Monday, August 26, 2013

More on why to Strength Train

Here is an updated list (old post) of my reasons for emphasizing strength training.

One of the common responses I get to my emphasis on strength training is statements like, "why [is] this is so important compared, say to flexibility or speed which for me seem more important?"link

Part of the answer lies in not ranking these different attributes. Instead I advocate for people to engage in a complete program. A complete program benefits the fighter, the athlete and general health and well-being.

5 Reasons

  1. Strength improves a variety of general health outcomes. The ACSM recommends that essentially all people engage in (appropriate) strength training. The benefits of strength training are separate from the benefits of cardiovascular and neuromotor training (balance and agility) that are already common amongst HEMA people.
  2. Strength reduces the likelihood of injury. More so than either cardiovascular and neuromotor training - although the neuromotor training is a good layer to add onto strength training. Strength training also improves recovery from muskuloskeletal injury.
  3. Strength training improves the capacity for technical training. One of the factors which normally limits a persons training capacity is the number of repetitions in a row they can do before needing to rest. Strength training increases that number of reps. Strength training is not the only means of doing that. Obviously, volume of training increases that attribute as well, however, volume of training is not always sufficient, and even if it were, strength training increases the efficiency and rapidity of results.
  4. You will gain more from your technical training, time and effort, if your program includes strength training as a component. The reason is that strength training increases the excitability of the neuromotor pathways from brain to muscle. This in turn increases motor learning.
  5. Strength training is necessary for a person to reach their personal best. That is because a complete program is necessary for a person to reach their personal best. Strength training will increase acceleration and power. Both which will effect the outcome of a fight. They are clearly not the only aspects of who wins, but they do effect the outcome, so improving them allows a person to reach their personal best.
It is very important to note that reason #1 is good enough to stand alone. If I had no other reasons besides the general health reason I would still be just as confident about the importance of strength training. It is as much a public health PSA as a HEMA training PSA.

In fact, each of these reasons is good enough on it's own. They're each strong enough in terms of both evidence and effect to stand alone. It depends on what matters to you - what motivates you.

These reasons are ranked from most important to least important. At least according to my personal feelings on the matter. Public health is #1. Ability to keep doing what you love is #2. Improvement in what you do are #3 and #4. Performance is #5. Although the last entry on the list is not unimportant to me. I think they are all important.

And their is another reason for my emphasis on strength training. And it's in two parts:
A) Many people understand the importance of cardiovascular, technical and neuromotor training already. But most people don't know about the importance of strength training as well.

B) Many people are not aware of what real strength training is. They think that conditioning work like 100 pushups or 200 squats is the same as strength. And it's not. So these people understand A but they aren't actually doing it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sprinting is Good for You

Sprinting is a great tool for conditioning for fighters. Sprinting, like other high-intensity interval training, mimics the energy demands of a fight, which is why it will benefit you. Most fights are short bursts of very high intensity with periods of low intensity in-between. And this is what something like sprint-walkbacks are like.

Plus I get bored from running for a long time. So if I can get good training without that, then I exercise more.
A recent article over on Fitocracy does a good job of outlining a program to begin sprinting.

It starts with two basic Functional Movement Screen tests to check for the physical ability to have safe form while running at high intensity. And then provides some basic exercises for improving these characteristics if they are inadequate.

These basic exercises are focused on the hips and trunk muscles involved in stabilizing the body while running. It should be noted that general strength training as outlined here will also support these improvements. The structural loading from doing squats will develop the stabilizing muscles to support the hips, legs and low back, and so on.

The author stresses the importance of a good strength training program before starting a high-intensity running program like this but does not provide guidance on that matter, but I've already linked to a good starting point.

I must however comment that the author overstates the benefits of sprinting. As is so often the case with fitness "magazine" style articles the author wishes to convince the reader that this exercise is the "awesomest" thing possible. Sprinting is good and will clearly benefit the athlete or fighter, but it's not everything - that's what a complete program is for.

