Organizational Change in 3 Steps

When individuals are hired by members of a struggling organization to a leadership role, we often hear the value of culture change as a necessary step for a return to organizational success. If an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value, than a change in potential is a necessary element to adapt to a highly competitive and growing environment.  It is difficult to know for sure what must of been going through the mind of early stakeholders or  leaders tasked with transforming struggling organizations.  However, through the work of research and the observations of  various organizations we are beginning to understand the anatomy of organizational change and the various factors necessary for its successful initiation, implementation and institutionalization.   

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Michael Fullan, an expert in leadership and change, along with the work of various researchers help  to provide insight to the anatomy of organizational transformation and provide us a glimpse of how teams mired in failure can find success. 

If it was possible to relegate the complex elements of change to three words the most likely culprits would be goals, collaboration and leadership.

The essence of an organization or  a system composed of value adding processes is built on the foundation of:

  1. “Closing the gap” to an overarching goal
  2.  Recognizing strategies that focus on effective communication and action
  3. Improving the ability to leverage leadership within its system. 

Understanding these three guidelines helps to summarize the multi-dimensional nature of change. 

Step 1: Closing the gap as the or to an overarching Goal

In attempting to understand what took place in the early phases of change we must first recognize that change is unique, non-linear and does not follow clear, rigid rules. However, we can be certain of a few fundamental elements such as establishing meaning. Meaningful change is preceded by determining meaning. Acquiring meaning is an important individual and organizational pursuit if it is to be successful. Fullan states that “acquiring meaning is achieved across a group of people working in concert. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons to be drawn from Fullan’s  explanation of change. In this explanation he demonstrates the importance of establishing a plan and communicating said plan to parts of the organization. Acquiring meaning is the first step in creating a plan. A plan inherently has a starting point and an objective. Acquiring meaning drives us to close the gap or reach the objective of a plan. If the theory of change emerging at this point leads us to conclude that we need better plans and planners, we are embarking on the infinite regress that characterizes the pursuit of a theory of “changing”.  Closing the gap requires self – reflection or the ability to ask difficult questions, challenge norms and understand methods aimed at its construction. Understanding the anatomy for change is perhaps the most important and valuable lesson before undertaking change.  As Fullan states “we need to explain not only what causes it but also how to influence those causes”. Just like physics is a foundation for engineering, knowledge of change has been a foundation for innovation and the ability to create change.  In creating change we recognize that questions that begin with 

  1. Why
  2. What
  3. How 
  4.  What if

are important to know. 

These questions, give us the ability to determine meaning, objective and the abilities to close the gap of an established objective.

Step 2: Recognize the value of strategies that are socially based and action oriented

They also recognize that change is a cyclical process, that requires constant genuine discussion based on data driven assessments.  Authors have argued that Change leadership (or the interplay between artful leadership and organization management) is necessary for developing an organizations culture and is an essential component for developing new core capabilities needed to compete in a global, high tech world (Mcguire, 2006). Fullan demonstrates that trust and cohesion between parts of an organization is important for its success and operation especially when undertaking the complexities of change.  Communication across boundaries allow for greater potential in understanding one another as well as acquire meaning in oneself or the group.  Social discussions allow various elements to share and increase value in one another. In order to display this value, action is needed. A good strategy toward this goal is to begin and end a day with a meeting. There is a firm understanding that discussion built on trust and cohesion allows us to make appropriate decisions as well as actions to reach our planned goals when provided with good information. 

Step 3: Stay the course  of good direction through continually leveraging leadership. 

Experience shows that change occurs from or with the support of a position of leadership. Fullan states that individuals in leadership positions within an organization such as chief administrators or central distract staff are critical sources of advocacy, support and imitation of new programs. This observation is no different from the occurrences of sports organizations which are often run by senior officials such as a general manager or chief executive officer.  They may not be the catalyst for change, but they are certainly important resources for advocacy and support in change. The messaging of advocacy, communicated from the general manager is a constant reminder for those individuals new to change within the organization. They also help to recognize the importance of establishing key stakeholders in facilitating change or leveraging leadership. Leveraging leadership provides individuals with purpose and meaning in their roles but also empowers their positions and perspectives.

In establishing change we recognize that that each instance of change is unique. In other words, when discussing change, we must be mindful that it exists as an individual quality from other episodes of change.  This can be the result of its multifactorial nature.  As authors have suggested there are no hard-and-fast rules to change but rather a set of suggestions for how change can occur.  Generally speaking, we know that change requires us to establish meaning, collaborate and leverage leadership.

References

Fullan, M. (2016). The new meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McGuire, J. (2003). Leadership strategies for culture change: Developing change leadership as an organization core capability. Orlando, Florida: Center for Creative Leadership.

Young, Y. (2006). Mindset. Brighton: Pen Press.

Look, Learn, Live & Do You: The Squat Stance Cable V – Bar Chop w/ Tricep Extension

6.-Do-things-in-order.pngIn the past I have found difficulty in prioritizing certain isolation exercise and core movement. Historically, exercises that center on isolating a particular muscle group often appear towards the end of the workout. Take for instance, the bicep curl, calf raise or the triceps extension.  When It comes to anything in life, if you hold a good deal of value for it, make sure you start off with it.  You might reason then that a look at my exercise order suggests that the bicep curl, tricep extension hold little relative value compared to others such as the clean from the hang, the sled push or the weighted pull up.  You might be right in this assessment, but I like to believe that the value of an exercise is meaningless if it’s inappropriate for a given athlete, workout, or period of time.  Despite this focus, the reality of life is that we are always bounded by time.  Having little respect for time and you will find that the things that are placed last  are often forgotten or dismissed. Thus, efficiency is always an important component of program design when time is a limiting factor.

In this post, I will provide you with an exercise that helps improve training efficiency and adds value to exercises that are often considered valueless.

The Squat Stance Cable V – Bar Chop w/ Tricep Extension

The Squat Stance – Rotating – V Bar – Chop fits into several classes of exercise.  It is an exercise that challenges stability through rotation. It is also an exercise that challenges the body as a whole rather than in isolation. We can also view it as an integrative exercise or a movement that is challenged by the ability to integrate various parts and/or function to produce a desired objective. Additionally, the Squat Stance rotating cable Vbar chop is an exercise that challenges our ability to apply a horizontal impulse in to the ground.

There are several objectives in applying this exercise to a training program.  We are looking to combine simple exercises together for the purpose of improving efficiency and increase value by increasing objectives.  In this particular exercise there are three particular training objectives that are combined

  1. Objective 1: Demonstrating core control through the application of a resistive load along the transverse plane to the upper extremity as it relates to the lower extremity. – This is just another fancy way of saying this is a core exercise.
  2. Objective 2: Applying a resistive load to challenge elbow extension
  3. Objective 3: Applying a resistive force to a single limb that challenges both horizontal displacement and the integrity of hip abduction and
  4. Objective 4: Allowing resistive load to produce greater range and neural control in hip internal rotation.

Mastering these objectives will allow an individual to gain range in hip internal rotation, improve their ability to displace themselves horizontally, improve the strength, control and integrity of hip extension, abduction and flexion and provide help them facilitate a higher quality of communication between the upper extremities and the lower extremities. A detailed account of the muscles worked in this particular exercise is complex and difficult to quantify due to the number of structures that are involved  combined with the fact that the various individuals express movement differently due to the variances in their structures. It may be best to view this simply as multisgemental and complex movement that challenges the following among many.

  1. Internal and External Obliques,
  2. Rectus Abdominus
  3. Hip External Rotators
  4. Hip Abductions
  5. Grip Strength
  6. Support
  7. The start of the position immediately acts on the internal rotators of the hip. In particular the tensor fascia lata (TFL) and gluteus medius. The gluteus minimus is engaged the more we get the athlete to flex at the hip.
  8. Additionally, there is quite a bit of stress placed on structures involved in stability of the knee.

efficient1.jpgThe reasons why I like this particular exercise and the class of exercises like it is due to the fact that it drives efficiency.  With this particular exercise I can focus on developing strength through the upper body and stability of the lower body. I also like it because it is a widely recognize motion.  We are likely to have seen someone chop tree or swing a bat. Thus, the movement has a great reference and is therefore easier to teach than those exercises without reference.  This allows the exercise to be relatively easier to perform and thus widely applicable to various populations. Lastly, it is integrative  and movement based and can act as a great avenue in the transfer of strength gains to movement and therefore performance.

