Strength & Conditioning
As we settle in the holiday season, it seems like sweets tend to surround us with chocolate temptation and sugary savory cookies. Many folks tend to give in and engulf pounds of desserts over the course of the holiday season. The problem isn’t the sweets themselves, but self-control. Now, I’m not saying to stay away from all desserts or make claims that sugar is evil. If you want some sweets, go ahead! It comes down to self-control and serving sizes. To tell you all to not consume any sweets during Christmas is absurd and can surely ruin the night. It’s also completely understandable to want to stray from desserts because “you don’t want lose your gainz! Or all of your hard work will be a waste”. I can assure you, there is a way to enjoy the holiday season, maintain your gains, and still achieve your goals.
Reach for the Christmas cookies and have a handful. Do not feel guilty about this. Just don’t overdo it like a plate or two stacked with brownies, cookies, candy canes, etc. Now if you exercised that day, you have a little more leniency but still not much, keep it minimal. Here are some tips that may work for you:
- Hungry? Go for a protein snack (Greek yogurt, beef jerky, hard-boiled eggs, protein smoothies, protein bars/cookies). Not the tastiest but better for body composition. How is it better? Protein is more satiating (feel full longer) and has a higher TEF (thermic effect of food), essentially burning more calories during metabolism.
- Drink water! Sometimes hunger may be mistaken for thirst, so if you’re feeling hungry and want a snack, drink some water first then decide if you want to go for that snack. It may also help if you drink water before dinner. This may give you a “full” feeling thus, potentially leading to less food intake.
- Same like the first tip, add more protein than anything on your dinner plate, i.e. chicken breast, turkey, beans, steak, roast beef, etc. Eat your protein first, then go for the mashed potatoes, etc.
- Add fiber to your dish. Fiber also adds satiety. Examples include, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, celery.
- Use smaller plates. People tend to eat less with smaller plates. Try it out and see if it works. It may not but this is about experimenting.
- Make substitutions. Choose a fruit cup with cottage cheese over a gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate. Choose wine over beer. Simple substitutions like this can help.
- Most importantly, if you lose all self-control and go on a 3-week sweets binge, don’t worry, you will be okay. Enjoy the holiday season!
If looking to make healthier desserts, click here (no affiliation, just cool ideas).
If you’re interested to find out an individualized nutrition plan just for you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for our nutrition services.
Most of the programs that we design and implement at Ruthless Performance have some meticulously detailed cool-down for an athlete to do following their last exercises of the day. And in most cases these are some combination of mobility drills, breathing techniques, or myofascial release strategies.
Past all of the very significant reasons that a proper cool down in crucial for athlete development, there’s a handful of additional benefits an athlete will receive by doing their prescribed combination of mobility drills at this particular time. When an athlete does these drills early on in the workout, likely in their warm-up or as an accessory drill between main sets, more mobility (active use of ROM) is required of the articulations themselves–like in the spine or at the hip.
But after a workout, while there is more blood circulating in the muscles, the mobility drills will more specifically target these areas–even if it is the same exercise that is done pre-workout.
There also seems to be more lasting changes in range-of-motion when these exercises are completed post-workout. Whereas in the warm-up, these drills serve to enhance proper movement and function during the workout, but the lasting effects seem to be negated by the workouts themselves.
This is why we recommend including high-priority mobility drills in the pre and post-workout time period.
We’ve added a new post in our Internal Program Review series. This time, we’ve published the post with our partners at Swimming Science. This program review focuses on a single training day within one of our high school swimmer’s program.
You can also find other Internal Program Reviews here, on RuthlessPerformance.com.
An unfortunate setback in the science of human performance is the large emphasis currently placed on muscle physiology as a means of maximizing performance. While obviously the muscles play a critical role in athleticism, the muscular system is completely at the whim of the nervous system; the junction of these two is known categorically as the Neuromuscular System.
In an ongoing effort to inform our athletes, parents, coaches, and general audience, we will be regularly detailing some specific segment of the Nervous System or the aforementioned Neuromuscular System. These are the areas of human performance which should be of primary interested to clinicians and academics rather than the simplistic if-A-than-B relationship of the muscular system as it works when viewed in isolation.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis)
A critical element to training progress is the management, application, and adaptation to stress. Many will correctly point out that the improvements associated with practice and/or exercise come not in the training bouts themselves, but in the subsequent rest and tissue regeneration/ restoration. As a coach tries to monitor training loads and competition frequency to optimize the stress response, the HPA Axis performs this function internally.
