3/28/10; Shuttle Runs & A Little Strength-Speed Work, and Periodization & the Competitive Athlete

Today we consider an interesting question from TTP reader, Vicki.  Vicki is a D1 collegiate womens hockey athlete, a rising senior who’s looking to better her game.

I’ve italicized Vicki’s questions/comments/concerns below.   

…My question is regarding periodized training for sports (I apologize, I know this is not in very close accordance to the primal lifestyle!).  I suppose I should first give you some quick background information on myself. I am a female NCAA D1 college hockey player, going into my senior year. I have been training for hockey for many years, since before I was a teenager...

This is something all competitive athletes must grapple with; check that — something that all contemplative, competitive athletes must grapple with.  Kudos to you for realizing that periodization is not necessarily a “paleo thing”.  It’s true that the more one specializes in physical endeavors, the more one diverges from optimum overall health (and evolutionary fitness).  I think, though, that the effects of this are compounded both by intensity and by years; in other words, short periods of specificity will only affect an acute blip in the overall health continuum.  You’re young, and the overall health impact of specialization is negligible.  Give it hell while you have the opportunity; you’ve got the rest of your life to generalize.  For you now, though, periodization is an essential “evil”.  You only have some much time,and so much energy — you’ve got to direct both of those toward escalating the physical attributes that will help you excel at your sport.  Unfortunately, that will come at the cost of degrading some other aspect of overall fitness; it’s simply the Yin-Yang, way of the world.  Just keep this in mind when your competitive life comes to an end, and a new chapter begins.  See to it then that the “new chapter” incorporates more of a wholistic health and fitness approach.

…I have had decent results the last few offseasons in implementing a mixture of powerlifting, weights, speed, agility, and quickness training. However, after following your blog for some time I believe I may be able to achieve even better results by using some of your methodology.  I have always been decently strong for my size. I am 5’1″, about 115lbs. I can bench press my weight about 5 times (I only know this because it is a part of our fitness testing), front squat 145×6, and hang clean 115X4. My weaknesses come with the modalities for jumping and sprinting. My vertical jump is quite weak. We actually test it 3 different ways. First you begin in the squat position and explode up. Second is a typical squat jump with the counter movement. And the third is the drop off jump. Hockey players typically see their numbers increase with each jump but my numbers are actually the opposite, with the static start being my best. I should also mention that putting on some muscle is important to me as well, but I’m aware that especially given my size it may compromise my speed…

What I see here are indications of a strength-skewed athlete, probably the result of a genetic leaning that was compounded by a history of exercise choices that leaned heavily toward the strength modalities.  In a broad/general sense, you’re the antithesis of an Allyson Felix-type athlete; overly strong relative to your RFD and elastic ability.

The vertical jump continuum you present here is telling.  Let’s quickly look at the components of a vert — strength, power (neurological efficiency, i.e. how efficiently that strength expressed per unit of time), and elasticity (the ability to store and release energy).  The jump from a full squat somewhat negates the neurological efficiency component and strongly dampens the elasticity component.  You’re forced to rely more so on raw strength as a motive force.

Aside: I’m speaking in shades, here — leanings, skews — very little in physiology, or in life for that matter, is black and white, all or nothing.

A counter movement allows for the introduction of neurological efficiency and a slight increase in the elastic component.  A rebound (drop-off) jump maximizes (for this modality) the elastic contribution, and therefore can be used to determine whether an athlete leans toward being explosive or elastic.

Your observations on the athletes’ jumps are correct — most athletes (outside the realm of powerlifting and/or strongman) perform better in the counter and rebound jumps as compared to the “static” jump.   This is to be expected, as most athletic endeavors are mostly explosive/elastic in nature; the participants engaged at your level of competition have already been somewhat vetted for a bias toward explosiveness and elasticity.

I’ve never seen you sprint, but I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount that you’re a “push” runner, relying on quadricep and calf strength over and above your (if I had to guess) weaker (and neurologically more inefficient) posterior chain.  Now, I’d imagine that the sprint-skate motion is a little more quad-centric than a dry-land, running sprint; bio-mechanic specifics aside, though, your jump relatives still indicate a “muscling through” on your movements.  That said, I’d be willing to bet that you’re “muscling-up” your power cleans as well.  Consider your power clean movement relative to one of your more explosive team mates (who has the best counter movement vert on your team?) — I’d imagine there’s a substantial difference between the speed of your power clean to that of the more explosive athlete’s clean.  Raw strength will only carry you so far.  Right now (again, this is without seeing you perform), I’d bet that your superior game skills are compensating for your natural (and trained for) athletic ability.  What to do now?  No problem — train for power, while maintaining your sport-specific skills.

