Plyometrics and Performance

“…But there is no certain way that exists permanently.  There is no way for us.  Moment after moment, we have to find our own way.  Some idea of perfection, or some perfect way which is set up by someone else, is not the true way for us…”

The above is from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, and more succinctly sums-up the Paleo/Primal, n=1 experience than any other thought that I’ve as yet come across.  Whether it’s the personalized protein/fat/carbohydrate ratio that has one looking, feeling and performing at optimal levels, to the intricacies within each and every individual’s goal-driven training philosophy, we all, essentially, have to find our own, unique way.  Information from others can serve as a good compass, however the hard work of boots-on-the-ground navigation – the actual map interpretation and dead reckoning — comes down to us, the individual.  If we’re lucky, somewhere along the way we’ll have knowledgeable hands-on instruction; some of us, though, will have to tease out the bits, pieces and hints that the universe physical culture sees fit to avail to us.  This is the tough road, the school of hard knocks.   I’ve had a little of the former, but a whole lot, though, of the latter – and I’ve got the battle scars and bruises to prove it.

As a correlate to the above, let’s, for a moment, consider the following sports physiology-related study (Effect of Plyometric vs. Dynamic Weight Training on the Energy Cost of Running), and that study’s application to the real world; a little Theory to Practice, if you will.   Now, my friends over at SpeedEndurance.com posted a nice summation of this particular study recently; however, I’d like to consider the findings through a slightly different prism – that of your “Average Joe” trainee.

Now, as studies go, this is a fine and rather interesting piece of work, with the lone drawback being (as was pointed out by Jimson, of SpeedEndurance), the lack of a weight trained + plyo trained group.  Why this group was not included, I have no idea – it would seem a logical progression.  At any rate, to the Average Joe, this study would seem to indicate that one could forgo basic strength training (or at least “dynamic” weight training) and jump (pardon the pun) directly into a plyometrics-based scheme; at the very least, this study might be cause, in some, of a good deal of “paralysis by analysis”.   Empirical experience, a smattering of book knowledge and a good dose of common sense, though, will help us convert this study into useful, real-world training applications.

Now, to be sure, there are plenty on unknowns surrounding the performance of this study, and it may be these “unknowns” are fleshed-out in the full paper (anyone have access to this?).  For example, a precise accounting of the exercise protocols (sets, reps, rest, exercise selection, etc.), diet, other stressors would be great to know, because, as Rummy so eloquently put it:

All that aside, though, what we’re actually seeing here in this study is the development of two different aspects of strength.  The truth of the matter is though, that it’s not a question of “one aspect of strength being better than the other”, but a question of synergy.   It’s not that the Average Joe – or even the highly trained athlete – should concentrate on one aspect of strength at the expense of another, but that no aspect of strength should be left untrained.  And there is a proper time and place for the training of each strength aspect.  The biggest mistake I see, though (and I see it being made continually), is an over-eagerness in trainees to “graduate away” from the building of a solid strength base into the more esoteric aspects of strength training – for example, plyometrics – well before they are ready.

And it’s not so much an injury issue that concerns me – hell kids perform plyometrics every day (or they used to, that is — back in the day when they were allowed unguarded access to a decent playground) without the benefit of a trained sold base of strength or and S&C coach hovering about.  No, this is simply a question of bang-for-the-training-buck.  Knowing to what extent each modality of strength plays in your defined goals –along with when and to what extent to attack those modalities – are the keys to actually reaching your goals.  First and foremost, though, let’s build a super strength base from which to launch into these other strength aspects.  You’ll acquire much more in the way of “look, feel and perform” results by going about things in this, the proper manner.  Patience, grasshopper; one solid step at a time.

Training?  Playing? Hell, I don’t know, the lines have been rather blurred the last few days.  Sunday (the 4th), I spent the day huckin’ it about all over Ocracoke island on the ol’ fixie.  Lots and lots of time in the saddle, a myriad of intensities durations, etc, and a long IF.  By the time I boarded the ferry for the 2-and-a-half hour ride back to the mainland, I was zorched.  Came home to find out that one of my neighbors tried to burn the damn place down with a BBQ gone astray.

Rut-ro!

Remember kids, alcohol should be consumed in inverse proportion to the fat content of the meat one intends on grilling  🙂  Planning on ribs and chicken thighs?  Best lay off the hard stuff, my friend.

Monday, I put in a little more saddle time (mostly to loosen a pair of tight legs), then hit some Vibram-shod, running sprints – and, yes – some plyometrics.  I didn’t track any numbers, times, distances, or what have you.  I’d estimate each sprint (of about 10 total) was approximately 150 yards or so, and there was a definite grade to the field so that I ran, alternately, uphill and downhill.  Also, the field was undulating as all hell, and this added an entirely different proprioception aspect to the endeavor.   In between each pair of sprints I did some “box jumps” up on, and down from, a waist-high table.  I also played around with some various forms of push-ups and pull-ups.  Just out enjoying another day in the sun, with no real rhyme or reason to my activities.

