If there are three words that sum up what I have learned about effective training in the last several years, they are drive, specificity, and repetition. This has culminated with many experiments on my own part, such as kettlebell lifting each day, squatting and Olympic lifting on a daily basis, and even depth jumping every day. Each of these methods comes with it’s own exciting and rapid results.
In recent years, there has been a constantly growing body of adherents to high frequency style training in many disciplines. In powerlifting, you have John Broz, the coach of some of the strongest Olympic weightlifters in the US. For bodybuilding, we have trainer and neuro-physiologist, Chad Waterbury, although more teenagers and 20-somethings are familiar with the man whose bicep veins look like a roadmap, also known as “CT” Fletcher, as a proponent of high frequency training for size. Gymnasts, Cirque de Solei strength performers, and “Bartendaz/Barstarzz” playground gym workout specialists are living proof of what high volume, moderate intensity training every day can do for muscle size. Take a look through various forums and threads, and you’ll find the general consensus for strength and size gains for the average trainee come through big volume programs like “Sheiko” and “Power to the People/Russian Bear” more-so than high intensity options, such as Westside. This is my opinion, however, so feel free to disagree.
So high frequency training has the potential to seriously hook up strength and size gains for average trainees. What about jumping high or sprinting fast though? There are popular and effective jump training systems that exist that recommend maximal jumping efforts each day. Outside of the programs, has high frequency dynamic training really caught on and been accepted in the training community? How does rest and recovery factor in?
A Recap on “Overtraining”
Clearly, rest and recovery is needed at some point in a training scheme. We often hear things like: “you must rest at least 48 hours between working out muscle groups”, and due to the soreness we experience when we first start out in training programs, we believe it! After all, the first time you did heavy parallel squats or bench press, chances are you, you felt pretty sore the next day! It probably made you strongly believe that the 48 hour rule was legit! Heck, maybe there should even be a 72 or 96 hour rule! What we don’t consider though, is that our body gets pretty good at recovering from workloads over time….. really good in fact… and this can significantly shorten the rest periods we need to take in training.
Think about your experience with team sports. How did you feel after the first hard basketball or soccer practice of the year? Probably pretty sore. Did that make you not practice the next day? Doubt it… you had to go to practice, and once you got moving, you got over being sore. While you were out with your team-mates, your mind was too busy thinking about shooting, dribbling, passing, digging, or whatever else practice entailed than to whine about how sore you were. After a few more practices, you got used to the demands of practice, and the whole time you probably weren’t even thinking about how much rest you needed to take between practices. For some reason though, “training” becomes much different, as taking away the goals and decisions of team play leaves plenty of room to obsess over how often and how much to work out.
Fear of overtraining can paralyze our efforts in reaching our full athletic potential. This fear can lead to things such as frequent deloading, program hopping, poor work capacity, high variation in state of physical preparedness, and decreased/slower overall results for the general population. Overtraining does exist, yes, but in it’s true form, it is more common in endurance athletes (as more studies have been undertaken on endurance than power athletes). For power athletes, acute over-reaching is very real! Clearly you get fatigued after big performances at the gym, but a larger portion of this than you think is actually mental/psychological!
Now, there are many programs that work, and clearly there are many athletes that do well on lower frequency work (mostly powerlifters), but in order to get the most out of a skill…. to become a true expert… massive amounts of practice are needed. Olympic weightlifting is one of the most finely researched, tuned, and coached sport practices in the world. I have yet to see one successful Olympic lifter or lifting coach who finds it best to practice the C&J and snatch only twice each week.
Experience has shown that successful Olympic lifters perform more lifts each year than their lower performing counter-parts. What about dunkers?
How does all this work when it comes to sprinting and jumping though? First off, there isn’t a sprint program that exists that features all-out sprinting every day (at least not one that routinely keeps athletes healthy). Sprint coaches don’t have an option here to experiment unless they have a few screws loose. Sprinting fast requires the body to be in a well tuned state. Even the fastest recovering athlete who sprints hard every day runs a risk of muscular imbalances or guarding that can lead to the dreaded hamstring pull, or other associated tweaks. In dealing with a racecar, you can’t keep taking it out on full throttle without constantly tuning and maintaining it.
With this in mind, the standard issue sprint training program that still delivers high sprint volumes and good results is the Charlie Francis model of sprinting hard every other day, with “recovery days” including high volume tempo sprints at a relaxed pace spacing between the hard workouts. True sprint volume can still be kept high in this model, as Ben Johnson performed 60,000 to 70,000 meters of high-speed sprinting each season following it. Regardless of intensity, some sort of running was also being done each day, even if it wasn’t pedal to the metal.
Team sports such as football feature acceleration each day, although distances won’t typically be much longer than 20 yards for repeated periods of time like track workouts are, and intensities aren’t always 100%. Team sport play also features multi-directional runs, so over-use injuries are significantly cut down compared to the track and field equivalent. What about jumping though? You don’t see jumpers pulling quads or achilles tendons all over the place, so is it a viable option to jump every single day in a training program?
Jordan Kilganon: A Case Study
You’ll never see this training philosophy in any sort of sports training article, because to most, it is madness…. or maybe just too simple. When you understand how expert performance works, however, maybe the following information isn’t quite so crazy. When we watch a top performer in any skill, we tend to think of that person as a “prodigy” or “a freak”. For those of you who don’t know who dunk sensation Jordan Kilganon is, here is one of his recent videos:
I contacted Jordan Kilganon because I had heard that his main training method to reach his leap was simply dunking every day. No more, no less, and no weights or plyometrics. Sound crazy? Why? Shouldn’t we just do the things specific to our performance to improve? The following are some excerpts from my interview with Jordan.
