Home Articles Baggett of Tricks, Part I: An Interview with “The Truth About Quickness” Author Kelly Baggett

Baggett of Tricks, Part I: An Interview with “The Truth About Quickness” Author Kelly Baggett

Written on January 27, 2008 at 9:39 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, we have an interview with Kelly Baggett, co-author of The Truth About Quickness.  Kelly’s one of the brightest guys in the field of strength and conditioning – but I don’t need to tell you that, as you’ll get the picture very clearly just by reading the interview below.  Check it out!

EC: Thanks for taking the time to talk shop with me, Kelly. Tell me a little bit about yourself; I don’t want our readers to think that I just pulled some lunatic off the street for an interview in order to get an article in on time.

KB: I’m 30 years old and work as a performance enhancement specialist with individuals and coaches of all levels, setting up training, nutrition, and supplementation programs to optimize their progress. I’ve been fortunate to work in many aspects of the fitness, health, and sports training industry since the age of 18. My passion for these fields isn’t limited to team sports; rather, it also includes bodybuilding, which, because of the emphasis on body composition management, has enabled me to pick up many things related to nutrition and apply them to the sports training world. I’ve pretty much always been into one sport or another; at one time or another over the last 20 years, I’ve been involved in motocross, baseball, football, basketball, bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, martial arts, boxing, and gymnastics. Now that I think about it – pretty much every sport except for golf!

EC: Yeah, I usually get bored after about five holes, too; there needs to be more violence, cheerleaders, and swearing…but I digress. What were the roots of your passions?

KB: I’ve always been partial to the speed and power dominant sports, but in spite of my yearning to be a great athlete, I really struggled as a youngster. Not only was I very small, but I was also really slow: these two qualities don’t add up to much! I grew up with a lot of desire for developing the attributes of superior athleticism and plenty of curiosity and dedication to figure out how best to get the job done. These attributes, of course, include qualities like strength, size, speed, power, agility, quick feet, and, of course, “the look.” With consistent training, my own athletic attributes really took off and I knew I was onto something. Fortunately, because of the environments in which I’ve worked, I’ve been able to apply the knowledge and experience I’ve gained toward helping others reach their goals. Nonetheless, I realize this is still the very beginning; right now, we’re really just getting started with what can be done. When we look at strength and conditioning fifteen years from now, we’ll be amazed at just how far we’ve come; I just want to do my part and contribute to this advancement as much as I can.

EC: One of the things that I’ve always admired about you is your willingness to think outside the box. Where did this unique perspective originate?

KB: It’s funny that you’d use the phrase “think outside the box,” as I hear that quite a bit; a lot of people comment that I seem to dig up answers from all over the place. When it comes to figuring things out, I probably do tend to stray from the more chosen paths. I guess you could say my overall approach of thinking was solidified by some things I’ve experienced personally. I developed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at the age of 25 and was basically told that I would be fortunate if I could walk in a few years. The commonly accepted treatment options for RA are drugs with harsh side effects like medications used during chemotherapy treatment and prednisone: drugs that I would have had to take for the rest of my life to help slow the progression of the disease. Based on what I observed and heard from others, the drugs didn’t work consistently and the side effects were harsh. So, I decided to take my own path, which led me to explore alternative treatment options and develop an understanding of the disease in order to treat it holistically. To make a long story short (I have definitely had my fair share of struggles), I’ve never touched any common prescription medications for RA and am stronger now then I was 25. I pretty much carry that mindset into everything I learn and do; I feel that you can learn from anyone or any situation if you just keep an open mind. When you learn something, you have to immerse yourself in it fully. However, to really take advantage of the information and advance, you must back out and look at things from the outside-in, asking yourself, “How can I best use this and is this really the best way to accomplish my objective?” I’m all for science, but I prefer to start backwards; in other words, how can real world observations be explained by science?

EC: That’s a perspective that I’d like to see a lot of people in the strength and conditioning industry adopt. All too often, strength and conditioning coaches are afraid to try something new and, as a result, wind up making the same mistakes year after year with different athletes. For instance, I’m amazed at how many people still think that boatloads of boring, steady-state aerobic exercise and a low-fat diet are the best ways to lose fat. All these athletes do is become weak, tired, sick, and apathetic with compromised endocrine status.