Tuesday evening saw more saddle time, and a pitstop by the gym for this:

single-leg, straight leg deadlift (barbell): 115 x 6, 6, 6, 6 (each leg)

then a superset of the following –

kneeling DB clean and press: 50 x 7; 60 x 6, 6, 6, 6

weighted, regular-grip pull-ups: 45 x 6, 55 x 5, 5, 5, 5

I went into the gym this evening with an open mind, and with no preconceived ideas of what to do, just falling into whatever “felt right”.  A few days of this every now and again always serves as a nice break, both mentally and physically.  Working out doesn’t always have to be “directed”.  Of course, it goes without saying not to dive willy-nilly into things you’re not physically prepared to handle.  Have fun, spread your wings, play – but be smart about it.

The Value of Machines — a Pre-Exhaust Example, and a Couple of Days of Training

Dave Durrell, of High Intensity Nation, recently posted on a very effective, isolation + compound movement shoulder training technique, utilizing a good ol’ weightlifting standby — the pre-exhaust method.  This is a fine example, in my opinion, of employing the right tool for the job.

Let’s take a step back and consider the various ways in which a body can be “strong”.  On its face, this seems an odd notion – you’re either strong or you’re not, right?  Well, not exactly.  We’ve all seen examples of someone who’s quick as a cat – super explosive, say — yet who’s lacking in absolute strength (the classic Allyson Felix scenario).  Conversely, there’s the super-strong powerlifter for whom you’ll have to break out a sundial to clock their 40 time.  Power, then (what we’re really ultimately looking at) is a combination of different finely trained strength attributes appropriated and expressed over a given duration; the fine-tuned execution of which is a type of kinesthetic “genius” in its own right.  Of course, the predominant strength attributes required of a 2 second duration snatch are undoubtedly different than those required of a 3-and-a-half second deadlift, a 100 meter sprint, a wrestling match, or the full duration of a football game.  The best athletes in each of these endeavors, though, will undoubtedly excel at not only the predominant required strength capability, but in all strength capabilities.  This is what Louie Simmons is getting at when he trains his athletes to be proficient in all “strengths” (I wrote a little about this most recently, here).  A proficiency in all strength attributes is, in fact, what separates the “contenders” from the mere “competitors”.

But back to Dave’s post.  It’s been fashionable within the free-weight community these days – hell, actually ever since the emergence of Arthur Jones, and advent of Nautilus equipment upon the physical culture scene – to bash machine-based work.  The thing is, though, machines are just another tool.  And for pre-exhaust work, isolation purposes, repeated-effort method work and the like, they’re a damn good choice.  Again, it’s all a matter of determining what your immediate training needs are, and choosing the right tool from among your available options to satisfy your needs.  Whenever I’m asked the old “machines or free weights” question, my answer is always “yes”…and bodyweight exercises, and sprinting, and climbing, and gymnastics… Why would anyone choose to voluntarily limit their available options?

Late revision (6/25/10) – I just ran across this, via Seth Godin’s fine blog (hat tip to Mike Robertson).  In my mind,  Ism Schism pretty much sums-ups the whole machine/free weight debate.

Tuesday’s Training –

front squat: 135 x 3; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 215 x 7 rest-pause singles

then,

hang cleans (light; workin’ the groove again): 135 x 5; 155 x 5; 165 x 6 – very fast, perfectly executed reps.  Fat bar.

then,

Jump squat + BTN jerk: 135 x 3; 155 x 3; 175 x 3, 3, 3

then a superset of-

db tricept extensions (lying flat): 45 x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 5 reps of last set)

EZ bar bicep curl: bar +70 lbs x 12, 12, 12 (rest-pause last 3 reps of last set)

Wednesday’s Training –

clean grip pull jumps: 135 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 3; 225 x 3; 245 x 3, 3, 3

then, a superset of –

kneeling db clean and press: 40 x 15, 15, 15

ghr: bodyweight x 15, 15, 15

then,

Nautilus 4-way neck: 50 lbs front, side, side; 60 lbs to the rear

Took Thursday completely off – no lifting, riding or anything.  Felt kinda strange.

The Sport-Specific Phenotypical Expression…

…or, the Advantageous Coupling of Select Epigenetics with a Favorable Genetic Predisposition

What happens when a kid of obvious genetic predisposition is placed in an environment richly advantageous to the expression of that genetic potential?  The right coaches, the right atmosphere, the right competitive environment — the perfect nurturing cradle just waiting for the arrival of that “perfect” genetic hand.

This is the perfect storm that leads to the creation of sporting legend.  The right kid finds his way into the right gym and falls under the tutelage of the right coach.  A young Lance Armstrong becomes enamored with the then budding sport of triathlon, is noticed by the right people, encouraged and sponsored at an early age; a young, gangly, athletic kid becomes a “work in progress” for storied Jamaican sprints coach Glen Mills — in each instance we know, of course, the rest of the story.

