I spent the better part of the last month preparing for a conference presentation in Boston on “Recovery and Regeneration.” The conference, by the way, was a great event held every year by Art Horne at Northeastern University. If you have a chance, I encourage you to attend the Boston Sport Medicine and Performance Group conference, as you will encounter high quality presenters and a very informed and enthusiastic group of attendees. And, of course, Boston is a great city for sports.
The main thrust of my Recovery and Regeneration presentation was a better approach to the organization of training elements, not scrambling for modalities and cold tubs after poor training methods have been implemented. As part of this discussion I presented the high-low approach developed by Charlie Francis in the 1980’s. By dividing your training into high intensity and low intensity elements, while eliminating the medium intensity elements from your program, you could maximize the adaptation of key attributes in speed and power athletes. A very simple approach with a complex explanation that allows you to easily distinguish between alactic adaptations and aerobic systems geared at improving both work capacity and recovery abilities.
The approach seemed to be well received by the coaches and practitioners in attendance and it generated a lot of discussion. In particular, I engaged in some detailed discussion with a collegiate football strength and conditioning coach who had some great ideas on incorporating a high-low approach with both his off-season conditioning regimen, as well as sitting down with his head football coach about organizing training camp and practice in a similar fashion. I thought this was a great idea. If we could convince football coaches to apply a high-low approach to their practices and specific football preparation, I believe we could improve alactic abilities, enhance recovery and reduce the risk of injury during these sessions.
The approach to off-season strength and conditioning workouts is the easiest part of this equation. High-intensity elements include sprinting, jumping, explosive med-ball work and maximal agility efforts. In addition, explosive lifts and heavier multi-joint efforts can be classified as high-intensity training elements that are performed on the same day. Conversely, low intensity efforts can be undertaken on a separate day, including tempo runs, med-ball circuit throws and passes, body-weight circuits, sub-maximal agility drills, range-of-motion work and other peripheral activities.
It is important to note that on the low intensity day athletes will need an explicit explanation of the magnitude of intensity expected – very sub-maximal – understanding that they will be working continuously, but at a manageable intensity. The work can still be characterized as ‘difficult’ with athletes breathing hard and feeling a burn in their muscles. This is especially true in the early phases of the training program when athletes are adapting to the work rates and volumes. It is not uncharacteristic for athletes to creep into the ‘medium’ zone during these early stages of a training program. The important point is to not increase the training volumes too rapidly during these early workouts, thereby giving the athletes a chance to adapt to the work and assimilate the training within their low intensity zone.
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