3/10/10; Barefooted Sprints, and Strength-Speed Endurance Iron Work

After an extended warm-up this morning, I performed a round of 8 x 70 yard sprints at approximately 90% effort, approximately 1 minute rest between sprints.  It’s been a couple of months since I’ve done any significant sprinting, and that, coupled with the fact that I’ve been hitting the single-leg work pretty hard, prompted my taking the rather cautious “re-introduction” route today.  Also, I’ve been hitting fixie sprints pretty hard lately without mixing in much in the way of running/sprinting.  I know from past experience that biking and running/sprinting aren’t exactly synergistic endeavors — emphasis on one naturally degrades performance in the other, with biking being a quad-dominant affair, versus sprinting’s required PC-dominance.  We’ve also got a completely different set of neurological firing patterns to contend with in each of the two endeavors.  Now, since I’m not competing in either, this is no big deal; actually, I rather prefer being multi-dimensional at this point in my life vs being a “specific-endeavor” athlete.  If I were competing in one of these disciplines, though, I’d have to let the other discipline go (at least during the competitive season/phase).  This is the eternal juggle of, and between, overall health, functional physical ability (think Greg Glassman’s 10 attributes of physical fitness), and sporting specificity.  Much as we’d like — and much as we trick ourselves into believing — we can’t have it all/be a master of all.  An increase in sport specificity will necessitate a decrease in overall functionality.  It’s just the way of the world.  It’s also why multi-sport athletes are so uncommon these days, even at the high school level.  It’s just tough for a great all-round athlete to compete against even a good single/sport-specific athlete.

After the sprint session, I headed into the gym to toss a little iron, and did the following complex in superset fashion:

Jump Squats + BTN Jerk*: 135 x 5; 155 x 5, 5, 5

Straight Bar Muscle-Ups: 3, 3, 3, 3

Couldn’t ask for a better start to the day.

Head’s-up on a fantastic series of posts over at Speed-Endurance.com.  A 3-part series covering the ins, outs and nuances of the relationship of strength and speed.  Some seriously good work by Jim Hiserman, author of the books Program Design Method for Sprints & Hurdle Training and Strength and Power for Maximum Speed.

Embedded in part 3 of the series are some good lifting demonstrations of some of the more common strength-speed oriented exercises. *In particular, watch the fine jump squat form exhibited by lilledritt (I’ve embedded it below as well, by way of Speed-Endurance.com).  Immediately following the final jump squat, you’ll see a nicely-performed btn jerk.   I performed each of my btn jerks, however, immediately following each jump squat (jump squat, jerk; jump squat, jerk; etc…)

And then I ran across this today, from Voice of America News video.  Good stuff for the masses to see, to be sure.  Though I’m still not convinced that saturated fat from free range/grass-fed animals is bad in any way.

More on the “How Strong is Strong Enough” Theme

“Where there is great love there are always miracles.”

Willa Cather

I keep an eye out this time of year as the college football coaching community goes through the initial phase of its annual “shaking out” pangs; I’m not much for the Biggest Looser, or Survivor, but the college coaching merry-go-’round does hold a certain interest for me.  Odd, I know.  Now, unless you happen to be a die-hard Florida State fan, this hire, I’m sure, went completely unnoticed by you.  I’ll just say two quick things about this – watch out for FSU in the next few years.   And SMU, how could y’all let this guy get away?

In keeping with the How Strong is Strong Enough theme that we covered here and here, check out this post on FSU’s hiring away of S & C coach Vic Viloria from SMU.   Coach Vic is definitely a believer in the notion that sports (in this case, football) is all about the transfer and absorption of power.   He’s my kind of guy – a Gayle Hatch disciple.   Check out the post and watch the short video clip near the bottom.  Try not to wince at the “weight room footage” though, 95% of which is decidedly not Hatch (or Vic)-like.  I’m sure coach Vic blew a gasket when he saw the footage his interview was pasted over.  Anyway, two thumbs-up here for coach Vic’s methods and the Hatch system in general.  Good stuff.

In health,


Piston, Spring, or Steam Engine?

