“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor.” – Charles Dickens

So I did a little surfing of the force-velocity curve Friday afternoon with some heavy Oly bar deadlifts in a superset with my version of the old Russian Plyo Swing. In the video below, I’m using a strap-and-band device from my good friends at Primal x 7 to perform explosive thrusters after each deadlift set:

That 420 lbs in the power rack behind me is what I worked up to for 6 reps in this superset sequence, which consisted of 7 total rounds. This is the last of those 7 rounds, and my form is beginning to falter — see my knees tucking in? Some pauses and stumbles? Yeah, I’m gettin’ smoked by this time. Or maybe that’s more to do with Adam Ant playing in the background?

Yeesh…. 🙂

Anyway, these jumps are great for explosiveness, and eccentric loading on the landing. Below is a video of Louie Simmons discussing his version of the Russian Plyo Swing –

Good stuff. And a fun way to hit the speed-strength zone of the force-velocity curve.

It struck me as rather ironic that just an hour or so following that workout I had an interesting Twitter discussion with Richard Nikoley, Andrew Badenoch, and Jamie Scott, on the efficacy of slower, controlled strength work vs explosive/ballistic/plyometric work. Wow, try to deal with that expansive subject in 140 characters or less 🙂  Essentially my input was that this is not an “either/or issue”, but rather an “and” issue, and is hugely dependent upon one’s goals. I also pointed out that power is essentially “strength expressed”; in other words, first establishing a solid strength base is paramount. Power/explosive/ballistic/speed training without a solid underpinning of strength is a disaster waiting to happen. This is why I cringe when I see the proliferation “speed camps” for kids that have cropped-up in recent years. Seriously? “Speed camps” for kids? Kids will get plenty of dynamic work just being active pains-in-the-asses to their parents (just like I was. Sorry, mom). But I guess the problem with this is that kids aren’t nearly as active anymore. Maybe the answer, then, is “play camps” in lieu of speed camps? But I digress..

Anyway, at some point in the discussion James Steele brought up a paper titled Explosive Exercises in Sports Training: A Critical View , which is essentially a meta-study on the ineffectiveness of explosive training on sporting performance. Hmmmmm….

Interesting. Especially in light of the workout I’d just completed.

Now, in all due respect to James, to say that I disagree with this paper’s findings (along with each individual paper cited in the study) is, to say the least, an understatement. And at some point I think going all-out Denise Minger into this work would be a great, multi-post TTP event. Problem is, I’d rather be in the gym or on the field producing tangible results than parked in front of a computer. But just from the 30,000-foot view, I’ll say this: researchers get paid to produce and report on compartmentalized/reductionist studies. S&C specialists get paid to produce tangible results in a highly competitive atmosphere. Researchers have to account for the step-by-step “whys”, whereas S&C specialists are only interested in gross input/output — if I do x, I can reliably expect y result.  Few researchers have any friggin’ clue as to what a comprehensive competitive training protocol looks like. Too, researchers couch this question of strength vs explosive training as an either/or, whereas S&C specialists are concerned with the proper mix of each relative to the needs of the athlete. Oddly, both camps are equally ill equipped to answer in entirety the question of “why is Joe such a stud athlete” because, quite frankly the gulf in knowledge between the micro (science) and macro (S&C) is so friggin’ immense.

So, In my opinion, does the smartly-programmed inclusion of explosive training make for a better trained power/repeat power athlete? Without a doubt, yes. Is explosive training riskier? Yes, but so is high-stakes power athletics. This is why every trainee who is looking to incorporate explosive training within their overall protocol needs to assess return-on-investment relative to their goals. Is the risk worth the payoff? This can only be addressed on an individual basis.  And, too, one has to be comfortable in knowing that an intervention works, without necessarily knowing exactly why. Can I tell you how, in scientific terms (or even why, for that matter) explosive training works? Nope, not even close. Not yet, anyway. All I can do is show you results after the fact. “Bro science”? Yeah, maybe it is. But this “Bro science” is what propelled Russian and East German athletes to dominate the Olympic power and repeat power events for decades — even in the pure sprinting events, where they were definitely dealing with a less-than-favorable genetic hand in comparison to the sprinters of west-African ancestry.

