Training Laterally to Improving Performance

I truly believe that in as little as the last 5 years, the health and fitness industry has come along in leaps and bounds. We have been turning away from detoxes, absurd amounts of cardio, and tiny pink dumbbells, and have started trending towards lifting heavy, loaded barbells, and eating a well-balanced diet.

These things are not only essential to improving our performance at an athletic level, but are also integral to maintaining health and function into our older years.

Plus, you know…. looking good naked?

But something that has become increasingly apparent to me, is the tendency we have to prioritise movements that occur in the sagittal plane (those movements that are performed front to back) over anything else.

Now don’t get me wrong, these movements (think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations) are absolutely essential to improving our physical performance. They are considered foundational movements, as they replicate both athletic movements (such as sprinting, jumping and bounding), and activities of daily living (such as picking things up, walking upstairs, standing from a seated position).

As such, increasing our capacity to perform these movements explosively (for the development muscular power) and under load (for the development of muscular strength) is integral to maximising performance at both an athletic level, and during our day to day lives.

But they don’t prepare us for everything.

If we observe athletic movement in almost any sport, it is quite apparent that movement is required outside of the sagittal plane. This includes the performance of cutting manoeuvres, side steps, and lateral bounds.

Hunter Bennett Performance Lateral Movement

Moreover, you can guarantee that most injuries actually occur when individuals are moving outside of the sagittal plane, during these more lateral movements.

And this is also likely to hold true in day to day life, where injuries most often occur during uncommon (and often surprising) movements, such as a lateral stumble up a curb, or slipping on wet ground.

Which is why it is also incredibly important to include exercises that require movement in the frontal plane.

 

The Frontal Plane

The frontal plane effectively describes movements that occur laterally (from side to side). By training in this plane of motion, we can further prepare our body for the rigors of our chosen sport (and for our daily life, for that matter), reducing our risk of developing injuries AND improving our performance capabilities.

Similar to improving acceleration, improving our performance laterally involves both the development of strength in the frontal plane, and the development of power in the frontal plane.

 

Developing strength in the frontal plane

I have spoken about this extensively, but it won’t hurt to mention it again! Power is the ability to produce force rapidly. If we don’t have force to produce (strength), then we can’t produce it rapidly.

As such, developing strength is essential to improving our ability to perform in the frontal plane.

This can be done by implementing loaded lateral lunges (such as those in the videos below) in your training, as well as the inclusion of various other lateral exercises, such as lateral sled drags and loaded lateral shuffles.

(we can thank Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance for these quality demonstrations)

These exercises should be performed for 6-10 reps for strength development, and technique (as always) needs to be prioritized. Control the eccentric portion of the lift, and then drive up during the concentric portion.

 

Developing power in the frontal plane

In conjunction with strength development in the frontal plane, it is essential that we also train muscular power in the frontal plane.

This allows us to transfer the strength we have developed working in the frontal plane to more sports specific movements, such as lateral bounds, cutting, and shuffles.

This can be done by performing lateral plyometric exercises, rapid lateral shuffles, and change of direction drills.

(Agiain, thanks Eric)

 

While developing power in the frontal plane is paramount to improving our physical performance laterally, the inclusion of these exercises also has one other key benefit.

They teach us to absorb lateral forces during single leg landings. By improving our ability to land efficiently, we avoid unnecessary loading through the joints of the lower limbs, which significantly reduces our risk of inducing an injury during those movements.

This becomes increasingly important in field sport scenarios where unpredictable changes of direction and lateral movement occurs frequently – by improving the body’s capacity to handle these movements, we improve our ability to perform them efficiently, while significantly reducing injury risk.

 

Training in the frontal plane and improving your lateral movement is a key component of improving sport (and life) performance.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in contact, or drop me a line in the comments section.

 

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Why your athletes need to do more than just squat and deadlift

As someone who works in a gym setting day in day out, it is pretty easy to accept that I enjoy strength training (like, a lot). Strength training is, in my opinion, the most effective means of increasing physical performance and building a high resilience to injuries.

And I know many coaches would agree.

