I have started using Cluster training more and more for general population clients, and even some (in-season or time constrained) athletes. Basically I pull it in and out with anyone I think is “strong enough”.
There is a point of diminishing returns on some forms of weight training. However maintaining the big moves on some kind of regularity is critical.
My approach to anyone, especially those of low Training age is;
- get them right along the mobility-Stability healthy joint continuum. - ramp up strength training using all the common compound human movements
- Hit some endurance and aerobic work by doing that in continuous circuits.
- reduce that to working on 2-3 main movements for a bit of volume and real strength development. - add in Specific conditioning relative to what the person has a deficit in or their sport needs.
But at some point people will reach a point of diminishing returns. This does not mean we abandoned traditional strength training, we just prioritize other modalities of fitness and maybe add some variety.
For 30 or 45 minute session though I have found cluster training to be ideal.
What clusters are essentially is density training. We shorten the rest periods and stick to one exercise for a number of sets.
I use 2 methods generally, Max Strength 4-8 rep range or Hypertrophy/Endurance in the 8-15 rep range. For general population you can swap in and out of these.
But what might be different about my approach is we do not have a set amount of sets. The truth is we never really know day to day what someone has in the tank. We generally stick to compound exercises like Deadlifts, Squats, Bench Press, Chins, Rowe, Swings etc.
If we pick 3 to do in a 30 minute PT session then in 10 mins we could get through a huge volume of Strength training which allows us 20 mins to work in many other aspects that may need addressing.
So what you do is;
- pick an exercise like Back Squat at lets say 75% of your max
- Do as many good reps as possible
- Put it down and rest 20 seconds
- Go again, and max out
- Repeat until you drop below 50% of your 1st set
And that’s it. For clients it is challenging and for coaches time efficient
And for most of us this is as good as it will get as anything more accurate is expensive and for pro sports. If you have nothing at all available, well I think 8.5/10 in terms of RPE (rate of perceived exertion) might be a good barometer.
This type of training I also believe could be of huge benefit to combat athletes who very often rely on a really efficient aerobic system to recover from flurries or high intensity bursts and also to stay fresh and sharp. But it’s arguable they spend a huge amount of time at or around Lactate Threshold within the sport itself. Wrestling and other close contact drills may well suit this approach as well but would need heart rate equipment.
Within field sport there are game based possibilities too but again heart rate monitoring and careful planning of game constraints might be needed. The problem with games based approach in a lot of cases is work rate and the variance of physical attributes and abilities. That’s why despite the rush to do absolutely everything with the ball these days, sometimes practically you are actually better off developing more rounded athletes and skills through more rudimentary means. A games based approach is very do-able but will take careful planning. You will need to constrain the game sufficiently to make players engaged. A game possibly where players are monitored for involvement and must get on the ball within 20 second blocks or a run to a corner pole must happen after some marker decided by the coach.
However I think something like using these Med Ball/Jump Circuits could hit a few birds with one stone. Seeing as we are always looking for “bang for buck” this may be an approach worth exploring further. These can also be utilized on the field. You can even play games or have relays etc to add some intrinsic motivation.
I would really love comment, critique and thoughts from sports scientists, S&C Coaches or anyone at all that may have a view or interest in this subject. I am always looking to merge athletic development, sports specific fitness and skill acquisition together to provide more efficient solutions for my teams and athletes alik.
So with Threshold Training we are building our resistance to fatigue by improving our ability to produce lactate more efficiently.
So while aimless and endless laps were and still are pretty silly for most field sport, there were elements that were somewhat useful. The problem with a lot of field sport training is coaches would bring players too quickly over the lactate Threshold and not give them enough time to recover. As I have mention many times before and still see at the highest levels, this often manifests itself in teams being slow starters (lack of sharpness and residual fatigue) but coming strong mid way through 2nd halves. I have even heard head coaches and fitness coaches alike being congratulated on the teams fitness because “ they finished strongly”. Finishing strong is not the only sign of a well conditioned team. In fact for me if that’s the only string to the bow then it’s a negative and a sign of a poorly conditioned team.