But again, I don’t want to come off as being anti-science. I’m not; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I just realize that science is not a God, but a tool — and like all tools, it has it’s limitations. Understanding those limitations allows me to use the best of what science has to offer, thereby actually facilitating — and not hampering — the acquisition of tangible results.

So in many ways, this discussion of strength vs explosive training reminds me of the study of — and surrounding arguments over — the validity of epigenetics.

That environmental stimulus could actually alter genetic expression (epigenetics) was once considered at best “woo science” and at worst, delusional. A more complete understanding of the workings of micro-RNAs (miRNAs), and how these entities actually alter genetic coding now lends (scientific) credence to the notion that even thoughts can, in fact, alter genetic expression. You are born with a certain genetic hand, no doubt — but how that hand is played out is totally up to you. Your actions, thoughts…and yes, what you eat.  Check out Ingested Plant miRNAs Regulate Gene Expression in Animals and consider anew your stance on GMOs, nutrient density, pesticides, and “engineered foodstuff”.

Foodstuff?  Seriously?  Just give me the real deal, please.

Note: I don’t usually add stuff after the fact, however, Aaron Schwenzfeier alerted me to this cool piece via facebook: Development of Strength and Power for Sport: What works, What Doesn’t and Why. Good stuff.  Thanks, Aaron.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –

Keith

6 COMMENTS

  1. I think the point James is trying to make, is not that athletes should not train explosively, but rather that they should not just use generic “explosive training”.

    For example, there is a large contingent of the S&C world that like to prescribe olympic lifting to anyone that competes in a power sport – Football, MMA, Rugby, Sprinters etc.

    However, there is little evidence that there is much in the way of transfer, particularly when you take into account the time taken to learn the exercises + the injury risk.

    If your sport requires sprinting power, you need to sprint, if it involves jumping you need to jump.

    The athletes must certainly learn to express their power, but it must be in the manner in which it is required in the sport itself.

    • It doesn’t really take any more time to learn how to power clean and power snatch properly than it does to learn how to perform a proper below parallel squat or set up for the deadlift. In fact, far too many people emphasize the infamous bench press day in and day out for years and their form is still atrocious. To this we could say they’ve “taken into account the time to do it [the bench press],” just not the time to learn it and thus not wreck their shoulders. I learned how to clean and snatch and my athletic ability greatly improved. No study required.

      • Agreed. I can teach an athletically-minded kid or adult the power clean/snatch variations in very little time. Are they ready to full-on O-lift following that? Hardly. But they now have all the tools they need to attack that portion of the force-velocity curve. As an S&C guy, it would be nice not to have to add the speed-strength aspect in. Damn, that would simplify things! But alas, if we want amplified performance, it’s a must. I’ve seen programs attempt to remove these aspects (Penn State comes to mind), with dismal results. Now, for sure we can’t peg diminished results on one single attribute, but when also added to the many n=1 examples I’ve seen over the years, it’s all the proof I need. Of course, I’m ever open-minded, and if I see on-the-field improvement from “non-explosive” programs, I’ll give them serious consideration. And I have seen it attempted — many times. Of course, my emphasis was primarily football and track & field (sprints and throws). Less power-driven sports can get away with less power emphasis in training. “Get away with” is one thing, though. Optimal is quite another.

  2. Awesome. There’s playing it safe, and then there’s playing it smart- which means going in eyes wide open, AWARE of the potential risks and respecting the activity as such, but also the potential benefits.

    Loved this article. Thanks!

    • There’s playing it safe, and then there’s playing it smart- which means going in eyes wide open, AWARE of the potential risks and respecting the activity as such, but also the potential benefits.

      EXCELLENT assessment, Seth.

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