Manipulating Time for Maximal Results

One easily manipulated variable for developing an athlete’s requisite physical qualities is time. Not only does it correspond well with energy system development, but it is highly practical to implement in any coach’s program. The concept is simple: keep time constant, or vary it, such that athletes either perform more work in that time frame, or more work. To give two examples, I’ll describe what Coach Cal Dietz calls here at Minnesota, “Biometric” training.

2012 Presenter Cal Dietz

Depending on the time of the year and the athlete, we’ll use time as our determinant of when a set is completed. For example, Coach Dietz might have our men’s hockey team take a prescribed weight, based on an athlete’s maximum, and give them a certain amount of reps. So, hypothetically, let’s say that we take 60-70% of an athlete’s 1RM bench press, and have them do 6 reps. This, obviously, is very light for only 6 reps. The parameters you choose to use vary based on the desired qualities you’re looking to develop. The aforementioned might be peaking, and thus speed-strength is prioritized. After the athlete unracks the barbell, a competent coach will begin a stopwatch precisely when the first downward movement begins. The coach then stops the watch exactly after the last rep is locked out. Record the time on the athlete’s sheet.

It’s important before you begin this method to know what you’ll use as your drop off or cut off point. Coach Dietz tends to use 2-5% drop offs, a number which is the result of years of trial and error (Coach Dietz uses 2-3% drop offs when using a Tendo, whereas hand timed biometric training is around 4-5%). When using the drop offs on a Tendo it’s rather simple. When using a stopwatch, it’s slightly more complex. What Coach Dietz will do, and what you can try, is print out a sheet listing various times on the left hand column. To the right of them is the corresponding drop off that would indicate at what time the set needs to be stopped. If, for example, our athlete’s best bench was 135 for 6 reps in 7 seconds, he would continue to perform sets until his time increased to around 7.35, at which point his set is over.

In between work sets, athletes perform various assistance exercises that are usually geared towards problematic areas: hips, ankles, shoulders, and necks in our case (hockey, though these areas really apply to most team sports). A few things to keep in mind: the drop off is based on the athlete’s best set. It’s not uncommon to see an athlete get better times 3-4 sets in. Also, to be consistent, have the same coach time the same athletes. Lastly, as I mentioned above, after the athlete performs a work set in whatever time frame, have them go perform some non-intensive assistance exercises. They may go do so light shoulder prehab, groin stuff, whatever. The key is not to detract from the main movement, but rather keep them moving until they return for the next set (about 3-5 minutes later).  The best main movements are going to be, as always, the big lifts: back squats, hex bar deadlifts (the hex bar is easier to move faster than the straight bar), and bench presses.

This first method was influenced by the Bulgarian weightlifters. It was not uncommon, for example, to work up to a heavy set of squats, drop the weight by 10-15lbs., and perform singles until no longer possible. The concept really can be applied to any variable; stop watches just happen to be convenient for coaches who don’t possess Tendo units, speed timers, or force plates. Essentially all that is happening is the athlete is trying to repeat his/her ability to perform high quality work. Some days an athlete will perform better than others. Biometric training is just a way to let the body decide what it can do that day.

Pat Mendes, Back squat 250kg for 3 reps in under 5 seconds.

The other method used by many coaches is density training: fix time as a variable and simply attempt to perform more work in that time. Depending on your goals, this may vary. A heavily aerobic/alactic athlete (i.e. football player) might benefit more from short time frames of 6-8 seconds. The parameters can be manipulated to fit the bioenergetics needs of the athlete. A hockey player may perform a bench press while a coach times the set. The coach should record the reps and note the best performance. The main movement is finished once an athlete can longer match his/her best performance, or comes within 1-2 reps of it.  Our athlete might bench presses 135 for 6 reps in the established 8 second limit. That athlete would keep doing sets until their reps drop below 4 in 8 seconds. As with the other method, the athletes perform lighter, non-intensive exercises in between each set of the main movement.

Now, these examples were biased towards hockey, but they can be extrapolated to other sports. Just like everything else, this isn’t the end all be all of training. This is simply one way in which a coach can use the athlete’s readiness to gauge how much he or she will do that day. There are limitations to this, mainly how hard an athlete pushes themselves. It’s not uncommon, however, to see athletes pushing each other to get better times or more reps. This method creates an environment of competitiveness with immediate feedback. Bear in mind that by increasing speed, athletes are liable to adjust their technique accordingly. If you start seeing obvious changes in technique (I.e. cutting depth short in a squat, not locking out the arms in a bench press, etc…) or something dangerous(low back rounding in a back squat), end the set. Give them one more chance to get their technique back to an acceptable range. Ultimately, decide if this will work for your team/athletes, and then understand what types of adaptations you want to take place. Don’t just throw it in a program because it seems easy to implement and might be fun. It can be a useful method, but only insofar as the coach running it doesn’t have his head in the sand.

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