Training for Elite Athletes

Loading Parameter Table 2018

by Matt Jordan on October 18, 2018 No comments

Here is an updated loading parameter table for you to download. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss online learning opportunities

Loading Parameter Table 2018


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Matt JordanLoading Parameter Table 2018

Functional Asymmetry and Eccentric Deceleration Presentation

by Matt Jordan on May 14, 2016 No comments

Over the past four years I’ve been working hard to find new methods to detect deficits in athletes returning from injury.  Two particular areas of interest are assessing functional asymmetry and eccentric deceleration ability.  I’ve found functional asymmetry testing to be of great value for monitoring athletes throughout the return to sport training period.  However, I don’t think it is as simple as relying solely on what the eyes can see or simple between-limb strength tests like measuring single leg squat strength or single leg vertical jump height .  I look at functional asymmetry from a few different perspectives.  I have written about this in both lay and peer-reviewed articles.

In terms of assessing eccentric deceleration ability, we know that non-contact injuries often happen in the transitional zones when muscle work is performed through lengthening contractions to absorb external energy (i.e. during decelerating events).  In order to evaluate an athlete’s eccentric deceleration ability it is important to have few tools in your toolbox including those that use the power of visual observation and those that are determined objectively.

I have received a lot of requests in this area so I put a link below to a presentation I gave recently on this topic.

I’m also offering a weekend webinar on Saturday June 4th to discuss different approaches for evaluating functional asymmetry and eccentric deceleration ability.  Space is limited so please reserve yourself a spot soon if you are interested in learning more.


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Matt JordanFunctional Asymmetry and Eccentric Deceleration Presentation

Why pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?

by Matt Jordan on March 31, 2016 No comments

Article Overview: 1251 words focused on providing S&C coaches with important concepts for incorporating data analysis into practice.

Over the past few years, an important theme in many of my presentations is that elite coaches need to figure out what matters, track what matters and change what matters.

In addition to my presentations, effectively tracking what matters is the single biggest area of consulting I provide to strength and fitness coaches.

Coaches want to know: How do I figure out what matters? How do I efficiently track what matters?

And most coaches want to know: How do I do this without having to spend thousands of dollars per month?

The new breed of high performance coach gets the importance of being objective and knows he or she must integrate science with practice.

After taking all the internships, weekend courses and certifications one can afford, high performance coaches are ready to generate their own knowledge and understanding with a more scientific approach to training.

No doubt this takes some effort and expertise but it’s an essential part of the coaching process.  This is why mentorship can be so valuable – my goal is to teach coaches how to fish versus catching a single fish for them.

I teach the coach how to develop effective performance monitoring systems.  I don’t sell systems.

I also emphasize that without objectively determined metrics we are prone to confirmation bias, missing important training insights and prescribing the wrong training stimulus.

Confirmation bias is the big killer.

In the presence of observations that don’t fit our current belief system, we build narratives that dismiss away the anomalous or conflicting evidence and stick with only the observations that fit our beliefs.  This leads to plenty of issues.

I can tell you from many years of working with elite athletes that what actually happens in terms of training response can sometimes be entirely different from what is depicted in textbooks.

Thus, having a front-end plan without ongoing metrics is kind of like building a house and not getting your plumbing inspected before you put up the drywall.  How do you know that the plan was executed properly and that things are tracking according to expectations?

However, the challenge for implementing this new approach to training science is often cost and expertise.

Commercially available online training monitoring systems are often expensive and cumbersome.  Just like your computer, they often include a bunch of features that most coaches will never use.  On this front, you probably use a handful of reliable and effective applications on your computer and the other hundred or so applications never get touched.

Monitoring is the same – there are a few metrics that matter and mastering these metrics is the first step for effective tracking.  Trying to make sense of the multitude of potential numbers and metrics only leads to more noise and more confusion.

Performance monitoring and tracking has to be simple.

The truth is you can build a highly effective method for tracking your athletes without having to invest a lot of money.

On the other hand you can also invest a lot of money in a turnkey cloud training monitoring application but if you don’t understand how to manipulate data, synthesize data and distill down to what matters, you will be lost and you will lose your athletes along the way.

It is also critical to move beyond “pen to paper” solutions or the arduous task of typing data into a spreadsheet.  I have coaches that have years of data on scraps of paper in a desk drawer.

I applaud them for tracking what is important for their programs but how can anyone possibly make sense of a notebook of split times, loads lifted and days lost to injury?  It’s impossible with this format and the time needed to convert paper data into computer data is almost a complete roadblock.  No one has time for this.

These are some of the major barriers for effective athlete monitoring that I hear from the strength and fitness coaches with whom I consult.

Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated but it needs to be efficient.

One of my inspirations on this front is famed Canadian throws coach Derek Evely.  Having worked under the great Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, Derek has refined the science of athlete monitoring.  Derek understands the importance of tracking the variables that matter.  To this end, he has established best practice for tracking reaction curves or the performance response of his athletes to his training programs.