A Traditional Metric & Methodology for High Performance continues to hold its Weight.

“In God we trust; Everything else we measure”

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Introduction to Weight Management in the NFL and a Potential solution for an Off-Season Detraining Dilemma – Part 1

All across the nation Professional Football teams of the National Football League are gearing up for training programs otherwise known as off season programs. These off – season programs are designed in effort to provide elite football athletes the opportunity to prepare for the performance demands of a rigorous and highly competitive NFL season. Many may wonder what methods are used to ready this exclusive population of genetic talent and skill for success. While different teams may reflect various unique features as key components for garnering success, there are fundamental and similar components shared across all teams that help to promote success in performance to both the individual and team. In an article titled “Common Factors of High Performance Teams” published in the Journal of contemporary issues in Business and Government, authors highlight that advancing team performance means teams must systematically develop and assess new training methods to support changes in team effectiveness (Jackson & Madsen, 2005).

Their conclusions reflects the importance of evaluation and the practice of seeking new training methodology to produce high performance. Thus, in any high achieving system, one must establish a method of assessment, a metric that comprehensively and conclusively denotes the result of the assessment as well as a methodology that continually advances training for the assessment. This particular insight into the common factors of high performance in teams gives perspective to one of the many shared activities that our highly successful NFL teams will be embarking through these next few weeks – Assessment.

Assessment can come in many forms and provide a number of important information regarding the state of an athlete. Likewise, the approach in which teams use to improve their athletes based on assessment varies as well. It all depends on the teams perspective of a meaningful metric and the methodology used for high performance.

What’s your favorite M&M? – Metric and Methodology for high performance?

Among the multitude of assessments and/or metrics available to performance and football coaches, an athlete’s weight and body composition is considered of great importance. This is due to the strong relationship in which weight and/or body composition plays to a multitude of physical performance components such as strength, vertical jump, anaerobic power, speed and injury risk. Potteiger, Smith, Maier & Foster, 2010Silvestre, West, Maresh & Kraemer, 2006; Rose, Emery & Meeuwisse, 2008Vardar et al., 2007). In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association details this important relationship in the book NSCA’s Guide to Tests and Assessments.

“All fitness components depend on body composition to some extent. An increase in lean body mass contributes to strength and power development. Strength and power are related to muscle size. Thus, an increase in lean body mass enables the athlete to generate more force in a specific period of time. A sufficient level of lean body mass also contributes to speed, quickness, and agility performance (in the development of force applied to the ground for maximal acceleration and deceleration). Reduced nonessential body fat contributes to muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance, speed, and agility development. Additional weight (in the form of nonessential fat) provides greater resistance to athletic motion thereby forcing the athlete to increase the muscle force of contraction per given workload. The additional body fat can limit endurance, balance, coordination, and movement capacity. Joint range of motion can be negatively affected by excessive body mass and fat as well, and mass can form a physical barrier to joint movement in a complete range of motion. (Miller, 2012)

In other words, a scale can be one the most effective assessment tool towards improving potential and performance. The value for which a scale presents to a performance coach when an steps on can be an important metric towards high performance. And it is likely that during this week, the 3000 athletes preparing for NFL training camps and a chance to compete this season are stepping on a scale and taking part in a corresponding evaluation of body composition.  It is also likely that a few members of this group will be weighing in at a number that grossly surpasses the weight needed to perform their duties at an optimal level and/or compromises their physical performance factors such as speed, power, and their ability to stay healthy.

Before we scrutinize and denigrate the athlete it’s important to examine our role as performance coaches and the methodology we use to solve challenges in performance. We must remember (again) that high performing teams must systematically develop and assess methodology that supports team effectiveness. To solve the particular challenges associated with athletes returning from the off season above weight/body composition standards and to improve team effectiveness we must first evaluate and understand the current weight issues of today.

High performing teams must systematically develop and assess methodology that supports team effectiveness.

The next part of this three part article will allow readers to understand the relative difficulties athletes may face in preparation for off-season conditioning and offers a training resource aimed to improve speed, power while diminishing potential for injury. Through our understanding of the environmental and social hurdles and limitations we can identify a potential solution for the challenges associated with weight management in today’s performance landscape. This understanding establishes why weight/body composition should continue to be an important metric for high performance and lays the foundation for an effectively methodology to help deliver success to both the football athlete and the team of coaches responsible for the athlete.

References:

Jackson, B., & Madsen, S. R. (2005). Common factors of high performance teamsJournal of Contemporary Issues in Business and Government11(2), 35–49.

Miller, T. (2012). NSCA’s guide to tests and assessments. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Potteiger, J., Smith, D., Maier,. M.L., Foster, T.S. (2010). Relationship Between Body Composition, Leg Strength, Anaerobic Power, and On-Ice Skating Performance in Division I Men’s Hockey Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24. 1755-1762

Rose, M.S., Emery C.A., Meeuwisse, W.H. (2008). Sociodemographic predictors of sport

injury in adolescents. Journal of Medicine Science Sports Exercise40(3):444–450.

Silvestre, R.,West, C., Maresh, C., Kraemer, W. (2006). Body Composition and Physical Performance in Men’s Soccer: A Study of a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I TeamJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 20. 177-183.

Vardar, S. A., Tezel, S., Öztürk, L., & Kaya, O. (2007). The Relationship Between Body Composition and Anaerobic Performance of Elite Young Wrestlers. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 6(CSSI-2), 34–38.

Dan Liburd has over a decade of experience working with professional Athletes and as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd holds a variety of certifications in Health and Sport Nutrition, Olympic Weight Lifting and Movement Assessment. These certifications include Precision Nutrition Level I and Level II as well as USA Weightlifting and Functional Movement Systems. Liburd also has a great deal of experience in Health, Fitness and Sport Strength and Conditioning. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. 

Trace Minerals and Big Performance

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Naim Süleymanoğlu aka Pocket Hercules may have established Big performances thanks to the function of minute minerals in his diet.

“Little things make big things happen.” It seems that there is evidence for this quote in all walks of life, include athletic performance and nutrition. Recently, scientific investigators have reported that up to 60% of female athletes and 25% of male athletes are considered to be deficient in an important micronutrient involved in the process of oxygen consumption and aerobic exercise performance. Interestingly, even with proper monitoring and treatment regarding dietary intake, deficiencies of this particular trace mineral were still noted in athletes (Coates, Mountjoy& Burr, 2017). It’s hard to imagine that a deficiency in an element needed in just minute quantities, can play such a vital role in disrupting the integrity of various physiological and metabolic processes fundamental for athletic function and success. Furthermore, performance specialists tasked with the major responsibility of driving athletic potential can also miss this little detail in dietary needs. But alas, little things make big things happen, and safeguarding your athlete’s potential through routine dietary screening and supplementation can be the little change for a big difference. Evaluating the level of micronutrients such as iron and magnesium should be part of a comprehensive approach in your performance system, to help diminish the potential obstacles in your athlete’s ability. Adopting such an approach also adds a measure for safety by providing insight into potential excess of both essential and toxic elements. Take for instance the micronutrient iron.

 

Iron is widely recognized for its significant impact to health and performance in elite athletes and its deficiency can have a number of negative impacts on various physical capabilities such as aerobic performance. This relationship of iron to performance largely stems from its critical role in forming an important oxygen transporting protein known as hemogloblin. Thus, a deficiency in iron, and/or the presence of iron deficiency anemia is likely to diminish levels of hemoglobin, resulting in impaired performance due to the limited ability of oxygen to be transported to muscle tissue (Roland, 2011). Authors have also noted that factors involved in athletic performance such as increased fatigue levels and decreased energy drive are also resulting symptoms of low levels of iron (Eichner, 2012). Moreover, insufficient levels of iron can negatively impact immune system function and diminish bone strength.

