Monday, May 27, 2013

Strength Training for NCAA Athletes: Highly Suggested! But What's the Best Power to Strength to Hypertrophy Ratio?

Wallace Spearman, US Olympic Track & Field Athlete, a sure candidate to benefit from 12-wks of resistance training in the off-season... and I bet that's what he's doing, anyways.
I am preaching this day in and day out: Pick up the weight. It's not going to harm you! It's just for your own benefit. However, for whatever reason women and male athletes competing in sports where the guys they look up to don't look exactly like muscular machines are stubbornly reluctant to listen to this advice... about as stubborn, by the way, as a couple of gymbros in my surrounding, when it comes to doing a minimal amount of "cardio" (not even necessarily HIIT) to (a) keep the fat at bay, (b) maintain the overall conditioning that's necessary to train actually intense, i.e. maximal muscle stimuation vs. packing on the maximum amounts of plates and (c) ensure that they don't die from a heart failure on yet another 1-rep max attempt after having to take 15min break between sets sitting on a bench gasping for air.

Ok, I am both digressing as well as exaggerating here, but I believe you got the notion. The thing people still seem to be questioning is:  

"Can I runner really benefit from doing something else than running"?

If you asked a coach, the answer will be yes (unless he is an idiot), but even for trainers the question still remains: "How much non-sports-specific training is beneficial, how much is too much?" And I bet you that the number of NCAA Division I coaches who would subscribe to the statement that the best way to advance your trainees athletic abilities would be to prioritize classic progressive strength training during their whole 12 week off-saison training program.
Figure 1: Summary of the study outcomes and overview of the training goals and goal frequency within the training programs of groups 1-3 (Dombrowsky. 2013)
As the data in figure 1 goes to show you, none of the alternatives, which were training for power, local muscular endurance, and general strength training and consisted of
  • power workouts - ballistic exercises such as bench throws, jump squats, cleans, and variations of the Olympic lifts
  • strength workouts - multiple (4+) sets with fewer reps must be performed using more force 
  • hypertrophy workouts - anaerobic strength training. short duration, high intensity anaerobic exercises
that were combined different ratios were a real waste of time. Still, the "best overall effect on the performance variables" (Dombrowsky. 2013) was achieved by those of the 34 male NCAA Division I track and field athletes (age: 20.3± 1.9 y; body mass: 83.9 ± 11.1 kg) with at least three months of resistance training experience who had not been randomized, but assigned to
Table 1-3: Workout templates for group 1-3 (from top to bottom; Dombrowsky. 2013)
  • Group 1 - power focus: athletes lifted four times each week, and focused most on strength and power (throwers, jumpers, short sprinters)
    "Group 1’s RT program consisted of at least one power exercise daily, three strength exercises and a few local muscular endurance exercises last."  (Dombrowsky. 2013)
  • Group 2 - endurance focus: athletes lifted three times a week, and had the most strenuous out of the weight room fall conditioning (pole vaulters, multi’s, long sprinters)
    "Group 2 also used a planned non-linear periodization program. RT program consisted of at least one power exercise daily, three strength exercises and a few local muscular endurance exercises last." (Dombrowsky. 2013)
  • Group 3 - general strength training: athletes lifted three times a week and were all anaerobically trained individuals who also participated in an interval training program, demanding two running workouts per week (all first-year athletes were placed in group 3, as well)
    Group 3 also used a planned non-linear periodization program. RT program consisted of at least one power exercise daily, three strength exercises and a few localmuscular endurance exercises last. [...] The first two power workouts (one for upper and one for lower) were done as general strength." (Dombrowsky. 2013)
based on their training goals (details on the workouts in table 1-3; BB = Barbell, BA = Band, BW = Body Weight, CC = Cable Column, DB = Dumbbell, LB= Lower Body, MB = Medicine Ball, Oly = Olympic, Ply = Plyometric, SB = Stability Ball, UB = Upper Body). The latter may be logical in view of the fact that you certainly don't want a competitive athlete to be assigned to a training regimen of which you'd expect that it may be sub-optimal or even contradictory to his goals. On the other hand, the missing randomization raises the question of whether or not the following observations (cited literally from the results section), ...
  • Training different in the off-season is one thing, but what about combining training style? Is "Cardio in-between weights" a novel solution to the never-ending "before or after"-debate? A study from August 2012 would suggest just that - includes concrete workout suggestions to experiment with (learn more)
    Athletes whose disciples in track and field were more power based were able to see the highest increase in vertical jump over the twelve week training period. 
  • Group one were athletes who’s events were ATP based and had the highest need for quick, powerful movements (5.8% increases between pre and post testing). 
  • Group two was more anaerobic based and therefore saw a slightly lower increase (2.9% increase between pre and post testing). 
  • Athletes with a low training age are about to make high performance increases during early development (6.3% increase between pre and post testing)."
... are generalizable and/or a mere result of the goal- and sports-specific group assignment... what? Why that would matter? Well, assume Dombrowsky and the coaches of the athletes were totally off base and someone whose competing as an endurance runner would benefit most from doing the routine of a strongmen!? Unlikely, I know, but taking that for granted makes is a build in bias in favor of the current training paradigm you should be aware of, when you look at the study outcomes.

Nutritional and other confounding factors

All training sessions were performed under the eyes of the performance coaching staff and accompanied by general conditioning work in the form of linear speed, general conditioning, and sport-specific training during the week.

Moreover, at the end of each strength and conditioning workout a Muscle Milk Collegiate shake was given to each athlete (250 kcal, 7g fat, 28g carbohydrate, 18g protein). Otherwise, subjects followed the individual nutrition plans, which happened to include a "holiday binge" (I assume) on Thanksgiving in week 10 ;-)

Suggested read: "You Want Maximal Performance & Size Gains + Complete Thigh Development? Then Full Squats are For You!" Learn why trying to impress the bros or girls at the gym by racking and reracking the largest weights is not going to cut it (read more)
Bottom line: I am not sure, whether the main message of the study at hand really is the superiority of one training regimen to other - this is particularly true in view of the previously mentioned limitations resulting from the missing randomization. Therefore, my personal take home and broadcast to your peers message would rather be:

"No matter what the specifics of your athletic goals may be, there is a resistance training regimen out there you can and should utilize at least during the off-season to build the muscular foundation that's necessary to excel in any sports!"

This primer on the inclusion of goal-specific strength training into otherwise sports-specific workout routines is yet obviously valid for everyone from the (semi-)professional athlete and gymrat over the people who "just wanna look good naked" to the baby boomer who realizes that it's about time to make sure he or she won't be sitting in a wheelchair or be sarcopenic and bed-ridden in couple of years: Hit the weights, folks! Now!

  • Dombrowsky, D. The Effects of Resistance T raining Prioritization In NCAA Division I T rack and Field Athletes. Master' s Theses. 2013; paper 399.