Are You Fit Enough to Train?

July 22, 2014 10:06 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS


Noah Bryant

Anyone who consistently exercises for a period of time encounters the pivotal intersection of training for health (aka “training to maintain”) and training for performance. The decision to ascribe to a certain training mentality depends on a person’s maturity, competency, and synergism of biomechanical and bioenergetic qualities. The methodologies will differ from training to maintain and training for performance. Training for performance entails adhering to lockstep progressions designed to engrain proper motor engrams which develop motor skills requisite to improvement.

As a person demonstrates mastery along a continuum of progressions, advanced exercises no longer seem advanced. Conventional wisdom would suggest that fitness professionals incorporate a series of progressions with their clients and athletes, however, a majority of time, that ideal is blatantly violated in practice.

Countering the “but, it looks cool” argument

Fitness professionals often become enamored by the countless college strength and conditioning program hype videos featured on YouTube or the deluge of blundered attempts at coaching proper technique on popular weight loss shows.

People falling prey to waning motivation, including a fitness professional’s clients and athletes, may request that certain exercises or modalities be included in their programs. While I don’t have any contention with the following methodologies, I find their application most times as overwhelmingly flawed.

1. Olympic Lifting

Olympic lifting, or weightlifting, is comprised of the clean and jerk and the snatch. Both lifts are performed with barbells and require painstaking technical precision that is gathered from a balance of joint stability and mobility, strength, and power. To get really good at the Olympic lifts takes years of devoted practice. It’s an Olympic sport for crying out loud. While less specialized and neurally efficient athletes and lifters might not be able to perform a full clean and jerk or snatch from the floor, they can assuredly benefit from an incorporation of elements of the Olympic lifts.

Each lift begins with a pull off the floor and concludes with a deep squat position, so becoming good at deadlifting and squatting is crucial to success in Olympic lifting. Instead, many trainers have their clients swinging for the fences during their first at bat with the barbell. The more than likely result? Deplorable and potentially injurious technique.

2. Plyometrics

Plyometric programming is where most fitness professionals and gym goers strike out. In fact, more often than not, fitness professionals and gym goers would have a hard time delineating plyometric movements amidst strength training exercises. In certain circles, gouged shins and scraped shins caused by box jump mishaps serve as medals of valor. For fitness professionals depending on healthy clients to pay their bills, a mere scratch of droplet of blood could potentially get them fired or invite a lawsuit.

Plyometrics arose from Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Shock Training which was used to replicate the biomechanical demands of the takeoff in triple jump in training. Plyometrics greatly involve the stretch shortening cycle of musculotendinous structures. In the stretch shortening cycle, kinetic energy is stored and rapidly redirected shortly after absorption. Muscles and the tendons they blend into are activated during decelerative movements to produce more force. The rapid turnover of energy is most notable during athletic movements, such as sprinting, jumping, and rapidly changing direction.

But in order to gain any benefit from plyometrics, one must have an acceptable degree of extensibility of soft tissue structures, which includes muscles and tendons. Compromised tissue quality places joints and connective tissue at a greater disposition for injury. Further, one must master basic movement patterns before performing them explosively. If a person can’t perform a bodyweight squat, they have no business performing a squat jump.

Outlined below is a sample continuum of squat movements, useful in progressing someone from a squat to a squat jump.

Squat Jump Progression

1. Isometric Squat Hold
• Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width
• Sit back, shooting your hips to the rear
• Keep your torso rigid, with your chest showing
• Maintain this position for a specified period of time

2. Squat
• Shoot your hips to the rear
• Achieve the bottom position of the squat
• Ascend to upright position, driving through your heels and extending your hips
• Drive your knees out and don’t let them collapse inward

3. Squat with Pause then Hop
• Assume the bottom position of the squat; pause
• Hop out of the squat and focus on landing softly (to spare your joints and connective tissue)
• Drive your hips to the rear, keeping your core tight as you descend into squat position
• Once you master the movement, progressively increase the height of your hops

4. Vertical Jump
• Assume a quarter or half squat stance, with your hips flexed and knees slightly bent
• Explode out of the stance and leap up, extending at the hips, knees, and ankles
• Land as softly as possible

5. Vertical Jump with Rapid Descent
• Stand with your feet hip-width apart
• Quickly drop into a quarter or half squat stance
• Explode out of the stance and leap up, extending at the hips, knees, and ankles
• Land as softly as possible

6. Drop Squat into Vertical Jump
• Quickly descend into a deep squat, maintaining a neutral spine and an engaged core
• Explode out of the position and leap up, extending at the hips, knees and ankles
• Land as softly as possible

7. Reactive Drop Squat into Vertical Jump
• Same as the Drop Squat into Vertical Jump, except preceded by an auditory or visual command
Lastly, plyometric exercises are often not appropriate for novice and overweight individuals. Bones, joints, connective tissue, and soft tissue undergo great amounts of force during landing and decelerative actions. Considering that 70% of musculoskeletal injuries involve the lower body, special care must be taken when implementing plyometrics. Some considerations include:

• Teaching clients how to stabilize their body in a desired landing position.
• Slow things down for clients by showing them how to perform the movement without the explosive muscle action.
• Have them practice landings, by jumping onto a lower surface.
• Incorporate box jumps with individuals who are already proficient at jumping. Box jumps reduce ground contact forces (GCF) associated with landing from a jump.

3. Cross Training

The emergence and growth of cross training has become viral. While some people consider cross training and offshoots, such as CrossFit, to be the bubonic plague of the fitness industry, they do serve a purpose when properly applied. If cross training modalities are carried out in accordance with the guidelines of progression, which includes overload, and recovery, all is well. However, individuals opting to engage in these modalities must be cognizant that they are not geared to specifically address certain qualities including but not limited to: strength, power, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance, instead eliciting moderate improvements among them, making them inappropriate for athletes needing a mastery of these attributes in competition.

Conclusion

Individuals should evaluate their goals and investigate options which will help them reach them in the safest, most effective, and most efficient manner possible. Fitness professionals and athletes must be aware that the improper application of certain training methodologies can prove deleterious to health and performance.

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