Feb 09

WHO IS AUSTRALIA’S GREATEST EVER FEMALE ATHLETE?

Is it possible that Australia’s female athletes have performed better than the male athletes?

Arguably yes. As you will see, and we may be able to identify one that stands above the rest.

Women’s sport is not, and might not ever be, equal to men’s sports in terms of popularity and money. It is not however without excellence and slowly it is picking up in terms of representation.

For the first time ever, at the 2012 Sochi Winter Olympics, females made up the majority of the team 52%. In the Summer games, females have made up 45% (Sydney), 43% (Athens), 46% (Beijing), 45% (London). Australian women are qualifying internationally, they are being supported by the AOC and it is providing pathways for the highest levels of sport.

 

Quoting the numbers from the Australian Olympic Committee:

 

  • At the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi two of the three medals were won by women. This represented 67% of Australia’s podium appearances. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London 20 of the 35 medals were won by women. This represented 57% of the podium appearances. This was similar to 2008 in Beijing where Australian women won 58% of the Australian medal haul, leaving men with 42%.
  • On an athlete-per-team-member basis, female Australian Team members have a 36% chance of winning a medal and men have a 22% chance (based on Beijing 2008 results).

 

To an increasingly larger extent, elite women’s sport is growing as a leading force at least for the appearance of gender equality. Whilst a liberal and progressive country like Australia has close to a total parity in representation, its actually only slightly higher than the average.

Again using the Olympic games as a reference and example, women made up 44.2% of all athletes in London and 42.4% in Beijing. Australia is only equal among its peers in terms of representation.

Interestingly, the socio-political war waged post World War 2 can partly be seen as responsible for some of the ground work for serious involvement of women in sport. When East met West during the Cold War it especially met on the sporting field.

 

 

We are forced to consider what benefit there was to women’s equality in their use as athletes to wage socio-political war. The recruitment, development and exploitation of women in sport during the Cold War is well documented. Not all of those athletes have judged their sporting careers to be invalidated or devalued as being part of some sort of sporting machine. One wonders however if we would be where we are now without the Cold War as a catalyst for looking around for what else we could use as weaponry. Female Athletes.

The West won the Cold War; there is no doubt. On the sporting scoreboard though, Communist countries certainly went down swinging and won most of the battles. Females were on the coalface of those battles, sometimes even more so than men. The doping regime of East Germany in particular heavily impacted and in many ways defined the careers of some of our greatest female athletes as you will see.

 

 

We are somewhat more so restricted to amateur sport for women than we are men. Netball and Basketball ARE viable options for professional women athletes but they are clearly not on par with men’s AFL and Rugby League. The ANZ Netball Championship is arguably one of the best sporting competitions in Australia. Its popularity supports 10 teams in Australia and New Zealand. Less so, the WNBL has eeked out an existence as a national brand. We now have Women’s Big Bash Cricket and a W-League in Soccer.

 

The point being, the men’s sports attract the greater amount of sponsors and media coverage and that will likely continue for a while. We don’t know exactly what would happen if there were exactly the same number of professional sporting jobs and money available for women as men in terms of driving more youth opportunities, incentives and pathways for Australian women. Whether the public would support it in the same way we would have to guess at; the AOC though has made headway into this experiment. As it stands, we have what we have.

 

THE CONTENDERS.

Let’s start with Swimming.

We have been blessed with both a long and very strong history of female swimmers. Fearfully, we may have seen the end of an era of amazing female swimming achievement where a continuous roll on of athletes have brought home numerous medal hauls from both World Championships and Olympic games.

Susie O’Neill, Sam Riley, Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones, Jessicah Schipper, Stephanie Rice and Emily Seebohm are just a few of the outstanding contributors to our national swimming exploits. Keep your eyes peeled for Bronte Campbell to be the next.

There are 2 however that stand above and for slightly different reasons.

Dawn Fraser won 3 Olympic Golds in 3 consecutive Olympics at the same event. Only 41 athletes have done that in history, only 10 of those are women. She was the first woman to break 60 sec for 100m freestyle. She held the World Record for 15 years in that event, and it took 8 years after she was retired until her record was bettered.

Dawn Fraser set standards for female swimming that were ahead of her time. her dominance was massive and its a shame that her outstanding athletic career always gets boiled down to conduct issues that appear to be trumped up regarding the 64′ Tokyo Games and her attempts at a political career and media comments later in life. Dawn pays a price like few other female athletes in Australia ever have. Concentrate on the sporting achievements though and she has few peers.

 

Shane Gould hit Australia and the world swimming like a lightning strike: and then she was gone.

 

Shane Gould was a bolt of lightning in Australian sport. In 1972 she won 3 individual Gold medals as well as a Silver and a Bronze. Impressively, whilst Gould was a freestyle specialist like Fraser, included in her medal haul was Gold in the 200m Individual Medley, setting a new World Record in the process.

And then she retired at 17.

Leaving the pressure of instant fame, Gould married and settled in rural West Australia. 20 years later she would return to the pool as a Masters athlete, setting masters records in the 40-45 and 46-50 age groups in freestyle and the medley.

 

Margaret Court still holds the record for the most number of Women’s Singles Grand Slam titles with 24. She won 90% of her matches in Grand Slams and 91% of games in her career. Astonishing numbers. Amazingly, she had 3 of her 4 children during her competitive career including competing at Wimbledon whilst pregnant.

She is credited with being one of the first female athletes to devote significant time to general training. She barbell lifted, did circuit training and performed hill sprints.

 

Do you even know how prolific Heather McKay was?

 

Heather McKay is without peer as the greatest female squash player in history. Her 16 British Open titles, the premier Squash tournament before the inaugural World open, which she won too, included a streak of 20 years where she was undefeated, her only 2 competitive losses occurring at the beginning of her career.

McKay was also a USA and Canadian Racquetball champion. She won 3 US and 5 Canadian Racquetball Championships and was elected to the USA Racquetball Hall of Fame. Another sporting diversification included the Australian Women’s Field Hockey team in 1967 and 1971.

 

Lauren Mitchell is Australia’s greatest ever gymnast. She is the only female to win a World Championship, winning on Floor at the 2010 World Championships. She also followed that victory at a World Cup event in Germany delighting Australian women’s head coach, Peggy Lidick, “When she won floor tonight, I thought that’s fantastic she’s backed up her world championships performance. That almost means as much as the world championships because it just proves that she’s not a one hit wonder, that she’s a consistent performer and she can go in three weeks later and back herself up. Her beam score of 15.375, which is a normal beam routine for her, would have been enough for a gold medal at the world championships.”

 

 

Bev Francis blazed a trail like few others. A 6 time IPF World Powerlifting champion she was Australia’s strongest woman, with career best lifts in competition of 230kg in the Backsquat, 152kg in the bench and 227.5kg in the Deadlift at 82.5kg bodyweight. She broke 40 records and was the first woman to bench 140kg.

Francis started as a Shot Putter. She broke the national record in 1977 and was an Australian Track and field team member for 2 separate periods. Francis then transitioned to bodybuilding. She had 5 consecutive top 3 finishes at the IFBB Ms Olympia.

 

Australia’s Bev Francis was the ground breaker for women’s bodybuilding.

 

 

Louise Sauvage is Australia’s most successful Paralympian. Born with a congenital spinal condition, Sauvage won 9 Paralympic Golds as well as 2 Olympic Golds when the 800m wheelchair race was included in the Atlanta and Sydney Games as demonstration sports.

From 100m to 5000m Sauvage set records and was undefeated from 1993 to 2000 in IAAF events. See won the Boston Marathon 3 times, showing that both her sprint and long distance capabilities were sound.

 

 

 

When the world started to embrace the sport of triathlon, Australia was one of the countries leading the way, and Michellie Jones the premier Australian female to succeed across its multiple disciplines.

A back to back winner of World ITU Championshipsin 92′ and 93′ she went on to win ITU World Cups in 98′ and 99′ before losing in a sprint to the finish in the Olympic Games inaugural contest of triathlon in Sydney in 2000, that athlete, Brigitte McMahon would later test positive to a PED in 2005 and be banned. Transitioning into the long course Ironman distance, Jones claimed second in the 2005 championships as well as winning the 2005 ironman event in Kona, the first female and only second Australian to do so after Greg Welch.

Jones ability to transition from the short to long course triathlon gives her the nod ahead of athletes like Jackie Fairweather. Jones will contest the 2016 paralympics with Katie Kelly a deaf and blind competitor as a guide. A remarkable extension to her career.

 

Picking a candidate from Australia’s Female Surf Lifesaving competition history is difficult. Reen Corbett, Candice Falzon, Linda Halfweeg, Karla Gilbert, Courtney Hancock, Liz Pluimers, Kristyl Smith and Jordan Mercer all present cases that are well established or on the way to being so.

