Training Tips

From now on I will occassionally be giving random thoughts and tips on various topics as part of the q&a section. What I'd like to talk about this week is the importance of making things easy.

Nearly all displays of superior performance in speed-strength activities are characterized by an inverse correlation between perceived effort and results. It can be summed up in one phrase, "The more you strain, the less you gain - If you wanna be fast, learn to relax"

Ask a sprinter how he knows when he's going fast and he'll tell you the speed is synonymous with lack of effort, lack of strain, and full relaxation. The most impressive spectacles with regard to the eye and force/power analysis always feel effortless. For those of you who wonder what it will "feel" like whenever you're finally able to dunk, or finally able to run as fast as you'd like I can tell you right now it will feel like your body is on autopilot. There will be nil strain at all and you'll probably be left wondering how, even though you've improved by 20% (or whatever) over the last (fill in the blank) months, years etc....your enhanced performance felt 10 times easier then your old crappy performance. Actually you might even feel ripped off because improvements aren't supposed to feel easier are they?

Yes they are! This is due to the fact that relaxation feeds reflexive output and reflexive output is king in speed-strength. Pay attention to this process in your training. With every movement you should work towards creating as much force and power as possible with as little effort as possible rather then as much force as possible with as much effort as possible. When in doubt relax more to improve more. Force and power are illustrated by the speed of your runs, the height of your jumps, the amount of weight you lift etc. Effort is related to the sound of your footsteps, the amount of strain you put into a movement, and voluntary exertion. Coach Charlie Francis even uses the sound of an athletes footsteps to determine when it's time to end a session!

Aim to be as quiet and efficient as possible, like a cat. If you aren't able to do this then you need to back off on the intensity level of the exercise so that you can and then slowly add intensity and complexity.

Hi, I read an article you wrote on upper body plyometrics. My question is, when you do altitude drops off boxes, are your feet on the ground or on a box as well. Also, you say not to let your arms bend more that 1/4 of the way, is this the same when you do rythmic plyo pushups?

You can do them either way depending on how proficient you are. Elevating your entire body on boxes and dropping off is much more difficult but also more effective. It should be worked up to slowly and with caution. You can also get a feel for the movement by standing against a wall and doing them that way. Push yourself off the wall, come back, and then explode off the wall again when you come forward. On any of these pushup variations if you hit the ground with a thud at impact or feel stress in your wrists, elbows, or shoulders then you need to lower the box height.

As for range of motion you can do them in a 1/4 rom, 1/2 or full. The idea is to make the movement as easy as possible - in other words, try not to strain much - let your bodies reactive ability do the movement for you.

Will adding band and chains to my box squats help with my vertical jump considerably? I heard that chains, because they teach an athlete to accelerate through the final portion of the lift, can help improve sprinting speed and vertical jump and that bands can help an athlete with his vertical jump by increasing the speed of the negative portion of the lift. Are these statements true and if so which is better for increasing vertical jump.

Chains are excellent for increasing strength but I'm not sure they'll do a whole lot for improving speed-strength activities like the vertical jump.

What bands can do to the eccentric (lowering) phase of a squat is excellent for any sort've plyometric activity. They increase the force and amplitude of the eccentric which can train the body can put out more power during the concentric. The one negative I see is that when you jump the velocity is at it's greatest when you reach full extension and straighten your legs to take off. When you have bands or chains on the bar as you straighten your legs you have more force being added to the bar which means velocity will be lowest at the point that you reach full extension. This is the opposite of what the ideal force curve should look like in the vertical jump.

Because of this, the only thing I would do if you had bands is perform eccentric focused reactive squats with them. Just focus on the eccentric portion and don't worry so much about the positive portion. Hold the bar tight to your traps then drop into the bottom of a squat and try to gather the energy from the negative as easily as possible. Don't use so much weight that you have to strain to absorb the energy. It should be very quiet and effortless. Gather the energy then slowly rise back up and repeat.

Q: Do you prefer glute-ham raises or reverse hypers to train hip extension and the posterior chain?

A: I love them both! I realize most people don't have access to either but I definitely think they're both valuable and I have both. I wouldn't say they are essential because you can mimick the movements easily enough but they are convenient and besides a squat rack and basic barbells and dumbells they are the only pieces of equipment that I will not go without! In fact the mark of a serious gym is that the only thing in the place besides plates, bars, a couple of benches, and a squat rack is a glute-ham and reverse hyper.

I'd say in general though that beginner and intermediate athletes will benefit more from a reverse hyper and advanced athletes will benefit more from glute-hams. The reason I say this is because the reverse hyper tends to be more of a glute exercise and the glute-ham is more of a hamstring exercise. Beginners and intermediates tend to lack glute/hip activation, recruitment and strength while more advanced athletes tend to have strong and functional glutes but lack hamstring activation. Before you can have hamstrings you gotta have glutes.

This isn't entirely true though because if you have a reverse hyper you can focus more on the hamsrings by adjusting body position and performing the movement with completely straight legs and if you have a glute-ham apparatus you can focus more on the glutes by setting the foot plates back further, and some people have one muscle group that is naturally more functional then the other but that's just a general comment.

So before I get a wave of emails asking me what to do if you don't have either let me answer that question. Deadlifts, squats, split squats, step-ups, reactive squats, good mornings, and straight legged deadlifts are plenty effective for glute strength and development. In addition you can do reverse hypers off a bench or even the bed of a pickup truck. Have someone push against your feet or wrap a rope or chain loaded with weights around your ankles for resistance.

Glute hams are harder to duplicate because they train hip extension, knee flexion, and plantar flexion (calves) simultaneously - something which occurs everytime you sprint or jump. You can perform good mornings, deadlifts, and pull throughs for hip extension and leg curls for knee flexion.

You can also perform regular hyperextensions with straight legs with a focus on pulling yourself up with the glutes and hams instead of the lower back, but some version of a glute-ham is more effective. I recommend you place a pad or pillow under your knees and upper thighs and either have a partner hold your ankles or stick them under something and have at it that way. This poor mans natural version is more difficult and is more of a pure knee flexion movement but it'll get the job done.

Pics of Natural Glute-ham raise and reverse hyper

Glute-Ham apparatus

Regular hyperextension