Every coach has a number of lessons and mental anchors (good or bad) that make their programming and philosophy what it is.
People might wonder how I came to think the way I did about a number of training ideals, as well as what shapes how I think about athletic performance on a daily basis.
I’ve found that my athletic and coaching system has come along in a number of stages, and have primarily been formed by 7 paradigm shifts I’ve experienced over time. I feel that they can be of use to both coaches and athletes in reaching a deep understanding of important training concepts I’ve learned the hard way in many cases.
The 7 “shifts” that have formed me as a coach are as follows:
- The principle of maximal intensity and supercompensation
- Specific lifting jumpstarts better motor patterns
- The power of the 4-day training split
- The minimal effective dose of lifting
- Slow twitch-fast twitch
- Be Activated, muscle activation, and muscle patterning
- Coordination = strength = coordination
The principle of maximal intensity and supercompensation
One of the earliest lessons regarding the human athlete I learned was at the young age of 16, after running hundreds of miles, doing Air Alert, and wall sits for minutes on end in attempts to jump higher.
I bought “The Science of Jumping”, and found a jump workout that you were only supposed to do every 4 to 14 days, as it was so intense. The overload in the program was also very specific, focusing on depth jumps and variations. I had never improved my jumping ability so fast in my life, and was amazed at the power of my nervous system to adapt to a (relatively) small dose of intense training, done only once a week, in tandem with playing basketball and doing maximal sprints on some other days in the week (this became the impetus behind my “Vertical Ignition”)
After doing this program, l weighed the value of literally every “submaximal” exercise that I was doing, which actually bit me in the ass down the road a bit since I didn’t see the value of mild to moderate lactate production (as Boo Schexnayder talked about in our podcast).
“The idea behind the depth jump itself was the first paradigm shift of my athletic and coaching career”
Regardless, if you want to get better at something, there must be some sort of maximal overload (even a maximal coordinative overload, not necessarily a quantitative one), and then some sort of planned supercompensation on a regular basis to be able to regularly hit that skill in a fresh state.
Specific lifting jumpstarts better motor patterns
After trying out squats and cleans for sometime, I watched an Ed Jacoby high jump video and learned about the barbell step up. It made sense to me at this point that all lifts aren’t created equally in terms of the muscle groups they activate, the sequence those muscles are called on, as well as the influence of peak torques and biomechanical positions.
This ideal has been manifested, not only in the usage of “skill building” special lifts (such as oscillating split squats, speed half-squats, etc.), but also the way I program my squats, deadlifts and Olympic lifts. Every lift should be programmed in context of the position and muscle patterning of an athlete’s sport.
The idea of specific lifting was a double-edged sword later in my career. I thought since some moderate weight step-ups were good, that doing them with 90%+ of my max would be great. It wasn’t. One day, I decided to do some step-ups with 405lbs onto a 10” box. I usually worked with 205-315lbs. The neural strain of the exercise was so great that it took me two weeks to get my spring back and jump high again.
Specific lifts are good to a point, but remember that the main benefit to specific lifts is coordination!! Part of this coordination is not going over the neural edge of proper performance patterns. Doing a step up with spine-compressing weight not only takes an athlete over the neural edge, but also is a big CNS stressor, that personally, I’d rather spend on more specific training means.
Welcome to this episode of “JFS Good Idea-Bad Idea”
Good Idea, Doing Barbell Step Ups with a controllable weight, maintaining posture, and some vertical explosiveness with the weight, while minimizing upper zone tension.
Bad Idea. Doing this….
I am a believer that there are athletes that definitely do well in spite of these excessive lifts, but I also don’t think they are a contributing reason athletes have the single leg abilities they do. There comes a point where you are (much) better served by plyometrics.
There is always a balance between the “specific lifting” you are doing and dynamic performance. If athletes are doing a lot of sprinting and jumping, or are in the midst of competitive season, specific lifts should not be playing a large role in the program.