Due to split competitions, it is difficult to compare peers. Karla Gilbert may have the best credentials once we negotiate the terrain. 3 Surf Lifesaving Championship wins, including a 9 year break between the 2nd and 3rd wins, 4 total Nutri-Grain Series wins including a three-peat in 2000/01-2002/03 plus 5 total Uncle Toby’s series wins including 4 in a row. Gilbert shines amongst a select group who experienced a period of fame and success in the 90′s and into the turn of the millennium which has not continued. The limited and waning popularity of the sport have meant that the days of multiple well paid professional athletes competing has now gone; for both men and women.

Gilbert benefited enormously for having a career at a time that precisely coincided with the apex of the sport’s success.

 

10 years earlier or later and Karla Gilbert would not have had nearly the professional success that she did.

 

Alisa Camplin, Jacqui Cooper, Lydia Lassila and Torah Bright have been the success stories in Winter disciplines that have led to the female make up of the AOC team being majority female.

Camplin, Bright and Lassila’s dual medals across several campaigns as well as Cooper’s heartbreaking injury story drew public attention to sports that have few competitors and little history of success.

 

 

Liz Ellis is Australia’s most capped netball player. Her record looms over a sport that established a professional local pathway for female athletes and doubled down on its opportunities despite a limited international presence.

Elli’s 14 year career included the team captaincy for 4 years and Most Valuable Player 4 times. Her Sydney Swifts career also set records for longevity in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, the Swifts winning 4 times during her career.

Netball bloomed during her career into a vehicle for modern Australian female professionalism in sport and Ellis was the face of it. Internationally, the Australian Diamonds have ascended to dominance during her time, winning World Championships and Commonwealth Games titles.

 

The worthy candidates from Track and Field are numerous. If you can watch this clip of the lighting of the Olympic Flame in Sydney in 2000 and avoid shedding a tear then you have no emotion. It is a scene that perfectly demonstrates my assertion that there is a heck of a lot of excellence in female sport that we should stop and re-consider its place in Australian history. The girls have done fabulously, and for that reason, we have had to include so many.

 

Shirley Strickland (de-la-Hunty) won 7 track medals over 3 Olympics 1948 to 1956. A specialist for the 80m hurdles in which she won Bronze in London 1948 then back to back Gold 1952 and 1956. Strickland laid the foundation for a period where Australia’s Golden Girls would dominate sprint events for a decade.

 

Marjorie Jackson (Nelson) the ‘Lithgow Flash’ won the 100/200m double in Helsinki and was undefeated for 5 years in state and national championships. Her 6 World Records over that time show how completely and utterly she was ahead of the field for the time that she competed.

She defeated Fanny Blankers-Koen in 1949 who was the reigning 100/200m champion from the 1948 London Games then launched a 5 year dominance before getting married in 1953 and retiring after the 1954 Empire Games.

 

Cuthbert’s re-invention of herself as a 400m runner for the Tokyo Games sets her apart as Queen of the track.

 

 

Betty Cuthbert famously won the 100m/200m double in Sydney, adding the 4x100m relay. Injured in Rome she converted to the 400m and won 8 years after her Melbourne glory; a feat that may never be equaled. She stands as the only athlete in the world to win Olympic gold at 100, 200 and 400m.

That such a natural athlete could be blessed to born with such excellent fast twitch fibers and also the genes for multiple sclerosis is such a sweet and sour life to lead. The 400m win really positions her above the rest as the premier Australian track and field athlete of all time.

 

 

Glynis Nunn-Cearns defeated the legendary American Jackie Joyner in the Heptathlon in Los Angles in 1984, winning the award for Australian Athlete of the Year in 1984.

The Heptathlon was the female alternate to the Men’s Decathlon at the time. 100m Hurdles, high jump, Shot put. 200m, Long Jump, Javelin, 800m.

 

Debbie Flintoff-King won arguably the greatest single effort performance to win the 400m Hurdles at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Her come from behind win is my personal favourite Australian performance in sport. Shot out of a cannon landing from the final hurdle King made up four metres to break the line by 1 one hundreth of a second over Soviet Tatyana Ledvoskaya. Her time for the event still stands as the Australian record. The victory was just 0.23 seconds off the world record at the time and she defeated 2 East German girls in the process.

The win came after a Silver in the 1987 World Championships, a defeat to East German Sabine Busch who took 4th in Seoul.

 

 

Raelene Boyle is an athlete who can claim to be wholly robbed of an Olympic Gold due to PED’s. Her 3 silver medals in 1968 (200m) and 1972 (100/200m) were to East German athletes who we have since learned were part of a PED doping regime.

The 200m in particular, Boyle feels that Renate Stecher could have been beaten…..

In the 100 metres she convincingly beat me. I dare say that even without drugs maybe she would’ve won anyway. In the 200 metres she beat me by four-hundredths of a second, which is nothing, and at the end of the race I was running her down, because that bulk that she was carrying was sapping her energy, and her stride had reduced almost to nothing.‘ ABC Radio interview 2004.

Boyle was just 17 years old in 1968 and set Junior World times for the 200m that stood for 12 years and a 100m time that stood for 8.

 

Cathy Freeman requires no introduction.

The person who lit the 2000 Olympic Games torch, won the 400m Gold to add to her 1996 Silver and rode the hopes, dreams and pressure of an entire nation was probably the most famous Australian of the year 2000.

A two time World Champion, her fastest time in the 400m still stands as 6th fastest all time. Main rival Marie Jose-Perec, the winner of the 200m/400m double in Atlanta, never contested the Sydney 400m final, so Freeman never gained direct revenge from the 1996 Atlanta loss. It could be said that Freeman underwent more pressure than any other Australian athlete in history.

 

Nova Peris-Kneebone a contemporary of Freeman draws consideration for several reasons. The first Australian Aboriginal to win a gold medal, Peris switched sports from Hockey to Track and Field.

A key member of the Australian Women’s hockey team that won Gold in Atlanta, Peris made the change to track and field and won the 200m Gold at the 1998 Commonweath Games as well as the 4x100m relay. Any serious discussion of female Australian athletes MUST include Peris on the basis of her sporting shift and determined follow through with this pursuit.

 

Layne Beachley has established herself as the most prolific winner in Women’s surfing. Her 7 World Championships and 6 consecutive place her above the pack and set the table for the likes of Sally Fitzgibbons to take up the mantle of Australia’s dominance of the modern professional sport.

 

Lauren Jackson may have earned more money as a female professional athlete than several others combined. 3 Olympic silver medals and 1 Bronze over 4 Olympics. A captain of the Australian women’s basketball team. A Number #1 pick in the WNBA draft; Jackson has no peer in success and dominance of women’s basketball in Australia, and few in the world. Just at the moment when the woman’s game really started to take off and become popular, Jackson was on another level to everyone else here in Australia and took on and beat many of the world’s best.

Her athleticism, combined with her height made her the ideal basketball player. A 3 time WNBA MVP, Jackson led Seattle to 2 championships whilst also regularly returning home to appear in the WNBL competition in the off season. Jackson carried the flag at the 2012 Olympics she has been consistently relevant in a popular sport for more than a decade. She will make herself available for a 5th Olympics in an attempt to finally win the elusive Gold and cap off a mighty career.

 

 

Karrie Webb has won 57 professional tournaments and 41 on the LPGA tour, more than any other active player.

She has won 7 majors and been ranked #1 in the money list and scoring ranks 3 times each. She is Australia’s greatest ever female golfer. At the turn of the millennium Webb was one of the nation’s premier women professional athletes and along with Lauren Jackson, can claim of making more money as a sportsperson than any other female Australian.

 

Ellyse Perry I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about before starting this article.The Australian Women’s cricketer of the year has the distinction of also being a prominent player in Australian W-League soccer.

Perry has been determined to continue seasonal changes of sport throughout her senior career, a near impossible task and it is difficult to say which she is better at.

Playing for New South Wales in the domestic cricket competition, Perry was selected for Australia in the One Day team 2007 and the test team in 2008. An all rounder, she was still in high school when being elevated to national team duties and playing in the ODI World Cup and then the World 20Twenty tournament.

Perry was the first signing for the Sydney Sixers in the Women’s Cricket Big Bash League.

In soccer, Perry played for Central Coast Mariners before transferring to Canberra. She has continued through from being in the Young Matildas to the senior national team Matildas. In the 2011 World Cup Perry became the first female to represent Australia in Senior Cricket and Senior Soccer teams internationally.

The difficult balancing act has led to difficult management decisions and Perry transferred to Sydney FC. Conflicts have arisen. In alternate weekends in 2013 she had to decide between a Sydney FC semi-final and NSW Breakers 20/20 final. This was followed by a Cricket World Cup warm up game vs India and Soccer Grand Final.  Perry chose soccer in week 1 and cricket in week 2. Fortunately, her teams won each of the games when she was both there and absent. It has been a tricky juggling act.

Matildas coach Hesterine de Reus has indicated that future selection in the Matildas will be difficult considering the few games Perry is playing per year at the moment. Still just 25, Perry still has a long future of professional sport ahead of her.