The HPA Axis refers to the interaction of 3 fundamental structures. The Hypothalamus–a part of the limbic system which up/down regulates various hormone levels to maintain homeostasis (the drive to maintain stable internal states) in the body. Also it is comprised of the Pituitary Gland, which may be the most widely-known of the 3 parts; the pituitary is responsible for a wide array of physiochemical reactions like water retention, sexual development, and importantly for the HPA Axis, stress responses. Lastly, the Adrenal Glands function as the response to deviations in stress levels. Among others, the adrenals generate both of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
To bring these three structures together, think of it like this: the Hypothalamus wants to maintain a cohesive and stable environment among all internal systems. The pituitary manages stress and interacts with the hypothalamus to mitigate deviations to equilibrium. The adrenals generate the chemical messages (hormones) necessary for the stress response to occur and bring about homeostasis.
The HPA Axis and Performance
As alluded to, performance enhancement comes in the form of an adaptation to a stressor. In the case of an athlete, that stressor would be a rigorous training bout. With this in mind and a better understanding of the HPA Axis, it should now be a bit more obvious how managing and overcoming training stressors relates to a neuroendocrine system that deals directly with stress.
Through various methods, we can optimize the function of the HPA Axis to better deal with training stressors.
The role that the pituitary gland plays changes drastically in scale throughout adolescence, during puberty, and into the late teenage years. To maximize an athletes long-term potential, a great deal of care should be placed around ensuring an optimal stress load throughout this time.
On one hand, a young athlete may be under-stressed, as in the case of a single-sport and otherwise sedentary individual. This particular athlete’s long-term ability to generate stress hormones would blunted. In contrast to this, an athlete of the same age who competes year-round in the same sport, in addition to various other roles and obligations may be overstressed. A sign that over-stress is occuring is athlete burnout. The long-term biochemical response to prolonged periods of stress in adolescence can be a lifelong hypersensitivity to stress. This minimizes the total training load an athlete can undergo, lessening potential athletic adaptations, and increasing the overall likelihood of mood-related illnesses (like depression or anxiety).
The solution to this is an intermediate stress load to maximize stress tolerance and sensitivity. This can be done by ensuring a young athlete is engaged in multiple types of sports, only specializing in a singular sport with age.
As athletes develop they are still susceptible to changes in the HPA Axis. Recreational drugs and alcohol can impede the ability of the adrenals to produce adrenaline under normal stress environments like sport-specific training. This, in theory, seems to indicate a higher training load would be needed to achieve similar results.
Regardless of an athletes age, this stress response is a reason why lifestyle stress should be minimized during periods of high-stress in training. This is why it is common for elite athletes to minimize contact with boyfriends/girlfriends during the training leading up to a big event. Similarly, chronic sleep deprivation limits the downregulation of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to chronically elevated cortisol (stress) levels.
By simultaneously minimizing various stressors system-wide and effectively delivering a training response to overcome, an athlete’s short and long-term performance can be drastically enhanced. The scope of the HPA Axis goes far beyond athlete development. The HPA Axis also plays crucial roles in immune system function, emotional stability, and even in the activation of various genes.
Throughout the entirety of my college tenure and time as a collegiate strength & conditioning coach, I was extremely averse to CrossFit. Though my stance hasn’t changed much regarding CrossFit as a means of enhancing athletic prowess, it has changed considerably towards using CrossFit as a means of enhancing fitness in the general population as well as CrossFit as a sport unto itself. My thoughts on CrossFit as a whole are best saved for another day, but my opinions on it have been trending more positively as of late.
During this time in my life, I would have never anticipated that moving forward I’d have a wonderful working relationship with a handful of CrossFit affiliates, as well as having a roster on-hand of over 300 CrossFit athletes that I actively assess, program, and am generally accountable for with regards to health and longevity in the sport.
With all this said, I wanted to do a break down of one of the Ruthless Performance Ex Phys Interventions, one of our flagship corrective exercise protocols. This internal program review will vary slightly from some in the past, as some information has been redacted/blurred. I don’t have any problems answering any questions, or providing explanations for these programs, but because of the highly individualized and semi-clinical nature of these programs, sharing the entirety of these programs can be counterproductive as many exercises that work for the client may not work for others.
