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...]