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.

Of Being Paleo, In the “Now”

“…When we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”

Alan Watts

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein

The above, although a wonderful statement and sentiment, is actually a misquote of Einstein’s actual words.  For more about the “quote”, look here.

photo cred: Okinawa Soba

Hopefully this will not come across as too squishy a post, but this is something I’ve noticed in many Paleo/physical culture “transformationalists”.  I like to tell people to relax and enjoy the ride, that transformation won’t happen over night – and that it won’t happen at all if it’s pursued as just a means to an end.  In Western culture, though, this mindset has come to be seen as a kind of blaspheme.  Well, maybe – but I’ve seen the strongest of will powers laid waste to over a bout with diet/physical transformation.  It may take longer for some than for others, but if all you bring to the game is sheer will power directed toward finishing and finishing alone, you’re doomed to fail.  Those who succeed are able to find something redeeming in the small stuff – the moments, the downtime, etc.  How much time surfing is actually spent on the wave?  Very little.  The rest is spent quietly perched upon the board, paddling, searching for the perfect set up.

The opening quotes from Watts and Einstein pertain to Physical Culture, writ large, and, more specifically, the Paleo lifestyle, in conveying this “in the moment” message.  Consider the comment that the elderly Zen master is purported to have made about a young archer’s struggling while in competition: “His need to win prevents him from hitting his mark.” Or, as Eckhart Tolle puts it  “His Need to Win Drains him of his Power.Archery undertaken as a means to an end of achieving the notoriety of winning the event is doomed to sub par results at best.  When perused for the love of the sport itself, though – the intricacies, the down time, the feel, sound, smells and sights – when winning becomes simply a cool by-product of the love – this is what brings true success and longevity.  Think Tiger Woods and Golf.  Everyone needs goals and visions, and these are in fact useful.  Every goal reached, though, is only done so via a succession of small, individual steps – moments strung together – and here is where true success is found – or lost.

Know this: the past is done, and can in no way be altered.  The future is largely unknowable, and only on a topical level can it be influenced.  Therefore, all you really have control over is this moment in time.  That is to say, all you really have is this particular rep, this particular bite, this particular food choice.  There is a time for planning, to be sure – and a time for execution and reflection as well.  The key is not to confuse these elements.  Another very Zen idea along these lines is this: when doing dishes, do dishes.  Transport this idea to the gym, and it looks like this: when performing explosive dips, perform explosive dips.  Only this moment matters – only this moment can you affect.

Success in the moment will result, without your having to worry about it, success in the long haul.  Obsessing about “how long will it take to realize such-and-such a change” only leads to stress about the desired change and, eventually, that stress becomes overwhelming, ultimately leading to “giving up” and no change at all.

In health,

Keith