Jump to New Heights (part 5)

6. Resistance exercise is necessary for anyone looking to realize their full potential in leg power. Yes, some serious time under the iron is in order for the 99% of you. But it's good to understand why big lifting is at least one step removed from big leaping.

The literature is mixed as to whether or not strength gains from resistance training carry over to improved jumping and sprinting. It only makes sense to think that if an athlete builds leg strength. i.e., the ability to generate great force, with resistance training, he or she may not optimally apply that strength without task specific power training.

You would totally kill these guys in any event that takes place on foot.

Simply put, resistance training should primarily be aimed at the following:

1. Ingraining proper movement patterns (see this detail on corrective exercise for the purpose of creating proper movement patterns).

2. Creating controlled mobility, the proper combination of strength, flexibility, and stability. This is, to a large extent, why yoga has its limits, and why free weights are far superior to resistance training machines.

3. Generating more force. The ability to generate more force doesn't only come by way of larger muscles. Resistance exercise causes numerous neurological changes. Nerdy professors talk about things like motor unit synchronization, rate coding, and disinhibition. But you can just call it your very own Bucket of Awesome.

At this point, some Physics101 is in order. Strength training is all about being able to generate more force, and for many of us, getting larger muscles.

Force = Mass X Acceleration.

On the other hands, the aim of power training is to help us quickly apply force toward the tasks we have in mind, where

Power = Force X Velocity.

This may seem like stating the obvious, but please understand that this is the core of a lot of misapplication of resistance exercise, where many confuse weight training with balance training (BOSU and fitness ball nonsense), general conditioning (cross fit type circuits), bodybuilding (tricep kickbacks to isolate the long head of the triceps), power training (Olympic lifts), or something else (Platform Jump Trainer Shoes, Pilates, Shake Weight, etc).

This is why I believe that Olympic lifts are highly effective yet inferior to plyos as a method to train athletes for power.

So in summary, we should weight train in a manner that stimulates the nervous system toward functional body control and tears those muscle fibers up, which gives the body reason to add muscle. Then, THEN, we need to get our plyos on, the sprints, hops, and jumps that enable us to apply what we've gained under the iron.

Resistance Training Template for Leaping:

A sound weight training program can look like a number of things, depending on the specific needs of the athlete. A weekly cycle should include some variation of the following, each performed for 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 10 reps:

1. Dead lifts or dead lift variation to functionally work the posterior chain muscles (the hamstring, gluteal, and lumbar erector groups). Exercise performance details are beyond the scope of this entry, but with so many options to choose, it should be no problem to find a variation that's right for you: dead lifts, sumo dead lifts, trap bar dead lifts, partials/rack pulls, or suitcase lifts.

2. Squat or squat variation to emphasize the quadriceps in "triple extension", which is a beautiful symphony of ankle, knee, and hip extension. Again, find a movement that's right for you and stick with it, upping the resistance into new realms of awesomeness: back (traditional) squats, front squats, goblet squats, belt squats.

3. Single leg work provides a little less emphasis on absolute force production as the resistance used will be somewhat lighter. Yet unilateral training demands extreme trunk and hip stability within fundamental movement patterns. Choose any one or two of the following: single leg squats, split squats, lunge variation, single leg dead lifts, or high step ups.

Just because it's a single leg exercise does not mean you can quit working brutally hard to progress the resistance while keeping good form.

For accessory work, feel free to add a few sets of glute-ham raises, hip thrusters, farmers walks, or calf raises. They're certainly not mandatory, especially if you're including any targeted corrective exercises that overlap these.

Other notes on resistance training.

Remember to respect recovery. Once your into it, barbells and dumbbells have the tendency to get kind of bossy. Don't fall for the thought that more work is better. Also, I generally don't advise heavy squatting and heavy dead lifting on the same day, or on the day after intense plyometric training or sports activity.

I have had good success training with a weekly routine where low rep dead lifts and moderate rep single leg squats are performed on one weight training day (say, Monday), and squats and accessory work on the other weight training day (say, Friday).

"But I have a bad..."

You can't squat because of your low back, hip, or knee? Fine, for right now. But I'm pretty sure that you can find some godawful hard work by focusing your efforts into a dead lift variation and a single leg variation. If your back absolutely won't tolerate any variety of dead lifts, even after 3 to 4 months of corrective exercise, then I would bet that you can pour yourself into single leg squats and goblet squats.

Have you had a thorough examination of your lifting form? A functional screen of your body? Who knows, your herniated disc may not even be at "fault" for your issues with squats and dead lifts. It may be that you cannot maintain a neutral back alignment during squatting because of a leg length discrepancy, a kyphotic thoracic spine, tight ankles, or deactivated glutes.

If worst comes to worst? [Deep breath.] Fine, go ahead and try to leg press and single leg press your head off. Just because the exercise is on a machine doesn't mean you shouldn't,

say it with me now,

"Work brutally hard to progress the resistance while keeping good form."


The next factor for jumping that ties in heavily with resistance exercise is

7. Body Composition

Jumping ability has more to do with power to body weight ratio than absolute power. Neither plyos nor weight added to the bar are the absolute bottom line in jumping.

If you have a fairly muscular physique at around 20% body fat, dropping a few percentage points will do wonders for your leap. All the box jumps you can muster won't help your sloppy diet and the fact that you're carrying around a spare tire. The trick is to change that without losing precious muscles.

If a stiff wind would knock your jump off course, adding 10 or 30 pounds of powerhouse muscle will do wonders for your leap. The trick is to get big and strong without getting slow and dense.