Check this post out, if you haven’t already.

…So my question to you is how I could best periodize my off season training? The last few summers I have followed typical protocol where April-May is high reps and lower weight (i.e. 12-15×2) 2-3 times a week with 2 agility sessions per week plus conditioning. June-July is 8×3-4 with implementing some hang cleans and push press. Finally August is 4-6×4 with similar exercises. Maintained throughout are 2 speed, agility, quickness sessions per week. For the first month or so would lifting with a strengh-endurance or strength-strength emphasis be best to help with hypertrophy? 25 for a bigger engine? Rest pause? I have been paralyzed by over-analysis!

First off let me say that what I say here must be considered in light of what your S&C coach has mapped-out for you; there may be specific reasons why he (or she — times are changing — for the better!) has you on this particular routine.  That said, though, what you don’t need at this point is more strength, nor is additional hypertrophy going to be of any benefit.  S&C coaches will (correctly) skew toward these modalities in the early off-season — more “bang for the buck”, as (1) most explosive/elastic athletes can benefit from such a periodization block, and (2) collegiate S&C coaches are crushed by the sheer number of athletes they have to administer to and, therefore, just don’t have the time to personalize an individual’s off-season program.

You, however, are an outlier who would be better off focusing their off-seasons on becoming more explosive.  This is where “train what you suck at” comes into play.  Broadly speaking, what you want to do is direct your focus to speed-strength and strength-speed modalities — essentially, you want to train so as to affect an increase in your instantaneous power production; increase your power-to-bodyweight ratio.  Explosive movements, done in singles, doubles and triples.  No prolonged, “grinding” reps — keep every rep of every chosen exercise “snappy” as possible.  Find that sweet spot between load and rep speed so as to produce maximal power in each movement.  And direct your focus, first and foremost, toward posterior-chain movements — all manner and variation of pulling motions, i.e, cleans, snatches, creds and the like.  But remember, the actual exercise chosen is of lesser importance than the manner of execution — give your body, at every opportunity, an explosive stimulus.

And this weight room work can be nicely feathered into (and will act in synergy with) your ongoing sprint and agility efforts, which are highly, highly important for you now.  Don’t shortchange these sessions.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t push the Paleo diet on you.  As much as you can, lean towards a more paleo-like way of eating.  At the very least, remove the extraneous sugar and refined carbs from your diet.

Today’s workout
If you’re wondering where all this back-to-back work is coming from, I’m purposely front-loading a lot of workouts this week, as the Easter weekend will find me in the midst of a much-deserved mini-vaca to the Houston area.  Yeah for intermittent R & R!

The windy-as-all-hell conditions today make the two-mile fixie-jaunt to the gym seem like twenty.  And, of course, we all know that from the biker/runner’s prospective, it’s always a head-wind!

Began on the field with 20 yard shuttle runs (think old school “horses” or “suicides”), 30 seconds worth, each of 5 rounds.  I was able to just eek-out 7 trips each round.  Approximately 2 minutes rest between runs.  Same idea as yesterday, more change of direction work.

Then it was into the gym for the following superset:

cred (i.e., single-arm db) high-pulls, each arm: 100 x 3; 110 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

weighted dips: 45 x 7; 80 x 5; 90 x 4; 110 x 3; 115 x 3; 120 x 2

The cred-high pull is a unique exercise, and a personal favorite (as is the full-on cred).  I like the off-balance loading here, and I love the overloaded, between the knees, “catch” phase.  In a barbell high pull, the catch is effected by the hips “breaking” the bar.  Not so in the cred high-pull catch, where the weight is caught low, and the breaking force is supplied (if done properly) by the posterior chain — which then must immediately redirect to provide motive force to hoist the weight up once more.  Just don’t get crazy with the catch — this puts a hell of a force (and uneven at that) on the posterior chain.