As a result, due to this affinity for strength training, most of us gravitate towards trying to improve the big 3 (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift).

Hunter Bennett Performance

Which is fine. The gym is our domain. It is where we work, where we train, and where most of us learn and hone our craft.

There is no reason not to good at demonstrating strength in our domain.

The issue is when this style of training seeps into the programs of our clients.

This does not matter whether they are high level athletes or 80 year old retirees. Unless they are powerlifters, they do not need to become incredibly strong in these particular movements.

While these movements are important (with particular emphasis on the squat and deadlift, and their role as fundamental movement patterns), and should make up a large portion of your clients training, they are not the be-all-end-all.

Most of your clientele are not competitive powerlifters, they have individual needs that need to be addressed, and as such should receive individualized programming to meet those individual requirements.

For those from athletic populations, having a high level of relative strength is important, but once that has been achieved do they actually need to get stronger? The difference between a 2 x body weight deadlift and 2.5 x body weight deadlift on performance will be minimal. Once they have appreciable levels of strength, it is time to focus on improving other qualities, such as power.

Not to mention that athletes need to be resilient to injuries, have single leg stability and single leg strength, have the ability to run fast, jump high, and change direction rapidly (just to name a few) – and if you think that this can be accomplished by only squatting and deadlifting then you are very, very wrong.

Yes those movements can contribute to improving those physical qualities, but they are a very small piece of the puzzle.

This holds very true for those from the general population as well.

While the squat and deadlift are important movement patterns that need to be learned and trained, it is our job to get our clients moving and feeling (and often looking) better. This does not mean they need to deadlift 3 x bodyweight.

Sure, strength is important – it builds tissue resilience and will stave off age related declines in function – but building strength in different movements such as single leg squats, rows, and single arm pressing variations is important as it builds well rounded and resilient individuals who can handle anything that life throws at them.

Furthermore, these same clients are most likely training not only for health, but to improve body composition as well. And while squats and deadlifts have the potential to increase muscle mass, again they are only a small component of a much bigger picture.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love squats and deadlifts. They are important movements that need to be trained and learned, but they are not the only thing that needs to be trained and learned.

People have individual needs that need to be addressed, and it is extremely naïve to think that all of these needs can be met by merely squatting and deadlifting.

Program to the requirements your clients, not to your own personal preferences.

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Why Simple is almost always Better than Sexy

While the title of this blog post may suggest an intense debate over what style of lingerie is best, I actually wanted discuss training (as per usual...).

Each and every week there seems to be a new method of training, using some new fandangle piece of equipment that is suggested to help you build more muscle, become stronger, and increase athleticism (often in a fairly short amount of time).

These methods often include things like agility ladders, suspension trainers, unstable surfaces, among a heap of other unique pieces of equipment.

Now while I won’t say that these methods don’t have any merit at all, people often become focused on these a little too intently, and as a result, lose sight of the bigger picture.

 

The Big Picture

The bigger picture is simple (and unfortunately not all that sexy).

Assuming you have no abhorrent and glaring movement deficiencies, basic strength exercises should make up the bulk of your training. This holds true whether your goal is to improve athleticism, increase strength, build muscle, or lose fat.

Simple barbell movements have been the staple of exercise programs for decades. Funnily enough, this is for an extremely good reason.

They work.

Squats and deadlifts (and their single leg variations), presses, and rows should make up the bulk of your training. These exercises are large compound movements that require the simultaneous work of a number of different muscle groups, and subsequently use a heap of muscle mass.

Additionally (ultimately because of the above), it is with these movements that we can use significantly greater amounts of external load.

This makes them extremely beneficial for hypertrophy (due to the increased mechanical tension associated with increased loading) and fat loss (due to the huge energy expenditure associated with the large amount of muscle mass used).

Furthermore, looking at the movement’s occurring at specific joints, these exercises replicate those of ‘athletic’ movements such as jumping, bounding, and sprinting. It therefore makes sense that by becoming stronger and more powerful in these movements, we are going to improve our ability to perform those more athletic movements.