Overall a good article. Just ignore the first paragraph.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Throwing things Around

So, this is 75 pounds of sand, in 5 pound bags. Based on plans(PDF) from RossTraining.
The plan is to put these into a bigger canvas bag. And throw it around.
With the 10 lb. sandbell we already own we can do any increment from 5 to 85. As such we can hit the 30-70% of 1RM that is optimal for power training.

The concept is that we use the sandbag for upper body power development. A variety of exercises are possible, all based on the idea of a shotput*. So we can throw the sandbags with a chest pass, over-the-shoulder  or sidearm throw, an overhead throw or even use a lunge.

We are looking for two things. First full-body coordination of power into our upper body. Second, a load that is high enough to be good power training for the upper body. And it is this second item that is why simply using a modern 16# shotput is good but not optimal.

Each athlete gets a load of at least 30% of their bench press 1RM and upwards of 70% of 1RM. The target number of repetitions ranges from 5 down to 1 or 2 depending on the size of the load. We are not concerned with how far the throw gets, only that he weight can be projected ballistically.

This is a tool not for basic strength but to layer onto a foundation of conventional strength training.

*The shotput is one of the few historically documented methods of power training.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Physical Testing for Combat Sports

Assessment and testing is an important part of a training program. It allows you to track an individuals progress. It can be used to compare members of a team and to compare to normative data.

Tracking progress can allow you to objectively determine what areas still need work in the program. And tracking can also be a powerful motivator for the athlete.

Here is my suggested set of assessments for HEMA, WMA, SCA and similar combat sports. This set of tests is not the same as the ones I'd use for grappling but it is similar.

Anthropometric Tests
Body Fat %
Arm length and "Wingspan"

Mobility-Flexibility Screening
A good explanation of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can be found here. It's important to note that the FMS has not been demonstrated to be correlated to performance measures. The FMS seems to be much more useful from a physical therapy and pre-hab - that is we can use it to identify potential areas of weakness and potential failure, and then tailor the program to compensate and correct those problems.
  1. Overhead Squat*
  2. Hurdle Step
  3. In-line Lunge
  4. Shoulder Mobility
  5. Trunk Stability Push-up
  6. Rotary Stability
  7. Active Straight Leg Raise*
* These tests are relevant to a strength training program and less relevant to the fighting.


Explosive Power Tests
1RM Hang Clean – Power style*
*this test is the hardest to do since it requires significant technical skill in the lift. The combination of the the other power tests and the leg strength test may be sufficient.

10# Sandbell Chest Pass – Athlete stands with toes on start line and feet flat on the floor. The sandbell is held at sternum height close to the chest with the elbows close and the hands cocked back (wrist radial deviated, extended and supinated). Throw is performed without stepping and with both heels held flat on the ground. Wrists should ulnar deviate, flex and pronate as throw is performed. Since the sandbell does not roll, the distance is measured from the position where the sandbell stops. Measurement is made from the start line to the nearest point of the sandbell.
Left and Right throws will also be measured, with the athlete standing facing perpendicular to the start line.
* This test does not appear in any literature as a validated test. However, tests like this are being investigated for their relevance to various sports. At this time the test can only be used for tracking progress on the individual athlete.

Plyometric Power - Standing Broad Jump

Reactive Strength Test - Standing Triple Jump

Maximal Strength Tests
1RM Bench Press
1RM Back Squat - with an athlete unfamiliar with squat a leg press/hip sled can be used instead.

Muscular Endurance
Endurance Cutting – Test is performed with the same sword each test to standardize the measure. Cuts are made from an over the shoulder start position. Each cut is performed with a lateral passing step. Cuts are made at a 60 per minute cadence tracked with a metronome (available as a phone app). The test continues until the athlete is no longer able to maintain cadence or good cutting form. Good form includes full extension to a target above waist height and start position with the cross at least at the level of the point of the shoulder.
This version of the test is specific to the Lichtenauer school, but only minor variations should be needed for different styles.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance
Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test – A Beep Test app for is used with a 20 m course. Test continues until the athlete stops or can no longer run at the start signal.