Q: In your article 'Getting Stronger' you talk about how it is necessary to improve technique in order to illicit significant muscle trauma and give the example of a beginner whose technique will give out before his muscles are adequately stressed. Although technique does play a major part surely muscle stress is relative to 1RM. In other words regardless of whether someone has a 1RM squat of 200lbs or 600lbs they are unable at that time to make their body move anymore weight so muscle exertion is 100%. Their 1RM may be low compared to what is expected given their training history and body size etc but the relative muscle stress is the same isn't it?

A: In a beginner the stabilizers will give out before the prime movers have been worked sufficiently. For example, someone doing a dumbell bench press for the first time will tend to be very wobbly and get little work in the correct muscles. Yet put them on a standard or machine bench and they'll be able to stress their pectorals. With some practice on technique that same individual will be able to benefit from that particular movement. Same goes with the squat. One legged squats (pistols) are an extreme example. I can get a heckuva workout on my legs doing these now yet when I was first introduced to them I couldn't balance or do the movement properly. Even the basic movements are like that for a beginner. They need enough practice doing the particular movements before they are able to make the targeted muscles work 100%.

Q: 1) What is the best way to train for hip extension? What muscles are the hip flexors?

2) Can you tell me a little about the bilateral (two-legged) jumping technique.

3) What is the best way to train the calves (repetition range, super-setting, plyometric work)? I feel I take great advantage of my calves (that is - I know how to get maximal results using my one-leg jumping tehnique) and I want to strengthten them. I know you aren't in great approval of great calves - great power, but in my case I tell ya it's working.

Thank you very much and keep up the good work.

A: To keep it simple the hip extenders are the muscles on the backside of your body, the butt and hamstrings. Hip flexors are in the front (for the most part). Deadlifts, squats, glute-ham raises, lunges, reverse hypers, step-ups, pull throughs etc. all train the hip extenders and most of them also concurrently train the hip flexors.

The technique for the bilateral jump is a little tricky. The following assumes this is a running takeoff. Basically you want to aproach your takeoff point as fast as you can while bending your kneels as little as possible while getting off the ground as quickly as possible after your final plant. You want to convert horizontal momentum into vertical force. To do this proficiently requires that you concentrate on and practice 4 phases of your jump.

These 4 phases are:

1. The approach or jump-stop phase

2. The countermovement phase

3. The rising phase

4. The takeoff phase

The first phase is the approach phase. This is the phase where you build up speed and run towards your take off point. Try to approach your target with as much speed as possible while keeping your jump stop low and short. You don't want to have to stop and reset yourself at all when you come out of your jump stop. Most people approach their target too slowly, take too high of a jump-stop, take off too close to their target, and waste too much momentum stopping and having to reset before they jump.

The next phase is the countermovement phase. This is the point just prior to take-off where you quickly drop down to pre-stretch the muscles and gather energy. The quicker you drop down and come out of your countermovement or ¼ squat the more force you buildup,the less horizontal momentum you waste, and thus the more potential reflexive force your body will put out during the actual jumping phase. If you pay attention to the best leapers you’ll usually notice that they tend to descend very quickly in their countermovements. In fact, the main visual difference that separates those with an elite vertical jump from those with an average vertical jump is the rate of speed at which they descend in their countermovement. The good thing is that you can quickly become better at this with practice. So, attempt to make both the jump stop and countermovement as quick as possible.

The next phase you’ll want to address is the rising or ascending phase of your jump. As you begin to rise (ascend) you should straighten your legs in a smooth manner. Don't try too hard. The more you can relax the more reflexive muscle contribution you’ll gain. Don’t try to be too quick here – doing so will probably just tighten you up and actually cause a loss of power. You can add the intensity at the end, but for now just try to stay smooth and relaxed as you rise.

