What is long-term athlete development?

As wrestling season comes to an end many athletes will head into other sports, some wrestlers and coaches will shift focus to freestyle, weight training, or both.  This article is for coaches and wrestlers who remain wrestling focused during the spring.  For underclassmen the spring is a huge opportunity to grow into your weight and set up a long term athletic development strategy.

What is long-term athlete development?

Simply put, don’t have your wrestlers do the same thing everyday and don’t focus on one sport starting at the age of seven.  This concept is show-cased by Dr. Mike Stone at minute 9:25-10:00.  The National Strength and Conditioning Association has defined long term athlete development as a mission to promote productive improvement environments through a variety of training.  This is important because at Athlete Physics we believe in a long productive relationship with teams.

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Strength training is a phenomenal way to develop long term athlete development.  We do this using a variety of training cycles.  Work capacity is the total amount of work an athlete can perform and recover from (Ushakov 2007).  Any type of sport training and/or weight training plays into work capacity.  If an athlete increases his/her work capacity they essentially elevate their ceiling of improvement; not only in the weight room but also in sports (one of the best ways to start out with a high work capacity is have kids play multiple sports growing up).  The increase in work capacity comes from improvements in the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, endocrine profiles and hypertrophy of muscle fibers (Dietz, 2012).

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responds to good and bad stress, controls balance, force production,  sends impulses from the brain to muscles and controls our reactions to the environment (Brooks, 2004).  The SNS is also in charge of the endocrine system.  Improving an athletes endocrine profile involves increased testosterone activity (muscle recovery and rebuilding), growth hormone activity (muscle recovery and rebuilding), cortisol activity (breakdown of muscle) and thyroid hormone activity (dictates the speed of other hormones), just to name a few (Hackney, 2011).  By training for work capacity an athlete should be able to increase the activity and future activity of these hormones (Constantini 2013).  Think about this improvement in the endocrine profile similar to doping with testosterone.  One of the arguments against athletes, who have historically doped with testosterone, is that they are forever at an advantage because their muscles once had a huge abundance of testosterone.  Therefore, their muscles respond to testosterone very effectively.  Focusing on a work capacity training cycle is a baby step toward doping with testosterone.  In this case a younger athlete might respond to testosterone and the other hormones more effectively for the next four years.

Lastly, a work capacity training cycle will elicit strength gains through muscle hypertrophy or muscle fiber growth (Bompa, 2008; Kraemer 1995).  The one negative of muscle hypertrophy is that it can result in gaining weight; however, this weight is in the form of muscle.  Furthermore, an athlete will have to be in a huge growth spurt or eating excessively for weight to be added on in the form of muscle.  On the positive the work capacity training cycle will also result in increased strength and allow an athlete to lift more for the entirety of the off-season.    When we program correctly, these strength gains will turn into nervous system explosiveness (does not weigh any extra).

Work capacity training cycles use the most amount of time in the weight room (4 days/week and long training sessions), but are the most appropriate to complete after a wrestling practice.  This is because volume is high and intensity is low; therefore, speed and explosiveness are not the focus (You should still be moving the bar AFAP).  The recovery to these training sessions aims towards the work completed at the end of the training session (Barr, 2014).  So if you completed the weight session after a wrestling practice or by itself, the recovery tends to be anabolic.

Freestyle Season

First off, I personally think the best route for improvement is to wrestle freestyle as the primary focus and weight train as a supplemental focus during the spring.  That’s because wrestling is a skill sport, not a sport of who can do the most pushups.  In the case that a wrestler is competing freestyle and looking to peak at Fargo than focusing on a general strength cycle and skipping the work capacity cycle should be programmed.  A general strength training cycle will improve strength more through increased recruitment of motor units and less muscle hypertrophy.  It is more important to complete the general strength sessions feeling fresh, but there is still room to hit the weights after a wrestling practice.  A general strength training cycle is usually performed 3 days/week, is lower in volume and higher in intensity.   Again, these strength improvements can turn into nervous system explosiveness if we program correctly.

Strength training for a multiple sport athlete?

Assuming the other sport takes almost all the available time.  Strength maintenance is the priority.  I just finished an article on multiple sport athletes; check it out for more guidance!