You can learn a lot more about the specific lifts I do like for speed enhancement in my upcoming book (stay posted on this).
The power of the 4-day training split
It took me 5 years to learn my next big lesson, which was actually the complete opposite of what I learned through the science of jumping (train really hard, and recover as long as you need). This was the idea of “4-day splits” where you trained weights, plyometrics, and sprint coordination in some capacity 4 days out of the week. This was in pretty stark contrast to the 3-day programs that most coaches followed, or even the 2-hard day a week training ideal that seemed to be working somewhat well for me up to that point.
When I first started this, I was absolutely confident I would overtrain, but I quickly found out quite the opposite, a FAST improvement in my single and double leg jumping. The video below was taken a month or so after 2x 1-month blocks of 4 day split work doing bounding, hurdle hops, squats and the like.
I also eventually wrote a program (which you can check out for free here) that has helped a lot of athletes put a big amount on their single leg jump in a short period of time using these ideas.
From what I’ve learned from Boo Schexnayder (Just Fly Performance Podcast EP 14), these 4-day splits can allow athletes to access a greater proportion of the available motor pool due to the unique interaction by 2 back-to-back days including high intensity training means, such as weights and/or plyometrics. My preferred method is going weights, then plyos for this motor-pool access, as well as potentiation in athletes with acceptable strength and work capacity.
The minimal effective dose of lifting
I essentially went 4 years before I learned my next big lesson. This is likely from not spending enough time seeking mentors, reading books, or looking for quality information. I learned many smaller lessons in this time, but the next big shift came when I started Just Fly Sports and decided to start reading books on my phone kindle in my spare time, or when I was riding on the team bus.
One of the first books I picked was “Easy Strength” which is an outright legendary read for any practitioner of strength and performance. Through reading this book, I understood for the first time the importance of approaching the weightroom from a perspective of doing “enough to walk out feeling better than when you walked in”, as well as the idea of the strongest powerlifters often being those who would not go over the CNS edge of training, which meant that they would always leave a few reps in the tank. Doing a triple of a heavy squat set when you know you had 5 in you is one of the keys in this realm, and has stuck with me with every athlete I train.
What does an athlete really get by straining and grinding out that 4th rep of a 90% squat set from a CNS perspective? All that’s happening is that the athlete is drawing on compensation patterns to get the rep, rather than “firing from the center”.
Grinding simply teaches athletes to implode, rather than explode. If I do decide to grind at all, which I would rarely do, I want to do it in a dynamic fashion, such as sprinting, ropes, or submaximal plyometric options, such as a “2-minute drill”, but this type of work is always done on a foundation of good habits.
The 1×20 system has also proved revolutionary in my understanding of the human response to training, and honestly, the only squatting I do these days is 1×10 or 1×12 with 65-70% or so, 1x a week, and my squat numbers aren’t far off of what they ever were (and I spend about 1/10 of the the time on it). I find the 1×20 ideals mix very well with dynamic programming due to the contrasting effect of the training.
Slow twitch-fast twitch
Not all athletes respond to training in the exact same manner. One of the biggest determinants of who needs what is based on their muscle twitch type.
For some reason, I used to have this idea that fast-twitch athletes needed to work on speed-endurance to be more well-rounded, and faster, and slower-twitch athletes needed more speed to reach their full potential. While this is true to a degree, it was a conversation with Henk Kraiijenhof that helped me realize that fast-twitch athletes are really built to sprint, and slow-twitch athletes often are not so much. This doesn’t mean that distance athletes can’t be helped by doing some hard sprinting and plyometrics once a week (they can, and are helped by this), and that a sprinter can’t do a 2x500m workout every now and then, but generally speaking, many athletes will respond the best, regularly, to what their muscle physiology, and CNS wiring (neurotransmitter profile) allows them to best respond to.
I also have discussed with Ryan Banta, the idea of the “fast-oxidative” athlete, that tends to thrive off of a greater proportion of workouts that build a mild to moderate dose of lactate, and gives their type IIA muscle fibers a little more overall exposure so they can grow and adapt.
