At the last weekend I attended this year’s UKSCA conference. Lot’s of kudos should go to everyone involved in the organisation and planning of the event which ran incredibly smoothly. The speaker list was superb; John Goodwin’s talk on sprint mechanics, Mike Stone’s on hypertrophy and Mike McGuigan’s on power assessment were all first rate, it’s always great to hear experts talk with such enthusiasm about their areas of expertise. I think the one presentation that everyone will remember most though was that by Dan Baker, the strength and conditioning coach at the Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos are arguably the most well known and successful rugby league team around and Dan Baker has been their S&C coach for the last 15 years (please correct me if I got that wrong). It’s obvious he knows his way around the weights room and how to get the most out of elite athletes. He also presented data from 17 published articles of his, he also knows his way around a stats package. A key part that I took from his talk was the need to find the balance between the science and the practice, a balance he has definitely struck.
Working in an aggressive contact sport with the very top rugby league talent, he knows how to motivate his athletes to get the best out of them and has fostered a training environment that pushes everyone as hard as possible. He gave an example of one of his athletes complaining of a sore knee and saying he couldn’t squat test that day, all he said to him was “read my t-shirt”, it said ‘harden the f**k up’. Small things like making sure everyone performs max effort lifts one at a time and everyone in the room cheers on each guy in his set, or only letting the guys train shirtless once they reach a target bodyfat score were effective motivational tools. Obviously you couldn’t do this with every sport but it appears a perfect rugby league environment and the team’s consistent performances reflect this.
For me though, the major part I will take away with me was the pure energy and enthusiasm he showed as he spoke. It was truly infectious and it spread throughout everyone in the room as I’m sure it does when he coaches. Great presentation Dan.
I recently read and saw a few pieces posted by and about Mike Boyle on his decision to not include the squat as part of his training programs instead preferring to prescribe Bulgarian split squats (watch the video here). I also read replies both advocating this stance and also, often quite angrily, disagreeing with it.
Neuromuscular patterning and movement specificity is an important part of the training program and the split squat, along with it’s variations, is a fantastic exercise for developing abductor strength for knee alignment and high levels of specificity for runners. Boyle mentioned one of the reasons for using this exercise was that scores for this lift with his athletes were greater than half of their regular squat scores.
I’m not 100% convinced that the Bulgarian split squat should deliver exactly half the lifting scores of a back squat, in fact I am not surprised by the fact it doesn’t as it is still, essentially, a two legged lift. I’d like to see some published research that compares EMG activity during both lifts and some training program based comparison evidence before I myself start to think about completely removing the squat and it’s derivatives from my programs.
I find that for an inexperienced lifter the squat will often see a much quicker increase in the load they can lift, purely from the balance and coordination issues associated with a split stance as well as an associated improvement in range of motion. For these reasons and the fact that, as a coach, I’m looking for the most improvement in the shortest time, I would probably still use squats as a primary method for strength increase with inexperienced lifters. But it’s definitely worth phasing the split technique in using the warm up to improve balance and coordination as well as correct or maintain knee alignment issues.
Some research comparing the 2 lifts would be great to see and I’m sure the discussion will continue for some time. What I would like to see less of though is the instant and aggressive response to any new ideas, particularly towards one of the most eminent practitioners in the world. We are all trying to maintain, and in this country, continue to establish strength and conditioning science as a respected field, for me this means discussion, debate and research not dismissal, slander and hearsay.