These movements can be performed a number of different (simple) ways to help us achieve our individual goals:

Strength: Heavy weight and sets of 1-6 repetitions
Hypertrophy:  Moderate weight and sets of 6-15 repetitions
Power: Light to moderate weight and sets of 1-5 repetitions moved EXPLOSIVELY with INTENT.

See, simple (and kind of sexy?).

While there is a place for sport specific exercises, suspension trainers, unstable surfaces, and in some cases, machine based exercises, we should not forget that basic strength exercises still reign supreme.

They provide a fantastic way to put on mass, build strength, and improve athleticism, and as such should ALWAYS make up the bulk of our training.

 

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Why you should keep your ‘gym advice’ to yourself.

Today’s post is inspired by a small interaction I had with a bold young gentlemen at the gym last week - so kudos to you, inspiring stuff.

I tend to keep to myself when I train. I spend quite a bit of time in various gym settings as part of my job, so when I train myself I try and get in and out pretty quickly (particularly if I am training by myself). I don’t like interrupting others, and while I am perfectly happy to offer advice or help if someone asks, I certainly don’t dish it out without an invitation.

Anyhow, back to this small interaction.

I was half way through my third (or fourth?) set of Bulgarian split squats (and to be completely honest, I was not having a great time at this point) when a young man wearing jeans, a snap  back cap (Miami dolphins I believe), and a stringlet thought it would be appropriate to interrupt me - mid set - to tell me that I was performing the movement incorrectly.

He quite cheerfully told me that my knee was coming beyond my toes, which would undoubtedly result in a serious knee injury.

While I politely thanked the the gentlemen for his overwhelming concern, completed my set and then re-racked the dumbbells, I really started thinking.

Some people  think that they are doing the right thing by giving some advice.  They truly believe it will be beneficial (even if that advice is…. well, outdated misinformation - my knees will be fine...) .

But here’s the thing.

They aren’t.

You see, the gym can be an intimidating place.

And while for most of us who have been training for a decent amount of time it certainly doesn’t feel that way now, if we look back to our first month at the gym I can guarantee at one point or another it did.

Just imagine someone who has been coming to the gym for a couple of weeks.

They have been spending majority of their time in the cardio area, working up a solid sweat, but want to make the transition to the weight room. They know that lifting weights can have some serious benefits, and realize that they should start implementing it into their own training.

Hunter Bennett Performance

 

But, the kicker?

There is a bunch of big, sweaty, meatheads over there.

Now I am not saying for a second that there is anything wrong with being a big, sweaty meathead. Or that any of these big sweaty meatheads are not lovely people in their own right.

What I am saying is that these big, sweaty meatheads may appear somewhat intimidating to any individual who does not know them personally.

But, despite the people over there, this person knows that lifting weights is important. Not only to help them lose weight, but to  improve their health as well.

So they go into the weights room with a pretty solid beginners program they got off the internet, and start training.

And then, a few minutes into their session, some peanut wearing jeans and a stringlet comes over and tells them that they are performing a movement incorrectly.

They are shattered.

They feel embarrassed that they have been performing a movement ‘wrong’ the entire time they were in the weights room.

As a result, they associate lifting weights with feelings of embarrassment and intimidation.

They stop using the weights room.

Now, this person had literally made a huge step in the right direction for their health. Who cares if they weren’t performing a movement perfectly?

Once someone becomes more comfortable in that setting they will ask for advice, whether it be from a gym goer or a personal trainer (it does not really matter).

It is much more important that actually get in there and train than perform every movement perfectly.

So the next time you’re in the gym and see someone performing a squat with limited range, or a slightly ugly pull down, maybe take a quick second to think about where they have come from, and probably keep your advice to yourself – if they want advice they will ask.

 

 

 

Why injury prevention and improving performance are one in the same.

Why injury prevention and improving performance are one in the same.

It interests me how injury prevention and training for performance are viewed at opposite ends of the training spectrum.

People often associate injury prevention with low level corrective exercises, foam rolling, and stretching, where performance enhancement is associated with lifting heavy, jumping, sprinting, and a whole heap of other cool stuff.