The evidence Derek has amassed over the years of tracking his athletes is really impressive. What’s even more impressive is the deep knowledge he has about training.  He doesn’t read textbooks – his textbook comes from years of writing programs and tracking what matters – this is the only textbook a good coach needs after developing knowledge in the foundations of exercise and sport science.

So, what are the first important steps?

Step one, is to learn the basics of collecting good data.  Again, mentorship is key.  Unless you have done a graduate level statistics course, you probably haven’t learned these skills.  But they are teachable!

Step two is to figure out what metrics matter for your athletes.  Simple measures that are almost universal are: weekly training load – athlete wellness – metrics to build reaction curves – and days lost to injury and illness.  More advanced metrics could be: heart rate variability for a team sport or endurance athlete – a measure of neuromuscular fatigue – or functional asymmetry (this is a big focus of my research as it pertains to ACL injury / re-injury prevention).

Step three is to begin collecting data with free online solutions and to learn how to visualize or summarize the data in a meaningful way.  A picture paints a thousand words and collapsing a 5000 row spreadsheet into a single graphic is where the magic happens.

Step four is to synthesize the data and understand what it all means.  Whether it is showing up to a training session with a conversation starter after flagging an athlete with poor sleep, reporting weekly fluxes in training load to your athletic therapist or team coach to identify athletes at elevated risk for injury, or reviewing four years of data with an athlete to determine what worked and what didn’t, synthesizing the data into something meaningful is a key final step.

This is where you create your own textbook and develop your own training systems.  This is what all great coaches ultimately do.

The last piece to remind you of is that the cost for this sort of system can be anywhere from thousands of dollars per month to zero dollars per month! 

I opt for the zero dollars per month – why would you throw away your hard earned money when free solutions exist to help you achieve your desired outcome.

What I aim to teach strength and fitness coaches is how to use freely available tools to implement good data collection practices around the metrics that matter.

I then help these coaches understand the principles of how training prescription impacts the performance of athletes through tools like reaction curves.

I think merging the science of training adaptation with the art of program design and coaching is where the truly great coaches emerge.

I plan to write more on this over the months to come but if you’re interested in diving into this area, stay tuned for webinars I am hosting throughout the late spring and summer.

You can also contact me to book a Skype call so that I can help you move from coach/artist to a scientist of training adaptations.

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Matt JordanWhy pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?

Assessing Functional Asymmetry in the ACL Injured Athlete

by Matt Jordan on January 16, 2015 No comments

Article Overview: 757 words on assessing functional asymmetries using dual force plate methodology.

About 3 weeks ago I gave an hour presentation at a local ski shop to discuss my PhD research, which focused on functional neuromuscular assessments throughout the late phase rehabilitation to improve outcome for ACL injured elite ski racers.

Like most applied strength and conditioning research projects, this one evolved out of ongoing efforts to track and monitor my athletes.  In addition to tracking training loads and athlete readiness using subjective questionnaires, I was using a dual force plate system to assess explosive strength, mechanical muscle power and jumping ability in my athletes.

As time went on, I started to see that the lower limb force asymmetry obtained during vertical jumping was sensitive to MSK functional status throughout the return to sport phase after an ACL injury.

This is not a new finding but I took a unique perspective as a strength coach and began looking at specific movement phases that we often address in our programming.  Specifically, I broke the asymmetry in the countermovement jump down into the eccentric deceleration phase and the concentric phase, and looked at the early phase asymmetry in an unloaded and loaded squat jump along with the late phase asymmetry.  More recently, I began evaluating the landing asymmetry as well.  I coined the term kinetic impulse asymmetry index (KIAI) and published a paper on how I go about doing this in case you’re interested (Jordan et al., 2015. SJMSS).

The functional asymmetry assessment along with a few other specific neuromuscular diagnostic tests have now become integral to my approach for evaluating uninjured and ACL-reconstructed athletes alike.  In fact, as a part of our monitoring system, we began evaluating functional asymmetry in many of our uninjured athletes and we are now finding the kinetic impulse asymmetry index in the eccentric deceleration phase to be predictive of lower body injury in previously uninjured athletes.

In terms of assessment time, the two tests take about 10 minutes to perform and are easily administered in a high performance weight room.  You can also obtain a dual force plate system for around $2500-$3000.  This is still expensive but it is far cheaper than the typical price tag of $15,000 / force plate. I’ll tell you, this is the best money I’ve spent in a long time but you’re talking to a strength coach that sticks to the basics.

I often get asked by strength coaches if it is adequate to simply look at vertical jump height or jump distance.  The short answer is that it does provide some insight into functional asymmetry.  However, using a dual force plate system and looking at the kinetic impulse asymmetry index allows me to obtain a much better picture of where the deficits lie and how I will program to fix them.  Remember, that athletes can often shift their jumping strategy so that jump performance remains the same but in the case of the ACL-reconstructed athlete, deficits may still remain.

Your uninjured athletes will also find crafty ways of maintaining performance in the presence of an impending injury or fatigue.  This is why how an athlete performs the movement is more important than the performance in the context of identifying athletes who may be around the corner from a injury.


Using this approach along with the information I obtain from my MSK assessment, I’m able to zero in on deficits and barriers that are limiting an athlete’s return to sport after an ACL injury.