Worked-out at 17-hours fasted, if you’re keeping track.  Re-feed 2-hours post workout (approximately 20 hours total fasted).  And DA-Yam! it was a good ribeye  🙂

Uneven Ground, and More on Explosiveness and Elasticity

First off, let me bore you with today’s workout.  Again, we here in eastern NC were blessed with a beautiful spring day, and again I took advantage of it with a good bit of fixie huckin’ about town, and the following workout.  Come Monday, I’ll be back to being sequestered within my sunless, work-a-day “cave”.  Ugh…anyway, here we go:

7-second sprints for distance. Hit my predetermined drop-off (2 misses) on the 14th sprint (i.e., the 13th and 14th sprints were near-misses).  A little bit on drop-offs here.
Followed that up with some slosh tube lunges. About 30 total reps each leg, broken-up in sets of 6 or so.  Kinda hard to quantify these in a “sets” and “reps” way; I did 6 or so, short break, another 6, break, etc.  Kept the pauses to a minimum — just long enough to recoup to the point at which I thought I could get the next 6.  Remember, primal doesn’t ascribe to a fixed sets and reps schemes — be creative!

The field I’m sprinting on now is rather uneven — plenty of rises, falls and divots — and this adds a whole other element to the barefooted sprint; a whole other level of required proprioception.

Then, I went inside for some Creds and straight bar muscle-ups.  More muscle-ups?  Sure, exercise such as this (explosive, limited time-under-tension, low volume) can be done at a much greater frequency without fear over overtraing — either in that particular movement, or in a holistic sense.

3 Creds + 2 single-arm push-presses + 1 single-arm jerk (each arm): 70, 80, 85, 85, 85
straight bar muscle-ups: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

Performed this workout at 15-hours fasted.  Post workout meal (about 2 hours later, i.e., 17-hours+ fasted) was a grilled rib-eye and some boiled, organic beets.  Poured some Tropical Traditions coconut vinegar over the beets after chilling them.  Fabulous!

More on Explosiveness and Elasticity
A quick dissection of Usain Bolt’s 100 meter gold medal performance reveals some interesting facts vis-a-vis explosiveness and elasticity.

First up, young Mr. Bolt was second to last out of the blocks.  Now this probably has some to do with the fact that he was (at that time) relatively inexperienced at the 100 meter (and shorter distance) start; longer distance starts being more forgiving — but, too, I think this is telling of just how much more explosive his competitors were.  Of course, we’re dealing with relatives here — a comparison of freaks to freaks — and I’m using this solely as a dramatic example, and am in no way implying that Bolt is not an explosive athlete as well.  He’s just not as explosive as those other 10 freaks-of-nature he’s running against.   It is interesting to note here that the first two sprinters out of the blocks — Richard Thomson (Trinidad and Tobago) and Walter Dix (USA) — came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in this race.   Also of note here is that on top of a “slow” burst from the blocks, Bolt also drags his trail-leg foot over the track in his initial stride recovery, and it so happens that that shoe is untied.  Could Bolt have done anything more wrong at the start of this race?  Probably not — but hell, it just didn’t matter in the end.

Now, at 2.4 seconds into the race — deep into the “drive” phase — Bolt is in 4th place.  At 4 seconds into the race — now into the “acceleration” phase — Bolt’s superior elasticity (and, to be sure, stride length) begins to showcase.  At 50 meters he has caught up with Thomson; at sixty meters he has clearly pulled away, and beyond that we enter the the realm of super-human.

I’m throwing out rough numbers here, but somewhere close to the 60 meter mark, most elite athletes have reached their full acceleration and top-end speed — the name of the game from here on out is who can decelerate the least.  I believe, though, that Bolt was still accelerating at this point and, having realized that he wasn’t going to be challenged by lane 7’s Asafa Powell (he’d tapped Powell earlier as his only true competition), never reached his full accelerative potential.  Scary.   This coupling of stride length with superior elasticity it truly an amazing thing to behold.

It is commonly known that Olympic-level Oly lifters are as explosive out of the blocks (if not more so) — and, in some cases, exhibit better vertical jumps — than elite sprinters.  What the Oly lifters lack, though, is the elasticity — the ability to absorb, store, and subsequently release energy.  Some discussion on that, here.

We know that explosiveness (instantaneous power production) is a highly neurological dependent function, having little to do with muscle mass.  This is why enlightened athletes don’t train like bodybuilders, but rather, train explosive attributes (speed-strength and strength-speed).

