Nov 2, 2020
4 Trends in Strength and Conditioning for 2021
Nick Friar, contributing writer

The strength and conditioning business has always been about evolution. The primary goal of the field itself is to physically improve athletes and clients in some capacity.

So, it only makes sense that exercises and recovery have changed over the years.

Some advancements in the field stick as-is. Others are interwoven into routines and develop further. Then some exit the cycle as quickly as they’re introduced.

strength and conditioning
Photo: Thoroughly Reviewed / Creative Commons

Training & Conditioning examined four trends in the field that are here to stay, continue to develop, and are important for all strength professionals to be aware of.

  1. Data-Driven Strength Plans

Technology in the weight room is far from a new thing. The ability to test verticals or cleans and everything in between has been around for some time.

But, at first, technology was used to test progress. Now, coaches can use the data as a tool to formulate advanced plans.

“Pre-velocity-based training, a lot of it was based on percentages of a max left, where now you could program based on bar speeds,” Purdue University director of strength and conditioning Jason Pullara said. “You can adjust in-session rather than post-session. So, if you see an athlete that’s not performing quite as high as they are accustomed to, you could lower their bar weight, achieving the bar speed that you want, or vice versa — if they’re doing really well, you can give them a little bit more load that day.

“It really is becoming used much more across the country — across the world really.”

At Purdue, Pullara and his staff use Push — is a company that Stanford and Notre Dame among other colleges work with, as well as the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. of the English Premier League.

“The Push system gives you bar velocity in terms of peak velocity, main velocity, and peak power,” Pullara said. “You could also attach it to a person. You could use it for jumping. You could measure a variety of movements — we’re still digging into some of that, but we’re definitely using it a good amount for quite a few of our teams, just in terms of measuring bar speed, which gives you a really good way to manage an athlete as opposed to maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago.”

  1. Teleconference Training Sessions

Training clients online has been around for some time. Though, the COVID-19 pandemic forced strength and conditioning professionals to rely heavily on Zoom or other online meeting software to stay in business and keep their clients active.

“I’ve been going online training since the mid-2000s,” owner of the Boston-based strength facility CORE Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S. said. “When I say virtual online training, a lot of that was just writing programs for people and then sending videos or having access to YouTube where I could say, ‘Hey, you don’t know what this exercise is. Here it is.’ I certainly haven’t been using Zoom since the early 2000s because it didn’t exist then.”

“The virtual setting, while not my favorite thing to do, has allowed me to see my clients and athletes on a somewhat weekly basis. It was really more about me serving them, it was really about me and my preference. It was more about keeping them more consistent, keeping them on task. That was more important.”

Some clients and athletes have returned to the weight room, but some still feel the need to train at home. Ideally, the hope is to get everyone back into the gym when things truly go back to normal.

Still, online training, as it is now, isn’t going anywhere.

“In terms of strength conditioning in general, yeah, moving forward I think it’s going to be a service that’s going to be offered. Whereas, before, it never was an offered thing where people got a choice.

“There’s certainly going to be components where, ‘OK, we have in-person options here, given parameters of health and safety.’ But certainly, there are many people who are reluctant to go back to a packed gym. So, I do think what’s going to be new in the industry is that virtual sessions or virtual training are just going to be an offer that’s going to be part of any package.”

  1. Proper Breathing 

As simple as it can seem, breathing the right way has become an important focus within the industry.

Breathing the right way, or the wrong way can have an impact on progress in the weight room — which then affects how athletes can perform on the field or court.

“What we call ‘chest-breathers’ tend to have some issues in upper body thoracic mobility because of the way they breathe,” Pullara said.

As Pullara alludes to and Gentilcore points out, the emphasis on breathing isn’t about “oxygen exchange.” Incorporating correctives focused on breathing helps clients get into a more stable position.

“It’s about the position of the body and how well the diaphragm plays with the pelvic floor and position of the rib cage and allowing people to explore different positions,” Gentilcore said. “(For example) when we go deadlift and squat, you’re going to be a little bit more efficient.

“Many top coaches and trainers understand the importance of helping their athletes achieve a better position. So it isn’t just about, ‘OK, go stretch and do these dynamic drills before you train.’ No, we’re going to do a couple of these breathing drills that take maybe a minute to get that ribcage in a better position, get you in a better position. Now we’re going to go train in a better position.”

  1. Increased Emphasis on Recovery

There’s no singular component that’s key to recovery. Refueling is important, but athletes still need proper sleep.

Again, thanks to advancements in technology, getting enough hours isn’t the sole focus when it comes to sleep anymore.

“I think people are kind of catching on that sleep, hydration (and) adequate calorie is the key to recovery, sleep in particular,” Gentilcore said. “Now that we have all these ways of measuring sleep quality with an Apple Watch, I think it definitely helps people understand the importance of sleep quality. Because they can feel the difference between when their sleep quality is good and how they’re able to train. There’s a massive difference.”

» ALSO SEE: Strength Coach Roundtable Discussion

At Purdue, Pullara’s athletes have even more help at their disposal. They have pneumatic compression boots that help reduce swelling and improve the recovery process, among other tools.

But Pullara has noticed a more significant change in the college setting over recent years.

“The big piece is the growth of sports dietitians and the use of them in the collegiate setting has grown so much,” he said. “It’s now common to have a whole staff — three or four dietitians to a department, if not more. I think that’s been a big piece of the recovery and care for student-athletes. Really focusing on the food they’re consuming, the timing of that.

“The NCAA rules have loosened up in that area. The ability to feed athletes has been significantly elevated.”

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