KB: I agree; conditioning for athletes is a very common area of ignorance in today’s coaches. Too many coaches and athletes try to make up for poor diet by running their guy into the ground with conditioning. Not enough attention is paid to diet, and I feel not enough coaches are well versed in dietary approaches. Physically, someone like David Boston, although probably too extreme, is a good example of what can be accomplished with excellent combinations of each – training and diet.

EC: While we’re on the topic, what do you think are the most prominent errors that strength and conditioning coaches make?

KB: Before I get to the errors themselves, we ought to reconsider the use of the term “strength and conditioning,” coach, which I feel would be better renamed “performance enhancement” coach. The term “strength and conditioning specialist” conveys that as a coach you must either be busting your athletes’ asses in the weight room or running them to death on the field. Too many coaches get caught up on the strength aspect when their time would be better spent focusing on means of improving performance. They should be asking themselves how they can best increase the short- and long-term performance of an athlete, and they should be able to tell you exactly why they’re training a certain way at a particular time and know exactly how and why what they’re doing is going to improve performance. Often, performance can be improved by doing nothing at all: simply allowing recovery to take place. Or, in some cases, focusing on things unrelated to strength and conditioning like basic sports movement patterns can be of tremendous value.

EC: Excellent observation; recovery is unquestionably one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated facets of not only making people bigger, stronger, and faster, but also improving demeanor. Some athletes just need more time off than others, so you have to know when to back off on volume, do some pool work, or just send them home to eat and go to bed.

KB: I agree. That statement also underscores the important of recognizing that one athlete’s trash is another athlete’s treasure; it’s important to assess each athlete’s needs individually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen football players with near-zero agility, dynamic flexibility, and reactive movement ability spend their entire summer in the weight room doing nothing but pounding the weights in an effort to get stronger with very little return in playing ability. On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many basketball players, runners, and cheerleaders I’ve seen who have struggled for months and years on end trying to develop their skills when their woes could easily be cured by a solid month in the weight room making friends with the iron. So, it’s definitely not a one-way street; the coach needs to understand which direction the athlete should go.

EC: Any other common errors?

KB: Another thing I see a lot that I don’t always agree with is coaches and specialists looking a bit too much to the rehab setting for answers when they should be looking to the real world for answers. Now this is totally different for the general population, but when it comes to athletes, I think you have to draw the line and ask a simple question: “What qualities do the best athletes have and how can one gain those qualities?” To sum it up, list the twenty greatest athletes you can think of in the NFL, NBA, soccer, hockey etc. Out of those twenty, how many of them do you think spent significant time being coached in stability training, core activation, functionally correct linear and lateral movement training, etc. in their youth? Now, if your answer is anything like mine, it’s going to be “Not very many!” What is it, then, that separates these athletes from the rest? What are the things that we commonly do now – the best methods to develop these attributes? That’s what you need to be doing!

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for almost everything, but I feel if something isn’t working right, then you can go back step-by-step and correct it. You usually can use drills or exercises that are very close to what you would normally do; there’s rarely a need to go back all the way and have this athlete performing a workout that would be more fitting for someone coming out of multiple joint replacement surgery. If your car drives pretty good and you want it to go faster, you’d want to put a bigger engine in it before you waste time trying to make it drive absolutely perfect. Moreover, before you go and start modifying an engine with all sorts of fancy gadgets, you better be able to use the engine you do have in the first place.  This is a theme that resounds in our product, The Truth About Quickness.

To illustrate this concept, let me give a couple of examples from some “Rocky” movies. I’m just going to assume everyone reading this has seen “Rocky.” Remember how Micky trained Rocky for speed and agility by having him catch chickens? Sometimes you just have to “turn the chicken loose.” If you can catch the chicken, you’re most likely able to move functionally well enough! However, if you can’t catch the chicken, maybe you should initially spend more time focusing on the things that will more DIRECTLY improve your speed and quickness and see where that takes you instead of worrying about all the often excessively complex functional training techniques.

EC: It kind of brings to mind how the term “functional movement training” has been bastardized over the past few years. There were some really smart people on the right track with their definitions and explanations initially; now, commercially-driven goons have redefined it to convince housewives that standing on a stability ball while performing some silly-looking unilateral inverted wiggling motion with a two-pound medicine ball is the optimal way to be “functional and fit.” Last time I checked, if a movement got you from point A to point B, it was functional. So, I suppose these people aim to look moronic, then what they’re doing is somewhat functional?