“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”

Henry Miller

photo: cloneofsnake

"Piston" and "Spring" represented here...photo cred: cloneofsnake

Just a little food for thought here; something to keep in mind when planing your future workouts.  Is a squat just a squat, a jump just a jump?  Well, yes…and no.  Let’s consider for just a moment, three different aspects of the same, basic “front squat” movement; first up, the pure strength end of the spectrum (i.e., the “steam engine”):

Next up, a photo sequenced example of the speed-strength (piston) version of this movement:

photo cred: CrossFit
Photo cred: CrossFit

And finally, yours truly with a demonstration of the RFD (rate of force development, spring) side of the spectrum:

Three aspects of the same movement, with lots of overlapping, gray zones, in between.  But once again, we come back full circle to the notion of power development — and, more specifically, the power-to-body weight ratio.  Each aspect of the movement profile must be optimized in order to enhance this ratio.  And there must be a proper synergy, as well; too much “steam engine” for example, at the expense of  “spring”, and the trainee’s overall power output has just been compromised.  Know your goals and know your needs relative to power output.  Train accordingly.

Vern Gambetta recently alluded to the same notion in this blog post for Elite Track, and I couldn’t agree with him more.  Effective training is not solely about pushing massive loads slowly — ultimately, it boils down to training the body to produce maximum power over a defined time period (or, more specifically, within a defined energy system), consistent with your goals.  Is raw strength a component in power development and athletic achievement?  You bet it is.  But, it’s only a single component of the overall power equation.  And so I’ve got to side with Vern on this one — I find it hard to believe that (quarter squatting, at best?) this load is lending much enhancement to this kid’s instantaneous power output.  He’s a hammer thrower, not a strongman competitor.  I’ll be a little more forgiving than Vern though, as you can’t decipher an entire training program from a single picture.  I’ll will hold this up as a metaphor, though, for what seems to be a bias (in males, anyway) toward the raw strength end of the training spectrum.  Moving big loads in the gym does turn heads, and it’s certainly an ego trip to feel the bar across your shoulders undulating due to a heavy load, and your driving of that load up through another rep.  But is grinding out slow, heavy reps helping you achieve your goal?  Would you be better served spending time developing speed, speed-strength or strength-speed aspects of the same basic movement?  I would have to say that in my experience it’s the speed of movement that is the limiting factor in a trainee’s power output in a particular movement pattern.  Not always, of course, but usually.

Oh, and one quick thing I’d like to point out from the box jump photo sequence (by the way, thanks, CrossFit, for the shot) — look at the jumper’s toe-off angle in the third frame.  See the slight forward trajectory?  That forward trajectory signals a greater degree of quad engagement in that movement than what would be the case if this guy were to be engaged in a true vertical jump, or in a (properly performed) clean or snatch (or one of their variations).   In the vertical or “jump back” version of this basic movement, the posterior chain is engaged to a greater degree.  The box jump and vertical jump, therefore, are not the same beast.  Close, perhaps — think, zebra is to horse as box jump is to vert — but not quite.  The posterior chain is the most explosive and powerful — or potentially most powerful (if not yet properly developed) — engine your body possesses.  To fully develop the posterior chain — and then to learn to fully engage that chain — is to push your jumping ability ever higher.  Squat variations are no doubt a great foundation for an explosive vert; but the pulls and Oly lift variations (think explosive triple extension) will truly put the umph in your “ups”.

In health,


Two Bars, a Rack, and 15 Minutes

The best-laid plans of mice and men/often get completely goat-f$&#@&”   ~ Keith Norris

This is how it goes sometimes: So I come up with a solid game plan on Tuesday night, to perform the exact same workout as the one I’m about to spell out below.  So far, so good.  However, that plan included a 25 to 30-minute workout window, with added time built in, as well, for a nice, long, contrast bath.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my act even close to together come Wednesday morning.  Yeah, it happens to even the most seasoned of schedule jugglers and master planners.  I forgot this, misplaced that.  Didn’t select my work clothes and have them already hanging neatly in the car.  The day’s lunch was not pre-packed and, well, the list goes on and on.  Anyway, the ultimate result of all of this was that instead of a solid 30-minute workout window (with time remaining for some contrast bathing), I was left to scratch-out a 15-minute, chop-chop, blow-and-go.  I chalked it all up to the Gods of Randomness smiling down upon me though, took it in stride and did what I could with what I’d been given.

And what I was given was this: time enough for a general warm-up (I alternated 3/4 speed 40-yard sprints with pull-ups and push-ups) and about 10 minutes for a specific exercise ramp-up to working weight.   I then jumped right in to the body of the day’s workout —

  1. Regular Grip (over/under grip) Deadlifts + SLDL (Straight Leg Deadlift) Eccentrics x 3’s and 2’s
  2. Barbell Floor Press x 3’s and 2’s (I elevated my back off the ground just a tad with a step class platform)

As many rounds in 15-minutes as possible.

