Feb 6, 2013

$5 Bootcamps, 1RM Percentages, and Training in all Planes

Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS, USAW

In the world of $5 bootcamps filled with 50 people, glorification of rhabdomyolisis, and using all the old school/odd lifts, my perspective and philosophy of training is not a popular one.  Working so hard you throw up, hurting for days after your workouts and getting the best price in massive groups or via Groupon seem to be the current waves of the performance and fitness industries. 

Well folks, let me state for the record…I want nothing to do with those things.

I won’t sacrifice quality for quantity.  There is too much research coming out in the physical therapy and motor learning fields about the need for quality movement and reeducation.  The value is high.  And they are things that cannot be addressed in extremely high intensity environments or those where the trainer to client ratio is 1 to 40. 

“How important is pushing it to the limit or using a percentage of 1 Rep Max for improving strength and power for athletes and fitness enthusiasts?”

->Not nearly as important as it’s been made out to be<-

“Does it matter if fitness enthusiasts train in all planes or is that primarily for the elite athletes you work with?”

->Utilizing and training in all planes is important for ALL of the clients who walk through our front door.<-

Questions like this come up on a weekly (if not daily) basis.  I have had the opportunity to have some great conversations this week as I get to interact with so many wonderful people (clients, staff, interns, university students, coaches, world class athletes, and the list goes on).

Every Thursday I get to spend 2 hours with junior and senior Kinesiology students at Westmont college discussing strength and conditioning theory and practice.  This week we spoke about the enormous topic of Program Design and we bounced around and battled with the topic of “1RM’s.”  It’s a difficult one.  And like most topics in the strength and conditioning world, there are disagreements at the highest levels of research and practice.  “Does it matter if you use 80-100% of a one rep max to increase client strength?” posed one of my students.  My response was quite simple, “Not if that client has never done that exercise before nor if they don’t have a high level of mastery of that movement pattern.”  I liken it to an 8 year old who’s just started playing youth football and wants to be the team kicker.  Would it be best for that child to learn how to kick a football through the uprights from 40 yards away?  Of course not.  You start with technique.  You start kicking into a net.  You start by just kicking and not even really worrying about where the ball goes…that stuff comes later.

Interestingly, I had a conversation with Multis Coach Harry Marra (coach of the current Decathlete World Record Holder, Ashton Eaton) yesterday and the topic came up again.  Even at the highest levels of international competition, coaches and athletes struggle to find what works best.  Harry’s opinion: they never use percentages.  Why?  Because athletes have good and bad days.  Sometime they feel good, sometimes they feel beat up, sometimes they’re in the middle.  And if you hold athletes to numbers every day and they can’t hit them…it breaks down confidence and ultimately performance (or perhaps even causes injury).

I couldn’t argue.  We believe there is a time and a place when the numbers matter.  But for the majority of our athletes (including world class), we don’t place an emphasis on those numbers until they’ve been training with us for 1-2 years. 

It’s not that the numbers don’t matter…but there are too many other things of priority in the first 1 or 2 of training.

In another conversation with an intern this week, the other question of arose about why and who we train in frontal and transverse planes with.  Quick background here: there are 3 cardinal planes that most agree human movement occurs in (saggital, frontal, and transverse).  The reality is that most sport and daily movements happen somewhere in the middle or in a combination of those three planes.  But essentially, saggital movement is movement that occurs in a forward and backward plane (i.e. walking in a straight line); frontal plane movement occurs when we move sideways or laterally (jumping jacks, side-stepping, etc.); and transverse plane movement is when move in rotation (throwing a Frisbee, swinging a golf club or tennis racquet). 

During our Adult SPARQ group training class at Prevail this week, our intern observed frontal plane lunges (lateral lunges) and ½ kneeling transverse rows (rotational rows) and wondered…why?  Why do those exercises that way?  What’s the use?  Is that just for athletes?  Great questions.  I love when my interns ask stuff like that. 

Human movement happens in all planes, for all people, every day.  From the 65 year old woman who trips on the carpet and has to rotate to avoid falling on the kitchen table to the Olympic athlete sprinting down the runway into a lateral bound and rotational throwing pattern to release the javelin for maximum distance…training in all planes is functional, practical, and necessary for all people.  Our clients tell us every day, “I wish someone would have taught me how to move correctly like this when I was young.  It would have saved me so many injuries” or “it would have helped me compete to a much higher level of sports.” 

Motor learning and gaining movement mastery (which, by the way, takes somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 quality repetitions) is a much higher priority early on in training.  Motor rich environments are more important early on in training.  The numbers matter…later.

I tell my clients and students on a weekly basis that technique is first, weight is second.  Do it technically perfect with the maximum load or speed possible. Work hard, but MOVE WELL.    

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