Training

Muscular Development and High Performance Sport


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This article relates to muscular development and high performance sport. It must be clear, however, that any morphological adaptations support the sports technical-biomotor-physiological requirements.

  • Morphology, in bioscience, is the branch that concerns the structure/form of living organisms (which, in animals, includes the muscular system)
  • Sports Technical/Biomotor/physiological reflects the fact that the execution of sport skill (regardless if the sport is acyclic, cyclic, team/multi-motor regime, or combat) is first and foremost- movement; and every movement that a human/athlete, in this case, is capable of generating is characterized by a technical maneuver (defined by the laws of motion) which is mobilized via biomotor and physiologic functions
  • Biomotor reflecting the motor abilities/tasks which, in my view, has been expertly described by Kurt Meinel’s motor quality framework as the rhythm and coupling of fluidity, precision, speed, consistency, intensity, and amplitude
  • This framework encapsulates speed, reactive/elastic ability, power, strength, stamina, suppleness, and flexibility
  • Physiological factors are linked to the bioenergetic (energy) systems which fuel muscle contraction, and muscle contraction goes hand in hand with movement

The question then becomes how does muscular development relate to or exist in the context of high performance sport and the answer is rooted, at least should be rooted, in each sports technical-biomotor-physiological structure- as well as each athletes genetic structure, and nutritional program.

I state should be rooted because it is possible that an athlete’s muscular development may inappropriately be developed as a result of misdirected training and/or nutritional efforts in sports technical/tactical practice or physical preparation.

In the ideal sense, all training and nutritional schedules will accurately reflect the sports technical-biomotor-physiological structure and this is where the phrase “Form Follows Function” stems from.

Thus, from a physical load/stress standpoint, the preparation for a sport competition includes technical (and in certain cases tactical) and physical trainings and the resultant adaptations experienced by the athletes are rooted in their genetic structure and nutritional schedule.

Each athlete’s genetic structure, combined with their years of environmental related factors (phenotype), and nutritional habits, contributes to their tolerance for load stress and associated adaptive capabilities.

From a nutritional standpoint, general health factors aside, it should be clear that the proportions of the macro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) must reflect the bioenergetic requirements of the optimal sports technical-biomotor-physiological training.

Trainings that have little to no lactic or aerobic element require little in the form of energy from carbohydrates. Alternatively, trainings that include large doses of lactic or aerobic stress require a great deal of energy from carbohydrates.

Muscular development in the abstract falls under the latter category which is why any professional level bodybuilder supports his/her training with a nutritional schedule, particularly farther away from contests, that is high in carbohydrates. In any case, the fuel intake and targeted adaptions must be consistent with the sports technical-biomotor-physiological structure.

Adaptation is, simply put, a defense reaction in the organism (body). More than anything, the organism is built for survival and the stress that the organism is exposed to influences the subsequent (survival based) adaptations.

The optimal stress (eustress) promotes steady and longterm adaptations.

Based upon the performance of work or sport related practice alone:

  • The construction worker develops a strong grip, muscular endurance in the forearms and spinal erectors
  • The elite male gymnast experiences significant increases in muscle cross-sectional diameter in the biceps, upper back, and shoulders
  • The modern day elite Olympic weightlifter experiences significant muscular development in the upper back, spinal erectors, gluteals, quadriceps, and hamstrings
  • The elite shot put athlete experiences muscular development in most of the major muscles in the body

Strictly from the standpoint of muscular appearance, the reason for all of the defense reactions listed above are directly rooted in the technical-biomotor-physiological structure of each activity and the degree to which each adaptation is developed is dependent upon genetic and nutritional factors. All of this is excluding any additional physical stress that would come in the form of exercising in ways other than the work or competition exercise itself.

If training outside of the work or competition demands was mis-directed:

  • the construction worker might rapidly experience spinal disc degeneration from playing too much field hockey in which the short sticks cause the athlete to bend over at the waist for a large percentage of the contest
  • the gymnast might develop huge quadriceps from an abundance short track speed skating or sprint cycling and while the muscles will look impressive the unnecessary added bodymass will challenge their acrobatic skills
  • the weightlifter might develop huge pectorals and biceps from bodybuilding which, again will look impressive, however the added bodymass will challenge his/her ability to stay in the same weight class and muscular development in those body regions have no direct correlation to lifting heavier barbells in the snatch or clean and jerk
  • the shot put athlete might diminish in his/her output potential by performing middle distance running which would yield unfavorable muscle adaptations as the related defense reaction would cause the shot putter to lose muscle mass in favor of the body reducing its mass so the ground impact trauma from running over three kilometers presents less structural stress to the ankles, knees, hips, and low back

Any coach/trainer must develop a specialists understanding of this in order to intelligently prepare his/her athletes.

Muscular development, like any other training related adaptation, is a defense reaction within the organism. It is reflective of the percentage of the training load volume that is rooted in force training which, at least in part, include efforts that challenge specific muscle fibers to grow larger in their cross-section to survive the stress that is placed upon them.

The forms of muscular development pertain to the type Ia, IIa, and IIb fibers. Each muscle fiber type has distinct capacities for development in terms of fast (explosive/alactic), medium (glycolytic) and slow (oxidative) contractile potential. The physical preparatory training must take this into account and ensure that the appropriate strategies are implemented relative to how the different fibers are stressed during sport competitions.

During a competition stage of preparation it is assured that athletes are participating in technical-tactical trainings as well as competitions. Each of those activities represents specific trainings which place specific stresses on the athlete’s musculature. Those specific stresses must be accounted for in the training that occurs outside of sports technical/tactical trainings because the sports technical-tactical trainings represent special exercise sessions unto themselves.

Non-competition stages of the year (off-seasons) typically present the athletes with a period of time in which the only physical stress they are exposed to are the non-competition physical preparatory trainings. As these periods of time do not include any secondary forms of activity which compete for like reserves the athlete has the most potential to address training forms of their choosing.

It should be clear that any muscular development, or lack thereof,  must support the nature of the competition demand and the nature of the competition demand is specifically rooted in the sports technical-biomotor-physiogical structure.

James Smith’s past coaching, consulting, and volunteer roles include work for the Portuguese Rugby Federation, United Kingdom Athletics, San Francisco 49ers, Super Rugby, Premiership Ruby, Rabo Direct Pro 12 Rugby, Juggernaut Training Systems, University of Pittsburgh Football, and US Navy SEAL Team 6
James has lectured to international audiences in 5 different countries, including 3 International Rugby Board coaching courses, and his work has been published in UFC Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, and Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Sport Strength Training Methodology. 
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