Today we consider an interesting question from TTP reader, Vicki.  Vicki is a D1 collegiate womens hockey athlete, a rising senior who’s looking to better her game.

I’ve italicized Vicki’s questions/comments/concerns below. 

…My question is regarding periodized training for sports (I apologize, I know this is not in very close accordance to the primal lifestyle!).  I suppose I should first give you some quick background information on myself. I am a female NCAA D1 college hockey player, going into my senior year. I have been training for hockey for many years, since before I was a teenager...

This is something all competitive athletes must grapple with; check that — something that all contemplative, competitive athletes must grapple with.  Kudos to you for realizing that periodization is not necessarily a “paleo thing”.  It’s true that the more one specializes in physical endeavors, the more one diverges from optimum overall health (and evolutionary fitness).  I think, though, that the effects of this are compounded both by intensity and by years; in other words, short periods of specificity will only affect an acute blip in the overall health continuum.  You’re young, and the overall health impact of specialization is negligible.  Give it hell while you have the opportunity; you’ve got the rest of your life to generalize.  For you now, though, periodization is an essential “evil”.  You only have some much time,and so much energy — you’ve got to direct both of those toward escalating the physical attributes that will help you excel at your sport.  Unfortunately, that will come at the cost of degrading some other aspect of overall fitness; it’s simply the Yin-Yang, way of the world.  Just keep this in mind when your competitive life comes to an end, and a new chapter begins.  See to it then that the “new chapter” incorporates more of a wholistic health and fitness approach.

…I have had decent results the last few offseasons in implementing a mixture of powerlifting, weights, speed, agility, and quickness training. However, after following your blog for some time I believe I may be able to achieve even better results by using some of your methodology.  I have always been decently strong for my size. I am 5’1″, about 115lbs. I can bench press my weight about 5 times (I only know this because it is a part of our fitness testing), front squat 145×6, and hang clean 115X4. My weaknesses come with the modalities for jumping and sprinting. My vertical jump is quite weak. We actually test it 3 different ways. First you begin in the squat position and explode up. Second is a typical squat jump with the counter movement. And the third is the drop off jump. Hockey players typically see their numbers increase with each jump but my numbers are actually the opposite, with the static start being my best. I should also mention that putting on some muscle is important to me as well, but I’m aware that especially given my size it may compromise my speed…

What I see here are indications of a strength-skewed athlete, probably the result of a genetic leaning that was compounded by a history of exercise choices that leaned heavily toward the strength modalities.  In a broad/general sense, you’re the antithesis of an Allyson Felix-type athlete; overly strong relative to your RFD and elastic ability.

The vertical jump continuum you present here is telling.  Let’s quickly look at the components of a vert — strength, power (neurological efficiency, i.e. how efficiently that strength expressed per unit of time), and elasticity (the ability to store and release energy).  The jump from a full squat somewhat negates the neurological efficiency component and strongly dampens the elasticity component.  You’re forced to rely more so on raw strength as a motive force.

Aside: I’m speaking in shades, here — leanings, skews — very little in physiology, or in life for that matter, is black and white, all or nothing.

A counter movement allows for the introduction of neurological efficiency and a slight increase in the elastic component.  A rebound (drop-off) jump maximizes (for this modality) the elastic contribution, and therefore can be used to determine whether an athlete leans toward being explosive or elastic.

Your observations on the athletes’ jumps are correct — most athletes (outside the realm of powerlifting and/or strongman) perform better in the counter and rebound jumps as compared to the “static” jump.   This is to be expected, as most athletic endeavors are mostly explosive/elastic in nature; the participants engaged at your level of competition have already been somewhat vetted for a bias toward explosiveness and elasticity.

I’ve never seen you sprint, but I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount that you’re a “push” runner, relying on quadricep and calf strength over and above your (if I had to guess) weaker (and neurologically more inefficient) posterior chain.  Now, I’d imagine that the sprint-skate motion is a little more quad-centric than a dry-land, running sprint; bio-mechanic specifics aside, though, your jump relatives still indicate a “muscling through” on your movements.  That said, I’d be willing to bet that you’re “muscling-up” your power cleans as well.  Consider your power clean movement relative to one of your more explosive team mates (who has the best counter movement vert on your team?) — I’d imagine there’s a substantial difference between the speed of your power clean to that of the more explosive athlete’s clean.  Raw strength will only carry you so far.  Right now (again, this is without seeing you perform), I’d bet that your superior game skills are compensating for your natural (and trained for) athletic ability.  What to do now?  No problem — train for power, while maintaining your sport-specific skills.