Most of us, our bodies and our whole lives, defy neat categories. But let me tell you that wherever you stand between these two extremes, resistance training is essential for your own body recomposition.

If you want to get jacked with bigger, more powerful muscles, you obviously need to lift weights! Don't get me wrong, weight gain is good and necessary for many people in the pursuit of powerful legs. But adding 200 pounds to your squat strength may not be the best thing for jumping if you gained 70 pounds of body weight in the process.

 If you want to get leaner, you need to lift weights in order to maintain muscle and strength. I cannot understate how important it is in both the long- and short-term to "signal" the body to retain muscle and strength while you're in a calorie deficit.

Losing muscle when you "diet" sets you up for a frail and hungry cycle that usually ends with you either giving up or feeling sorry about eating three bland salads per day and the condition of your white boy hops.

Diet is a huge piece of the body composition puzzle. I suspect that very few people will actually consider my unglamorous advice here, but a healthy diet for gaining weight should look remarkably similar to a healthy diet for losing weight.

Few fitness enthusiasts are content with small, gradual weight loss or gain that allows them to add muscle without adding much fat or to lose fat without losing much muscle. Few diet gurus are eager to admit that our physiology simply doesn't allow us to do it fast and right!

So if you need to gain muscle, pound the minimally processed foods and feel free to take in some junk right after intense physical activity. If you need to lose fat, focus on minimally processed vegetables, lean proteins, and fruits, in that order. Seek and destroy any refined, calorie dense foods that creep their way into your mouth. Allowing for one "cheat day" per week will help you mentally, to keep a pretty tight reign on things during the remainder of the week.

I realize that this sounds too simple. But to worry about all the nuances of dieting methods before giving an honest and sustained effort at the basics is a waste of your time and money, at best.

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Adding a little more of a conditioning focus to your training plan is fine if you're trying to lose body fat. But please be very careful with this, as over training and too much cardiovascular/endurance type exercise are two of the leading causes of gravitation decompensation syndrome.

[Final installment to come.]

Until then, NO EXCUSES!

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If there's any subject matter where I can claim expertise, it's how to train hard and get nowhere. If you'd like to dedicate nearly a decade of your best years to resistance training and have little to show for it, you've come to the right place!

the mental repper ~1994
More recently, after about 10 years of training smarter, I've been occasionally accused of taking steroids. Those people tilt their head and stare as I fail to contain my laughter. Yeah, right, steroids - me and my hulking 6'2" 195 pounds.

If they only knew...the long, frustrating years of wheel spinning, learning the hard way.

I first hit the weights at about the age of 16, with the idea of getting bigger and stronger for sports. And, in theory, all ripped and awesome for the ladies. I don't recall the specifics, but by the age of 24 I had gained about 8 or 12 pounds. Now don't get me wrong, my cardiovascular profile was rockin' and I was in excellent condition to model J-Crew sport coats. But non coltish, functional muscle? I would have gained more by simply playing sports and resting.

I wanted to first take a moment to give credit for the many years of successfully not building muscle. Coaches, those of you who were just misinformed, and others who were plain negligent, thank you! Thanks also go out to Jim Weider, Bill Phillips, GNC girl, and that guy at the gym who was dishonest about his steroid use.

But it takes an amazing amount of stubborn knuckleheadedness and lack of focus to seize so little muscle out of so much time. So special thanks go out to me, as the majority of  my failure was self-imposed.

And now, without further ado, here are the simple steps that I followed in order to spend lots of time and energy to not gain muscle.

[Excuse the snarky tone as I remind you that these are all personal mistakes, near and dear to my heart.]

1. Emphasize supplements.

To not gain muscle, what you do outside of the gym is just as important as your training. So I listened to the supplement companies. I went from eating crap to eating a super strict diet which included various essential supplements.

Every glossy magazine giving sports nutrition advice for mostly sedentary 35 year-olds was absolutely true and appropriate for me. Every pill and powder sold in big scientific looking jugs simply MUST be included in each of those six small, evenly spaced small meals per day. It was the mid 90's, and food was like, so 1985.

So you should worry about all the details regarding macronutrient ratios (carb, fats, protein) and organics. Don't bother with pounding boatloads of mostly natural, minimally processed foods, staying active, and letting the rest take care of itself.

2. Worry about getting fat.

Because when you're an active young man with a 6-foot frame and two-a-day sports practices and conditioning, putting on an ounce of fat is an emergency situation just waiting to strike. You're not in it to get all bulky and suddenly your nickname is Bubba and people start making you all-time offensive lineman during flag football.

It's all about calories in versus calories out, so toe that line between energy deficit and surplus. Eat just barely enough to get by during the day and then load up on protein recovery shakes and 5 bowls of cereal after practice and work outs. Be careful, because an ounce of fat is a terminal condition, and there's no way you can pull back and tighten up your diet if need be after you've gained 20 or 40 pounds of solid muscle.

If you slip up and eat like a human for a day or few, just train more. If you want to regularly eat junk food, simply add supplements and cardiovascular exercise, sets, and reps to make up for it. Yeah, that will work just swell.

3. Vary your workouts often.

You don't want to go stale, so switch it up to keep those muscles guessing. Why stick with the basics when there are so many ways to train? With just a little thought and even less effort, you'll never do the same workout twice.Who needs to bother with gaining proficiency and strength in the fundamental multi-joint movement patters?

