Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning: Same, but different

I’m still pondering the idea that variation might be the single most important mechanism underlying all forms of periodization. Also, I’ve come to further move away from power lifting concepts every single day when it comes to training athletes. Truly, the only athlete that needs to high bar squat is probably an Olympic weightlifter. The same goes for barbell sumo Deadlifts and power lifters. If any of these exercises suit your anthropometrics and training goals, more power to you. However, exercises are just a means of provoking a desired adaptation. Chances are you can illicit that adaptation with an alternate exercise that is easier to coach, better suits your anatomy and maybe even comes closer to the specific demands of your sport than the big three.

My opponent getting up from the turtle and shooting for a single after defending the RNC. Note the position of the legs. What can not be seen is the rigidity of the spine. 90-90 split squats and tall kneeling step ups might be more beneficial for grapplers and fighters than low bar squats.

Consider squatting. Over the course of the last months, I’ve come to love the Zercher squat for athletes, especially for my fighters. It’s just so simple to coach, almost everyone gets a hang of it in the first session. Compare that to the hassle of getting someone to a proper squat depth with back squats, or developing the wrist and ankle mobility needed for proper front squats. Another benefit of the Zercher squat is the demand it imposes upon the upper back. This perfectly suits the needs of grapplers and Thaiboxers.

Wresting requires high levels of upper back strength. Notice how the double underhooks I use in this picture to block the double leg takedown closely resembles the Zercher position.

Apart from physiological adaptation, the gym is an excellent place to pursue improvements in movement quality and resilience. By adding slight variation to the lifts we have our athletes perform, we can teach them to handle themselves in a multitude of situations and positions. The relatively simple nature of the things we do in the gym, as opposed to the faster, more complex and more chaotic movement we encounter in sports, allows us to identity and address compensation patterns that might put our athletes at risk in the ring or on the playing field. Finally, bones and connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments undergo a proliferation phase in response to a training stimulus, just like muscles. Strengthening occurs along the main tension trajectories [1,2]. Hence, exposing our bodies to varying stressors from different directions in different planes makes us more resilient in every regard. 

Physiology of bone adaption ad presented by Schoenau and Fricke [2]

As stated by the NSCA [3] though, while variation is good and desirable, it must not be overdone lest training descends into chaos. 
With my fighters, I implement a concurrent strength and conditioning regime, i.e., we always do plyos and strength work, we always condition. Our strength programming follows a DUP pattern, with a heavy and a moderate day. The heavy day is aimed at improving neuromuscular efficiency while the moderate day is aimed at metabolic adaptations. Each strength block consists of upper body pushing and pulling, lower body pushing and pulling, and core stability training. After eight to nine weeks, we switch exercises.

The upcoming block revolves around lunges, push ups, inverted rows, Romanian Deadlifts, renegade rows, and paloff presses. Usually, my athletes undo an initial assessment and based on that, I choose the most appropriate version of each lift. This time though, I will cycle through a wide range of exercises that each of my athletes will have to perform. Of course, if something is unsuitable for a particular person, we’ll substitute something else instead. The basic idea, however, is that on the heavy day, an exercise that provides a relatively high degree of external stability will be performed. Conversely, on the moderate day, less external stability will be provided. Each pair of exercises will be programmed for a two week block, after which a more advanced progression will be chosen.

Weeks 1&2

  • Heavy Day: 90-90 Split Squats
  • Moderate Day: Tall Kneeling Step Up

Weeks 3&4:

  • Heavy Day: Sliding Reverse Lunge
  • Moderate Day: Reverse Lunge

Weeks 5&6:

  • Heavy Day: RFESS / Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Moderate Day: Walking Lunge

Weeks 7&8:

  • Heavy Day:  RFESS / Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Moderate Day: Skater Squat

I feel that the APRE system [4] lends itself perfectly to such a split, as it allows the athlete to find the proper load in as little as a single session, provided the estimate is not too far off. An argument can be made that the skater squat, arguably the most advanced exercise in the block, only stays on the menu for two weeks. On the other hand, the weeks leading up to those final sessions will likely prepare the athletes to perform better on the final progressions.

I admit this is somewhat experimental. Then again, what is not? I’ll write an article on the results after the block. Make sure to check in by the to stay up to date.
So long,

Don’t get hurt

[1] Gottlob, A. (2014). „Differenziertes Krafttraining: mit Schwerpunkt Wirbelsäule“.  Elsevier, Urban & Fischer Verlag.

[2] Schoenau, E., & Fricke, O. (2008). „Mechanical influences on bone development in children“. <i European journal of endocrinology 159<i (suppl 1), S27-S31.

[3] Hoffman, J., & Conditioning Association. (2012).  „NSCA’s Guide to Program Design. Human Kinetics.

[4] Mann, J. B., Thyfault, J. P., Ivey, P. A., & Sayers, S. P. (2010). The effect of autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise vs. linear periodization on strength improvement in college athletes. The Journal of strength & conditioning research. 24(7), 1718-1723.

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