I was recently privileged to have been part of the strength, conditioning and performance team for elite British triathlete Vanessa Raw. The movements and exercises described below, along with recovery and movement quality sessions, were developed as part of a congruent strength training phase with the intention of preparing Vanessa as much as possible for a progressive off-season programme while getting her running again as soon as possible.
It is appropriate to make reference to the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) and its relevance to programming for sports-specific conditioning. The SAID principle explains why certain types of training or activities produce ‘specific’ adaptations and so, in order to have the greatest transfer into a sport, the body must be trained in ways very similar to the intended activity or sport performed. This should take into account factors such as body position, movements and sequencing of segments, muscles used, force profile, velocity, energy system demands and the environment in which it takes place.
Triathlon consists of swimming, cycling and running, each individual sport placing unique movement demands on the body but with the added challenge of completing each event consecutively. Therefore, the ability to be able to move efficiently in all three disciplines is a key consideration.
The ‘state’ of the athlete from an anatomical, mechanical, physiological and psychological perspective should also be determined and continually monitored in order to develop and implement an optimal training and conditioning strategy that has maximum transfer into the respective sport.
Vanessa was initially unable to even jog due to a very specific and localised pain on foot strike around the insertion of peroneus brevis at the base of the fifth metatarsal, and so was essentially in a rehabilitation phase of training in one sport (running). However, she was training as normal in the other two disciplines, with some additional sessions of energy system development (predominantly aerobic endurance) to compensate for not running.
The role of function
It is pertinent to address the role of ‘function’ in sports performance. A seemingly general term (often overused), ‘function’ can be more purposefully described as a ‘goal-directed movement’ (Czech and Martin 2002) or simply stated as ‘training for function’. The overall thought process described can be viewed from this perspective, looking at bones and joint sequencing in specific body segments, and myofascial lines, particularly related to running (the function), although consideration of the movement demands of swimming and cycling were also considered.
When looking at the role of certain muscles ‘in function’, there is the potentially large gap in conditioning that exists between a concentric muscle contraction through one movement plane versus a reactive eccentric to concentric muscle contraction in multiple planes. As a result, by isolating muscle, the symbiotic relationship between a muscle’s function and the total pattern of movement may be lost.
An example that is directly related to Vanessa would be the ‘glutes’. Thought of traditionally as primarily extending the hip, a typical technique of ‘activating’ or ‘firing’ the glutes may be through isolated, resisted abduction, for example, frontal plane tube walking with a resistance band around the ankle or above the knee. While this concentric exercise will certainly target the glutes (including medius and minimus) and is by no means wrong, when considering its role in function, the gluteus maximus can also be thought of as a powerful ‘pump’ and a key link in efficient functioning of the trunk and lower limbs; in running, its ability to decelerate and load eccentrically in all three planes on foot strike is critical.
At the very heart of the philosophy of ViPR is whole-body integration and, as such, using the entire body for movement. It allows sports-specific movements, or movements that are designed to elicit a certain response in the body that has direct carry over into a sporting movement, to be loaded at any speed, in any direction and in any environment.
For example, in movement preparation, it can be used to facilitate greater extensibility through the tissue, as a gravity enhancer to load certain myofascial lines, in order to create the optimal environment for muscle, connective tissue and fascia preparation in an athlete. In goal-based movements, it can be used to load and drive specific chain reactions in body segments and constantly change the force tri-factor and the subsequent response in the body. It is also fun and interactive, the power of which is invaluable to a trainer working with athletes.
When training and developing programs for athletes, it is vital to appreciate the significance of periodization. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover this in detail but it can be summarised as the overall long-term cyclic structuring of training and practice to maximize performance to coincide with important competitions.
The overall short-term training goal was to get Vanessa back racing as soon as possible. After some initial dynamic assessments, including gait with various ‘tweaks’ and excursion tests for the ankle, hip and thoracic spine dynamic, we developed a number of matrix solutions that would form part of the movement preparation and inter-set mobility, and also progressed to form part of the goal-based movement program where appropriate. It was at this stage that ViPR was first introduced. By making the test the exercise and the exercise the test, as Gary Gray, founder of the Gray Institute, describes, it allows program and movement tweaks to be made session by session, depending on how the client ‘shows up’ each day. For example, after a long bike session, we would need to spend more time driving motion at the hips and thoracic, and focus on getting extensibility through the lateral myofascial line.
We also introduced a recovery and regeneration program that included a number of ‘mobilizers’ using ViPR for tissue enhancement and movement quality, all of which were carefully programmed into the training week (micro-cycle). Within the specific conditioning sessions, we aimed to get as close to pain-free running as possible and the jop, as described previously, became our starting point, travelling forwards almost like hopscotch. Once the movement was learnt, we were able to load it with ViPR and eventually progress to various reactive jop drills and ice-skater movements while still travelling forwards. It is important to highlight that ViPR was a small but important part of Vanessa’s overall training program.
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