Push horizontal (like, bench press variations)
Pull horizontal (rowing variations)
Push vertical (shoulder press variations)
Pull horizontal (chin-ups, lat pulldown)
Squat/Squat variations
Dead lift/Dead lift variations

Better yet, do numerous variations of each of the above and then add layers of accessory work. For example, you don't want to miss any of the three "heads" of the deltoid muscle, so include lots of shoulder raises to the front, side, and back, as well as upright rows. For the quads you should squat and leg press and hack squat and add in three variations of seated leg extensions.

4. Complexify it!

Ignore the thought that getting bigger muscles is simply a matter of time under tension.

[Struggling under a heavy load literally tears muscle fibers apart, which stimulates the entire body to repair and rebuild them bigger and stronger. Heavy one-rep max lifts provide high tension but for a less than optimal time. Low resistance for high reps allow for high total workload, but insufficient tension to tear the muscles down.

That's why 3 to 5 sets of between 3 and 8 reps is usually what provides the best stimulus - sufficient time under sufficiently heavy loading. Being strong enough in any exercise to handle a decent amount of weight is critical to getting the ball rolling, so work hard at learning some variation of the basic lifts. 

Neuromuscular efficiency in the big movements begets strength which begets true muscle growth which begets more strength. Pretty soon you're deadlifting close to 500 pounds for reps.] 

But you? Screw that. These two variables of time and tension are far too simple for your special neuromuscular physiology. Your muscles require drop sets, super sets, and super drop pick-up duper sets.

Before trying a sustained and solid effort at the basics, you should experiment with complex periodization schemes, bands, chains, and resistance training machines that have been precision engineered to match the length/tension curve of every deplorable movement imaginable. Mangled up in tangled up knots.

5. Do it all! At once!!

Set your sights on getting bigger AND more ripped AND increasing conditioning for your sport.

Believe everyone who promises the holy grail of fitness, claiming it's easy to lay down slabs of muscle and melt layers of fat at the same time, especially when you have very little of either to begin with. Also see point number two above.

Because if a little pummeling and tearing down your body is good, then a lot must be better. In fact, you can train every single day if you blast the hell out of just one muscle group each workout. Never mind that a "shoulders and calves" day does sound kind of ridiculous if you think about it.

Don't worry about how almost every chest exercise involves the shoulders and arms. And all that jogging to make up for your crappy diet - it won't cut in to your legs ability to recover and grow from the weights.

Lastly, don't worry about getting to bed on time. That whole sleeping this is over rated anyway, especially compared to 3 capsules of NO2 Glutamate Picolinate 3 times daily.

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But that's just me and my anecdotal evidence, the hard lessons I can share in the hopes of justifying all my wasted effort.

Please feel free to share your own insight on how to train hard and not gain muscle.

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dancing with the devil

Last Saturdays workout was pretty ho-hum as Friday nights Bounce Plex binge left me hung over with a headache, sore neck, and sore knee.

Today was Tuesday, time for the other one of my two weekly weight work outs. It was close to 4:00 and I had to be finished by about 4:55. A 10-minute warm-up turned into a 25-minute back yard trampoline session with my 7-year old. Having fun left about 40-minutes to lift. 

They say character is what you do when nobody is watching. K.C., Ben, Mike, Tim, Cort, Matt - none of the guys could make it today. Which made the resistance to begin even greater. Could have went light or skipped it all together. Yeah, I could use some rest.

But once you start me up...

I hammered out 4 pretty intense sets of overhead presses, finishing with 225 lbs. for 5. Then came single leg squats, which intensely suck, and today turned into a warm-up set plus 3 sets of 10 using 300 lbs. So this is why I regularly skimp on ab exercises or really any traditional core work. Who needs it when you chase twenty minutes of trampoline flips with 60 pretty heavy single leg squats?

Then came the loved, hated, anticipated, dreaded physical highlight of the week: dead lifts. After three warm-up sets I loaded the bar with 455 lbs and hammered out 4 sets of 5. That much weight for that many reps adds up for a guy of my stature.

That thing where you do one hard and heavy rep and then sit around drinking protein for 10-minutes? Not here, ever. But usually some of the guys have to get their sets in or we talk for a while.

So today I rushed without the guys, with little rest and compromised form on the last set to get those reps in. It was the type of form I would have ranted about on-line or lectured the guys.

"You're going to hurt your back when your hips extend too early like that."

Why couldn't I stop with three sets of dead lifts? Why did I have to push that last set to a 6th rep? Nobody was there to witness it. Nobody cares. It still would have been a fine work out.

I got it, that 21st rep.  The plates rattled off the floor and climbed back so slowly. With crappy form. I could have easily, seriously strained my back. But I didn't.

And it was wonderful.

That challenge, that if, seems to be right where I thrive. But a 35 year-old pushing it like that with dead lifts, by himself?

What is wrong with me?

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Jump to New Heights (Part 4)

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Corrective exercise is the responsible, bland, and yawn factor that may be holding you back from your launching potential. I mean, who wants to stretch and do foo-foo rehab type moves when they just want get right to being awesome?

Like this kid! Love the simplicity here:

Before you get to that, have you considered the details in how your body accomplishes movement? Is your body mechanically sound, segments moving when and where they should be moving and staying stable when and where they should be stable? It's not simply a matter of strength or flexibility. Controlled mobility requires strength, flexibility, and a brain that is tuned to proper movement patterns.

When it comes to jumping, your ability to squat 400 pounds is overrated if your hip flexors and hamstrings are tight. Being able to balance on one leg on a fitness ball while juggling dumbbells is overrated if your hip abductors are weak. Good reaction time, balance, and flexibility are overrated if you lack sufficient leg strength and core stability to squat at least 1.5 times your body weight with good form.

