Home » Training FAQ

Training FAQ

Due to the fairly high volume of strength and conditioning questions that I get, many of which carry similar themes, this page is designed to help answer your strength and conditioning frequently asked questions, as well as direct you towards further resources based on what you are seeking in regards to becoming a better athlete.

Brought to you by the Legendary Athleticism Training Team

Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Vertical Jump Training

What is the best way to jump higher?

This is the most common question I tend to get.  There is a simple answer, and a complicated answer, so let’s start with the simple answer:  The best way to jump higher is to perform maximal jumps often, many of them in an “excited” environment with a crowd or peers present.  Athletes will perform 2-8% better in a competitive environment then training alone, so it is vital that many training efforts are performed in this “high impact zone”.

Second to this, it is important to be performing a variety of explosive, fast movements, namely sprinting to compliment the explosive force of jumping.  Many athletes get plenty of sprint and acceleration work simply playing their sport, but some athletes who don’t sprint fast or often enough playing their sport may need extra work here.   Some athletes also need to limit the amount of time they play their sport, as too much work (more than 45-60 minutes of intense play/day, more than 3x/week on average) can start to cut into maximal power ability on the part of the athlete.

Finally, athletes must be able to support maximal jumping and sprinting with coordination and dynamic joint stabilization, which is a function of their sporting background (being well-rounded and generally athletic, a product of playing multiple sports), as well as regular practice in sports or deliberate training regiments that stress multi-directional high speed movements.  Many high-jumping athletes get this from simply playing a few games of pick up basketball prior to their jumping and dunking efforts.

Aside from actually jumping hard, and sprinting, there are a number of important supporting exercises, namely plyometrics and strength training.  The best plyometrics for athletes seeking a better jump are generally maximal plyometrics, such as depth jumps and maximal bounding efforts.  Novice athletes can benefit from sub-maximal plyometrics (line hops, bench hops, step-up jumps, etc.) for some length of time, usually 4-8 weeks before the training effect of these exercises begins to diminish.  Submaximal, or lower intensity plyometrics, performed in higher volumes, are also a good strategy for building, and maintaining the stiffness in the ankle and foot that is needed for solid takeoffs at speed.

Strength training is also an important component of jumping higher, which we will cover in the next question.

All other factors aside, realize that motivation levels are a critically important aspect of the process in jumping higher.  Motivation is a product of many things, but generally represents an athlete with a fairly healthy neurotransmitter brain profile, and plenty of dopamine.  Athletes who are low in dopamine will have a hard time getting motivated to train optimally, and to respond optimally to that training program.

I’ve designed some great training programs for athletes who weren’t optimally motivated to succeed on that program, and the results fell flat.  Never underestimate the power of a motivated athlete who buys into the program they are training on.

Will lifting weights help me jump higher?

This is a touchy subject in many circles, as the answer depends on a few factors, but in the vast majority of cases, yes, lifting weights will help you jump higher. 

The thing to remember is that lifting weights is only a means to an end which means that just because your jump may have increased 4 inches after 8 weeks of a resistance training program (which it often will) doesn’t mean that it will keep increasing if you keep striving to increase your maximal strength, thinking that a magic number in a lift will also yield a subsequent improvement in jumping (or sprinting) ability.

What I mean is that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to jumping and barbell training.  Setting out to lift a particular weight is all about the return on investment you get from the effort you put into achieving that maximal lift.

Now, a smart resistance training program designed within the scope of improving explosive power will hit this point of diminishing returns much later in an athlete’s career then a simple bodybuilding program, or a powerlifting focused program.

Lifting weights helps athletes to jump higher largely by increasing the amount of time they can put force into the ground, especially in movements such as a two leg jump from a short run up or standing position.   For single leg jumping, spending more time putting force into the ground is not a good thing, so a weightlifting program should be designed with this in mind for single leg jump athletes, such as track and field jumpers.  You can follow these links to learn more about training for single leg jumping from a plyometric standpoint, or check out Vertical Foundations, for a more in depth look on the mechanics and improvement of a single leg jump.

In many cases, doing a traditional powerlifting program can hurt an athlete’s jump by over-riding important motor patterns, reflexes and connections between the hips and the feet.  I’ve seen my fair share of athletes who were over-lifted in high school with lower vertical jumps in college, and nearly all of them had very poor foot and hip functionality.   In this regard, it is extremely important to have a well-designed complimentary strength program.

Finally, know that strength and resistance training offers a boost to an athlete through the effect of neuro-muscular potentiation, which supersedes most biomechanical issues in some training situations.  Essentially, any very heavy lift reduces the “firing threshold” of the nervous system, which means for a short time frame (1-48 hours), an athlete can be at a higher state of jumping (or sprinting, swimming, etc.) performance simply from being exposed to a heavy weight.

When lifting weights, it’s very important to have periods of time in monthly and yearly training where you either aren’t lifting, or are lifting with a totally different emphasis, such as controlled reps with very light weights, such as in the Vertical Ignition training program.   Lifting hard year round will only lead to a very mechanical jumping and sprinting action.

If all I do is play my sport and practice jumping, can I reach my best potential?

For some athletes, yes, absolutely.  Look at Justin Darlington, who only plays basketball and practices dunking.  He doesn’t do any plyometrics or weightlifting, and yet is one of the highest jumpers in the world.  Many of the dunkers you see on YouTube or various social media outlets are the same way.   Unfortunately, many of these athletes who either do zero or limited training outside of playing basketball and jumping practice often promote or sell various training programs for the sake of making money, when the uninformed masses don’t realize the scam that they are a part of.

Not all athletes can all train this way, with no external training other than playing a sport and specific practice.  It is important to know though, that specific training, and playing ones sport goes a very long way in building one’s vertical jump, and should always be the cornerstone of the training program.

Most athletes will achieve quick gains in their jumping ability through utilizing training programs with plyometric and lifting components, more-so then if they just kept playing a sport and practicing jumping.   Weightlifting and plyometric exercises add “instructions” to an athletes jumping motor program that will allow it to become more powerful and efficient.

Athletes must realize, however, that a big reason many plyometric programs work is simply that an athlete is now doing a greater volume of jumping and explosive movement then they were before.

Finally, and this may be the most important point, is that athletes who are closer to their genetic potential have much less to gain from external training methods (such as weights and plyometrics).  Many elite jumpers and dunkers have reached a level that is very close to their genetic limit, and are able to because their bodies require less external types of training (lifting and plyometrics) to reach that high state of performance.

You can learn more about the balance between general and specific training means in Roger Nelsen’s great article on the subject.

Do I have to lift heavy weights to jump higher? I heard “so-and-so” said that I have to lift heavy to jump high.

