibility of injury tends to increase. While a lot of movements in the weight-room are performed on two limbs, athletes can hide asymmetries in these bilateral movements. Over time something will give on the field or in the weight-room that causes an injury. In unilateral movements, hiding compensation patterns is almost impossible! It can actually highlights the flaws in the system. While we may never be symmetrical (maybe we aren’t supposed to be) if I can close the gap between left and right, the total system benefits. 

The majority of athletic activity takes place on one leg. Running, cutting, jumping all take place on one leg; the amount of time spent on two limbs is not as often as your would think. The body relies on each individual limb to produce force to propel the body forward; while the opposite leg prepares for ground contact. Bilateral movements like the squat train the appropriate muscle groups required to improve performance, however it is not a movement athletes often experience on the field. A big counter argument is that you are stronger/ more powerful on two legs compared to one, and this is true… in the moment of the lift. 

The bilateral deficit is a term used to describe the sum of two limbs lifts has a greater total load compared to using two legs at the same time. For example, athlete A can back squat 300lbs. But,  he can single leg squat 155lbs on each limb individually and this totals to 310lbs. If the rep and set scheme is the same between the two exercises, total tonnage will be greater with the single leg squat compared to the back squat; which would elicit greater adaptation (maybe). 

Finally, two limb movements do not always equal improvements with one limb movements, while one leg movements can further improve the ability of two limb movements. In my experience, my athletes have trained primarily on two limbs, while often neglecting unilateral movements. With that being said, their RDL strength and coordination completely exceeds their Single Leg RDL ability (most cannot even get into the position). This is troublesome because we ask these athletes to perform single leg plyometric exercises such as a sprint on a daily basis. The Single Leg RDL almost directly mimics the requirements of the sprint, and if these guys can hardly get in the correct position in a controlled, unloaded environment… I cannot expect them to have any type of advanced sprint ability. I want to change our current mindset that you should be able to perform a movement on two limbs before you attempt it on one. I think we should train single limb ability before attempting bilateral movements. 


Thanks for your time!

Coach Nate Garcia 

nate@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com

scott@tpstrength.com 

914-486-7678

Instagram: tp_strength



Training for Acceleration

Take a moment, and picture yourself running as fast as you can. How did you get to top speed? Well, at some point you have to start moving! This is the acceleration phase of sprinting. There are two other phases, and these are max velocity and deceleration. At Total Performance, we train these phases individually. This blog post will be discussing the acceleration phase, and how we target the training required to improve acceleration ability. 

Some of you may be thinking, what is the difference between acceleration and max velocity? Why separate the two, when you are trying to be as fast as possible in each phase? Yes, they are similar in some ways, and the goal is to “be fast.” However, what your body does in order to get to max velocity is different than what it does once it has reached max velocity. Some big differences include are the magnitude, and direction of force applied while accelerating. Acceleration has a more horizontal application, while max velocity is more vertical. Also, during acceleration, you spend more time on the ground. This allows you more time to generate more force. Acceleration training should match the requirements of acceleration. 

So, if we are aiming to match the requirements of acceleration in the weight room, things like: the primary direction of the movement, the load of the movement, and the intent of the movement should be manipulated as such. Acceleration requires starting strength, you must get your mass moving forward as fast as possible. If you are weak, your ability to accomplish this is hindered. Max strength training requires heavier loads, and slower movements. Because of the horizontal force direction associated with acceleration, max strength training movements that put the body through a similar pattern should be the primary movements of the session. Roman Deadlifts (RDL), Hip Thrust, Split squat, and Single Leg (SL) Hip Flexion are a few possible exercise selections that I use to train acceleration. The RDL and Hip Thrust both target the hip hinge pattern. The primary action of hip hinge requires hip extension and flexion primarily occurring anteriorly, and posteriorly (forward and backward); here’s your horizontal force application. The Split Squat, and SL Hip Flexion are also movements that improve hip flexion and extension abilities, and they are unilateral (completed on one leg)! During all phases of sprinting, once you start, there is never a point in time in which you have two feet on the ground. So, you cannot rely on the force production of two legs at the same time, you have to rely on one. Neglecting this fact is a poor decision IMO. Finally, the intent of the movement should be to move fast concentrically. The benefits of having the intent to move weight as fast as possible are numerous, and we can discuss them later. Right now, all you need to worry about is “I gotta move this sh** fast” to train the qualities of acceleration. 