The point is to appreciate the fact that functional performance is limited by our weakest points, and yet most of us prefer to work at further improving our strengths.

Let's say that you have tight ankles which force you into a knee dominant pattern of squatting, jumping, and running. That's just you, and nothing you, your coach, or parents did right or wrong. Months and years of this fundamental movement dysfunction has caused your brain to partially lose touch with the gluteal muscles at the hip and stabilizing muscles of the lower trunk. Every time you go to jump, you're unknowingly missing out on the full use of the most powerful muscles in your body.

You can do squats or lunges or leg press or (try) dead lifts. You can faithfully carry out every detail of the plyometric training program listed in part three. You can try to tidy up your jumping form as recommended in part two. But so long as all these are carried out within that knee dominant pattern, you're doing nothing to address what holds you down the most.

Get that out of here, son. 

Holding hundreds of appropriate ankle stretches (to loosen the ankle joints and lengthen lower leg muscles) is so unglamorous. Repping thousands of glute bridges and other corrective movements that wire the brain to recruit the glutes may bore you to death. If ankle mobility or hip strength and stability are not your weak points, then all of this is completely unnecessary. But if this is an issue, then do not pass go, and proceed directly to the corrective work before you risk injury.

No, seriouslyT there's research to prove it. 

As far as dysfunctional movement and painful syndromes during jumping, the knee dominant pattern is a fairly common issue that occurs for a number of issues (not just because of tight ankles). Maybe you have a structural foot issue. Or a leg length discrepancy or a drastic side-to-side strength deficit. Maybe your back is tight or unstable. Are your hips externally rotated, walking around duck-footed all the time?

Again, you have to acknowledge that corrective exercise is unglamorous and requires some time and know-how. But there's no substitute for identifying specific deficits, isolating them, and then integrating them back into the functional movement.
Test yourself

Try a deep squat with nothing but your body weight. If your heels come up or your upper body leans forward or your knees migrate inward, you should raise your eyebrows.

Try the repeat tuck jump test. Jump straight up as high as you can, pulling your knees toward your chest at the peak of the jump, as if trying to clear a high fence. Hit the ground and quickly throw 9 more jumps.

Did you migrate left, right, or back? Were you able to do all ten without stuttering or regrouping, with control the 10th jump as well as the first? Were you starting to get out of sync and flail around? If you have an observer or a video, did your feet hit the ground evenly (contact equally and centered under you, not front or back)? Were your knees in alignment at the bottom of the launch and trunk upright with upper leg parallel to the floor at the peak of your tuck?

These two tests are easier said than done.

Hey, the good news is that corrective exercise exists on a continuum. Dead lifts, squatting variations, and other killer moves count, and that's a work out! Once you quit messing around with all the gimmicks and the weight machines at the gym, and instead focused your efforts at becoming mechanically sound, you can start loading up resistance without the injury potential. Ironing out any mechanical issues opens up new realms of progress in the weight room.

[To be continued...]


Jump to New Heights (Part 3)

4. Plyometric training is the fouth of ten factors to your best jumping ability, leg power, and general awesomeness.

The word plyometric is a derivative of the greek words plyo, meaning "fun," and metric, meaning "wow that was cool." Not really, but when you think of plyometric training, you should think of movements that require quick acceleration like jumps, hops, bounds, and throws. 

Distance jogging won't help you to break ankles like this:

The primary target of plyometric training is the brain. The art of loading the muscles and making a quick transition to explosive acceleration requires timing and coordination of multiple body segments.

The best thing about plyometric training is that it takes whatever strength and range of motion that you bring to the table and turns it into pure functional delight. The worst thing about plyometric training is that you will probably strain something.

 You can will get hurt doing plyometric exercise. I'm not talking about season ending concussions or ACL tears, but the typical strains and sprains that come with pushing to new capacity.
If you're not in tune with your initial fitness level and general athletic ability...
If you're not mechanically sound (i.e. tight ankles, weak hips, etc., see corrective exercise detail to come)...
If you're strong and heavy (not necessarily fat)...
If you're careless about gradually increasing the "dosage" of impact to your joints...
If you're unaware of a few important tricks of the trade...
You can be smart about this. You do not simply have to accept misery. But pushing your limits is, well, pushing your limits. Greater risk and reward is not for everyone.
[***I've found that there truly is magic in acknowledging this at the outset. Injuries seem to be minor and few when the individual chooses his or her own risk/reward of any training activity.]
But let me tell you that nothing else will help you approach superhuman ability. If the idea of effortlessly leaping a full size picnic table doesn't excite you, then maybe the whole pushing thing is for someone else. 

If you're still on board after that disclaimer, wondering what a solid plyometric jumping program looks like, you don't want to hear that the best program for you probably depends on a number factors such as the five "ifs" listed above. But you should be glad to hear that wherever you stand, you do not need a lot of equipment to get moving. 

You do not need jump gizmos, parachutes and tubing, shutes and ladders, or special shoes. Even the use of simple weighted vests is questionable. Whenever you can honestly say that gravity isn't much of a factor for you is about the time you need to start using all the fancy jumping paraphernalia. 

Here is a general template of exercises that will cover your basis. 

Lateral jumping off two legs. 
Vertical jumping off two legs. 
Lateral jumping off one leg.
Forward jumping off one leg. 

That's it. 

Start easy. Pour yourself into becoming rock solid in these basic movements. 