And not everything we do has to be short to medium intervals or HIIT. It just needs to be controlled and given the usual sensible treatment of layering up and suitable recovery times.
Threshold Training is athlete relevant, but I also think sport relevant. For a distance runner it might be 20/30/40 min runs. However for field sport I start with 3 sets of 5 mins with 3 min breaks.
One thing I noticed about the explosive approach as opposed to the bike approach is within the 3 mins rest I was recovered quicker, looking at my watch and wanting to go again with the explosive method. Is this physiological or psychological? Is my dislike of the bike a factor? Or am I hitting my Threshold hard enough with the explosive method? My heart rate levels are the same. So I probably do need to go deeper on measuring. However this study ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831896/ )
amongst others indicate HR is a good barometer and correlation of Lactate Threshold.
To be continued......
I am using moderate to heavy med balls and some basic Skips to keep the heart rate and power output up. I started with reactive box jumps as they drive the heart rate and system up quickly. The aim then is to stay at 145-165 bpm heart rate. This is my zone, but that may vary for different people. There are many ways of keeping the heart rate at a certain point, but I want a certain amount of power output as well which we believe will transfer well to the pitch.
Lactate is about more than heart rate, so this can only be an accompanying guide really.
Lactic acid has been for a long time seen as the enemy. However we now know we were very wrong about it. Lactate just rose in correlation with fatigue, it was not the particular cause, so we misunderstood it.
In “Science of Running” Steve Magness said the following;
“The revelation that lactate is not the enemy doesn’t mean that our training needs to be thrown out or that all of the research based on lactate should be banished. While lactate does not directly cause fatigue, it highly correlates with it, so that as fatigue increases lactate increases. This is partially due to the linear relationship between by-products such as H + increases and lactate increases. One of the keys to running performance is to delay the buildup of these accompanying products. If the rate of accumulation of those products can be decreased, fatigue can be delayed.” “While lactate itself may not cause fatigue, it corresponds with other products in the body that may contribute to fatigue, thus lactate can still be used in studies as a marker of fatigue.” Another way of answering what lactate Threshold is?
“it is the fastest speed (we can maintain) in which lactate production and clearance are in equilibrium.” To be continued....
This is a version of Threshold Training I am playing around with. Physiologically I am not absolutely certain where this sits, but let’s look at what Threshold Training is:
The purpose of this method is to train at or around the anaerobic threshold in order to:
1. Improve the amount of power generated at threshold
2. Increase the ability to maintain good posture, range of motion, and technique under fatigue
During anaerobic metabolism, the body burns stored sugars to supply the additional energy needed, and lactic acid is produced faster than it can be metabolized. Muscle pain, burning and fatigue make anaerobic energy expenditure difficult to sustain for longer than a few minutes. This is what we want to develop some capacity to resist and help with our overall capacity to recover from multiple “Power Plays”. But what’s important to know is that it’s not lactic acid (and we now change to Lactate) that causes the burn or fatigue.
Many people use the term Anaerobic Threshold. Another term we can use, which I prefer, is Lactate Threshold Training.
You will need to find out what your Threshold is. The most common test and safest from a wear and tear POV is probably the 30 minute cycle test. Go as hard as you can for 30 mins and take average HR for last 20 mins. That’s an estimate of your Lactate Threshold. It’s not perfect but really we just need an area. What we are really measuring is blood lactate, and there are more accurate but expensive and time consuming methods of taking that.
This approach is born out of 2 things:
- boredom, most approaches to Threshold Training is about working consistently at 65-85% of your max for 5+ mins on a bike or running. Bike training can be ferociously boring, running for distance is not suited to a lot of field sport athletes and many at low levels may even have to slow down to a trot or walk to maintain the level.
