Home Blog Baggett of Tricks Part II: An Interview with “The Truth About Quickness” Author Kelly Baggett

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

Written on January 27, 2008 at 9:41 am, by Eric Cressey

In Part I, The Truth About Quickness Author Kelly Baggett and I discussed his unique background, the importance of perspective, and common mistakes performance enhancement specialists (not to be confused with “strength and conditioning specialists”) make. We began to touch on the topic of testing athletes, so let’s pick up where we left off.

EC: With optimal testing frequency down, let’s cover the tests themselves. Which tests are good? Which ones are outdated?

KB: Any test that gets an athlete injured is obviously no good. For this reason there are times (e.g. inexperienced athlete) when it can be counterproductive to perform certain tests like low-rep squats, bench presses, etc. Any test can be improved with practice and I really like tests that don’t require much if any practice. Now, for specific tests I really don’t like the 225 max reps test for obvious reasons. There is also too much emphasis on a 40-yard dash. I like the test itself but don’t like how coaches give so many points based on a player’s “40.” Agility tests are useful but they can also be improved dramatically with practice and are pre-rehearsed, so they aren’t always accurate. Statistical data shows the only test the NFL uses that has much reliable correlation to playing ability is the vertical jump test. Interestingly, it would also seem to be the least “football specific” of all these tests. I’m also all for certain postural tests, length-tension assessments, and the like because these will go a long way in eliminating injuries, optimizing movement efficiency, and helping everything run smoother from the ground up.

EC: New tests that you have to introduce? I know you and I are both are big proponents of the vertical jump vs. counter movement jump comparison. Any others?

KB: When it comes to using tests to determine training focus, the vertical jump with and without counter movement is useful to determine strength functions. As an extension of the one you mentioned, try this: sit back on a chair in a ¼ squat and jump up and then compare this to your regular down-and-up jump. If the difference is less than 10%, it indicates that you rely on more pure muscular explosive strength and need plyometric/reactive work. If the difference is greater than 30%, it indicates you need more muscular/explosive strength because you rely largely on the reflexive/plyometric effect. This test is okay, but I still prefer a reactive jump test. The chair version will often give false results because people simply aren’t used to jumping from a pure standstill. If I was only able to use one test to indicate ones optimal training focus, strengths, and weaknesses, I’d use the reactive jump test because it tells so much. Not only are the results important in terms of jumping, but they can also be carried over to sprinting, agility, and multiple sports movements. I ran across it in some writings by Schmidbleicher and am surprised that it hasn?t been used more. I’ve been using it for a year and a half now, and it is very effective; DB Hammer is a true master of testing and finding athletes’ weaknesses and he also uses a version of this test but with a specialized reactive jump pad that measures the amortization phase. It’s a nice addition, but most aren’t going to have access to it and it’s not really necessary anyway. The test enables you to gradually increase plyometric contribution and see how the body responds.

EC: For our readers who aren’t familiar with the VJ vs. CMJ test, how about tossing out a brief outline?

KB: No problem. Generally, when reactive ability is good, the amount of energy that you put out in a movement will be directly proportional to the energy you take in. So, if you absorb more force, you develop more force. What you do on the reactive jump test is measure how much force you take in and compare this to how much power you put out. First, measure a regular down-and-up jump. Then, you use boxes and starting from around 12-inches perform a depth jump. Step off the box, jump as high as possible when you hit the ground and measure the height you jump. If it’s less than your regular VJ, you can stop there because it’s obvious you are lacking in reactive ability. Your ability to absorb negative force and transfer it into positive power is lacking. You’ll want to start using reactive and power training immediately; altitude landings would also be good for training your system to better absorb force. Once you become proficient, you then just follow the altitude landings up with reactive jumps.

Now, if your 12-inch reactive jump was better than your VJ, you keep increasing the height of the box in 6-inch increments until you find where your reactive jump drops below your vertical jump. The greater the height of the box when you reach that point, the greater the reactive ability. For some, there will be a gradual increase with each increase in box height. They may find their best jump comes off a 30 -inch box or better. These people are very plyometrically efficient so they need to emphasize muscular strength and hypertrophy to create more resources they can draw from in a plyometric movement – and nearly all sports movements are plyometric dominant. The test also will establish the optimal height of the box one should use for depth jumps; simply use the box that gives you the best reactive jump height.