Specific progressions and the details of exercise technique are beyond the scope of this writing, but here are some examples.

Horizontal jumping off two legs:

Lateral hops over cones (or "cone" equivalent)
Consecutive lateral hops over a series of cones
Lateral box jump one side or alternate sides (progressively increase height)

Vertical jumping off two legs:

Jump and reach for max height (such as basketball backboard) with and without hop step into it.
Tuck jumps, clearing heights (personal favorite)
Depth jumps (hop down from between 1 and 3 feet and explode back up)

Lateral jumping off one leg:

"Ice skater" hops
lateral box jump (low box)
"Defensive slide" drill with false start
Single leg lateral hops uphill

Forward jumping off one leg:

Split jumps
Box jumps forward and back (low box)
Single leg forward hops uphill
Single leg leap for distance and height

Here's a nice/killer combo: a good example of lateral jump off two legs followed by some single leg forward leaping. Most individuals will have to build up to this. And the big finish is well, I'm not going to say I'm against it. Okay here you go.

A few other key points on plyometric training:

-Make sure to keep a general count of sets, reps, or total contacts between your feet and the ground. Your poor bones and joints will appreciate any effort to keep an objective tally of impact, distance, and height. Or they will rebel.

-Your sets should not be endurance cardio drudgery. Properly performed plyos are brutal even when the work interval is relatively short. Generally keep the reps under ten. Go hard, rest, and repeat.

-Some coaches and trainers will tell you, in a strictly confident coachy tone, that your primary objective in plyometric exercise is to be quick off the ground, to minimize the contact time between jumps. While there is a time for working on foot agility, jumping as high as possible and being quick off the ground are two different things. (Go ahead and try to beat your highest jump while also minimizing ground contact time).  

In most cases, your focus should be on controlling your body segments to land and load your next leap in a biomechanically favorable position. Then focus on creating a strong forceful push through the ground, launching higher, higher, and higher still than before. 

-Depth jumps are an effective and intense gravity overload. It is quite difficult to properly control such impact and transition to an explosive leap or bound. Doing depth jumps before you've mastered good form in other less intense activities is an invitation to injury.

v. grassy hill
-Repeated single leg hops are a super effective way to gain the core and leg strength pertinent to so many athletic activities. But they have been proven to be rough on knees. I've torn a major ligament in my foot while doing max effort single leg forward hops across a basketball court. 

The trick is to do them on a graded surface. You could pay a couple thousand dollars for a cumbersome jumping device that allows you do to hard single leg work without the injury potential. Or you could find a grassy hill, which allows for all the benefits while drastically dampening the impact.

[Look for part 4 in the series, coming soon.]


Jump to New Heights (Vertical Jump Part 2)

It sounds so simple. Jump as high as you can, and there you have it. But go ahead and try to turn your 21-inch vertical into 24 inches. Dare you shoot for the 30-inch mark?

There's no guarantee that you'll be throwing thunderous tomahawk dunks tomorrow or next week. But you can probably improve. A lot. And it's going to take more than those special training shoes or that key exercise.

You're going to need to approach your hops holistically. That's my intent with these ten components of your best vertical. They are listed from least- to most time commitment required for the payoff.

1. Form

If your form is less than perfect, you can expect to add an immediate inch or two by tidying up a few details.

-Stance Width: Don't take too wide of a stance. You're jumping, not power lifting, and the wide base of support effectively shortens the duration of time over which your legs can uncoil and apply force to the ground. Having the feet too narrow is far less common, but that error will make your launching muscles work just to balance you out. Placing the feet just barely inside shoulder width is usually about right.

-Arm Drive: Technically yes, you DO jump with your arms. They contribute roughly 20% of your height, so get use to throwing those babies down hard as you descend. Throwing them up hard usually comes naturally, but it will take just a bit of practice to get use to throwing them down hard and then timing the transition to accelerate up. Also, make sure you're reaching the hands up and slightly forward, as it's common to see people lose a bit from reaching back.

-If you're doing a vertical jump test where the feet must remain planted, take a mental "hop-step" as you initiate the descent before launching. It's not as good as a real hop step, but it places the achilles tendon and other leg muscles on a slight stretch, which gives you some free rebound elasticity.

2. Warm Up

Investing a few minutes in an appropriate warm-up will also add another inch or so to your vertical.

-Don't! If you want to introduce a lot of force-dampening slack into your muscle-tendon units, sit down and stretch your hips, hamstrings, and calves for nice long holds of at least a minute. On the other hand, if you want to go in to a max effort test with a cold body and sluggish brain, and possibly raise your injury potential, then don't warm up much at all.

Like this, but keep your chest up.

-You know what I just said about refraining from long static stretches?

Well, there's an exception. Almost everyone acquires some degree of tightness in the front of the upper legs - the hip joint capsule and the muscle group known as the hip flexors. The typical restriction here is an issue since those muscles work in direct opposition to the hip extensors, the primary drivers of jumping. Although the hip flexors have a role in running, they're not involved with generating jumping force. So stretch 'em long.

-The best way to warm up for a test of this nature is to simply raise your body temperature and amp your nervous system. Droning away for 5 minutes on a bike or stair climber is not the best way to prime the brain for a max effort test.

-It looks fairly ridiculous to put it into words, but an appropriate warm-up should look something like this:

Take a short jog around. 

Then run in place for ten or twenty seconds before shifting gears to drive your knees up toward your chest for ten reps or so. Then proceed to kick your heels hard toward your butt for ten reps or so. 