I’ve only left the information visible on this program that I want to share (and am capable of covering) within the scope of this article. The Ruthless Performance Ex Phys Interventions are largely just corrective in nature and do not comprise the entirety of an athlete’s program. These are usually done in conjunction with our Remote Programming, Athlete Development Training, or in conjunction with other sports (like CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting).
Ex Phys Interventions typically have a handful of components meant to mend well with existing programing. Programs are almost always comprised of warm-up, cool-down, activation work, and then from here may include some combination of at-home work, daily mobility circuits, weekly totals, etc..
So let’s dig in…
1. To Fix Something Rapidly, Do it Frequently
The daily exercises typically involved in our Ex Phys Interventions seek to address some underlying physical deviation causing undue strain on the musculoskeletal system. By assigning these exercises to do frequently, but with low-intensity, these can be completed shortly before bed, upon waking, during lunch breaks, and so on…
In this case, we’re dealing with an athlete that has prominent Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT), slight Upper Cross Syndrome, and flexion-intolerant back pain (read more on flexion vs. extension intolerant back pain here). The at-home exercises were largely meant to remedy these issues, while requiring relatively little input from the CNS, allowing the athlete to perform these with a greater level of frequency.
This exercise circuit is listed to be performed 3x / week. More is better in the case of these exercises, but 3x / week is a frequency that an athlete can adhere to with relative ease.
2. Breathing Drills are Making a Come-Back
Breathing Drills are one of those topics that deserve their own article (if not their own book). There are many great resources to learn about the significance of proper breathing in greater specificity, but suffice it to say that in a cool-down, we are looking for activation of the diaphragm to help pull the athlete into a more parasympathetic-dominant state (the CNS should be the focal point of Exercise Science curricula rather than the muscular system, again another post, another day…).
The Deep Squat Belly Breathing w/ Lat Stretch drill is useful specifically with this athlete as we’re attempting to alter the CNS, while simultaneously helping the client feel better overhead, minimize input from various accessory breathing structures, and get some extra post-workout work on that deep squat position; mobility drills done post-workout seem to have longer-lasting effects on range of motion and function.
Additionally, I’ve left in the header of her assigned myofascial release work for a quick note… The effects of myofascial release seem to be slightly overblown BUT myofascial release is still important enough to make our corrective programs. By drastically cutting down the time on the rollers & lacrosse balls, but maintaining frequency, we can experience the benefits of myofascial work without it taking up more time than is needed. 15 seconds on the roller and LAX ball per muscle group as a standard and doubling this only for trouble areas.
3. Corrective Exercises Aren’t Always Crazy Stretches
I’ll be the first to admit that many of the exercises within our corrective protocols are complex and can be viewed as a novelty. This theme can encapsulate athletes’ perceptions generally towards correctives, but this isn’t always the case.
Both biceps femoris (legs) and biceps brachii (arms) tend to be an issue for CrossFit athletes… Since many CrossFit facilities tend to avoid use of machines, the hamstrings (biceps femoris) tend to be neglected, specifically the short head of the muscle, whose primary responsibility is lower leg flexion. In the case of the arms (biceps brachii), which are stimulated by exercises like traditional dumbbell or barbell curls, there again tends to be an imbalance between the long head and short head, leading to problems at the shoulder, elbow, and even wrist.
By adding in a weekly total for barbell curls, we can ensure the athlete is getting sufficient short-head activation without much complexity. Barbell curls, no weights, hit this total every week; that’s it.
4. Multi-Function Joints Need Multi-Function Stimulation
The joint-by-joint theory popularized by Physical Therapist Gray Cook can appear invalid at the shoulder, as it is comprised of two primary joints. But as the data points to, the theory fits as one joint provides stability (acromioclavicular joint) and the other yields greater range of motion (glenohumeral).
With this in mind, we’ve focused the athletes Day 1, 3, and 5 activation drills around ensuring these various functional components of the shoulder and thoracic spine are being stimulated.