Heavy weightlifting is a very helpful tool to many athletes, but it is the cherry on the top of a solid training program that incorporates all ends of the “speed-strength” spectrum.

Heavy strength training, which is lifting weights, such as squatting and deadlifting above 80% of one’s maximal ability, helps athletes largely through something known as potentiation, which is the reduced firing threshold of the nervous system.  Basically, heavy weightlifting makes the associated muscles of jumping “quicker on the trigger”, and allows more explosive and effortless movement in the window afterwards, so long as it is performed correctly.

Heavy strength training is also a double-edged sword in that it can be harmful to athletes who think it is a secret weapon, and don’t appreciate the movement patterns of their sport.

Heavy lifting can instill a lot of bad movement patterns in an athlete, especially athletes who are pre-disposed to “grinding” out workouts.  In many cases, athletes who start heavy lifting too early, and do it too often will create a ceiling on their highest performance.  Many high school and college football players in particular are much slower then they could be, because they started the “grind” too early in their careers.

Finally, the increased strength many athletes can gain through heavy lifting can offer temporary to medium term performance benefits, but due to the faulty movement patterns at the core of lifting a heavy barbell at all costs, compared to moving dynamically on the field of play, these athletes who rely on heavy lifting will generally find themselves beaten by their better moving competitors in the medium to long term of things.

If you are looking for a training program that utilizes strength and barbell training in an optimal manner as far as increasing explosiveness and vertical jump is concerned, check out our Legendary Athleticism training team.

Do I even have to lift weights to jump higher, or jump as high as I am capable of?

You definitely don’t need to lift weights to jump higher, but there is a good chance that you need to use them in the right context to jump as high as you are possibly capable of.   This is truer if you are a two-leg jumper then a one-leg jumper.

The majority of training programs I write for my private clientele involve a good component of resistance training, but exactly how much and when depends on the needs, physiology and psychology of who is being trained.

Interested in training with Joel?  Check out our online training services, and apply today for a spot.

What kind of plyometric exercises should I do to jump higher?

For beginners, doing any type of plyometric will probably increase their jumping ability, which is largely why you do get positive testimonials from jump training programs with marginal program design, and lots of submaximal work, as these are all novice athletes who have recorded these results.

For athletes with moderate training experience, basic vertical and horizontal plyometrics are best: multi-jumps, hurdle hops, and basic depth jump variations.

For athletes who are more advanced in their training, a proportionally smaller amount of plyometric exercises should make up the core of the training program, as the majority of jumping efforts should be in the form of specific jumping, and much of this done in a charged environment, such as an energetic practice or competition.   (Remember, a high percentage of “charged” sprint and jump movements is needed to achieve one’s highest potential)

The plyometric exercises that should be done at the advanced stage are customized and rotating based on the biomechanical needs of the athlete.   Athletes who have been training for some time can’t expect to perform a cookie cutter plyometric training program and have it meet their performance needs.

Do I have to sprint to jump my highest? Why isn’t sprinting a part of many training programs?

Yes, you absolutely need to sprint maximally as part of practice to jump your highest.  Many athletes are getting this stimulus, just by playing sports, however.  This is why it is important that in your training program, you are either: playing a sport that includes frequent bouts of sprinting maximally, or doing maximal sprints outside of your sport.  Sports where athletes need to sprint in a way that engages the full spectrum of the force time curve would be things like full-court basketball, football, soccer, or rugby, however, the greater the aerobic component of the sport, the more these speed gains may be limited.

It is critical to train the full spectrum of speed and strength in jump training, so sprints embody the speed element of the training process.

Sprinting is not a part of many training programs, as a good portion of coaches who write popular online programs don’t actually consider the full spectrum of the force and velocity spectrum, which leaves gains for many athletes on the table.

Sprinting is also a great way for coaches to assess the functionality of various muscle groups and movement patterns.  A lot can be learned about an athlete by simply watching them sprint from the front and side.  Video and movement analysis is an important part of our online training programs, and building better sprint technique is a foundation of reaching one’s highest athletic potential.

I tried 3 different jump programs, and didn’t gain much on any of them. Can I still increase my vertical jump?

Yes.  The more inches the program you bought promised you would gain, the less it probably helped you.  Most program use marketing tactics to promote themselves more than they use experience working with a variety of athletes seeking to increase their jumping ability.  The testimonials you’ll see for many programs are from athletes with very little, or even no training experience, and these athletes can gain on virtually any program.  I’ve even seen as much as a 9” vertical jump gain in 2 weeks in a tennis player who had never trained before (this really isn’t common though).

Many “jump programs” aren’t designed by coaches who have much experience working with athletes.  There are almost no jump programs designed by track coaches, and track and field is the pinnacle sport when it comes to improving human explosive abilities.  One product which is both affordable and highest quality in program design regarding periodization and addressing the full spectrum of speed and strength is Vertical Ignition.

What is the best vertical jump training program?

Well, if I told you that mine was the best, you’d understand I’m biased, and perhaps not believe me.  What I can tell you is that the “best jump training program” is the one that educates you on how to keep improving once the training program has ended.   No career is made in a 12-week period of time, and many gains from jump programs reverse themselves slowly after the program is over.

The highest an athlete can jump is not attained through a program, but through a knowledge and understanding of the best practices in training for that individual athlete over a period of time (this is also why, at a point, most athletes should consider training using a customized regimen designed by an experienced coach)

That being said, some athletes don’t want to think much about their training, and just want a workout.   There is no problem with this, and athletes actually shouldn’t spend too much willpower worrying about every set and rep in their training program!  I’ve found that athletes who do stress excessively about this aspect of their workouts almost never achieve great training gains.

This is why a good educational process is important, because if an athlete is continually worried about what the next program they should perform is, they are simply holding themselves back from their highest jumping potential.

In simple terms, based on what I, as a coach with 11+ years of experience training athletes, has to tell you, here are your best bets in terms of finding a jump program to take you to your highest performance:

  • 0-1 years of training experience, and under age 16: Vertical Ignition for youth athletes.  (link)
  • 1-3 years of training experience: Vertical Ignition program, Legendary Athleticism Training group, or a customized online training program. (links)
  • 4+ years of training experience, and age 20+: Customized training program

Some of the things that are determined in a custom training program are:

  • Speed/Force Profile
  • Movement Strategy (Are you a speed or power jumper?)
  • Gait, technique, and correctives for imbalances
  • What leg do you preferably jump off of?
  • Neurotransmitter profile (determines how often and intensely you should train).
  • Training experience (an athlete with one year of experience will train much differently than an athlete with 5 or 10)
  • Exercise familiarity and preferences
  • Life stressors and recovery ability

Clearly, most “one-size-fits-all” programs won’t address these things when looking at the best course of training, so having a custom program is important with these factors in mind.