Then stand on one leg and give a little hop as you swing the other leg forward and backwards. 

Then maintain a slight bend in your hips and knees as you perform some max effort hops by moving just your feet and ankles. 

Do 5 or 10 reverse lunges on each leg, then 5 or 10 side lunges on each leg, exaggerating the reach out and then quickly pulling back to the standing position. 

Then hit those hip flexor holds for about 30 to 60 seconds each side.

If you feel like it, do 5 or 10 split jumps and ice skater (side-to-side) hops, followed by a few quick-feet agility type drills.

What was that, about 4 minutes of activity? You're not at all fatigued, but breaking a slight sweat, with a nervous system that is primed to balance, control, and accelerate your body mass.

-Here's a cool experiment for those who are equipped, fairly experienced in the weight room, and interested in ultra potentiation of the nervous system. Try the following with either squats or deadlifts immediately before testing your vertical:

Do 6 or 8 reps with 135 lbs.
Then 3 or 4 more reps with about 60% of your "max" in these lifts.
After that, do two or three more sets of just 2 to 4 reps with about 75 to 85% of your max. 

This shouldn't be tiring, given the low reps at less than max resistance. And it has been shown to add immediate inches to the vertical jump of highly trained athletes.

And now...you're ready for take-off!

3. Practice

Jumping for maximal height is a skill that improves with practice just like any other skill. Now, how often have you practiced max effort jumping? Jogging and running stairs and jumping rope and lifting weights and a million-and-one leg exercise variations are NOT practicing the skill of maximal effort jumping.

I'm not talking about 10,000 hours of practice here. Just know that if you want to teach your brain how to launch, make sure and practice that skill when you're not wiped out with fatigue from other exercise.

Tuck jumps over objects are one practice that I've found beneficial. I've recently come across some literature that also supports their effectiveness. Giving your brain a clear goal that requires a maximal effort commitment is the opposite of endurance training. It's both fun and brutally hard work. 

A hurdle will do. So will a picnic table, a lawn chair placed on bricks, or some rubber tubing tied between trees.

If you start doing tuck jumps over things, expect to quickly post some huge gains. Most of the progress is from learning the skill, the timing of the jump and leg tuck. But the greatest benefit of tuck jumps is gaining the, uh, neurolgical aspects of ballsing into something awesome.

This video of Cort puts it perfectly!

There are certainly other important strength and power-related exercises, but tuck jumping is one of the best ways to practice the skill of max effort jumping.

[More to come...]


Vertical Jump Power Mighty Awesomeness (Part 1 of 2)

The brothers in Harrisburg always picked me up.

When the 6'1" white guy warmed up with a few dunks at Reservoir- or Cole- or Brightbill Park, the reality of his basketball skill didn't matter.

Because dude can dunk.

I wasn't showboating. I was trying to get some court time. Even the young bulls in Harrisburg know that size, skin color, shoes, and other attire are pretty horrible indicators of basketball proficiency. And dunkability is a pretty valid measure when you're trying to quickly pull together a 5-man squad and winners stay on.

Well that, and I was showboating.

Who doesn't want to increase their vert? Creating space between ground and feet is unquestionably the all-time greatest display of total body power, net worth as an athlete, and absolute value as a human being.

But seriously, vertical jump and jump variations have been shown to correlate with just about every facet of sports like football and baseball/softball and tennis and lacrosse and volleyball and on and on in sports that other people actually pay to watch. There's a reason for that, and it's because acceleration tasks are fun and powerful and poetic and freakin' awesome.

You want to know who can throw a baseball hard or has the potential to throw hard? To hell with the bench press and mile run and sit and reach and rotator cuff strength. You find out who has powerhouse lightening legs to generate enormous launchitudinal force from dead earth.

So if you or a loved one would like to overcome gravity for about .88 seconds rather than your typical .54, pay heed to the ten points to come. 

These ten pointers are not listed in order of importance or effectiveness. But they ARE listed in time investment. For example, you can expect that attending to point number one will translate to an instantaneous inch or three on the vert whereas the payoff from later points will come with months of due diligence.

But they're all important if you want to get ups, white boy.

1. Form 

2. Warm-up

3. Practice

4. Plyometric training

5. Corrective exercise

6. Strength training

7. Would you stop with the overkill already

8. Body composition

9. Something something (by law, no list has 9 points.)

10. Genetics


Barefoot Running is Unnecessary

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Pure barefoot runners are like Big Foot. I've read  a lot about them. I see pictures of them on the Internet. But I've never actually seen a barefoot runner, unless you count my four young children.

The most irritating thing about barefoot running is finding a single shoe under the ottoman.

I wish the barefoot running advocates would quit talking about how our ancestors use to run. Those of us with less than perfect foot structure and other physical attributes would like to fare better than our ancestors.

The fact that some of our ancestors 5- or 50-thousand years ago ran barefoot and survived doesn't say much about modern feet and footwear. While our ancestors who happened to be nearsighted were eaten, many modern folk greatly benefit from glasses and contact lenses.

We are taller and heavier than our ancestors. The feet of our ancestors did not get accustomed to working 40+  hours per week in shoes. They did not have to deal with cement and glass, and repetitive jumping and landing on basketball courts.

This is not to say that orthotics are the answer to every foot problem, or that minimalist shoes are a bad idea. I do believe that overblown, cushy shoes can encourage improper running mechanics and cause our feet to become fragile and imperceptive. The longer I've worked as a physical therapist, the more I've witnessed how interlinked and mold-able are our systems.