The Half-Kneeling 90/90 External Rotation stimulates the Supraspinatus in isolation. I reference the significance of the Supraspinatus regularly, but its significance is largely rooted in its function as one of the few muscles that externally rotates the humerus. Bench T-Spines are ideal for wedging the shoulder blades into the thoracic spine, thus forcing some sagittal plane mobility (thoracic extension). And of course, this variation of carries works the rotator cuffs of the shoulder independently of one another, while ensuring large amounts of irradiation (tension directed upwards in the kinetic chain) because of the bottoms-up grip. This further supports the desired outcome of very active, healthy rotator cuffs.
For more details on any of our corrective exercise programs, send us an email at info@RuthlessPerformance.com. Program facilitation available in-person and online.
With the vast expanse that is the winter swim season raipidly approaching, I wanted to take the time to yet again detail one of our swimming programs. In this particular case, we’re going to explain the Ruthless Performance methods that made this program so effective.
To provide context for this case study, we will be talking about a male swimmer, approaching the end of his high school career, who specailizes in short to mid-distance freestyle and butterfly…
We’ll be looking at ‘Day 2’ of his 3-day program, and what we’re doing to get him in-shape for the upcoming swim season.
1. Emphasising Both Activation & Mobility as Needed
Like most other programs we run our athletes through, this workout begins with a comprehenisve warm-up. Athletes are compartmentalized into a warm-up by age, ability, past injuries and training history. From there, we specialize and individualize the workout starting at our ‘A’ Exercises which are very rarely similar from one athlete to the next.
Landmine-based exercises have recently become a frequent addition to our programs because of the unusual loading parameters we see with this exercise variation. As opposed to a traditional barbell exercise, landmine exercises get lighter as the angle of the bar approaches 90 degrees; this has a wide array of benefits, but here we are using this to maximally loading the shoulder at the bottom of the press, while ensuring a greater ROM (range of motion) as we near the top of the exercise. Beyond just encouraging more ROM, this also assists in activation of the Serratus Anterior — a troublesome area for many athletes, which in the case of swimmers can be career ending.
In addition to creating muscle activation in the shoulder, we’re trying to use this ‘A’ circuit to enhance hip mobility. In our A1, the Half-Kneeling Overhead Landmine Press assists in creating hip mobility via Rectus Femoris Stretch caused by the Half-Kneeling position. Though this is a secondary component to the A1, hip mobility is the primary element of the A2 –the weighted cossack squat…
Because this swimmer is primarily a freestyler and butterflier, the hip is exposed to a relatively small ROM. By expanding this capacity in a structured and controlled training environment, we can help minimize injury (while maximizing power output) via enhanced ability of the hips to absorb and generate force outside of the saggital plane.
2. Creating a Neutral Spine Where and When Possible
In a previous article, I explained the differences between flexion and extension intolerant back pain, this particular athlete sits closer to the extension-intolerent end of the spectrum. To mitigate this, we’ve added Band Pull Aparts and 180 Degree Back Extensions as part of his ‘B’ exercise circuit.
Band Pull Aparts are one of the most common exercises within any of the Ruthless Performance programs, regardless of sport; but in the case of swimming, these provide countless benefits. Beyond the primary benefits to swimmers, like scapular control and improved stroke efficiency, we’ve added this as a means of minimizing kyphosis. Like many high school athletes who sit behind a desk for 6+ hours / day, this athlete demonstrates an internally rotated and kyphotic posture. The solution to these problems almost universally starts with a very high volume of band pull aparts.
Though the ‘B2’ is listed as 180 Back Extension, it is talked about and referred to internally as a 180 Hip Extension. Though this may seem semantic it is not. I won’t go into detail here again, though you can find more in our first installment of our Internal Program Review, where we go over this difference in detail.
The video below from our instagram also explains this to some extent with yet another one of our swimmers performing this exercise.
3. Enhance Cardiovascular Capacity, But do so Efficiently
The primary purpose of the off-season program should be to build up strength and other various capacities that are often neglected during the regular swim season. Going into the season, however, should at least provide some basic framework for sport-specific work capacity.
Another one of my frequent rants is that about the purpose and function of the rotator cuff… 4 anatomically independent muscles grouped together because of their function (physiology) with regards to the shoulder, which is simply to maintain the position of the humerus. With this in mind, any time we spend engaging and maintaining a stable shoulder, we are inherently training the rotator cuff. Here, we’re doing so concurrently with a few other goals in mind, enhancing cardiovascular capacity (as mentioned), but also encouraging overhead ROM with the slam ball, generating force outside of the saggital plane, and developing abdonimal activation/ trunk stability during both the C1 and C2 exercises.
