Attacking Limiting Factors: The Novice Athlete

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Preparing an athlete to succeed in their sporting arena boils down to this: your training tools must transfer to the arena or you're just wasting time.  Though simple on paper, somehow this approach gets lost when a coach works with a novice athlete. 

So, let me ask - the fastest way to get your novice to play like a pro is to assign them program(s) designed for trained/professional athletes, right?

That is not correct.

Training for any sport requires identifying where an athlete is on their training life-cycle (novice or trained) and then applying a multidimensional process that combines the weight roomspeed training, and sport skill. We keep things simple: if an athlete has never established their Base Level of Strength by finishing a linear progression, they are a novice, regardless of size, existing strength, or previous weight room experience.

HORSE, THEN CART: BASE LEVEL OF STRENGTH

To succeed in sport, coordination, strength, and power must be enhanced.  But you can’t enhance what hasn’t even been developed.  Enter: Base Level of Strength (BLoS).

When a novice begins any program, they will see strength increases during the first year.  For gen-pop, this is great, but for athletes, this is only the first step.  Strength improvements may not sufficiently impact athleticism. An athlete’s strength is only as good as their ability to use it in their arena.

Why?

Athletes generate force through maximal capabilities of individual muscles (peripheral factors) and the coordination of muscle activity by the central nervous system (central factors). Novice athletes come in lacking both.  In the beginning, novices produce inefficient patterns and inconsistent intensities, mis-time movements, and recruit muscles irrelevant to the movements (2). The BLoS addresses peripheral factors primarily, so once they finish the linear progression, they are only half way there.

This is why Joe Freshman cannot follow Frank Two Time Olympian’s regimen.  You can’t apply a program designed to exploit factors they simply don’t have (yet).

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MAXIMIZE POTENTIAL: THE NOVICE ATHLETE 

LIMITING FACTOR: TRAINABILITY:

The potential to develop strength in response to a specific training regime depends largely on genetic factors relative to pre-training status.

Things like the rate at which an athlete learns movement patterns, hypertrophy, leverage characteristics associated with each joint, distribution of fast and slow twitch fibers, and metabolic efficiency (1) are all heavily influenced by genetics.

That said, genetics cannot be a coach’s carte blanche answer for success or failure. The key word in the definition is potential! Potential means nothing unless it is cashed in. The coach must apply the appropriate program for an athlete to fulfill their genetic potential.  For novices, that program is the linear progression.

Riding the wave of resets until the bitter end indisputably establishes a base level of strength, which actualizes their genetic potential on a faster timetable, helping them push the envelope of genetics and express performance traits where it matters most: the field.  

Once established, your BLoS never leaves you.  

LIMITING FACTOR: BIOMECHANICAL EFFICIENCY: 

Body leverage, the relative strengths of the different muscle groups, and the neuromuscular efficiency which orchestrates movement patterns (1) all contribute to this factor.

Again, genetics rears its ugly head. While a coach cannot alter muscle origin and insertion points or muscle fiber lay out, they can teach athletes to use what have.

There is a physiological learning effect for any beginning athlete called the Novice Window, which contains three phases of coordination and hypertrophy development:

  1. Intermuscular Coordination
  2. Intramuscular Coordination
  3. Hypertrophy

Phase One: Intermuscular Efficiency

The first phase, Intermuscular Coordination, attacks the biomechanical efficiency limiting factor by addressing cooperation among different muscle groups (1). As athletes accumulate reps with the big 5 lifts, agonists and antagonist muscles begin to work together. Shaking under the bar will dissipate, and the bar path straighten out. Once a bar-only lift looks coordinated, accelerate this process through the overload principle.

LIMITING FACTOR: NEUROMUSCULAR EFFICIENCY:

Phase Two: Intramuscular Efficiency
This is the skill, efficiency, and intensity with which one recruits fibers in the muscle groups to produce a movement pattern accurately and powerfully (1).

All movement is controlled by nervous and neuromuscular processes. This limiting factor affects everything from force reduction to being explosive. This fundamental element to athletics is developed during the second phase of the Novice Window, Intramuscular Coordination. This phase improves co-operation between muscle fibers within the same group and is directly connected to the trained ability to produce strength and power. This coordination develops under the BLoS program once the intermuscular coordination starts to dial in.

A novice’s lack of neuromuscular efficiency is why their 1RM’s are never true, and assigning relative percentages will not work. Establishing Inter- and Intramuscular Efficiency allows us to gradually increase the intensity and accelerate athletic development (short term) and expand trainability (long term)! Once that’s done, then the RM’s are more accurate.
 

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LIMITING FACTOR: PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS:

Athletic performance depends greatly on a combination of psychological factors like motivation, attitude towards winning and losing, concentration, and the ability to control emotions while executing.

Physical preparation for athletics will never compensate for psychological weaknesses under the high stress of competition. We talked about this in Power Coach: Self-Esteem. These psychological barriers are tools that can teach an athlete how to navigate high stress situations, using self-esteem and fear as motivation.

An athlete can be their own biggest limiting factor. Whatever perceptions they create for themselves will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Examples include training loads, personal sport skill ability, strengths, weaknesses, opponent’s abilities, problems with sporting venue, or any other perceptions they create. Physical abilities and mental processing systems work hand in hand on Game Day. Even a highly-skilled, field strong body is of little value without the right frame of mind. Like coordination, mental preparation takes reps, failure, then accomplishment at high intensity to build self-esteem. Fortunately, we’ve got anapp for that… 

LIMITING FACTOR: TENSILE STRENGTH:

Per science, "tensile strength is defined as a stress, which is measured as force per unit area." @John defines tensile strength as, “that inherent strength athletes build from time under load. The longer an athlete has trained, the greater the tensile strength.”

Novice athletes have had limited time under the bar.  Even the athletes that have been “going to the gym” lack tensile strength because of their limited training at near- or full maximal loads. Cable crossovers don’t count.  Just because someone lifts weights doesn't mean they have been training. When Welbourn says “tensile strength” from “training”, he means the strength created from a dedicated program like Power Athlete's Field Strong or The Basics, where an athlete pushes the boundaries of strength, power and speed by doing more than yesterday (i.e. a linear progression).

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EMPOWER YOUR PERFORMANCE - COACH, ARE YOU THE LIMITING FACTOR?

Potential is the dirty word here, not novice or amateur.

An athlete only gets one shot at maximizing their Base Level of Strength. DO NOT deprive them of this single opportunity by applying %’s based off physiologically unsound bullshit 1RM’s, or following an outdated program that your ole ball coach threw your way in high school! Misapplication diminishes long-term trainability, limits opportunity to optimize biomechanical efficiency, and skips the high intense reps needed to accelerate neuromuscular efficiency.

These limiting factors are opportunities for any coach to attack and empower their athlete for the remainder of their athletic career. Don’t let size or weight room time deceive you. If an athlete has never completed a linear progression, they are a novice.

Don’t put the cart before the horse.  Do the right thing.  Establish that Base Level Of Strength before all else. We’ve done the all the hard work for you, as no better BLoS programs can be found outside of The Basics and Field Strong: PA1. All you have to do now is implement.

SOURCES

  1. Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraing: 6th Edition. Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
  2. Zatsiorsky, V.M. & Kraemer, W.J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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About The Author

Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.

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