EC: This test also underscores the importance of postural assessments and seeking connections between different tests. If someone has dysfunction at the subtalar joint, it won’t matter if they have potential for excellent plyometric abilities at the plantarflexors, knee extensors, and hip extensors. If they’re excessively pronating, they’ll cushion the shock too well, spending a lot of time on the ground because they can’t switch over to supination, which provides a firm base for propulsion. They’ll probably wind up with plantar fasciitis, an ACL tear, patellofemoral dysfunction, hip or lower back pain, or sacroiliac dysfunction. You can do power and explosive training until you’re blue in the face, but unless you correct the underlying problem with orthotics or specific stretching and strengthening interventions, the exercises to make an athlete proficient will really only make them deficient: injured. Likewise, if someone has excessive supination, they’ll be fine with the propulsion aspect, but won’t be able to cushion landings well at all. These individuals will wind up with lots of lateral ankle sprains, iliotibial band friction syndrome, pain deep to the kneecap, or problems in the lower back and hip. They’re easily spotted, as they don’t get immediate knee flexion when upon landing. Again, corrective exercise initiatives have to precede corrective initiatives! Just my little aside; I couldn’t keep my mouth shut for this entire interview! Where were we? Oh yeah – any more tests?

KB: Let’s see…another test that I like to use is the speed rep test; this can easily be implemented for the squat and bench press. You want to be able to explosively and quickly move a load that is fairly close to your limit strength so that you stay to the left on the force/time curve. Instead of basing your explosive training off of percentages you base it on the time it takes you to complete your reps. You simply try to get one rep for every second. You can go two reps in two seconds, three reps in three seconds, or five reps in five seconds. The percentages will vary among athletes, but I like to see bench press numbers up around 65-70%, achieving five reps in five seconds. The squat should be up around 55-60%.

The higher the percentage weight you use relative to your 1RM, the faster you are and the more of your max strength you’ll be able to use in a short sports movement.

The converse is also true; the lower the percentage relative to your 1RM, the slower you are. You want to gradually push up your max numbers while maintaining or improving the % of your maximum you can move quickly. If you’re up around 70% for bench press, it’s time to focus more on pure strength. If you’re down around 50%, you need more speed. I should also note that it’s not absolutely necessary to know your 1RMs for these tests. Very simply, the more you increase the weight you can use for this one rep per second explosive training protocol, the more explosive you will be in your sport.

EC: Good stuff. I know you’ve got some excellent points on 1RMs; care to enlighten our readers?

KB: Sure. For 1RMs, one thing I’ve picked up from Buchenholz is to look at the time it takes to complete the lift instead of just analyzing the weight lifted. There is a reason why so many people are divided on whether a maximal squat will transfer to added speed or power. It’s because the time it takes you to complete a maximal squat is much more relevant to sport transfer; those who achieve their 1RMs with great speed tend to have greater carryover of pure strength into sport than those who lift slower. Watch the guys who naturally lift a max load fast and compare their athletic abilities to those who lift slowly and you’ll see what I mean.

To give you an idea, Fred Hatfield completed his former world record 1014 lb. squat from start to finish in under 3 seconds! That’s what you call being explosive with a high percentage of your limit strength. I’m not saying that the squat is the best activity to directly transfer to a jump, but it’s no wonder that he (at one time) had a vertical jump around 40 inches without any specific training for it! A guy who can complete a true 1RM bench or squat in around four seconds or less from start to finish will often be able to train with more heavy strength training and hypertrophy work and get a good sport carryover. A guy who takes seven seconds or more to complete a 1RM attempt is too slow when applying his maximal strength to get much carryover. Even though he may be very strong, it doesn’t matter – nearly all sports movements are quick. He’ll need to back off on the heavy stuff and work on rate of force development (RFD) and reactive ability so that he can use a given percentage of his absolute force capabilities quicker. The test to which I just alluded is also useful because it will automatically encourage athletes psychologically to explode more in any of their lifts because they’ll realize how important rep speed is. You just have to be careful people aren’t going to try to go too fast, increasing the likelihood of injury.

EC: Any norms for these tests? What do you typically find?

KB: What is interesting about this is that the majority of genetically gifted professional and upper level collegiate athletes are going to fit into the first – naturally more explosive – group. In other words, basic heavy training will work for them – which is what most programs are focused on. What about the guys who are in the other group, though? What if they have to be thrown in on the same program with all the other guys? Unfortunately, they probably won’t make optimal progress on the same plan. They need something designed to optimize their attributes and overcome their deficiencies. This is what I meant when I said that we’ll see better athletes in all sports as the body of knowledge on training increases. Instead of arguing about basic heavy weights vs. Olympic lifts etc., more strength and conditioning coaches will understand what the best plan is for any given individual or group and train them accordingly. Toss preconceived notions and prejudices out the window and let the athlete be your guide.

EC: Optimize attributes and overcome deficiencies? Ubiquitous intelligent strength coaches? You’re a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, aren’t you Kelly? I mean, honestly, no arguments in the field of strength and conditioning? I can’t decide if it would be a good thing because it’ll quiet down all the HIT Jedis, or a bad thing because it means we won’t be able to torture on them any more. While I search for answers, feel free to tell our audience about any other tests you use.