Though these aren’t traditionally exercises performed for energy system training, we can manipulate the variables to ellicit this desired response. Rather than simply adding in more sets or extending the length of time to complete the exercises, we’ve focused in on the density component, which is simply the ability to do more work in the same period of time. A 5-minute time cap ensures that from weeks 1-4, the athlete is developing his work capacity, in a manner condusive to short to mid distance swimming events. As opposed to conventional wisdom, maintaining a high level of force output and muscular endurance over this relatively short period of time is all that we need for this particular workout going into more sport-specific pre-season swim training.
Here in Pennsylvania we’re less than a month away from the official start of the statewide whitetail archery hunt. It’s at about this time that hunters will be desperately getting in their target practice with a bow that many have not touched since late archery season or even before the regular firearms season of last year’s hunt.
I don’t advocate for cramming in all of your out-of-season target work last-minute, however there are realities to this. But regardless of if you’ve been maintaining your skills with the bow or not, you can use this time more effectively to fine-tune your bow skills while simultaneously enhancing your physical capabilities and hunting endurance.
Many east-coast hunters will be locked-in to their tree stands for the months of September and October, but even this is not without physical struggle. Likewise, many big-game western hunters will quickly recognize the necessity of physical preparation for the hunt, as the terrain and elevation of the west can end your hunt—or even your life—without adequate preparation.
Though your cardiovascular endurance may have quickly dissipated after the end of last-season’s hunt, it can return almost as quickly (this rapid degradation and development is unique to cardiovascular endurance, unlike the capacity of strength, which shows a much slower return of improvements as well as decrements).
Though not ideal, you still have time to become relatively prepared for the demands of the hunt.
And by doubling-up conditioning work with bow practice, this can be done in half the time, while allowing you to train with the bow in a fatigued state—as you may find yourself when faced with a deer, elk, or other game animal.
Here’s just one of the workouts we recommend to our hunters. The limit to this workout is that you need space, lots of empty space where you can safely target practice and run down range… Therefore, this only works on private property or empty public land…
To start, pick 3 distances that you’re most likely to shoot at, for me, with my fixed-pin set-up, I use 10, 20, and 30 yards. For my training, I also use an uphill with a medium grade.
Start by taking 10 warm-up shots at 10 yards, followed by 5 trips to the target while it sits at 10 yards. Each run should be progressively faster, starting with a brisk walk, ending with a sprint.
Do this yet again with a target at 20 yards… 10 shots, 5 trips.
Guess what you’re doing at 30 yards? Same thing. 10 shots, 5 trips.
As you become more accustomed to this, you can begin to add in more trips, up to 10 sprints at each target range. I don’t recommend running with the bow—some may view this as ‘sport-specific’ but can lead to more asymmetries than necessary. The more variables, like running with the bow, that you add in, the more complicated the process becomes; we’re simply looking for getting you in-shape and target-ready in the most efficient means possible.
After you’ve built yourself up to 10 sprints and 10 shots at all three designated distances, scale back down to 5 trips, but now begin timing each sprint and recording rest. By improving your time on each sprint and maintaining or reducing rest, you’re improving your overall cardiorespiratory endurance across all three primary energy systems (30 yards is by no stretch of the imagination a feat of cardiovascular endurance, but the accumulation of fatigue over the course of all sprints will certainly have beneficial effects on glycolysis, respiratory, and cardiovascular function.
Want to learn more or improve your readiness for the hunt? Email us at info@RuthlessPerformance.com and ask about our Physical Preparation for Big Game Hunters Program.
If you’re not familiar with the Ruthless Performance Mavericks Program, it’s something well-worth looking into as a primary or accessory strength & conditioning program. The program consists of 3-12 workouts per week (depending on season, goals, recovery status, etc.). Though the program is rooted in long-term strength gain, the Mavericks workouts also build up cardiovascular endurance, mental toughness, hypertrophy, and any and all other capacities one would hope to develop through a traditional workout regimen.
This is true to the extent that I’ve personally used the Mavericks program as the base for prepping for events across the athletic continuum; from a 65 mile cycling race spanning from Philly to Atlantic City to powerlifting meets. The program has also been the primary physical preparation tool for big-game hunters, swimmers, CrossFit athletes, and more.
