Don’t miss out on our Facebook Q&A session , April 24, 2015 9AM MST/ 12PM EST . We will be answering your questions on training, programming and anything else you may have!
April 24, 2015
Remote Coaching Client- Brian Harris
Coach James Taylor
The Workout That Wasn’t
This past year, I had the privilege of coaching Brian Harris, an American soldier who is the strongest willed and most resilient individual I have had the opportunity to coach. He definitely has the best overall capacity for mixed work of anyone for whom I have designed a program to this date. Considering his goals and his attitude towards his experience, Brian had a great Open this year. I feel the Open this year had an especially large focus on strength endurance for those who did well competitively, which was really not unexpected. If you believe that as a coach you need to train your athletes to excel in strength endurance based on their goals, then that creates the question of how to improve strength endurance.
Strength endurance has not been exhaustively researched to the point of having simple answers to questions about how to improve it. In fact, I believe that the question of how to optimally improve strength endurance is realistically beyond the capabilities of scientific research due to its individuality. That makes empirical data and human experience paramount to understanding it, in my opinion. What I’ve experienced as a coach is that strength endurance as a quality of an athlete is necessarily specific to any and all movements in consideration. However, no movement exists in complete isolation; for any movement, there seems to be other synergistic movements which can further improve strength endurance in that movement. If one’s goal is to do more work in less time over a period of time that’s unknown, I suspect we should look to all energy systems to be capable of doing their part in creating the ATP required for the desired muscle contractions. Therefore, in addition to the rather simplistic view of focusing on a movement, we should train for strength endurance by also training relevant synergistic movements and all energy systems to some degree.
In order to create a framework for prioritizing training in a design with the goal of improving strength endurance, you must first compare an athlete’s results in tests to normative data for their current ability level as an assessment. This enables analysis of which movements and energy systems need to be improved and how they should be improved to get the best response possible, as based on the experience of the coach in observing sets of athletes’ testing results and in observing the progression of testing results over time in a specifically designed individualized program.
An individualized program is necessary in order to focus training efforts in specific areas deemed lacking by the empirical analysis that is the assessment. I believe that you may need to focus training energy on one of the following three areas of fitness training more than the others to optimally improve strength endurance in a movement for an individual: (1) doing as aggregately powerful muscle contractions as possible for a given duration with the least amount of fatigue as possible, (2) doing as aggregately powerful muscle contractions as possible for a given duration with as much fatigue as can be handled (very subjective for the coach based on other training priorities, and plays into the resiliency of the athlete), or (3) as many muscle contractions as possible with the least amount of fatigue as possible (range of motion for the movement is at least as relevant here as in the other scenarios). I believe these three scenarios generally fit well as a framework for considering how each energy system plays into strength endurance capacity in a movement, though practically, none of the scenarios are specific to only one energy system. As for the fourth iteration of these characteristics, I’m not convinced that doing as many muscle contractions as possible with the most amount of fatigue as possible is optimal in eliciting training adaptations (rapid muscle contractions under fatigue in the context of higher power output I believe falls within the second category outlined of doing aggregately powerful contractions over a duration while fatigued) for strength endurance.
There was a specific instance last fall when Brian tested one of OPEX’s worldwide tests after which I decided a bit of a shift in design was necessary. The 10 minutes of BJSD test scored as reps times the height of the box (m) times body mass (kg), when compared with others’ scores, helped me realize that strength endurance in the movement of box jumps needed to play a critical role in the program’s design going forward. Over a number of weeks, as outlined in the charts, we focused on accumulating reps of box jumps, mostly in non-fatigued settings, which addressed training in the third scenario listed above. During the same time frame, we also created a big focus in the design on training AB sprints of various lengths, as I assessed that Brian’s energy system capacities warranted significantly improving balance here. I believe that building capacity in concentric AB cycling over the time period was a key factor in developing Brian’s energy systems appropriately with a synergistic movement for increasing strength endurance in box jumps. I feel the AB work simultaneously addressed both the first and second previously mentioned scenarios of training strength endurance. In 10 weeks, from week 5 to week 15 in the charts, Brian improved his score by almost 2500 (45 reps) on the 10 minute BJSD test. In the total period of time outlined in the charts, Brian tested Open workout 12.3 three times, and improved on his score from 329 reps at the beginning, to 375 reps in week 10, and finally to 409 reps in week 19. The first chart (Chart A) shows the accumulation of box jumps that Brian did over the period of time in total inches jumped per week. The volume of AB sprinting is displayed per session vertically and sessions per week by concentration of bubbles, with a ratio of rest time between sets to AB sprint time as an indirect indication of intensity for the sessions which is displayed by the size of the bubbles in the chart. The color of the bubbles are simply categorized by intended dose-response. During this time, it should be noted that Brian competed a few times, which made the progression of these specific training metrics somewhat less than idealized. The chart (Chart B) clearly shows our plan of increasing the volume of AB sprint sessions after the 10 minute BJSD test in week 5. This change coincided with an overall increasing trend of box jump volume. I believe both of these directions of training simultaneously led to improvement in box jump strength endurance.
I would hardly consider this period of training and analysis to be consistent with the scientific method. To naysayers of individualized training programs who argue that this situation has a sample size of one and too many confounding factors to prove anything scientifically, I can only say that they are technically correct but practically ignorant of the art of coaching. I see OPEX’s continued success in designing individualized training programs as a function of the strength of our collaboration as a coaching team and look forward to OPEX continuing to be the leader in creating designs to optimize overall fitness for individuals including strength endurance training in fitness. As it turned out, there were no box jumps in the Open this year, but I believe Brian would have been well prepared for them. Brian is continuing his journey in fitness with new challenges to meet for now. Due to his military obligations, he will not be competing in the Regionals for which he qualified this year. I know that he will be successful in his new endeavors based on his strong character and work ethic.