“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

Edith Sitwell

What do prospective NFL draft prospects have in common with your everyday, average Joe trainee?  Plenty, when it comes to training what you suck at.

It seems as though (if personal conversations and email messages are any indication), that many trainees misinterpret the notion of “train what you suck at”.  Does this really mean that if I’m a naturally gifted sprinter, or power athlete, that I ought to devote an inordinate amount of time engaged in endurance training?  Well, in a word, no – but as in all else, context is key.  Charles Poliquin is fond of saying that one ought to be “true to your animal”, or, in other words, “work whatchur mama give ya”. What you suck at, of course, must be viewed within the context of your goals, and within a more narrowly defined definition of your particular gifts.   For instance, I am primarily an explosive, fast-twitch oriented trainee.  This is what I’m wired for, where I “feel at home”, the types of endeavors at which I excel.  Does this mean that to become a better athlete, or to advance my personal fitness goals, that I need to begin engaging in arduous aerobic endurance protocols (which I absolutely without-a-doubt suck at!)?  Of course not.  What it does mean though, is that I need to identify that element that is my weak-link to becoming a more explosive, more powerful athlete. To further refine things, I need to define what energy system I’m talking about.  Am I talking about becoming more explosive, more powerful in, say the 800 meters or the 40 yard dash?  Big, big difference, right?

As an example, let’s consider all the work being done now by prospective NFL draftees to prep for the NFL combine to be held later this month, and specifically, let’s consider the 40 yard dash preparations.  Coaches and scouts have long known (this is the “horse sense” side of training), that the initial few strides out of the starting gate determine the quality of the athlete you’re dealing with.  An analysis of numbers and 40 times over the years has proven this notion (which of course drew a collective “no shit, Sherlock” eye-roll from said coaches and scouts), showing that the initial 10 yard split (roughly the first six strides) is more a determinant of the overall 40 time than is the remaining 30 yard split.  In other words, the “flying 30” remains virtually unchanged across position-specific groups of athletes, with the initial 10 yard split being the real time-determining factor in the event.  The better the start, and the more powerful/explosive the initial six strides, the better the overall 40 time.

So, where would these athletes then, get more bang for their training buck?  In a macro sense (athlete relative to athlete), where is the across-the-board “weakness”?  Yep, you guessed it – explosiveness, instantaneous power generation.  From this point, then we have to look at the individual athlete to find out “what they suck at”.  Broadly speaking, is the athlete strength deficient relative to his speed/RFD capabilities, or the other way around?  What can we do to make a better puma, here?  A better gazelle?

After the kid signs, then the goals change.  Now strength-endurance considerations kick-in and figure more prominently in his eventual, on-the-field success.  First things first, though – he’s got to get signed initially – and that, in a large part, means nailing a great 40 time.  This is what I mean by “train what you suck at” – it’s micro in scope, not macro.  It must be viewed in context of your goals, and it must be in harmony with – not in opposition to – the type of “animal” you are.

And here’s what a blazing 40 time (and more specifically, a super-human 10 split) translates to on the field.  This young man blistered a 4.24 40 prior to being drafted by the Titans.  I’m not sure what his 10 split was, but I’d be willing to bet it was also the fastest ever timed at the combine.  Before combine and NFL fame, though, he wore the purple and gold of ECU.  Check it out –

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhUhLtAC_Ok]

Now, shifting gears just a bit – the following may be a bit tangential to “training what you suck at”…or is it?

From the Chelsea Green article Commencement”: An Excerpt from DIY U, which itself is a treatment of the Anya Kamenetz book, DIY U.

The way I see it, higher education, ten, twenty years from now is going to look very different. It won’t be the brick and mortar and the semester and a course in this and a course in that. It’s going to be more outcomes based and skill based, project based. You don’t have to take these sixty courses or whatever it is to be a journalist. Someone will identify your gaps and then you address the gaps, in whatever way is possible. And that may mean taking an online course from New Zealand, being in a discussion forum with people in Canada, an internship in Mexico with Habitat for Humanity. You just need to get the knowledge and skills whatever way you can and then test out or present a portfolio. And when you add it all up, a few years later, you actually are ready to be a good journalist. – (embolden emphasis mine)

Eat well.  Train hard, and train smart.  Recover properly.  Identify your gaps, then address them.  And above all, be true to your spirit animal.

In health,
Keith

7 COMMENTS

  1. Keith,

    You know that as a belgian I don’t know anything about football (american football as we call it), but that guy in the video is amazing. I have to agree with Justin, it is ridiculous! Crazy!

  2. Truly amazing power; how he turns on those afterburners!

    But–what amazes me even more with guys like this, as well as the best quarterbacks (not to mention Troy Palomalu) is their cognitive (or pre-cognitive) processes.

    When you watch this guy run, in the best moments he’s not just running… it’s like he knows everything that’s going on on the field at once. He knows where he is in space, and where everybody else is too. Amazing!

    • I’m sure there is a more scientific term for this, but “field awareness” is the commonly understood term. It’s “reaction”, rather than “thinking”; “flow”, or being in “the zone”. In Buddhist terms, it’s called “no mind”. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that some athletes (myself as an example) play(ed) “faster” than their 40 times because of heightened field awareness. Baseball players will tell you that they “see” the ball as being much bigger than it actually is, basketball players will “see” the hoop as being much larger. In my own experience, (and the best way I can explain it), it seemed as if time “slowed” just a fraction during competition. It fact, it always stuck me as odd just how fast “game speed” actually was as observed during post-game film critique. That this experience is very real, I have no doubt. What I am curious about now, though, is how this ability (which I can only assume is neurological based) is tied to the body’s power-generating capacity; the faster, more efficient the CNS firing rate, the more power-generating capacity (all else being equal). If this can actually be trained (and to what degree) is, I believe, the new frontier of athletic training.

      By the way, coupling super-human sprinting ability (power production) with superior “field awareness” produces amazing feats of athleticism the likes of which are displayed here by CJ. Note, too, that the athletes he’s competing against in these clips are pretty damn good themselves – which makes CJ’s abilities even that much more mind-blowing.

      • I remember the slowing down phenom from my volleyball days. Being a wee tike, I was a setter (who, at college level, are still much taller than me — perhaps that is why I didn’t pursue 🙂 and had a lot of time at the net. I was very good at scooping up the net shots and “dinks” from the other side. Those were the moments I really felt that. I also remember it more recently during a flag football game when I actually caught a touchdown pass. It was as if I barely thought about any of it and it all just floated around me. Definitely the same feeling.

  3. I look forward with anticipation to the restructuring of higher education along the lines you cite here. Right now we are still stuck in the Prussian Dark Ages.

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