KB: Sometimes you just have to take that more straightforward approach. Here’s another “Rocky example.” Recall that in “Rocky IV,” Rocky trained in a harsh Siberian environment with nothing but logs, farm equipment, hills, axes, snow, and a pair of sneakers?in short, nothing that even remotely resembled sophistication. Then, you have his Russian opponent training in a pristine scientific environment with every little aspect of his training measured and accounted for. Sure, it’s a movie, but I there’s still a lesson to be learned. It’s fine to use all that science has, but don’t forget there are times when it’s better just to roll up the sleeves because that’s what sporting environments are like anyway; you can’t get too far from that mentality. I try to combine optimal amounts of both sophistication and crude toughness.

EC: Another important lesson that I’d like to highlight from that example is that “Rocky IV” is the greatest movie of all time; I’m still upset that it isn’t required viewing in high school history classes when the Cold War is the topic of discussion. By the way, you’ve already covered my favorite movie, but if you can somehow relate “Happy Gilmore” to deadlifting and “Braveheart” to insulin-independent glucose uptake, you’ll be on my Christmas card list forever.

You mentioned the optimal amounts of different contributing factors; I’m a firm believer that one can’t just understand training or nutrition/supplementation. Rather, coaches and athletes need to understand both individually and, more importantly, the synergistic effect of the two. The old adage that success is “90% diet,” while admirable in verse, really does send a bad message. Coaches and athletes need to treat training and nutrition/supplementation like they’re both 100%. In fact, we ought to also include factors like restoration, motivation, and education in this equation.

KB: Well said, in short, coaches need to put their prejudices and preconceived notions aside and look to the end goal: taking an athlete from A to Z even if that means stepping away from tradition. Let performance and needs determine the optimal focus. Learn how to initiate individualized training prescriptions. Learn how to analyze strengths and weaknesses. Learn what training methods are best for a given goal. Optimize the training economy and don’t get cute just for the sake of being different.

EC: Okay, let’s delve into strength training programs for athletes. I’d like to start by getting your perspective on testing athletes. First off, how often? I think that some coaches waste way too much time with testing-only weeks because they test too many different things and get hung up on testing improvements rather than performance improvements in the sport in consideration.

KB: Yes, you’re exactly right about this. Too many schools spend an entire week or more getting everybody tested and a large part of that time is spent messing around. I don’t see any real need for a testing-only week unless part of that week is also going to be used as a regeneration week. It shouldn’t take longer than 2-3 days to test everything, anyway. What I have always liked is to incorporate testing into part of the workout or program. This is very similar to what Westside guys do. Those guys are really “testing” every week on their max effort days. All you’d have to do is cut down on volume in the days prior to the testing workouts and do everything nearly the same – that way the testing doesn’t become a distraction to the main goal: improving performance.

Also, as a coach, I feel the athletes are constantly being tested and evaluated. When I work one-on-one with someone, there is rarely any definite need for testing because during every session I’m observing and usually always know what’s going on. Likewise, I can learn a lot and reduce the need for testing just by analyzing someone’s training log. If I see a guy improves six inches in two weeks on his depth jump or reduce his times in a sprint drill, I don’t need him to run a week of testing to tell me that his sprint times have improved and his vertical jump has improved. If a guy increases by 20 lbs in a strength exercise working in a lower rep range, I don’t need to take time off and have him test his 1RM to show he’s improved.

However, I should note that the one time that can be an advantage is when it used to show an athlete how much he’s improved and to boost his confidence, or when a player absolutely needs to be evaluated in the test. For example, if you’re preparing for an NFL combine, you have to get used to the testing procedures and learn how to peak at the right time. Times like that are when it’s necessary to run a complete battery of tests and train for the tests because they’ll be the main focus. I feel as a coach you should be able to tell where your athletes stand just by observing them and their performance in training and what they do on the field. Look for improved function rather than just numbers.

EC: I couldn’t agree more. In Part II, we’ll pick up where we left off with strength testing, and move on to discuss the future of sports training and how to tie all this together for performance and physique enhancement. Thanks for dropping some knowledge bombs on us, Kelly.

KB: My pleasure. I look forward to Part II.

In the meantime, for more information on Kelly’s methods, check out the product he created along with Alex Maroko, The Truth About Quickness. It’s a fantastic product that I highly endorse.

Update: Be sure to read Part 2: Baggett of Tricks, Part 2: An Interview with “The Truth About Quickness” Author Kelly Baggett.

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