Is your coach mad? Debunking popular coaching myths
Coaching has always been something of an art. But in a thought-provoking article, Tom McNab argues that many coaches should pay more heed to science and less to following the latest trends…
It might be worthwhile to cast our eyes back to history to consider some past delusions and some that are still in vogue today. Now, not all of these ideas were totally misguided; some simply represent misapplications of valid training methods.
- Sweating and purging – followed the existing medical theory of the 18th century, which was dictated by the four ‘humours’ (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood), but endured well beyond the period when medieval thinking had been discarded by the medical profession.
- Drying out - still being use even as late as the 1950s, where fluid intake was discouraged, even in marathons.
- Interval training – used by coaches in the early 1950s, there was an assumption that interval training was some sort of universal ‘scientific’ panacea for all events; an assumption that is still sometimes made today.
- Circuit training – based on high-repetition exercises but generally lacked specificity. Various mutations of circuit training have emerged, but little in the way of research to show that these variations have any value in specific athletic events has been performed.
- Sand running – the early 1960s saw runners all over the world seeking out beaches and sand-quarries to no great purpose except an increase in Achilles tendon injuries!
- 100 miles per week – prolonged endurance training will increase aerobic capacity but injury rates rise steeply around the 50 miles a week mark.
- Speedball training – a speedball (essentially an old-fashioned punch ball) together with thousands of ‘chinnies’, dismissed as a training method for boxing, let alone athletics!
- Passive stretching - evidence is strong that it has no protective value against injury, and indeed that it may on occasion damage muscle tissue.
Not all of the methods described here have been discredited. Some (like interval training) were simply misused or misapplied. Some, like circuit training (though of some value for the unfit) must be seriously questioned as a means of training for mature athletes.
The problem is that all have been at some time accepted as Holy Writ, and this of course begs the question of how many of our present widely accepted training methods will stand up to serious scientific scrutiny.