One day this past November, I received a call from one of my female college lacrosse players. For the sake of anonymity and reasons that will be noted later, we will refer to this athlete as "Athlete 1". Athlete 1 was reaching out to me to let me know that she and a few of her teammates would like to train at Overdrive as soon as they finished up with their final exams. After going over specific dates, we figured out that their training cycle would be a solid 6 weeks starting December 11th and ending January 20th.
Getting calls and texts like this from my college athletes is nothing new this time of year, but what happened the next time we spoke is what threw me off.
Me: "Ok, so we're starting next Monday. Do you girls have your 1 Rep Maxes? I'm trying to program appropriately."
Athlete: "Nope. All we did this Fall was workouts with mini bands and sprints with bands around our waists."
Now depending on the types of training modalities you deliver your athletes, this may or may not be a problem. However, Athlete 1 and her teammates had requested to specifically weight train as they said they felt weak and slow. Knowing that we only had 6 weeks to get as strong as possible, but also prepared for their upcoming season, I decided to put an emphasis on not only improving their strength, but increasing their power. The program had to not only make them feel stronger, but also more powerful.
In becoming a more powerful athlete, the training must have a strong focus on increasing power output. Power can be looked at several different ways, but it's most common form is viewed as:
Power = Force x Velocity
When arranged in this format, we see that power is the product of force and velocity. An increase in power is the result of an increase of force, velocity, or both. Power can also be broken down into the following:
Force = Mass x Acceleration
Velocity = ΔDistance / ΔTime
Work = Force x ΔDistance
Power = (Mass x Acceleration) x (ΔDistance / ΔTime)
= (Mass x Acceleration x ΔDistance) / ΔΤime
= Work / ΔΤime
The Greek letter "Δ" (Delta) refers to "change" as in a change in distance or a change in time. What this basically says is that to increase power, you can either increase the force of the object to be moved (as previously stated), increase the velocity at which the object is moved or do more work in less time.
ASSESSING ATHLETE 1 AND HER TEAMMATES
The more powerful athlete is the athlete who does more work in less time. Team sports are predicated on athletes frequently producing a lot of forces at high velocities. Since games and competitions have time constraints, it is imperative that an athlete's ultimate goal in training is to increase their power. However, you cannot create power without first developing strength. The fact that these young women were coming to me to get better in only 6 weeks without any baseline level of strength limited their programming. One of the problems I had to deal with is that two of the four athletes had not lifted in three months, while the other two had not lifted in more than that. As noted earlier, they felt weak and slow.
After briefly assessing them in the warmup on their first day of training, their movement indicated that moving straight into a High Force High Velocity Phase was not appropriate. Their display of weakness in their hips and core was not as alarming as the tightness that I saw in their feet and ankles. With that being said, I decided that they would train barefoot on all Lower Body and Movement Days. The purpose of training barefoot was to allow the foot to move freely as opposed to being restrained within their shoes. This would improve mobility in the foot and ankle complex as well as promote proper force application through the big toes and balls of the feet. When the foot moves properly, it can root into the ground to create power. These girls were taught to root their feet in the ground by driving their toes through the ground while keeping their heels down. Their feet were not fully rooted until they felt tension in their arches. If they were not quite sure if they had tension in their arch, then all they had to do was check their anterior tibial tendon. If this tendon was not actively exposed, then there was no tension. This is important because if the foot and ankle complex is not stiff, then the athlete's leg is not aligned. If the athlete is out of alignment, then the athlete cannot create their maximum amount of force.
The first five minutes of each of these sessions would begin with simple self myofascial release (SMR) using a lacrosse ball on their feet, hips, quads, and hamstrings. Their weaknesses were a result of tightness, and this is a result of poor tissue quality. By simply applying pressure with a lacrosse ball and their own bodyweight to all these parts of their body, they were able to break up the tissue and allow it to start sliding properly as opposed to being sticky. After SMR was completed, the girls would move into a warmup that would prep them for the workout of the day.
After the warmups were completed on Day 1 and Day 2 of Week 1, we did some testing to set some baseline numbers. The testing was not only a visual assessment of their movement, but also an objective analysis of their power output. On Day 1, we used a Jump Mat for 2 tests to check their Lower Body Power Output:
Now remember, power is a product of force and velocity, and velocity is distance over time. The results of these tests were only part of what was needed to calculate each athlete's initial power output at the start of this training cycle. However, you cannot use the traditional power formula (Power = Work / Time) to calculate an athlete's power output in a vertical jump because the time that force is acted upon the body is unknown. Thanks to the work of Dr. Stephen P. Sayers, I was able to use the test results and plug them into a formula that he and his team created to find Peak Anaerobic Power output. This formula is:
As you can see in the formula and data above, bodyweight is needed to calculate peak power output. Since the subjects of this programming cycle are females and bodyweight can be a sensitive subject, I decided to exclude their names. Also note that although the measurements were recorded in US Customary Units, I converted them to the Metric System in order for the data to fit the Sayers Equation.