This relationship between iron and various measures of physical function is testament to the powerful impact of such minute minerals, otherwise known as inorganic substances essential for metabolic and/or structural functions in the body. Many factors fundamental to athletic performance are manifested through the optimal function of processes within the body therefore we must consider optimizing micronutrient intake of our athletes. While macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins play a valuable role and are often touted for their powerful contributions to factors related to physical function and performance, micronutrients must also be largely recognized.

Iron is widely recognized for its significant impact to health and performance in elite athletes and its deficiency can have a number of negative impacts on various physical capabilities such as aerobic performance – even for the Iron Cowboy.

 

Similarly to iron, the micronutrient magnesium has also been demonstrated to have a monumental impact to athletic performance through the efforts of researchers. For instance, researchers at the University of São Paulo showed that supplementation with magnesium contributed to positive markers of athleticism such as decreases in lactate production and significant increases in jumping capabilities (Setaro et al., 2014). Investigators in this study concluded that supplementation with magnesium resulted in improvements in anaerobic function despite no evidence of magnesium deficiencies in the athletic subjects. This should come as little surprise as magnesium is involved in a number of critical roles necessary for human function. Minute amounts of the trace mineral magnesium is needed for its role in enzymatic reactions, cell growth, and energy metabolism, such as glycolysis and protein synthesis (Zhang, Xun, Wang, Mao & He, 2017. Magnesium is believed to positively impact athletic performance through its ability to regulate the concentration of glucose and lactate in the brain, muscle, and in circulation (Zhang, Xun, Wang, Mao & He, 2017). A number of animal and human studies have demonstrated improvements in various factors related to increased performance with magnesium supplementation such as, increased strength, enhanced glucose utilization, delayed muscle fatigue through the attenuation of muscle lactate, and improved muscle recovery through increased levels of glucose post exercise (Lee, 2017; Zhang, Xun, Wang, Mao & He, 2017). Conversely, authors note that when magnesium is depleted from the diet, there are notable adverse effects to metabolism, cardiovascular function and exercise performance (Lee, 2017). Despite the critical role of magnesium to human function and performance deficiencies have been noted in a number of athletic populations.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Magnesium research reported that existing data demonstrates that most athletes do not consume adequate amounts of magnesium in their diets (Alfredo, Diego, Juan, Jesús, & Alberto, 2017). Additionally, investigators of a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical nutrition, determined that international female and male collegiate soccer players, as well as male rugby players, fell below the proper required amount of magnesium in their diets (Noda et al., 2009). This finding was suggested by investigators to be a representation of dietary deficiencies characteristically found in collegiate athletes. In addition, previous studies have reflected an intake as low as 45% of the daily recommended amount in elite athletes suggesting that magnesium deficiencies are evident even at the highest level of athletics.

Similar to magnesium, iron has long been established as a mineral often deficient in athletic populations. Dr. Thomas Rowland notes in a review titled: Iron deficiency in athletes: An update that a high frequency of iron deficiency without anemia, has been consistently observed in trained athletes, particularly female runners. While not a common finding in male athletes, Rowland notes that in any group of training endurance athletes, 1 out of every 3 or 4 females can be expected to satisfy the criteria for nonanemic iron deficiency (Rowland, 2012).

Growing research supports iron and magnesium as not only essential minerals to both human function and athletic performance, but also as minerals likely to be reported deficient in athletes. These minerals are clear examples of dietary factors in which performance and/or dietary specialists must carefully monitor when attempting to mediate improvements in their athlete’s potential. Failure to acknowledge these factors during periods of competiton can result in diminished performance but can also negatively impact health and human function.

1 out of every 3 or 4 females can be expected to satisfy the criteria for nonanemic iron deficiency (Roland, 2012)

 

As performance specialists we should consistently encourage our athletes to be routinely screened for mineral deficiencies and to be mindful of the role in which their diet and nutritional requirements can help facilitate greater levels of potential and performance. Effective approaches for deficiencies can take place through both dietary means and supplementation but before those changes can take place we have to assess our athlete’s needs. Screening resources such as Blueprint for Athletes can play a powerful role in the evaluation and treatment of athletic performance. In addition to Blueprint for Athletes, there are a number of affordable and reliable nutrition screening services available online to help provide insight to iron indicators such as serum ferritin.

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Screening resources such as Blueprint for Athletes can play a powerful role in the evaluation and treatment of athletic performance.

 

This iron indicator has been noted to be substantially different in highly trained athletes as compared to the normal population (Chapman et al., 2017). Serum ferritin values of 20 ng·mL−1 are commonly recognized as a low range for iron and an indication of deficiency in normal populations however new data suggests that such a value may be too low for athletes. New research suggests that a lower range for serum ferritin criterion value in athletes should be set at 35 ng·mL−1 . This range may demonstrate that a far greater amount of both male and female athletes are iron deficient (Chapman et al., 2017).

Additionally, magnesium is often measured by serum concentration. A reference range of 0.65–1.05 mmol/L for total magnesium concentrations in adult blood serum is considered to be healthy physiological range (Jahnen-Dechent, & Ketteler, 2012).

Excess intake of iron can lead to adverse effects and should be avoided.

While there are a number of minerals that are essential to diet and function, research continues to support an important role of magnesium and iron. It’s important to note that while these minerals are important for function excess intake of these minerals can lead to adverse effects and should be avoided. For instance, iron excess may be pro-oxidative and has been linked to several chronic diseases.

As we continue to develop further in to the science of sports performance and in light of the growing measures of assessments available to athletes, we may find that it’s miniscule actions such as monitoring the level of little factors such as trace minerals that may be imperative to the big picture or great athletic success.

References:

Alfredo,C., Diego, F., Juan, M., Jesús, S., Alberto, C.G., (2017) Effect of magnesium supplementation on muscular damage markers in basketball players during a full season. Journal of Magnesium Research30(2), 61-70. 

Chapman, R. F., Sinex, J., Wilber, R., Kendig, A., Moreau, B., Nabhan, D., & Stray-Gundersen, J. (2017). Routine Screening for Iron Deficiency Is an Important Component of Athlete Care. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise49(11), 2364.

Coates, A., Mountjoy, M., Burr, J., (2017). Incidence of Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficient Anemia in Elite Runners and Triathletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine27 (5), 493–498.

Eichner, E. R. (2012). Perennial Questions: On Fatigue, on Iron and on Anemia. Current Sports Medicine Reports11(6), 274-275.

Jahnen-Dechent, W., & Ketteler, M. (2012). Magnesium basics. Clinical Kidney Journal,5(1), i3–i14.

Lee, N. (2017). A Review of Magnesium, Iron, and Zinc Supplementation Effects on Athletic Performance. The Korean Journal of Physical Education56(1), 797-806

Mettler, S., & Zimmermann, M. B. (2010). Iron excess in recreational marathon runners. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition64(5), 490-494.

Noda, Y., Iide, K., Masuda, R., Kishida, R., & Nagata, A., & Hirakawa, F.,Yoshimura, Y., Imamura, H. (2009). Nutrient intake and blood iron status of male collegiate soccer players. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 18, 344-350.

Rowland, T. (2012). Iron Deficiency in Athletes. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 6(4), 319-327.

Setaro L, Santos-Silva PR, Nakano EY, et al. (2014). Magnesium status and the physical performance of volleyball players: effects of magnesium supplementation. Journal of Sports Science 32(5), 438–445.

Volpe, S. L. (2015). Magnesium and the Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports14(4), 279-283.

Zhang, Y., Xun, P., Wang, R., Mao, L., & He, K. (2017). Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients, 9(12), 946.

