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The Performance Training Tightrope

Ain’t writ nuffin for a while so I thought I’d jot down some musings about this subject. Not trying to be controversial or anything like that, (and thus contribute to the quagmire I’m sort of making fun of), I just have an opinion which informs my approaches to performance training in real-terms.

Performance Training Title Image
Thanks Canva.

I’m a double-Olympian who is continuing to get better into his thirties so you can listen if you want, or you can clock off and go watch realgame show you how an extra 10% of blade hands will yield serious performance gains.

(That wasn’t intended to sound so arrogant, it was just so I could make the realgame joke. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. He's certainly very entertaining, however for the sake of my algorithm I resist the urge to watch him anymore.)

This article is not going to ‘give’ you any secret training tips, or magic bullets for getting fast and strong (unlike our other articles hehe). It’s just an article to encourage awareness. Awareness of yourself and your approaches to your training, the chamber of voices you surround yourself with and basically help ensure you tread the performance tightrope, as I define it, much more gooderer than your rivals.

Hopefully it’ll also get you to chill out a bit and not worry so much about what everyone else is doing.

The Wonderful World Of Fitness

The wonderful world of fitness training, be it:

  • athletic performance,

  • getting your nan a 6-pack in 6 weeks,

  • bosu-balance exercises to guarantee immortality,

  • or a 12-week transformation that definitely hasn’t been chemically encouraged,

- is a saturated and confusing place. I don’t think that’s too controversial a statement. You’ll probably have read any number of articles/social media captions or heard self-appointed ‘S&C’ authorities extolling the virtues of particular types of training, the way things should be executed, how they know better, everyone else is stupid and if you unrack a barbell squat with more than one step you should be shot in the face.

(Etc, etc, you get the idea. )

I used to think I had a major problem with self-styled social media coaches or ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’. But after much therapy I’ve resolved that, I actually don’t care that much. That’s partly due to the privilege of actively spending less time on social media, but also I figure everyone’s trying to make money the best way they know how and it’s not for me to dictate who you shouldn’t listen to. So instead, I’ll just say who you should listen to. Bit more positive init? Plus, if I start telling you who’s full of shit then I kind of become part of the problem. Because ultimately, we’re all a little full of shit at times.

There are general aspects of training/biomechanics and tried and true exercises which we know yield improvement and adaptation in various ways suiting various needs. And there are weird and wonderful exercises that have genuine anecdotal utility, even if they’re lacking empirically.

(Stuff we like because it ‘works’ for us, therefore we tell everyone else it works too.)

We are complex organisms and, by and large, that complexity isn’t lost in exercise/intensity/volume selection for the individual. I’d still put a fairly confident bet on any basically healthy, untrained individual seeing significant strength gains under a consistent dose of barbell back squat, however.

But there is obviously lots and lots and lots and lots…

And lots… of garbage.

Here Comes A Digression: Beware The 'Coaching Absolutist'

This is the key to speed!

This insane exercise I’ve just made up will protect you from injury in all forms!

You’re doing this exercise wrong!

Squatting is actually bad for your back!

Do plyometrics like this or you’ll never have children!

This sofa will get you a girlfriend/boyfriend/non-binary mate!

Lesson for life. Be wary of people who speak in absolutes. They could be coaches; they could be political commentators; they could be trying to sell you a sofa; they could write for a bobsleigh website. Be wary of those who are certain. Be wary of no one more than yourself when you feel certain. If it feels appropriate, question it. Always endeavour to be better, expand your mind, seek different perspectives.

To be blunt, if your coach doesn’t like you asking questions - find another one. Some coaches love questions. It means their athletes want to understand what they’re doing (long term impact), and it keeps the coach themselves honest so they don’t feel tempted to ‘phone in’ sessions, thus keeping the quality of their service high.

Many coaches, sadly, do not like being asked questions. They need to feel like their authority is absolute and, to them, 'questions' mean 'question-ing'. How dare you doubt their genius?! You’re just a stupid athlete, how could you possibly know what your body needs?!

Instead of thinking, ‘wow this is great, my client wants to understand their training’, they lean more towards, ‘this prick doesn’t believe in what I’m telling them! They’re questioning me, and doubting that S&C qualification my mum paid for - well fuck them I know better. I’ll shut this down quick cos I can’t cope with feeling like this cos I’m an insecure lil beeetch’.

(Or something like that. If that doesn’t sound familiar then good for you, you’re in a healthy training environment - quit bragging.)

Someone on a tightrope.
An insta coach ready to shove someone off the tightrope for questioning their perineum activation protocol.
The Tightrope

My completely original definition of performance as a tightrope is the actual base imagery I use for considering my training, and anything that will impact it, good or bad.

Stay on the tightrope and step by step you will get to your goal.

But remember, you are always one misstep from plummeting into the oblivion of injury, overtraining, detraining, mental overload, and - arguably most destructive to a sporting goal - disillusionment. The missteps, in the context of this analogy, are the voices and expertise we surround ourselves with.