 

 

In the case of Softball, Rowing, Target Sports and Motor Racing there hasn’t been an internationally dominant representative who could make a place for themselves in this bracket of the cream of the crop. To be omitted is no shame, there are numerous who have been, but so many here who make incredibly strong arguments for consideration. What we have here are worthy candidates and there appears to be no other obvious choices.

 

TWO MORE IN THE MIDST OF GREATNESS.

 

We reach a point where some resolution of my subjective judgements is required. We also must consider whether there are any athletes whom still have part of their career ahead of them and consider if they may feature at the top of any list….. there are two of them……

Later this year Sally Pearson will contest her 3rd Olympic games and will attempt to defend her title. So far she has a Silver from Beijing and a Gold in London. She was 2011 World Champion and her career best time is 4th all-time in history. Last year at the World Championships she fell midway through the race and fractured her arm. Now several months into her comeback she is on course to be in Rio and compete again at a high level.

Pearson was 2011 IAAF Female Athletics Athlete of the Year, she is competing at a time where the select few female professionals at the very top of track and field can make a good lifestyle for themselves. She stands on the shoulders of giants. Pearson is up against competition of excellent standard, the opportunity for women around the world to have access to facilities and opportunity have never been better. main rivals Brianna Rollins, Jasmin Stowers and Dawn Nelson have all joined her in pressuring the all time World Record standards of 1980′s athlete Bulgarian Yordanka Kordova.

At a time when PED testing has never been more strict, Pearson has trained whilst ASADA and WADA have ensured as strict a compliance as can be imagined in out of competition testing. She has had her fair share of hardship and adversity. Her 100m Commonwealth Games victory in Delhi was revoked on appeal due to a false start. Her broken arm at World’s set back her training for Rio 2016, and my claim is that if Pearson is able to claim a Gold there, that she should be considered the most complete ‘athlete’ in Australian history.

 

If Sally Pearson wins a 2nd straight Gold and breaks the world record in Rio she needs serious consideration as Australia’s Greatest Female Athlete.

 

2 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze over 3 Olympics positions Anna Meares as Australia’s greatest female Track cyclist. In the Sprint event, Meares improved her placing in each games. A Bronze in Athens was followed by a Silver in Beijing before she broke through with the Gold in London. Meares emerged at a time when the nation had been awoken to women’s track cycling by Kathy Watt’s Gold and Silver in Barcelona

If that were merely her achievements it would be remarkable. That she just totally dominated the Australian Nationals last weekend with victory in the Keiran, the Sprint and the Team Sprint forces us to stop and take notice. She now has 36 national championship titles. At age 32 she is still in her prime as a track cyclist and Rio looms as does the World Championships.

 

If we are not careful, Anna Meares will have completed her career and the majority of the Australian public will have given her barely more than a second glimpse every 4 years as an Olympian. Shame on us.

 

If Anna Meares adds to her Olympic haul of 5 medals at 3 Olympics where does she stand with Australia’s best female athletes of all time?

 

I feel like the list gives credit to the best female athletes that we have ever seen.

My subjective view is that Margaret Court and Heather McKay have the best records of any Australian female athlete in a commonly contested sport. Court’s introduction and use of general training concepts combined with her career interruptions of pregnancy place her at the apex. It is key that she was not just a very good tennis player. It is that she trained for her sport and was at the frontier of doing so, especially for females. That she has gone on to be a bat-shit crazy evangelist with bigoted views on the LGBTQI community is beside the point in the judgement of her as an athlete.

Albeit that the competition was of a much lower standard than it is today is not the fault of Court and McKay, McKay’s achievements in Racqueball must also be weighed. Her undefeated streak reportedly includes many top male squash players and her undefeated streak might be the most impressive achievement along side Bradman’s test battling average.

 

Shane Gould is the most naturally gifted female the country has ever had. That she emerged so young, defeated athletes from countries with known active doping regimes and won regardless demonstrates a natural talent that then goes on to show up in her masters record. That her career is so short and that we may not have a full picture of her general training preparation leaves her off the top rung of this list however it should be noted that her Gold in the medley should add considerable weight to her ability to perform and win with all strokes.

 

Dawn Fraser was a physical prodigy as well. She set standards that lasted and played the card of dominance in the freestyle for a significant period. You must weigh though her dominance of one event and consider what that means vs the consistency in setting the standard.

 

Lauren Jackson took on the world in a sport we have not traditionally been established in and has always had competition from the more popular netball in the contest for athletes.

 

Bev Francis is a true pioneer. Say what you like about women in strength sports and the use of PED’s but Francis went to very high standards in 3 different sports and in the case of Powerlifting and Bodybuilding can be said to have trail-blazed in unique ways.

 

Sally Pearson and Anna Meares are doing amazing things right NOW. Gold in Rio and they need serious consideration and are truly athletes in that they blend general level preparation, quality world level performance and consistency over a long period.

 

So, we shall put it to a vote through to the end of the month, starting with a 32 person bracket that will pit athletes by popular vote until we have a winner. If you wish to vote please email me at coachupham@shirespeedandstrength.com.au and in a week we shall reveal who took the most votes at SSS and by email for the first round.

 

 

 

 

Dec 09

Speed Mechanics and Movement Efficiency Clinic with Dan Pfaff: A Review

SSS member Emily Medina guest reviews Dan Pfaff’s recent seminar tour of Australia.

 

An unexpected benefit of lifting has been my newfound appreciation of physics. When we learn to squat, press and deadlift, we seek movement technique that allows the greatest amount of output from the full exertion we can give. This realization of efficiency, gives us the full bloom and benefit from our pursuit of strength and its derivative; power.

 

Similarly, we must also seek techniques of running that fully realize the contractile potential that we were born with and have developed through training. Hauling ourselves down the track, towards the try line or away from a defender in the least amount of time is known as the physical attribute of speed, and it is one of the most coveted attributes of athleticism.

 

 

I have observed some differences between the approaches to acquiring these skills. No reasonable person walks into a weight room and expects to be a, “natural squatter.” Much time is invested in learning what positions are needed; ample yelling from the coach cements these skills. The same process must occur when learning to run efficiently. Coaching facilitates skill development and reduces the likelihood of injury; this is true of both lifting and running.

 

The Four ‘R’s’: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Running

It has been my observation that coaching the execution of biomechanically sound technique is glossed over in favour of a dominant focus on energy systems conditioning- particularly the aerobic glycolytic system. While I acknowledge the contribution of task-appropriate conditioning, there are major improvements in speed to be made from acquiring fundamental biomechanical skills in running.

 

Running is a component of many of our lives. Perhaps you are a competitive athlete- you are a sprinter, or you play field, sand or court sports. Perhaps you run recreationally, or you’ve taken it upon yourself to complete a charity run. Perhaps your occupational requirements demand you meet certain testing standards. As a graduating physiotherapist, it has been my experience that a large proportion of patients seek treatment regarding an injury that is directly related to their running activity. The list of diagnoses is long, particularly in injuries featuring an aspect of chronicity- plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathies, ‘shin splints’, sports hernias, pubitis, adductor and hamstring complaints.

 

These are two culminations of the same issue: a lack of attention to efficient biomechanics. If efficient biomechanics are not coached, performance is handicapped, and injury more likely.

 

‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’ I am sure that this sentence takes you back to primary school handwriting lessons. This phrase has the special distinction of containing every letter within the English alphabet, and gives us an insight into the ultimate purpose behind these lessons.

 

It was never about the fox. It never mattered that, ‘The fat cat sat on the mat.’ Nobody cares about the cat, or how fat he was. The point of these nonsensical sentences was to get a whole lot of practice at letter formation- your shapes. You traced out letters with extra care; the prestigious pen license a grand incentive to try your hardest.  The development of quality handwriting is analogous to the development of quality running mechanics. We must spend time practicing shapes at stationary and slow speeds.

 

With learning, we spend less time on shapes, and more constructing sentences and stories. Similarly, as we learn to run efficiently, we spend less time practising drills, and more time on the whole skill, speed and energy systems conditioning.

 

The periodical refinement of both running and writing skills are ongoing processes. Over time, both may become sloppy with fatigue or volume. However, we always have the ability to return to good quality technique, because of the initial time we spent carefully developing efficient shapes. When scribing a birthday card to Grandma, we don’t just scrawl out the message in illegible scribble. The purpose of the birthday card is not only to get words on paper. The purpose is for Grandma to feel cherished, and precise shapes help achieve this end. The purpose of running is to cover the distance as fast as possible; precise biomechanical shapes assist us in this endeavour.

 

Are your memories of school PE and extra-curricular sports filled with learning your shapes? Do you have fond memories of learning to march in ‘figure 4-shapes?’

 


Or, is it more likely that the taunting sounds of the masochistic ritual known as, “The Beep Test,” haunt your darkest dreams and send shivers down your spine?