Check this post out, if you haven’t already.

…So my question to you is how I could best periodize my off season training? The last few summers I have followed typical protocol where April-May is high reps and lower weight (i.e. 12-15×2) 2-3 times a week with 2 agility sessions per week plus conditioning. June-July is 8×3-4 with implementing some hang cleans and push press. Finally August is 4-6×4 with similar exercises. Maintained throughout are 2 speed, agility, quickness sessions per week. For the first month or so would lifting with a strengh-endurance or strength-strength emphasis be best to help with hypertrophy? 25 for a bigger engine? Rest pause? I have been paralyzed by over-analysis!

First off let me say that what I say here must be considered in light of what your S&C coach has mapped-out for you; there may be specific reasons why he (or she — times are changing — for the better!) has you on this particular routine.  That said, though, what you don’t need at this point is more strength, nor is additional hypertrophy going to be of any benefit.  S&C coaches will (correctly) skew toward these modalities in the early off-season — more “bang for the buck”, as (1) most explosive/elastic athletes can benefit from such a periodization block, and (2) collegiate S&C coaches are crushed by the sheer number of athletes they have to administer to and, therefore, just don’t have the time to personalize an individual’s off-season program.

You, however, are an outlier who would be better off focusing their off-seasons on becoming more explosive.  This is where “train what you suck at” comes into play.  Broadly speaking, what you want to do is direct your focus to speed-strength and strength-speed modalities — essentially, you want to train so as to affect an increase in your instantaneous power production; increase your power-to-bodyweight ratio.  Explosive movements, done in singles, doubles and triples.  No prolonged, “grinding” reps — keep every rep of every chosen exercise “snappy” as possible.  Find that sweet spot between load and rep speed so as to produce maximal power in each movement.  And direct your focus, first and foremost, toward posterior-chain movements — all manner and variation of pulling motions, i.e, cleans, snatches, creds and the like.  But remember, the actual exercise chosen is of lesser importance than the manner of execution — give your body, at every opportunity, an explosive stimulus.

And this weight room work can be nicely feathered into (and will act in synergy with) your ongoing sprint and agility efforts, which are highly, highly important for you now.  Don’t shortchange these sessions.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t push the Paleo diet on you.  As much as you can, lean towards a more paleo-like way of eating.  At the very least, remove the extraneous sugar and refined carbs from your diet.

Today’s workout
If you’re wondering where all this back-to-back work is coming from, I’m purposely front-loading a lot of workouts this week, as the Easter weekend will find me in the midst of a much-deserved mini-vaca to the Houston area.  Yeah for intermittent R & R!

The windy-as-all-hell conditions today make the two-mile fixie-jaunt to the gym seem like twenty.  And, of course, we all know that from the biker/runner’s prospective, it’s always a head-wind!

Began on the field with 20 yard shuttle runs (think old school “horses” or “suicides”), 30 seconds worth, each of 5 rounds.  I was able to just eek-out 7 trips each round.  Approximately 2 minutes rest between runs.  Same idea as yesterday, more change of direction work.

Then it was into the gym for the following superset:

cred (i.e., single-arm db) high-pulls, each arm: 100 x 3; 110 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

weighted dips: 45 x 7; 80 x 5; 90 x 4; 110 x 3; 115 x 3; 120 x 2

The cred-high pull is a unique exercise, and a personal favorite (as is the full-on cred).  I like the off-balance loading here, and I love the overloaded, between the knees, “catch” phase.  In a barbell high pull, the catch is effected by the hips “breaking” the bar.  Not so in the cred high-pull catch, where the weight is caught low, and the breaking force is supplied (if done properly) by the posterior chain — which then must immediately redirect to provide motive force to hoist the weight up once more.  Just don’t get crazy with the catch — this puts a hell of a force (and uneven at that) on the posterior chain.

Worked-out at 17-hours fasted, if you’re keeping track.  Re-feed 2-hours post workout (approximately 20 hours total fasted).  And DA-Yam! it was a good ribeye  🙂

4 COMMENTS

  1. Nice post!

    Just one question concerning those weighted dips or any other exercise you do where you gradually increase the weight and decrease the reps. Are those sets following any rules? Like for example, at first you do 7 reps with 40% of your 1 rep max., then 4 reps of 50% or whatever.

    • Purely by feel. Of course, you can always throw in some PAP/PTF holds to further prime the pump. I didn’t do so in this instance, but it’s always an option available when I choose to use it.

    • Thanks for the link. It had slipped my mind that Art was going to be interviewed on Econtalk. I like Russ Roberts’ show — good stuff.

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