Monday, February 13, 2012

The Perfect Plan

Champions come in many sizes, shapes, and backrounds. No such thing as "one size fits all".
I loved this article by Bill Sands. So often coaches are looking for the elusive perfect, foolproof plan that will work for everyone all of the time. No such plan exists, but a real coach understands the many variables and knows how to fashion an effective program for each athlete. Great article as Dr. Sands outlines an extensive list of possible variables. As he concludes, the only "perfect plan" is the the best plan for each circumstance and it will evolve over time. Nothing is effective forever. The elusive "perfect plan" will of necessity adapt and provide a continually appropriate stimulus.
When the Perfect Plan is NOT the Best Plan
NSCA Education Director
Numerous strong opinions exist regarding how one should select exercises, teach skills, establish training loads, and delineate what’s best regarding many other factors in strength training and conditioning. Disagreements are numerous, widespread, and passionate. These disagreements have led to distrust, harmful gossip, and slow-to-heal wounded egos and hard feelings. Using personal pronouns I will follow the reasoning of this article as if I had prepared a strength training and conditioning program and someone else prepared a different program. We find ourselves passionately defending our programs as ‘better’ than those just as passionately defended by others. But how do we know if our program is really better than any other program? There are bound to be contentions with predicting how each program will unfold and what effects it will have. Furthermore, there are certainly factors that neither party has considered that overrule all or some of their arguments. Let’s begin the problem of determining how ‘good’ our programs are.
Of course, I believe that my plan is the ‘perfect’ one; after all, I developed it. Thus, by definition, it has to be the perfect plan. My colleague also believes she has the perfect plan. She is confident and passionate about her program, because of course, she developed it. How do we, or does anyone, decide which program is better? It would be natural to start running the programs through a gauntlet of questions:
Which program fits the environment?
Which program fits the age group?
Which program fits the training age?
Which program fits the time allowed for training?
And so forth...
Exploring this gauntlet of questions, I made a list of the potential variables that might intrude on the construction and implementation of a strength training and conditioning program The list includes about 50 variables, some of which are clearly more important than others.
Training Variables
Periodization Model
Exercise selection
Tension type(s)
Stretch shortening cycle
   drop height
   rebound or not
   direction of rebound
   speed of rebound
   neuromuscular efficiency
Exercise order
Number of Sets
Number of Reps
Rest between sets
Single Joint or Multi-Joint
To Failure?
Repetition duration
Repetition speed
Repetition ROM
Amount of total load per unit time
number of training sessions per day
   per day
   per week
   per month
   per year
   per career
Body part(s)/muscle group(s)
Time of day
Time relative to menstrual cycle, females
Period of year
Period of macrocycle
Period of mesocycle
Period of microcycle
Timing in training lesson
Age of athlete
   sexual maturity
   developmental maturity
   skeletal maturity
   muscular maturity
   neuromuscular coordination maturity
   mental maturity
   young adult (15-30)
   middle adult (30-50)
   elderly adult (50-70)
   old age adult (>70)
Training age of athlete
Health status
Injury status
Handicap status
Mental status
Nutritional status
Closed or Open Kinetic Chain
Coach presence
Testing or training
   free weights
   dumb bells
   medicine balls
   body weight
   does the machine or device fit the athlete?
   body weight/device
Nutrition timing
To compute the total number of combinations of 50 variables we use 50!, or “50 factorial.” This equation results in approximately 3.04 x 1064 different combinations of variables. Clearly this is a huge number, thus, it is exceedingly doubtful that anyone can know all of the possible combinations of variables that influence strength and conditioning. It should be obvious that determining the ‘best’ program for anyone is exceedingly difficult, and may indeed be impossible.
Strength and conditioning coaches might search for arguments to tout their program as the best because it prevents injuries and results in better transfer of athletic performance. With regard to safety, injuries that occur in strength training and conditioning are unusually rare (1,8,17-19,25). Frankly, sport training is almost always more likely to result in injury than the conditioning program (24). These facts make arguments about the likelihood of injuries for either program suspect. Studying and attributing injury incidence and severity when the incidences are so few is very difficult. A second argument is that a program is going to result in better performance transfer. However, the transfer of training programs to the gym, field of play, or court is staggeringly difficult to determine. Specifically in strength and conditioning, only a few studies have actually investigated whether specific exercises and programs actually transfer to performance (5). Usually, the approach is to involve easily measured laboratory or field assessments that mimic competitive performance. Laboratory or contrived measures are rarely a good substitute or simulation of real-world competition (3,4,22,26,27). Again, neither of these arguments makes one program more efficacious than another.
How well can we predict athlete performance? The answer of course, is not well. Talent identification programs serve as useful surrogates for this question (2,6,9,13,16,20,23). In a paper by Sands and McNeal, the ability to predict performance at the 1996 Olympic Games showed that even short-term predictions, such as the next day, were unlikely to be accurate (21). Predictions of athletic training effects are extremely difficult, and assertions that imply this type of perspective are fanciful (7,10-15). As such, our two program developers have little evidence upon which to build a coherent and valid foundation for their particular programs.
Do any of the previous arguments and evidence, or lack thereof, make any difference in the implementation of the different strength training and conditioning programs? The issue in program design and implementation often boils down to who is going to do the implementation. If the person implementing the program believes in the program, then he/she is likely to be careful, vigilant, and able to modify exercises at any instance because he/she understands the exercises and values the program’s objective. When someone tries to implement someone else’s program, the personal pride of authorship doesn’t exist. Thus, the implementation is likely to be poor. A less than perfect program implemented with enthusiasm, confidence, commitment, and responsibility will beat a perfect program implemented with skepticism, laziness, apathy, and lack of confidence—every time. Thus, a ‘perfect’ program is not necessarily the ‘best’ program. Rather, the ‘best’ program depends largely on who implements the program.
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