All of this has an impact in the weightroom as well. I don’t assign all my athletes the same % 1RM through all points in the season, especially in tapering and competition periods.
Not all athletes respond the same to the exact same training stimulus, so knowing this allows a coach to do some creative detective work to help determine responses. I read “The Edge Effect” this past year to have a better understanding of neurotransmitters, personality type, and how athletes tend to behave and respond to training.
- Be Activated, muscle activation, and muscle patterning
On a wintery February day, I flew out on a redeye to Chicago for the weekend, and couldn’t be happier that I did. I discovered the world of “Be Activated”, and learned that not all movements are comprised of the same muscle-patterning.
I left that Be Activated seminar with a 2-3” gain on my vertical jump, faster sprinting, and a rocket-arm. This blew my mind, and ever since, I’ve been on a journey to Level 2 Be Activated, MAT, Z-Health and Neurokinetic Therapy to stack onto my base knowledge of the Be Activated (Now off-shooting into “RPR”) system… and no, you don’t have to be a manual therapist to get huge benefits from this stuff, athletes can often work on themselves in the proper context.
My latest journey is going through the NeuroKinetic therapy levels, learning from their local study groups, and applying this to the way that I view every exercise an athlete does.
The bottom line is that not all athletic movements are created the same. One athlete may initiate hip extension with the glute, while another initiates it by the hamstring teaming up with the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae. Which athlete is at a higher risk of a hamstring pull?
“An athletes technique is heavily influenced by the contractility of their muscles as dictated by the nervous system”
Athletes also can shut off one muscle for a few moments when another muscle fires… this flips the world of training on its head! Training the quads in a front squat might not be doing you any good if they are inhibiting your hamstrings when you try to sprint hard.
By learning movement trains, I now know why an athlete is hyperextending their neck during a clean, compressing their chin during a TRX row, or tightening their jaw while deadlifting, and more importantly, how to fix this to maximize patterning and performance. By not looking “under the hood”, we miss so much as coaches, and all these systems are making a profound impact on athletic development and performance.
- Coordination = strength = coordination
The latest and greatest lesson I’ve learned, which also has allowed me to understand many of my prior athletic coaching and athletic experiences, is through the work of Frans Bosch. I read (and probably underlined/highlighted half the wording in) his book “Strength Training and Coordination” that what we know as “strength” is essentially synonymous with coordination of muscles and muscle groups.
On early levels, the intramuscular coordination of barbell work, from a neural level, helps athletes improve, but on the elite level, intermuscular coordination is king (this ties in with point 6, in fact, without skills in area 6, I would say that athletes will rarely achieve their highest intermuscular ability on the grand level of things, aside from those who have an incredibly gifted nervous system, and who haven’t been through a lot of injury dings and life stressors). Granted, strategically using barbell work to improve reflexive firing abilities, tissue quality and blood chemistry is really important, but many coaches don’t think of things in this balance/level of organization.
Athletes can very quickly increase their strength by becoming more coordinated in a powerful and explosive manner. I found this out when the “worst jump training program in the world”, Air Alert, put 40lbs on my squat in a month back when I was 16. Running hurdles and sprinting hard can put weight on your clean. Doing dozens of jump and dunk attempts will drive up your push press….the list goes on.
Athletes can also lift more weight in the weightroom, but fail to gain the coordination therein that leads the to be lightning fast on the field of play.
In the swimming world, sprint freestylers I work with can often do a pullup with over 100lbs attached, but they certainly didn’t get this strength by simply focusing on pullups from a young age. I have sprint (and mid-distance) breaststrokers that can blow up the Keiser jumper and run a pretty good 10-yard dash, but they don’t get that power primarily from their land training. Even neuromuscular coordination in the water has global, and land-based implications.
Knowing how everything ties in to the grand coordination scheme is key in building monsters over the long haul.
The Ultimate Blueprint for Vertical Jump, Speed, and Explosive Performance Training
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