Planning Training

I was reading a book about strength and conditioning in English soccer and came across an interesting passage. These strength and conditioning coaches are sports scientists and they identified that the Brazilians were stronger on the ball than the English players, even though they are the same build.

Upon further investigation, the sports scientists learned that the Brazilians played a lot of soccer on uneven surfaces growing up. They then invested in these giant sand fields, costing 30,000 Euros, to have the English players practice on sand fields. They didn’t have them squat more, but instead altered the environment to produce the results that they were looking for. Sand requires more force to move through it due to it moving under your feet.

The sports scientists than went on to discuss how strength and conditioning should be a supplement to the athlete’s natural abilities. If an athlete is already strong on the ball, he doesn’t need more strength work. They analyze the individual athlete and see where they can supplement what they already have with some form of training. Maybe it is getting quicker in a 5 yard box. I know for me, becoming faster in tight areas was improved immensely with small sided games in very tight quarters. Add a 2-3 touch limit on the ball and your conditioning will go through the roof too.

This sounds a lot like conjugate powerlifting and it all applies to a dynamic systems approach to skill acquisition. There is a belief out there that powerlifting training should be high frequency. I even saw a post from a lifter with a lot of followers saying that beginners need to start out with a high frequency program for powerlifting. This is horrible advice and very ignorant.

In meta-analyses, higher frequency of an exercise does not increase strength in that exercise as long as volume is stable. The increases in strength shown by higher frequency training programs are most likely due to an increase in volume. You can increase volume in other ways, like through accessory work. This is easier to recovery from and allows you to target more absolute strength work (max effort), as this is an absolute strength sport. A max single is the best at building absolute strength. Just to re-emphasize, you can get a max single and then supplement volume through accessories. This even allows you to target that volume more appropriately towards weaknesses, which get neglected in the movements themselves.

A higher frequency of lifts is not very flexible. In order to make it work, any singles done are typically done in an RPE 6-8 range. This is sacrificing quite a bit of stimulus for the ability to do more volume in upcoming days. We space out training 72 hours apart, to allow for recovery between sessions. I actually do more volume in conjugate than I did with Sheiko because of all of the accessories. This increase in volume cannot be ignored with my increase in total. I am sure it plays a role, but even then, this frequency of training allows me to do more volume in the first place and recover from it.

If your RPE 8 single is fluctuating a lot, it makes no sense to me to keep it in so frequently. You don’t get stronger by lifting lighter weights. Yes, the internal effort is there, but external weight still matters. If it is more difficult, or as difficult, to lift lighter weights than heavier weights, you are better off just recovering as a body in recovery is only seeking homeostasis. This “fatigued singles” thing is risky without any reward. My suggestion would be to place it in only where the numbers are where they should be roughly. I am sure you can find a trend if you track it. 

The problem with that is it is still an RPE 8, sacrificing quite a bit of stimulus. As seen with the English soccer players, finding a way to strengthen a lifter under the bar by changing the environment can be beneficial in a few ways. For one, it can allow you to train closer to failure providing a strong stimulus to improve absolute strength. It can also supplement what the lifter already has by building up weak areas.

For example, a box squat has greater focus on posterior chain development and due to the collision with the box, a greater neurological adaptation to improve explosiveness out of the hole. If you have a lifter that has very strong quads in the squat, this can help build mechanics that shorten the ROM and allow the lifter to use the bigger stronger muscles of the posterior chain in conjunction with the quads. If we just do Competition singles at an RPE 8 these weaknesses are not addressed. So we have a lower stimulus without addressing weaknesses. This would be the English soccer players continuing to play on grass and get knocked off the ball. 

Often lifters will see some improvement and assume they are doing everything right. This is a long term process. The high frequency programs were brought into the Russian camps for lifters at the national level and beyond after they had gone through a long term athletic development program. It was designed for their career peak, not the base. American lifters jump right to these programs, maybe due to the terrible advice they saw on the internet, and they see big improvements early with a large drop-off after a couple of years. They hit a career peak within 5 years of participating in a sport. If I was playing soccer, after 5 years I was 9 years old. Certainly not in a place where my career peak should be coming in. Of course puberty changes some things here, but you get the point.

The focus of volume coming from accessories allow us to keep volume high and recover building work capacity, but also allows us to build a base at the same time that we are developing the nervous system. The nervous system is developed by continuous small bouts of high demanding nervous system activity. This is where max effort and dynamic effort come in. They focus on and build coordination. We need to be recovered between bouts to develop coordination. This means 72 hours between lower sessions and 72 hours between upper sessions. It also means that the lifter needs to be educated and learn a training skill to learn how to adapt training to fit daily needs. The Russians were also state sponsored lifters, we have other responsibilities.

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