I’m also able to evaluate when my programming is out of whack and when it has led an athlete into a state of maladaptation.

Together, having these metrics have really shaped how I program for the ACL-reconstructed athlete.

On that note, you can click the link below to get a PDF of the presentation I gave a few weeks ago.  There is some background information on ACL injuries and I also provided some thoughts on how I program for ACL injury prevention.

By no means is this exhaustive but it gives an idea of the approach I take.  I also recognize there is some amazing expertise out there so I would encourage you to read up from others if you are interested in how to manage this extremely challenging and multi-factorial injury.

I think the important take home message is that you never know where simple monitoring will get you as a strength coach. The key is to start evaluating what you think is important and then keeping an open mind to the possibilities.

As always, I look forward to comments and feedback so send them along.




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Matt JordanAssessing Functional Asymmetry in the ACL Injured Athlete

The Most Convenient Training Environment Doesn’t Equal the Optimal Environment

by Matt Jordan on January 11, 2015 No comments

Article Overview: 866 words on the importance of creating discomfort (discomfort quotient) in training.

My Sunday mornings are typically reserved for a catch up day on the lay blogs, articles and happenings in the world of sport science.  During the week I tend to focus more on generating new knowledge through my own research and staying current with the scientific literature.

One of the articles I stumbled across this morning entitled: Caloric Restriction, Hormesis, and what they teach us about Evolution by Josh Mitteldorf provided an easily digestible read (no pun intended) on the counterintuitive process of hormesis that suggests an absence of stress tends to decrease the vitality of living organisms whereas life tends to fair better in the presence of stress.

In the context of caloric restriction, there are plenty of examples where depriving a living creature of food can actually extend the lifespan.

Personally, I find this observation to extend to my own life including personal and professional matters.  When I reflect, it’s interesting to note that my highest levels of productivity and satisfaction occurred when my personal and professional life were the least comfortable.  I thrived in this environment even though I often went to sleep tossing and turning because I felt stressed.  Comparatively, some of my most dissatisfying periods occurred when things were relatively easy.

I think the concept of hormesis also extends to the training environments we create for our athletes.  The tendency for many teams or sport systems is to identify ways to remove stressors for the athlete.  We design state of the art facilities with all the comforts of home, implement meal plans, develop convenient schedules so the athlete can devote more energy into training and often evaluations are done to obtain subjective feedback to ensure we are giving the athletes what they want.

Think about the fast emerging discipline of Recovery Science – it’s curious to note that blunting the stress response actually diminishes the training response in many studies.  I also have yet to find a single newly constructed training facility that doesn’t have a sizeable regeneration area that is regularly filled with athletes.

While there are exceptions, most training facilities I visit are are now in general terms far more convenient and stress-free compared to the ones I visited throughout the late 80’s and 90’s.

However, the question is: has the trend towards seeking to remove stressors from an athlete’s life and training environment equated with a stronger, faster and more resilient athlete?

I can think of specific examples where the answer to this is might be ‘yes’ but these were mature athletes who had been through the struggles of elite sport and understood the aim wasn’t to make things comfortable.  Instead, by removing some of the stressors from their training environment, these athletes were actually able to endure more discomfort.  Somehow they knew that intuitively it wasn’t about making things easier.

On the other hand athletes who didn’t understand what it took to be the best seemed to lose the edge when training in this ‘optimal’ environment.

I can think of several high level athletes who’s performances really seemed to suffer as their environment got progressively easier.

I can also think of young athletes who grew up in the new emerging world of stress-free training environments who just never seemed to develop the resilience that their predecessors displayed.

Another very interesting point of reflection are those athletes who, for whatever reason, lost the chance to train in this ‘optimal’ training environment.  I was always amazed that contrary to expectations (i.e. the athlete loses the opportunity to train in the “best environment” and performance plummets) the athletes actually delivered the exact opposite result – they got better!

It’s almost as if challenging their comfort levels and making things harder were necessary elements for performance to improve.

How is it possible that an athlete who is deprived of the “world’s greatest training environment” and enters into an environment of stress and uncertainty actually realizes their potential?

Think about the concept of hormesis and ask yourself: how do I program to increase my athlete’s Discomfort Quotient (DQ) ?

In academics there is the intelligence quotient (IQ) and in social sciences there is the emotional quotient (EQ).

Both are considered to be key success factors or performance indicators.  I would argue that the Discomfort Quotient is a key performance indicator for elite athletes, coaches and teams.

While our intuition and the natural trend towards seeking efficiencies, making life easier and enhancing comfort is commonplace in our society, might we be doing a disservice to athlete performance by applying the same logic?

If the aim is to create a robust and self-reliant athlete who to the core is truly comfortable with being uncomfortable how do we support this aim by continually looking to make things easier?

Similar to the potential benefits of stress such as caloric restriction for extending the lifespan, I think there may be important benefits obtained by keeping non-training stressors in the training environment.

I think this boils down to the core philosophy of a program.

The bottom line is we shouldn’t be afraid of exposing athletes to stressors.