I performed “X jumping program” 6 months ago, and gained 5” on my jump. I just completed it for a second round, and didn’t gain anything, what’s wrong?

First of all, realize that the more inches on your jump you gain, the more slowly future gains will generally roll in.  The longer you spend on the same training program, the less you have to gain using it.  This typically happens in a fairly logarithmic fashion, meaning that gains are greatest at first, and taper off quickly.

training program gains

Most of the gains in a training programs happen early and taper off as the program progresses

It is also important to realize, with any training program, that the training needs of an athlete change over time, and what works for an athlete one year might not work as well for them the next.  As athletes get more efficient and coordinated through training, their needs change (often in the direction of needing more specific training).

As an athlete trains over time, the gains on their jump will come more slowly.  A beginner with no training, or a poor training background can expect to gain 4-8” on their jump in several months on virtually any training program that incorporates a spectrum of vertical jump training methods (lifting weights, plyometrics, sprinting, specific jump practice, nutrition, etc.).

For detrained, or beginner athletes, virtually any training will yield gains that come easily for some time period.  Granted, there are some ways to elicit gains that are better than others particularly those that are focused on building the proper jump technique, which will maximize an athlete’s performance ceiling later on.  This goes not only for jumping, but anything else in athletic development.

An intermediate athlete with a few years of lifting and/or plyometric experience can expect gains of 1-4” on their jump in a few months, training on a “generally good” program (meaning it is composed of fairly specific/high transfer training methods, and has some sort of progression to it).

I get questions from many athletes in this intermediate bracket.  It is also this training bracket where the “$67 training programs” will be unable to deliver on their claims of 8-12” vertical jump gains, which are reserved for beginner trainees (although the actual gains of beginners is more in the 4-8” realm).  For these intermediate athletes, I strongly recommend checking out Vertical Ignition and Vertical Foundations, as both ideas for training to get to the advanced level, as well as for the educational means on how to progress above and beyond.

In the advanced phase of training, where athletes may have 3-4 years of solid training experience, or more, and have reached physical maturity (age 17-18), gains of 1-3” are acceptable, or good in several months.  More advanced athletes, who have been training for say, a decade, will often find their performance goes up and down slightly on a yearly basis.  A gain of 1-3” in a year for these athletes can be considered a good gain.  Try taking a look at the yearly progressions of some elite high jumpers, who have the best coaches in the world working for them, to see what type of progression advanced and elite athletes will generally see in their training.

It is the advanced phase of athletes that I take the most pride in working with and eliciting improvements!  Here you can see some testimonials from athletes I’ve worked with in advanced stages of training.  Our customized online training program is the biggest step that you can take towards reaching your highest performance, especially if you have been training for some time.

An athlete also will adapt to a particular exercise, or even training format over time, and as the novelty of that training wears off, the athlete will find it less effective.  This is why professional track and field athletes often switch coaches, because the novelty of a new training system (and philosophy) can often times yield gains that were not possible using the same system one had been utilizing for previous years.

What is the best technique for jumping? When I try to change my technique, I can’t jump as high, what’s wrong?

Understand that the majority of changes to jump technique will cause a chain of events in the body that lead to a slower, more mechanical jump.  Whenever you jump, you are unleashing a chain of sub-conscious processes in the body that are fairly “hard-wired” into your body.

Every time you make a change, expect there to be a period of time where this change will be mechanical, and forebrain oriented, and there will be a good chance that this decreases your jump for some time

The biggest jumps always happen when movement comes from the “unconscious” mind, as well as being “reflex driven”.  There are two big reflexes when it comes to running jumps, the stumble reflex, and the crossed extensor reflex.  If these reflexes aren’t strong and wired into your physiology, then no matter how much you try a certain “technique” you may not be able to perform it effectively.  Again, this is why a custom program can be critically important in your training success.

The human body, in many cases, is operating with the best that the muscles and current motor programs have to offer.  Unless there is a certain level of strength present in a particular movement pattern, you will not be able to perform that movement well.   As it can be said “form is dictated by function”.

A great example is in a standing vertical jump.  Good performers in the standing vertical leap usually have a big deep bending of the knees and hips, and get down into a half or even deep squat depth before they reverse the jump back upwards.  Many athletes don’t bend their knees very much when they dip down to perform a standing vertical leap.  If you ask an athlete who typically doesn’t bend their knees much to suddenly jump like they are doing a deep squat, they will jump lower, guaranteed, because they do not have the strength in the deep squat position to actually jump high.

This is a big reason why correctly structuring strength training can have a significant impact on the way athletes jump (and sprint) from a technical perspective.  To learn more about vertical jump technique, and its connection to strength and plyometric performance, check out our book: Vertical Foundations.

An athlete I really respect does a particular exercise or program, should I do it too?

Know that first of all, jumping and sprinting are the top two things that should constitute your training program.  Every other training method is secondary, and regardless of how much “X-Athlete” does a particular lift or drill, it isn’t why that athlete can jump so high.

“X-Athlete” can jump high because of their genetic talent, epigenetics (training environment, etc.), their athletic baseline (how many sports did they play growing up, and how early were they exposed to sports and play requiring maximal sprinting and jumping) and the amount of dedicated specific training they have been doing.  No training program has ever been built on one or two exercises outside of actually jumping and sprinting, although a properly performed depth jump may come close.

When looking at any particular exercise, you need to look at its potential transfer to jumping in terms of:

  • Does it use the same joints and joint pattern as jumping (aka. Does it look like jumping?)
  • Does it use similar muscular contractions to jumping in terms of rate of force development?
  • How much tension is being created by this exercise?

Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Speed Training

In addition to jumping higher, a lot of athletes also want to get faster. For those athletes whose sport is track and field, the sport itself is getting faster! For any other sport, speed is very clearly and important success factor, and there is generally a minimal level of speed an athlete needs to really be competitive. It is important to know that sprinting faster and jumping higher are very closely linked. It is rare that you’ll find an athlete who improves their 40 yard or 100 meter dash without also improving their jumping ability by a significant margin.

With that said, here are some of the most common questions and answers in regards to speed development.

What is the best way to improve my speed?

The best way to improve speed is to practice sprinting as fast as possible when in as fresh of a state as possible, and do this as frequently as possible.

Since the way that muscles operate at high speeds (which is reactively) is much different then how muscles operate in the weightroom (concentrically), or even when doing sprint drills (limited vertical force requirement due to low speeds of movement), it is really critical that coaches and athletes don’t shy away from a hearty dose of regularly training fast. 

