Strength/speed/athletic programs… there’s a lot of them. At a cursory glance we have 1 x 20, The Bulgarian System, French Contrast, 5 x 5, German Volume, Smolov, Conjugate, Concurrent, Low to High, High to Low, 5-3-1, West Side for Skinny Bastards (that’s an actual program), Body Spartan, Circuit Training, Tabata, DC Training. There may be more programs and systems and methods than there are Pokémon. It’s exhausting! There’s a ton of salesmanship involved and deciphering what’s fact and fiction can be challenging for the average consumer.
Sooooo many programs
And the dirty secret about all of them (that the others wouldn’t want to tell you) is that they all work. To a degree. There is no BEST. To quote legendary strength coach and bastion of no-nonsense, Buddy Morris, “EVERYTHING WORKS… but nothing works forever.” Adaptation occurs, previous stressors become old hat, and we stall. For me, the fun part of all of this is figuring out how to continue to tip the needle towards progress.
Most importantly, the APPLICATION of the program trumps any degree of sets, reps, and designated rest periods. Every summer many of my college athletes hand me a binder of exercises, figures, and percentages. Many are extremely excited to begin this odyssey of gains that will invariable come their way. I know that I was. I’m sure some of their collegiate strength coaches spent hours tirelessly putting their sheets together. Others probably just copy and pasted the same thing that they have been doing for years and went on their way (just being real here).
But here’s my point. Having a recipe from Hell’s Kitchen does not make you Gordon Ramsay. The why, how, and when of it all, separates a list of ingredients from a culinary masterpiece. A squat prescribed on a piece of paper doesn’t mean much. Especially if you have poor thoracic mobility, or FAI (femoral acetabular impingement), or glutes that don’t fire optimally, or femurs that are 40% of your body, or any other issue that could prevent you from doing that particular exercise well.
Having a cookbook doesn’t make you a chef. Writing a list of exercises doesn’t make you a coach.
To just have a list of things without looking at how you do them is missing a lot for your athletes to continue to improve. My favorite coach ever, Henk Kraaijenhof, doesn’t even look at exercises when profiling athletes. For him, right brain versus left brain, muscle fiber composition, and ability to handle stress, lead the charge to help the best get better.
For me, I think one of the more important priorities for the athletes I work with is getting them to run better. A lot of high school athletes I have encountered are in desperate need to improve run technique. Not just from a performance perspective, but an injury prevention consideration as well. Last I checked, there isn’t a bench press on a basketball court, or a squat rack on the pitchers mound. So, being able to move your own body quickly and efficiently is a huge priority. If you can run better then you put yourself in a better position to succeed.
Other physical qualities (hardware) I would prioritize (in no particular order) include: vision, jumping ability, relative strength, and tissue quality. Another key, under-rated feature in all of this is finding the right sport/position for your frame.
Improving this physical hardware on the front end can help out the sports skill software on the back end. David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, references a study done in 1978 by the German Tennis Federation on the most talented 8 to 12 year old tennis players.
Epstein writes, “Of 106 kids, 98 eventually made it to the professional level, 10 rose to the top 100 players in the world, and a few climbed all the way to the top 10. Each year for five years, the scientists gauged the children first on tennis specific skills and then on measures of general athleticism… The tests of general athleticism- for example, a thirty-meter sprint and start-and-stop agility drills- influenced which children would acquire the tennis-specific skills most rapidly.” He concludes, “Over the five years of the study, the kids who were better all-around athletes were better at acquiring tennis-specific skills… superior hardware was speeding the download of tennis-skill software.”
You see this in other sports too. Now, there are outliers for sure (Tom Brady won’t win a 40 yard dash any time soon), but generally speaking the athletes with better measurables end up better pros.
Steffi Graf had enough speed to be a European Champion in the 1,500 meter. Instead, she was the #1 tennis player in the world for 377 weeks.
That’s where physical preparation comes into play. Get faster, get stronger, practice your skills, and reap the rewards in your sport. The concrete sets and reps of a program itself may not matter per say, but the execution of how it’s done matters. Find a reputable coach, have them educate you on how to individually improve, and adjust when needed. Understand what matters, pursue it, and get better.
I love a good “Aha” moment. Last Sunday I got one for the ages. For me, it was like getting hit on the head with an apple and getting my kite struck by lighting after getting a red pill from Morpheus. Mind blown. Through the urging of my good friend (and arguably one of the best physical performance coaches in the country) Jeff Moyer, I made the three hour trek down to New Jersey and took the Reflexive Performance Reset seminar given by Cal Deitz.
To say I was wowed is an understatement. Deitz is the head strength coach at the University of Minnesota and is highly respected internationally for his innovative and unique training methods. I was first introduced to his triphasic training philosophy over five years ago at the Central Virginia Sports Performance seminar in Richmond, Virginia and became an immediate fan of his teachings. Since then, Deitz has teamed up with South African physical therapist, Douglas Heel, and they have developed this amalgamation of physical therapy/sports performance/voodoo (maybe not that last one) which blew my mind. Now, I have been sworn to secrecy in actually sharing the drills and tests we learned at the seminar. But, I can tell you SOME of the main ideas behind the system:
Blue pill, same old stuff. Red pill, never see performance the same way again.