The final phase I’ll discuss is the final takeoff phase. Just prior to leaving the ground you should then concentrate on driving off the balls of your feet and your toes with as much power as you can muster. At this point you should literally try to drive holes in the floor through the balls of your feet. If you can learn to do this correctly you can gain up to 3 inches on your jump within a week. It takes a bit of work and concentration so it's essential you master the first 3 phases before you try to do this otherwise you'll screw everything up. What happens prior to this point should be smooth and relaxed with a gradual buildup of force that culminates with an explosive push-off through the balls of your feet.

If you are able to put all 4 phases together to the best of your abilities it can easily be the difference between coming up 5 inches short on a dunk vs throwing one down.

If you have a good unilateral jump your calves are probably already strong enough since the stress on them during that style of jump is more then the bilateral version. The calves need to be strong enough to stabilize forces from the ground and transfer forces from your hips, hamstrings, and glutes. By themselves they contribute little. Try jumping as high as you can with your knees completely locked, using only your ankles and calves, and you'll see what I mean. However, if you lack strength and stability then yes you will notice some benefits by training them because they enhance your ability to use the larger hip muscles by increasing your ability to stabilize and transfer force.

Here's a good routine for calf strength that focuses on the gastrocnemius. Alternate between these 2 workouts every 3-5 days.

Workout 1-

A1. Standing calf raise 5 x 5 (pause 3 seconds at the top and 3 seconds at the bottom - keep your legs straight)

B1. 1 leg hop in place 4 x 30 seconds

Workout 2-

A1. Isometric standing calf raise (go to the top and hold) 5 x 10 seconds - alternate back and forth with A2.

A2. Single leg depth drop - 5 x 5 (stand on a low block or bench, step off backwards, and land on one leg up on the balls of your feet with your calf fully contracted - keep your plant leg as straight as possible - If your heels hit the ground or if you can't freeze the position the box is too high)

If you're wondering why they're aren't any seated calf raises included it's because they work the soleus and are fairly useless for athletics.

Q: How come you say that "…in general a set of a strength training exercise either focuses more on making you stronger or it focuses more on making you bigger." Yet I see strongman, and some powerlifters, who are big, strong and ripped, how do you account for that?

The key thing there is the phrase "in general". As you pointed out there is considerable overlap with any type of strength training. However, you might see a powerlifter who is big, strong, and ripped yet they'd probably be bigger and more ripped if they took up bodybuilding and trained more like a bodybuilder, which, at that stage, would require higher rep sets in order to get the necessary volume. Or you might see a bodybuilder who is strong as hell even though he trains in the standard bodybuilding 6-12 rep range but he'd be even stronger if he trained in the 1-5 rep range like a powerlifter.

Q: You stated in your article that "performing the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement faster and firing out of the transition works better for increasing motor unit recruitment" yet I have seen other coaches say that they have 1 day per week which is eccentric focused as it not only increases muscle size as you said but more importantly leads to fantastic strength gains and quote studies that back it up. What is up with that?

Yes eccentric training does the most muscle damage so it is great for muscle size. Less motor units are recruited in an eccentric movement but the ones that are recruited are under more tension. It could be in this case that the increased strength is coming from increased muscle size that comes from the increased tension on the motor units that are recruited.

You also have to differentiate between "recruiting" a motor unit and "fatiguing" a motor unit. Just because a motor unit is recruited doesn't mean it's fatigued. Fatigue requires prolonged tension and the stimulation of muscle growth requires some fatigue. Increasing motor unit recruitment doesn't require that those motor units ever reach a state of fatigue.

An explosive repetition will tend to recruit more motor units yet probably won't fatigue as many as an eccentric contraction. My statements were really referring to standard protocols based off of concentric training regimens. If you do a standard down and up set at 80% you'll do more muscular damage with a slow eccentric then you would with a fast eccentric. Yet you'll get more muscular recruitment with a quick drop and drive out.

However, there is no doubt that performing a heavy 120% overload eccentric will not only do a lot of muscle damage but also recruit a lot of motor units.