I genuinely believe that this view is flawed, and that not only can each of these training methods contribute to both injury prevention and improving performance simultaneously, but that preventing injuries is arguably the most important thing we can be doing toimprove performance.

Hunter Bennett Performance

 

How can injury prevention improve performance?

While this point is actually pretty simple (and logical) if we think about it, it often gets forgotten.

If we are injured, we can’t train.

If we can’t train, we can improve our performance.

See, simple.

Although if we were to break it down a little further, we can see that injuries impact our ability to train both in the gym and on the field. This will therefore limit our ability to improve strength and power performance, and skill development (both of which contribute significantly to performance).

Secondly, in a team sport scenario, if you can’t compete with your best players on the field, your chances of winning our reduced. As such, in season injuries can negatively affect an entire team’s performance.

As such, keeping your players healthy and able to train is paramount, and should be one of the key focuses of any strength and conditioning program.

Furthermore, those exercises that are perceived as ‘low-level’ (AKA corrective exercises, mobility exercises etc.) play an important role in maintain and improving joint mobility, trunk stability, and movement quality. These qualities can directly influence our ability to express power and strength, and subsequently our ability to perform at a high level.

So these exercises therefore play an important role in maximising performance, outside of reducing injuries.

 

How can performance based training reduce injury risk?

Now, when most people think of jumps, cleans, squats, and deadlifts, they don’t automatically think of injury prevention BUT they should.

Strength training using basic exercises builds tissue integrity. This applies to both muscle and connective tissue (tendons). By building tissue integrity, we improve the capacity of a given tissue to handle load, and produce and resist force. This alone improves our resilience to the likelihood of developing injuries of those tissues.

Furthermore, improving strength around specific joints can improve joint stability, which can consequently reduce the load absorbed by passive joint structures (ligaments and joint capsule). This can significantly reduce our risk developing ligament or joint injuries.

In a similar fashion, both jumps and other power based movements will not only improve our ability to produce force rapidly (AKA improve explosive power), they will also improve our ability to jump and land efficiently. This is extremely important as these movements produce a significant amount of eccentric force loading through the muscle tissue.

By improving both our ability to manage this eccentric force, and improving our ability to jump and land from a skill based perspective, we can limit our risk of injury during these highly demanding movements.

 

So, to summarize

Not only is mobility and flexibility important from an injury prevention perspective, but also a force production perspective. By improving our capacity to produce force efficiently during movement, these ‘corrective’ type exercises can lead to an improvement in physical performance.

Strength and power based movements have the capacity to improve muscle and joint integrity, which can lead to a reduced risk of injury of those tissues.

Furthermore, by improving our ability to perform skill based explosive movements such as jumps and bounds, we can reduce risk of injury occurrence during those movements.

 

So: Training is injury prevention AND injury prevention is training (Prioritise BOTH)

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Is Stretching Really Dead?

With the rapid rise of foam rolling and a host of other effective (and often brutal) modalities of self-myofascial release, stretching has experienced a huge decline in popularity.

This has also coincided with some studies appearing within the scientific community demonstrating that prolonged periods of static stretching can lead to significant reductions in power production and force output (AKA it makes you weaker).

But, does that mean that stretching has no place in our training programs?

hunter bennett performance adelaide based personal training

 

Stretching and power output.

The first point I do want to address with this blog post is the impact that static stretching has on power output. After the initial research undertaken on this topic, stretching was demonised as useless, pointless, and harmful.

As such, while it is often considered common knowledge that static stretching leads to reductions in performance, this isn’t actually the whole story.

While longer duration static stretching (greater than 60 seconds in duration) can lead to reductions in power output immediately after stretching, this effect is not seen for stretches performed for 45 seconds or less.

And seriously, who actually stretches an individual muscle for more than 60 seconds at a time?

So this suggests that short bouts of static stretching will have NO negative effects on performance, which means that you can stretch without the fear that your workout will suffer.

 

Should we stretch?

So if stretching doesn’t affect our physical performance, does that mean we should stretch?

Like almost all of my answers to any training related question…… it depends.

