The major pain in the arse about being on the road so much with Argentina is the travel. I spend a lot of time on planes, buses and stuck in hotels. However this has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise: not only have I been able to do some serious punishment to Netflix, it has also given me the opportunity to do a lot of thinking.
This series of posts is all about the recent thoughts I’ve had swirling round my head on training, coaching and how to continue to try and get the best out of my athletes. I will try and bring them together in one nice, tidy conclusion at the end of it all!
Same score, different needs
The initial idea that started this train of thought was presented to me by Dr Ben Peterson at CVASPS 2013 (Ben is the co-author of Triphasic Training and former PhD student at the University of Minnesota. He is now with Catapult USA). In his presentation that weekend Ben talked about how performance testing can be limited because two athletes can achieve the exact same score but in markedly different ways.
Using the example of a yoyo test, let’s imagine we have two different athletes and they both score level 19.5. On face value it would appear they are the same and we should train them the same. However now let’s go deeper and imagine that we are able to get VO2 and VCO2 readings during the test. And we can see that Athlete 1 spends the bulk of the test below his lactate threshold. When he finally does break over his LT, he quickly fades and the test comes to an end. He is what Ben terms an “aerobic base” athlete.
On the other hand let’s imagine Athlete 2 rises above his lactate threshold quite early on in the yoyo test, but he is able to hang on and work anaerobically for a very long time before eventually failing on the same level as Athlete 1. Ben terms an athlete like this an “anaerobic capacity” athlete. Same test, same score, but two markedly different athletes.
This phenomenon is why I’m not a big fan of using MAS to programme conditioning work as it doesn’t take into account these potential differences, but I’ll save that post for another day.
Bulldogs vs. Greyhounds
Following the seminar I was able to think of several other examples that nicely illustrated this principle. For example I remember having a discussion with James Smith about the two big categories of 100m sprinters: the “bulldogs” and the “greyhounds”. The bulldog type sprinter (Maurice Greene, Ben Johnson, Yohan Blake, Dwain Chambers) has a fantastic start and acceleration, then generally has to hold on to dear life at the end. They have shorter levers, excel at the left hand side of the force velocity curve and don’t rely as readily on the stretch reflex to produce force.
Ben Johnson is already in the lead by 20m- Bulldog for sure
On the other hand the greyhound type sprinter (Christophe Lemaitre, Kim Collins, Carl Lewis) has a weaker start, but as the race progresses they reel in the opposition and come into their own with superior top speed and speed endurance. They have longer levers, work best under faster conditions and they are more elastic and springy in their force production. And yet there are many examples of both at the elite level (though Usain Bolt is unique in being the best of both worlds!).
Lematire doesn’t break clear until 60m plus: greyhound!
The same can be seen in explosive efforts like jumping. A quick scan of youtube for box jump videos reveals there are two primary techniques: what I call the deep knee bend, and the elastic jump. In the deep knee bend athletes drop into a deeper squat position during the counter movement. Deeper angles means a slower movement speed, and it means greater time over which to create impulse (force * time)- great stuff if you aren’t particularly elastic and/or you excel at strength and explosive power efforts. Here’s a video of weightlifter Julia Konovalova displaying this style:
In the elastic jumping style the counter movement is a lot shallower, a lot faster and creates a lot more stretch to activate the stretch reflex. This will favour athletes who are predisposed to producing force at higher velocities and better at tapping into the benefits of the stretch reflex. To illustrate this style take a look at Flynn, one of former athletes at Wasps (who I always thought jumped like a flea because he needed so little time or movement before jumping).
Lastly there are examples closer to home. Let’s look at a two athletes who have been extremely successful in their respective position of wing in roughly the same era of rugby union: Byan Habana and Shane Williams. Both are prolific scorers and yet their playing style is remarkably different:
Shane Williams appears to fit the “bulldog” model quite nicely: short levers, he beats most of his opponents within the first 10m or so (and usually involving lateral movement) when the movement speed is slower and there is less reliance on elastic force qualities:
Conversely a look at Bryan Habana’s highlight reel and despite playing the same position his style is almost opposite: little or no reliance on lateral movement to beat opponents, he is far more lethal after the first 10m than before it and (for my money) he is a lot more elastic in the way he moves:
Thinking about all these different examples has made me realise that ultimately, all we are dealing with as athletes and coaches in sport is problem solving. We are presented with a series of problems, to which we must find the optimal solution. Such as:
- How do I run as fast as possible from A to B?
- How do I jump up on to this box?
- How do I lift this weight?
- How do I beat this defender and score a try?
Like any problem in life it would appear that in sport there are multiple ways to solve each problem. An athlete will favour a particular strategy to solve each problem based on their personal skill set, abilities and preferences. The job of the coach to equip the athlete with the best possible set of tools to solve these problems based on these factors.
This realisation has given me plenty of food for thought, and in later parts of the series I’m going to discuss what I think its implications will be on the testing, training and coaching process. Watch this space!