When we sit our final Year 12 exams, we are no longer rewarded for just an attempted effort at an S. The same is true of running: we must emphasise quality before adding quantity.

 

Speed Mechanics and Movement Efficiency Clinic

On the 27th of September, I had the delight of attending a clinic with Coach Dan Pfaff, who was visiting from his position as Head Coach at the World Athletics Centre in Phoenix, Arizona. Pfaff’s experience, achievements and credentials are extensive, and include tutoring 49 Olympic athletes, 51 World Championship competitors and 5 world record holders. A full biography, and consistently excellent content, can be found at the Altis website www.worldathleticscenter.com. The event was hosted by LIFE (http://www.lifeforexcellence.com), at Sydney Olympic Park. The day began with a lecture, where Coach Pfaff explained his coaching philosophy.

 

Sprinting is a skill.

Pfaff began by outlining three disciplines that must each be given due consideration to comprehensively understand the skill of sprinting. These are:

-       Biomechanics: The laws of physics as they apply to movement.

-       Motor Learning: The act of changing or reinforcing the performance of a skill, in accordance with a predetermined model.

-       Kinesiology: The study of the human body in movement.

 

The interface between these disciplines is coaching: the application of science to the athlete in front of you. You need to make them more skillful. The process of coaching was likened to conducting an orchestra. Sprinting is a skill, and you have a lot of variables you need to direct and control. Your ability as a conductor, as a coach, is paramount to whether people get faster and stay healthy during their athletic career.

 

The development of a model

Biomechanics primarily determines the most efficient model we teach. However, we must also consider motor learning and kinesiology. Is our model achievable and replicable? Is it not only biomechanically efficient, but does it reduce risk and complaints of injury? These questions are the litmus tests to ensure soundness.

 

Coaching to improving speed.

“ We are trying to leverage variables to gain speed. We look at all variables on the table- what can we adjust, correct or smooth out?”

These variables included body type, health, kinetics and kinematics. We look at what we can play with, but we must also remain aware that the minute we change a variable, the whole system changes.

Primarily, the following variables are considered.

-      Levers and Axis-We look at the position and timing of the levers (limbs) and axis (joints). We analyse the angles and projections of force.

-       Momentum. Momentum builds through the run if the appropriate forces are applied. If certain physical laws are violated, then momentum will be diminished. The runner must therefore use compromised positions and sub-optimal strategies to continue. For example, take the sprinter inexperienced in competition. Under pressure of adrenaline and nerves, carefully drilled mechanics fly out the window. They are all stride frequency, and lack stride length. As momentum is not being optimised, the runner fatigues earlier. They get to mid-race and they feel momentum dropping. So, they start re-pushing and elongating, which cuts their flight phase and slows the runner.

-       Support and Flight phases- What does each phase look like? How long is each phase? What is the ratio between time in support and time in flight?

 

-       Pathways of the limbs and COM. There are certain angulations and undulations that are more efficient.

 

It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a full explanation of the particular start, acceleration and top speed mechanics discussed. However, it became apparent that while consideration is taken for the idiosyncrasies of the runner, some recurring features consistently emerge.

 

For example, in acceleration four consistent denominators emerge from inter-athlete motion analysis comparison:

 

1)    Is the foot dorsiflexed?

2)    Are the toes dorsiflexed?

3)    Does the body form a single line of force application?

4)    Are the arms split at appropriate angles?

 

In other aspects, such as block starts, variations may be required that are dependent on the physical capabilities of the athlete. The younger athlete lacking strength may require more open angles than the typical guidelines of: front knee at 90°, and back knee at 130°. A strong, powerful athlete may start with a front knee angle of 88°. Even in these cases, anarchy does not truly reign. Adjustments are rational, and the attempt is made to minimize violations of the laws of physics.

 

Injury Prevention

 

Building movement context and awareness is critical in preventing injuries. Strength and conditioning programs must provide exposure to both concentric and eccentric forces, as well as movement within all three planes. This is the benefit of performing a full clean from the floor, in comparison to a power clean from the hang position. A full clean builds context and awareness for on-field deceleration by introducing change of direction, amortization and deceleration factors.

 

Unique movement signatures are often common. Compensations may occur due to asymmetries, previous injury, or incorrect previous instructions.

 

It is important to identify and address the primary driver of an injury. Restrictions in one area of the body may set up technical flaws when running. The injury may occur at the site of technical breakdown, or it may cause collateral problems at other areas. We looked at film of an athlete who had been experiencing ongoing bilateral achilies tendonitis. In this athlete, a thoracic spine rotation restriction set up the achilles phenomena. The restriction changed the timing and mechanics between his spine, hips and left knee, which caused the athlete to ‘drop’ his left knee. In turn, this manifested in external rotation at the foot, setting up the ongoing achilles issues.

 

The athlete was able to run a 20.12 200m- but a price. That price was the down time required to recover after a race. Ultimately, it was a combination of manual therapy to the thoracic spine, shoulder and hips that improved his achilles; the pathology was upper body driven, and little treatment to the Achilles and lower leg was neither given or needed.

 

This level of detective mode is still the same model of investigation used with all runners, but the extent of tracing cause and effect is far greater than that of the low level novice. So, before anyone starts looking for an achilles problem derived from a thoracic spine rotation restriction, consider who you are working with first.

 

Manual therapy has a role in facilitating the correct execution of skillful running. After treatment, the athlete’s tendency to drop his knee disappeared. Pfaff asserted that in his earlier coaching career, he would have cued to keep the knee up, and both himself and the athlete would have been frustrated. You cannot over-cue a major ‘medical’ issue.

 

This Is Not a Drill: The Movement Screen

After lunch, we ventured outside to observe two youth sprinters run through a warm-up and series of drills. This allowed us insight into Pfaff’s coaching style and approach. An important feature was his treatment of each warm up and drill as a movement screen itself. The session included familiar drills, such as marching skips, B-skips, backward skips, side shuffles and crossovers.  As the athlete performed, we looked for shapes, asymmetries and the general readiness of the athlete.

 

Each drill offered focus to certain areas of the body. In marching skips, we observed the line the femur formed when the front knee blocks at the top of the step. The VMO should be in line with the umbilicus, so that it forms a diagonal vector when looking from above. If the deep six external rotators of the hip restrict this, increased force may be placed on the medial structures of the knee. In crossover stepping, we looked at the lateral structures of the thigh. If the athlete is restricted in the ITB and TFL, as they step over the hips tend to flare open. At this point, Coach described an analogy for the performance therapy model. The athlete is an F1 car, so we take it into the pit, figure out what is restricting movement, apply appropriate manual therapy to treat, and get that car back out on the track. In this way, performance therapy is integrated with performance of the skill itself.

 

Fascial Training

Fascia is the connective tissue that holds and packages our muscles, joint capsules, skin and organs within the body. The training of fascia has not been a major focus historically. This may have something to do with the need to remove fascia when preparing cadavers for study. However, an elastic fascial system will improve mobility and speed capacity. Fascial trains extend throughout the body, and Coach led us through a series of fascial stretches. The goal of this adjunct training is to stimulate fascial remodeling so that fibroblasts lay down a more recoil-like structure.

 

Dribbling and bounding

We observed a series of dribbling and bounding drills used for the purposes of motor coordination and development. The athlete was instructed to land on the heel, roll the foot and step to ankle height. The dorsiflexion of the toes and ankle was cued with yells of “We want to see the bottom of your shoe when you land! Land on your heel!” The athletes then progressed to stepping over at calf and knee height, and performing the drills at jogging speed. We finished with some straight and bent-legged bounds, before the fun of sequencing different drills into tricky combinations.

 Lest the heel first cue be misappropriated, it is important to again consider the level of the trainee you are working with. In efficient running, the athlete lands on the midfoot, with the toes and ankle held in dorsiflexion. After the midfoot strikes the ground, the heel contacts the ground. However, many novice runners demonstrate this type of foot contact:

 

 

Running


This athlete has their heel way out in front of the hip, which creates a ‘braking’ force and increases the amount of time that the foot spends on the ground. The appropriate introduction of these drills will come after the fundamentals are well versed.

The dribbling and bounding exercises elucidate the role of motor control in dorsiflexion. While dorsiflexion is ideal for kinematic and hydraulic reasons, many athletes are unable to hold the foot in dorsiflexion. If the athlete can perform an ankle dribble at walking speed, we know that their issue is not structural. If they did not have the mobility or strength to hold dorsiflexion, they would not be able to do that. A lot of the time, athletic skill is about brain operation- coordination. Therefore, we master the slower speeds before adding speed, and certainly before adding volume.

 

Further, these drills teach a spectrum of vertical force production rate and magnitude, and a variety of angles of application. The purpose of them is to develop a contextual background for transition to top speed sprinting. If you cannot do these simple tasks in a controlled environment, the chances are not high that you will in real-time sport.

