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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