Strength and Conditioning Tools that Need More Research

There are some tools and techniques all coaches need to know more about.

Some coaches swear certain protocols are the absolute way to get athletes strong, while others swear the very same things are useless. Coaches, athletes, and the supposed academic elite will post about products, programs, and techniques that in their words are absolutely necessary for athletic improvement or strength gains. Then you try it and find yourself going backward.

Capitalism gets in the way of truth as well. I have witnessed supplement and equipment companies force athletes to affirm products they didn’t even use or like, but they needed money more than integrity. The problem is the public doesn’t know that.

We need answers, not rumors.

We need answers, and we need them now. Here are some of the areas that intrigue me (and I will explain why after I list them):

  • Velocity Based Training
  • Fatigue Management
  • Post-Activation Potentiation or Post-Activation Performance Enhancement
  • Bar Path and Biomechanics
  • Squats, Cleans, Snatches, or Trap Bar Jumps for Speed Training
  • Unilateral versus Bilateral Squats and Pulls

Velocity Based Training

This is definitely one of the top three items I intend on researching during my post-graduate work. There are so many uses for this tool, but also there needs to be more research and more literature on how to apply it. I have used velocity based training to teach athletes intent, to ensure daily goals are met, to progress athletes while in-season, to minimize risk of injury, and to predict outcomes. The goal with velocity based training is to take the guessing out of the equation.

How does one actually take the guessing out? The answer is to track data. When you have elite or non-elite athletes, you need to have baselines. For example, Morgan McCullough might average a peak velocity of 1.55 m/s in the snatch when hitting 85%. So what does one do with this information? Here’s an example:

  1. If Morgan hits 1.7 m/s with 85%, that means it might be a great day to work up heavy.
  2. If Morgan hits 1.45 m/s with 85%, that means it might be a good day to back up and work on technique.
  3. If Morgan hits 1.55 m/s with 85%, that means it’s a good day to stick to the plan.

Morgan Snatch

We simply need more information on the tool, especially as it applies to different groups: elite athletes (proficient technique), typical athletes (acceptable technique), and below average (typical college students which most studies have used). Is there a difference? I am sure, but what are the variables? I have to find out. Another problem is there isn’t enough research or literature regarding VBT with the Olympic lifts. There is lots of information on typical strength movements like squats, bench, and deadlift. For VBT to be accepted in the Olympic lifting community, more work needs to be done.

Weightlifting has so many variables to consider versus power movements. Bryan Mann suggests looking at peak velocity, which is the absolute fastest point of the concentric pull. I tend to believe the mean is important as well, which is the average speed. I would even argue segmented velocity is possibly more important regarding rhythm, which is the big differentiator among top performers. I would want to know peak and mean from the floor to knees, knees to hip, and then hip to full extension. This would tell me where the athlete needs the most work. I would also like to see the peak and mean velocities in the first pull (first knee extension) versus the second pull (beginning with second knee bend and ending at complete extension).

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There are so many other variables that would come in handy with Olympic weightlifting like:

  • Rate of Force Development– How quickly someone can recruit muscle fibers to produce force. If you watch Wes Kitts or CJ Cummings, you will see a rate of force development that is simply unbelievable.
  • Changes of velocity during the pull– Is there any deceleration, or does the bar steadily accelerate? Where is the biggest change in velocity? Deceleration is a big no-no. If an athlete decelerates a great deal during the transition from the first pull to the second pull, technique has to be the focus.
  • Time spent at the top of extension before beginning third pull– This is one of the most important aspects that separates great weightlifters from the rest of the pack.
  • Velocity of third pull– This is another crucial aspect of great lifters.
  • Rate of deceleration at the bottom– A lot of athletes ‘pull and pray,’ which means they pull the bar as fast and high as possible, and then they simply go under the bar, praying they will catch it. First, that’s a great way to get hurt. Second, it’s not a great plan for making the lift. We want our athletes to continue pulling all the way until they’re in the receiving position. At that point, we teach them to reach up through the shoulder for snatch and up through the chest with the clean. The goal is to meet the bar strongly, which happens if an athlete remains in contact and pulling on the bar until receiving, versus pulling and praying.

Each variable quantifies for the coach exactly where to focus. Subjectivity can be the downfall for coaches and athletes. It’s easy to allow our own biases get in the way because it’s human nature. My goal is to conduct more studies with velocity based training on elite as well as non-elite athletes. I want to:

  • See the difference between elite and non-elite.
  • Understand the different variables as they relate to different sized and skilled athletes.
  • Make the use of VBT more practical for the masses.
  • Help coaches from multiple disciplines (strength and conditioning, powerlifting, CrossFit, and weightlifting) apply VBT.