 

Future Directions

A seminar is only valuable if the new knowledge, skills and ideas catalyze a change in coaching and training methods. Without application, the unfortunate truth is that one has simply been entertained for a day. The following statements comprise the future directions shaped from the day.

 

1. Understand the optimal model

“It’s not about training harder or more, but about cleaning up the errors.”

 

Coaching starts and ends with the model. The model allows us the best possible path to success. It directs what we do in the time we have with athletes. It ensures we do not squander precious time, limited recovery capacity and staffing resources. The model allows for objective evaluation of an athletes performance, as we compare actual performance to the model of optimal efficiency. In this sober fashion, errors may be identified and corrected. The model is our KPI, but it is also our Kryptonite against well intentioned but misappropriated use of methodologies, such as running hills until you vomit, and party tricks on speed ladders.

 

Reading, film analysis and observing other coaches can complement an understanding of an efficient model, but we cannot forget the value of simply learning to run. These skills take on more significant meaning and awareness when time and effort is invested into the mastery process.

 

Coach Peter Upham will be coaching a running skills block, the details of which can be found here. It has been a highly valuable and worthwhile opportunity for myself, and I highly recommend this to athletes and fitness and therapy professionals alike.

 

2. Accelerate on a regular basis.

Acceleration is a complex skill, and as such, it must be practiced on a regular basis. Coach Pfaff described his programming, which includes 11 months of 3-4 firmly coached acceleration runs each session.

 

The regular practise of acceleration is imperative to reducing the incidence of injury. Pfaff explained a situation in consultation with cross-country athletes. These runners spent 4 months of the year ‘developing an aerobic base,’ which did not include any acceleration work. When acceleration was reintroduced, the injury rates went through the roof, and the skill model retention was almost non-existent. Dan pleads, if acceleration is dangerous, where is the data? ‘Show me the bodies!’ Basketball players play a 10.5-month season. What do they do all day? Acceleration, plyometrics and changing direction work. If we look at the injury history of NBA basketball players, there is no higher incidence of hamstring or adductor strains.

 

Rather, a planned, progressive introduction of acceleration, with good mechanics, prevents injuries. Acceleration is a key performance indicator of many sports, and must be regularly practiced.

 

3. The Athlete-Coach-Therapist Triad

This one is more for my fellow physiotherapists. Pfaff shared some poignant remarks regarding the need for an integrated model of therapy, in what he described as the athlete-coach-therapist triad.

 

(Paraphrased) “A good therapist can stand next to a coach or athlete and talk shop. They know the sport, they understand performance. They intimately know the demands upon the athlete. So, you have this combination of the therapist who knows their anatomy, their biomechanics, their motor control, their kinesiology, and, they can coach.”

A therapist must be familiar enough with the demands of the sport to communicate with personnel in other departments within the sporting environment. Performance and injury prevention are inextricably linked. Physiotherapists must understand how to run, turn, cut, and step in order to understand the cumulative stress this places on the athlete’s body. Further, it is imperative to monitor and manage metrics regarding the amount of each component within the sport. Proactive injury prevention requires pattern recognition, and the necessary medical data recording systems to identify, analyse and understand the patterns. Understanding the specific KPI’s of performance better equips us to support the athletes in our care.

 

Thank you Coach Dan Pfaff for the absolute privilege of an insightful and valuable learning experience, Brett Robinson at LIFE for hosting a well organized event, and his kind provision of further resources, and Coach Pete for providing me with the heads up and recommendation to attend the day.

 

Emily Medina holds a degree in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Sydney and will complete a Doctor of Physiotherapy from Macquarie University in 2016. She has competed in Powerlifting, deadlifting 135kg at 65kg bodyweight.

 

Dec 08

COACHING INCLUDED: A TYPICAL DAY.

 

When you start a new sport, the coach is responsible to get you up to speed so that you can compete.

If you are part of a team, you have a responsibility to your team-mates as much as yourself to get good as fast as possible. With individual sports, your continued involvement in it will probably come down to what you get back out of it; either way it makes sense for the coach to assist you. Whether the coach needs you to contribute to the team, or is just diligently providing you with the ability to get something out of your initial involvement, you will get coached. Or not: I’m sure you’d agree that you should be getting coached, least you not bother coming back for the next season.

 

 

 

 

Shire Speed and Strength is a little bit like starting a new sport. You don’t get a key ring and water bottle when you join, there isn’t a resident Personal Trainer to sell you their services. The coach is here so that you can train. The skills and programming are part of being a member, the more frequently a member trains the more value they gain. That value might be something simple like getting an unrack just the way you like it on the bench, to spending a great deal of time installing a completely new skill or assisting you rehab from a sprained ankle from soccer on the weekend; quite valuable compared to going to the GP who will advise, “just rest it and take some NSAIDS“.

 

Only smart people wear glasses, so I borrowed a pair to appear as smart as Scott is.

 

I wrote down a single day diary of what a typical day at the gym in November looks like.

 

* An ex-crossfitter who is returning to lifting after a long layoff is into his 3rd week and needs 15-20min of attention each training day at the moment to really tidy up their warm ups. The initial programming is relatively simple in structure but mobility is a daily issue in order to hit key static positions. This will go on for a while.

* Worked with 1 Exercise Physiologist and 2 Physiotherapists quite closely on their lifting skills as they are in the first 3-4 weeks of a new training block. They are also installing some new skills as well. Health care professionals who have decided to add skills are pleasing to work with because they can often be engaged on levels of understanding greater than the general population. It also gives us hope in recruiting more allies in the fight against low skill/high expense exercise zeitgeist.

* Provided new programs for 4 members, spent 20-30min on each person finalizing their next blocks of training. 1 of them is employed as a Personal Trainer. Already knew what they needed and where each of them was with their lifting over the last few months so it was relatively easy. 1 had made some significant changes with lifestyle recently so they needed quite a bit more help.

 

 

* Spent 50min with a member on the second day of learning to snatch. This goes with the hour spent the previous day. They have been a member for several months, and now adding this new skill.

* Taught a new lifter who called only 90min prior how to Squat, and then started installing the Snatch skill as a part of a taxiway program. It looks like they will be our newest member of the gym. Spent just over an hour with them. The first day was free. I think they were surprised when informed that they will continue to get coached and that the programming is part of being a member. We both agreed that it was silly to just roam around the gym without having the skills to be efficient and that it wasn’t very difficult for either of us to change that.

* A few lifters are drawing towards the heavier end of their training block and needed some attention to detail with some PR attempts, assistance with unracking the bar and spotting them. We filmed a few reps on their phone so they could review it later, and let’s face it, people are proud of their achievements and want to show others.

* A lifter was instructed on how to wear a belt for the first time.

* 2 members asked advice on soreness in their back from things that happened to them at work and in training for their sport outside the gym. A 3rd member who had a similar issue last week was fortunately in the gym at the same time and was able to explain the benefits of some of the mobility work they did last week and also how they didn’t go to the physiotherapist about it like they otherwise would. They feel fine a few days later and ready to train hard again and have learned a valueable way to take care of themselves.

* 2 other members asked for advice on some mobility problems and soreness they were having. Spent about 20 minutes with each of them in the lead up to their training that day, making sure they got through the exercises that they thought were going to give them trouble. Now, here are 2 more members who have strategies on how to take care of themselves in repeat circumstances.

 

Not everyone will proceed this far in their athletic career, but if you don’t, it won’t be because SSS is unable to help or too expensive. (pic courtesy of Jim Black) *My attempt at the rare ‘quadruple negative’

 

 

* A young member is in the first few days of installing the C&J skill. They learned how to Behind the Neck jerk for the first time and also found a good starting weight for a linear progression on front squatting. Previously they were only backsquatting. Another young member needed to be filmed on the deadlift as it was starting to break down.

* Cooked some food for 2 members. They have trained consistently for a very long time so it makes a lot of sense to provide this to them when needed to make sure they’re getting enough and they’re maximizing their training time and recovery around their laborious day jobs.

All of these things happen daily and are part of being a member of the gym. Doing some rough math, and calculating the costs of what most Personal Trainers charge $60 for 45minutes, as well as charging people for programming, a minimum of $15 per week, I’d say members at Shire Speed and Strength got just under $500 worth of service as a part of being members of the gym on this single day.

The other important detail for them was that they got this help in real time. Whether they were at the gym at 6am, or at 8pm a problem that arose was treated, helped with and fixed straight away without any extra cost. With the exception of the day one new lifter, nobody had to book in a time or worry about what class they were showing up to.

Clearly, this is a much better model for the members than needing to hire a trainer, coach or therapist, or trawl through the internet for an answer when needing help.

Think about it.

Nov 23

FREE HUGS!!!!!

We dip our toe into the water of understanding the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

 

There is a rabbit we could chase down a very deep hole when talking about the Autonomic Nervous System. But the purpose of this post is just to say that the ANS is a real thing, it’s already operating despite our ignorance of how it works, but its well worth grasping a few concepts regardless. So, the quick, quick quick version…..