We know that stretching does indeed increase flexibility – that is fact. But whether we need to stretch is a different story entirely.

In my opinion, stretching certainly has its uses – when used correctly.

With the excessive (and often detrimental) amount of sedentary activity we perform each and every day, some muscle tissues will become short and stiff. It is these shortened tissues that, in my personal experience, respond well to stretching.

By stretching these specific muscles, we can return length to muscles are in a shortened state, while also improving joint range of motion, and movement quality as a whole. This can often lead to improved performance, and a decreased risk of injury.

AKA it is good.

But, there is a bit of a kicker.

It is extremely rare that those muscle groups that feel tight, are actually tight.

I have written about this extensively HERE, but often, those muscles that feel tight are actually in lengthened state, due to; A) An antagonistic muscle group being in a short and stiff state; B) excessive weakness of that lengthened muscle group; or C) a combination of the two.

A simple example of this would be the guy who is always stretching his hamstrings because they feel tight, despite them never getting better. This is probably because those hamstrings are in a lengthened position and already under stretch (hence why they feel tight). The issue is most likely tight antagonistic muscle groups (rectus femoris and the hip flexors) and weak hamstrings.

Not tight hamstrings.

 

hunter bennett performance stretching

 

So how do we know what to stretch?

This is pretty simple.

Assess and then reassess.

Check movement, and If movement is poor check range of motion at specific joints. If ROM is limited, then a specific muscle is likely tight. Stretch that muscle (or muscle group), then reassess. If A) range of motion has increased, or B) movement has improved, then you have probably found the tight muscle.

An example of the process might look something like this.

We assess a squat, and get early pelvic tucking. We then perform the Thomas test to assess hip flexor length and find that they have tight hip flexors. We then stretch the hip flexors and ideally, Thomas test improves AND the squat improves.

Now this is an extremely simplistic (and idealistic) scenario. In the real world there is a chance that the squat performance will not improve despite and improvement on the Thomas test – this would suggest either a stability issue, or a motor control issue.

But, I am getting a little off topic here.

With all that in mind, I am trying to demonstrate the potential benefits of stretching, and why it should not me discarded completely.

More so, stretching can become an extremely useful tool to improve both movement and range of motion when used correctly, and should not be ignored because of some of the early research showing its influence on performance.

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Why Gender Specific Training is Bullshit

Misinformation within the health and fitness industry is rampant.

Unfortunately, this is an unyielding truth that we have to come with terms with.

While I feel that exercise professionals (such as myself) can help play an important role in changing the poor practices that this misinformation does produce, it is not as simple as it may sound.

This misinformation is spread frequently and expertly within mainstream health and fitness magazines, TV commercials, and YouTube videos AND despite zero scientific evidence (and arguably zero logical thought progression) to support it, it is gobbled up due to clever marketing that plays heavily on our insecurities.

One such claim that seems to circulate a lot more frequently than some others, is the suggestion that females should train differently to men.

This suggestion is an absolute joke that does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that if a women lifts heavy weights she will become ‘big and bulky’.

This, from my perspective, has two negative repercussions.

1.       It leads to the suggestion that weight training is not a suitable form of exercise for women – which the title of this post suggests, is a load of rubbish

2.       It continues to build the idiotic perception of an ideal female body. Seriously, who has the right to suggest that a female with a muscular physique is unattractive? What people find attractive is none of your business. Furthermore, people show a large number of anatomical and physiological differences (AKA we look different) – as such there is no such thing as an ideal body.

So building on that first point, I am here to tell you that women should lift heavy ass weights, and subsequently, gender specific training is misinformed jargon spread by mainstream fitness 'gurus' who haven’t trained a real client in their lifetime.

 Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

 

Strength is King

Lifting heavy weights build strength.

I don’t care what anyone says, strength is incredibly important for EVERYONE, no matter their goal or current training level. Strength limits the amount of work we can perform in a session, it dictates our upper limit of power production, and it plays a large role in our rate of functional decline.

By increasing strength, we can improve the amount of volume we can handle in a given session. This can improve our ability to achieve body composition related goals (AKA losing fat and building muscle).

