General, Specific, Individual, Contextual

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Andrew Flatt alerted me to a great video that was thought provoking. Andy O’Brien does have some interesting ideas about brain waves, HRV, and pressure profiles of hockey. I am no expert in hockey, but when center of pressure discussions came up and explaining that vertical lifts not creating horizontal speed could create some application of training problems with coaches. The General versus Specific debate comes up all the time and the fact it’s a combination of the two, and the optimal combination is likely to be individual for the athlete and contextual based on the circumstances. I use analogy of the key and the door to athletic performance. Everyone is familiar with the analogy that it takes the right key to open the door, but the reality is most situations in sport opening the door is not the issue, it’s opening the door consistently. Every key is similar save a few teeth or bitting differences, but the foundation of a key is a bow to turn it (coach) and the metal is usually an alloy that is metal. General needs, similar to common denominators as Dan would say, need to provide the basics to the key, and small differences of the key’s teeth will make the final differences.

When I asked about forces that dictate sprinting or any locomotion, the Horizontal versus Vertical debate is brought up because the ability to create additional horizontal forces hits a ceiling similar to an asymptote. Terminal acceleration is the new top speed. Causation and correlation debates come up all the time, that horizontal forces can’t be produced by vertical training, or that horizontal training can’t influence vertical forces. Fortunately a lot of coaches are not worried about such debates and are looking at time segments and how the athlete is getting faster. Lateral forces are part of the equation but nobody is doing rotational plyos to get spiral trains in their facial lines, as it’s clear that limitations occur. I have seen no studies that show specific exercises help more than global ones in acceleration, and given the success of the caribbean in sprinting, I don’t think weights do much with highly talented athletes who need stimulation versus pushing the genetics.

Acceleration early is very anterior chain dominant and requires an optimal amount of vertical force, horizontal force, and minimum lateral force. The elastic need to load the legs is vertical, and the air time needs to be sufficient to allow repositioning of the leg. The lean helps push the foot behind the COM backward to go forward, thus the horizontal force. This is knee extension and the hip extension is not beyond the spinal line from the base of the skull to the ankle complex. Hip extension happens more in top speed and the best produce force earlier. Lateral forces happen because the foot and ankle allow for motion to recruit the entire limb, not just posterior chain or quads. Muscles wrap around the bones, they are not attached like puppet strings. The resultant forces (a term brought up by coaches) are the product of the above three forces, and we need to address time segments and see EMG and kinetic data to show why certain programs are producing better athletes. While on paper it may make sense that max strength rules, so far the evidence of best lifts of everyone except Ben doesn’t support it. Most likely not enough CNS reserves exist after the workouts to be beasts in the weight room, and the lifts need to be something close to double bodyweight, not 3.5.

So the question is how does the this all relate to the video mention two paragraphs ago? On paper or on powerpoint everything seems to work in theory. I have observed a program that I thought was completely backwards produce a national champion in two events, I have followed a program to the T by a better coach and saw it help set PRs but crash at nationals. What does stand the test of time with many coaches are the following principles. Research will rewrite what we are doing, confirm some brilliant coaches, and embarrass even the most credible of sources. Here are my conclusions from the last 4 or 5 years of asking about general, specific, individual, and contextual.

General Training- This helps everyone and is underrated. While each athlete is different, many are far more similar than we want because of constrains. Outliers exist, but they are not the majority and are not realistic examples. For every start-up business that goes public, the majority will fail miserably. The general work is the foundation to getting globally prepared and often doesn’t transfer directly because the qualities are raw. One example is the back squat or front squat. True some studies show that it’s mixed for results as meta analysis will show limits of transfer, but they do serve as building a bigger engine and help give a platform to more local needs like weighted sleds and olympic lifts. Sometimes work capacity generally helps sprinting from a chemical perspective, or it helps challenge the nervous system without breaking down joints and soft tissue. General is the backbone or platform for the stuff that we all want to do, as support training keeps the specific from creating specific problems like overuse injuries.

Specific Training- Who defines this term is tricky, as no authority in training exists, so I don’t use specific and special interchangeably but realize some exercises are special and specific at the time. Specific to me is on the track and is something that teach and train. Specific has a high transfer rate, but has prerequisites in order to keep from injury. Sequence also matters because periodization is good planning so the athlete improves based on an order that consistently creates results. I do think even specificity matters, but more training and practice specific to overload. Playing small sided games in practice is a skill and conditioning option that helps the best be best, but if small sided games were the only think necessary just replace the coaches at the academies with refs and let the cream rise. Overload comes from a compromise of simulation to get an emphasis on the quality trying to shift to become better. Often paradoxical results happen as I find testing flying 20-30s is great to see improvement, but I now restrict the use to a few times a year because other means such as 150s have shown that the rhythm from it it relaxes the body better than artificial sprints. Another example, some coaches found that testing fly work results in great distribution of acceleration, as smooth transition is efficient use of substrate, but most will scoff and say lack of coaching ability is the culprit. That may be, but working directly on a isolated quality sometimes backfires if not addressed right, and I like teaching acceleration in tempo training because it’s a nice way to get the reps in and encourage good technique. After visiting LA, Coach Smith was doing things he knows is working, even if it’s not found in a research article.

Individual Training- Most coaches don’t train athletes one on one so a compromise must exist. It would be great to be truly individual with everything, and have gyms transform the racks and equipment each hour to fit the needs of each athlete, along with music preferences, coaching styles, and workout design. I would argue that most need orthopedically and volume/intensity individualized programs to match training, as it’s not as individualized as possible, but individualized as necessary as Henk would day. I think coaches adjust but the limits of large groups is hard. I do think the athlete’s input can increase as the athlete understands the coaching program and adjust based on feelings such as what exercises in warm-up feel better or when it’s ok to do a easier session. When too much cybernetic feelings occur or when auto reg work is done, the plan becomes more like a workout of the day versus true system. The system is wet cement and not written in stone, but a blueprint must be there. I have seen the as we go or on top of the head direct nowhere because people run out of time or emphasis something too little too late. HRV is like that, and I have seen too many people undertrain and get hurt thinking that overtraining is evil and less is more. You can always rest when slightly overreached, but you are painted into a corner if you only train fresh. You want to be fresh when risk is high, and it’s ok to be tired if you are trying to challenge adaption. Again moderation. I no longer use HRV to make daily decisions but weekly benchmarks. HRV does help with daily input, but interpretation is key as well.

Context- This is what everyone talks about but without circumstances shared in the front of discussions it’s useless. So many times I hear problems without the situation first, and it becomes a guessing game until all of the information is available. Mladen’s blog talks about constraints, as those factors dictate decisions more than sport science and coaching theory. No need to talk about grass tempo volumes in the northeast in January (this year March!) because the constraints are weather and indoor facilities. Context is popular but it needs to be better documented with what someone has first before training logs or other questions are shared on forums and coaching discussions. Sometimes good solutions don’t fit the circumstances and sometimes the conclusions are same when one is backed into a corner with limitations. Andy talked about the limiting factor, but Key Performance Indicators are good ways to show how to address and monitor the limiting factors that can be applied. Often limiting factors are metrics that are influenced by other variables and it would be good to see all of the data first to see if the metric is accurate or not.

I suggest everyone watch the Andy O’Brien video and check out Berardi’s video as well, as it’s very Quantified Self. I am not sure about the ANS system being off can create fat gain after 5 hard workouts a day, but I like the intervention and would need to see the data first before drawing conclusions.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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