 

 

In terms of its effects upon your training as a regulatory system, because that is the context we are concerned about here, your ANS can tilt to either a Sympathetic or Parasympathetic dominant state.

When we are training, and about to train, we want to be Sympathetic dominant; alert and excitable. When we are trying to recover from training we want to be Parasympathetic dominant, we want to be calm and restful.

Being the opposite at the wrong time obviously is deleterious to overall improvement.

 

Overtraining that leads to Parasympathetic dominance will result in apathy, sleepiness, low resting heart rate, suppressed neuro-muscular excitability. In those cases the prescription should be to conduct variable intensity activity, encourage environment temperature changes, hot/cold showers and immersion, if at high altitude move to a lower altitude,

 

Overtraining that leads to Sympathetic dominance will result in restlessness, irritability, weight loss, increased blood pressure. In those cases the prescription should be for rythmic activity, cold morning showers, ultraviolet light exposure, swimming and cold water immersion, move to high altittudes.

 

 

So anecdotally, you know and are familiar with days when you have felt one or the other quite overwhelmingly, and training is difficult. You should also realize and acknowledge that these states are very trainable.

Without me telling you, you may already be aware that some people put a lot of value in the recording and control of biological markers in order to monitor the state of the ANS and then accordingly manipulate training loads, intensity and recovery selection.

When I say ‘very trainable’, also realize that the ANS can be altered very quickly. Note anecdotal experiences like what happens when all of a sudden you realize someone has stolen your wallet or when you start listening to relaxing music and sit down.

Also notice your frustrated combat with these phenomena, trying to awaken yourself after work by gulping down some pre-workout or do SOMETHING to try to relax after a tough training session and just fail.

This is where the free hugs come in, who doesn’t feel better immediately after a free hug? Or perhaps kittens! Watch people immediately change their disposition when encountering kittens.

 

Choose your free hug wisely.

It is at this time of year, that football codes start to get back into their off-season training. For those who are involved, the best help that SSS can be now is one of continued assistance in technical efficiency as well as now the new role as assisting to monitor recovery.

No doubt they will do better with free hugs, but we’ll also take a look a few markers like their heart rate variability over this period leading into the xmas break as well as their bodyweight changes. Most of all though, just how they generally feel and their perceived rate of exertion will be key to determining where extra work can be added, or workload reduced, and what sorts of recovery protocols can be pursued.

If this free hug doesn’t help your training recovery then nothing will.

Nov 17

ACCELERATING MEANS PUSHING.

I see a lot of emphasis on speed drills, use of special apparatus, programming, and all sorts of exercise coupling. Very little is talked about or developed in terms of the biomechanics. A bigger engine in a car with square wheels is obviously not what you’re looking for.

 

 

Analyzing and developing biomechanics has become a big part of how we teach and develop the quality of speed. Once you understand those fundamentals, change of direction can follow.

Alignment allows us to push, and pushing in acceleration is everything.

 

Nov 03

YOU KNOW YOU’RE ON TO SOMETHING WHEN THEY START WITH THE AD HOMINEM.

Several weeks ago I brought to light and questioned the Australian Rugby Team training in the gym.

 

There was nothing surprising about it to me, the revelation that we are still grazing on the low slopes of technical proficiency across the coaching skill landscape has long been plain to see. But it is necessary from time to time to point that out, else the regular public be under a misapprehension and assign authority based on job hierarchy rather than competence; an assessment that I invite anyone to make starting with the article linked above.

The question remains for everyone, does that look well coached to you? and something worth emulating?

 

Not completely unexpectedly, there are people who will necessarily need to defend the status quo. We can only speculate that is is because they have hitched their wagon to the pathway of that industry. If one hopes to make a mark and ascend to the heights of professional physical preparation, they must climb the ranks using the ladder rungs provided. A prohibition on ridicule and reverence to the pathway will become necessary, in fact all that is tolerated.

Immediately after my post, the evidence for the prohibition on criticism started to turn up. Notice in particular the avoidance of engaging on the content of the observations. It wasn’t that the article was incorrect, it wasn’t a case where, “Actually, I think you’re wrong. look again, that is exactly how it should be done.” criticism was instead, not allowed. It became necessary to write a whole blog post on the subject which I called, ‘Fitness Counter-Errorism: Graffiti, Trolling, Satire, Contradiction and Polemic Contrarianism in Internet Exercise.’

Just this weekend, and perhaps the reason for this most recent posting, the Rugby World Cup came to its conclusion. Australia vs New Zealand in the final and New Zealand winning 34-17. The result in no way contributes the relevance of the original article. The original article commented on the skills and conduct of general preparation and as noted at the bottom….

The Wallabies may win the World Cup, yes, this training won’t make that much difference. Kicking, passing, tackling, ruck and maul skills, injuries, penalties will all be more important. But if you are saying that you are training for your sport, and you are using skills to complete that task, shouldn’t you be able to muster a standard that puts you above the local soccer team? 

 

 

Anyway, we got a nice reaction from ‘Rugby Strength Coach’. I guess its nice that someone paid attention. Which in the spirit of fair use I will reply to below, just in case someone puts the two thing together and was misinformed about the whole situation:

However one thing that particularly pissed me off was a blog post of outright criticism from one coach, who took the time to dissect almost every second of the 2 minute video to point out how tremendously flawed this particular coach and the system being used is, and how he could do a much better job.

Au contraire, the issue I have is that there are literally hundreds of privateer coaches who could do a better job. That is the problem.

For the record I’m not friends with anyone involved here, and I can agree with several points that are made in this blog post:

  • The science behind this system is a little shaky, because it relies on proprietary software and unpublished data. I’d also question its ability to truly predict injury risk when previous injury history, left-right asymmetry and movement technique are not taken into account. It’s quite a point to concede, especially in light of the criticism of my criticism. So we agree on this point.

 

  • No, the programmes aren’t individualised. But they certainly aren’t cookie cutter. My understanding is that they divide athletes into groups according to their “force signature” and provide progressions/regressions of exercise groups depending on the magnitude of the imbalance. Whether the programs are ‘individualized’ or ‘cookie-cutter’ is beside the point; that what appeared to me and others as disorganized unskilled work being overlooked is the point. The range of programming and testing apparatus was being promoted but the practice was hardly something worth emulating: And I would say, contemptible. One moment preaching injury prevention and dazzling the viewer with coachspeak about impressive sounding programming and techniques whilst in practice, inefficiency reigns.

 

  • No the form isn’t the best at times. There are little things that could be better, but I’ve seen worse and it certainly isn’t what I would term as unsafe. These guys get paid to run into other men at full speed for a living. I can handle a slightly-off rack position in a clean or front squat. Considering that this was the flagship men’s rugby program in the nation, full of professionals who have been part of the code’s ‘ELEEEEET’ development programs; I would HOPE that you’ve seen worse. This should be the opposite of that, and it won’t escape everyone’s notice that you at least conceded that the practice of the lifting skills, ‘…isn’t the best…’
  • What goes on in the gym is a small, small piece of injury prevention. For me what is far more important is controlling the total work load that players are exposed to, and the quality of their nutrition, hydration, rest and medical support, and their stress outside of training. To chalk injury prevention up to one programme is a little reductionist I think. Agreed. I would just like it to be consistent across the board. That what is selected is done in a way that can be aspired to and is efficient for the premier professional Rugby program in the country.

HOWEVER

In the interests of balance I decided to check out the coach behind this blog post. He certainly makes some very good points in his writing and his athletes post some very impressive strength numbers in the gym. It’s not the numbers, it’s the efficiency of the work.

 

However I quickly realised that all the videos were of the same three athletes again and again. The same three American football players: athletes who enjoy an extremely long preparatory period, who have only a few physical qualities to worry about in their training, who can train all day long, under the watchful eye of a coach with a coach:athlete ratio of 1:3, who only has to worry about what he wants to do. And yet there are still plenty of little technical flaws in how his athletes lifted and moved that I could pick on- very easy to do from the comfort of a keyboard. My best athletes are amateurs and my coach to athlete ratio this week is 1:93, which is normal. They all either work or study full time.  That is the people you are talking about. They train before or after work or study. They do not have all day. The footage is a salient representation of the efficiency that I think is possible from just about anyone. It is not spectacular, it should be common practice. So whilst you made a guess that my athletes have ‘all day to train’ you were wrong, where my assertion that the Wallabies ARE professionals still holds true. Besides, at the time of your writing there were 13 different people on my instagam page so I think this whole point should probably be retracted. I’m also not sure why you think an American Football player has only a few physical qualities to worry about.

 

Now let’s contrast this to professional rugby. You don’t have three athletes, you’ve got between 20-40 at a time. They all play for different clubs, and have different levels of experience and skill in the gym. You’ve only got about 3 weeks in total to prepare for a major international competition. You’ve got roughly three hours a week to get your prep in and that number will only ever go down, not up. Let’s also not forget that rugby, and what the rugby coach wants, comes first. All you do is support.