Fatigue Management

Most coaches realize fatigue is part of the equation. Coach Tripp Morris asked me a question a few weeks ago about fatigue. We know fatigue has to happen during the overreaching phase of training. Supercompensation is a concept that has been used by exercise physiologists and strength coaches for several decades now. Basically the body is in a constant battle to maintain homeostasis, the body’s desire to maintain an equilibrium state among its different systems. The body is going to adapt to any stimulus. The goal is to apply enough stress to the body to force it to adapt at a very high level, and then drop the amount of stress, allowing the body to adapt to a state stronger than before.

Here are the questions with fatigue management:

  • How much is too much? If you push too far, you are at risk of injury. You can also cause sickness, or you can put the body into state that’s too hard to recover from leading to a bad taper for an event.
  • What tools are best for measurement? Coaches have tried a finger tap, vertical leap, heart rate variability, and grip strength. I want to try Omegawave, which is a tool that measures brain activity and heart rate variability. I want to pair Omegawave with VBT to see how the different variables match up. I also want to see how volume and intensity match up with brain waves and heart rate variability. For example, your oxidative system could be tanked, and you could still go heavy because the creatine phosphate system doesn’t rely on high supplies of oxygen or glycogen for that matter. However if the oxidative system is struggling and supplies of glycogen are low, high volume is a bad idea.
  • How do we quantify? This is the big question. How much is too much and for whom? Each athlete will respond differently to various loads. Is there a connection between muscle fiber type or blood type? How does training age, biological age, and gender play a role?

Post-Activation Potentiation

This is the theory I use the most. This theory purports the contractile history of a muscle affects the subsequent contractions. If you go heavy on one set and light on another, you will be more efficient with the lighter set because the body is recruiting fibers for the heavier load. There isn’t even close enough evidence on this theory. I have used it successfully for over two decades, but I want conclusive evidence.

The one thing I am learning about physiology is that function is one big puzzle. I want to look at fatigue management, velocity based training, and PAP all together. I want to see how they relate. I want to understand best practices. I want to quantify my findings in a way that is easy to understand for all of you.

Bar Path and Biomechanics

Two of my mentors and friends have debated the biomechanics and bar path in regards to the Olympic lifts for several years. Is there more than one way to lift a bar? If you look at all the world records performed over the years, you will see many different techniques. However, what are the absolutes? In my experience, a tight bar path, steady acceleration, a quick transition from the second pull to the third pull, a fast third pull, and a forceful deceleration are all qualities that are helpful to all athletes. Quantifying these findings will help to explain the facts not only to weightlifting coaches but also to strength and conditioning coaches.

What exercises are best for athletic performance?

There have been a few studies in this area, but I want to see more studies with elite as well as non-elite athletes. The problem with studies performed with the general public is that you have coaches of elite athletes applying these studies. Are they applicable to elite athletes? Plus I want to look at multiple athletic qualities for the different exercises like force absorption, power development, and power demonstration.

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Bilateral v. Unilateral squats

For those of you who know, you know. I want to look closer at the bilateral deficit as it applies to speed and power production. So far in my research, I have found both are good for athletic performance. I want to look at the use of both in a program. I also want to look at hypertrophy regarding bilateral and unilateral in the areas of the hip extensors, knee extensors, and back extensors.

I have found best results with performing both in a program. However some coaches have produced good results with using unilateral only. Most coaches who use unilateral only do so to reduce injuries, but is one more dangerous than the other? I don’t think so, but I hate the phrase “think so.” It’s time we all learned the facts. I am guessing both have their biological tipping points. Right, Dr. McGill?

Pairing Experience and Academia

I am excited for the next journey in my life. I have spent the last 24 years coaching and being an athlete. I want to pair experience with academia at this point in my career. I think I can make the biggest impact in the strength world performing research. I want to answer a lot of questions for the up-and-coming coaches, so they can maximize the performance of their athletes. If I can help the dreams of coaches and athletes around the world become a reality, my work on earth will be complete – as long as the world can see my love of Christ in all I do. If you take a close look at physiology, it’s almost impossible to believe a Master Engineer isn’t responsible for the human organism.

Let me know if you have any other questions you would like answered as I begin my research. I hope this helps all of you.

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