Genetics.  Epigenetics.  The hand you’re dealt, and how that hand plays out vis-a-vis the balance of the cards in the shoe, the strategy of the other players, the manipulations of the dealer.  The perfect hand at the right game doesn’t guarantee a win any more than does a gimp hand at the wrong game necessarily necessitate a fold, though, as such hard-to-pin things as will, desire and drive (which we now know are largely influenced by one’s genetics!) play such a substantial part in the final outcome.  When everything does come together “right”, though, the result is a beautiful thing to behold.

Now I’m not an endurance athlete myself — Hell, I consider 200 meters an endurance event — but I do appreciate the athleticism and training dedication required of these types of events.  I also appreciate the poetic synergy of obvious genetic predisposition within an advantageous epigenetic environment.  That said,  consider this kid, Lukas Verzbicas, as a perfect example of that synergy.  And check out an example of one of Lukas’ workouts.  A far cry and away from one of my own track sessions  🙂  And yet…

…and yet, what Lucas and I do have in common is the need for a base level of strength.  A differing base level of strength, to be sure, but even endurance athletes — if they wish to maximize their sporting potential — require a certain base level of strength.  Or, as it has been said, “…level of strength with which to endure”, a quote (or something similar) that I believe can be attributed to Charles Staley.

How would I suggest Lukas — or any endurance-leaning athlete, for that matter — obtain and maintain that required level of strength?  HIT/SS training is, in my estimation, the perfect fit.  In as little as an hour per week, the endurance athlete could build an impressive, and performance-enhancing level of strength.  A pretty damn good time investment-to-performance enhancement ratio — with the double pay-off being the enhanced metabolic conditioning that this manner of training provides; like an intense, off-the-track interval session.  I’m not sure what types of facilities Lukas has at his disposal in Orland Park, but if he were based in Austin, I’d suggest he slide by one of Efficient Exercise’s four locations and get hooked-up with the good folks there.  If you are an endurance athlete who happens to be lucky enough to live  in Austin, and you aim to boost your performance, by all means take advantage of the fact that the EE studios are available and convenient , and get on by.  Remember, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete will prevail.  It’s a maxim that’s just as true for power-burst endeavors as it is in endurance sports.

Yesterday’s (6/8/10) Workout –

Some dynamic and repetition method iron work at the gym yesterday.

feet-elevated push-ups: 40 lb vest x 12, 12, 12, 12 (1/0/x/2 tempo)
reverse-grip pull-ups: 40 lb vest x 6, 6, 6, 6 (rest-pause each rep within each set)
kneeling jump squat: 40 lb vest x 5, 5, 5, 5

4 rounds of that, then a superset of:

Pec deck: 195 x 10, 10, 9
Kneeling DB clean & press: 40 x 12, 12, 10

There are many, many permutations of the kneeling (or seated) DB clean & press.  In some, the motion is akin to what I would call more of a DB muscle-up than a “clean & press”.  In my version, the movement is initiated by hammer curling the DBs to shoulder height, then immediately transferring into a DB shoulder press, with the two distinct motions flowing as seamlessly together as possible, i.e., with as little pause at the transfer as possible.  Working the repetition method with this superset.  Every method that contributes to the goal has a part to play, some more so, some less; the trick is to continually assess one’s faults, then apply the correct tool and protocol to each perceived weakness.

In the push-ups, my feet were elevated such that I’m at an approximate 45-degree angle at the bottom-out position.  I push off of two platforms, such that my head and chest are allowed to sink below my hands without auguring into the mat.  Each rep was completed as explosively as possible, with just the slightest of a pause at the top between each rep.  No grind reps, each was quick and crisp.  Same with the pull-ups, which were performed on one set of gymnastics uneven bars.  These bars give quite a bit, and therefore absorb a good bit of power; I was surprised at just how tough 6 explosive rest-pause reps can be on these things — it’s akin to sprinting in sand.  Kneeling jump squats: I added an additional jump to the end of these, so that the final combination turned into a kneeling jump squat into a depth drop vertical jump.  How’s that for a mouthful?  It doesn’t roll real easy off the tongue, but it’s a helluva great explosive jump combo.

What You Don’t Know About the Pushup, by Zach Dechant, assistant strength and conditioning coach at TCU (and whose excellent blog can be found here), is a fantastic article, and explains much of why, for horizontal pressing movements, I much prefer the push-up to any back-down, barbell or dumbbell pressing motion.  Every now and again (on max effort/strength days), I will utilize a barbell or DB press from the floor — but that’s more so because I don’t have access to the proper toys (chains, proper bands, etc) and knowledgeable spotters that would enable me to do heavy work in a push-up movement.   I’m a huge believer in the “free scapula” notion that Zack speaks of in his article.  Plus, the push-up just feels like a more athletic (natural?) movement to me, better suiting my ultimate goals.  Just as I appreciate the dedication required of an endurance athlete, though, I appreciate what it takes to hoist an especially big bench — it’s just not my game, nor my personal aim.