Further, we should be mindful that we fight our intuition and actually work to keep reasonable non-training stressors in our training environments.


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Matt JordanThe Most Convenient Training Environment Doesn’t Equal the Optimal Environment

Why Measuring Power Led Me Astray

by Matt Jordan on March 8, 2013 No comments

Article Overview: 1355 words on assessing strength abilities and mechanical power. I focus on the four reasons that early in my career as a young strength coach, quantifying the impact of my programs turned out to be tougher than I thought it would be.

In this article, there are four main lessons for the young strength coach: (1) physiological factors like maximal muscle power and the output we measure from various movements like vertical jump mechanical power aren’t the same thing; (2) mechanical output in the vertical jump can remain depressed even after unloading periods due to the persistence of peripheral fatigue factors – thus, vertical jumping and the various performance variables may be great markers for neuromuscular readiness; (3) vertical jumping is a great test for assessing explosive strength abilities – but it is still a movement that may or may not be related to an athlete’s sport-specific requirements; (4) shoot for gold standard assessments because measurement error and fundamental mistakes in calculating variables of interest can lead you astray.

Early in my career as a strength coach, I learned about the many different strength qualities. I prefer to call them strength abilities though. Qualities are not quantifiable. Strength abilities are quantifiable.

I also learned about the importance of quantifying strength abilities to quantify the impact of my programs. However, I struggled to find consensus on the topic of assessing strength abilities.

First, let’s take a brief dive into some of the relevant strength abilities. These include maximum strength (maximum force produced irrespective of time), explosive strength (the rapid application of force per unit of time or rate of force development), and maximal muscle power (the muscle work rate).

These strength abilities are well-defined in the scientific literature and appear in exercise physiology textbooks. Early research by A.V. Hill in the 1930’s depicted the hyperbolic muscle force velocity relationship, and the parabolic power velocity relationship.

Both maximum strength and maximal muscle power are often discussed in the context of the muscle force velocity relationship. Here, the maximal force producing ability of a single muscle fibre or whole muscle can be quantified across a range of shortening velocities.

It is somewhat natural and logical to extend the work of A.V. Hill to the whole body level. This led to many different methods for evaluating the whole body force velocity or power velocity relationship.

I should note that when we evaluate whole body power, we are now referring to the mechanical power generated by the system, which results from the many muscles working together in a synergistic and coordinated manner. Of course this would be highly related to the maximal muscle power ability.

Now back to the story. As a young strength coach it did not take me long to see the positive association between powerful athletes and sport performance. I use the word power here as a qualitative term. This word is also used interchangeably with explosive. The use of the terms powerful and explosive are often bemoaned by purists in biomechanics but I think you understand what I mean.

The controversy or challenge arose when it came to quantifying mechanical power. I had a mentor who told me not to waste my time trying to evaluate “power”. He encouraged me to focus on assessing muscle mass/body composition and maximal strength. In his opinion, both of these factors were highly trainable, possibly more influential for developing maximal muscle power, and he had never had an experience where assessing “power” enhanced his programming.

On the other hand, I read many scientific papers through the 90’s that encouraged strength coaches to evaluate maximal mechanical power in the vertical jump

My first run at assessing mechanical power led me to purchase a jump mat (contact mat). I found an equation to convert jump height to “power” and I began testing athletes. I then moved onto a position transducer that used the bar velocity and the external load of the system to yield a “power” value.

The long story short is that both methods for evaluating “power” did not seem overly sensitive to the training process. In fact, I would give my athletes a couple of days rest at the end of a training cycle, measure “power” with one of the two methods above, and I would often find that “power” had decreased from the baseline test.

The first problem was that I had underestimated the persistence of peripheral fatigue or low frequency force depression. A couple of days rest was insufficient for a full recovery in the higher end neuromuscular abilities like maximal muscle power and explosive strength.

The second problem was my equipment and my measurement techniques. The linear position transducer was glitchy. My uncertainty was further intensified when I attended the International Conference on Strength Training in Colorado Springs, and listened to a presenter who casually pointed out that many scientific papers had failed to account for the barbell mass and the system mass when calculating this elusive “power” value with the position transducer method.

At this point I was relatively convinced that I was chasing my own tail when it came to measuring “power”. You will also notice that I continue to put “power” in scare quotes as I don’t think any of the above mentioned methods were measuring “power” per se.

At this point, I am now 9 years into my S&C career and I was not about to give up on assessing mechanical power. I upgraded my equipment and purchased a force plate. There was some additional math involved to calculate power. After solving for acceleration from the equation F=ma, time integration of the acceleration vs. time curve yields a velocity vs. time curve. Power is the work rate, and work equals force x distance. So, power equals force x distance divided by time. This can be rearranged as force x distance/time or force x velocity.

So, I finally had my solution or so I thought. I had gold standard equipment, a scientifically supported method for calculating mechanical power, and while there were still the biomechanical purists criticizing this approach, I felt far more confident with my methodology.

But I still struggled to find utility for this metric “power”. Maybe it is because “power” is just a correlate to jump performance, and jump performance is best quantified by calculating an athlete’s takeoff velocity using Newtonian mechanics.

