New Horizons in Athlete Testing

It’s safe to say that I am coaching some of the strongest young people in America in the areas of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, throwing, football, and wrestling.

We have:

  • two youth weightlifters who have medaled at the Youth World Championships.
  • multiple American records
  • multiple Pan American Records
  • a powerlifter who has unofficially benched 20 pounds over the IPF teenage world record
  • the fourth best thrower in the country
  • multiple football players with D1 offers
  • and one of the best middle school wrestlers in the entire state.

Here’s the kicker. We are in Lewisville, NC. I bet a bunch of you just said, “Where is that?” …Exactly!

My point is that we are good at getting people strong and powerful. Some coaches would probably get satisfied, finalize their approach, and assume their program was unbeatable. The reason my athletes are so good from year to year is because I would never think like that – no matter how many amazing athletes come through my program. My job is to remain on top so my athletes can realize each of their dreams. That’s why they come to me, and that’s what I intend on delivering.

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AND NOW…

So what’s the next step? My goal is to build the best athlete testing protocols in the world during my tenure at Lenoir-Rhyne University. To do so, one must look at all the options out there and decide which ones are the best. This article is going to show you a few of the ways we intend on testing and tracking our athletes, and I will explain the use of each. I want to be up front and tell all of you that this is in the beginning stages and subject to change. However I will keep you updated on the changes.

Over the next few years, I intend on keeping all of you updated on our findings, and therefore potentially advancing the field as we know it.

The Problem

See, most training programs are designed around the training theory of supercompensation discovered by Nikolai N. Yakovlev in 1959 and the fundamentals of periodization published by Lev Matveyev in 1964. The problem is that our athletes aren’t privileged to the same environment as the Russian athletes of their time. Those athletes had a relatively stress free environment and were taking drugs. Our athletes live in a drug-free world filled with social media and the modern day stressors of 2020. We have to take those stressors into consideration.

In a perfect world, training works just like this:

Selye’s General Adaptation Cycle:

The body starts at baseline with a relatively steady state of equilibrium. Then we introduce a training stimulus to the body, causing fatigue and throwing our body out of equilibrium. Our body responds with the CNS sending a distress signal to the PNS (effectors). The PNS uses the Somatic Nervous System (skeletal muscle) and the Autonomic Nervous System (smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, glands, and adipose tissue) to address the disturbance. If the training volume doesn’t surpass the body’s ability to recover, the athlete will get their body back to baseline and then some (supercompensation). The problem is all of the outside disturbances and stress that compound the fatigue, making it hard to get back to baseline – let alone supercompensation.

OMEGAWAVE

Omegawave seeks to help coaches better get a handle on all the stressors an athlete is facing inside and outside of training. Omegawave combines heart rate variability along with brain wave activity to monitor the following aspects of readiness:

  • Muscular System
  • Hormonal or Endocrine System
  • Cardio-Pulmonary System
  • Central Nervous System
  • Energy Supply

Omegawave monitors the body in the following three ways:

  1. Heart rate variability (HRV) is used to assess the state of an athlete’s cardiac and autonomic nervous system.
  2. The differential ECG method is used to assess the state of the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems as well as heart rate at anaerobic threshold.
  3. The Omega method measures the brain’s direct current to assess the state of the central nervous system.

Let’s take a closer look at each. I am only going to give an overview, but I am planning follow up articles for all of the measurement systems I am introducing in this article.

HRV

HRV is becoming a pretty common way for strength and conditioning coaches to monitor the readiness of athletes. It’s a great way of measuring an athlete’s functional state, predicting overreaching/overtraining, and managing the training process. Put simply, you can measure athletes day to day to ensure that you are not causing too much fatigue and stress.

HRV can also be used to measure the current state of an athlete’s cardiac system with stress index, fatigue, and the body’s ability to adapt. HRV also shows the current state of an athlete’s autonomic nervous system. This is automatic response of the PNS to stress being received by the CNS. The body uses smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, glands, and sometimes adipose tissue to reach a state of homeostasis. If the body is too beat up, continuing to train will only put it further in the tank.

Differential ECG method

The differential ECG method is used to assess the state of the aerobic and anaerobic systems as well as heart rate at anaerobic threshold. Basically this tells us if the body has the energy stores to carry out a workout with various energy systems. You can be strong but still be tanked in this area. When we see differences in the ECG patterns, we know there are disturbances with the energy and metabolism of the heart.

