What's your opinion of speed and agility centers?

They have good potential but right now I think many leave a lot to be desired. It's kind've like martial arts schools were 10 or 15 years ago. Most of the kids joined martial arts to learn how to fight yet put them in a street fight and they get their butt whipped. That all changed with UFC and the advent of "real" fighting schools that incorporate variations of grappling, Ju-Jitsu, street combat etc.

Many of these centers are teaching people how to be good at drills and how to make money for equipment manufacturers and make money themselves but they're not often taking advantage of what is necessary to turn out superior athletes. Give it a few years though and you'll start to see a turnaround. Until then you'll just have to shop around.

I talked to a guy recently who spent upwards of around $1000 for a week at one of these popular high end speed and agility schools. This guy is no stranger to sound and consistent training practices. He got to the school and they timed him electronically the first day there. Over the course of the next week they proceeded to run and train him into the ground doing every drill under the sun while lifting twice per day. He actually asked if they were ever going to give him a chance to recover. On the last day they again timed him using hand-timing to give the impression of improvement. He wasn't too impressed. Even though it would've been more effective to train him in a more realistic fashion and "educate" him on how to incorporate everything into a program most people feel that unless they're getting run into the ground they're not getting their moneys worth.

Q: I've started doing some high intensity sprinting and plyometric work and now I have a case of shinsplints. Got any suggestions on what I should do?

What happens when you don't absorb force efficiently is the stress gets absorbed by your connective tissue and bones instead of the muscles and tendons. Over time this causes injuries like shin splints. Whatever the cause is it can be explained by too much force being transmitted to your shins.

Shinsplints are normally attributed to overuse or faulty footwear. what's interesting is that force plate analysis has revealed that people who run barefoot exert less force on their feet then with footwear. It's also interesting that people who run barefoot rarely get overuse injuries like shinsplints and plantar fascitis.

I would suggest a couple of things. First, look to resolve any mechanical or soft tissue problems you have that might be contributing to this. Go to www.activereleasetechniques.com and search for a provider.

Next, cut out the high intensity work until this resolves and if you're gonna run do it barefooted on grass. Lastly, strengthen the anterior tibialis muscle that runs up the front of your shin. Here are some sample exercises:

Exercises For Tibialis Anterior

I do a routine where I work on max strength one day and power the next. During my power workout I use loads between 30-50% of my max and lift the load explosively. I have heard combining isometrics with this training is effective. Do you know how to do this to give my power training a kickstart?

Yes, what you're referring to is called either the static-dynamic method or iso-ballistic method. There are several variations of this style of training and all are very effective.

The static-dynamic method of developing muscular strength involves the combination of isometric and dynamic movements together. For example, the following variations of static-dynamic exercise have been shown to be effective:

- a 2-3 second isometric contraction (at 80% of one's maximum) is held, followed by explosive concentric dynamic work with a load of 30% of maximum

- with both the isometric and dynamic components, a constant load of 75-80% of maximum is used.

The former example can be utilized one of 3 different ways:

1. Sink into a squat with a 30% load while a partner applies negative resistance, after a 3-5 second hold the partner releases the resistance and you immediately execute 5 explosive reps with a 30% load.

2. Use a 30% load and then attach 50% more resistance in the form of weight releasers. After the hold dip down so the additional load comes off the bar and once again execute 5 explosive reps.

3. Load up a bar with an 80% 1rm load and sink into a 90 degree hold at the bottom of a squat. After 3-5 seconds stand up and re-rack the bar. Immediately strip the load down to 30% 1rm and perform 5 explosive repetitions.

In the latter example, using a constant 80% load for both the static and dynamic portions, the athlete sinks into the half-squat position with a barbell on his shoulders, holds this position for 2 seconds, then with maximal acceleration, jumps upward. After careful landing he repeats the exercise.

It has been established that the first variation of static-dynamic exercise is better than dynamic exercise alone for developing speed-strength. The second variation has an equivalent affect on the improvement of speed-strength and absolute strength.

I have trouble getting down low enough in the squat without rising up on my toes. I can get down if I use a block under my heels though. Do you have any tips for enhancing my flexibility?

A very simple and natural way of enhancing flexibility in the gym is to carry out your normal exercises over a progressively increasing range and then use a progressively heavier load over a progressively increasing range in combined static and dynamic patterns of action. In your case get in a low squat position with a wide stance and hold it for up to a minute and try to use progressively heavier loads with that movement. Next, hold the bottom position of a loaded calf raise for up to a minute. Follow this up with regular squats. You should see improvement very quickly. I have had athletes who could barely manage a half squat and within a few months, using this type of training, they have managed full squats without blocks beneath their heels.

How long should my ground contact times be during depth jumps?

Don't worry so much about ground contact times worry about how high you jump after your ground contact. The depth jump is like a vertical jump - What you're after is how high you go not necessarily how you get it done. Look to absorb the energy and explode up as high as possible and spend as much time on the ground as it takes to do that. Often, as you improve your ground contact times will naturally shorten.

Try to be too quick and you cut down on force and power. Too slow and you eliminate the plyometric effect. This might be .2 seconds or it might be .5 seconds. We can tell a lot about a person by watching the length of time they spend on the ground during a depth jump when they're trying to jump maximally, but you can't tell as much about a person when they intentionally shorten the ground contact time. If ground contact times need to be shortened there are better exercises for this and improvement will show itself when you naturally start to use a shorter ground contact time while getting a higher jump.

Q: I need to lose 10 lbs. I know guys like you say I should eat a lot of protein, plan my meals, and eat frequent meals but I am afraid that too much protein is damaging and I dont know how to count calories, plan meals or anything lke that. Also I can go all day without eating but then i get hungry and end up eating everything in the refrigerator. I know I should be weight training and doing some high intensity activity and I try but I really don't like to train hard. I do enjoy walking though. Is walking a good form of activity for fat loss?

I dont know. But there's someone who can probably answer your question and help you out:

Richard Simmons

Until next time!