The program is so versatile because of the formative and fundamental role that a well-designed strength & conditioning program has on any athletic or performance-oriented endeavor. By building up such an encompassing portfolio of exercises, energy system capacities, movement proficiencies, and athleticism as a whole, individuals are easily able to transition from one skill or sport to the next, and do so at an extraordinarily high level.
The Ruthless Performance Mavericks Program differs from some of our other programs in that the workouts are the same from one individual to the next, only differing in load, intensity, and an individual’s overall athletic capabilities. Emphasis can be moved throughout the program as well. For example, a bodybuilder may take the accessory volume more seriously, while a powerlifter may focus more on the strength and primary exercises involved. In our Athletic Development programs, each program is individualized outside of the warm-up. Similarly, among personal training clients, every aspect is much more up to the goals of the individual. The Mavericks program is a cost-effective tool to build an encompassing base of athleticism and is great for individuals who may get bored of traditional or more predictable programing. This program is no better or worse, but if you think it may be right for you, reach out at RuthlessPerformance.com/contact to get started.
Today we’re going to show you our current main exercises and how they fit into the bigger picture of the Ruthless Performance Mavericks programming…
We’re seriously focused on some elements of training that we’ve largely neglected in the past. These elements are density, volume, and lactate threshold. These elements of programing are in most of our workout bouts, but rarely break into our ‘A1-A2’ sets (or to the unindoctrinated, this would be referred to as the main work).
Of our currently programed 7 workouts, 4 are comprised of heavy, high volume-strength work—these will be the focus of today’s post.
All of which are done 10×10, and as an ‘EMOM’ (every minute on the minute). The traditional lifts don’t always transition very well into this type of super high volume training and can be detrimental to long-term and short-term central nervous system function, this is why the exercise selection is slightly odd…
Day 1 – Front Squat – 10×10 – EMOM
Day 2 – Incline Barbell Press – 10×10 – EMOM
Day 3 – Rest/ Active Recovery/ Conditioning
Day 4 – Romanian Deadlift – 10×10 – EMOM
Day 5 – Overhead Press – 10×10 – EMOM
Day 6 – Rest/ Active Recovery/ Conditioning
Day 7 – Rest/ Skill Work
The primary work as listed above is not the entirety of the strength workouts. There is always accessory work which varries from day to day. The Front Squat Day, for example, may be followed by a circuit of 3 strength exercises, like Hamstring Curls, Contralateral KB RDLs, and Overhead Med Ball Slams. Then, either another 2-exercise circuit like calf raises and toes-to-bar, or a quick conditioner like Rower Repeats or a Stationary Bike Tabata…
Skill work varies from person to person, depending on their goals or upcoming seasons. For me, skill work currently consists of target work with the bow for the upcoming hunting season. Conditioning work consists of a combination of hill sprints, strongman work, long-distance steady-state cardio, rower, or cycling. Conditioning workouts are included with the Maverick’s program, but these tend to be only for individuals working specifically on the Maverick’s program.
For athletes competing in CrossFit, Powerlifting, Hunters, Cyclists, or Runners, their conditioning days and times are traditionally filled by their skill specific training or by the mandates of their coaches.
A 10×10 EMOM is by no means standard programing for the Maverick’s Training, but we recognize the need to maximize these capacities. For this four-week cycle, we are trying to maximize hypertrophy, tolerance for higher-volume strength work, as well as to back-off of CNS input before coming back with some higher-intensity conjugate style training.
Sign-up or learn more about the Ruthless Performance Maverick’s programing by emailing us at info@RuthlessPerformance.com
The strength and conditioning community is far too fractioned; proprietary training programs and secrecy hide the inner workings of many sports performance coaching theories and facilities. At Ruthless Performance, we find this idea entirely backwards—this mentality is a sign of some fragile egos and insecurity within the industry. To do our part in mitigating this, we’re going to start a new on-going series where we’ll deconstruct some aspect of a selected program from one of our Ruthless Performers. Hopefully this will help coaches and athletes get a better idea of programming and the science of sports performance, regardless of their affiliation with Ruthless Performance.
Our inaugural installment of our Internal Program Review begins with a look at Day 1 of a male, college swimmer’s dryland training program. First, we’ll provide some context…
This swimmer is in between the freshman and sophomore season of his collegiate swimming career. Currently, we’re training him 5x per week. Most workouts have their own day of the week, but occasionally he’ll do doubles if schedule conflicts are present.