Since cardiac and skeletal muscle share similar structures and biochemical reactions, training adaptations related to programming and periodization create similar changes in each. This correlation allows Omegawave to analyze specific characteristics of the QRS complex, a combination of three of the graphical deflections seen on a typical ECG, to assess the energy supply state of the cardiovascular and skeletal muscle systems. This is your fuel gauge just like on a car. If you are running on empty, you better pull over and fill up or risk running out of gas.

Omega Method

Finally, the Omega method measures the direct current potential and is used to assess the state of the central nervous system. An optimal voltage is necessary for useful adaptation as a response to training loads. If your DC is running low, your ability to adapt to a stimulus, to follow directions, or to retain information from a coach is drastically minimized. You coordination will be affected – along with quality of movement, efficiency, and motor learning. It basically measures an athlete’s current state of their regulatory mechanism or their CNS, gas exchange system, detoxification system, and hormonal system parameters.

The Omegawave System gives feedback and suggestions of daily best practices. My main goal is to use these measurements as data in combination with other data sources. Then multiple conclusions will be able to be drawn, allowing coaches to develop better plans for their athletes.

Neurotransmitter testing

Before he passed away, Charles Poliquin hypothesized that neurotransmitters could give coaches hints into best practices for individualized programming. I have written many articles about the different types of athletes. I’ve pointed out before how some athletes flourish with programs that include high loads, high frequency, and low volume – while others tend to kill it with high amounts of volume, moderate loads, and moderate frequency. Unless we test athletes, it could take months or years to perfect their programs. However, if Charles was right, we could start out on the most optimal path.

Charles explained that he believed each athlete has a dominant neurotransmitter: either GABA, acetylcholine, dopamine, or serotonin. He also believed that each neurotransmitter correlated with one of the Chinese elements: earth, water, fire, metal, and wood.

  1. Fire with Dopamine
  2. Wood with Acetylcholine
  3. Metal with GABA
  4. Water with Serotonin
  5. Earth was equivalent to a balanced neurotransmitter profile

Dopamine Fire Types: Charles believed that these athletes had incredible nervous systems, allowing them to easily adapt to training modalities and protocols. He believed they needed high volume and high variety for continued adaptation. He seemed to classify their archetype with their neurotransmitter test. If this is true, it will be interesting to see how my system to classify each athlete’s archetype correlates with Charles’s predictions. In the case of the Dopamine Fire, they have an inspiring nature and vibrant personality. On the other hand, they have a tendency to lose their temper.

Acetylcholine Wood Types: These athletes need a bit more frequency and intensity. However, you will want to lower the volume a bit. They still need change, but slight changes every couple of weeks will work best. You have to watch this group, as they might get hurt going too hard. This athlete is a pioneer. They are going to come up with new concepts along with having extravagant plans and goals. They are quick witted and creative.

Metal GABA Types: These types of athlete appears to model Brett Bartholomew’s Mouth Archetype. They are going to do more talking than training. This type of athlete will lean toward drug use to gain an advantage.

Water Serotonin Types: these athletes are free spirits. They aren’t going to love training at all. They might visit the yoga room a couple of times per month, but that will probably be it. They will cheer on the accomplishments of others but quickly get bored by the training process.

Balanced Earth Types: These athletes fit right into one of my plans. I normally start people with a plan straight out of Prilepin’s chart, and then I vary based on performance and feedback. They need a steady balance of intensity, volume, and frequency. These athletes do not like variation to their programs or changes to the environment. Block training with some form of linear periodization should fit them perfectly.

I am definitely intrigued to dig into these a bit deeper. If it’s valid, this could save coaches like me years of trial and error with programming. That has a bigger impact than you can even imagine. If I can dial in an athlete six months to a year sooner than normal, it could increase an athlete’s chances to make an Olympic team substantially. This test could help avoid overtraining and possibly injury. Lastly, it could help a coach gain athlete buy-in at a much faster rate, which is the battle we all fight every day.

Developing Archetypes

Naturally this fits in after the neurotransmitter section. I am a huge fan of Coach Brett Bartholomew and his book Conscious Coaching. I have now read it twice, and I hosted a clinic with a huge section discussing the book. Athlete buy-in is the 2020 buzzword. We all talk about it, and we talk about its importance. However not many people are actually able to get complete athlete buy-in from every individual they coach. Conscious Coaching is all about identifying and classifying the personalities and nature of athletes. The book gives you the tools needed to extract the necessary information to make the classifications, and it gives you suggestions for hacking the code of each athlete.