Apples and oranges. You may be able to do a great job with your best three athletes in the perfect training environment, good for you. But do not use it to judge someone on their worst athletes in an environment with totally different demands. Again, my coach to athlete ratio this week is 1:93. There are many technical flaws that I am not happy with, but in most cases they are in my window of tolerance or they are occurring and being coached in real time. Most of the videos you see of my gym are limit or near limit lifts where these will be most evident. My worst athletes are totally uncoached, presenting on Day #1 as not even novices. They’re not athletes. They are not pre-selected. They are not the genetic elite. They are not and never will be professional.

 

Personally I see stuff in some of my sessions every day that would embarrass me if somebody filmed it. I would be surprised if 99% of coaches didn’t feel the same. But the important thing is that they are better now than when I started, and I expect they will be better in a year’s time than they are now. Judging a coach from a snapshot of one training session is worthless without the context of knowing if they are steadily improving. It’s like reading one page of a novel and pretending you know the ending. Let’s make this very very clear. Once again we’re talking about the cream of the crop rugby program in Australia. I leave it to the fair-mindedness of the viewer. If they think that the team in that footage looked well-coached then they are entitled to take that position. There are however a growing number of privateer coaches who are able to achieve, by contrast, excellent efficiency in their coaching.

 

When is it OK to criticise coaches?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying criticising coaches should be off limits. I’m all for it, especially with the number of bad coaches out there, who occupy jobs that could be given to more accomplished individuals. However I think we need to establish some criteria first:

  • No snap decisions. Did my blow-by-blow account look like a snap decision to you?
  • Before criticising, you have to have truly observed a coach for multiple sessions. The longer the better. I don’t need multiple angles to see that a bridge has collapsed. You don’t either. Every day, judges, referees and officials make instantaneous assessments on bodies in competition, their timing and positions again and again. Often summing up what are months and years of preparation. It is not hard to do.
  • Are their athletes consistently improving in the relevant areas? Yes? So the F what. Stagnating or getting worse? Fire away. (I hope you don’t think its rude to answer a question with a question.) Is there any bottom limit to this? How badly could someone perform skills they have selected before critique would be acceptable?
  • Do you have a realistic suggestion or solution to offer about how to improve things? If not, keep your mouth shut. If you criticise others, you have a duty to advance the field at the same time. Criticism is educational. Mockery plays a role in actually forcing a reader to reassess whether they go along with what they are seeing and reading, or not. Endless Pollyanna treatment is probably worse.
  • Keep the criticism to a person’s work, not qualities as a person. Criticism is going to end up getting taken personally. If it’s that egregious then I’m not the one who should apologize. Don’t put it up on the net.
  • Don’t be a dick. Well at least he didn’t drop a c-bomb on me.

The coach to athlete ratio is an interesting point. The problem with it is the same problem that I have with group fitness training sessions and why I don’t do them. You can’t get any quality work done. That occurred to me long ago. I didn’t wait till I was S&C coach of the Wallabies and keep doing it. Clearly you can see the results. “We’re going to push press.” So what if some privateer can get a kid to push press better in 1 day than the combined Australian professional Rugby scene can achieve in a career? Maybe that would be cause to say, ‘maybe we’re structuring things poorly.

We are indeed comparing apples and oranges, the problem is that the apples you are talking about are pro Rugby players, and my oranges are kids off the street. If the Wallabies were in a junk yard somewhere, picking up bits of old cars and appliances then I wouldn’t be able to comment on it in quite the same way. But if they choose something, and decided either not to coach it or coach it poorly; Here we are.

 

Coach Pete

Oct 27

THE FINE DETAIL OF A BARBELL.

Obsidian is a volcanic glass made mostly of silicon dioxide. It has been used by early civilizations as a spear point material and now it is used as a material for scalpels for surgery. Obsidian blade can reach molecular thinness, down to 3 nanometers across. It is the sharpest blade that can be made.

 


This quality of blade makes for less scar tissue and less inflammation.

 

Observe the current popularity with Strongman training in modern Strength and Conditioning. Apparently, all the best stuff to workout with is actually big tyres, kegs, stones, rocks, unstable objects, barrels of water, various discarded pieces of heavy metal and heavy vehicles.

 

The ‘World’s Strongest Man’ contest is a well marketed annual event with lead in qualifiers that pit very large and strong men against each other in a variety of weighted events. They draw large live and television audiences. It is a form of sports entertainment, legitimate competition nonetheless, but not too many steps away from Championship Wrestling in how it is marketed and in whom it is marketed to.

 

Strongman events dispense with more traditional implements of strength development like barbells and that is fine, it is the leveraging of the popularity of the sport into trying to be a solution to athletic problems which is where somewhat of a problem arises. Barbells have stood the test of time for a few reasons.

 

 

Firstly, they are easy to hold onto. This is important because if someone is trying to get strong then actually holding on to and balancing the implement that is providing the resistance should not be the biggest impediment. Grip strength is a well worthwhile area for development for athletes but most athletes need a lot more development of strength of the musculature of the arms, legs and trunk; not a singular focus on grip strength or coordination of specific odd implements.

 

Secondly, barbells are symmetrical. Balance is not the main issue in lifting them. The well coached lifter is able to perform lifts so that the failure issue comes down to the contractile potential of the prime moving musculature, not the specific coordination in lifting the individual characteristics of the implement itself. Balance is salient in lifting but not the target. A heavy unstable object asks much more of the lifters ability to balance it in order to express his or her strength. A fridge might weigh 90kg; nearly impossible to move due to its size, a 90kg barbell is easy to lift. Some objects have a specific balance requirement so much so that developing ability in lifting the object may not have much transfer over to lifting any other object. It doesn’t take long to look around and realize that there has been a massive over prescription of balance specific exercises.

 

Thirdly, barbells are incrementally loadable and variable. It is extremely easy to quantify the improvement in a barbell lift because it is relatively easy to measure how much weight is on the bar, how far it moves and how long it takes. Right down to placing fridge magnets on the end, you know that the barbell is heavier and by precisely how much.

 

 

 

Oct 07

THE CONTRAST OF FOOTBALL CODES IN AUSTRALIA AND THE USA.

Its a rare treat for your Coach to get away from the gym at Shire Speed and Strength and go on holidays.

 

Last year, the two weeks off was the first holiday taken in over 6 years; this time, thankfully, the wait was only 12 months.

 

It was off to Texas again to catch up with some athletes, visit with some other coaches, tour facilities and actually do some non-work related rest and relaxation. As a quick summary, some of the events attended were as follows.

 

Warm ups for Temple High School.

 

Organized sport in the USA operates on a vastly different model than it does in Australia. School sport is king in the US, whilst club sport is what we largely work under in Australia. The effects resonate in many ways.

School-based sport minimizes travel time for after school and weekend sport, it hugely influences the culture of the school environment and community and it alters the ability to access higher levels of organization and quality. The consolidation of time, coaching, teaching and facilities is enormously beneficial.

The American system is for high achievement, it also has a significant and predictable fall off in participation and obviously does not cater well for mature-aged athletes. The high school and collegiate sporting system means that by the time you are 23 years old, the likelihood of someone continuing in organized sport dramatically falls away in the United State. In Australia, the club sport system caters well for older athletes; what is relinquished are the higher caliber standards achieved in youth and junior levels.

I’m not aware of any high schools in Australia that have a stadium like this with replay jumbotron. That is somewhat common place in Texas by contrast.

Also not aware of any High Schools in Australia where obtaining a VIP parking pass is necessary.

Little planes fly over high school football games in Texas. Probably because there are crowds that rival poor NRL games in Australia. But remember, these are 16-18 year old amateurs.

 

Ultimately I was there with some other coaches for the football games, and in particular Baylor University as they worked their way through the beginning of their 2015 schedule. Two of our better athletes, brothers Blake and Sean Muir are off to a great start at Baylor and they are ranked as high as #3 in the nation at this stage. Blake was Captain at the most recent game at AT&T Stadium vs Texas Tech.

 

Blake Muir #73 Captain for the Texas Tech game.

 

Baylor University offensive lineman, Australian, and SSS member Sean Muir, walks from the team bus to the stadium. ‘Sailgating’ can be seen in the background.

 

Baylor’s McLane Stadium an hour before kickoff.

Like the High School system, collegiate athletics in the United States is vastly different to Australia. Texas and Australia have very similar populations, both around the 25-27 million mark. Texas has 11 Division 1 FBS college teams: Baylor, Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Rice, Houston, Texas State, UTEP, UTSA and North Texas. This goes with the 2 NFL teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.

Australia by comparison accommodates all the AFL teams (18), NRL (16), Union (5 in Super 14) and A-League (10). Whilst the A League plays at a different time of the year, it means that there is 39 teams in major Australian football codes vs 13 in Texas for a similar number of people. It means there is a lot less money and quality to go around in Australia, and remember, in college football the players are only paid their tuition, food, accommodation and basic cost of attendance: They are not paid professionals.

