Coaching Couch – Training Movements Over Exercise

As a coach, it’s important to remember that all exercise and training essentially boils down to selecting specific movements and loading them appropriately to achieve the desired outcome. Whether that’s hitting a new 1RM on your back squat or jumping as high as you can, they can be broken down into a finite number of open or closed chain movement patterns. These movement patterns can be assessed, analyzed and from there you can select the appropriate exercises and loading schemes. Without that initial analysis, you will be limiting your progress as one exercise isn’t always going to be appropriate for everyone to include in their programs. A classic example is a high bar vs low bar squat; picking an exercise based on your own anatomical efficiency is very much advised and while (in theory) everyone should be able to do both, it doesn’t mean everyone should do both. Don’t try to knock a square peg into a round hole.


So, now we’ve established it’s important to remember that exercises correlate to a specific movement pattern, how do you then decide which exercise is correct for your training goal? This will come down to your needs analysis. When you’re selecting exercises, whether you know it or not you’re analyzing your needs and selecting exercises which you deem appropriate to achieve your desired outcome. For example, we’ll take a winger in rugby and analyze their needs for performance. These will be entirely focused on the physical attributes of the athlete and will be far from an extensive list.

A needs analysis can be done in a number of ways, but a spider graph is often the easiest way to do this. These can be done by both the coach and athlete so you can discuss the training rationale and get that all important buy-in. Using our example of the winger in rugby, I’ve listed 3 physical attributes, which are:

1) Speed
2) Agility
3) Core strength


So now we’ve got our training goals, we can start to look at the movements associated with these attributes. I’m going to focus in on one movement per example to keep the post relatively short.

1) Speed – When running at near maximal speed we have large amounts of hip and knee flexion/extension.
2) Agility – When changing direction in relation to an external stimulus you can recruit a ‘side-step’ movement to avoid a defender.
3) Core Strength – When sprinting the athlete will need to maintain a strong pillar so that their force transfer effectively throughout their body (not so much movement, but stopping movement).

So, now we’ve identified movements associated with our physical attributes we can begin to look at exercises which fit the bill. Again, I will provide one exercise per example, however, there is an extensive list of exercises that could be used.

1) Hip & Knee Flexion/Extension – Dumbbell Step Up: This exercise not only utilizes the desired hip & knee movements, it also provides us with a unilateral exercise. This means that it is a single limb exercise, which is perfect for running as you will never have 2 feet on the ground whilst when sprinting.
2) Side Step – Lateral Lunge: When the athlete is avoiding a defender by side-stepping, one of their legs will move laterally so that it moves away from the centre of the body. The lateral lunge trains the same movement in a controlled environment and will help strengthen the quads, hamstrings, glutes and hip abductors/adductors. This will help avoid injuries in these muscle groups.
3) Stability whilst sprinting – Resistance Band Anti-Rotations/Palof Press: This exercise will provide a resistance which will try to pull the athlete out of a centred position and will, therefore, train their core stability.

So now we’ve established the exercises we’re going to utilize to achieve the training goals we’ve just got to decide on an appropriate load and volume for the athlete based on their current condition. This is probably another topic for another day so keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a follow-up blog on the coaching coach.


Why consistency isn’t the key when it comes to fitness training.


The Problem(s)

   If you’ve been following fitness blogs for a while, you’ve probably heard the saying “consistency is key”. When it comes to setting goals and smashing them, its pretty good advice for the most part, however, it’s not strictly true. Now this isn’t to say you can kick back and take it easy and still achieve some incredible results, far from it, but you just have to be a bit smart about it.

   The problem with consistency is that people try to obliterate themselves day in day out, for weeks, and months on end with high intensity training sessions. This coupled with little to no recovery strategies will inevitably lead people down 2 paths; path number 1 is injury and path number 2 is overtraining & burnout (potentially leading to injury).


   Injuries aren’t uncommon when it comes to physical exercise and there’s always a risk that you could pick up an injury at any given time. This can be a freak accident, or something that could be avoided. Where there are risks, there are risk factors and the job of a coach is to minimize these so that you can train in the safest environment possible; another great reason to hire a coach for your training sessions.

   When it comes to training, a major risk factor is that the body hasn’t fully recovered from the last session or even a block/period of training you’ve completed. This means that the body isn’t ready to exercise and as a result you could be exposing yourself to a higher risk of injury. Now most of the time this is something minor like a slight muscle pull, however injuries like muscle tears or snapped ligaments aren’t uncommon and can cause some long-term problems for your exercise goals.


Overtraining & Burnout

Overtraining & burnout can actually be a hell of a lot harder to overcome than an injury. When you’re injured you can at least focus on your recovery to get back into it, however, when you’re over-trained you probably couldn’t think of anything worse. Battling your mind is a lot harder than just simply saying “I’m going to get motivated now”, it’s a condition which has built up over a long period of time as a result of training too hard for the recovery strategies you employ.

When you’re over-trained you feel tired, lethargic and often dread going to the gym. This is your body’s way of telling you to take it easy and not listening can lead to burnout or injuries. Now, overtraining isn’t what you experienced when you simply “can’t be bothered” this is a chronic state in which you really struggle to motivate yourself when normally you’re fine and enjoy exercising.

The trick is knowing when to take a step back and let your body have a bit of a rest and not beat yourself up about it. If you imagine your body as a car engine, if you drive constantly at 100 mph it is going to break down eventually and cause more problems than if you just ease off the throttle for a little bit.

The solution

So, you may ask, if not consistency, what should I be aiming for in my training? Well, that is what I would call sustainability. If your goal is to run a marathon, you don’t want to burn out half way through because you sprinted at the start and progressively got slower as the race goes on. No, you’ll want to keep a good average speed, potentially with periods of higher intensity and lower intensity running.

Taking the example of a marathon, this is what we look for with fitness training. Overall we want to maintain a certain level of intensity, however this doesn’t mean it always has to be high. Sustaining an effort is as much about managing your energy and time as it is about putting yourself through grueling workouts. Allow your body a bit of time off and it will reward you with the results you desire.

A great way to visualize this is your bank account. If you spend more than you have coming in, then eventually you will end up with no money. To have a positive bank balance you will need to regulate your income/outcome balance over the course of the year. This may mean that you have periods of higher expenditure, but then you will compensate this by having periods of lower spending.


In Practice

It should go without saying that not being able to train due to injury or not wanting to train due to burnout are probably the two things you definitely don’t want to be doing, so how do we avoid them? The answer lies in a well structured, periodized program including proper recovery and nutrition strategies.

This is when we take your goals, and make a systematic plan of how we will hit them in the next year, 6 months, month week and even individual sessions. With a periodized program, a coach can effectively monitor and track your workouts, prescribe adequate loads and intensities, whilst also being able to plan appropriate ‘de-load’ periods. Monitoring can range from just assessing your mood/ability to train intensely to the super advanced tracking systems used in elite sport like GPS trackers, sleep tracking and psychological assessments.

So in short, if you’re feeling run down and dread training but fear not going, give yourself a week off, or a week of planned lower intensity sessions. Your body will thank you so much and will be ready to smash it when you back to it. Sustainability is the key.


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