The other issue is that I might have been confusing the importance of maximal muscle power and mechanical power assessed in the vertical jump. While maximal muscle power can be essential for sport performance, the vertical jump movement from which we are obtaining mechanical power may have nothing to do with sport performance.

I went on to measure mechanical power in various forms of jumping from 100’s of athletes in many different sports.  Here’s a breakdown of the relative peak power (W/kg) by sport and sex.


The gist of things is obvious:  the athletes in the more explosive sports generate more mechanical power in jumping.  If I broke the plot down by performance level you would see that power is also related to the level of performance with more elite athletes tending to be more powerful than development level athletes.

As you look at this, let me remind you of the difference between correlation and causality.  A high degree of correlation means that two variables are related, and I have found that peak power correlates extremely well to performance in a variety of sports.

However, correlation does not imply that variable ‘x’, causes variable ‘y’. This might be the main problem with assessing mechanical power in the vertical jump. While correlated to sport performance and jump performance, mechanical power in the vertical jump isn’t the same as maximal muscle power and often fails to discriminate top performers.

Here are a few more thoughts and considerations on the limitations of measuring mechanical power and why it led me astray:

  1. I will say it again – jump performance is heavily affected by fatigue and training stress so it can remain depressed for the majority of a training cycle and even after a few days of rest (this makes it interesting as a parameter to evaluate neuromuscular readiness or for building reaction curves to training).
  2. Peak power and more importantly vertical jump ability often do not improve at the same rate as competitive performance in many sports (i.e. you get a whole lot better in your sport than you do in a test of peak power in a jumping movement).

And finally,

3. Lots of athletes don’t participate in sports that require an optimization of peak muscular power

To this point, peak power in a jump is hit somewhere around 400 ms (at a minimum) and it is more likely a value of 500-700 ms after the onset of the jump. This is an eternity compared to many sport movements.

So, if the sport in question involves speed or acceleration (which most sports do), where contact times for the foot against the ground are 100-300 ms, peak power in a countermovement jump is not overly relevant.

That is my opinion, and this is why measuring peak power led me astray initially in my career. But like most things, it’s rarely good vs. bad and more how a parameter or assessment is used. The key is to determine this in the iterative process of determining what matters, measuring what matters and changing what matters as it relates to sport performance.

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Matt JordanWhy Measuring Power Led Me Astray

Focusing on the “Science” in Sport Science

by Matt Jordan on February 2, 2013 4 comments

I get the odd email here and there asking why I haven’t posted any blogs over the past several months.

The reason is pretty simple: I’m back in school working towards a PhD in Medical Science, and my spare time is spoken for with research and studying.

So, why would I choose to go back to school at this stage in the game?  My career was going well.  I was comfortable.  I could have kept focusing on growing my business.  However, I felt stagnant and my ultimate goal to contribute to the body of knowledge in sport science and to mentor and develop the next generation of strength and conditioning coach in our centre required me to get more training so that I could supervise Graduate students.

You may be thinking that a PhD seems like overkill for someone who is feeling stagnant.  I mean there are lots of ways that practitioners in the field of strength and conditioning and sport science try to remain fresh.

For example, I could have taken a professional development course… maybe a course on kettlebell training or something.

I could also attend a few more conferences and maybe double the numbers of hours I spend reading scientific articles.

However, I’m ready for something more.  I’m ready to test my theories and to expose what I have found to my peers for scrutiny and criticism.

I was once told that the only things you really know are those you study and find out for yourself.  

I think there is a lot of truth in this statement and if my ultimate goal is to add to the body of knowledge in sport science around the adaptive process to strength and power training, I have to move from an independent practitioner who can make as many unsubstantiated claims as he wishes to a real scientist of my craft.

This may seem like a bit of an idealist pursuit given my profession.  I mean let’s face it – strength and conditioning for elite sport and fitness are not exactly the most rigorous disciplines when it comes to delivering information that is unbiased and obtained with integrity.

The reality is that studying elite sport is challenging.  We have access to a very unique and small subject pool, and the classic double blind randomized control trial with a reasonable sample size of averagely trained individuals is highly limited in its application to elite sport.

In November, I presented at the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association’s International Conference on Strength Training.  At the banquet, Dan Baker, the very colourful and well-respected president of the ASCA, said to me: “If I see one more person trying to apply results from a study done on untrained college students to elite athletes I’m going to lose it!”.

We are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to studying the niche of high performance sport.

Sport science is tough to do well.  I know this firsthand because I’ve been dabbling in this field since 2003 by trying my best to quantify what really impacts the performance of my athletes. But, I do believe it’s possible.  The Australians do a great job of this and it’s no wonder they hit way above their weight in the Olympic Summer Games.

If I truly believe in advancing the body of knowledge in some sort of reputable and productive fashion then there is little room for having my sole sources of knowledge be that which I gained from someone’s blog, scientific publication or weekend certification course.

There comes a point in time when our theories and ideas need to be made into some sort of testable hypothesis.  The results of this test needs to be reported to our peers, scrutinized, and ultimately weighed against the current body of evidence.