Once you take into account the multitude of high quality high school teams there are in the Texas equation, where stadiums of 10-15 thousand are not uncommon, light planes fly advertising banners, neighbouring towns empty, communities orient themselves fully towards the game on Friday night, then you can see how the different system influences things differently to Australia.

Also known as ‘JerryWorld’ after Dallas Cowboys owner and stadium founder Jerry Jones, regular season games of 60,000 people only occur in the AFL in Australia.

This is a typical weight room for high level collegiate football in the USA.

It would be easy to gush over facilities. I am not aware of any professional program in Australia that has a fully indoor football practice field; and then next to that one for track and field.

It would appear that there is no down side to ‘all this’. But I have mentioned before quite frequently, that the over-supply of labour in popular football codes has a significant effect on the quality of the training methodologies. Whilst no expense is spared on every last wish that could be desired to impress recruits and allow boosters (private sponsors) to hang their name on something, the false positives are everywhere as is the waste.

 

Texas A&M has 2 indoor facilities, one a full sized field for football, the other for track and field.

The sporting culture quickly becomes elitist and less and less inclusive. There is a significant demand for quality over quantity. There are no B teams in high school and collegiate football; there is a bench. Whilst even in the United States, there is mockery and contempt for ‘participation trophies’ for kids sport, they worry about this for under 10′s where we are still doing it all across the age spectrum. There are plenty of other extra curricular activities for kids to do who don’t play football.

The bands are outstanding, the girls take a sort of gender defined role in the cheer squads and most attractive is the crowd made up of families with little kids, high school students, ex-high school alumni, parents and grandparents. I cannot remember ever seeing a public events where generations so discrepant are all enjoying the same event; not even Christmas Carols can compete.

Next year will be a little different, hopefully. Blake will be graduating from college at the end of the year and trying to make his way in the NFL. Sean will still be at Baylor as a Center and there will be more high schools games and coaching staffs to visit with.

Whilst there are many many similarities to Australia and the United State, when it comes to football, its very very different.

 

Sep 07

BLENDED PREPARATION: OR BURNING A CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS?

Two roads diverge in a wood, and I,

I took the path less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken.’, was probably ruined for you in school. I know it was for me.  I vividly remember talking in class about some idea where I’d drive a vehicle across country between the two roads whereby essentially being able to ‘take’ both if I wanted. And there wasn’t anything a stupid poem could do about it. I dare say some kid somewhere now has suggested in class that Google Maps had surely already been down both roads in that yellow wood and we’d be able to make the best choice well ahead of time.

We’ll seek comments from English teachers on that.

I have lamented before on the false argument going on about how kids shouldn’t specialize in sports. They are encouraged to participate endlessly in a cycle of yearly sport, but never over-come fundamental flaws in their general preparation; the very thing that the variety of sports is supposed to solve. My retort being that endless participation with no attention to detail is foolhardy and creates unprepared athletes. It is also prejudiced against kids, assuming that they are unable or repulsed by structured training, and that a training structure of efficiency is synonymous with humorless robotic East German cyborgs.

In the last two weekends, an experiment has been realized of two athletes preparing for both weightlifting and gridiron simultaneously. This is not something that you would choose to do. The sports are in competition with each other as the physiological adaptations are quite discrepant. One is an expression of maximal strength and power coupled with the fine detail of barbell mechanics and mobility. The other is a team sport/invasion game of specialized player skill components, and is characterized as being alactic/aerobic in its taxation of the energy system demands.

It was a largely a mark in change of the calendar that brought the possibly of two Shire Speed and Strength athletes being able to prepare for the AWF Weightlifting Nationals as well as the start of their Gridiron season, just a week apart.

 

 

 

Both Jackson Young and Haoping ‘Ping’ Tang played Gridiron in 2014; a change in the timing of their season from the usual February-June to September-December however meant there was an extended off season. Being that they were already proficient in barbell lifting and using it as general preparation for Gridiron, it was only natural to enter a competition and give birth to the Shire Speed and Strength weightlifting team.

Internationally, weightlifting is a storied and well-developed Olympic sport. ‘Olympic Weightlifting’, by its very name, is drawn into greater prominence around the world during the quadrennial Games and its usually the case in Australia that only during the Games people really give it attention; the sport not being nearly as popular in Australia as it is in other countries.

 

With a last weekend in August date for AWF Nationals, and a first weekend in September start to the Gridiron season, training sessions would over-lap. Gridiron practice began June 26th and we had to program lifting sessions as well as on-field practices that included tackling, running, blocking and being tackled: a growing amount of physical contact that is difficult to quantify.

All football codes at the highest levels for some time, have seen the advent of GPS tracking to totalize the distance covered and speeds reached during a practice and game. This data is used to manage and manipulate the training load.

It is difficult however to properly measure the effects of contact on the body. Falling to the ground and/or being hit by opponents ‘could’ be measured, however the g-forces effecting a sensor attached to the body may not properly assess the state of the effects of the impact on the constituent parts of the body and all its systems.

 

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Ping led the team in rushing and total yards from scrimmage.

Attempts to measure the effects of training on the body are also popular. Testing the state of the autonomic system and whether the body is in a more sympathetic or parasympathetic dominant state is a telemetry concept that is meant to lead to decision making on the readiness of the athlete to train at that time.

The issue with that, is that it is highly influential; every persons knows what I’m talking about when I say that we’ve all had those experiences when we’re sluggish, beat up and unmotivated only to have the equivalent of realizing that someone just stole your wallet then the adrenaline kicks in, we become hyper-aware and hyper-motivated.

 

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Jackson’s 2 tackles  (#15) for loss in the game included one for a safety in the endzone for 2 points.

Each athlete had a slightly different template.

Jackson, living closer to the gym had morning sessions included.

Monday:

AM session, Backsquat and Snatch Balance

PM session, Power Snatch Heavy, Clean and Jerk complex, Snatch Medium

Tuesday:

AM session, Clean Pull and trunk work.

PM session, Snatch Heavy + accessory work.

Wednesday:

PM session, football practice.

Thursday:

Rest

Friday:

AM session: Front Squat

PM session: Football practice

Saturday:

Snatch balance, Heavy Clean and jerk, Medium Snatch.

Conditioning work PM session.

Sunday

Rest

 

Haoping had a slightly different template. Finishing work earlier, he would start early in the PM time slot and have longer training sessions. He also had a sprained knee 5 weeks out from Nationals from a football practice session and could only work on Pulls from the floor and presses for 2 weeks. He was unable to squat, Snatch or Clean and Jerk during this period.

As the running was greatly added to his training,

Monday:

Snatch, Front Squat, Clean Pull.

Tuesday

Clean and Jerk, Snatch balance, BTN Push Press in Snatch grip, Trunk work

Wednesday

Football practice

Thursday

Rest

Friday

Football practice

Saturday

AM Session Clean and Jerk, Power Snatch, Clean Pull

PM Session Additional football practice

 


National Championships, Jackson (1st 110/160, 270kg total) and Haoping (2nd 115/135, 250kg total)

The results were extremely pleasing. Jackson and Haoping were 1st and 2nd respectively in the Junior National 105kg class at the Australian Weightlifting Federation National Championships in Melbourne last weekend. Jackson PR’d both lifts and his 3rd attempt Clean and Jerk was enough to claim a record that had stood for 16 years! Haoping took out 2nd despite weighing in 10kg less in bodyweight.

 

 

Six days later and both boys turned out for the Sutherland Seahawks Colts team and contributed to the team’s 40-0 victory over the West Sydney Pirates.

From here, training changes again. Each athlete will now switch to maintenance training with their barbell lifting whilst more conditioning and recovery work is added for football. Football is now the main focus. Bye weeks will include slightly more volume in the weight room but importantly they will be kept fresh for game days.

You wouldn’t choose to do something like this from the outset. These sporting tasks are not very complimentary in terms of preparation or performance; but in this case, you only live once, these guys stumbled across a rare opportunity and set about the difficult task nonetheless.

Its interesting to note that when your general preparation for one sport is the specificity for another, and you are efficient with it, you can actually transition between the two; and that, that has made all the difference.

Sep 02

THE GREAT RED DRAGON AND THE WOMAN CLOTHED IN SUN.

*repost of an article from the old site.

 

William Blake’s painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sunis the subject reference in Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, and the subsequent movie adaptations.

 

 

In the book, the character Francis Dolarhyde (played by Tom Noonan in Manhunter and Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon), who is obsessed with the painting, is described as having the ability to clean and press 300lb (136kg). In one scene, Dolarhyde works up to 280lb but cannot lift 300lb. But as the ‘Red Dragon’ his alter-ego he is successful with the 300lb lift.

 

I loved the Red Dragon film version in particular and also, especially love Harris’ identification with the clean and press as an expression of strength and dominance. Unfortunately strength has made way in the current cultural zeitgeist for leanness.

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