In a nutshell, to get fast, you must train fast.  No amount of lifting weights or plyometrics will completely fill the gap for this discrepancy, especially at higher levels of competition.  I’ve learned this the hard way.  If you aren’t sprinting in your training program, you are not reaching your full potential.

What is the best way to improve my agility?

Improving agility holds to the same ideal as training speed.  You must train as fast as possible, in as similar of movement pattern to what is encountered on the field of play as possible.   This means that timed, or competitive rapid change of direction movements are essential to creating agility that is useable on the field.

The type of agility training seen in the video below is a good place to look at, in terms of developing the type of change of direction speed that is usable to sport.  Agility section starts at :45 seconds

An example of agility drills that are useful as part of a warmup, but don’t have much transfer in terms of the “meat and the potatoes” of the workout are the gimmicky cone and ladder drills you’ll commonly see.

Doing things like ladder, hoop, and cone drills look interesting, and often look like the athlete is moving very fast (and in many cases they are), but in reality, the athlete is not actually going anywhere, so there is a very limited transfer in this type of training.  See the video below for an example of an athlete who can move their feet very quickly in the speed ladder, but isn’t actually moving forward or laterally very fast.

There is a lot going on in this video, but not much that an athlete can actually take to the field with them

Regardless, some of these “gimmicky” drills can play a useful role in the warmup, as well as the development and maintenance of basic coordination, however, they are not going to build elite agility levels in athletes by themselves.

Once agility progresses to an advanced level of play, it is very important to utilize environmental and decision making cues into the scope of the agility training.  For further reading on this topic, I would highly recommend reading John Pryor’s take on the subject on HMMRmedia.

The bottom line is that specific movements with specific decision making are the most important recipes in the agility equation.  Leave all the gimmicky drills for the warmup.

even when doing sprint drills (limited vertical force requirement due to low speeds of movement), it is really critical that coaches and athletes don’t shy away from a hearty dose of regularly training fast. 

In a nutshell, to get fast, you must train fast.  No amount of lifting weights or plyometrics will completely fill the gap for this discrepancy, especially at higher levels of competition.  I’ve learned this the hard way.  If you aren’t sprinting in your training program, you are not reaching your full potential.

I can jump pretty high, but I can’t run correspondingly fast, why is this?

There are a lot of reasons why athletes might be able to jump high, but still be slow on the playing field or track.  There are several reasons that this phenomenon might happen:

  • An athlete does not run in a technically correct manner, and often times has been coached inappropriately at a young age
  • Athletes may be technically advanced in jumping skill, and not as much so in sprinting
  • An athlete spends a lot of time in the weightroom increasing relative strength, which improves double leg jumping, but doesn’t transfer as well to single leg sprinting
  • An athlete may really lack reflexive power, specifically the “stumble” and “inverse extension” reflexes
  • An athlete may have muscular leverages that are more suited for force and tendon stiffness (high pennation angles, short muscle bellies), vs. speed (low pennation angles, long muscle bellies)
  • An athlete may not have very long legs, specifically femurs, which dictate stride length, and are an important component of top end speed
  • An athlete may not have enough practice actually sprinting fast
  • An athlete may have a gait problem, or a muscle contractility issue relative to the muscles surrounding the pelvis, since contractility issues affect high velocity movements more so than slow velocity ones.

Each of these reasons may be different for each individual athlete.  It is this aspect of human physiology where having an experienced coach proves important.  If you are looking for some more directed coaching, check out our online training packages.

What are the best strength exercises to get faster?

There is no single strength exercise that is “guaranteed” to make you faster, but there are some helpful exercises that are effective to improve sprint and speed coordination, particularly in acceleration, and change of direction ability.

When it comes to higher speeds of movement, such as top-end speed, there is really nothing in the weightroom that has a dead-on transfer, and many lifts when performed in excess actually have a negative transfer to maximal velocity.

Some of the best strength movements for acceleration are things like front squats and pistol squats, Olympic lifts with a power or full catch, as well as a variety of deadlifts

To improve top-end speed, movements must emulate some portion of the coordination and reactivity present in top-end speed.  Single leg cleans and snatches may be useful, as well as various reactive and oscillating single leg and split movements.

There are also lifts that can carry “negative transfer” to top end speed, such as excessive use of deep powerlifting squats, which would explain why track coaches either perennially avoid excessive use of deep squatting, or taper off of full range movements in the competitive season.

Be on the lookout for our upcoming book “Speed Strength” for a thorough explanation of what Olympic, power and specific barbell lifts have to offer speed seeking athletes, and how to best implement this into one’s training.

Will doing sprint drills help me get faster?

Sprint drills are a perennial favorite activity of many coaches for the purpose of “building sprint technique”.  The problem is that because of the nature of sprint drills, and their horizontal velocity, there are only a few aspects of most traditional sprint drills, such as “A-skips” and “B-skips” that may actually transfer to full-speed sprinting.

Coaches like sprint drills because it slows down the sprint movement and makes it very easy to coach (such as head tall, knee-up, heel-up, toe-up, etc.).

Here is an example of a series of sprint drills that have contextual validity to portions of sprint gait, but they must be coached and cued accordingly to have any sort of transfer.

Sprint drills actually have their origin through necessity, from training in cold countries, such as Poland, where poor weather and a lack of nice indoor facilities led to the need for an alternative training method for actual sprinting.

The common sprint drills we see today were not necessarily in place as a method to build speed, but rather to build the muscles and strength that are used in full-sprinting in preparation to being able to open up and sprint later in the year.

When properly coached, sprint drills can teach a few useful properties of full-on running, particularly the application of vertical force and movement of the pelvis in the frontal plane. 

When it comes down to it, the best sprint drills are the ones that athletes can connect to their acceleration and sprinting in a meaningful way.  In many cases, this is not the typical A and B skips.

Is the speed ladder a good tool for building speed and agility?

As a primary method of building speed and agility, the answer is no.  The speed ladder is a closer skill to dancing then it is playing a sport.  It can, however, be a helpful warmup tool, as well as a fun method for teaching young athletes footwork and low-intensity plyometric activities.  A good coach may use the agility ladder to help build and maintain coordination and ankle stiffness at the tail end of a warmup, or as a “cooldown” at the end of a workout.  Coach Matt Gifford talks about this at length in the Just Fly Performance Podcast.

I like using agility ladders to make athletes do crawls over, putting their hands in each rung during lateral crawls, or crawls, combined with pushups.

I keep pulling my hamstring, how do I keep this from happening?

Hamstring pulls are one of the most nagging, and often recurring injuries in sport.  They are also debilitating, as athletes can have to take 1 to 8 weeks or more off as a result of a strain in this area.