This is the process that yields new paradigms and new ways of thinking that can stand the test of time.

I see this process unfolding everyday in my PhD research group.  Most of the group members are at the forefront of understanding the cellular and sub-cellular nature of muscular contraction.  The fruits of their research are challenging the boundary of knowledge and the theory around muscular contraction.

It’s inspiring to see the scientific process in its pure form as new phenomena are discovered.

Now this sounds like some sort of peaceful oasis of discovery and high fives but I can assure you it is far from this.

In fact, the other day I saw a very charismatic presentation by a notable scientist.  I have to admit I was somewhat taken by his presentation.  It just seemed to make sense, and much to my own personal disappointment I went from a mindset of critical thinking to acceptance.

Regrettably, I asked a question that was vague and had nothing to do with the data he presented.  A substantial amount of the question and answer period got consumed by his response, and we never really got into the important stuff.  I skipped the question that would have scrutinized his results and his conclusions, and went straight to the vague, brain candy, philosophical question…. my bad.

What he had presented was a nice concept… it was interesting, entertaining, and worthy of a spot on TV documentary… however, he did not adequately provide compelling evidence to support his conclusions.

What I can say upon careful reflection was that moving from a critical thinking mindset to one of acceptance is the kiss of death for anyone in a science based profession.  Acceptance of ideas, theories and results at face value has the potential to throw us very far off course.

Nothing in my research group is ever taken at face value.  There is this general feeling that even if the group finds something novel that it MUST be independently verified by other research groups before it is seen as a fact.

The group presents data and rigorously dissects every aspect of the methodology, results, and conclusions.

Could the presenter really measure what he or she intended to measure?

Does the measurement technique provide adequate precision?

Do the numbers make sense?

I mean do the numbers really make sense?

Just because a confidence interval or p-value gets reported or a really pretty plot with nice colours and convincing trends gets shown, no one, I mean no one in the group takes it at face value.

I am always amazed and impressed at the questions and criticisms that arise from my supervisor following what seems to be a very convincing presentation.

The skill of diving into the methods and results of a study, critically thinking about what has been presented, and asking yourself “is this really the case?”  is one that needs to be continually developed and fostered within a group.

Failing to rigorously scrutinize our peers’ work leads many sport scientists and strength coaches astray.  Not only are we bombarded by shoddy one-off studies that are taken in isolation but we are also exposed to guru knowledge.

  • I bench 800 lbs so I’m an expert.
  • I’m 4% body fat so I’m an expert.
  • I power clean 180 kg so I’m an expert.
  • I train a professional athlete in a highly skill based sport like NHL hockey or NFL football so I’m an expert.

We stop considering the body of evidence, boundary of knowledge, and where the claims and conclusions fit with what is known.

We start skipping to the Practical Applications or Conclusion section of a single paper as the final authority on a training method, nutritional strategy or physiological mechanism.

We never ask to see the results slide again to ask the question: “Do your conclusions actually fit with what your data shows?”

In short, we just trust that what the presenter, study, recommendations, or expert claims can be taken at face value.

I call this the Headline Science Syndrome.  Here’s how it works on a large scale:

  • A one-liner title gets bounced out into twitter-ville referencing some dramatic conclusion.
  • “A new study shows a relationship between variable x and variable y!”
  • The buzz happens on email and in conversations.
  • It hits the mainstream media and gets air time just after the segment on all the horrors in the world and before the video of a golden retriever who can bark the alphabet.
  • The segment ends and those who have just consumed this nugget of “information” in one single whole bite without any sort of active digesting are left questioning their very existence and how everything they have come to know to this point can be completely wrong.

For the strength coach it is tempting to just read the conclusions of a scientific paper and to take it at face value.  It’s great to sit back and to consume information like a snake eating a rat….you swallow it whole and leave the digestion to a later time point by some sort of passive process.  Screw the active digestion where you examine and scrutinize what has been presented.

Gluttonously consuming information in this fashion makes us feel like we are learning something.  It’s brain candy.  It gives us something to tweet, cite, quote, and throw out to the world as fact with very little downside in terms of effort and absolutely ZERO upside in terms of helping to advance anyone’s understanding of the body of knowledge.

I’m going to suggest that a true scientist of his craft will not only take the time to chew his “information meal” thoroughly but that he will also attempt to test his empirically obtained theories and beliefs in some sort of systematic method.

I think it is fair to say that science is not the be all and end all… I would be the first to attest to this.  Science will always trail behind what happens in the gym and on the field.  Empirical evidence will always be easier to obtain.

However, the important step is to transfer what we observe empirically into some sort of testable hypothesis to see if what we observe through our experience really holds up not just in our own studies but through the rigorous scientific study of others.

The ensuing evaluation of the results of our own studies and the studies of others needs to be rigorous and heavily focused on how the study was done, the numbers that came about, and whether or not the numbers really support the conclusions.

It is only in this way that we can truly advance the body of knowledge in sport science, and ensure the Science stays front and centre in Sport Science.

