This Ain't Rocket Science
by: Kelly Baggett
I wanna start this off by telling a story about the famous escape artist Houdini. If you haven't heard of him, Houdini became famous as a guy who could escape from bank vaults, jail cells, coffins, you name it.
Looking to capitalize on Houdini's immense popularity and fame, a London bank challenged him to break out of their vault with its new, state-of-the-art locking system. They were CERTAIN that even the great Houdini would finally meet his match.
Houdini accepted, and on the appointed date, the press turned out in droves to see if the master could get out in the three and a half minutes allotted.
His contracts always specified that before he disappeared into the trunk or cell or behind a small curtain (when performing on a stage), he could kiss his wife. After all, many of his feats were seriously dangerous, so who could refuse the couple what might turn out to be their last goodbye?
But what no one knew was that he was getting more than a kiss! As their lips met, his wife would secretly pass a small piece of wire from her mouth to his. Then, once he was alone or hidden behind the curtain, he'd use the wire to pick the locks.
Here's what happened...
Houdini got in the vault and went after the lock. After one solid minute, he didn't hear any of the familiar clicking sounds. He thought, "This could ruin my career, I'm at the pinnacle of fame, and the press is all here." Two minutes went on and he was beginning to sweat profusely because he wasn't getting the lock picked. After three minutes of failure and sweating profusely he gave up and collapsed against the door. As he did, the door miraculously swung open wide!
You see, the door had never been locked in the first place. The bank owners knew Houdini would immediately begin to focus on the various high tech details (the lock), and knew he would never think of something as simple as pushing against the vault door.
It's the same way with a lot of things. Look at sports like football or basketball. I remember Larry Bird saying, "when you really think about it this is really a very simple and stupid game. We're paid to throw a round ball through a hoop." Football is the same way. Yet spend 5 minutes in a football or basketball coaches meeting and you'd probably think they were talking about rocket science.
My point is this: The more we learn about a particular topic the more we have a tendency to outthink ourselves and lose sight of what's really important. The most basic and direct approach is often superior. In football, teams that can line up and play power football the same way everybody played football 50 years ago usually tend to dominate the teams with the high tech gizmo offenses and defenses. Do you really think the Pittsburgh Steelers need a staff of 25 assistants working 90 hours a week to get out on the football field and run the football? I seriously doubt it.
It's the same way with training. The more we learn as coaches and athletes, the more we tend to lose site of the simplest of things that contribute to the basic end result in favor of more complicated means. We lose site of the most basic and primitive things in favor of various high tech details. I think everyone has to go through this phase at one point or another. I know in the past I certainly have.
Back To Basics
Let me give you an example of how powerful the basics are. A while back I was asked to design a program for an athlete who wanted the same things a lot of people want - He wanted to jump higher and run faster. After doing some evaluations on him and looking at his training history I wrote him a workout consisting of just 2 workouts that looked like this:
Workout 1- Take 3 steps and jump as high as possible. Take as much rest between jumps as you need. Stop when your jump heights start to decline.
Workout 2- (48 hours later)- Timed 40 yard dashes. Take as much rest between sprints as you need. Stop when your times start to drop.
Alternate between those 2 workotus.
The routine was as simple and as basic as it gets and was as direct as possible. He looked at the workout and said, "This seems extremely simple". I replied, "Yeah it is simple." "But did you want me to teach you calculus and impress you with details or did you want me to help you improve your speed and vertical jump?"
Three weeks later I talked to him and said, "wow that was awesome. I set Prs every week for 3 weeks straight!" The simplicity of it all allowed him to ZERO IN on his target. He had been throwing so many varying stimuli at his body that his body didnt know what to adapt to. He was doing about everything except jumping and running with focus. I wanted to get rid of all the junk volume and eliminate any "high-tech distractions" and let him focus in 100% on the most basic things he was after.
Not to say that a routine like that is optimal 100% of the time but oftentimes the more targeted your training is the more effective it's gonna be. The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. A lot of people try to do so many things at once they lose sight of what they really need.
My Own Houdini Experience
Let give you another example. When I was younger and didn't know a single thing about training there was a time when I was trying to improve my own runnning speed. I didnt know anything about running technique, power trainig, plyometrics, or anything really. I really only knew 2 things:
1. I knew that I tended to get faster as my lower body got stronger.
2. I knew that my speed in the sprints always improved when I treated the sprints like I would lifting...that meant instead of getting out every day and running my butt off I responded best to a low volume of quality reps with full intensity.
So I decided to come up with something really cutting edge. I thought, "Well I'll just alternate a strength workout with a speed workout". What I came up with is a routine that looked like this:
Workout 1- Squats - work up to 3rm with as heavy a weight as possible
reverse hypers- 2 sets x 15 reps with as heavy a weight as possible
repeat workout every 4th to 5th day
Workout 2- 40 yard sprints- Go for PRs -
Perform workout two 2 days after workout 1
Very high tech right? With that workout I put 30 pounds on my lifts and improved my 40 by .3 of a second within a month and a half. Interestingly enough, several years later after I'd spent a considerable amount of time learning how to train for speed development I once again set myself up on a routine. Only this time I knew how to do all the cutting edge top secret complicated stuff so I thought, "well I'm gonna set me up a really awesome routine." I had all sorts of fancy charts and was doing form drills, gizmos, gimmicks, plyometrics, sleds, chains, bands, power training, recovery methods, pool work, EMS etc. You name it I did it. Wanna know how much I improved? Not a single iota!! Not until I got smart and went back to the basics did I once again progress.