In my experience, athletes tend to pull hamstrings due to a lack of strength and contractility in the glutes and psoas, combined with less then optimal running mechanics.  Poorly planned training programs have a big role as well, as I’ve worked with plenty of athletes who would recurrently pull hamstrings the day after a particular type of sprint workout.

Athletes who have poor ankle mobility can also be at risk, because when they are running fast, and are forced to make a quick turn (or they are running a curve in track), the posterior fascial chain is over-stretched, and the hamstring goes.

To this end, there are many remedies, but my main strategies for preventing this injury are:

  • Work with a knowledgeable coach to improve sprint technique and efficiency. Many hamstring issues come from improper sprint form.
  • Make regular use of eccentric hamstring training, such as Nordic hamstrings, as the hamstring is under the highest stress in the swing deceleration phase of gait.
  • Be careful of how you arrange your weekly training program (don’t sprint hard and in high volume two days in a row, be aware of working out with hypertonic hamstrings, and don’t just try to “stretch them away”)
  • Make sure that your glutes and psoas are firing well. To this end, I strongly recommend utilizing the “Be Activated” system by Douglas Heel, although there are a variety of other effective approaches to this issue.
  • Be sure you have adequate ankle mobility. This is another area where the “Be Activated” system shines, although there are a myriad of corrective exercises that can be helpful in this area.  Excessively tight ankles can cause strain on the posterior fascial trains, and cause excess force on the hamstring.
  • Work on optimizing sprint mechanics, and work on the ability to absorb the ground with stiffness, as to put the brunt of the forces in sprinting into the elastic tissues of the body. When athletes “over-muscle” sprinting, muscular injury is a sure result.
  • Be sure you have a good functioning of your bi-articular muscles surrounding the hip (hamstrings and rectus femoris), which is accomplished by mastering reflexive training methods.
  • Read up more on the topic in some of our roundtable articles on hamstring injury prevention.

How do I improve my acceleration?

To improve your acceleration, be sure to:

  • Practice accelerating often from a variety of starting positions
  • Either do short-distance sprints against competition, time the sprints, or both
  • Improve your strength to bodyweight ratio, particularly in strength exercises that require a good degree of dorsiflexion
  • Do high intensity plyometrics, such as depth jumps and standing multiple jumps
  • Play a sport, or sports, requiring short-burst acceleration
  • Have an awareness of some of the key coaching points in acceleration
  • Practice accelerating in lateral and backwards directions for well-roundedness

I keep getting dusted down the field or at the end of races. How do I improve my top speed?

To improve your top-end speed:

  • Practice top-end speed sprinting regularly, timed (preferably electronic timing, I like the Freelap system), and with video/coach feedback.
  • Practice top-end speed sprinting with competition regularly.
  • Perform sprinting over mini-hurdles, or “wickets”, spaced at an appropriate distance for your own ability level.
  • Do the “Be-activated” system prior to maximal velocity sprinting.
  • Do short contact plyometrics that put a premium on leg stiffness and vertical force production.
  • Be sure to properly train the crossed-extensor reflex in multiple aspects of the training regime
  • Utilize heavier weightlifting in very small volumes to improve the output of your nervous system, and potentiation that feeds into sprinting.

Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Strength

Should I lift weights to jump higher/run faster/etc?

Despite the fact that there are some athletes who can achieve unbelievable athletic feats with no weightlifting to their name, most athletes do benefit (some a lot) from the use of strength and barbell training.

The key is that this strength training is performed, leaning towards the “minimal effective dose” mentality, meaning that just because a little is good, a lot will not necessarily be great. 

Most athletes will do just fine strength training for 30-40 minutes, 2x a week, in addition to playing their sport.  Athletes who are lifting for an hour a day, four to five times a week are at a point where they are likely getting a poor “return on investment” for their time in the weightroom, unless their sport has a very high muscle mass requirement, such as American football, or the shot put.

For more information on the pro’s and con’s of strength and barbell training, check out our article “18 Pro’s and Con’s of Barbell Training”.

This article covers some of the positive, and negative aspects of barbell training as far as athletic performance is concerned.

My coach said that I need to squat twice my bodyweight, rock bottom, before I can really be a good athlete, or move on to advanced plyometrics. Is this true?

NoThis is one of the worst lies in sport performance, perpetuated by ignorant coaches and trainers who probably don’t have much experience training athletes for sports that are built on speed, such as track and field.

Believe it or not, there are negative effects of strength and barbell training for athletes seeking speed and power.  The strongest athletes in the weightroom are not the ones winning the 100m dash in track, or the Olympic high jump final (although sometimes this does occur).

The argument of “pound for pound”, the stronger athlete will win becomes foolish at a certain point, because the “strength” to win a sport competition is different than the strength to lift a barbell beyond a particular level.

It is important to understand that strength training, particularly heavy weightlifting, is first and foremost, a skill, and using one skill to improve another one can only lead an athlete to a particular level of performance.

Beyond the skill aspect of lifting, coaches should also look at the potentiation and hormonal/endocrine implications, which mean that the lifting modes and set/rep schemes should be modulated with these goals in mind for more advanced trainees.

1-rep max focused strength work can only take an athlete so far, at a particular point, the focal point of the strength work must become one of three factors:

  • Specific skill coordination aid
  • Potentiation
  • Endocrine response

The key is that strength training “standards” should be given relative to what an athlete’s genetic potential in a given lift is.  If an athlete’s high bar back squat potential is 700lbs at 220lbs bodyweight, then the time and effort that is required to get this squat to 750lbs is in all likelihood, not worth the effort it will take to get that squat max up 50lbs. 

If an athlete lifts weights, and finds that gains come easily, and they move up through the “squat to bodyweight” numbers without needing to spend too much time in the gym, or constantly be thinking about how to improve their lift, then it is really no problem that their squat numbers are going up, in fact, it is a good thing, until an athlete has to work so hard to hit a particular strength number that balance in the program becomes distorted.

What is better for athletes, squats or deadlifts?

The squat is a knee dominant lift, while the deadlift is more hip dominant.  Use them both to build athleticism.  Athletes also tend to move in a manner that reflects their dominant lift type, be it squatting or deadlifting.

  • Ask an athlete who is a great squatter to jump vertically, and they’ll tend to use a lot of knee bend.
  • Ask an athlete who is a better deadlifter to jump vertically, and they’ll likely bend much more at the hip, using the swing arm of their torso to build vertical speed.

If I had to give a general recipe regarding the two lifts, here are a few points I believe in.

