Monday, 3 January 2011

How To Create An Effective Strength and Conditioning Programme

In the spirit of creating effective, practical and fun strength and conditioning routines I’d like to discuss some of the major pitfalls that most people encounter when trying to develop their own programme. I’ll be using examples relating to strength and conditioning but these principles could also be applied to skill development.  

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

Follow the three steps described below and give your strength and conditioning programme a complete overhaul.

Step 1 – Goal Setting

The topic of goal setting often causes people to roll their eyes and is rarely given the respect it deserves. It suffers from ‘law familiarity’ – that is, because we’ve all heard it a million times it no longer becomes important to us. But, a set of clearly defined goals that are regularly re-evaluated is vital to long term success.

The first stage in goal settling is the analysis of your current needs. This should be a broad approach and focus on your current ability as an MMA athlete. This doesn’t need to be an overly technical exercise – just ask yourself where do you feel you need to improve, what skills do you struggle with and what are the limiting factors in your performance?

When you have a broad idea of your current physical strengths and weaknesses we can start to set time specific, measurable goals in both the short and long term. Goals should have two defined parts – why and how. These goals should be specific and detailed.

The following example is of an MMA athlete trying to improve their takedown power:

Why: I currently struggle to takedown my opponents as I don’t have the strength or speed to do it effectively. I am working hard with my skills coaches to improve this but think an increase in my physical ability will also help. This will ultimately help me to become a better fighter.

How: I can see parallels between the Olympic clean and the takedown. As I fight at 84kg this is my immediate goal for a 1RM. I want the takedown to be easy so ideally want to able to lift more than that in training – perhaps 100kg 1RM. Plus, I’ll potentially be doing this movement numerous times during competition so I’d like to get some higher reps done with 84kg.

Short term goal: 84 kg 1RM.

Long term goal: 100kg 1RM. Multiple 84kg lifts with minimal rest periods.

This is a simplified example of what is expected but it achieves the target of setting measurable and defined goals. You should set new goals regularly and assess where you are in relation to your existing goals. If your current approach isn’t working, then try something new – the goal shouldn’t change, but your approach may.

Alternatively, you can apply the goal setting framework to your existing strength and conditioning programme. Look at each element and decide what the expected result of it will be. This will help to remove unnecessary work from your programme and make it more goal specific – and the serious MMA athlete should only have goal specific work in their programme.

Once you have set some goals it’s time to apply a framework that will allow you to measure your success in achieving those goals.

Step 2 – Apply Performance Indicators

Strength and conditioning, when you strip away the science, is very simple.

Over time, can you perform better for a given task using the same variables.

The variables used (e.g. weight, speed, range-of-motion, distance, time) affect the outcome but the basis of strength and conditioning is always to improve performance.

For the purposes of our programming we need to ensure that we apply strict performance indicators to our sessions. A performance indicator is really just a measure of your performance in any given skill or exercise. This is important because without it, you won’t be able to tell if you’re improving. Many of you already measure weight lifted and will keep track of it over time – this is a performance indicator. For some though, this becomes their only indicator.

In addition, the following performance indicators are very useful in measuring the ongoing success of a strength and conditioning programme:

  • Speed. How fast did the Olympic bar move? How quickly did you complete that 40 yard sprint?

  • Range-of-Motion. Can you complete a full range Overhead Squat? What is the degree of extension in your hip or shoulder in a given movement?

  • Distance. How far was that standing long jump? How far can you throw that medicine ball?

  • Time. How long did it take your Heart Rate to drop 30 beats after that 4 minute Tabata Squat protocol? How long did it take you to complete 30 Clean and Jerks with 75% bodyweight?

They are just examples but I’d like you to take a look at your current strength and conditioning programme and, if you haven’t already, apply some performance indicators to it. Keep a record of these and aim to improve over time. The more data you have, and your attention to it, will keep you moving towards your target goals.

Step 3 – Stick to it

For your programme to be effective you have to stick at it. After following it for awhile, assess its value and make changes as you see fit. This is basic physiological adaptation. Whatever results your programme may give you, you have to give it some time.

Gyms across the country are full of ‘serial switchers’ – these people are a real pet hate of mine. The switcher is the person that will read a fitness magazine or something on the internet and then follow it for 2 weeks or so. Then they get bored and go looking for something new. The bottom line is that, in strength and conditioning, you have to practice the fundamentals. You can change the structure of your workout everyday but there must be reasoning behind this – don’t just do it because you’re bored.

In my experience bored people just aren’t particularly good at anything so they move on rather than focusing on improving. If you find yourself in the ‘bored’ category then you need to re-assess your goals (go to Step 1).

Step 4 – Never stop this process

This is probably where most people fail. In order to continue improving you have to continually repeat the goal setting process, the application and adjustment of performance indicators and physically complete the work for a period of time. For the serious athlete this is an ongoing process rather than a one off exercise.

As a basic guide aim to:

  • Micro assess each strength and conditioning session you perform – Was it effective? Is it moving you closer to your goal?

  • Monitor progress every 1-4 weeks – Are you improving performance during your strength and conditioning sessions? More importantly, is your MMA improving?

  • Aim to have a set of short and long term goals – I have 3, 6 and 12 month goals but also 5, 10 and 20 year goals.

Your specific planning will of course vary but be bold with your ambitions and aim high.

Originally published on BritMMA

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