Plyometric type, and timing is also a major factors to consider. Plyometrics should check the same boxes of acceleration like direction, and force application. Broad jumps, and single leg bounds are a couple of examples. The timing refers back to the PAP post we had a few weeks ago. I will save that can of worms for another day. 

There are entire textbooks associated with sprinting, and acceleration. These are some basic facts and opinions to consider next time you want to train for speed.

 

-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!

Coach Nate Garcia 

nate@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com

scott@tpstrength.com 

914-486-7678

Instagram: tp_strength



Post Activation Potentiation "PAP"

In training for sport performance, we are always looking for a way to enhance the effects of training to better optimize sports performance. One of those methods is post activation potentiation. This topic can get a little tricky, and the variables that go with PAP can be numerous. So, try to stay with me here as we dive into the effects of PAP. 

Physical performance is affected by the muscle’s contractile history. Most people will think of the decreased performance associated with muscle fatigue, well PAP aims to increase performance. We are attempting to prime the working muscle group, typically in preparation for dynamic movement like a jump, or sprint. There is no concrete evidence that gives us a clear look into what works, and what does not work when referring to improved performance. With that being said, I will go over a few variables people have looked into, and discuss what potentially went right and/or wrong. 

First and foremost, the only athletes that should attempting to potentiate should be experienced athletes with a training age of more than 5 years, and post pubescent biologically. Typically, PAP involves near maximal loading of an exercise, followed by a dynamic movement. If an athlete can not adequately perform a loaded pattern such a squat, I will not waste their time trying to prime their muscles for elevated performance. Research agrees with me. The novice athlete’s body simply isn’t ready to complete this type of training. Too much fatigue is often induced, and there's little to no benefit seen when attempting to potentiate the muscles. A solid foundation of strength needs to be formed first, then the athlete is physiologically ready to undergo this advanced style of training. 

Secondly, the loaded movement you are completing needs to be similar to the movement you attempting to elevate in performance. If my goal is to jump higher, a heavy bench press wouldn’t help me much.. Or would it? Anyway, a study attempted to elevate athletes change of direction ability by pairing the 5-10-5 drill with a maximal isometric voluntary contraction of the lower limb musculature in a squat pattern. The results indicated no improved performance in the change of direction drills. They speculated variables such as training age, rest periods, and movement specificity could all be involved when deciding how to potentiate properly. (Marshall, Turner 2019)

Another variable that must be considered is rest time. There is a small window of opportunity we have when trying to utilize the effects of PAP.  Immediately following a loaded movement, we experience fatigue, the greater the intensity of the movement, the more fatigue we experience. If the rest period is too short, we are just performing the dynamic movement fatigued and it will result in a decrease in performance. If we rest too long, the priming effect of PAP is lost, and it is like nothing happened in the first place. So far, it has been stipulated that a rest window of 3-7 minutes is optimal. But, a 4 minute difference in rest time is massive! For the purpose of weight room flow, and the limited time frame we have to work with our athletes at Total Performance, we typically allot for about 1-3 minutes of active recovery to take place before attempting the dynamic movement. At the end of the day, we have limited time to work with our athletes, and there is no research confirming a ratio of intensity to rest to optimize performance. So, we do what is best for our facility and our athletes. 

I want to touch again on the subject of athlete experience. The less experienced athlete will not need as much stimulus to see the effects of PAP, but they will need a greater rest time to allow for proper priming of the muscle. This is compared to the experienced athlete who requires a higher degree of stimulus, and rest time doesn’t need to be as long comparatively. This could be due to the fact that the motor unit threshold attempting to be reached is way higher in the experienced athlete compared to the novice, and the experienced athlete's enhanced ability to recover from work. 

I can discuss post activation potentiation for another 100 blog posts, and I might just do that. However, at the end of the day we don’t know the full risks/benefits of PAP. The variables are still too wide to come to a conclusion. I personally use PAP in my training, but I do not measure my results; but I can tell when I haven’t allotted enough rest or I have rested too long. TP’s athletes complete a variation of contrast training blocks with loaded pattern followed by the matching dynamic pattern. The degree of intensity, the rest time, and the volume is determined by the athletes training age, and the stage of their annual plan they are in. Hopefully we discover the full mystery of PAP in the near future to better harness its ability to improve performance! 

-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!