- Trying to include movements that might be a bit more field sport transferable
To be continued......
Personally I use this potentiation method (priming/activating) for coaching. I tend to go with the morning of a game within 4-6 hours. The session will be less than 20 minutes and will involve very simple stability-mobility warm up and maybe 2-3 exercises of 1-3 sets each and is completely done by feel. Any tiredness, loss of technique or bar speed whatsoever and I will stop.
I generally use exercises like Deadlifts, Bench Press, Back Squats or Olympic variations. The point of this is to stimulate my body and mind for watching the game, being ready for players and their readiness and just being really switched on. I have definitely noticed the difference between doing it and not doing it. Is there some form of bias or placebo? Possibly, but the difference is too pronounced in my opinion to not be of significant help. The only trade off is after the game being pretty useless for anything meaningful.
Again these methods will vary for the person who are more parasympathetic or sympathetic dominant. As a more sympathetic person this high CNS System stimulation prepares me well.
However anyone should get some advice on this approach but also realize trial and error is a must and finding what works for you is critical. Maybe nothing at all is best, it really depends on you, your life, facilities and training history.
I also believe these methods could be of great use to people in their professional working lives as well. Preparation for important meetings or bid decisions could be greatly enhanced by a balanced approach like this to training.
That’s the end of this series on Conditioning for Life (and some Sport). We hope you enjoyed it and got some take away.
Stimulation Part 2
The 2nd mode of stimulation is when athletes in particular are in need of bridging from low activity or recovery states to more demanding training or games that will hit the CNS (Central Nervous System) hard. We do not want to go from zero to 100 too fast. And it’s important to know that this is the case with even really fit people or athletes. Even though you may have plenty in the tank and only have played a game 7-10 days previously it is still important to layer up. At higher levels of sport this would be happening on a weekly basis. Using a system similar to Joel Jameison’s Conditioning methods there would be a stimulation-High-low days.
Repeated twice to suit a game being played on a Saturday for instance. This is why I have come over the years to like training the night before Championship games and have a day off 2 days previous. There is many benefits to this. Mentally I think it reduces the length of time available for overthinking or game anxiety which many players silently suffer from. It also means you can do a reasonably intense (but short) session on say a Thursday, recover Friday, stimulate Saturday and play Sunday. A lot of housekeeping can take part on the Saturday and it means players turn up on game day ready and it’s bang-bang-bang. Within the training week stimulation on a Monday ahead of a Tuesday field training session might be a 30-40 minute session of movement prep, basic conditioning like 6-10 tempos and 2-3 lifts for 1-3 sets of Squats, Dead’s, Pulls.
A further extension of this are primer workouts. There is growing evidence for doing some strength and power training within 24 hours of a game. It really depends on the athlete or indeed their confidence in you and most probably their training experience also. I have used it with professional athletes and lowly trained athletes alike, you just have to know the athlete and trial and error and layer up sensibly.
We continue this post in the final post next up.
Stimulation Part 1
There are 2 needs for stimulation. They are close in needs but have variations in methods;
When you have an client or athlete that is chronically parasympathetically dominant (very laid back, slow to warm up, slow to awaken in sessions) and we use a more therapy based approach using different modalities to increase sympathetic (fight or flight) activity.
When you have athletes, teams or clients coming back from time off, injury or a recovery period and you want to prepare them for somewhat heavier loads or intensity. In this case though we are using a training session to bring them closer to readiness. One of the greatest loss of athletes to injury or disinterest in early season is training too hard too early. For most there body will actually go into a mini state of shock and for many they will reject it. Same goes with new clients at a gym. Slowly-Slowly, catchy monkey!
In situations when an athlete is chronically parasympathetically dominant, stimulation methods can be useful for increasing sympathetic activity.
