Transfer Of Training
Why We Train
Whether it be sprint training, strength training, or something similar, athletes perform various exercises and schemes of work in hopes of seeing improvement in one area transfer into improvement in another area.
While there is no guarantee that adding weight to your squat or improving power output in a jump will transfer to sports performance, we train with the assumption that some amount of transfer will occur as a result of the training we perform.
At some point we all run in to issues related to training transfer, and as such I'd like to share with all of you some of the things that come to mind when thinking about what can inhibit transfer from training to specific skill and competitive sports performance.
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1. Poor progression of training.
In any discussion around training, progression of training is something that should be considered. Progression is the step by step execution and advancement of training over time, where athletes move from less to more complex exercises or work schemes, from slower to faster movements, or any number other ways in training changes over time.
Chasing the 1% vs 99%
A common refrain among coaches is that athletes need to chase the 1%, since most athletes already work on the 99%. In saying this, coaches assume that athletes have performed large volumes of general training (the 99%), and they should instead focus on only the highest intensity, most "specific" types of training.
In reality, athletes of all levels can benefit greatly from including generalized training in their programs, and many athletes end up moving on from this general work far too soon.
In my mind, the 99% for sprinters consists of the following:
- Acceleration, speed, and speed endurance training.
- Rudiment hops, in-place hops, medicine ball throws.
- General strength body weight & medicine ball circuits utilizing a wide range of movements.
- Rotational, kicking, core, essentially movements which are different from those we are chronically exposed to in our more specific training.
- Basic power production work (throws & hops for younger athletes, olympic lifts at 40-60% for more experienced athletes)
Instead of trying to set your new 1 rep max on the back squat, doing over-speed training every sprint training session, or solely focusing on exercise which is at the peak intensities, athletes should master the basics of sprinting, lifting at moderate loads, simple jump variations before trying methods that are intended only for the most developed and advanced athletes.
Progressing too quickly in high intensity work schemes.
Along the lines of thinking with regards to focusing on the wrong areas of training, how quickly or slowly we progress can make or break the transfer from preparatory training to sprinting or sports performance.
In the case of progressing too quickly, this is like putting a supercharger on a car without forging the internals of the engine or beefing up the suspension. It may put out power, but it'll start to have major issues as soon as the driver smashes the pedal.
As stated previously, athletes should exhibit mastery of low intensity training and in simple versions of high intensity training (sprinting, simple jumping exercises), before progressing toward the highest intensity methods, and some may never even need to do the highest intensity methods of training.
For example, depth jumps and other methods covered by writers such as Verkoshansky were intended for use in elite athletes, not college freshmen.
If you can’t perform an in-place hop with proper balance and landing mechanics, don’t progress to rudiment. If you can’t do rudiment without maintaining proper posture and good landing, don’t progress to bounding.
Progressing Too Slowly
While we do not want to progress too quickly when general qualities have not been established, there comes a point at which things need to change in order to stimulate change in the athlete.
Acceleration training must progress toward distances over which maximal velocity can be achieved, otherwise the athlete will get stuck at the velocities and rhythms of acceleration
Once the body becomes accustomed to certain schemes of work, and the body’s mechanisms of adaptation no longer sense the need to be better prepared for the stresses which are imposed upon it, the system will down regulate adaptive mechanisms and the athlete will benefit less from work that previously led to positive change.
These are some ways in which progression can be broken down:
- Intensity - how close to your maximum output work is performed
- Volume - How much total work is being performed, such as cumulative distance sprinted in a session or total weight lifted in a session.
- Density - How close together in time work is performed, such as 3 days of sprinting within a 7 day period.
- Complexity - How coordinatively challenging a given exercise is
- Velocity - The speed at which an exercise is performed.
- Duration - The length of time or distance over which an exercise is performed.
2. Inadequate recovery and regeneration from training.
Workload vs Timeline Of Recovery
The workload you program and perform must be recoverable within the constraints of your training timelines. Put simply, you cannot expect to improve if you are performing work which you cannot recover from by by the time your next high intensity training session rolls around.
If your training plan dictates that you have high intensity training sessions every 48 hours but the volumes of high intensity work prescribed are more than you can recover from in that time frame, your recovery will be inadequate. If this becomes a chronic condition, the athlete will eventually see reduced performances, increased injuries, and poor transfer of training.
Something I've heard a lot from Dan Pfaff is the importance of sleep hygiene: sleep duration and quality.
Athletes need both a large quantity and high quality of sleep, preferably 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Missing a night of sleep is similar to being hungover, and the chances are that you wouldn’t perform well when hung over.
In order to have the best quality sleep you can, your routines leading in to sleep should set you up for a relaxing descent into sleep mode.
Here is what I suggest for a high quality bedtime routine that can help improve your sleep quality and consistency:
- Shut down screens an hour before bed, allowing melatonin to release and reduce stimulation on your brain.
- Keep the lights off, limited to a candle light, or something similar.
- Stick to calm music or a relaxed podcast if you want entertainment, avoiding video or high tempo music.
- Stretch, foam roll, and/or self-massage to help relax the body while also working on mobility, tissue health, etc.
- Avoid stimulant intake, dramatic people, or social media battles, particularly later in the day.
Stretching, foam rolling, meditating or simply breathing while laying on the floor is a good way to lean in to relaxing and ultimately falling asleep, and the more you do this the better your brain will come to understand when it is time to go to sleep.