  1. Be able to squat deep for good mobility and function, but you don’t have to necessarily squat heavy in this range
  2. Be able to deadlift with good posture and good speed and power for explosive posterior chain and phasic muscle development
  3. It can be a good idea to utilize heavier squats in partial ranges (but not to the point of ridiculousness) for boosting neural drive and potentiation

Finally, although a deadlift is not the same thing as a clean, legendary track and performance coach Boo Shexnayder has recommended that athletes should have a balance ratio of 1.5 to 1 in one’s deep back squat to one’s maximal clean.  This represents a good harmony of hip and knee extension power for the needs of most explosive, and particularly, reactive athletes.   We will talk more about this ratio in the next common question on Olympic lifting vs. Powerlifting.

What is better for athletes, Olympic lifting or Powerlifting?

If an athlete is in a situation where they have the time and energy to learn the Olympic lifts, then I would favor the ratio of Olympic lifting in the program to powerlifting efforts, but it depends on exactly which qualities you are looking for in your training.

Athletes who don’t have as much time or coaching presence in regards to learning the Olympic lifts can do just fine with a complimentary and athletic version of a traditional powerlifting program.

I generally recommend that athletes stick to “high-bar” barbell squats, in favor of powerlifting style “low-bar” squats, as a more erect torso during squats encourages the development of more relevant muscular patterns for the vast majority of athletes.

A good ratio of how strong an athlete should generally be, in terms of one lift in relation to another, is given by coach Boo Shexnayder, and lists as follows:

Bench Press, Clean, Deep Squat: 1 to 1 to 1.5.

So this means that an athlete who could bench press 225lbs, clean 225lbs, and deep squat 335 would be right at this recommended ratio for performance.

I found this to be quite true in my own training, as my sophomore year of college, I could clean 240, bench 235, but only deep squat 250-260lbs.  My junior year, my numbers were reading more like clean 225, bench 205, and deep squat 305.  Although I still wasn’t quite up to ratio, my performance in high jump and triple jump was exponentially better than the year before.

Bottom line, balance is more important than raw numbers in a single lift.

How often should I lift weights to become a better athlete?

This totally depends on your own physiology and biochemistry as an athlete, but generally speaking, if you are playing a sport, or doing an explosive speed and power training on a regular basis, two lower body lifting days, and two upper body lifting days a week is generally sufficient for optimal development.  These days can be separate, or you can do upper and lower body on the same day.  You don’t need to spend more than 30-40 minutes working each body part.

Three full-body lifting days each week is the most common prescription, and can also be effective, but athletes should avoid going hard each training day in this type of setup, as this level of volume is hard to balance with speed, power and elastic work, as well as recover from.  A common way to balance out this work is to have one squatting type day, one pulling type day with deadlifts, and a single leg based day.  Having three squatting days on top of speed and plyometric training can work, but one must “de-load” from this scheme often, typically every 3rd week.

Lifting above a moderate intensity, more often than this can start to dig into optimal development of speed-strength qualities, as well as interfere with the adaptation of the athlete in terms of their ability to express power and rate of force development.   Athletes who are sprinting hundreds or thousands of meters a week, and jumping hundreds of times don’t need to be in the weightroom for 4-5 hours on top of the existing speed and power efforts.

Athletes who are very dopamine dominant will do well with fewer strength sessions per week, but it is important that those training sessions are of a high intensity.  Athletes who are more dominant in those neurotransmitters responsible for brain speed and voltage (dopamine and acetylcholine), will want to avoid regularly performing intense sessions in the weightroom, as this will certainly interfere with their ability to both express power, and recover optimally when training outside of the weightroom.  These athletes who are often more “GABA” dominant, will do well with more weekly lifting sessions of a lower intensity level.

There are cases where splitting the lifting volume of a typical lower body day across two days, such as putting the “push” movements on Monday, and the “pull” movements on Tuesday, and then repeating this process later in the week, such as Thursday/Friday, or Thursday/Saturday, can be very effective as well.

I don’t encourage athletes to stay on the exact same template of lifting distribution for their training career, as alternations in volume can be an important factor in the continual progress of some, but not all, athletes, depending somewhat on their neurotransmitter type.  For more information on neurotransmitter type, check out our article “The Five Elements of Dunking”, (although this article is slightly outdated, and I would recommend it mostly just for general reference/ideas, more than looking too far into) or check out some of Charles Poliquin’s work referencing Eric Braverman.

How many sets and reps should I do?

Generally speaking, for complimenting speed and power on the field, the use of repetition ranges at 2-4 reps for Olympic lifts, 3-5 reps for squats, and 3-6 reps for upper body movements is typically a range where power can be expressed, and speed of the repetitions will not drop off much (unless you are programming a slow tempo into your movements intentionally).

For building muscle size, more continual stress on the muscle itself should be utilized, which means higher repetition ranges, and no resting at the easy point of movements.  Doing a set of 20 squats resting 5 seconds between every rep is a dramatically different training stimulus vs. doing that set of 20 as fast as you can with no rest between reps.  Doing a set of 20 squats resting and breathing at the top delivers a different training stimulus vs. doing a set of 20 squats with continual movement and no resting.

The total amount of repetitions in a given workout partially depends on the tempo that is prescribed, such as 3 seconds up, 3 seconds down.  Considering that you might be using an average rep speed, such as one second down, and one second up, average repetition totals for workouts would be as follows:

  • Power 10-20 total reps
  • Max Strength/Potentiation 6-10 total reps
  • Muscle Size, Fast-Twitch total 20-40 reps, high speed reps with constant bar movement. Set size 6-12 reps, or base on set time.
  • Muscle Size, Any Means/Slow Twitch 30-100 total reps, mixed speeds with constant bar movement. Set size 8-25+ reps, or base on set time.

The further I get into coaching athletes who are seeking speed and power, the more I realize that we often do too much in the weightroom.  I’ve had good success in the last several years by cutting the volume of squatting that my athletes do by 50% or more.  I have also found that many coaches are having success by only doing one set of squats when an athlete is in the weightroom, referred to as the “minimal effective dose”, and this one set method (the 1×20 method) is actually outperforming powerlifting based programs in terms of similar strength gains, but much increased vertical jump and speed markers

Are lighter or heavier weights better for building athletes?

The key is to not dwell on only one type of movement.  Generally speaking, utilizing both heavy and light weights is best practice.  Athletes should really be engaging all points on the speed-strength spectrum to ensure optimal development, although when in doubt, lifting for max strength and power, and leaving speed to actually sprinting and jumping is a fine strategy.

It is also important to know that using the “shotgun approach” which means the utilization of all types of training speeds, can give coaches clues as to how athletes will optimally respond to the training process.

Want to optimize your own training process?  Check out our custom online programming, and apply for Just Fly Sports online training today!

Is single joint lifting OK for athletes? I really love my arm curls.