Furthermore, as we age our strength declines. This will eventually limit our ability to perform general tasks of daily living. Subsequently, by maintaining strength we can maintain our functional capacity into our older age.

This will allow us to maintain a high quality of life for our lifetime.

I don’t think you would find a single person who would say that those are not important for females (or males for that matter - EVERYONE should strength train).

 

BUT wont lifting heavy weights and getting strong make me big and bulky?

In short, no, probably not.

While building strength (and lifting heavy) does unquestionably play an important role in building muscle tissue, this process is actually quite difficult for females.

This can be put down to a a number of various gender specific differences in hormone levels and physiological factors.

Ultimately, to summarize without getting too wordy, women will have a much harder time putting on a muscle mass than men.

While lifting heavy will add a small amount of muscle mass, it is not going to turn you into a body builder (not that there is anything wrong with that).

In fact, I have written extensively HERE about how strength training can improve body composition and promote fat loss WITHOUT causing massive increases in muscle mass.

 

Bone Density

While this may be a little on the boring side, it still holds significant importance.

Females are susceptible to becoming osteoporotic later in life (even more so than males). This susceptibility actually increases after the onset of menopause.

While there are a number of dietary factors that can play a role in maintain a high level of bone density, so can strength training.

Heavy loading has shown to stimulate an increase the production of bone cells. This can lead to a significant increase in bone density, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. As a result, strength training can play a HUGE role in osteoporosis prevention both before and after menopause.

 Strong Bones...

Strong Bones...

 

Strength Training Builds Confidence

There is nothing better than hitting a new PB in the gym.

Overcoming something that you have been working towards steadily for months truly shows that the hard work you have been putting in has been paying off.

I believe this is truer for strength goals than body composition goals as they provide a tangible measure of improvement.

Getting stronger and achieving new strength goals is rewarding – way more so than lifting a 3kg dumbbell repetitively (unless your into that of course – who am I to judge?).

And maybe more important than the knowledge that you are getting stronger in the gym, is the knowledge that this strength carriers over to other aspects of life too.

This might be as simple as being able to move your own furniture without assistance, change a car tire easily, or escape from a horde of hungry zombies.

All silliness aside, you get my point.

Being able to do difficult things independently is both empowering, and a massive confidence booster.

 

So, to conclude.

Gender specific training is a joke.

Lifting heavy has HUGE benefits for males and females alike. This holds true from a health perspective, a body composition perspective, and a performance perspective.

 

 

If you want to start strength training, but don't know where to start, fill out the form below!

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Why changes in both volume and intensity should dictate recovery

I was recently reading through some programming information provided by a textbook that I purchased during my undergrad degree, and was slightly surprised at some of the information in there.

There was a pretty large chapter on the nitty gritty of exercise programming, with specific mention to both sets, reps, and recovery. Within this chapter there was a fairly lengthy explanation on rep ranges and intensity, which ultimately outlined the following:

                High Intensity = 1-5 RM
                Moderate Intensity = 6-12 RM
                Low Intensity = 12+ RM

It was further explained that heavy training periods should utilise high and moderate intensity training loads, while deloads (AKA recovery periods) should utilise low intensity lifting.

While this appears to make sense on a couple of levels, there is a fairly large flaw to their thinking.

Anything that requires maximum repetitions (RM) is not submaximal and therefore should not be considered low or moderate intensity. This holds true whether you are hitting a 3RM, 12RM, or a 20RM.

You see, while a 3RM while will elicit more mechanical stress (due to the heavier load) than a 12RM, that does not make it any less maximal. In fact, I would argue that a 12RM is likely to have a longer recovery period than a 3RM because it would elicit a significantly greater amount of metabolic damage (even despite lower mechanical stress).

So if your training program looks something like this, I have a bit of bad news:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 8RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 4RM
Week 4 (Deload….): Low Intensity 12RM
Repeat:

At no point are you actually allowing your body time to rest and recover. And in all serious, at no point are you working at anything less than a high intensity.

