Issue No. 18

The latest issue of Peak Performance has just landed on my desk and it's a real humdinger. It does what Peak Performance does best translating the latest sports science research into practical advice that real athletes like you can use to increase your sports performance.

To read the whole thing just click on one of the links below. Alternatively, you can read the highlights right here in this email, they include:

  • How to make sure your weight-training programme improves your sports performance
  • How the right combination of heavy and light strength training will increase your power
  • How to be sure your speed training is making you faster
  • How to calculate your percentage of body fat accurately
  • How to use thought-suppression to keep your mind on your game and some new research on 'choking' under pressure

How to make sure your weight-training programme improves your sports performance

The regular How to Win 'sport-specific' training message recurs this issue with John Shepherd's useful tips on how to make your weight-training programme you do have one, don't you? as relevant as possible to the requirements of your chosen sport.

Making your training sport-specific is the best if not the only way to make sure it will translate into improved performance.

Sport-specific training is what makes a programme strategic ie focused on a desired outcome rather than haphazard ie following a few general rules and hoping for the best.

As regular Peak Performance contributor Shepherd points out: 'Lifting progressively heavier weights will not in itself lead to improved power and speed... Too much bulk is just that: an additional load to transport around the track or into the air. If increased muscle size on its own brought the required results, then a body builder would be able to run as fast as Tim Montgomery.'

Here are Shepherd's six top weight-training tips for enhancing sports performance:

  1. Do some 'muscle re-education' work after lifting eg three minutes on a spin cycle if you are a cyclist or some light strides if running is your bag;
  2. Devise a progressive weight-training programme to accompany the demands of your sport, but never lose sight of the sport itself;
  3. Select exercises that replicate the movement and have a similar speed element to the sport in question;
  4. Take your level of maturity as well as your sport into account when devising your programme;
  5. Don't waste time marvelling at your new physique it could turn into a burdensome suit of armour for you to haul around;
  6. Revisiting a weights programme could be crucial: look closely at the transition to competitive season phases and check out whether previous strength gains really are improving sports performance.

For more advice from John Shepard about how to make your weight training increase your sports performance, click here to read the latest issue of Peak Performance for free...

How the right combination of heavy and light strength training will increase your power

Peak Performance US Editor, Owen Anderson, has just delivered us a report on the benefits of 'contrast training' for strength. There is growing evidence that the power gains associated with programmes combining heavy and light resistance are greater than with conventional programmes using either light or heavy resistance.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the theory is that prior heavy exertion has a positive effect on subsequent power by means of a 'potentiation' effect, which allows muscles to contract more quickly and forcefully immediately afterwards.

So far so good: but there has been some debate about exactly how the two types of strength training should be combined within workouts. Should you go for 'complex training', in which several sets of heavy-resistance exercise are followed by several sets of lighter resistance? Or should you plump instead for 'contrast training', in which heavy and light exercises are alternated, set for set, with a lightening-fast, light-resistance set always following a heavy one?

Anderson concludes from the available scientific evidence that complex training might have the self-defeating effect of inducing too much fatigue. Athletes should be able to carry out high-quality explosive work using contrast training techniques but only if they already have a good foundation of strength. Otherwise they are probably better off sticking with more traditional workouts, moving from lighter to heavier loads over the course of a workout.

Click here to learn more about how the right combination of heavy and light strength training can increase your power in a free copy of the latest issue of Peak Performance...

How to be sure your speed training is making you faster

Athletes who live by time trials runners, cyclists and swimmers have obvious ways of checking on whether their speed training is paying dividends over time. But what if you participate in a sport in which speed is crucial to success but is not directly measured? Sports like football, basketball, rugby, tennis, lacrosse the list is endless. How can you be sure your speed training is having the desired effect.

You could test yourself every so often with the simple 40-metre dash, in which you time yourself sprinting 40m as fast as possible from a standing or running start (depending on your sport). But improvements in time can be small and difficult to distinguish from natural variation.

For greater accuracy particularly in sports using short bursts of speed, such as squash and tennis you could use the four single-leg hop tests developed by the physiologist FR Noyes. These are:

  • The single hop for distance;
  • The triple hop for distance;
  • The crossover hop for distance;
  • The 6m hop for time.

Until recently there was little hard evidence that these tests were really useful for testing speed improvement. But now a fascinating US study on Air Force cadets has revealed that they are actually extremely reliable indicators of progress.

For those whose sport requires bursts of speed lasting more than a few seconds at a time football, for example, or rugby or even running the longer-lasting (and extremely painful-sounding) 50m hill-hop test is recommended.

For this, you find a steep 50m hill or a 50m length of a longer hill and hop up as fast as possible on one foot, timing yourself with an accurate watch as you do so, then repeating the test 3-4 weeks later to measure improvement. You might need those weeks just to recover from the exertion!

For more details about how to be sure your speed training is making you faster, click here for a free read of the latest issue of Peak Performance...

How to calculate your percentage of body fat accurately

These days everyone seems to be obsessed with body composition, and particularly with minimising their percentage body fat. But for athletes needing to maximise their power-packing lean mass and minimise their movement-inhibiting fat mass, body composition has genuine implications for performance. What's the best way to measure it?

The latest candidate for this task is the cutely-named Bod Pod, a special 'chamber', in which body density and percent body fat is calculated by reference to weight, body volume and thoracic lung volume.

It all sounds very high-tech (and not for the average gym narcissist!) although less elaborate than hydrostatic weighing, the 'gold standard' test, which requires candidates to exhale all the air in their bodies while strapped into a chair submerged in an indoor swimming pool!

Happily for fainthearted non-swimmers and claustrophobics, the relatively simple technique of skin-fold measurement is as accurate as hydrostatic weighing and more so than the Bod Pod as long as you use the correct formula for calculating percent body fat and employ the same 'tester' on each occasion.

You'll find more about how to calculate your percentage of body fat accurately in the latest issue of Peak Performance, click here to read it for free..

Thought-suppression and choking under pressure

An intriguing recent psychological study on investigating 'thought suppression' bears out the paradoxical idea that the more your try not to think about something the more tenaciously it clings to your thoughts.

It's not enough, concludes a term of Australian researchers, to seek to banish an unwanted and unhelpful thought (such as how unfair you think the umpire is, for example); to gain maximum benefit from 'clearing your mind', thought suppression must be followed immediately by 'an effort to refocus on a task-relevant cue' eg the whereabouts of the ball and your own position in relation to it!

A second report fails to bear out the popular supposition that professional athletes in this case golfers are prone to 'choking' when placed under the extreme pressure of entering the final round in a leading or near-leading position.

In a painstaking survey of scoring in three US professional tours a total of 114 tournaments in 1999, Texan psychologist Russell D Clark found no evidence for his hypothesis that pros who were either leading or one shot from the lead would have worse final-round scores than those who were two or more strokes from the lead. And the risk of choking proved no greater in top-tier events than in the less prestigious tournaments.

Of course, one study on members of one sporting discipline is not enough to entirely overturn a theory, and the jury is still out on choking under pressure. But if other studies bear out these findings, we may need to look for another explanation for Tim Henman's inexplicable annual failure to bring home the bacon at Wimbledon!

For effective mental training techniques that will increase your physical performance, click here...

A strategic approach to training...

Click here to read the latest issue (no 178) of Peak Performance, including:

  • How to make your weight training increase your sports performance
  • How the right combination of heavy and light strength training can increase your power
  • How to be sure your speed training is making you faster
  • How to calculate your percentage of body fat accurately

Click here for more speed, strength and stamina


Sylvester Stein

How To Win

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