The “Extra Work” You Need For Athletic Success – Part 3

pain“No Pain, no gain” is the perhaps the most popular catch phrase of the sporting world.  This verbal expression which gained popularity for its motivational intention within the  fitness world is commonly used to explain a powerful ideology – Pain produces gains. In other words, painful or  discomforting experiences incurred by an individual is necessary to yield positive results, which can also be described as gains. The sentiment behind this cliche is so popular, and reflective of the human experience that similar inferences be found in ancient literature dating back to the early ages. For the human being searching for growth and development, pain appears to be intrinsically valued for its ability to produce positive results in the future.

This mindset, however, is one we must carefully consider when it comes to making long term improvements in the health and performance of athletes.pain-cycle.jpg Identifying, understanding and treating pain (or injury) is an important and necessary step towards making gains towards improving athletic potential.  Thus, a more appropriate catchphrase for the mentality of those attempting to boost performance within the sport’s training environment should be “Break the chain of pain for potential gain.” Once we understand this perspective, we may be able to shift our behavior toward performance producing strategies that focus on the appropriate treatment on the incidence of pain as well the occurrence of injury within our athletes.  

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“Break the Chain of Pain For Potential Athletic Gain”

 

One particular strategy that provides potential for improving factors related to athletic performance, is managing neuromusculoskeletal pain and injury through the treatment of myofascial trigger points.  In part 2 of “The Extra Work you need for Athletic Success” we learned that myofascial trigger points are commonly understood as hyper-irritable spots in skeletal muscle that can produce specific regional pain or altered sensation in particular areas (Simons, 2002). In addition, trigger points are linked to motor, sensory and/or muscle dysfunction (McPartland, 2004). Despite an awareness of this affliction in the athletic arena  , authors note that treatment of myofascial abnormalities are commonly overlooked (Simons, 2002).

Although the collective consciousness attributed to myofascial treatment continues to grow it is important to appreciate how remarkably common myofascial trigger points are within the athletic space and how often they are a major cause of a patient’s musculoskeletal pain complaint. In fact, some researchers note that this particular abnormality impacts more than just the population of sport athletes.  It is understood that a significant number of adults have latent trigger points that elicit pain on direct compression (Sola, 1990).  Thus, this widespread condition deserves attention and understanding not only for the benefit of athletic populations but adults in general.  Gaining insight to the prevalence of myofascial trigger points and associated treatment, management and prevention strategies can help to translate movement limitations from pain into movement potential gain for all populations

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“It is understood that a significant number of adults have latent trigger points that elicit pain on direct compression (Sola, 1990). ” 

The first step in treating myofascial trigger points is to acknowledge its etiology and the physiological consequences associated with it.  Dr. David Simons, leading expert on myofascial trigger points describes them as hyper-contracted sarcomeres or excessively bundled units of muscle when viewed underneath microscope. trigger-point-complex These tightly collected units of tissue can create a cascade of effects to the muscle fiber in which they inhabit. The surrounding structural units of muscle or remaining sarcomeres of the involved muscle fiber are noticeably stretched to compensate for the missing length of the shortened sarcomeres or trigger point (Simons, 2002).  Researchers attributed this bundling of muscle to the properties of sarcomeres such as titin ( a spring-like molecule that functions in holding the elements of sarcomeres in place (Simons, 2002). The “sticking” properties of titin can influence these maximally contracted sarcomeres, allowing them to become stuck and shortened (Simons, 2002). The effect of these shortened  and stuck sarcomeres can result in increased tension to the involved muscle fiber (Simons, 2002).  This tension can manifest itself as muscle stiffness and/or pain resulting in muscle and movement dysfunction.

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Clinicians have recognized for more than a century that effective treatment of painful, tense, tender muscles includes stretching the involved muscle fibers, either locally in the region of tenderness or by lengthening the muscle as a whole (Resteghini, 2016).  Likewise, treatment of myofascial trigger points centers on disrupting, lengthening or releasing of certain structural musculoskeletal units. To treat trigger points it is important to understand the characteristics of  titin. Titin is a particularly important and frequent element within the musculoskeletal system. It is a protein which functions in providing architectural support and maintaining sarcomeric organization during muscle contraction (Gigli et al., 2016).  More importantly, this protein is known for it’s role in the generation of stiffness within muscle tissue and functions in developing passive tension during muscle stretching (Gigli et al., 2016). Because of the particularly “unyielding” or stiff characteristics associated with titin, releasing accumulated sarcomeres or muscle can take time and effort.  However, clinical experience shows that there are effective methods that can be used to release the structural units that lay the foundation and/or development of myofascial trigger points. 

In fact, researchers confirm that  employing a strategy which centers on producing slowly sustained stretches are an effective method for releasing myofascial trigger point tightness (Simons, 2002). It is believed that the action of  slow sustained stretches is effective at lengthening shortened sarcomeres. Again, the effectiveness of this mode of treatment may be due to the properties of titin.  Several studies have uncovered the basic elements of how titin proteins respond to a stretching force and it has been found that titin changes structure in a time and force dependent manner (Rivas-Pardo et al., 2016).  Understanding the influence of time and force to the disruption of muscle tissue units is critical for treating myofascial trigger points. Applying force over time to myofascial trigger points can result in the lengthening of potentially shortened sarcomas, diminish muscle fiber tension and reduce excessive energy consumption within the muscolskeletal system. Strategies which employ a measure of force over time can be useful in treating muscle tissue and improving factors related to athletic potential.

trigger_point_therapyLeading experts have address several methods aimed at treating myofascial trigger points and/or  optimizing sarcolema length. The most common approach to myofascial treatment occurs through the action of compression. Over twenty years ago, researchers Dr. David Simons and Dr. Janet Travell first devised a method to treat myofascial trigger points by applying heavy thumb pressure on trigger points. This strategy employs the use of a  force (expressed through the thumb) over a certain time to produce ischemic compression over an afflicted area.   Treating myofascial trigger points by compression is an approach most commonly seen in the athletic arena through the use of foam and stick rollers. Athletes will use these rollers in effort to compress adhesions within muscle fibers and return structural units to their appropriate length. Over the last few years, however, experts have devised new methods for treating myofascial tissue.

For instance,  the “press and stretch” technique is believed to be a more effective strategy in restoring abnormally contracted muscle units to their normal resting length. Specifically, this technique is thought to disrupt trigger points by mechanically disuniting  the tethered muscle structural unit myosin from actin.  This is a process that normally requires energy from the body, therefore the press and stretch technique helps to conserve energy by it’s ability to uncouple contracted pieces of muscle.  Experts suggest that the press and stretch may also help release the “sticky” characteristics reflective of the titin connections in myofascial trigger points.  (McPartland, 2004).  This relatively new approach to myofascial treatment can be a valuable resource for movement specialist, performance coaches and athletes looking to rediscover lost potential.  

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The “press and stretch” technique is believed to be a more effective strategy in restoring abnormally contracted muscle units to their normal resting length.

    The tools currently utilized within the athletic space provide a one dimensional approach to treating fascia.  These application devices have been invented and marketed to roll and apply pressure to the muscles to disrupt adhesions in fascia. However no device has been able to both apply pressure to the skin and also pulls the skin to further disrupt fascia – Until now.   It is for this reason that I have designed a new tool aimed at both applying compressive and stretching forces to tissue.  The “Rattle Stick” roller is a tool which emphasizes compressive and traction forces in effort to better disrupt trigger points.   

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The “Rattle Stick” is the next best tool for treating myofascial trigger points.

The Rattlestick is a one piece roller device layered with suction cups which allows the application of force in a multiple dimensions. With the Rattlestick, a person conducting the myofascial treatment firmly presses  cups and the body of the roller against the skin of the area to be treated. The application of firm pressure provides a disruptive force to collagen fibers and enables the suction cups to adhere to the skin of the area being treated. Gentle, but firm repeated rolling of the roller over the area to be treated first causes a row of suction cups to adhere to the patient’s skin and then continued rolling removes that row of suction cups. This repetitive action of compression and traction forces along muscle tissue over a periods of time can help to improve blood flow and mechanically disrupt the connection between “sticky” structural units that compose myofascial trigger points.