But what is elasticity, exactly?  Essentially (and in the context of sprinting), it’s the ability of the Achilles tendon complex to absorb, store and release energy.  No small thing, either, since any energy lost must be manufactured by the supporting musculature.  Not only that, but the elastic release of energy occurs much more quickly than the same amount of energy that must be produced, and then released. Check out this graphic representation of elasticity from Wired magazine.

Points to ponder: notice how elastic types posses higher/smaller calves (and, therefore, a longer Achilles tendon) than their more explosive, thick-calved brethren?  More later.

Fresh from the “what a friggin’ great idea” file — TTP reader Beck Anstee has started a Chicago-land sprinter’s meet-up group.  Sprinting is the most primal of fitness activities, and Beck has put social media to work in a way that will enable all you Chicago-land primals out there to get your “sprint on” in the company of like-minded paleo peeps.  Dang, makes me want to transfer to Chicago.  Is it really true that Chicago only has two seasons — winter, and 4th of July?  Hmmm, if only it were a bit warmer….  🙂

You’ll notice that I’ve added Diana Hsieh  Modern Paleo blog to the TTP blogroll.  Objectivist-leaning, Paleo lifestyle — Ayn Rand meets the hunter-gatherer.  Bring your A-intellect to this one, folks — Objectivists don’t suffer fools easily; I for one can appreciate that sentiment.  I’ll be spending quite a bit of time here, to be sure.

In health,

2/26/10, An Explosive AM Workout — Creds, Jerks and Muscle-Ups

No better way to kick-off a Friday, and what looks to be (fingers crossed!) a work-free weekend, than with some high-voltage, explosive movements, first thing in the morning.

As a bridge between my dynamic stretching/Oly-like warm-up and the meat of the workout, I did a 200 yard farmer’s “sprint” (ok, it was a fast-as-possible walk) with a pair of 120 lb DBs.  Try these as warm-up finisher sometime, and see if you’re not better primed for the main-attraction portion of your workout.

A quick aside: I stumbled upon what has now become my favorite, at-home coffee — Trader Joe’s Bay Blend. It’s absolutely fabulous.  Now I haven’t yet had a bad (or even lackluster) variety of Trader Joe’s coffee, but this is, in my opinion – and I do consider myself somewhat of a coffee snob/connoisseur – the best “affordable” coffee beans that I’ve come across.  Sure Jamaiccan Blue Mountain is to die for, but who can afford to drink that on a daily basis?  And if you can afford a Blue Mountain habit, hey call me up! – let’s work out a training deal!

Back to the workout: so after the 200 yard farmer’s walk, it was on to the Cred + single-arm jerk/straight bar muscle-up superset.  Just lettin’ ‘er rip this morning, in a semi-unilateral way.

The Cred + Jerk (each arm): 70 x 3; 80 x 3; 90 x 2; 100 x 1, 1, 1, 1, 1

Straight bar Muscle-Up: 2s across the board

I started and finished the 9 rounds with muscle-ups, so actually that worked-out to 10 rounds of M/Us and 9 rounds of Creds/jerks.  Felt jacked and kept the wonderful CNS “buzz” for many hours following.  What more can you ask for from a simple-in-design, early morning workout?

11/10/09 Birthday Bash

I can’t think of a better way to kick-off my 45th year than a fast and furious romp with brother iron.  Age is a societal tag that means nothing to me.

Sleep: 6 hours, like a rock.  Rise-and-shine 4:30AM, Gym 6:30 – 7:15.  Fasted + coffee.  Steak salad for last night’s dinner, 7:30 PM.

Warm up: bounds and 50 meter sprints, push-ups and pull-ups to break sweat.  Ballistic stretching.

Strength-speed emphasis on all:

RDLs: worked up to 3 sets of 3 @275 (explosive out of the hole, 5-count eccentric).

Weighted Dips: 70lbs (3 mini-sets rest-pause x 2 reps ea. mini set, i.e., 6 total reps per set) x 5 total “sets”.  2 reps, pause; 2 reps, pause…

RDL + Snatch grip high pulls: 175 x 5 reps x 3 sets.  Explosive RDL to high hang, pause, snatch grip high pull out of RDL foot base.

RDLs super-setted w/ dips, then RDL + high pulls supper setted with dips.  B/T set cns prime: drop squat + reflex vert x 3, ballistic dips x 3.