This is because every week you are still training to failure, irrespective of the rep range used.

 A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

 

So what can we do instead?

A good deload should allow the body opportunity to recovery without running the risk of losing strength. This means that training is recommended, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t stress the physiological systems of the body.

Arguably the best way to do this is by manipulating volume and intensity of a given training week.

By dropping volume significantly and intensity slightly one week out of every 4-6, we can provide ourselves with an opportunity to recover from our accumulated training fatigue in way that won’t affect our progress.

So an example of that may look something like this:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 4 sets of 6 at 80% 1RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 6 sets of 4 at 90% 1RM
Week 4: Deload using 3 sets of 4 at 70% 1RM
Repeat:

By letting volume and intensity dictate our deloads rather than maximal rep ranges, we can give ourselves a genuine opportunity to recover, while still receiving a small training stimulus.

This will ensure that we are fresh and ready to go for our next block of training, while also reducing our risk of overtraining significantly.

 

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Do we need to deload?

When discussing training and the potential of overtraining, there appears to be two very individual and opposite camps within the fitness industry.

The first camp appear certain that any individual, no matter their training status, is at risk of overtraining. As such, they recommend you deload every couple of weeks, and go further to suggest that you should train a single muscle group any more frequently than once every 6.75 days (or something like that).

On the other hand, we have the ‘overtraining is a myth’ camp. These guys train balls to the wall every single session, often with a high training frequency. These are the guys who will frequently run training programs such as smolov (or some other form of brutality) to elicit a training response.

So which group is right?

 

Recovery, Adaptation and Overtraining

All in all, the training process is a relatively simple one.

When we train, we place the body under external mechanical, neurological, and metabolic stress. This external stress causes a short term response (AKA a sweet pump, some hormonal changes, followed by DOMS) and long term adaptations (AKA bigger and stronger muscle tissue).

These small stressors put the body in a state of overreaching, where ultimately we push our body past its current training limits. The body then adapts to this state of overreaching.

It is these longer term adaptions that describe the training response.

The kicker?

That these adaptations only occur if there is adequate time for recovery.

If there is a lack of recovery, and continued training stress, we fail to adapt. It is this failure to adapt (in conjunction with further training load) that turns overreaching into overtraining.

Ultimately, during this stage, we continually break down and further fatigue already damaged and fatigued tissue. This can lead to a host of issues, as explained in the diagram below.

But is overtraining really worth worrying about?

Well, like anything, it depends.

 

The Risk of Overtraining

Now, I will tell you that overtraining exists.

Of that, there is no doubt.

This is a fact.

BUT.

Overtraining may not be as common as what some people make it out to be.

In a population of elite athletes, there is a considerable risk of Overtraining. These individuals train at a high intensity each day, participate in competition regularly, and often have to deal with additional life stress as well.

For these people, balancing training and recovery is like walking a tightrope. If they move one way too far, they may not get a training result, and performance will suffer. BUT, if they move too far the other way, they may train too much without adequate recovery, which can lead to overtraining (and again performance will suffer).

But for most of us, this isn’t as applicable.

We may train often, but rarely is it enough to result in a state of overtraining. Even if our life stress is high, reaching this state is still highly unlikely.

This is because we spend very little time actually training, and a lot of our time at work recovering.

 

So do we need to deload?

In short, yes.

While I have just suggested that most of us have very little reason to worry about overtraining syndrome, there are a number of reasons that we should still incorporate deloads into our training schedule.

Firstly, training creates significant stress on both muscle tissue, and the passive support structures of our joints (ligaments and tendons). Physiologically, tissue remodelling occurs at a much faster rate in muscle tissue than it does in these passive support structures.

As a result, if we do not undertake the occasional deload, we run the risk of causing negative degenerative tissue changes in our tendons and ligaments. This may lead to overuse injuries and joint issues.

As such, by undertaking a deload every now and then we provide opportunity for these passive structures to recover, reducing our likelihood of developing an tendon or ligament related injury.

Furthermore, a light week can often provide some time to refresh mentally, getting us excited for upcoming blocks of training. Consequently, deloads can play an importnat role in keeping us not only healthy, but motivated too.

