The Calendar of Accountability

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A key issue that a lot of people have with training – both athletes and people training for fitness – is seeing results consistently. They might see a couple of weeks or month of improvements, followed by weeks of stagnation, or worse, a regression back to where they started. This usually results in frustration, leaving them asking “why aren’t I getting anywhere??” and, occasionally, people giving up completely.

So what causes stagnation, or a negative reduction in training results? If you’re healthy then the answer is always the same: the body is not receiving the required stimulus to change.

The body is lazy. It will quite happily carry on working the way it is doing until it is given a reason to do something else. If the body is asked to lift a heavier weight than it does normally, or for more reps than normal, then it panics! This panic will cause it to adapt by becoming stronger and more efficient at recovery. If the body is asked to run further or at a faster pace than normal, then it will panic again. In this instance the body will adapt by producing more red blood cells and increasing the force of the heart to move more oxygen around.

However, if the body is asked to lift the weight it is used to lifting, or running the distance that it’s used to lifting at a pace it can do easily, then no panic occurs. The body is not sufficiently stressed to feel the need to adapt. This will lead to stagnation. Even worse than that, if the body recieves no stimulus at all, then its fitness will reduce. For the person training for health, this is can be demoralising. For the competitive athlete, it can be disastrous!

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Cardio or weights first? It depends!

A very common question that comes up, whether it’s from clients or from family and friends, is “What should I be doing first, cardio or weights?” The response is always the same: “it depends.” This normally annoys people, as I then need to explain what it depends on and why (and in the case of family and friends boring them in the process), and it usually doesn’t end with the answer they were actually fishing for! So let’s have a look at what it depends on.

Whenever you perform any kind of training at all, you are providing a set of stimuli for the body, for example: a reduction of muscle and liver glycogen (fuel which has been used up during the exercise); a change in the pH levels of the muscles and the blood (your body using fuel makes the muscles and blood slightly more acidic); structural ‘damage’ to the muscle cells and protein degradation (by force being applied to them by increasingly forceful contractions), as well as many others. Each of these stimuli cause inflammation in the affected tissues, which despite what the anti-oxidant marketeers and holistic health quacks keep spouting, is not a bad thing. Indeed, this inflammation is a key element of the adaptive process and is what causes our bodily systems to get better and adapt after exercise.

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“The bigger guy always wins”: The myth of height and reach in MMA.

If you’ve ever watched any televised mixed martial arts (MMA), you will have seen something similar to the picture below, showing the ‘tale of the tape’ of two athletes about to engage each other with strikes and grappling movements to claim a win on their professional record and get paid.

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You may also have noticed that sometimes, one or more of the measurements are highlighted, showing that one of the competitors has a larger measurement than their opponent, and in this case, Conor McGregor has a greater reach and height than Chad Mendes. Now why is this information provided and why is it highlighted? Well, the tale of the tape – much like many of the aspects of MMA presentation – is taken straight from boxing, and in the ‘sweet science’ being taller or having longer arms allows you more chance of hitting your opponent without being hit in return. So height and reach matters a lot in boxing!

But does it matter in MMA? I mean, suposedly, the taller person should still have more chance of hitting the shorter person with their fists, but what about kicks? What if the smaller person engages the taller one in a grapple or takedown, rendering their long limbs useless? What then? Does it still matter who needs the longer sleeves on their dress shirt? This is the question that my research has attempted to address over the last couple of years.

In order to do this, it was necessary to determine what could possibly be affected by a competitor having a greater height or reach. I decided that four key areas could be influenced by this:

  1. Long term success – if height/reach had an influence, then taller/longer participants would be distinguished from their less vertically blessed opponents in the divisional rankings.
  2. Who wins the bout –  if height/reach had an influence, then most of the time the taller/longer participant would win
  3. How the bout ended – if height/reach had an influence, then taller/longer participants would get most of their wins via strikes
  4. The techniques used – if height/reach had an influence, then technique use would share some kind of relationship with these measurements

Now each of these areas are distinct, but play into each other in terms of what we would call ‘success’ in MMA.

Looking for an answer

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“Is a sport scientist really a scientist??”

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“Sports science”.

“Sports scientist”.

Two phrases that to this day are still very misunderstood, both by people who are not involved in either conducting or learning about sport science, and, more worryingly, those who are. There are a few reasons for this; first of all, sport science is a very young discipline. Whilst it has its roots in the study of human physiology in general, it has only been a standalone area of research (in Britain at least) for about 60 years, and has only been a viable profession for the past 25 years. Secondly, because many people watch sport or take part in exercise, there’s a tendency for people to think that it’s not a real science, as ‘anyone can do it’.