Single joint lifting is fine when being used for general hormonal/endocrine effect, and is best done in the form of lifting circuits at low intensities.   Even with this being the case, I wouldn’t create circuits that are entirely derived by single joint work.

Single joint lifting can be quite effective for bringing up weak points for the sake of better lifting, but due to the concentric nature of the movement in single joint work, it doesn’t transfer as well, if not negatively, to athletic movement.   Bringing up one’s leg extension strength for the sake of improving one’s squat, will help one’s squat, but probably won’t help someone jump higher.  The same idea exists for things like bringing up one’s goodmorning to improve one’s deadlift.  The extra low back strength will provide an athlete the stability to pull an extra 20lbs off of the ground, but this strength is not as useful for the majority of athletic

Single joint work, such as arm curls, can prove useful in the realm of contact sports for the sake of “armor building” (a term popularized by strength legend, Dan John).  In some sports, a particular amount of muscle mass is important to give an athlete more momentum, and the ability to withstand collisions, as well as keep a ball from getting stripped out of one’s hands.  With this in mind, the case can certainly be made for things like single joint arm work in a collision sport like football or rugby.

Even outside of pure functional ability, coaches and athletes shouldn’t underestimate the power of the “eye test”, whereby an athlete with more muscular arms generally proves to gain intimidation and confidence points vs. another player who is skinnier and weaker looking.

In other sports with a strong upper body component, such as hitting in baseball, league home run kings have been quite fond of arm curls, so they certainly aren’t going to hold many athletes back in the way that some coaches seem to make it out that they will.

As long as done in balance, single joint work is just fine for most athletes, save those athletes who are prone to putting on too much muscle mass and becoming tight in a sport that requires strength to bodyweight above all else.

Finally, single joint work can reach a point where it is driving athletes into “extremity driven movement” patterns, where athletes will start to tense up their arms to initiate and power nearly every explosive movement they perform, which is a faulty pattern.

I’ve heard a lot about “Velocity Based Training”, is it something I should be doing?

Yes and no.  There are successful athletes who utilize it, and successful ones who don’t.  There are successful strength coaches who use it, and successful coaches who actually, purposefully avoid it.

For those who are unaware, velocity based training generally refers to the use of bar-speed monitoring devices to give an athlete a specific target and instant feedback on the amount of power they produced on any given lifting repetition.

There is an extended version of this, where velocity based barbell work is prescribed based on a percentage of the weight an athlete is lifting in a given session, mostly for the purpose of increasing one’s 1RM.  There are various lifting brackets for which various barbell velocities are assigned within this model.

I have personally used bar measuring units, and think that they are the most applicable for athletes who lack aggressiveness, as well as female athletes who may not have the aggressive attitude towards the weightroom as their male counterparts.  They also have application when a lift is close in biomechanical similarity to the positions and forces one will see in their sport movement.

A measurement unit for a barbell is not the only way to perform this type of training, as coaches have been utilizing timed reps for decades, such as an athlete’s ability to perform 5 back squats with a set load for time.

Seeing that athletes get plenty of “velocity based training” when they go out and play their sport, it places a little less importance on exactly how much specific bar speed based work is happening in the arena of the weightroom, but this also depends on a coaches use of the weightroom.

Perhaps the best way of looking at how and when to use this type of work is in the scope of neural transfer.  Lifts performed for coordinative transfer to sport, such as the Olympic lifts, specific single leg work, cocontraction training, or partial squats with light to moderate loads, may have good neural transfer to things like speed and vertical jumping when performed with a bar speed rating.  I have found good success in tagging these movements with the immediate feedback of a bar speed device.

Remember, putting a velocity rating on a barbell movement will intensify the neural demand of the exercise.

On the other hand, lifts that are being performed for general strength and endocrine fitness are best left to themselves, aside from timed reps in a higher rep lifting bracket.

There are times when athletes should just get in the rack and be a “meathead”, when the purpose of the lifting is done from an endocrine and tissue growth perspective, rather than neural.  Examples of this type of approach would be in things like traditional deep squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and related auxiliary movements.   There is little point in doing velocity based training on many traditional full range powerlifts, as there is a quick point of diminishing return on this type of training, as well as a subtle theft of adaptation reserve from more specific skill work in one’s sport.   Emphasizing barbell velocity here could be referred to as “majoring in the minors”. 

Remember the idea of the “minimal effective dose”, or the 1×20 method, where no bar speed is utilized.

Bottom line, there is a good time for the use of velocity based training, but there are also ways that coaches can create programs that don’t utilize it and get great results.

What about Chains, Bands and Accommodating Resistance?

The use of chains and bands is extremely common in both the world of powerlifting, as well as in the strength and conditioning community, from those coaches who have experience and influence from the world of powerlifting.

Chains, bands and accommodating resistance are a helpful way to improve the neural drive, specific to increasing the amount of weight an athlete can lift, but there are four strong drawbacks to this type of work in the weightroom as far as building athletic power is concerned:

  • Adding bands and chains automatically intensifies the workout, which may overload an athlete’s adaptation resources in the wrong direction, or lead to overtraining.
  • Bands and chains force an athlete to engage more muscles as they approach the more mechanically advantageous points in a lift, but this engagement pattern has almost nothing to do with what is seen in sport. It can also neurologically wire in the pattern of “slowing down” when one should be accelerating a barbell, even though the forces and bracing from the athlete are greater.  This is a situation where I do not believe that the neural intent of the lift has transfer to the same situation when an athlete is put in a ballistic model such as sprinting and jumping.
  • Often times, the band resistance is too heavy for athletes to be able to accelerate the bar in an athletic pattern. Lighter accommodating resistances are more applicable to actual athletic performance.
  • Accentuated lifts, such as banded squats and deadlifts, place a high load on the spine, which also can intensify the stress, as well as “implosion patterns” on an athlete.

My recommendation for the use of bands and chains is that they are fine, so long as the resistance level they provide doesn’t slow down the maximal speed of the bar more than 10-20%.  In this mode, they can be a nice coordinative boost for various lifts, as well as provide the ability to keep the weightroom fresh, when included for a few weeks at a time.

Long term, and using heavy accommodating resistances, will likely result in imploded athletic patterning, which will cause a maximal ballistic performance ceiling in many athletes, even though an athletes maximal weight they can push is increasing.  (This example also shows that strength and speed are both skills, and not always related).

Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Nutrition

Thanks to Kevin Kuhn of Classified Nutrition  for assisting with this portion of the Q&A

What are the best supplements for athletes training for speed and strength?

There are some great supplements out there to supplement a good diet for athletic performance.  That being said, they are called supplements for a reason.  What you eat, in terms of whole foods, are much more important than the supplements you are consuming.