I am going to work closely with a sport psychologist to develop psychological evaluations that will help me identify the archetype of each athlete, and that will help me develop best-practice coaching strategies. I also hope to arrange periodic sports psych meetings for each of my athletes – both individually and as a team. This is an aspect of training that can be a huge advantage if an athlete isn’t scared to take advantage of the field. In my experience when you are at the tip of the iceberg, the deciding factor will come down to mental toughness. During this last Olympic quad, I observed that the athletes who seem to be clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the pack (like Kate Nye, for example) are mentally the strongest competitors with enormous amounts of confidence and swagger on the platform.

Velocity Based Training

VBT can be so many things to a coach if they happen to understand the concept. The first key to maximizing the potential of VBT is data collection. You need to form baselines for all of your athletes. You will want average velocities at varying percentages of varying movements. For example, I recommend establishing an average velocity at around 80 or 85%. You need a percentage to be your regulatory percentage. If you are excessively slower on any given day, then that is a trigger to alter the program to something like a technique and recovery day. If your peak velocity is 0.3 m/s faster than normal, you might consider pushing things a bit.

Once I have a velocity profile on all of my athletes, the entire program will be velocity-based in nature. This will give me so many advantages. For example, it will keep things logical. Athletes are emotional. They will snatch a weight faster than lightning, and then they will tell me it felt heavy or off. I will be able to show them quantifiable evidence of what’s really going on. VBT will also keep athletes from going heavy on days where they have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

OPEN UP NEW POSSIBILITIES IN STRENGTH

Mash Elite's Guide to Velocity-Based Training

By measuring bar speed (simple to do with your smartphone), you can guarantee each and every training session is as effective and safe as possible.

I am most interested in comparing the notes of VBT with Omegawave. If Omegawave’s feedback is telling me that an athlete is overtrained, I am curious what the velocity will tell me. I hope of course that everything is synchronized. Combining the two will tell me all the truths. For example, one athlete could have a tanked energy supply but still be able to pull on some heavy snatches. There might not be any glycogen available for a three-hour grind session, but the CP system can deliver some 90% singles during a short-duration but high-load session.

Velocity Based Training combined with Omegawave will help me perfect the exact amount of prescribed volume to elicit just enough stress to fatigue the system without destroying it. I hope I am getting that point across to all of you. If not, let me be super clear:

“It all comes down to perfecting volume, intensity, and frequency prescriptions, so that they fatigue the system eliciting a response from the body to maintain homeostasis, and therefore with the help of the autonomic nervous system adapt to a state stronger than the original baseline.”

The key is data. Omegawave and VBT are great ways to dial in athletes. I am hoping the neurotransmitter testing will help expedite that process even more. Of course, I will track all the markers of my programming – like total volume, average intensity, K-value, and hopefully a lot more that Dr. Koch and Dr. Leiting help me develop. I will share everything with all of you when we finish that process.

Data is important because it holds all the answers. If an athlete wins a gold medal at the World Championships going six for six, you are going to want to look hard at the data markers. You are probably going to keep similar markers for the next plan. However, if things don’t go as planned, you can look at what not to repeat.

We are going to have each of our athletes fill out daily questionnaires so that we can track external stressors (like big tests, struggling in class, break ups, and more). This will help us to know when to trim the volume of our own programs. Remember, stress is stress. If they are getting hit with stress in class, you have to respond.

One other data point I am looking into is genetic testing. I talked to Charles Lehman over the weekend from Health Codes DNA – and there was a lot of promising information. I just need to research them and the entire process a bit more. However, if what they told me is true, I will be able to pinpoint nutrition, recovery, programming, and so much more. I can’t wait to share that one with all of you if it’s as good as I think. The testing is also supposed to tell each athlete what foods to avoid as well.

There are still some testing parameters I am looking into like:

  • Jump Mat
  • Force Plate
  • Muscle Biopsy for Fiber Type (of course I will do this through my friend Dr. Andy Galpin, and I will get the best practices for each fiber type.)
  • Bar Path (I already use this parameter of testing, but I am looking for better software solutions.)
  • Sleep Quality
  • Gut Health

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I know some of you probably think I am crazy, but my goal on this earth is to create a program in the sport of weightlifting that is unmatched anywhere in the world. I want my athletes to have every legal advantage under the sun. I also want to provide the world with research and data that will help to improve the overall state of exercise science. I want to leave it better than I found it. At the end of it all, I want to be able to deliver testing options for a variety of budgets and goals.

I am still in the early phases, so I would love to hear from all of you. If I am leaving out a testing parameter, please comment or email me. I want my time spent on getting my PhD to be useful to our entire industry. I want young coaches to avoid the mistakes I made. I want coaches to be so useful and sought after that they can make comfortable livings helping others and loving what they do.

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