Performance: Is it just the change?

As Tupac wrote. ‘…things will never be the same’

This blog has been writing itself in my head over the past 4-6 weeks after listening to Derek Evely on the HMMR media podcast. The episode titled ‘Changes’ discusses the use of change as the stimulus in training to elicit the desired outcome. Change is the process by which something transforms or becomes different to before.  As coaches, this is general what we desire. We want positive changes from our athletes, which deliver improved performance outcomes on the field, court or track.

Derek is one of the world’s most experienced track and field coaches having been mentored by Dr Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Without going too deep into Dr B’s training system, it is based upon stimulus, adaptation and then change (systematic in this instance); along with a specific exercise classification (which is another good blog to be written). Derek was discussing the process of when athletes change coach and immediately see an improved performance outcome; and people celebrate the achievement and expertise of the coach as the answer and reason the outcome was achieved. Simplistically, yes it is. However, as he went on to theorise, that perhaps it is just down to the change of stimulus; rather than the coaching. I tend to agree.

As the Einstein quote details about Insanity (doing the same thing and expecting different results…), change is necessary to push the boundaries in all fields. Specific to performance, the level of change or stimulus required to force an adaptation will be dependent on the years spent training (not level of athlete – elite athletes who are new to the sport will not require huge changes to see performance outcomes). Athletes who have been honing their craft across the better part of the decade will need a new stimulus to see improved performance outcomes; and herein lies the issue… determining what and how much to change. Referring back to earlier, I would theorise that a chaotic change would be required for elite level talent with many training years under their belt. For those who are in the infancy of their career(s), systematic change is all that is required.

Although coaches may be bias to a particular philosophy or principle of training, often a little change of structure, session content or approach to performance may be all that is required to steer the ship back on course. Change needs to sit right next to more commonly used training principles: frequency, intensity, duration, overload and accommodation. Performance coaches need to be creative with how to manipulate the change in the overall scheme of the sport structure of season.

So do not get too carried away when there is a performance spike when an athlete is using a new system. The body has been stressed in a way never experienced previously; and aside from the acute stress response, it has disrupted homeostasis enough to elicit performance gains. In a sense, the process of allostasis is in effect. Whereby, stability in the system has been achieved by way of the physiological stress applied.

The human body is a dynamic system however and will rapidly adapt to the stressors placed upon it; see the SAID principle. But staying with change, a chaotic change will cause much stress to all systems and possibly muscle and connective tissue trauma. A systematic change will be more moderate in comparison but should still be within reach of current capabilities.

So I urge you to make changes… just do not make too many, as then, you will not know the cause of the effect!

Periodisation is a Myth

Periodisation can be described as a long-term methodical plan to achieve optimal performance, whereby various physiological qualities are systematically developed, while also controlling levels of fatigue and the law of accommodation.

But is this actually reality? Do coaches (or athletes) actually believe that by planning macro, meso and microcycles up to 12 months in advance (or further) is actually going to have the anticipated effect on performance when D-Day arrives?

I don’t. Periodisation in the classical sense is a myth.

The social, industrial, political and pharmaceutical landscapes from which Matveyev and Zatsiorsky constructed their annual or quadrennial plans is completely different to today. Although the Russian and Eastern Bloc texts are still classics, create engaging dialogue within the profession and formed the basis for our understanding of planning; the application to apply the theory lacks some context in today’s world. These models were based initially on the Olympic calendar; where every facet of the ‘programme’ was controlled. They are not exactly wrong. They are however rigid, stable and predictable.

The linear relationship between volume and intensity within these classical approaches is solid in theory. Start the GPP with a low intensity and high volume and then as you progress through the multitude of micro and mesocycles towards the SPP, begin to increase the intensity and reduce the volume; then you should get to the CP in optimal shape right? This is bs. It subscribes to the saying soon ripe, soon rotten. In my opinion, this also is a myth. The issue I have with this approach is that with a few hiccups (injury, illness, life stressors) along the way, you will never get ripe at all. All you have is very green bananas.

John Kiely (see here and here) is perhaps the utmost expert on sport periodisation and Mladen Jovanovic who has discussed Daily Undulating Periodisation/Framework (DUF) and Agile Periodisation on his blog, are two key voices in the field as they are aware and vocal of the complex biological systems in effect, which are devoid of system, constraint and structure. There needs to be scope for variation, experimentation and deviation from the plan. Athlete’s will all react different to the stimulus provided (see Bondarchuk), so why would you move them into the next phase because the week rolled-over or the cell changed from green to blue in your spreadsheet? There needs to be constant assessment of the stimulus-stress-adaptation response to determine when to progress the intensification of the training.

Constraining yourself to a calendar or a colourful excel spreadsheet is dumb (and I’ve done this!). The complex biological system of each athlete is smarter than any formula you write into a cell. Long-term planning is fraught with danger and misguided judgment by the coach. The true value of a great coach is the ability to see what is happening within the athlete, during training/competition and make daily/weekly adjustments to develop the appropriate stimulus-stress-adaptation response. Anyone can follow a weekly volume-intensity structure.

In no way am I saying do not plan. You need to plan, organize and structure all components of the athlete’s training; however don’t be dogmatic about it. Be cognisant of the individuality that exists for each athlete, which may not abide by the typical 3:1 loading structure.

Understand you have an end goal but do not be glued to a process because you have it written down on paper. As the coach, understand the context, show some initiative and application to what you SEE.

All coaches need great plans for their athletes. Just don’t plan too far in advance.