Just Fly Sports: Jordan, what is your athletic background? Tell me about your dunking and jumping progression.
Jordan Kilganon: I grew up playing sports my entire life. I Have videos of me dunking a on a mini-hoop at 3 years old. My dad is known around here for how good he was/is. So I grew up around the sport of basketball, baseball, volleyball, badminton, track, etc. I always had a little more hops than most people on my team by maybe an inch, though there were always people with more hops than me. I guess when I was a kid, I didn’t realize that jumping a lot made me jump higher, but I always tried to jump high! At the time, I didn’t know that frequent practice would help me jump higher. I just thought it was part of growing up, getting bigger, jumping higher, being stronger.
When I understood that dunking so (often) made me jump higher, I was about in grade 7. I started dunking almost every single day. I remember my first dunk on 8 feet, my first dunk on 8.5 feet, on 9 feet and etc. I first dunked at 16 years old and I was 6ft tall, which is super late in comparison to any other dunkers.
Just Fly Sports: What does your training for dunking look like?
Jordan Kilganon: Only recently (3 months ago) I started to actually strength train my entire body which has helped my dunking, but I did get to where I’m at without weights at all. All I did was dunk every single day for 3 to 4 hours on average. It didn’t matter if it was on 10 feet, 9 feet or 8 feet. Some days I would dunk for 30 minutes (because of me being busy) and some days I would dunk for 9 hours at a time. Practicing technique with trick dunks on lower rims, helped me so much for dunking on 10 feet now. I’m also doing dunks on 10 feet I invented on low rims years ago, it’s really been to my advantage to dunk so much on low rims.
A friend I met through youtube called Pat Kingsley introduced me to low rims and the world of dunking and things like TeamFlightBrothers, SlamNation and Flying101. I was HOOKED ever since! He really jump started my dunking. So other than a few months ago… no I never did anything outside of dunking. I just dunked every day, even if the day after, I collapsed trying to get out of bed because of how sore my legs were.. I went dunking no matter what, I’ve screamed in pain and continued to make myself keep dunking for hours on end. I even dunked in -35 degrees Celsius, inches of snow, in the rain at midnight till 4 in the morning, dunk after not sleeping for 3 days, you name it, I did it.
As I mentioned before, I started lifting weights not too long ago. My maxes are very low, because I only recently started to lift. Max squat is 275 ass to grass, Max deadlift is 335, Max bench 205.
Just Fly Sports: What training advice would you give for aspiring dunkers?
Jordan Kilganon: My advice to anyone who wants to become a dunker, is to start off dunking 1-2 hours 3 times a week and to slowly progress to 3-4 hours a day almost every day. If you’re legs aren’t sore as hell the day after, it means you need to dunk more/longer next time…The way my training worked was that I would dunk 3-4 hours every day for a week to even a month, and anytime I wanted to see results, I would rest 2-3 days. Every time I rested, it was my next best jumping day, I saw results, rarely I didn’t see a difference.
Unfortunately it’s hard to gain vertical when you’re training for a sport like basketball because of the large amount of cardio involved. Most dunkers know that going for a run is the worst thing you can do for dunking. It’s not good for explosiveness (from what I’ve read). Which is another reason why I think my vertical has shot up after high school, I didn’t go for runs anymore.
I will say that working out and lifting weights has increased my power when I jump, I can now hit a between the legs off a drop step fairly easily because of it. I am for sure seeing a difference, but I also think i may have hit some plateaus by only dunking every day, and working out helped me get through it. Now I’m doing a mix of both. I also recommend for dunkers to start videotaping themselves and start posting it on youtube, even let me know! I can try and help them with technique; I try and help everyone who wants it!
Clearly, there are a large number of ways to reach a high level of performance in your sport. I understand that there are athletes who can excel through both low and high volume methods, and I don’t criticize any athlete or coach who employs low frequency, high intensity training work. Many of them are quite successful, and have been coaching much longer than I have. What I am trying to communicate through this article is that reaching expert performance is actually much simpler than we make it out to be. Expert performance can come through the following:
- Drive: You have to be strongly inspired, and be highly focused on becoming better. Without this, the mind’s control over the body is weak, and your training will be less effective. Many athletes have “ignition moments”, where they are inspired by the performance of an athlete they look up to. Others are constantly inspired by peers or coaches, or some just have the drive within themselves. Either way, motivation is critical.
- Repetition: Whether training high or low frequency, getting in quality, specific repetitions in your craft will bring about success. There are a few cases here and there where motor pathways can become exhausted through high frequency in one mode can quickly become exhausting (high jumping), so slight variety is very important, but overall, training should be close to what you are trying to accomplish. Incidentally, dunking every day is sustainable in terms of variety because of the many different types of takeoffs for different types of dunks. In terms of world champion performers in things like Olympic weightlifting or hammer throwing, the Gold medalists and top performers often dwarf their lesser performing counterparts in terms of number of lifts or throws performed each year.
- Time: Success doesn’t come overnight. In any skill based endeavor (chess, baseball, music, etc.) 10 years of consistent practice is required to reach the top. By consistent practice, I mean 3-4 hours a day, not 20-30 minutes three or four times a week. Although good genes for sport can make how long it takes to reach “expert performance” somewhat confusing, I think that looking at Jordan Kilganons’s story can offer us a glimpse of how an athlete who didn’t necessarily win the genetic lottery could still achieve an extremely high level of performance.
With this in mind, I challenge you to take a new mindset to your upcoming training. Get inspired, put the specific work in, and I promise you that you won’t be let down.
Bounce: Matthew Syed
Interview with Jordan Kilganon: June 25, 2013
Squat Every Day: Matt Perryman
The Structure of Training for Speed: Charlie Francis
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