You are constantly in a state of balance.

Is this exercise yielding improvement? Is this soreness normal? Is this pain that I can train through or that I need to address? Do I need rest or am I being lazy? Should I be feeling shame for missing a session or was it right to scale back? Should I be doing more of what that guy/girl/furry I see on Insta is doing because they seem to be super strong or should I stick to my guns? And so on, and so on.

And that’s pretty much my main point - balance. Most things have their place in a well thought-out training plan. ‘Bumhole to pavement’ squatting (you may call it something else) has its place - even barely unlocking the knees can have its day with the right context. You may need to mix up your training plan at times, but not because someone on social media is doing something different or telling you yours is rubbish. It seems logical that decisions on switching up your training should be made once you’ve assessed the pros and cons of the current state of your physical performance. Goal setting and that.

Make Your Point

Yes, my point and the reason I cobbled this little article together. As an Olympian, I’ve had the privilege and good fortune of training through the full spectrum of amateur setups, to working with world-class coaches in world-class facilities. With that perspective comes a great deal of trial and error in as controlled a manner as you can experience in the chaos of training.

Along that journey you learn that high performance can be elicited from the tried and true, as well as the fancy and new. I know that when you understand the nuances to performance training in your chosen specialism, there really is plausible context for a wide variety of training modalities. But the key is knowledge, and that thing I mentioned at the start, awareness.

My simple advice, work on a ‘tried and true’ to ‘fancy and new’ ratio of about 80:20. (Some may argue more, some less, this is my opinion which Piers Morgan assures me I’m entitled to.)

In my opinion, keeping the bulk of your gym training along the lines of:

  • depending on your phase/goal/injury status - logically applied volume to standard compound/Oly lifts,

  • a healthy dose of standard plyometrics (bounding, hopping, skipping, jumping),

  • a nice sprinkling of sprinting,

  • and a few fandango extra bits if you really have to (but be mindful of being over-specific like our old friend realgame. Get strong, stable and powerful, then play your damn sport.)

Do that consistently, preferably under the eye of a technically sound coach, and you'll see your performance grow.

So Who Is Actually Worth Listening To On Social Media?

Finally, though I loathe the social media world with a passion, there are good voices on there, and happily many are linked to bobsleigh. I’d love to say it’s a coincidence but it’s not. Our sport is not only home to fantastic athletes but also to experienced practitioners who know how to get speed and power out of the human body. So, if you’re looking to get big and fast, here’s a small selection of credible people you could follow if you’re not already:

@wildy_jj You might’ve seen James helping me with sprint data. He is one of the most widely respected people in the performance/speed training industry. Namely, because he speaks honestly, doesn’t flog his wares and breathes the rarified air of academic and applied training experience. You’ll find most of his best stuff on Twitter, but he’s got a rather lovely book Strength Training For Speed if you’d like to hold his wisdom in your hands.

@benthebounce I’ve trained, competed and lived with this guy and though I’ve always rated his knowledge and skillset, I’ve found recently his content offering extremely helpful. I’ve even, reluctantly, worked hard on my own plyometric foot contact technique at his insistence and have seen huge improvements. He’s also one of those rare entities who’ll actually reply to you. Even if your question is stupid.

@storipabbi The American/Icelandic monster who’s not really a weightlifter but can clean 200kg, is not really a CrossFitter but competed at the Games and is not really a Bobsledder but has done numerous World Cups. I’m playing, because he’s pretty excellent at all of it, but the guy has a fantastic training approach, excellent technical habits and is well worth a view or venturing a message if you ever have questions about training for power.

@b.eric This Olympic Silver medal winning German talent was not only a fantastic athlete, he has also successfully transitioned into working in the speed industry as a coach. His English is as perfect as his manners, so if you’ve got questions or are interested in coaching, Eric’s your man.

@bobsleighbrad He might be the pilot of the GB team, and get mocked mercilessly on Insta by them, but Brad has an encyclopaedic knowledge of training (you don’t get legs that ‘uge - without traditional squatting - without knowing a thing or two about lifting), and happily he is now coaching online so he will be delighted to hear from you. If my ego wasn't so big, I'd be tapping him up for push coaching.

@mcinneswatson Similar to Mr Simons, puts out a tonne of really good plyometric content and his company @plusplyos are well worth investigating to bulk out your plyometric knowledge. Get good n bouncy.

There are others I could mention, (Chris Woolley anyone?), but this is in the social media context and Woolley only posts once in a green moon. He’s also currently busy teaching the Swiss monsters.

Hopefully this small selection provides some concise expertise you can confidently engage with and learn from.

Much love, TBM x


Hope that helps a bit! Basically don’t fall for the mysticism around online coaches (if an exercise looks mental, it probably is), engage with some of the voices we’ve mentioned here and ultimately, enjoy your training!

Fire any other questions to us here at TBM if you think we’ve missed something :) (likely.)

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