 

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Why You Need Aerobic Training!

A thought process that is frighteningly common within the fitness industry is that if you partake in too much aerobic exercise (whatever 'too much' means…), you will end up small and weak (AKA you’ll lose all your gains, brah).

Unfortunately, this is a very poorly understood concept.

Yes, while it is true that if we spend hours upon hours each week training aerobically, we can limit our capacity to develop strength, power, and increase muscle mass.

BUT

Building an efficient and effective aerobic system by using smart training methods can have a number of benefits, no matter what your training level and training goal.

Hunter Bennett Performance Aerobic training Personal training adelaide

 

Improved Recovery

Something that a lot of people fail to realize is that no matter how hard or smart we train, if we don’t recover effectively, it is all a little useless.

Adequate recovery allows us the opportunity to adapt to the training stimulus, while providing time to repair damaged tissue. If we don’t recover adequately, we do not allow the body enough time to adapt to the training stimulus, which can blunt the results of our training.

When it comes to having a well-developed aerobic system, we can actually improve recovery through two key mechanisms.

Firstly, participating in low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can promote blood flow to the active tissue, clearing metabolic by-products associated with muscle tissue damage, and increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which further promotes recovery.

Now when I say low intensity I mean low intensity – As in a very light jog or a brisk walk (AKA NOT tempo runs, sprint intervals, or a casual metabolic workout).

Additionally, participating in this type of activity can reduce our resting heart rate and increase capillarization of our muscle tissue, which can lead to a more efficient cardiovascular system.

Secondly, having a well-developed aerobic system improves our training capacity by improving our ability to recover during a session.

By recovering more in between sets, we can perform at a higher intensity during our working sets. As a result, this can lead to improved strength and power development as pretty simply, we are getting more out of each training session.

This can also lead to an increased amount of training volume, which has the capacity to improve muscle growth and hypertrophy, while also promoting fat loss.

 

Improved Performance

Now this one is a bit of a no brainer, but for those of us who compete in some form of field sport, having good aerobic capacity can make the difference between a very good or very bad performance.

The greater our aerobic capacity, the more work we can perform at a higher intensity. This means we can move faster, produce more force, and express more power for the entirety of a match, which will undoubtedly translate to improved performance throughout the games duration.

Interestingly, having good aerobic capacity is also likely to improve our ability to perform sport specific skills at a high level.

Fatigue masks or limits our ability to perform skills at a high level. By staving off fatigue, we increase our capacity to perform skills at a high level, which again, is detrimental to performance.

This also works in a similar fashion during training.

By having an improved aerobic capacity, we will get more opportunity to practice sport specific skills at a high level. This improves our skill development, which further increases our potential for athletic performance.

 

Practical Implications

So we know that having a well-developed aerobic system may actually improve our capacity to develop strength, power, and skill development.

It may also improve our capacity for muscle growth and fat loss.

Additionally, participating in some form of low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can improve recovery significantly.

But how much is too much?

As suggested earlier, too much aerobic training can actually limit our ability to develop strength and power, and build muscle tissue, but not enough can actually impede our progress.

So what do we do?

Well, like most things, it depends.

For someone who needs a well-developed aerobic system (AKA a field based athlete), we need to place a premium on aerobic work. This is because it is integral to their successful performance.

This is most likely going to mean 2-3 high intensity conditioning workouts a week – particular during the early stages of preseason, where general physical preparedness is the training focus. This volume is likely to decrease during season as maintenance and recovery become the primary focus.

During this time strength training load needs to be managed closely to ensure we still develop strength and power.

For those of us who don’t play sport competitively, we can most likely get away with 1-2 high intensity aerobic conditioning sessions per week, with an additional 1-2 low intensity recovery sessions per week. This gives us an opportunity to develop our aerobic system, but not so much that it effects our other areas of training.

This will be the minimum effective dose to improve aerobic capacity and promote additional recovery, which should supplement our other training goals.

 

If you would like to start integrating aerobic training into your training, contact me via the form below.

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