These methods include: ✅Intensive deep tissue therapy—soft tissue therapy with a high level of stimulus
✅Cold water immersion—1-3 minutes cold, 2-5 repeats, stabilize temperature in between
✅Contrast therapy—2-3/1 minute hot/cold ratio, 2-4 repeats, stabilize between
✅Sauna—5-10 minutes, 1-3 repetitions, finish with 2-3 minutes warm water rinse
✅Change of environment—training 2-3 days required, 6-7 days ideal. Going to the sun for serious athletes may be an idea.
✅Regeneration Core training with some very easy short tempo runs, spin Bike cycles or swims
The goal of these methods is to initiate a mild, small sympathetic response to get the sympathetic system working properly again.
These approaches are for when we reach levels of overtraining or over worked states where the sympathetic system may not be activating properly as the body desperately attempts to recover and regenerate through parasympathetic dominance.
In Part 11 we will have a look at the 2nd approach which is more athlete focused.
Regeneration and Recovery cont…
From a regeneration point of view athletes do not change too much from anyone else. All the same approaches are advisable
With Athletes I would also have periodized regeneration blocks in the season. This is usually at end of season for 1-4 weeks.
Not all Regeneration methods are created equally, much like not all humans are. The key is to find the right kind of recovery/regeneration methods that an athlete responds well to. The same method may have a different effect from person-to-person.
The methods covered below target sympathetic dominance, which occurs in the first stages of overreaching and overtraining. These methods decrease the sympathetic response and increase parasympathetic activity.
Our sympathetic response if our flight or flight response system, where our parasympathetic system is our calmer response. For anyone who has read the brilliant “The Chimp Paradox” then really one could interpret our “Chimp”
as the sympathetic little man on the shoulder where as our parasympathetic little man is more our “Human”. We need our chimp, but we need to keep him on a tight reign too. Training ourselves to us our parasympathetic system more will help us recovery a lot more, especially from difficult or stressful days.
Methods for promoting relaxation and decreased sympathetic activity include:
Active recovery—avoid high Heart Rate and high CNS (Central Nervous System) demand;
Soft tissue therapy—low-intensity relaxation techniques
Hot water therapy—full body immersion, at or below 102˚F, 5-25 minutes (hot tubs etc)
Floating/swimming—10 feet deep minimum, 10-20 minutes
Mental relaxation—dark, quiet room, 10-15 minutes
Walking in nature, particularly wooded areas
Getting Sea Air
Easy bike riding (ideally away from busy roads)
Swimming at easy intervals
Some forms of acupuncture also can be very effective, but the dosage is important. Can really help very “tight” athletes
Nothing that drives heart rate above 155-160
In part 10 we are going to have a look at regeneration methods for stimulation to get us back closer to ready train or work hard again.
Regeneration and Recovery cont…
However regeneration and recovery methods do aid us day to day as well to get through busy lives and some form of daily and weekly regeneration is advisable to all. What that is varies and is personal. A weekly massage could be of great benefit. A daily 20 minute walk in nature is one of the healthiest habits anyone could pick up.
I personally have a 10-20 lie down in the gym in the middle of the day blacking out my eyes to chill out. It’s not meditation because I actually do not think at all, made all the easier by the rustle of trees outside. Often I will nod off. And then go for a 10-15 minute walk. Then I will also use a fasted long hilly walk at least once a week. That’s 12-16 hours without food. Pretty easily done including overnight sleep. There are many arguments made for and against fasting, particularly for fat loss. But that’s not what I do it for. The effect it has is pronounced and very noticeable when I do not get a chance to do it. Whatever it is for you, have something daily and have something more significant weekly. Those are just personal examples.
Another important part is within your day you need to eat enough carbs, fats and proteins. Too many diets these days are extreme. Your brain needs about 300 kcals a day per KG to function well. Brain weighs about 1.2 - 1.5 KG so this is quite a bit of our daily intake. If you do not feed your brain, just like resting it, you will suffer and no recovery methods work.
In Part 9 we will look a little a some more athlete specific recovery training.