As a subject matter expert for the United States Army, I was fortunate to assist in the physical preparation of some of the finest patriots that this country has to offer. This is something that to date, only a small percentage of strength coaches can say, and I am very proud of that. The modern soldier is highly motivated, intelligent, more technologically saavy than previous generations, and getting smarter about their physical training every day. Not much negative can be said, but there is always room for improvement when it comes to the physical training of tactical athletes. The culture of the Army taught me about one dangerous practice that I have seen from athletes at different levels, but never at the magnitude to which it is rampant in our armed forces. This practice that I speaking of is excessive training volume. Simply put…. More Is Not Always Better!
The Army has a long standing mentality that the more of something that can be performed, the better. In a recent article written by legendary strength coach Buddy Morris (Cleveland Browns, University of Pittsburgh, 30+ years in the field), coach Morris states perhaps better than anyone that a person should “train as much as necessary in order for improvement, which is the intent in the first place. You never see an injury from undertraining but you see careers shortened from overtraining. You can solve undertraining and NO not by necessarily increasing training. That’s everyone’s first go to, “they gotta train more and harder”…. Over time its the volume of work that gets you.” This could not hold more true for soldiers. Not many pro athletes are fortunate enough to spend anywhere near 20 years in their respective sports. Even if you include their years of playing in high school and before, they are lucky to see a decade. A soldier is expected to be combat ready and fit to fight for almost 20 years of their life. This is where overtraining and optimal programming become much more important for the longevity of tactical athletes compared to civilian athletes. Coach Morris also goes on to say, “Don’t judge the training session on if they are sore or they are puking, this should not be considered a good training/ workout session. This is called “ maladaptation” to training or given a stimulus they were not ready for . It doesn’t take a genius to train someone to near death, it takes a thought process to enhance performance.” Individualization of training is impossible due to the large number of soldiers at a given PT session, and a plethora of different ability groups in each unit. As it was stated above, it is much better to tailor the training so the less fit soldiers can adapt and improve without being injured. It would be great if everyone could keep up with the top 10% of the PT studs, but again, better to undertrain the top 10% and have no injuries than overtrain the bottom 90% and make Uncle Sam “buy” broken 19 year old soldiers for life!
The point of this article is not to bring awareness to any deficiencies in Army training, but to help spread the word that OPTIMAL training does not mean OVER training. Although this has been tailored to our service members, it can also be great advice for personal trainers, coaches, or anyone who regularly works with groups. It is especially important in dealing with younger athletes as sometimes parents feel they are not getting their money’s worth unless their child is flirting with nausea and incoherence. Here are some easy ways to regulate training volume to find the optimal amount of training for a person or group;
• Feedback, Feedback, Feedback, I almost always start by asking the basics of an athlete before we begin. I will ask about sleep, foods eaten, stress, fatigue level, other activities (gym class, crossfit, etc.). Certain aspects of training may need to be cut out due to the stress of everyday life placed on the body.
• Developing a “coach’s eye” is something that comes from a lot of experience, but it almost can act as a 6th sense. For example, if you have a really hard working group that just seems sluggish and isn’t real motivated, it may be time to get some biofeedback and adjust your programming.
• Flexibility. No not putting every athlete on a sit and reach testing box, but making sure YOU are flexible enough to do what’s in THEIR best interest. Sometimes we as coaches want to project our motivation and love of the training process onto our athletes/clients, but when the football coaches had them running extra laps and they were up all night studying for a final, that max effort hang clean may have to wait!
• Communication is another key part of the coaching equation that is always talked about, but we have to make sure we are communicating with everyone. Good communication with athletic trainers, athletes, parents, and head coaches should all be standard, but sometimes stressors can come from other places that we have to investigate. Position coaches, professors, job related stress (both physical and mental) may also be a factor in contributing to poor physical performance.
If a drop in motivation or physical performance is experienced, pushing a person harder, longer, or further can be a recipe for disaster both from a mental and musculoskeletal standpoint. Develop the ability to know when enough is enough and remember that more is not always better.
Train safe, train smart, and train hard.
Special thanks to Buddy Morris and Fred Duncan. http://nyscenter.com