One of the unique elements of working in the AFL is the fact that for the most part we develop our own athletes. There isn’t any other professional sport I’m aware of that has development level 18yr old athletes exposed to “team” activities/environment in the same manner as 30yr old athletes. Without question working in this environment has helped me hone a very holistic perspective on strength development.
Excuse me while I jump around a bit...
A week or two back, a slide from a presentation of mine did the rounds on Twitter (see below), and while there were certainly no negative comments, there was one which probably motivated me pen this blog.
The point I was making in the presentation from which the slide was taken was that a primary ability of any athlete should be to apply force effectively. Now I didn’t specify rate of development, I simply said force. The reason for this is that I feel too many coaches jump to advanced work too early and miss developing a significant base from which to build advanced qualities i.e. power.
The counter tweet suggested that athletes should be able to apply force quickly in the desired direction, which I completely agree with. However my point still stands...moving to a power focus from a poor force development base is far from optimal. Early on, simultaneous development of power/ speed skills should be developed via BW work (jumps etc), however force must be the focus. I see too many coaches accept strength levels that are far too low relative to body mass, before “jumping” into power focused work.
In the subsequent couple of weeks since the tweet, I’ve heard a few other points of view on development programs, so I thought I would weigh into the debate.
In my view…if an athlete can’t develop significant force correctly, there is no way they are going to be able to develop greater levels of force in less time (power) via the same mechanism. I agree we should teach dynamic skills early e.g. jumping etc, but force must be a priority early.
Now that said, read on before you start tweeting comments.
I believe motor patterns are critical to performance. Joint movement must correctly sequence in order to best make use of the leverage and strength of the muscles surrounding the joints. An entrenched motor pattern dictates that during all rudimentary movements correct mechanics are sustained, even further they are maintained under fatigue. This amounts to achieving General Physical Preparation (GPP).
What type of fatigue I hear you ask? Local muscle fatigue based on repetition load, not cardio vascular fatigue generated by running 400m then repeating the movement. The later is a philosophy born of the CrossFit cult. While it may have a place in advanced sport/position specific conditioning, it most certainly does not have a place in developing younger athletes.
Efficient neuromuscular motor patterns can be easily developed with low amplitude jumps (and landings), BW strength movements and running drills (which also serve as great strength developers). These should then be overlaid with the Strength Skill to develop force in an overloaded manner (squat, deadlift, lunge etc). Applying load to a system that operates efficiently will provide the capacity to progress much further down both the strength and power paths.
For young combative contact sport athletes getting LMM correct as soon as possible is also of importance. Of the two key elements to developing lean muscle mass; time under tension and mechanical load, exposing the body to the greatest mechanical load possible yields the most effective returns. This point becomes even more critical when discussed with respect to maximum strength and power development...the greater the mechanical load that can be used (obviously at the appropriate speed in the case of power development) the greater the results.
In order to achieve all these wonderful sounding things there is one underlying foundation required...SKILL!
Developing "GOLD STANDARD" skill set early in an athlete's lifting career is critical to fast tracking development.
The better the skill...the more they can lift...the stronger they get...and the more powerful they get...the bigger they get...the more they can lift etc etc, but it all starts with skills.
Everything from posture control, to load distribution on the foot, elbow position under the bar to scapula control during lifts...all of it contributes significantly to you be able to move more weight and therefore reap the most from your time lifting.
So, in order to maximize strength and power in your development athletes;
- Get movement orientated motor patterns and neuromuscular activation ingrained using low level activities (including warm ups etc).
- Develop high technical efficiency in basic lifts to develop strength and subsequently power.
- Move to a mechanical loading model to as soon as is viable to achieve superior results in LMM, strength and power.
- Look at the demands of the sport and the top performers and establish relative strength benchmarks.