These are some of the tools I've used to help enhance recovery, either directly or as a result of guiding my program planning:
- Foam Roller
- Hyperice Massage Gun
- Voodoo Floss Bands
- VMaxPro Bar Velocity Sensor
- Helps track improvements, drops in performance, and by virtue of that can help track fatigue.
3. Structural Issues
No program can be effective if the body has structural issues which inhibit performance. You can't apply force from powerful legs if the core cannot stabilize the body, get in the right position, or are limited by chronic pain due to some injury or misaligned joint.
Inability to flex the hip limits the stretch shortening action of posterior chain, greatly limiting one’s ability to generate force, regardless of how strong or powerful they are.
Band distractions can be used to improve hip flexion range of motion by creating space in the hip joint, which can often times become jammed up through the training we perform as athletes, and the postures we assume throughout the day (leaning on once side, sitting certain ways, etc.)
Inadequate hip ROM causes compensatory movements such as lumbar flexion, and movements like this will disrupt center of mass balance during sprinting, jumping, and lifting. Because of this, issues with hip flexion can lead to many other issues which can become insidious if not prevented.
Inhibited Ankle Range of Motion
If the ankle cannot dorsiflex through a complete range of motion, the athlete cannot get their shin angle low enough to allow for good horizontal propulsion during acceleration. Similarly, squatting through full ranges of motion, olympic lifting from the floor, and other movements will be negatively affected if we cannot bend at the ankle. We need active stiffness in the body, but not to the extent that we cannot bend at the ankle or perform a deep squat.
Tissue flossing was shown to improve range of motion, jump & sprint performance in recreational athletes, and this is just one example of how one can affect both tissue health and performance.
Lacking Whole Body Stiffness
While we do not want any given joint to be excessively stiff, we do want the athlete to be able to generate whole-body stiffness in order to withstand that large ground reaction forces incurred during sprinting and jumping, and this requires both structural and technical qualities to be present in the athlete.
For example, if the long axis of the spine is not stacked properly at ground contact, the spine will bend and energy will leak. Just like you can't throw a wet noodle as far as you can throw a stick, we need a more rigid body system if we want to make use of the force we put in to the ground.
If the foot placement under the body is too far forward or too far back, the athlete must give at the ankle, knee, or hip in order to propel themselves off of the ground.
Whole body stiffness requires the following:
- Tissues that can handle the forces being exerted into the ground.
- Postural balance so that joints of the body can line up and predispose the athlete to being systemically stiff.
- Technical skill so that athlete can be in positions which allow stiffness to be present.
Limited Shoulder Range of Motion
Another example of a structural issue would be problems at the shoulder joint. Considering the fascia and other tissues of the body create an interrelated web of connectivity, issues at one joint such as the shoulder can lead to problems elsewhere, such as the hip.
Inhibited external rotation shifts arm swings to be more cross-body than linear, which can cause aberrant rotational forces if not moderated. Cross-body movement is ok to a degree, but excessive cross-body swing can disrupt leg cycle, body rotations, etc.
Limited shoulder flexion shifts arm swing to the back side, while limited shoulder extension shifts arm swing the front side. Either of these extremes will shift the center of mass and rotational forces at these joints, whereas we want to see balanced movement from front to back as well as side to side.
Overhead med ball throws, pull-overs, and other dynamic exercises can help improve mobility. General training such as bodyweight and med ball circuits can expose the athlete to a very wide range of movements, creating balance and mobility in the body as a whole.
The body needs to be able to go through different rotational ranges of motion in order to sprint forward on one leg at a time.
The shoulders, pelvis, and limbs all rotate and oscillate as they go through what appear to be linear paths of movement.
The femur externally rotates when pushing off of the ground, internally rotating as it moves forward into the next stride.
If the ability to go through these small rotational ranges of motion is inhibited by structural restrictions, the movement that would otherwise be in one place will end up showing itself somewhere else, and sometimes this can lead to injury or chronic pain syndromes due to chronically overloading an area with movement that would be better handled elsewhere.
4. Technique issues
Proper posture allows for the core to be stable, the limbs to be effective, the the rotation of the body in the air to be controlled.
Posture dictates how the athlete can use their limbs to generate force when interacting with the ground. Any time an athlete has issues with acceleration or top speed but not both, they're likely biased in how much tilt they have in their pelvis.
Excessive forward tilt leads to pushing out the back, inadequate windup of the leg prior to attacking the ground, and also puts the hamstrings into excessive levels of stretch which can predispose the athlete to injury.
Excessive posterior tilt leads to the athlete leaning back, reaching out in front to try and paw at the ground, and puts the hip flexors on excessive stretch which exposes them to injury risk.
Another issue that is particularly relevant for 100m dash and other types of sprinters is the ability to "switch" limbs.
The ability to simultaneously move one leg forward and one leg backward is one of the qualities which allows athletes to propel themselves far enough while also maintaining high stride frequencies, making switching a very efficient way for sprinters to move.
This requires a balance in timing between how long the athlete is on the ground with how soon they reverse the leg and initiate the next leg cycle. When balanced properly, athletes can maximize their stride length and stride frequency, so long as their posture is neutral and their limbs switch at the right times.
All in all, there are many opportunities we can seek when looking at issues with training transfer. If you end up in a situation where training is failing to transfer, start by looking at the issues discussed in this article, and you may just find what it is that was holding you back before!