Coach Nate Garcia 

nate@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com

scott@tpstrength.com 

914-486-7678

Instagram: tp_strength


Plyometrics in the Sand

As we continue to dive into the intricacies of plyometrics, we are going to come across a wide variety of scenarios when training the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). One of the most important variables is the surface on which the training takes place! Plyos in the sand highlight certain qualities of the SSC, and play down the effects of others. 

Why would you want to be jumping and landing on a softer surface in the first place? Well, the first benefit is the reduced impact on the joints compared to landing on hard surfaces. If one of the goals of the session is to protect the athlete from the rigors of hard landings, while still accomplishing quality work, plyos in the sand does that. Mirzaei and company looked at muscle soreness and how plyometrics in the sand affected it. Their study mentioned  that the sand work resulted in decreased muscle soreness, which in turn allowed for more work to be accomplished. (Mirzaei, 2014)

But coach Nate! What about the increased time spent in the amortization phase of the SSC, and the subsequent loss of elastic energy stored because of the increased time spent on the ground when stretching the muscle!?? Don’t worry my readers, it all depends on the goal of the session! The SSC in totality is one of the most powerful mechanisms we humans have that allow us to exert extreme amounts of force. If you take away the ability of one component of the SSC, in this case the eccentric component, the concentric component has to do some work to get the same task completed. This is similar to the max strength phase of training. The movement is slower, the benefit of the SSC is blunted, and a greater emphasis is placed in the concentric ability of the muscle. In the same study I referenced earlier, Mirzaei and company also mentioned that a 6 week plyometric program completed in the sand resulted in increased vertical, static, and long jump with increases in maximal strength, and decreased sprint times (Mirzaei, 2014).  All good things right? But, the study was completed on untrained individuals, and many of those adaptations could be accredited to neural adaptation, which increases the efficiency of the body completing the task. 

In my professional opinion, I do not have a problem with plyometric sand training. It is another stimulus you can expose an athlete to that still promotes quality training while protecting the body from hard landing. As long as the reason behind this training is sound, go ahead! If you goal is to focus on decreasing the amortization phase and getting off the ground as quickly as possible, then the sand is not the place to be. 


-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!


Coach Nate Garcia 

nate@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com

scott@tpstrength.com 

914-486-7678

Instagram: tp_strength

Reference

Mirzaei, B., Norasteh, A. A., & Asadi, A. (2013). Neuromuscular adaptations to plyometric training: Depth jump vs. countermovement jump on sand. Sport Sciences for Health, 9(3), 145-149. doi:10.1007/s11332-013-0161-x





Instability Training... Why?

There seems to be an increased popularity in the utilization of unstables surfaces in the weight-room to improve balance, strength,  core strength, and sports performance. Why add another variable to a skilled movement? What does training on an unstable surface enhance, and/or hinder? To what capacity should you incorporate this modality in your own training regimen?

In the rehab setting, when an individual is returning from injury, it is very common for the usage of unstable surfaces to strengthen all muscles associated with the area being rehabbed. Without going too far out of my scope of practice, the unstable surface promotes co-contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle groups to stabilize the joint and prevent future injury. 

Once someone is cleared from the rehab setting, the capacity to which someone would use instability training methods vary quite a bit. As I have discussed in previous posts, it all depends on what the goal of your program is! Let's look at two people: 1- a sprinter who has 5+ years training experience, 2- an average person not training for competition with < 5 years training experience. 

The sprinter has one goal in mind, and that is to get from point A to point B faster than everyone else. Peaking for these events require detailed programming in order to get the best out of the athlete at the time of the event. A sprinter needs to the ability to put a high amount of force in the ground in a very short amount of time. To aid in force absorption and redistribution, sprinters have the ability to disinhibit the natural inhibitors of muscle contraction. This is part of the reason why they look so fluid running down the track! This has a lot to do with co-contraction of muscles, sprinters want agonist muscle groups to shorten rapidly while the antagonist muscle groups relax. This increases the range of motion of the movement, allowing more time for force generation, and shortens the amortization phase of the stretch shortening cycle. I say all that because unstable surfaces promote co-contraction, thus fighting the results we are looking for! They also limit force production in one direction, meaning as you put force in to the unstable surface like sand, or a bosu ball, the force is distributed across the platform rather than back into the movement. Training to improve balance focusing on the usage of unstable surfaces for the sprint athlete would not be recommended. 