I have tried Reflexive Performance Reset on everyone that has been open to giving it a whirl and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Whoever wants to try it- my athletes, the areas best back surgeon, lawyers, even my wife and my parents. Instant reactions have ranged from, “How does that work?” to “That is crazy!” And probably most importantly, “I feel so much better.”
- Breathing drives physiology and can impact everything from circulatory efficiency to sleeping patterns.
- A muscle that has 10% extra tension in it can have 30% less blood flow than one without.
- Your jaw can often drive neurological firing patterns.
- Your glutes might actually be your quadratus lumborum.
- If we are talking injury prevention, an explosion is better than an implosion.
I included a video of myself dunking after performing the glute activation reset. I’ll be 35 next week and my best jumping day’s are well behind me. But, I applied some of the techniques I learned on myself and felt pretty good. So I had one of my students video me attempting to dunk. It went down easy. In dress shoes and khakis. Without stretching.
If I can accentuate my fading athleticism, then I am extremely jacked up about how this will work for the young athletes I train. Deitz referenced a high school football team that used this system for a year and had 15 players with a 30″ plus vertical jump on the roster. Not shockingly, this particular team went on to win the state championship. Tapping into correct muscular firing patterns is a huge athletic hack. Know how to do it and you can really tip the odds in your favor. I know how and hope to pass it on to the athletes I work with. Hopefully, they will see the Matrix for what it is. Heightened performance is just an activation away.
Life views post Reflexive Performance Reset
I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a four year starter. Strawberry field, Oneonta, New York, a hazy August morning in the not too distant past. That day was scheduled to be our first inter-squad scrimmage and both sides were chomping at the bit to let the pads do a little talking. I was an extremely nervous freshman who had just been told that he would be playing the first series at free safety. Now, at the time I looked like a human lollipop. 6’6″ 180 is a nice look for a high jumper, but an unusual build for an athlete flying around the secondary hammering opposing receivers. Adding to my nerves is the fact that I had only been playing this position for a week. I originally came into camp preparing to be the next great quarterback that Hartwick produced. But, the coaches asked me if I’d switch to defense. I liked contact, “sure” was the answer.
My key for the day in our base defense was reading our Senior all American tight end Greg Balcavage (A.K.A Balky). Great. Greg, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, was a freak. They called him the “creature.” 6’3″ 235, tough as nails, mean as a junk yard dog and still the best tight end that has stepped on to that field. He had hands like catchers mits, was faster than a human that size should reasonably be and a total mismatch nightmare for me, a walking skeleton in shoulder pads. So yea I was nervous. Though, on this particular day I had had an ace up my sleeve. I knew on one specific play I was gonna have his number. I just had to do the right thing at the right time.
The play was called Y delay. A basic tightend screen that the offense had run and embarrassed aggressive opposing defenses for years. Balky would feign like he was blocking, pause for a count or two and then release into the area that the opposing defenders had vacated. Usually, he was as naked as a jay bird with the nearest opposing color 5-10 yards away. He would snag the pass, turn up field and ramble for some big time yardage. I watched this scenario go down several times in practice and promised myself that when the time came I was going to haul my bony frame at him with every ounce of my being.
So the ball is snapped and I read my keys. Offensive line shows pass and Balky is staying in too. Thing is, his eyes are darting around like a rookie at the main table of the World Series of poker. Somethings up, he’s gonna release and I know it. I just have to time it up so I don’t hit too early and get a pass interference call, or not too late and risk getting trucked. After a second, he darts downfield turns and looks for the ball.
In all honesty I don’t remember whether he caught the ball and I tackled him, or I broke the pass up. The only thing that stays with me is the crack of my shoulder pads against his, the roar from the sidelines and the birth of my new nickname-sticks. Already resembling one, I now had a moniker that was fitting for how I hit people. Sticks stuck, and for the next four years that’s who I was. It’s funny, under normal circumstances, 1-1 or squared up Balky beats me 9.99 times out of ten. But in this particular setting, I got the best of him. The train came to the station, my bags were packed and I hit that train as hard as I could. Team mates went bananas, the coach who moved me there looked like a genius and my confidence was sky high. I told myself right then and there, that If I could rock an all American, then I could play at this level.
Now maybe my path would have been different had I not prepped for this particular play. Say I disregarded the tight end and vacated the scene. Balky catches the ball and runs down the field untouched. Business as usual, next play, life goes on. Maybe I still play early, as the coaches saw something in me that I didn’t at the time.
Or maybe we go the other way. Confidence drops, coaches lose faith and I’m off the squad in a season or two looking to transfer. Those little moments are big. Each practice, each game, each season is a chance to harness one of those and make it your own. Write your own story. The season is coming, the train creaks into the station for a moment. I hope those bags are packed well, all you gotta do is pick em up and step on board.