Notes From Dr Raphael Brandon: S&C for Olympians, the Technical Approach of the EIS

Raph_Brandon Dr Raphael Brandon has 16 years experience as S&C coach to elite athletes in a variety of team and individual sports. Over the last six years he has specialised in S&C delivery to Great Britain’s Athletics (Track & Field) team, including Olympic medalists. He holds a PhD in the Neuromuscular Response to Elite Strength Training and presents regularly within the UK. As the Head of S&C for the English Institute of Sport, he has overseen a team of over 40 coaches delivering to the majority of Olympic and Paralympic sports and was responsible for developing the knowledge and quality of the S&C team and service. In May 2013 he was appointed Director of Performance Solutions leading all Science, Medicine and Technology services provided to GB Olympic & Paralympic and other sports by the English Institute of Sport. Responsible for ensuring measurable, performance enhancing support. He is on Twitter @RaphaelBrandon. Below are my notes from his presentation at the 2012 UKSCA Conference.

  • “Unexplained winning is a sin”
  • S&C at the EIS can cover a range of coaching from Weight Room only through to input at the Track, Field, Court or Pool
  • Depending on the sport S&C roles can cover:
    • Force Generation and Power Development
    • Specific Conditioning and Strength Development
    • Fitness/Endurance or Metabolic Conditioning
    • Speed, Agility and Movement Skills
  • Benefits of a dedicated S&C Coach are:
    • Sport Specific Physical Preparation – Fitter, Faster, Stronger Athletes
    • Higher quality of specialist weight training
    • Reduced risk of injury and faster rehabilitation = more time spent performing sports specific training
  • S&C programs are based on needs analysis and physical characteristics of elite performance
  • Elite performance is the key so the EIS looked at their databases of elite level not University or sub elite performers
  • Performance Modelling – What does it take to win? Do you understand the sport? What is the role of S&C?
  • In respect to the Female 400m runner you also need to consider what it takes to achieve this 3 days in a row at the Olympics
  • But what if the data doesn’t exist? EIS started to work with Synchronised Swimming which had no prior S&C support
  • Started by doing a statistical comparison of Synchro performance with S&C and Swim assessments – what were the best Synchro swimmers capable of?
  • The best performers weren’t necessarily strong or powerful but were lean and able to hold specific postures and positions
  • As a result the program concentrated on the specific muscle/movement conditioning with the addition of a specific range of movement monitoring system
  • Do you need to build a strong, well balanced chassis or upgrade the size and performance of the engine?
  • In Sprints and Jumps the aim is both to increase the chassis and upgrade the engine
  • The key coaching aim was Neuromuscular Adaptation. Whilst program progression was important they accepted that as an example the Power Clean may not increase as they were changing exercises often in order to achieve the neuromuscular adaptation
  • Every program was a case study research project and therefore an opportunity to learn if you collect meaningful data in order to learn what worked and what didn’t for that individual. If you don’t do this it is just a game of opinions and memory
  • The following was monitored:
    • Only whole body or lower body compound exercises – most significant impact on NM adaptation otherwise you are collecting too much data
    • System Mass Volume Load – Bar Mass + Athlete’s Body Mass
    • Total SMVL in 3 zones –
      • Heavy – Maximum Strength >85% 1RM
      • Explosive – Speed of lift
      • Bodyweight – Jumps and throws
    • Only included exercises if they were truly executed with intention for NM adaptation
    • SMVL is important as Jumping is a big part of the program so accounting for Volume Load only will miss out a big chunk of the stress on the athlete
    • Percentage ratios of Heavy: Explosive: Jumps/Throws allows you to see the block structure and variation as per the following diagram (click to enlarge)
  • Conjugate training system is the best program (for elite athletes)
  • Continual variation in emphasis produces the best adaptation
  • Integrated SMVL monitoring is the most insightful
  • Like a good recipe, optimising training for performance is about the relative amounts of each ingredient resulting in the best overall flavour
  • Summary – Olympic S&C is excellent coaching + adaptation focused programming + scientific monitoring

Raphael’s talk opened the 2012 UKSCA conference which featured many of the EIS staff who had contributed to the successful Olympics in London and set the tone well for the presenters who followed (see my notes from Andy Hudson’s talk on GB Hockey here). A common theme in high performance in any area is “basics done exceptionally well” and this was reinforced throughout the weekend. A scientific underpinning for the work they carry out was clear without letting it take over the process of coaching the individual athletes. Seemingly obvious points but often overlooked as technology and data seem to explode further into sport each day. Speaking of simple but overlooked points, the opening comment that “Unexplained winning is a sin” made me laugh as it gives lie to Margot Wells continually saying “I trained the fastest man in the World and spent the next 30 years trying to work out how I did it”. Here’s hoping she works it out one day………

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