 

The Rattlestick represents one approach to myofascial care for our athletes. The stick roller can be part of the ethereal “Extra work” that we all search for in order to gain a competitive edge.  Most of us should know the importance of tissue care by now. And a lot of us understand that myofascial treatment is a process that needs to be performed consistently over a long period of time to maximize gain in movement and performance. The number of devices attributed to myofascial care that are currently on the market reflect this common understanding. However, the “Rattlestick” roller is a step forward.  It is simply better,  because we now have the opportunity to apply compressive forces and traction forces on muscle fascia more efficiently and over a greater amount of tissue at relatively low energy costs.  Simply put, The Rattlestick is the tool that will help to limit your pain in effort to produce gains.

References:

Gigli, M., Begay, R. L., Morea, G., Graw, S. L., Sinagra, G., Taylor, M. R. G., … Mestroni, L. (2016). A Review of the Giant Protein Titin in Clinical Molecular Diagnostics of Cardiomyopathies. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine3, 21. 

McPartland, J.M.,(2004) Travell trigger points–molecular and osteopathic perspectives. Journal of American Osteopathic Medicine, 104(6):244-249.

Resteghini,P., (2016). Myofascial Trigger Points: Pathophysiology and Treatment with Dry Needling. Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine. (28)2, 60 – 68.

Rivas-Pardo, J. A., Eckels, E. C., Popa, I., Kosuri, P., Linke, W. A., & Fernández, J. M. (2016). Work done by titin protein folding assists muscle contraction. Cell Reports14(6), 1339–1347.

Simons, D.G., (2002) Understanding effective treatments of myofascial trigger points Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 6(2), 81- 88

Sola, A. E., Bonica, J. J., (1990). Myofascial pain syndromes. In: Bonica J J, Loser J D, Chapman C R, Fordyce W E, editors. The Management of Pain. 2nd edition. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger; .352-367. 

 

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Dan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd holds a variety of certifications in Health and Sport Nutrition, Olympic Weight Lifting and Movement Assessment.  These certifications include Precision Nutrition Level I and Level II as well as USA Weightlifting and Functional Movement Systems.  Liburd also has a great deal of experience in Health, Fitness and Sport Strength and Conditioning. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. 

The Three Important Steps for Dealing with the Crisis of a ‘Weight Room’ Injury

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 It is undoubtedly the worst feeling you can suffer through as a strength coach, trainer or movement specialist. Unfortunately, many who work in the profession of human movement and performance have or will encounter this experience to some degree. Regardless of how great you may be at delivering a safe and sound program and/or environment to your athletes/clients, there’s always a potential risk of injury to those individuals within your setting.

Injuries are an unfortunate fixture within the world of sports and they are also a perpetual issue in the world of movement and performance training for sports.  While the practice of exercise and movement training continues to grow, develop and evolve in both safety and potency, the risk of injury to individuals who engage in the potentially precarious practice of exercise remains.  We’ve seen or heard of the horrific headlines where athletes are exposed to life threatening and/or serious injuries such as rhabdoymyolis after engaging in exercise.  And there are of-course the gruesome accidents that can potentially leave indelible marks to both the athlete and training staff. Accidents happen all the time and the weight room is no exception. 

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On September 28, 2009, Johnson suffered an injury when the 275 pounds (125 kg) barbell he was lifting fell on his throat while performing a bench press during a routine team workout. Bleeding from his mouth and nose, he was rushed to California Hospital Medical Center and had three emergency surgeries to repair damage to his crushed vocal cord.

      While the risk of harm is rare, a potential for injury exists every time  an athlete steps in the weight room or performs a form exercise.  Take for instance, those athletes who engage in an increasingly popularly form of exercise called Crossfit, which incorporates high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise. In a 2013 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers demonstrated that just under 74% of individuals who engaged in Crossfit expressed an injury experience as a result of their training (Hak, Hodzovic, Hickey, 2013). This potential for injury has also been demonstrated in other forms of exercise training such as powerlifting. Researchers from the University of Cologne published a study in 2011 in which they concluded that 43% of powerlifters sustained a form of injury during their training (Siewe et al., 2011). Similarly, in a 2002 study published in the American journal of sports medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters expressed a similar rate of injury during training (Raske & Norlin, 2002). Athletes in this study expressed an injury rate of, on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity.  Of these injuries, the most common forms were low back injuries, with an injury rate of 0.43 per 1000 hours (Raske & Norlin, 2002). To this end, regardless of training style, injuries can occur to the training athlete and depending on training stye they can occur relatively often. 

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In a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters experienced an injury rate of , on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity (Raske & Norlin, 2002).

Despite how common it may be within the sports realm the notion of an injured athlete has and will continue to evoke emotional distress from me.  The experience of dealing with an athlete injury in a training setting can often leave some of the most resilient and experienced coaches shaken. Injuries can wipe away potentially progressive plans and completely deride your confidence in people, programs, systems and/or environments.  Athletes injured in the weight room are like scarlet letters that you hold on for life and represent the antithesis of a strength coaches duty.  The ultimate role of a strength coach is to improve an individual’s  potential. Injury has little place in fulfilling this duty. Mike Boyle, world renown strength coach profoundly states that a Strength Conditioning System or Philosophy should rest on a famous principle of the Hippocratic oath – “Do no Harm”.   As strength coaches, athlete safety should be our number one objective and responsibility.

    It would be ingenuous, however,  to believe that the act of exercise and/or performance training does not involve some degree of risk of harm to an athlete.  Especially when consider that the foundation of  strength and mass development involves the breakdown and repair of tissue. While the physiology of tissue adaptation to stress is clear this process does not qualify the fear that all strength coaches, trainers and/or movement specialists experience when an athlete embarks within their training program. On the contrary this fear can have a powerful effect over the, practice, system and philosophy of a strength coach. 

      It is the fear of an athlete experiencing injury that forces strength coaches to make conservative decisions in their program design. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can often result in coaches making unfounded generalizations regarding certain movements or exercises. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can result in the adoption of certain Strength and Conditioning protocols or athlete requirements.  This fear can keep coaches up at night and restive in their search for best practice, injury free methodologies. However, this earnest search for efficient, effective, sound and safe forms of training does not belie the truth. Athletes can, have and will hurt themselves training.  It’s an uncomfortable truth especially since I am in the business of striving for improvements in athlete safety and potential in performance.  Thus, I must be clear in stating that I don’t mean to intimate that athlete injuries in the weight room is acceptable or expected. However, I must not misrepresent the fact that injuries occur to some degree at all levels and in various training settings and arenas regardless of one’s strength training expertise, experience or ethics. At the same, I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if I did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. Regardless of these efforts, injuries occur in the pursuit  of performance and the development of potential. The question we must investigate is not only how do limit injury but also how do we respond when injury occurs. 

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“I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if i did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. “


This post is a reflection on what should take place when strength coaches and trainers are faced with the unfortunate and horrible crisis of injury in the training environment.  I found Bill George’s “Leadership in a Crisis – How To Be a Leader” a very powerful resource for managing these often distressing and complicated situations. His words offer guidance  for the flurry of emotions, thoughts and responses that generally follow the crisis of an injury in performance training setting.

Bill George helps to highlight three important responses when dealing with an injury in the weight room. The first step is to “face reality.” He states that  “leaders need to look themselves in the mirror and recognize their role in creating the problems.” (George, 2017). This statement applies to all strength coaches who experience the crisis of a weight room injury. The first step is to accept responsibility.  A strength coach has a role in any injury that occurs within the strength training environment or under their supervision. In other words, the first step in dealing with a crisis  such as athlete injury under your supervision is to come to terms that you are responsible no matter how inscrutable the circumstances involving the injury.  Accepting responsibility provides the opportunity to move toward the necessary steps of understanding root cause, resolving root cause and taking steps to prevent the root cause of the issue. It is important to state that accepting responsibility is not the same as admitting culpability. Instead, it is the acknowledgement of a leader to seek and provide the truths regarding a situation.  George states “widespread recognition of reality is the crucial step before problems can be solved.” In other words, it is only after the discovery of veracity in a situation can we see a real form of  solution. Truth also breeds Trust as Craig Fugate notes in his article “The True Test of a Successful Crisis Response: Public Trust.” Building public trust is achieved by knowing what to tell the public and your peers. Knowing what to say largely involves the honest delivery of truth.

