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Skill Coach Or Performance Coach?

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I've written in the past about some of the terrible workouts being thrown out there, often prescribed by skill coaches and recognised by the masses to be the “Gold standard” in fitness testing. Many skill coaches are running athletes into the ground with “Old skool” theories and “Bro Science” based on little or no real understanding of physical preparation. The problem is, although the majority of skill coaches have a good understanding of the skills and movements required in their given sport, they lack any basic understanding of energy systems and are misinformed when it comes to developing strength speed and power. It seems to me some coaches measure fitness by the ability to survive brutal workouts, often thrown together with disregard to an athlete's actual needs.

One particular workout which crops up often in boxing circles is “Bar, Bag”. This workout consists of just 2 exercises, punching the bag with various boxing combinations for time and jumping over a 2-3 ft bar for time. 
Round 1
Bag work x 1minute
Bar jumps x 1 minute
Bag work x 1 minute
Rest 1 minute
Round 2
Bar jumps x 1 minute
Bag work x 1 minute
Bar Jumps x 1 minute
Rest 1 minute

This is repeated until the athlete has completed 4-10 rounds total. Yes that's right, up to 40 minutes punching a bag and jumping over a bar repeatedly. 

Method in the madness??….

When I ask what the focus of the workout is and what exactly the skill coach is trying to develop, the answer they give me is “Boxing fitness”. When asked to define which component of “fitness” is being developed (speed, explosive power, anaerobic capacity), 9 times out of 10 they say all of them. Unfortunately most just don't seem to understand energy systems and therefore don't realise why this workout does nothing for the development of speed or power, and here's why...

The energy system responsible for producing power and speed is the ATP-PC System (Alactic). The ATP-PC System is used for high power activities lasting up to 10 seconds. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) stores in the muscle last for approximately 2 seconds and the resynthesis of ATP from Creatine Phosphate (CP) will continue until CP stores in the muscles are depleted (approximately 4 to 6 seconds). This gives us around 5 to 8 seconds of ATP production or put another way 5-8 seconds of high intensity output. When The CP stores are depleted we rely on the second energy system, the Anaerobic Glycolysis System (Lactic). The Lactic system is used during activities that last between 10 seconds to 90 seconds and also results in the production of lactic acid and the early onset of muscular fatigue. Although this energy system can help the athlete maintain moderate energy outputs for a little while longer, once the CP system is exhausted we typically associate the lactic system with the loss of speed and power. To summarize - if you're training in a glycolytic pathway, then you're no longer training for speed.

Training time spent away from technical and skill training generally consists of distance running, hill sprints (again often performed with incomplete rest so lactic), skipping ropes and circuit training. Essentially the athlete becomes great at producing moderate-low power outputs for long durations. So where does strength, speed and power fit into all of this? The answer is, it doesn’t. 

The majority of boxers and MMA fighters (amateur and pro) spend most of their time training in a lactic state. On average all of my boxers hit the bags, pads and spar around 5-6 days a week, racking up around 7-9 hours each week and nearly all of these sessions are performed in a fatigued state. Inadequate rest and high energy demands, means the athlete is pushed into a lactic state time and time again.

"Lactic training is too slow for speed development, and too fast to recover from in 24 hours." Charlie Francis

The ability to survive these workouts doesn’t necessarily mean you are fit for your sport. Boxing requires an athlete to produce explosive power and speed over and over again without the loss of power - Alactic capacity. Bar Bag is a poor test of Alactic capacity as the boxer never really returns to the powerful Alactic system due to zero rest - the incomplete recovery drops intensity and the boxer is operating at moderate-low outputs. Boxing takes place over 3 minutes, but each exchange only lasts on average around 3-7 seconds, followed by active rest. Yes a boxer will end up in a lactic state at some point during a fight, but this is where the development of a powerful aerobic system is crucial.

“The more powerful the aerobic system, the greater the lactate buffer system! Without even training in a glycolytic environment, you’re improving your lactic capacity because of the creatine phosphate, adenosine triphosphate biogenesis, each 3 energy systems releasing chemicals to allow contraction. The more you can keep an athlete in an aerobic environment before they go into lactic, the less stress on their body to produce the work.” James Thinker Smith

Too much lactic training will negatively effect the development of aerobic capacity. This further highlights the need for a well structured training program. How can the S+C coach develop strength, speed, power and aerobic qualities whilst the athlete is constantly in a glycolytic training block and beat up from his skill sessions?
As Dean Sommerset once put it - If you judge how good a workout is by how beat up you feel after it, then you may as well pay me to kick you in the shins a couple of times.

Exercise choice…
It's beyond me why somebody who hits pads or bags 5-6 days a week would want to include more striking during their energy system training. If a distance runner came to me to prepare for a marathon or triathlon and they already ran 2-3 days a week, the last thing I'm thinking of doing with them is running. In fact even if they didn’t run whilst away from me, the last thing I'd be doing with them is running. I don't ask my boxers to hit bags during their physical preparation because I know how much of it they do away from me. To add to this, a boxer should be using his/her time wisely to work on weaknesses. I consistently see the same patterns of dysfunction in boxers - generally tightness in the pecs, anterior deltoids and upper traps. Rounding at the shoulders, tight hip flexors and problems with the rotator cuff. It would make more sense to focus on addressing mobility at the shoulder and hip joint, strengthening postural muscles and re-activating weak inhibited muscles.

More skill coach knowledge bombs…  -  
“Running on the roads is the only strength training a boxer needs to do to strengthen their legs”  
“A boxer should only use gymnastics and body weight exercises to develop strength and power” 
“Lifting weights makes you “bulky” and slows you down”

Athletes take all this as gospel. Why? Because a long, long time ago their skill coach used to be regarded as a great athlete themselves and the thinking is this qualifies them a great coach. Understanding human performance requires hours of reading, studying and the willingness to remain open minded. Unless your coach is doing these things, they're not only limiting themselves as a coach, but also holding you back from reaching your athletic potential.

David Green is a CPPS certified strength & conditioning coach and founder of Strongest Version online coaching.

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