Without at doubt, every person presents a unique case that defies simple categories.

I've seen individuals experience immediate relief by wearing the right orthotics. Some of those require regular long-term use of orthotics. Some people can train their way out of flat footedness. This may sound like a huge oversell, but it is absolutely possible! Do not underestimate the way foot function is connected with neurological factors all the way up past the hip.

Whatever footwear you're in, you don't need to run barefoot to get all the benefits of running with better form:

-avoid a heel strike and large vaulting strides
-place your weight down softly on your mid-foot
-lean slightly forward, imagining a series of smooth controlled falls rather than pushes

                    The image at about 1:44 says it all!

Of course there's a catch. Abruptly changing to this form may cause your plantar fascia and achilles tendons to scream, especially if you're overweight. You can expect a variety of aches and pains if your core, hip, lower leg, and intrinsic foot muscle are weak, or if you have ankle or foot inflexibility or structural issues.

Whatever your form and function, being barefoot allows for less margin for error, at least initially. If you have issues while running, a few weeks off is not going to fix the problem. It is often worthwhile to have a qualified professional develop a plan of care that is specific circumstances.

In conclusion, many of you should probably keep wearing some type of footwear, unless your goal is to disappear or become a hide-and-seek champion, Big Foot style.

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Should I try Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate?

This is a question I often receive from people suffering body aches and pains. The answer on this dietary supplement is that, as you probably guessed, it depends.

Although we do not know the exact mechanism of action, glucosamine and chondroitin  (G/C) are thought to interact with cartilage in the weight bearing joints, namely the knees and low back. Unless you count the placebo effect, neither of these ingredients offer much for wrists, elbows, shoulders, muscle strains, ligament sprains, or tendinopathies (achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, epicondylitis, etc.).

Low back pain is so broad and complex that any small benefit to the structure and function of the lumbar spine discs is trivial and difficult to measure. As for the knee joint, well controlled studies that are not funded by supplement manufacturers seem to give mixed results.

Overall, some results indicate that G/C helps people with mild to moderate knee arthritis experience less knee pain and increased functional performance. Although it had been thought that glucosamine and chondroitin work together for maximum benefit, evidence is mounting that leads some researchers to question the need for chondroitin.

It is important to point out the obvious fact that knees do not exist in isolation, and there are many factors relevant to cartilage wear and tear. From my physical therapist bias, I'm certain of what G/C does NOT accomplish for the knee.

G/C will not address deficits in hip strength or flexibility. It will not address impaired ankle mobility or problems in foot structure and function. G/C will not iron out the subtle nuances and asymmetries of your gait pattern. G/C will not confront your running, squatting, or sports habit layered over your specific biomechanical issues.

Yes, I'm aware that addressing these things take a little more time and effort than swallowing a few horse pills per day. If it were possible to design a G/C study that adequately controlled for these mechanical issues, I imagine that the effects of supplementation would be...well, mixed, with slight improvement at best (basically the data we have now).

It is thought that at least 3 to 6 months of supplementation (at a cost of at least $25 per month) are required to show any signs of effectiveness. Since the safety of G/C has been well established, there's at least no harm in considering a $75 to $150 experiment.



Here's what I'm thinking about in the local PT industry. Asking about. Praying about.

A few of the 5 owners of First Choice Rehab, my bosses, apparently will retire sometime soon. They have decided to sell the company to a large health care provider rather than entertain my (and others?) less than generous offers of buying into the business.

Anyway, it's been fun, working for First Choice. They provided the structure and administrative support that I chose in order to save my nights and weekends. Otherwise I rarely heard from them, which was most of the time. They saw no need to micromanage, I'm sure because my clinic consistently delivered the numbers. My clinic performed within the top three of our 12 offices for almost the entire 6 years that I've been there.

And I didn't kill myself doing this. I got exactly what I wanted out of the deal, 40 or 45 hours of steady work per week, a fair salary, and plenty of time for my wife and kids and goofing off with friends.

Just f.y.i.: that free time was spent achieving feats of fun and awesomeness that I would never trade.

We had fun in the clinic - my small staff and hundreds of patients. We got to know each other. The magic to our physical therapy model was that when you don't have to report to investors and loads of middle management...when you DON'T have a huge facility filled with tons of fancy chrome equipment and rehab gadgets, you can make the financials work without cramming 50 patients in-and-out per day.

This minimalist approach allows a PT to give patients his time, care, and attention. You can listen to each other. You have time for a sore shoulder when the script is for knee pain. Excellent physical therapy does not require much more than a head and hands and some basic gear.


My clinic wasn't owned by any medical doctors or health care networks. It wasn't locked into questionable lease arrangements or other kickbacks that ultimately disservice the patient.

I came into this area with nothing, knowing nobody. I showed up at work and at parties and sporting events and fund raisers, usually dragging along 2 or 4 children, because I like these things. I welcomed local high school and college students who were looking for clinical experience. I made genuine friends, invited them to pick-up basketball and flag football and birthday parties and Bible studies and smashed some of them with brutal weight training in my basement.

I didn't do these things because I wanted to market my business, trying to get get more patients and hire more staff in order to open up new clinics and hire more staff. I wanted to be a solid person rooted in the community. THIS community where I live.

I wanted to do them well and do good business, the kind where I can look my past patients (and current neighbors) in the eye when I see them at the grocery store.