Of course, this kind of thinking can’t really be affected by us, much in the same way that lay people who don’t believe in climate change can’t really be affected by climate scientists. Besides, the aim of this blog post is to discuss whether or not people working in sports and exercise are ‘scientists’, and what this term actually means anyway.

Sport Science

Now I, like many others before me and since, decided to study the sport sciences at undergraduate level because I like playing sport and I enjoyed learning about the topic at A Level. I knew that it could be split into the general categories of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, psychology, training methods, etc., but I didn’t really have an appreciation for what the ‘sciences’ bit of the phrase actually meant. I thought, “well, it’s got some biology in there, a bit of chemistry, erm….so it must be a science!”. It took me a loooooong time to fully appreciate that science is actually a method employed to better understand nature through the use of controlled experiments to collect data which either supports or degrades assumptions about a particular phenomena:

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Have I hired an S&C Coach? Or a Personal Trainer in disguise?

Hi everyone,

Over the last few years, there seems to have been quite an uptick in the number of people calling themselves a ‘strength and conditioning coach’, or claiming that they are able to provide ‘strength and conditioning’ for athletes and consequently being paid to do just that. Now this is a trendy, hip term that certainly gets people’s attention, especially at this time of year as preseason hits full swing, or people sign up to 10K runs and half marathons after the summer holiday splurge!

But, what actually is an S&C coach, and who should and should not be using the title? Let’s have a look………

(Nb. this post is discussing the training of sports people with the expressed aim of improving as a competitive athlete, not people looking to improve general fitness)

Defining the term

Here in the UK, there are things called ‘protected titles’, which exist to ensure that the person using them is actually qualified in the service they intend to provide.  This is to make sure people are, firstly, safe, and secondly, not getting ripped off. For someone to be able to use these titles, or advertise that they are able to provide the service the titles are related to, they must prove (through various means) that they are capable of doing so.

Now, this does not mean that what they do is effective or safe (see the arguments against chiropractic, which carries the protected title ‘Doctor of Chiropractic’ despite the practice essentially being nonsense, and potentially dangerous), but it does mean that the person using the title has gone through some kind of vetting process before being allowed to ask for your money.

The title ‘S&C Coach’ or similar is not currently a protected title in the UK, nor is there any protection of the claim to be able to provide S&C. This means that literally anyone can give themselves this title or charge you for being ‘coached’ by them regardless of their education, experience or competencies.

This terrifies me.

Why? Because the nature of S&C training and the loads placed on the person’s physical structures and systems mean that a fine balance between getting stronger and being badly injured is always being struck. In order to fully appreciate and mitigate the inherent dangers of such training requires several years of study and practice, and even if the uneducated coach is not causing injury, they still might not be providing a suitable stimulus to make you stronger or faster.  So at best, you may have wasted your time and money, at worst, you may become chronically injured.

So, in order to define the ‘S&C Coach’, we need to be able to give usable thresholds on their education and experience.  This is tricky, but not impossible. For a start, there is no single qualification that demonstrates a coach’s effectiveness, but there are a few that you’re likely to see in Britain and Ireland that show that they have demonstrated the required knowledge to at least keep you safe. These are:

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Hello!

And welcome to the brand new blog of Altius Sports Performance and myself, Chris Kirk.

Who am I, and what is Altius?

Well I am a strength & conditioning (S&C) coach and sport scientist, with over 10 years of lecturing experience and 5 years of S&C coaching experience. I am also an active researcher, regularly publishing my findings in peer reviewed journals. Through Altius Sports Performance I provide sport science support and S&C for amateur, semi-pro and pro athletes and teams in the Lancashire area. I am qualified and certified in S&C coaching through the NSCA and YSCA, Olympic weightlifting through British Weight Lifting, sports performance analysis through the ISPAS and  as an Anti Doping Advisor through UK Anti-Doping.  I am also a member of the UKSCA, BASES and the RSS.

I am going to be using this blog to publicise the work I’m engaged in with the various athletes and groups who make use of my services, whilst also posting articles about my coaching philosophy, my research and my take on sport science in general!

I hope to bring about open and frank discussions around each of the topics covered, whilst encouraging the advancement of evidence led training and athlete preparation.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

Cheers,

Chris