As you can see in the figure, his programming is currently changing every 4 weeks and his workout week can most easily be broken down as follows, note that each day is not specifically ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ but rather these ideas denote the dominant exercises for that particular day:
Day 1 – Lower Body
Day 2 – Upper Body
Day 3 – Conditioning
Day 4 – Upper Body
Day 5 – Lower Body
For our Internal Program Review, we’ll examine day 1…
1. Box Squat
More than 80% of athletes that we see on a regular basis have some box squat variant somewhere in their training macrocycle, usually this is on a recurring basis as well. The box squat provides a variety of benefits, going into detail here would be too great for the scope of this article. If you’re interested in learning more about how to box squat as well as their benefits, I would recommend performing a quick search for Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell and the Box Squat.
In this case, we’re slowly reintegrating the squat into his program after having some time off following his long swim season. Here, we’ve added the box squat as a means to help assist in developing leg strength, posterior weight shift (integral to developing a proficient and technically sound squat) and building muscle to subsequently assist in force production coming off of the blocks and during turns.
2. Hanging Straight Leg Raises
A crucial component to any strength and conditioning program developed by Ruthless Performance is a substantial element of force transfer in various planes. In our A2, which is paired with the A1 (Box Squats), we’re emphasizing this force transfer, and we’re doing so specifically in the Sagittal Plane.
With the Hanging Straight Leg Raises (HSLR), we’re also building the anterior chain, specifically the abdominals. Though swimmers are no stranger to ‘core’ exercises, they can be unfamiliar with lower-repetition strength-dominant work in the abdominals like this. Whether its poolside after practice or at-home at the behest of their coaches, swimmers frequently train with high repetition crunches, sit-ups, or poorly performed planks.
Exercises like the HSLR are rarely given at Ruthless as these can place too much emphasis on the Rectus Femoris which already receives ample stimulation during regular swim practice. But unlike with Bent Leg Raises, the straight leg variation provides more stimuli to the abdominals, which can partially explain why it is much harder than bent leg variations (also worth searching, but beyond the scope of our review: passive insufficiency).
Something also worth noting with the HSLR is how we manipulate this to maximize efficacy. With most weighted exercises, this is done via an increase in resistance. With a bodyweight exercise like this, we are slightly more confined in our ability to progress this over a 4-week period. Therefore we’re slowly adding more repetitions to each set throughout the program.
3. 180 Hip Extension
If you’ve never trained with us, you’ve likely gotten familiar with this exercise being referred to as a ‘back extension’. This is partially a misnomer, specifically at Ruthless Performance as we actively coach a rounded upper back on this exercise to maximize glute input, while minimizing lower back activation.
The erector muscles already receive a great deal of stimulation any time the back/hips are being used as a fulcrum (which is close to any time you are doing a non-isolation/machine exercise). Additionally, the capillary network of the low back is rather poor, causing a slow recovery time. Doing low-back work in addition to all of this could be a decrement to performance rather than performance enhancing.
This can be progressed with weights or bands as needed, but a large emphasis should initially be placed on glute activation during this exercise rather than on a large range of motion (ROM). We typically encourage an external femoral rotation when possible, which further activates the glutes on this. When the glutes can’t contract any more on the hip extension, there is no reason to add more ROM.
4. Calf Raises
One of the benefits of working with an athlete with such frequency is that we can get into some details holding them back that would otherwise be unachievable on a 2x or 3x /wk program. With this athlete, poor calf hypertrophy is likely a weak link holding back lower body development. From a physics standpoint, mass can’t be added without a broad base of support. Consider the tyrannosaurus rex, with its massive legs serving as a point of contact and base of support, or in engineering the structure and shape of the world’s largest buildings.
Specifically, to build mass in the calves without taking too much time away from more pertinent programming, we focus on density. Through the course of the program, we’re trying to have this athlete perform more reps with the fewest amount of sets possible. It is very rare to manipulate the volume so drastically from weeks 1 to weeks 4, but this is precisely what is needed in this situation.
5. High Handle Sled Push
We rarely have our swimmers perform energy system training, but in this case, the athlete is out of season and will need to preserve some basic level of cardiovascular conditioning for when he returns to college in the fall. You can learn more about our theories and thoughts on energy system training for swimmers in our article aptly titled “Why Ruthless Performance Doesn’t Emphasize Energy System Training for Our Swimmers”.