THE SIX WEEK TRAINING CYCLE
Over the course of the 6 week training cycle, the athletes trained 6 days per week with the exception of Christmas, New Year's Day, and a snow day. Their training schedule was as follows:
This 6 week cycle consisted of three 2-week blocks:
After the Eccentric-Focused block, the athletes moved into an Isometric-Focused Block in which they would control the same near maximal loads from the previous block in specific positions for 3 - 5 seconds before attempting to rapidly contract their muscles. The purpose of this block was to train the muscles to withstand greater forces in their lengthened state. Dietz also stated, "an isometric action occurs when the force being exerted by a muscle equals the force being imposed on it by a load while the joint angle remains the same." With that being said, you cannot generate great forces if your muscles cannot eccentrically load them and then isometrically control them.
The final block was the Concentric-Focused Block. This block brings everything full circle as the same near maximal loads that were being eccentrically controlled for 2 weeks, then isometrically controlled for 2 weeks, were now being concentrically moved with violent intentions. Emphasizing the concentric action of the compound exercises featured in this cycle improved each athlete's rate of force development (RFD) because the contractions were aided by the combined forces of the stretch reflex and SSC that were improved in the previous blocks. This block takes the potential energy that the athletes developed for the previous 2 blocks and now teaches them how to properly use them.
Each block utilized a Contrast Method on lifting days to help improve force production as an assisted plyometric exercise was performed immediately after a compound exercise. For example, after a set of squats were completed, the athletes would set themselves up in a band that was suspended from a squat rack to perform Accelerated Band Jumps. The Contrast Training Method was perfect for this short training cycle because the compound exercises were performed at near maximal loads, which increased the recruitment of high threshold motor units. Going right into the plyometric exercise that mimicked the same movement of the compound exercise caused post activation potentiation which, in turn, yielded an increase in force production and power output.
As you can see, almost every athlete increased their PAPw in each of the 4 tests. Honestly, I was not expecting to see huge improvements in power output as this was a High Force Low Velocity Phase as opposed to the High Force High Velocity Phase I originally wanted to put them through. However, Athlete 1 and Athlete 2 both saw an increase of over 5% in their 1 Countermovement Vertical Jump Power Output while each gaining roughly an inch in addition to gaining weight. Although weight gain was what we wanted to avoid (note: none of the athletes in this group were on any type of diet or going through any nutritional counseling), I was impressed with an increase in vertical jump height nonetheless. Since power is the product of force and velocity, our goal was achieved in 6 short weeks as jump heights and plyo push-up heights were all increased even though each of the four athletes also gained weight.
In conclusion, if I were to do this program over, I would have tested broad jumps as well as body fat percentage. Without access to a force plate, calculating power output in the horizontal vector would have been impossible as I have not been able to find anyone that has yet to figure out how to calculate power output from broad jumps without the use of a force plate. If anyone knows how, please let me know ASAP! By measuring body fat to check lean body mass, I would have been able to see if the increase in overall bodyweight was due to an increase in lean body mass or body fat. Even though I mentioned earlier that weight gain was something we wanted to avoid, it should be noted that an increase in lean body mass is always accepted while an increase in body fat is something we want to generally avoid in the case that the athletes do not need to gain any more fat to stay healthy.
I am extremely happy with the results as I felt challenged to do so much in such little time without any sort of foundational strength to build any type of power upon. When these athletes return in the summer, I would love to pick up where we left off. If we have to return back to a High Force Low Velocity Phase, it would not be as big of a deal as we would have roughly 16 weeks to train which would leave us time to hit a High Force High Velocity Phase and maybe even a High Velocity Peaking Phase. Either way, one thing remains apparent from this short training cycle and that is that FEMALE ATHLETES NEED TO BE STRONG TO BECOME POWERFUL. Yes, all athletes need strength in order to develop power, but it is important that we finally start putting an end to the myth that female athletes do not need to lift!
Sayers, Stephen P., et al. “Cross-Validation of Three Jump Power Equations.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 31, no. 4, 1999, pp. 572–577., doi:10.1097/00005768-199904000-00013.
Dietz, Cal, and Ben Peterson. Triphasic Training: a Systematic Approach to Elite Speed and Explosive Strength Performance. Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise, 2012.