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
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
- How to calculate your percentage of body fat
- How to use thought-suppression to keep your
mind on your game and some new research on 'choking'
to make sure your weight-training programme improves
your sports performance
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
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:
- 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
- Devise a progressive weight-training programme to
accompany the demands of your sport, but never lose
sight of the sport itself;
- Select exercises that replicate the movement and
have a similar speed element to the sport in
- Take your level of maturity as well as your sport
into account when devising your programme;
- Don't waste time marvelling at your new physique
— it could turn into a burdensome suit of armour
for you to haul around;
- 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.
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
the right combination of heavy and light strength
training will increase your power
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
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.
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
to be sure your speed training is making you faster
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
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.
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
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!
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...
to calculate your percentage of body fat accurately
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.
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..
and choking under pressure
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
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
effective mental training techniques that will increase
your physical performance, click here...
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