Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD)

In the gym I am frequently asked, “What should I do to get ready for the next big event?” The maxim I most often share is “You race on what your level of fitness was 6-months ago”. That is, if your pre-season AT was 65% of your VO2Max in December, then the chances are, you will not be pushing 85% come the first Cup races in April and May. Back of the pack for you boy! However, upon further consideration it would be more accurate to say, “You race on what you have been doing for the last 10 year!”

How many times have I heard racer boys and girls talking about ramping up their training for the race season in March and April? After a winter of getting fat, sitting on the couch and eating chips or skiing crazy miles you are not going to get back to your peak from last season. Too many Manitoba cycling athletes spend the winter (on the couch) only skiing. Skiing is truly a wonderful sport, and sadly has very little crossover for racing bikes. The central adaptations ‘might’ apply, but there are little, or no peripheral adaptations to make note of. The fitter you get, I believe, the less you benefit from skiing as cross training for cycling. In fact, I would argue that the emphasis on upper body development is detrimental to cycling performance.

From a training perspective the ideas is to maintain our gains, build on them year-after-year, and continually perform at a higher levels. However, if you could look at the training of most athletes you would think the idea is to push a really heavy rock up a very large hill 5-minutes before the deadline, get injured, let the rock roll back down, wait till the next deadline, and start all over. Craziness!

Recreational, masters, and weekend warriors would all benefit from not only thinking in short-term seasonal blocks, but also using a more holistic long-term developmental approach. Contrary to what seems to be a common believe, you can ‘just ride your bike’ and ‘have fun’, while employing basic training, periodization, and developmental principles.

The 10 Key Factors of LTAD
Ten key factors influencing optimal athlete development have been identified:

! The 10-Year Rule:
Research has concluded it takes aminimum of 10 years and 10,000 hours of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels. There are no shortcuts.

CD: If it is 10, 000 hours of training and you are only riding 300 hours a year… well you do the math. Ride Your Bike! Ramping it up last minute is pointless and is likely to lead to injury.

! The FUNdamentals:
Basic physical literacy is the foundation for later athletic success. All athletes, regardless of their sport, are more likely to succeed if early in life they developed a wide range of movement, balance and object control skills.

CD: This is what BMX programs are for.

! Specialization:
Broad-based skills and abilities must be developed first. Premature specialization (prior to age 10- 14 in cycling) may contribute to lack of essential skill development; overuse injuries, early burnout and early retirement from sport.

CD: Every child should have a solid background in gymnastics, track and field, soccer and in Manitoba cross-country skiing. Introducing children to a wide range of activities maximizes development of all the motor skills.

! Developmental Age:
Young athletes may be early, average or late maturers in a range of physical, mental, cognitive and emotional qualities. It is essential to base athletic training on developmental age, not on chronological age. All too often, early maturers are identified for special attention and development, while it is the late maturers who may have the greater potential to become top athletes. It is also important to recognize that the early physical maturer may not be mentally or emotionally prepared for the challenges they appear ready to take on.

! Trainability:
Trainability is the responsiveness of individuals to training at different stages of growth and maturation. Optimal windows of trainability for the “5 S’s” of Stamina, Strength, Speed, Skill and Suppleness occur at different times- for example, stamina and strength trainability is linked to developmental age, while speed, skill and suppleness (flexibility) are linked to chronological

! Physical, Cognitive, Mental and Emotional Development:
A holistic approach to athlete development, considering all of these factors, is required for the best results. At any stage, over-emphasis on physical training and winning may not equip the athlete for the all challenges of high performance or for life outside sport. Developing the whole athlete, including character, ethics, and so on, should be the objective of every program.

Bottom Line:
How many masters athletes actually work on the 5s (stamina, strength, speed, skill and suppleness (or efficiency)), and of those the do, how many have LTAD plans. Non-that I have met. Many sports actively employ an age-appropriate LTAD plan, and as a result have greater number of successful athletes, who are also emotionally, physically, and psychological healthier throughout their lives. There is no reason cycling enthusiasts – both recreational and competitive – cannot do the same. Pherhaps a more productive question to ask is why don’t more cyclists employ this approach to their training?

Coach Dave.

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