The Not So Confusing Guide To Sports Science

At times, the term “sports science” feels so nebulous, that regardless of what organized attempts you make to integrate sports science, you will always fall short in capturing the whole picture. As a matter of fact, that is 100% correct. Regardless of what you do, what you think you do, or what you want to do, you will never be able to fully understand a single individual, let alone every individual you work with… Sounds like an uphill battle, right?


Well, the good thing about sports science is that it is a failure driven process. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through their teeth. Unlike what might be the initial hopes and dreams of someone looking to get into or take on sports science, it will never be a utopia-like, rainbow filled process that will elucidate all of your problems. However, the exciting aspect of sports science is that right there! We don’t know, which means what we are currently doing without the use of sports science is also unknown. So, instead of not asking questions and thinking we are right, we might as well start looking for answers and accept the bumps along the way.

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General Adaptation and Specific Adaptation

The process of the “general adaptive response” is conceptually a very simple process. Without going into great molecular detail, the following stress response occurs in the body

  1. Recognizes a stressor
  2. Hormones are released
  3. Mobilizes energies to deal with the stressor
  4. Structures may be destroyed while dealing with the stressor (myosin heads during a muscular contraction)
  5. Magnitude and duration of the stressor determines the amount of destruction and mobilization of energy
  6. Once stressor is removed or defeated (like a cold), the body can begin the repair process
  7. Energies that were used and structures were broken are rebuilt in a stronger fashion to allow the body to deal with future stressors of the same nature

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The Passive Spring

Storing and utilizing elastic energy is not only an intrinsic neuromuscular quality, but a skill. It requires the proper tensioning and timing of strong structural and contractile properties, which in turn allows them to store and realize the kinetic forces acting upon the body during the amortization phase of the jump. In other words, proper skill and strength allows you to act more like a bouncy ball when you hit the ground and less like a sack of potatoes.

Image 1

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Programming Application to Match Desired Adaptations


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Every coach in the sports performance realm has likely heard the phrase “There are a million ways to skin a cat” in regards to implemented training. In all honesty this is not far from the truth. Depending on the athlete’s training age, almost any coach can get an athlete “strong”. It takes one with a deeper understanding of what is occurring within the athlete’s organism in order for performance to be increased to the greatest extent. The aim of this post is to force coaches to consider and implement training “concepts” or “primary goals”, rather than just a set, rep, or loading scheme.


As the internship coordinator, I have had the ability to ask countless applicants their processes of improving various aspects of performance through training, such as strength. Depending upon how well read the applicant may be, common answers range from set and rep schemes, weekly training set up, to even methodologies (triphasic, tier, 1×20, etc.). Based on the terminology of the question, all of these responses would be correct. As long as the loading scheme includes progressive overload and stresses the athlete being trained, any methodology has the potential to improve strength. However, when the applicant is asked to further explain their rationale behind implementing a methodology, more times than not their answers are unclear and spoken without much confidence. Please understand I am in no way knocking any applicant or intern that has gone through our application process, but this consistent finding exemplifies one of the bigger problems in our field. Too many coaches can spit out a set and rep scheme, use an intensity chart, or quote a system, while failing to understand the changes or adaptations being induced by the described training methodology. As coaches continue to develop a greater understanding of the human body, the more in-depth their training systems can become.

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Internal versus External Loading

It is common for coaches to calculate external load to guide the training process. It is an easy to use tool that helps one get a better understanding of the total physical work being imposed on the athlete. To calculate external load, a coach may use one of many different metrics (tonnage, raw volume, relative volume, acute to chronic etc…).


At the end of the day, the goal of using external load is to help coaches better understand the internal loading/adaptive process. Ultimately, all we care about as coaches are the internal adaptations that occur. The accumulation and systematic application of the cellular stress-adaptation process is what eventually manifests itself in the form of improved athletic form. In other words, what happens inside of our body determines how we move in the external environment.

“accumulated cellular adaptations lead to systemic change”

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Jump Height and Absolute Strength: An Indirect Relationship


One of the most commonly talked about topics in strength and conditioning is the role that maximal strength plays in performance and whether or not it is necessary.

Before I dive into this topic, let me get some of the confusion out of the way. Maximal strength is not only important for performance, but it is mandatory. Without some level of maximal strength, there is no way any effort of great power could ever be performed.

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Physical and Psychological Stressors (The Autonomic Nervous System)

-Post inspired by “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”


Stress is a part of everybody’s life. Regardless of the type of stress, our body typically handles the subconscious response the same way (Fight or Flight). In short, our mind (hypothalamus) perceives a stress, communicates this stress to our pituitary gland, which then releases hormones to the adrenal glads, which in turn releases more hormones to communicate with other cells and organs within the body (HPA Axis). This flight or flight response activates the sympathetic nervous system, inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system, and mobilizes the necessary energies to overcome theses stressors.

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Explosive Strength Development

Figure 1: (Left Graph) relationship between load and percentage of 1rm. (Right Graph) An example of a force-time curve depicting how different elementary qualities are expressed with different external loads. Graphs are modified from “supertraining”


Explosive strength is not an independent quality, meaning there is no specific exercise that directly trains all of the components involved in its production. Instead, it is comprised up of four “elementary qualities” (listed below and in figure 1). These elementary qualities are independent of each other and must be developed through separate means. Together, they form the expression of explosive strength.


  1. Maximal Velocity (Vo)
  2. Starting Strength (early stage rate of force development) (SS)
  3. Acceleration Strength (late stage rate of force development) (AS)
  4. Maximal Strength (So)

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How to Organize Plyometrics into Your Workout




Plyometrics are probably the most interesting part of athletes workouts. Or at least, the flashiest. It’s alluring to think that trying an advanced secret variation of an explosive jump that you saw on a youtube video of an MMA fighter (or professional dunker, or any other high level athlete) will morph you from Clark Kent into Superman.

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Using Tendo Units To Measure Jump Height (Physics Cheat Sheet)

Jump Height and Peak Velocity of a movement are very strongly correlated to one another. Peak velocity at the end of the push-off phase determines your jump height (Impulse – Momentum relationship). Technically speaking, you actually reach peak velocity right before you leave the ground, which means the highest peak velocity that occurs in a vertical jumping movement, say a jump squat, doesn’t actually occur at push off, instead right before. Because of this, technically speaking peak velocity will not give you a 100% accurate measure of vertical jump height. However, neither will a just jump mat or most any field testing tool that doesn’t directly calculate impulse. Which means in this case, reliability is very important and from my own personal work, using peak velocity is quite reliable (there are a couple of studies supporting me too).


Remember, peak velocity is going to be used a metric to determine an object’s displacement, in this case a jump height. One issue with peak velocity is that, well, it is peak velocity… As coach knowing peak velocity is cool, but kind of useless unless you have a calculator on hand during a training set… which I really hope you don’t. So, what good is peak velocity?

Well, peak velocity is great, especially for a nerd like myself. I like physics and I like numbers, which means I decided to put together a peak velocity “Cheat Sheet”.

Below is a graph of peak velocity (in this case representing push off velocity) and inches. Again, you can see that its kind of a mess and for the most part, useless in the weight room. However, it does give you quick snapshot of how jump height and peak velocity are not linearly related, which means you cannot just take peak velocity and assume an increase means one to one, linear increase in jump height. 

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