I never tried to fool anyone about my unwillingness to take on the task of running my own office. An additional PT office right around here would be overkill. The business side of health care drains me. Instead of going home to read up on Medicare regulations or getting credentialed with local panels, I prefer to spend plenty of time with family and friends. Instead of staying up late doing payroll and human resources, I gain passion and life from reading and trying to write about our bodies and our minds and the human condition.

And this is exactly what helps me to deliver unique perspective and quality care. 

Moving on to exciting opportunities in other locations may mean losing the local connection that's so important to me. Staying put may mean less pay for more work within a healthcare philosophy that I'm not in tune with. Welcome to the real world, Bob.

Is there any room around here for a physical therapist who would like a little administrative support without the micromanagement and red tape?

Is it even okay to be content with making a living, helping a handful of neighbors without building an empire?

Will Select Medical approve our weekly Brusters Thursday treat for our staff and students? 

Is this asking too much?

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I pick things up & softly, nonthreateningly place them down

I just had to.

So I Left Amy and the kids home on a beautiful Saturday morning to go train at Planet Fitness. I had to be there anyway to advise a past patient on some training matters. Paul the manager kindly grants me access in order to help clients transition to a long-term fitness routine.

I walked in and immediately...waited. I watched some guy use the only free weight rack to do about 19 sets of bicep curls.

When it was finally  my turn I proceeded to do it all wrong. I completed only one exercise for "chest," hung from the smith machine to do chin-ups, and didn't have time to isolate anything. 

The gym was mostly empty, which was nice. I tried to keep moving without making much noise or demanding attention. Things went well until it was time for dead lifts, the amazing epitome of lifting things up and putting them down.

Thump - thump - thump, is the low pitched sound of rubber plates bumping off rubber flooring. I've definitely heard people sneeze louder than my thump. After the third of my four work sets, a girl on staff came over from the the front desk. "Excuse me sir but you're not allowed to drop the weights. I'm sure it wasn't on purpose, but..." Then she turned and quickly walked away.

I could feel her discomfort in confronting me. So I grabbed the nearest dumbbell and tossed it in her direction, "You don't know what's dropping weights." Then I proceeded to quietly roll the loaded barbell back and forth across the open gym floor, asking the other patrons if this is too loud and intimidating.

No, that didn't happen. But I did say "oh I'm sorry" before completing my fourth set with a little extra impact control at the bottom of each rep, watching the Lunk Alarm out of the corner of my eye. It was a long, miserable set. The Lunk Alarm held its applause.

      - - - - whew- - - -

I completed a couple finishing "core" moves and hogged the free weight rack with barbell bicep curls. I went over to peer at my nemesis, the hip abduction/adduction machine. Forty five minutes and my work was through.

Concluding remarks:

I caught a nice workout at Planet Fitness without having to put up with the typical gym culture tomfoolery.

Planet Fitness should decide if they want to be a gym or library.

I was definitely feeling a little judged. Make no mistake - Planet Fitness does (and should) judge in order to uphold a certain atmosphere. They should try to design a Lunk Alert that's less sensitive to dropped weights and more sensitive to a critical and hot-headed spirit.

                                  - - - - -


I pick things up and put them down

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I'm no marketing critic, but I think this Planet Fitness ad is hilarious, has retaining power, and gets their core message across. They got it right, the meat-head with an accent wearing ridiculous shorts and sleeve-cut flannel, swigging mystery fluid straight from the gallon jug.

I appreciate that Planet Fitness takes the promise of a nonthreatening exercise environment seriously. Although their "Judgment Free Zone" claim is a bit of a reach for a public gym, I know how often the typical fitness scene can become quirky and downright ugly.

Convenience is not the only reason why I've been training at home for the past decade or so. I've seen young and old men having staring contests with their biceps in practically every gym. I've noticed girls training in butt floss at the Paxton Community Friendship Center, draped over a hamstring curl machine situated in a high traffic area. I witnessed some cyborg inside the Slippery Rock Barbell Club intentionally bloody himself while doing dead lifts, rubbing the knurling of a barbell along his bare shins.

These are the type of things most of us just don't need for our health and wellness.

Planet Fitness caters to all the mostly sane, everyday people who simply want a gym without all the oddball duchebaggish behavior. But the irony in the commercial is that sane, everyday people would benefit most from nothing more than LIFTING THINGS UP AND PUTTING THEM DOWN.

Nothing else is as effective for increasing functional total body strength, balance, coordination, and muscle tone. Not the rows of elliptical machines, the tanning booths, the flat screen TVs, or the newest machines that isolate the triceps and obliques. None of those thing are as time efficient and effective as picking things up and putting them down.

Take lunges. The hip and quadricep (front thigh) muscles must generate force with most of the weight on one leg. Controlling momentum of the body (plus any additional loading like dumbbells) requires the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the pelvis. The hip adductors (inner thigh muscles) and abductors (outer thigh/butt muscles) balance the leg so that you don’t tip over.

If you're not doing some variations of lunges, rows, dead lifts and chin-ups, pretty much anything that involves you picking things up and putting them down, you probably should be. I make this claim not as a gym-culture blind fitness fanatic, but as a doctor of rehabilitative medicine who has helped hundreds of people to decrease their pain and increase their physical performance.

Lifting things up and putting them down is what real life requires of us. Since we ALL pick things up and put them down, it's often helpful to identify dysfunctional movement patterns and use various modalities, hands-on mobilization, stretching, strengthening, and stabilization exercises to attempt to correct them to the greatest extent possible.

Some of this requires...you guessed it. 

Up next is a report on what recently transpired when I tried picking things up and putting them down over at the local Purple.

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