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Matt JordanFocusing on the “Science” in Sport Science

Endurance Athletes – You Need Strength and Power!!

by Matt Jordan on June 7, 2012 No comments

I have been working with the elite endurance athletes for over 15 years.  My client list includes several Olympic gold medalists and World Championship medalists in long distance speed skating and cross country skiing.

When I first started working with the Canadian Cross Country Ski Team in 2004, I brought my experience working with elite long distance speed skaters to the table.

What was my approach with a long distance speed skater? It was simple: I focused on technical acquisition in key exercises like squatting, Olympic lifting, and various types of jumps.  Once the athletes were technically proficient I emphasized maximal muscular strength, and maximal muscular power or explosive strength.

When I started working with the cross country ski team, the previous approach had been pretty typical of what I see from a lot of trainers who simplistically analyze a sport and attempt to build a “sport specific” strength program:

  1. They attempted to mimic movements in cross country skiing with seemingly similar looking weight room exercises
  2. They used high repetition schemes to build strength endurance because skiing is an endurance sport
  3. They emphasized stability exercises because skiers are often hurt and skiing requires balance.

On all accounts I could not have disagreed more wholeheartedly.

First of all, if you were to measure the muscle activity in the SAME movement done over multiple repetitions, no two movements would be the same!  The logic that because an exercise “looks” like a movement in a sport it is inherently more specific and a better way to improve function is ludicrous and unfounded.  Apparent similarity between a sport skill and an exercise has nothing to do with specificity in 99% of circumstances.

Second, high repetitions schemes result in considerable metabolic stress, long-term fatigue, and even have the potential to INCREASE muscle hypertrophy! A lot of skiers were baffled that their 8-12 RM approach to resistance training actually had a better chance of increasing muscle mass than 2-3 sets of 2-4 RM.

Third, there is a HUGE difference between training balance and using exercises that require balance.  If you want to train balance your environment or connection with the ground needs to be continually unpredictable and random.  Once you’ve mastered standing on a balance board, guess what?? This exercise now requires balance it does not train balance!

With that said, I rarely see exercises requiring balance as a suitable way to prevent the overuse injuries that are typically sustained by a cross country skier.  A skier typically requires a good soft tissue therapist to keep restricted muscle groups and fascial connections free so that joints can move properly, and balanced muscular strength around joints.

So how do you change a sports philosophy?  The short answer: you use science.

I went to the scientific literature and found some great research done out of Norway by a guy named Jan Hoff.  Dr. Hoff has published extensively on the effects of resistance training on elite cross country skiers and runners.

Here’s the Cole’s Notes of his research.

Three things go into elite endurance performance:

  1. Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2Max), which is best trained with intervals done in the range of 2-4 minutes.
  2. Lactate threshold.
  3. Efficiency – you measure efficiency by the amount of oxygen consumed at a given workload.

Dr. Hoff took elite skiers and put them through a training program reminiscent of what a shot putter or sprinter would do.  Heavy squats, heavy pull ups, and an adapted pull-down movement with a pulley.  The loading was anywhere from 4×4 to 3×5 RM with the athletes being encouraged to maximally accelerate the load on each and every repetition (this trains explosive strength).

Here were the findings:

  • The athletes who replaced normal training volume with the above mentioned resistance training got stronger and did not increase lean body mass
  • The resistance trained athletes improved their time to exhaustion at a given workload by significantly more than the athletes who did conventional high repetition resistance training
  • The conclusion: the development of maximal muscular strength improved efficiency and economy of movement for the skiers, which positively affected one of the key determinants of endurance performance!!

Here is a short summary of my philosophy:

  • Train what’s on the inside.
  • Train what you can’t see (i.e. the neuromuscular system and the connection from the Brain to the Muscle).  
  • Always design a strength and power program around the physiology of the neuromuscular system and let the sport take care of the specificity!

Now back to my story.  I have presented this data at coaching symposiums several times, and the reality is the sale’s job was tough.

Many scoffed at what I was saying and decided to stick with their conventional approach and ignored the science.

A few jumped on board with what I was saying…. one of these athletes, Chandra Crawford, went on to win an Olympic gold medal in 2006.

After 2010, a coaching change brought a very experienced and knowledgeable American coach to Canada.

The coach essentially re-interviewed me for my position.

He wanted to know my philosophy on strength training for elite cross country skiers.

I reluctantly went back over my experience, the science, and my philosophy that elite endurance athletes ABSOLUTELY need to focus on maximal muscular strength and maximal muscular power.

I told him that I envisioned a program that first of all developed technical proficiency in key lifts, structural tolerance, and balanced inter-muscular strength around key joints.

I then told him that I believed in focusing on developing maximal muscular strength and maximal muscular power with jumps, Olympic lifts, variants of the squat, variants of the pull up, and some form of press.  I know it’s boring – but it’s what I believe!

I told him I believed the sessions needed to be kept short and focused, and in order to minimize the potential negative interaction with his first priority of training the energy systems, that we should use careful monitoring to track neuromuscular fatigue.

The conclusion of our meeting was music to my ears – he completely agreed with me and told me that if I had answered the question any other way, he would have been searching for another strength and conditioning coach.