In acknowledging truths we must also understand the wide range of negative consequences that they can potentially produce – and we must prepare for the worst.  This is the second lesson Bill George provides for demonstrating leadership in a crisis. He states that in a crisis “no matter how bad things are, they will get worse.” (George, 2017) This mindset is integral to not only ensuring an effective solution or method of prevention but also in its execution.  When an injury occurs under our training environment it can be a natural response to avoid thinking of the severity of its consequences. This response may be an unconscious decision to avoid or lessen the pain associated with our role in the occurrence of an injury. As comforting as this strategy may seem, it is best to avoid this approach  for the purpose of developing more effective solutions toward the prevention of the issue. Thinking and preparing for the worst is a useful strategy which can help to eliminate or lessen threats to successful performance in the future. Consider, the process in which Strength Coach Mike Boyle took when removing  spine loaded squat movements as a resource for the lower body development of his athletes. Boyle states:

“The simple reason is that we found the back squat and front squat to be the primary causes of back pain in our athletic population. At any point, in any season, approximately 20% of our athletes would be dealing some kind of back pain that was either caused by squatting or exacerbated by squatting.”

It is safe to assume that Mike Boyle in developing this solution in response to episodes of back injury from his athletes, acknowledged that the injuries to his athletes were his responsibility and that his continued action could pose greater severity to the safety of his athletes. No matter how bad the injury sustained by his athletes were now, his continued approach could result in greater injury in the future.  The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility. Mike’s honest assessment of his history with a particular exercise enabled him to  develop a policy that will likely reduce the incidents of back injuries within his training setting. Being honest with ourselves sometimes requires a change in our perspective and our principles.  This process can be challenging but can be alleviated through another important resource when dealing with crisis – the seeking of help. 

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The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility.

During difficult moments it is important to lean on support and avoid isolation. Bill George states that during a crisis, many leaders attempt to  carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They go into isolation, and think they can solve the problem themselves. As a strength coach it’s important to communicate and reach out to former mentors, teachers and colleagues to help shape perspective and guidance. While a leader needs to acknowledge their responsibility and seek truth, he must also seek help from  his resources to devise solutions and to implement them.

In the end, injuries in the weight room are in many ways inexorable – they are destined to occur. However, our responses when they occur can be vital in limiting the frequency and/or severity of their occurrence. And that is an effort that requires us to take ownership, to be truthful, to treat situations with great severity and to seek the guidance and aid of others. In many ways the challenges and experiences of  athlete injury, can enable us to be a better at dealing with crisis, better in our duties as a strength coach and ultimately better at being a leader.

References

George, B. (2017). “Leadership in Crisis-How to be a Leader.” Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-lead-in-a-crisis. 

Hak, P. T., Hodzovic, E., Hickey, B. (2013). The nature and prevalence of injury during CrossFit training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1.

Jennings, C. (2017, January 17). Report: 3 Oregon football players hospitalized after ‘grueling’ workouts.Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/18491292/three-oregon-ducks-football-players-hospitalized-strength-conditioning-workouts

Siewe, J., Rudat, J., Röllinghoff, M., Schlegel, U. J., Eysel, P., & Michael, J. W. (2011). Injuries and Overuse Syndromes in Powerlifting. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(09), 703-711.

Smith, S. (2009, December 25). USC’s Stafon Johnson talks about injury. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/los-angeles/news/story?id=4769237

Raske, A., Norlin, R. (2002). Injury Incidence and Prevalence among Elite Weight and Power Lifters. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(2), 248-256.

23467262_10105572160467560_654197207509059858_oDan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please check out http://www.doyou-live.com 

“Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 2

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Hypoxico Altitude training systems provide the opportunity to train intermittently in hypoxic conditions. However this form of training should not be confused with “Live High” altitude training interventions which are largely associated with physiological changes necessary for improvement in aerobic performance.

In Part 2 of “A proposal to investigate the use of Altitude Training Camp Interventions for improved athletic performance in American Football”  we will examine the past research and build a foundation to help construct an effective vision and resource for the betterment of our athletes in regard to exercise performance.

“The more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future” – Theodore Roosevelt

     Paul Bert was a french physiologist who first reasoned that atmospheric changes at altitude resulted in physiological adaptations to those individuals who spent a period of time at certain altitudes (Levine& Stray-Gundersen,1997).  Years later scientists would identify the adaptations that take place at altitude as central to the improvement of performance when athletes return to sea level. Dr. Benjamin Levine and  Dr. James Stray-Gundersen were one of the first researchers to report that living at certain altitude environments aid to augment endurance performance through increases in red cell volume and associated enhancements to athlete’s ability to transport oxygen around the body. (Levine& Stray-Gundersen,1997).  Their work along with the dominance of altitude acclimatized athletes during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and early anecdotal training experiments in the USA in the 1970s, help to establish altitude training as an effective model for endurance athletes wishing to improve aerobic performance. Today, this form of training is being proposed as a resource for team sport athletes or those who compete in sports which cover a wide range of energy systems including the aerobic system.  Dr. Olivier Girard, Researcher at Athlete Health and Performance Research Centre in Doha, Qatar says “Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.” (Girard, Chalabi, 2013) 

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Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.”

What lies in the future of training for Team Sport athletics such as Football?

     Envision a setting where athletes saw improved cardiovascular function mediated through physiological changes within their blood simply from living and breathing the air of a specific environment.  Altitude training camps is a potential resource for many performance specialists and teams to utilize in their goal of providing the best environment for their athletes to succeed.  This form of training is  a common practice for endurance athletes prior to competition (Mclean, 2014). It is a performance tool which is increasingly being used in team sports from Australian Football to Rugby and Soccer.  Over the last few years researchers have increasingly reported  improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic measures of performance in team sports as a result of altitude interventions. In 2015, Researchers at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland found that altitude intervention improved physiological factors related to cardiovascular function and sprint performance in elite male field hockey players. In addition, these benefits lasted for three weeks after the altitude training intervention (Brocherie et al., 2015).   In another study, researchers at Victoria University published a study in 2015 where an altitude intervention was applied to fifteen Australian Footballers. The results showed  that after nineteen nights of an altitude training intervention athletes saw improvement in measures of performance as well as physiological measures associated with cardiovascular performance ( Inness, Billaut & Aughey, 2015).  Similar findings are reflected in a 2012 study where researchers in Melbourne Australia, investigated the performance and physiological measures of thirty elite Australian football players after a preseason altitude camp (Mcclean et al, 2012). Improvements in measures of performance and physiological factors associated with cardiovascular performance were also noted in these Australian football players. Interestingly enough, researchers demonstrated that the magnitude of improvements were similar to that of an endurance athletes undertaking an altitude training intervention (Mcclean et al, 2012). It has also been reported that the improvements in performance for these athletes lasted over 4 weeks (Mcclean et al, 2012).  The results reported in these studies leads us to a simple conclusion; Altitude training camps is a potentially valuable resource for preparing team sport athletes for the regular or competitive season.   

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What are the Traditional Models of Altitude Training Interventions available to Athletes?

     It is interesting to note that Altitude training interventions appear to be beneficial to athlete’s exercise performance despite the variation in models used in the aforementioned studies. For instance, one of the models used by researchers at the University Lausanne is known as the “Live-High”, “Train-High” altitude intervention as it requires athletes to live and train at altitudes more than 2000 meters above sea level. A more popular altitude training model used in past studies requires athletes to live at moderate altitudes but to train at sea level. This training intervention is known as the “Live-High, Train-Low” model. In addition to this model,  A number of studies have reflected the existence of altitude training interventions with variations in either frequency and/or duration of exposure to a range of altitudes or hypoxic ( low oxygen) environments  over a period of time.  However,  despite the array of altitude or hypoxic training programs, more traditional altitude models are commonly used by athletes and coaches such as the following models: “Live-High and Train-High (LHTH)”, “Live High and Train Low (LHTL)” as well as “Live Low and Train High” (LLTH) (Girard et al, 2013).