The modality I chose to work with in this pairing was this: max power output in these particular ranges of motion in a given unit of time (15 minutes).  Now, at first glance this might not look like much of a deviation to a normal set/rep setup, and certainly not enough of a deviation to note, much less keep track of.  However, the normal set/rep scheme leaves the issue of time — and therefore, overall power — open-ended.  Remember the very basic power equation — Power = Work/Time, with Work being a function of Force multiplied by Distance. Now, if we keep Time constant at 15 minutes, and Force is constant (I’m not dabbling with the working weight once I’ve got it set), the only thing left as a variable here is Distance. With the range of motion of each exercise being held constant, the only other factor that can change to affect distance is the number of repetitions performed in each exercise.  This is just a long-winded route to explaining what you already intuitively know — that the more reps of the two exercises performed, in a fixed amount of time (and in the chosen rep range, as explained below), will translate into an increased power output for that particular rep range within a 15 minute window.  Everyone together?  Stick with me, there is a point to all of this, really.

This method of training is, by the way — like virtually every other training method out there (save for some of Jay Schroeder’s stuff) — nothing new.  Charles Staley has coined this method Escalating Density Training; when Christian Thibaudeau speaks of Canadian Bear Training, he’s talking about what’s essentially the same thing, albeit with a few tweaks here and there.  You’ll also see quite a bit of CrossFit influence here as well.  I put my own little twist on it, and call it — well, I haven’t gotten that far yet.  I need something catchy from the marketing department.  Anyway, here’s my twist: I manipulate the weights used in each exercise to fall within a certain rep scheme (modality) so as to increase the overall power output in that particular modality.

For example, my max power output for this particular exercise pairing, under this particular time constraint, may actually (and most assuredly will) occur under a totally different weight/rep scheme (I know, empirically, that it’s a lighter weight/higher rep combo).  And this is one perfectly valid way that I could go about measuring “improvement” — an overall power increase (this, in a nutshell, is Staley’s basic EDT system).  But what if I wanted tweak the process even further?  What if I wanted to emphasize my fast-twitch fiber contribution in these movements over that same time period, even at a detriment to my overall power out put?  And why and the hell would you want to do that, you ask?  Well, let me use sprinting repeats as a quick example.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I can cover one mile in a 5 minute run, and that equates to a certain overall power output.  But let’s say that I can only cover 1/4 of a mile worth of all-out 40-yard sprint repeats in that same 5 minute time period. Now, even though my overall power output during that 5-minute period is higher with the continuous run, is that really going to improve my ability to perform on the soccer field, where I’m obligated to perform a series of all-out sprint repeats?  Am I better off to improve the number (and speed) of my 40-yard repeats, or the total distance I can cover in a 5-minute continuous run?  I’d say I’d be better off improving the speed of each individual, and number of, repeats.  It’s simply more sport-specific.

So this is just another wrinkle, nothing more, in the workout pantheon.  It’s neither the best way, nor only way, to measure progress — it’s just another available tool, that, under the right circumstances, just might be the tool you’re looking for.  And speaking of improvement, how would I measure improvement in the particular modality and time bracket I performed on Wednesday?  Two things, really: (1) I could complete more overall reps (at the same working weight) of this exercise pairing within the 15-minute time frame, or (2) I could increase the weight a tad, assuming I don’t suffer on the total repetition output — because, remember, our power output is, in this case, dependent upon the product of the number reps and the weight used. I logged that product for each exercise on Wednesday — next time I attempt this I can either shoot for increasing the number of overall reps obtained at the same weight, or jack the weight just a bit and see what happens to my end total (reps x weight) within the specified time frame.  My rule of thumb is that, as I approach the top end of my rep brackets (I use 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12) consistently throughout the 15-minute ( or whatever time bracket I choose) duration, I’ll bump up the working weight a bit.  Do it long enough and you’ll develop a feel for what to tweak to result in a higher subsequent power output.

And why those particular rep brackets?  Well, they happen to correspond nicely to my own personal,  goal-related, issues — power production in the 0-5 second, and 5-10 second range and overall hypertrophy (9-12 rep range).

In Health,