Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Training Smarter Not Just Harder

By: Joel Luedke

*Addendum At the Bottom

I wrote this for the Point After II for the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and it ties into everything that we talk about on TAT.  While its been quite the year learning more about sports performance it has been unbelievably beneficial. Check it all out.

Being an athletic trainer by education and spending my career thus far focused on that profession I make my living on athletes being injured.  They come in, we start with assessment, move to treatment and rehabilitation and then eventually progress them back to their full activity.  Without athletes suffering from injuries I don’t have a job.  Now, that all being said I never want to see our athletes come down to the Athletic Training Center unless it is to say “Hi” and so I can see how their day is going, thus my focus on prevention and recovery.

The initial idea for prevention and recovery was to go at it from the athletic training side.  Ideas like   Turns out, our athletes have a lot of things going on and adding something else might be too much.  Starting with weights in the morning, class all day, athletic training room, film, practice, dinner, and homework before getting up for the next day, was adding another session really the answer?
adding sessions to workouts, having guys stay longer to foam roll, stretch, do ‘prehab’ would allow the athletes to get better and we would see our injury rates drop.

For this past year I have been fortunate enough to step into the role of Interim Director of Sports Performance.  This opened up an entirely new option for us to look at prevention work and recovery with our athletes, specifically the football team.  We wanted maximize our time and not add anything else to the days of our student-athletes yet at the same time making it effective.  With phenomenal support and planning from UW-La Crosse professor Glenn Wright PhD we were able to implement such a system.  This system allowed for us to work on prevention, mobility, stability and injury reduction all during our time in the Sports Performance Center and some additional sessions that our football players could do on their own on off days.  Below is the general layout of how we looked at in season and out of season and implemented these ideas for ‘prehab’ and recovery.

We did away with the ‘warm up’ when it comes to training and performance sessions.  It was now added as part of the workout.  We used this time to work on specific mobility and stability exercises that would not only get our student-athletes moving but focus on ‘turning on’ muscles that weren’t firing and mobilizing joints that were lacking range of motion.  Along with this we focused on total body stabilization, making sure we can transfer force as we need to.

In Season
In season we took the approach of lifting our ‘travelers’ twice a week (typically Tuesday/Thursday).  These workouts consisted of two primary movements, two main accessory movements and mobility and corrective or stability exercises worked in.  In all the workouts were performed in two circuits that allowed every athlete to keep moving during their workout time and accomplish the lift in forty five minutes. 

This combination of exercises proved to be beneficial for our athletes in terms of maintaining their strength, improving their mobility and reducing soft tissue injury throughout the year*.  Keeping the time concise allowed our athletes to get in and out of their workout in a timely fashion while maintaining the training effects.

Our third training day was Sunday.  Here we split our ‘travelers’ and ‘non-travelers’ for their workout.  ‘Non-travelers’ completed an axillary workout in the weight room to compliment their workouts earlier in the week.  The ‘travelers’ took part in a movement and recovery workout.  Both workouts took forty minutes again but one focused on strength maintenance and development while the recovery workout focused on reducing soreness, relieving tightness and preparing the body for the next week of practice.

Out of Season
Out of season we are able to really focus on working all aspects of our student-athletes ability not only in their training and conditioning but their mobility, stabilization and movement efficiency.  We stayed again with three days in the weight room a week.  We are able to accomplish all we need to in these days for increasing size and strength by utilizing a similar program as in-season.  The workouts start with movement preparation and stability and mobility work.  We then progress into workouts that have variations of the number of prime movements, accessory movements, mobility exercises as well as corrective exercises.

The efficiency plays a role here as we can get an hour and a half of work done (with five guys on a rack) in just over an hour and still get the training effects we are looking for.  With increased focus on stability and mobility we are able to start the process of our athletes moving better to allow for more force production as well as injury prevention.  These workout sessions are combined with our ‘conditioning’ work that consists of teaching the basics of force transmission, body awareness and control and general energy system development.

On ‘off’ days of the program we have ‘interval’ work and ‘regeneration’ workouts for our student-athletes to help continue to build their fitness base but also to help recovery from the previous days workout and prepare them for the next one.  These workouts consist of more moderate energy system development as well as self soft tissue mobilization, stretching and other exercises to help set the body up to get ready for the next workout.  The benefit of these ‘regeneration’ workouts is paramount as it allows our guys to continue to develop their training base while helping themselves recover.  We get better efforts on intense days and do so at a decreased injury risk.

Putting it All Together
There is a definitive trend in sports performance and training that smarter not harder is the way to go, more isn’t always better and can actually harm your athletes and recovery is key.  There are many ways you can work recovery right into your daily work with your athletes and not have to create another session or even extend your current sessions to accommodate it.

While I write this piece predominately from an athletic training point of view and look at prevention my time working in sports performance has shown it isn’t all prevention, its unlocking hidden torque and power that previously was untapped due to mobility and stability restriction.  Implementing this style of training is a two for one and those are hard to find.  If you make it a priority and work it into your current systems the results will speak for themselves.

*A sample size of our players in a study showed that the overwhelming majority of our players maintained or actually increased lean body mass during the football season.  We also saw a reduction in soft tissue injuries throughout the season from the start of camp, possibly due to increase mobility work throughout the year.

Bottom line when it comes down to performance when it comes to nutrition and recovery you just need to eat.  All too often we see athletes trying to be very exact with nutrition and which powders and pills they need to take when they aren't even putting in enough calories.  When it comes to smarter nutrition you need to know how much your body needs and the more exact you can be, the better off you are.  There are many equations out there you can use and they have their ups and downs.  Your best option is getting tested for Resting Energy Expenditure which will tell you exactly how many calories you burn while at rest.  This then gives you the ability to double that number to get your working days calories.  From this you can tweak as needed for weight gain or loss.

Getting this information can be a huge benefit and save a lot of guess and check work.


This area has exploded in the world of sports performance recently.  There are so many gadgets and new tools that can 'enhance recovery'.  While some of more merit than others the idea of recovery is very important.  Slowly leaving are the days of 'if some is good more is better' and moving in is the 'the harder you recover the harder you can train.'  Finding a day that is off is the best option and depending on your training cycle 3 to 4 days of training are ideal.  On those other two days is where you can work on not only recovery but improving your energy system development or ESD.  You're able to increase capacity while not being hard on your body with exercises to increase heart rate and work capacity without increase the wear and tear on your body and also the benefit of recovery.

You can do so much more for yourself if you're not constantly trying to blow it out and break yourself down.  Please consider the smarter not harder approach to better performance.

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