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Why “Living High” is necessary for improvement in athletic performance?

     The simple action of living high or maximizing exposure to altitude plays an integral role in the physiological and performance benefits associated with altitude training. Researchers report that hemoglobin mass or factors related to the function of cardiovascular performance increases at approximately 1.1% per 100 hours of altitude exposure at altitudes above 2100 meters (Girard et al, 2013).  It is also suggested that a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training is associated with an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013). Hence, it is recommended that athletes should spend sufficient time at altitude to achieve a corresponding increase in hemoglobin mass to gain improvements in aerobic performance at sea level. These physiological changes associated with improved cardiovascular performance appear in both the LHTH and LHTL models because these models allow for a large duration of time exposed to hypoxic environments.  Therefore, both models provide an ideal environment for allowing the physiological changes necessary for improvement in oxygen delivery.   

Are improvements in oxygen carrying capacity the only benefit of altitude training interventions?

     It’s important to note that while improvements in blood factors such as hemoglobin mass have been associated with performance increases from altitude training, other studies have also mentioned improvements in physiological factors unrelated to oxygen carrying capacity of  blood.  It’s important to understand that in addition to hematological  factors there are also non-haematological mechanism associated with improved performance after altitude training or hypoxic exposure that may potentially improve exercise performance. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport suggested in a 2001 study that altitude or hypoxic exposure resulted in increases exercise performance as a result of improved muscle buffering capacity( Gore et al., 2001). Improvements in muscle buffering capacity may help to improve endurance performance, as well as efficiency of exercise and lead to greater performance in high intensity exercise.  

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Improved muscle buffering capacity is a potential adaptation from altitude training interventions.

What is the best altitude model to use for football altitude training camp?

     However, for the purposes of this proposal the “Live-High” “Train-Low” (LHTL) model will be discussed at length. The majority of findings reported by researchers have suggests that the “LHTL” is the most effective altitude intervention for improvements in sea level cardiovascular performance and the physiological factors associated with improved aerobic performance ( Inness,,Billaut  & Aughey, 2015).  In fact, some researchers have referred to this model as the “gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement (Brocherie et al, 2015).  The LHTL intervention has been reported by researchers to contribute to improvements in running economy, and hemoglobin mass in elite endurance athletes compared to athletes living and training at sea-level (Saunders et al., 2004).   In addition the LHTL model has extensive history in endurance performance. Athletes have used this model for more than half a century, attempting to improve  endurance performance at sea level (Mclean et al, 2013). 

Why is “Living-High”, “Training-Low” a better model for improving athletic performance?

     Despite the similarities in exposure to hypoxic environments between the LHTL Model and LHTH model, the LHTL model appears to be more effective than the LHTH model.  Researchers performed an extensive analysis of altitude training protocols in 2009 and determined that an enhancement of maximal aerobic power output was only possible with natural LHTL models (Girard et al., 2013). The superiority of the LHTL model to other altitude training models can be attributed to two factors: the ability to provide athletes extensive exposure to hypoxic (or low oxygen availability) environments and the opportunity to train in normoxic (normal oxygen availability) environments. In providing athletes maximum exposure to a partial oxygen environment the LHTL models helps to  elicit changes and/or increases to physiological factors associated with improve aerobic performance such as the augmentation of hemoglobin mass. In allowing athletes to train at lower altitude this model helps to limit the reductions in exercise capacity that occurs at high altitude.  Remember, as altitude increases there is limited availability of oxygen to tissue resulting in a greater limitation to  reach high levels of exercise performance (Clark et al., 2007).  In other words, as we train in environments with limited oxygen availability our ability to reach high levels of performance diminishes. In fact, training at altitude exposures can potentially result in a 7% decrease in VO2 max per 1000 meter altitude ascended(Girard et al, 2013). It can also slow down the process of energy recovery during exercise (Girard et al, 2013).

     On the contrary, training at lower altitudes produces an environment that allows for greater oxygen delivery and therefore improved ability to reach higher levels of exercise intensity.  Hence, training at low altitude prevents against degradations in exercise performance during training and helps to preserve muscle structure and function as a result.   The LHTL altitude training model enables athletes the potential for physiological changes or adaptation during rest and also facilitates an environment that allows for maximum exercise performance during training.  It places the athlete in a position to adapt for low oxygen availability while also maintaining high levels cardiovascular and muscle function through sea level training.  Understanding the details of this environmental position however is integral to providing the best construct for the inclusion of Altitude training to  team sports such as football.  Thus, in addition to understanding the best model for team sport athletes it’s also important to gain insight in to parameters such as the most effective duration and level of altitude for improvements in athletic performance. Thus the next few paragraphs will be devoted to developing an understanding of effective guidelines for altitude training interventions and their application to football training camps.

     When it comes to duration researchers have suggested that the best method for garnering the physiological effects (increased hemogloblin mass) associated with the “Living High” models is to be exposed to a hypoxic or moderate altitude environment of 2500 meters above sea level for greater than 16 hours a day for a period of approximately three to four weeks (Levine, Stray-Gundersen, 1997).  Other researchers have suggested that altitude training should take place at an altitude of 2,000 – 2,500 m for at least 22 hours a day and a minimum of 4 weeks to optimize the blood oxygen enriching adaptations for exercise performance. (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). Thus, it seems that leading research requires athletes to spend a minimum  three weeks at 16 hours per day at an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level to mediate positive effects towards physiological change and performance.  Three to four weeks is typically the time frame that NFL clubs spend in Training Camps. In addition, through the course of a training camp, much of an athlete’s day athletes is relegated to relatively low activity requirements such as meetings, film study, eating, sleeping and leisure.  These activities can take well over 20 hours of an athletes’s 24 hour day. The result, is an itinerary of  relatively low intensity activities that can take place at moderate altitudes with relatively low impact to the athlete and helps maximize their exposure to a hypoxic environment. Hence, the common football training camp schedule placed within a moderate altitude setting allows for effective exposures for physiological adaptations.

Aren’t there NFL teams already situated at “altitude”?

     At this point,you’ve probably thought about the implications for football teams that are already situated at relatively higher altitudes compared to the majority of football teams at sea level. For instance, a location like Denver, Colorado and a football team such as the Denver Broncos might immediately come to mind in reflecting on altitude training in football . Interestingly enough, Denver while recognized as the mile high city is not a high enough location to be considered for traditional “Live High” “Train Low” altitude interventions.  Denver Colorado has an altitude elevation of 1609 meters above sea level and is thus considered to be a low altitude environment.  However, it should be noted that low altitude environments or those which are lower than 2000 meters above sea level have been reported to produce favorable responses to blood parameters (Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015).  Researchers demonstrated low altitude exposure or an altitude of 1800 meters above sea level resulted in a 3% in crease in hemoglobin mass in elite distance runners (Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015). Despite this favorable response to blood parameters at low altitudes, it’s important to remember studies on athletes which have demonstrated  a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training generally report an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013). While there have been beneficial increases in physiological factors associated with performance at low altitude, the majority of literature reports improvements in both physiological factors and performance at altitudes greater than low altitude. While it may seem intuitive to increase altitude levels to maximize physiological changes and exercise performance it is also important that we do not get carried away in our attempts to “Live High”.

IMG_0007 2
Altitude in Calgary, Alberta is 1044 meters and is considered to be low altitude

What level of altitude training is considered too High?