The point is, if in doubt, work backwards from your end goal and figure out the straightest line towards improving that goal.
Say you want to improve your vertical jump. If you know anything about vertical jump training you know it's a combination relative strength and explosiveness. So you figure out if you're deficient in strength, explosiveness or both. From there you know what to target and what to maintain.
A Simple Way To Get Strong
Wanna see the simplest way you'll ever see to increase strength? An acquaintance of mine wanted to get stronger but admittedly told me he was too lazy to train consistently. All he did was put a loaded bar in the garage. Once every day or two he'd go in there and pick it up off the floor for a single or double and he progressively added weight over time. In 6 months he'd put over 100 pounds on his deadlift and 6 inches on his jump and really didn't even have a routine...just a loaded bar sitting in the garage that he'd make sure to lift occassionally. Now that simple set-up may not be optimal for a seasoned powerlifter but for the majority of athletes it would work just fine.
If you're explosive deficient you could follow something like my first example. Explosiveness is really just how much of your strength you can utilize and we can improve that by getting very proficient at jumping.
If In Doubt Simplify Everything
If in doubt get back to the basics. If what you're doing isn't working there's a good chance it's because you've lost sight of the basic things and you're focusing too much on the complicated details. There should be a reason for everything you're doing and every exercise you're doing. If you're past the beginner stage and you try to target everything at once most likely you're gonna shoot yourself in the foot. Try to really target a couple of things while maintaining everything else. That's the essence of conjugate training.
Taking It Step by Step
Here's the thought process I might go through when evaluating someone:
Does he/she have any injuries?
What has he been doing lately? Is it most likely too much, not enough, or just right?
Are they mobile enough?
Are they overweight?
Do they move efficiently?
Are they strong enough?
Are they more strength dominant or more plyometric dominant? Are they faster then they are strong or stronger then they are fast?
What is their conditioning like?
Alright. Let's say we have a young athlete in their off-season who has stalled out in their quest for explosiveness. They've been training 3 days per week and just doing a crapload of volume. Weights 3 days per week along with lots of conditioning and cardiovascular work as well.
Their mobility is good they're not overweight but they do seem very heavy-footed. They are pretty strong in the weight room lower bodywise but are weak in the upper body. With regard to their performance measures they are definitely stronger then they are fast and their conditioning is pretty good.
Ok. Now the first thing I'd do is determine which one of the "needs" jumps out the most. For me and this particular athlete it's the heavy-footedness and lack of movemnent efficiency. I would want to get them better on their feet. They lack basic coordination and movement efficiency. I know that this quality responds best to high frequency training so I'd have them out on their feet 3-6 days per week running basic movement drills, dot drills, low intensity plyos, agility ladders, reactionary drills, games etc.
The other glaring thing that jumps out at me is the excessive volume of conditioning work this athlete was engaged in at this point. I'd cut conditioning down to one session per week anaerobic or cardio conditioning. Next, I know this athlete is strong enough in their lower body so I'd only need to maintain their strength while trying to make them more explosive overall in their lower half and stronger in their upper body. I know I can maintain that lower body strength with one low volume exposure per week. Remember it only takes 1/3 the volume to "maintain" a quality as it does to improve a quality. I'd also wanna maintain their mobility.
Ok. So the MAIN thing we want to do is get this guy MOVING BETTER. Basically if that's the only thing we did we'd be doing just fine but if we wanted to expand on that a little bit the basic theme of his training should be MOVE BETTER, GET MORE EXPLOSIVE, GET A STRONGER UPPER BODY, and MAINTAIN LOWER BODY STRENGTH!!!!
Ok so a sample weekly setup might look something like this. I will put the aim of each exercise in bold.
Mon- mobility, movement and plyo work, upper body strength training
MAINTAINING MOBILITY- lunge, straight leg kick, sumo squat, twisting lunge, heel to butt, etc.
Ladder drills- 5 minutes
single leg 4 star hops- 3-4 sets
GET MORE EXPLOSIVE
20 yard sprints- stop when time declines
upper body strength
Bench press variation 4 x 3,
row variation 4 x 3, external rotation movement, optional beach work, ab movement)
Tues- mobility/plyo/ and lateral movement
warmup- same as monday
single leg lateral hops each direction- 3-4 x 15-20 seconds back and forth
shuttle drill x 3-4/side
medium plyo drill (cone jumps, tuck jumps, etc.)
maintain lower body strength
squat - 3 x 3 at 90%
glute ham- 3 x 5
Wed- 20 Min anaerobic conditioniong Maintaining conditioning
Thurs- mobility/movement and plyo work, upper body strength
jump rope- 5 x 1 minute
Get more explosive
single leg on-box jump from front and both sides - 4 x 3/leg
tennis ball drop and react drill
upper body strength
Bench Press- 3 x As many reps as possible with 70%, Pullups 3 x as many reps as possible, ext. rotation movement 2 x 12-15, beach work, abs)
Sat- plyo/agility LB
low squat bounce
5-10-5 reactionary drill forward and back
Get more explosive
jump squat or speed squat- 6 x 2
Reactive glute ham raise or 2 hand kettlebell swing- 3-4 x 6-10
So, you can see the focus is on just a few basic things whilst maintaining things he's more proficient in.
Hopefully that gives you some ideas. You can basically take that straight line approach towards any goal you want.