Having a lousy diet, but adding in effective supplements, is like putting a nice roof on a house that is about to fall over.  It might look nice for a little while, but eventually, the house will fail.  You simply cannot out-train a bad diet!

Many athletes underestimate the importance of good nutrition, and its relation to their speed and power performance.

With that in mind, there are supplements that can help you in the areas of:

Energy and Metabolism (MCT oil, Exogenous Ketones, Carb-rich powders)

Stimulation and Mental Focus (Caffeine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Alpha-GPC)

Recovery and Growth (Whey protein, Essential Amino Acids, Creatine Monohydrate, Zinc, and Magnesium)

General Health and Well Being (Fiber and Vitamin D)

Stepping back and looking at this question from a “bigger picture” perspective, the best supplements for athletes are those that prepare the body for the intense stress and damage of training, deliver high-intensity fuel to maximize training, and deliver key nutrients that stimulate recovery and repair processes post-training.

To maximize an athletic adaptation, you need to maximize training volume.  Acute recovery is directly correlated to long-term athletic success, so focus on supplements that will improve your training performance as well as supplements that do the most to maximize your recovery.

What is the best diet for gaining muscle?

There is no specific diet that is absolutely going to work the best for everyone, but in general, a diet with muscle gain in mind should have:

  • 20-30% of calories from high quality protein, between .6-1 gram per pound of bodyweight. The highest quality proteins come from meat sources.  Get as much of this protein as you can from free-range organic meats (if your budget allows).
  • 25-35% of calories from high quality fats. The higher end of this fat range, or perhaps even above this range, would represent the needs of fat burning athletes who are in a state of ketosis.   Most athletes who engage in the eating practices of the “standard American diet” are probably not in a state of ketosis.
  • 55-60% of calories from carbohydrates, most of which come from complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs are OK if they are consumed directly before, during, or immediately following a workout, but should be avoided otherwise.   The high end of the carb range, 60% will only work well for “equatorial” type athletes, or those who have extremely high caloric needs due to extensive endurance based activity.

Some athletes do better with a higher percentage of carbohydrates, and some do better with a greater proportion of fats and proteins.

What is the best diet for losing fat?

Athletes (as are humans in general) are either “fat burners” or “sugar burners”.  Generally speaking, if you are a fat burner, chances are you are lean, and if you are a sugar burner, you should be attempting to become a fat burner.

Athletes who are fat burners are capable of utilizing a greater portion of fat reserves to power movement, which helps keep them leaner as well.

In order to become a fat burner, in general, low carbohydrate diets are a good way to go.   They are not evil like your old exercise physiology textbook, or the American Dietary Association, would have you believe.

Dietary research is clear that losing weight and fat can be done on any type of diet when calories are help at a specific threshold relative to your energy expenditure.  To maximize fat-loss and minimize lean tissue (specifically muscle tissue) loss while “dieting,” increasing protein (to achieve positive nitrogen balance as much as possible) and fat while reducing carbohydrates has been a tried and true way of maintaining athletic performance as much as possible while in a caloric deficit.

Is creatine good to take to jump higher and run faster?

Yes!  The performance enhancing effects of increasing phosphate molecules within working tissue, increasing cellular hydration, and increasing cellular pressure result in significant improvements in strength, power, speed, and total body hydration.

From a recovery and adaptive perspective, creatine has been shown to decrease markers of muscle damage while increasing the number of nuclei within muscle fibers through an increase in satellite cell activation and proliferation.  When it comes to any supplement, there are “responders” and “non-responders,” so keep that in mind.  Even if you do not “feel” the effects of creatine supplementation (like weight gain from intracellular water retention), that does not mean the supplement is not working or beneficial to you.

Are low-carb diets a good idea?

For many athletes, yes, however, those athletes seeking to put on muscle will typically need to utilize a higher amount of carbs in their diet.  Also, athletes who are sugar burners will absolutely need carbs to fuel their workouts and competitions, so only individuals who have a metabolism better adapted to fat burning can truly get away with a low-carb diet.

If you think about carbohydrates as high-intensity fuel, it is easier to determine if and when you need carbohydrates.

When should I take carbs in my workout?

Before, during, and immediately after high intensity workouts are the best times for simple carbohydrates.  Depending on the duration, volume, and overall intensity of training will determine if you need to supplement carbs at just one point relative to your training or at multiple points.  This also depends on the amount of time that between your training and your meals.

Is sugar really that bad?

It all depends on the context.  What is sugar?  Glucose and fructose are types of sugar, and I would not consider them inherently bad.  Things can get a little tricky when we apply morality to food.  When you think about carbohydrates, including sugar, as high-intensity fuel, it is easier to understand the issue around sugar.  Are you consistently participating in high-intensity training and competition?  If so, then carbohydrates will improve your performance.

When the body is in a state of “fight or flight”, such as a highly stimulated training or competitive state, then

If not, then ingesting high-intensity fuel for low-intensity daily activity can result in negative health markers and consequences.  Is sugar the best option for improving athletic performance?  My understanding of the research is that non-sugar simple carbohydrates are best for athletic performance.

So, yes, when sugar is consumed on a regular basis without the corresponding high-intensity training to maximize sugar’s benefits, it really sucks.  Check out the following sugar documentaries if you get a chance:

Sugar, the Bittery Truth

Sugar TED Talk

What about coffee, caffeine and pre-workouts? How much, when, and which types?

Caffeine is one of the most proven stimulants to increase performance, in both short power and endurance.  The biggest problem is when it is used to the point where the body builds a resistance to it, and athletes need to start using greater amounts to get the “boost” they are used to.

This is especially disadvantageous in competitive settings, when athletes use pre-workout stimulants daily, they will not get the boost in competition that they would if they were to save these types of stimulants only for competition, or perhaps the most important workout of the week.

The topic of “how much” is difficult to pin down because everyone has different levels of sensitivity to it.  Finding ways to make caffeine supplementation customizable for you can be difficult, though companies like Classified Nutrition are providing caffeine customizability to athletes.

In terms of pre-workout supplements, two that I recommend are caffeine and Alpha-GPC.

What types of foods should I avoid at all costs in my diet?

If you can at all help it, avoid the following:

  • Processed foods with more than 5 ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce
  • Processed foods with added sugar
  • Processed Sugar
  • Cereal with added sugar (see where I’m heading with this?)
  • Low quality meats
  • Table salt (make sure to get sea salt instead)
  • Foods made with enriched wheat flour
  • Foods made with high fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice
  • GATORADE (unless in the middle of intense exercise, but NOT as a casual drink, due to very high sugar content)
  • Vitamin Water (aka kool-aid in disguise)
  • Soda
  • Consuming too much dairy (don’t drink the gallon of milk/day to gain weight, please!)