     Researchers place caution on altitude interventions above 3000 meters as these hypoxic environments have not been well received by athletes acclimating to this level of altitude (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). Researchers report that athletes expressed a need for increase recovery periods and poor quality of sleep at altitudes above 3000 meters. In addition, this level of altitude has been associated with stressful side effects such as loss of appetite, muscle wasting, and the potential for mountain sickness (Girard et al, 2013).  It should follow that in constructing a Altitude Training Training camp Intervention we must look for the following factors: 

  • Location that can accommodate a large team at an altitude between 2000 – 2500 meters
  • A football schedule  that allows for a minimum exposure of 16 hours a day for a period of approximately three to four weeks
  • Access to a normoxic or sea – level altitude environment for practice and/or training. 

     These factors can potential help create a resources that can football teams move forward in the increasingly competitive field of performance. With the advent of GPS Technology and analytics in football, performance coaches are beginning to realize the shear distance of yards that football players often cover during a practice and/or game session.  These realizations are helping to shift the perspective of  football  training and conditioning. With such an aerobic and volume demand placed on athletes performance specialists are searching for methods to both monitor, control, and prepare for the large conditioning demands of football.  Aerobic conditioning has proven to be an effective strategy for diminishing risk of injury and preparing athletes for the demands of their sports (Princevero and Bompa).  In other words, endurance capacity is growing in  importance in a sport where performance coaches were chiefly concerned with Anaerobic ability.  Teams can benefit from a resource which has been proven to improve factors of both aerobic and anaerobic function as hypoxic training has been associated with improvements in maximal oxygen uptake, phosphocreatine resynthesis and muscle buffering capacity (Girad et al., 2013).  The purpose in improving factors of aerobic and anaerobic capacities serves to decrease relative exercise intensity and serves to improve their tolerance for the repeated sprint activity that is common to their sport (Girard et al, 2013).  In other words athletes would be better able to handle high sprint efforts. Researchers also acknowledge that skill performance is impacted by fatigue. It should follow then that minimizing potential for fatigue may help to maintain high levels of skill efficiency. Therefore altitude training can lead to improvements in aerobic capacity thus limiting fatigue, improving performance and skill efficiency (Inness, Billaut & Aughey, 2015). 

     To create an effective vision for the future, it helps if you have an understanding of history. History seems is rapidly growing with research that demonstrates altitude training may be a growing vision for the future – Especially in the Team Sport of Football.  In part two of this proposal , we help to establish an understanding of altitude training models through past research. We were able to gain insight in to the various guidelines and parameters needed for the construct of an effective altitude training model. We learned for instance that Researchers have referred to the “Live-High” “Train-low” model as the“gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement. It’s effectiveness is likely due to the creation of a dual environment that enable athletes to gain the benefits of  both a hypoxic and normoxic setting. While improvements in physiological factors such as hemoglobin mass have been closely associated with exercise performance in altitude training there are also factors unrelated to oxygen carrying capacity that may promote improved performance in athletes.  This information provided in this post serves as the foundation of a vision that i will continue to illustrate for the future of our athletes and their performance.  In my next post, i will further elucidate the image of NFL altitude training years from today.

Top 8 Statements from this Article:

  1. Altitude Training is becoming more popular today than ever
    • Olivier Girard, Researcher at Athlete Health and Performance Research Centre in Doha, Qatar says “Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.” (Girard, Chalabi, 2013)
  2. The effects of some altitude training interventions can last for weeks
    • In 2015, Researchers at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland found that altitude intervention improved physiological factors related to cardiovascular function and sprint performance in elite male field hockey players. In addition, these benefits lasted for three weeks after the altitude training intervention (Brocherie et al., 2015).
  3. You have to spend time at altitude to gain physiological adaptations associated with improve exercise performance
    • Researchers report that hemoglobin mass or the factors related to cardiovascular performance increases at approximately 1.1% per 100 hours of altitude exposure at altitudes above 2100 meters (Girard et al, 2013).  It is also suggested that a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training is associated with an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013).
  4. Altitude Interventions can also improve factors unrelated to blood for the improvement of exercise performance.
    • Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport suggested in a 2001 study that altitude or hypoxic exposure resulted in increases exercise performance as a result of improved muscle buffering capacity( Gore et al., 2001).
  5. The Live – High Train Low model may potentially be the best altitude training method for improving exercisee performance.
    • Researchers have referred to the “Live-High” “Train-low” model as the“gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement.   
    • Researchers performed an extensive analysis of altitude training protocols in 2009 and determined that an enhancement of maximal aerobic power output was only possible with natural LHTL models (Girard et al., 2013).
  6. Some researchers have demonstrated improvements in factors related to exercise performance associated with low altitude training interventions
    • However, it should be noted that low altitude environments or those which are lower than 2000 meters above sea level have been reported to produce favorable responses to blood parameters(Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015).   
  7. Living at altitudes greater than 3000 meters can pose risks and challenges that may outweigh benefits
    • Researchers place caution on altitude interventions above 3000 meters as these hypoxic environments have not been well received by athletes acclimating to this level of altitude (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). 
  8. Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning  can help improve repeat sprint performance.
    • The purpose in improving factors of aerobic and anaerobic capacities serves to decrease relative exercise intensity and serves to improve their tolerance for the repeated sprint activity that is common to their sport (Girard et al, 2013).

References:

Brocherie, F., Millet, G. P., Hauser, A., Steiner, T., Rysman, J., Wehrlin, J. P., & Girard, O. (2015). “Live High–Train Low and High” Hypoxic Training Improves Team-Sport Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(10), 2140-2149. 

Clark SA, Bourdon PC, Schmidt W, Singh B, Cable G, Onus KJ, Woolford SM, Stanef T,Gore CJ and Aughey RJ. (2007) The effect of acute simulated moderate altitude onpower, performance and pacing strategies in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 102:45-55.

Girard, O., Chalabi, H.(2013). Could altitude training benefit team-sport athletes? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), 4-5.

Gore C.J., Hahn, A.G., Aughey, R.J., Martin, D.T., Ashenden, M.J., Clark, S.A., Garnham, A.P., Roberts A.D., Slater G.J. and McKenna MJ. (2001) Live high:train low increases muscle buffer capacity and submaximal cycling efficiency. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. 173: 275-286.

Garvican-Lewis, L. A., Halliday, I., Abbiss, C. R., Saunders, P. U., & Gore, C. J. (2015). Altitude Exposure at 1800 m Increases Haemoglobin Mass in Distance Runners. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 14(2), 413–417.

Inness, M. W., Billaut, F., & Aughey, R. J. (2017). Live-high train-low improves repeated time-trial and Yo-Yo IR2 performance in sub-elite team-sport athletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(2), 190-195.

Levine B.D., Stray-Gundersen J. (1997) “Living high-training low”: effect of moderate altitude acclimatization with low-altitude training on performance. Journal of Applied Physiology. 83: 102-112.

Mclean, B. D., Buttifant, D., Gore, C. J., White, K., Liess, C., & Kemp, J. (2013). Physiological and Performance Responses to a Preseason Altitude-Training Camp in Elite Team-Sport Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(4), 391-399. 

Naeije, R. (2010). Physiological Adaptation of the Cardiovascular System to High Altitude. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 52(6), 456-466.

Pincivero, D. M., & Bompa, T. O. (1997). A Physiological Review of American Football. Sports Medicine, 23(4), 247-260.

Rasmussen, P., Siebenmann, C., Díaz, V.,  Lundby, C. (2013) Red cell volume expansion ataltitude: a meta-analysis and monte carlo simulation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 45(9):1767-1772

Saltin B., Kim, C.K, Terrados, N., Larsen, H., Svedenhag, J.,Rolf, C.J., (1995). Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 5(4):222–230.

Saunders, P.U.,  Telford, R.D.,  Pyne, D.B.,  Cunningham, R.B.,  Gore, C.J.,  Hahn, A.G.,  Hawley, J.A (2004). Improved running economy in elite runners after 20 days of simulated moderate-altitude exposure. Journal of Applied Physiology, 96(3), 931-937 

 

DLLDan Liburd is in his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising Strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs. Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Boston University, A Master’s of Science from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards a Phd in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com