After 2.5 years of close collaboration between all of the experts that surround the team the results have started to speak for themselves.  The team had over 25 medals at international competition last year.

There is no question that my influence is just a very small part of the big picture and I do not want to overstate the amount I contribute.

But even though strength and power training is such a small part of a skier’s program it has the potential to reek an amazing amount of havoc with training.

Finally, by answering the question of “how do I best train an endurance athlete” with a physiological answer, I think you stand the best chance of really improving performance.


Hoff, J. (2006). Muscular Strength Training Effects on Aerobic Endurance Performance. Proceedings for the 6th International Strength Training Conference. Copenhagen, Denmark. 

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Matt JordanEndurance Athletes – You Need Strength and Power!!

Olympic Lifts 101 – Getting Full Extension in the Hang Split Snatch

by Matt Jordan on June 2, 2012 No comments

Performing Olympic lifts from a hang position is an excellent way to work on the mechanics of the transition phase (i.e. when the bar crosses the knee until the bar hits mid-thigh), and the very explosive second phase of the pull (i.e. when the bar passes mid-thigh until the athlete achieves a fully extended hip/knee/ankle position).

However, training Olympic lifts from the hang can sometimes be tricky because athletes often employ a technique for a hang clean or hang snatch that is completely different from the mechanics required to lift the most efficiently and powerfully from the floor.

Nevertheless, performing Olympic lifts from a hang position is great way to develop explosive strength for athletes especially if a strength coach can “coach” the lift properly.

Of all the variants of the hang Olympic lifts, one of my favourites is the hang split snatch.  Here are a few reasons why it is a top pick in my program:

– It is technically demanding and challenging

– It is excellent for teaching an athlete how to “get under” the bar

– Just like the other Olympic lifts it is great for building lower body explosive strength

– Catching and sticking the landing in a split stance is a great progression towards heavier more demanding eccentric training, which is a big part of my Specialization Phase

However, the hang split snatch does have some subtle nuances the most significant of which is getting full extension in the second phase of the pull.

One of the most common causes for this is that the athlete rushes the second phase of the pull to get the lower limbs into the split position.  The athlete’s brain is just 10-20 msec ahead of what is actually happening.  This mistake is easy to pick up on video.

A second reason for failing to reach full extension has to do with the set up of the hang position.  Incidentally, this technical error can occur in any of the hanging Olympic lifts.

Oftentimes, if an athlete is left up to his own devices to solve the motor problem of performing a hanging Olympic lift, he will sit into the start position (Figure 1).

This often feels like a more powerful starting position because there is flexion at the hip and knee joint, which are prime movers for this exercise.

The downside is that once the movement is initiated, a combination of the trunk rotation and poor timing make it nearly impossible for the athlete to hit that triple extended position (green lines in Figure 1).

You can clearly see in Figure 1 that the athlete’s shoulders in the start position (blue lines) are behind the bar and his knees are flexed.  As he moves to the peak acceleration phase (yellow lines) his position is completely wrong, and this leads to incomplete extension at the end of the second phase of the pull.

I often see strength coaches trying to fix this by telling an athlete to “get taller” or to “get your hips through” but  as long as the start position is off this will never happen.

A third reason for failing to reach full extension in the hang split snatch is rushing the transition phase or scoop.  As you can see in Figure 2, the athlete has a decent starting position.  The knees are relatively extended and the shoulders are ahead of the bar.

She begins the scoop correctly by pushing the knees under the bar and transitioning to the start of the second phase of the pull.  However, she rushes the transition and reaches peak acceleration in the second phase of the pull too soon.

As a result she never reaches full extension at the hip joint and the barbell begins to travel away from her centre of mass.  Not only does this technical error really diminish an athlete’s ability to properly train explosive strength (because full hip extension is never reached) but it also leads to a very circular bar path as the athlete attempts to catch the bar.

With that said, what does proper execution of the hang split snatch look like?

Figure 3 provides a pretty good depiction of the starting position, transition (scoop), and the second phase of the pull.

The starting position with the blue lines shows the athlete’s shoulders over the bar and a relatively extended knee position.

The transition is initiated with a combination of extension at the hip and flexion at the knee (yellow lines).

She is now in a very powerful position and can produce a very large vertical ground reaction force.

As the second phase of the pull terminates (green lines) she hits triple extension or full extension at the hip/knee/ankle.

In summary, the hang split snatch is a great exercise for developing lower body explosive strength but just like all the Olympic lifts, it requires a bit of coaching expertise.

Now there are far better Olympic lifting coaches than myself.  I competed in a few weightlifting competitions, and trained for several years at it but I would still consider myself an average Olympic lifting coach.

But you don’t need to be a world class Olympic lifting coach to use these exercises with your athletes.  As shown above, simple technical cues and pointers can go a long way to get the most out of these exercises.

If you have questions or comments, please post them below.

I promise I’ll do a better job this week of responding to questions and posting any comments!

Train hard.

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Matt JordanOlympic Lifts 101 – Getting Full Extension in the Hang Split Snatch