The sled provides an opportunity to help generate greater ROM between the legs, build concentric strength, increase hip and ankle mobility, and is just a generally versatile conditioning tool. You’ll also notice that the distance is relatively short. He’s been performing these bouts between 6-10 seconds. This by no means will provide an amount of conditioning conducive to in-pool training and performance, but will help maintain and improve ATP usage at the end of a long workout, which transfers nicely into a strong finish in a mid-distance/distance event.
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Outside of a handful of technological advances in competition suits and some isolated factions of coaches and athletes, the sport of swimming is largely stuck in a late 90’s – early 2000’s mentality; which is a generous approximation on my part, as the sport of swimming in the 90’s-00’s wasn’t all that much better from the handful of decades preceding it. This old school training mindset included a great emphasis on high yardage in the pool, followed by a big taper leading up to important and championship swim meets.
The high yardage/ big taper approach certainly has its applications, but much like how swimmers took the alleged 10,000+ kCal ‘Phelps Diet’ leading up to the 2008 Olympics as an excuse to overconsume and under-nourish with empty-nutrient and calorie-rich foods, braggadocios swim coaches have hijacked the good intent of high-yardage programs, and now misinformed coaches are globally vying for title of who can put their athletes through the most pain.
Since the semi-archaic idea of mega-yardage programs still have some merit, I’d like to focus dryland training, the dated and frequently perpetuated fallacies surrounding this, as well as what Ruthless Performance does with our swimmers and what other high-level programs are engaged in from a strength training perspective.
This well-known Ruthless Performance philosophy regarding dryland training for swimmers leads many concerned parents and swim coaches to ask the Ruthless Performance staff about our programs. Since swimming requires so much cardio, shouldn’t that be a main part of dryland training?
Simply put, no. But here’s the longer answer…
In the past, dryland training has mirrored pool-based training very closely. This would include ideas like distance running and other high intensity-based conditioning routines (and if you’re lucky, some lackadaisically performed, poorly designed rotator cuff band complexes). Not only is this additional energy system training unnecessary (during the in-season), but it can also be burdensome, ineffective, and at worst, harmful to performance.
One of the main reasons we don’t program a large amount of energy system training in our swimmers’ training programs is because of the sheer volume of energy system work that swimmers get while in the pool. Most swimmers can get through a large part of the warm-up without realizing that they are engaging in conditioning already. Add the various work sets done through a workout, and then repeated on a nearly daily basis, and you have a recipe for fantastic cardiopulmonary function and sport-specific energy-system development.
The problem is that coaches too frequently confuse the cardiovascular demands of the sport of swimming with the cardiovascular demands of swim practice.
Running is one such frequently assigned dryland activity for swimmers, used as a means of developing cardiovascular function. This is in part, due to the perception that swimming is a sport which requires a lot of cardio—which it does. The problem is that coaches too frequently confuse the cardiovascular demands of the sport of swimming with the cardiovascular demands of swim practice.
Adding more conditioning work on top of what is done in practice is simply providing an athletes cardiovascular system with diminishing marginal returns on ability to practice; this is largely ineffective because of how quickly the cardiovascular system responds and adapts to training stimuli. A few weeks of pre-season practice and a base level of cardiovascular function is restored to the point where an athlete can successfully compete at meets and return to more rigorous in-season training. Since most events are over in less than two minutes, this style of dryland training can become redundant and inefficient.
Adding running or various other conditioning modalities on top of traditional in-pool training can yield greater performance; just not as great as swimming performance could be if we focused on some other modalities and training tools. This is a conversation for another day entirely, but all of the strength-based training that we have our swimmers perform help in a variety of ways. Our strength training does, in fact, enhance energy system capacities, specifically the phosphocreatine (quick anaerobic energy system pathway). This is the system which leads to faster starts, quick turns, breakouts, and even negative splits in distance events.
All this to say that strength training with minimal traditional cardiovascular input is the primary way we train our athletes and for good reason. Rather than simply packing on additional volume of similar work, we are building up muscles which help prevent overuse injuries, minimizing the impact of training stressors, improve reaction time, coordination, catch in the water and so on. This allows athletes the opportunity to train more optimally in the pool, which is the primary vessel for developing skill-specific capacities in swimmers.