As an average person looking to improve overall fitness, I see no problem with using instability training as long as it’s performed safely with a purpose. Exercise should be fun for people, and if someone is inclined to use a bosu ball to do push-ups because they like the challenge… why not? Sure, they might be emphasizing efficient strength development, but there isn’t strength competition to prepare for either. Instability training provides a unique challenge, and easy way to track improvement with added variables to the exercise. As long as someone has a general strength foundation, and demonstrates that they can do the movement safely, I say go for it. BUT, you should know what instability training promotes if you are utilizing it in your program. If the goal of your program is to increase maximal power output, and one of your programs pillar’s is the utilization of unstable surfaces… I will shake my head in disappointment. 

People use unstable surfaces to promote balance ability, core development (abs, obliques, erectors, etc), a warm up to “activate” muscle groups before the session, rehabilitation from injury, and sometimes just to show off! These are all true statements, but are there better ways to accomplish these goals? For example, nothing has been shown to better develop core strength than performing standing, total body movement with an external load (LIKE A BACK SQUAT), and that includes the 30 minute crunch class. There is a time and a place for unstable surfaces, and IMO that is in the rehab setting, a warm up, a new challenge for someone not training for a competition, and to only be attempted safely by someone with training experience. 


Thank you for your time! If you have any questions, please reach out to us!


Instagram: tp_strength

train@tpstrength.com (Coach Nate)

scott@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com

Phone: 914-486-7678



Jumping, its Role in Training!

Coach Nate Garcia

Plyometrics is an intense exercise training method. The reason someone trains with plyometric exercises is to improve the “stretch shortening cycle” (SSC) of the muscle system. Similar to the energy stored when stretching a rubber band, when you stretch your muscle energy is stored and if the stretch is followed rapidly by muscle shortening action you are able to use this energy to your movement advantage. Whether you know it or not, the SSC is used throughout your daily motion. One example of your daily utilization of the SSC is the use of your calf musculature when walking. Striking the ground with your heel creates a pre-stretch of the muscles that stores some elastic energy. The energy is released as you propel yourself forward off your toes.


A common example of a plyometric exercise is jumping. Jump training is often looked at as an activity reserved for the sports that primarily involve jumping (such as volleyball or basketball). However, what a lot of people neglect to acknowledge is that jumping relates to numerous activities that people perform, like sprinting. When utilized properly, jumping can be used as an efficient and safe way to improve power and sprint capabilities. However, jumping shouldn’t just be reserved for athlete training. The benefits of having the ability to jump not only means improved athletic ability, it also means improved efficiency with everyday tasks such as: traveling the stairs, preventing a fall, picking up objects from the floor, and running!


Just as with any exercise, in order to see progress in jump ability, you have to properly plan for your goals. Total Performance uses various different jumps in order improve power development. Youth athletes, or those with a small training age, must have their volume of plyometrics closely monitored. A high volume of plyometric training can result in overtraining and ultimately be detrimental . Since jumping is an implication of power, and power is defined as work divided by time, in order to train safely, you need to be strong. Research recommends reserving high volume lower body plyometric training for those who have the ability to squat at least 1.5 x your body weight. If one is unable to accomplish this, it doesn't mean you shouldn’t jump, it just means you need to be extra cautious with your volume of jumps. Advanced athletes have the ability to handle a high volume of plyometric training due to their ability to handle intense training activities. Manipulating jump movements is one way to increase difficulty of the movement. For example; requiring the person to jump and land on one foot, jumping backwards, side to side jumping, and a depth jump from height. There are infinite ways to increase the difficulty of a jump and it all depends on the goal of the training.


What is a “high” and “low” volume of plyometrics? As defined by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), lower body plyometrics are measured via contacts. A contact is defined as contact with the ground. So, after one jumps and lands, that contact is counted. Beginner contact volume is recommended to be between 80-100 contacts, intermediate contact volume between 100-120, and advanced between 120-140 contacts. Again, the actual amount of plyometrics you complete all depends on your ability, your training goals, and what other training is being performed with plyometrics.


The volume of plyometrics is one of the several variables that can be manipulated in order to achieve training goals. To be discussed in future posts: what those variables include, how to manipulate those variables, and what those manipulations mean for training goal achievement.


Thank you for your time! If you have any questions, reach out to Total Performance!

Instagram: tp_strength

train@tpstrength.com (Coach Nate)

scott@tpstrength.com

tim@tpstrength.com