KB: When it comes to speed and finding the right training focus, it’s useful is to look at split times. During the start of a sprint – especially for the first 20-30 yards – relative body strength is key. After the initial acceleration period, reactivity becomes dominant, so it’s important to find where in the race the athlete is weak. Someone who has a strong start but weak finish is likely strong, but is trying to muscle his sprinting stride. His hips may drop and he’ll be unable to run smoothly, allowing his hips and hamstrings to contract reflexively. It could be that his heavy training is getting in the way of relaxation and messing up his reflexive ability. For example, if someone has a 1.4 second 10 yard-dash, but only a 4.9 40, it’s pretty obvious that he’s explosive and strong. However, when reactive ability takes over, he suffers. He needs more speed work – either through flying runs, longer sprints, or quick action plyometric drills – where relaxation and reflexive action is key. If a guy is fast over the second half of a timed split but has a slow start and acceleration, he just needs to emphasize basic relative strength and explosiveness.

EC: As a kinesiology and biomechanics dork, I have to ask: how about actual movement analysis?

KB: Instead of evaluating posterior chain strength in the weight room and flexibility with static stretches, just watch how an athlete runs and moves. Is he getting triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips with each stride, or is he chopping his stride short? This can indicate weak hamstrings or a flexibility or postural issue. Often, there is also a poor correlation between posterior chain strength demonstrated in the weight room and function of the posterior chain during a sprint, so you have to look at function instead of just numbers. If the function isn’t there but the strength is, you?ll need to cut back on the weight work and focus more on things closely related to the specific activity.

EC: Let’s talk about the future of sports training. What do you think are the biggest issues on this front, and what can we expect to see in the years to come?

KB: I think that the controversy over manufacturing athletes vs. letting nature do all the work will become even more of an issue than it already is. It’s obvious that the U.S. is falling behind and it’s readily evident by the number of what one could call naturally physically inferior European NBA players in the NBA now. It’s getting to a point where the athletes born with the ability aren’t the only ones who succeed, although that’s pretty much the way it’s always been.

EC: You gotta’ love the Larry Birds of the world; they do a great job of throwing wrenches in the model for the perfect athlete on paper. That’s not to say that we can’t make every athlete better with proper training, though.

KB: I agree; with improved training methods, you’ll see a lot more athletes with inferior physiques and skills (at least initially) make it to the top. The level of training will rise up so that someone who is born without any great physical abilities will be able to improve his abilities above and beyond someone who is born with them but doesn’t work at it.

Now, we have all these sports performance centers popping up across the US. I feel that’s a good thing but they, of course, require money. The people who are able to take advantage of places like these will be well ahead of the guys who just have a school program. This will become even more apparent in the coming years, especially as the people running these places get even better at their jobs. I think Shaq said it best a few years ago; he may have been joking, but I don’t know. When asked how he saw the NBA in ten years, he responded, “They’ll be a bunch of white guys who can run and dunk as well as shoot!” We’ll just have to wait and see?

EC: Definitely. Okay, time for a little change of pace. We’ve focused on performance-based training exclusively thus far, but I know you have some insights regarding how to effecting positive changes in body composition and even bodybuilding-oriented training and nutrition tactics. The floor is yours…

KB: Bodybuilders and those interested in physique enhancement need to learn how to better work from the inside out rather than the outside in. Hormones are always going to be at least, if not more important than external initiatives with exercise and diet when it comes to determining what happens with our body composition (muscle gain and fat loss). Any male will put on a good 40 lbs of muscle without doing anything when he goes through puberty. The reverse will also gradually occur with age; that’s just how powerful the hormonal effect is. True, we can influence our hormonal state and internal chemistry by what we do, but people interested in the best gains of their life need to learn exactly what is going on inside them and how to best influence everything through diet and exercise to mimic as close as possible that natural hormonal growth surge. In other words, they must learn to optimize their internal chemistry so that fat will melt off or muscle will go on in slabs.

Contributors from science and real world-based information sources are really advancing what we know about physical change related internal chemistry: how hormones affect us, what we can do to change certain signals, etc. Up until now, the only approach was to do a few things right and hope everything fell into place. Simply stated: eat like a horse and train heavy, or starve and eat a low calorie diet to lose fat – or load yourself up on steroids and a host of other drugs. Those approaches definitely work and will always work, but I feel they’re getting outdated.

For example, when it comes to fat loss and stress, leptin has been touted as the major controller of all things related to bodyfat and bodyfat setpoint over the past few years. I believe that the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the stress response is as important, if not more important than leptin. The HPA axis and related central controls will largely dictate partitioning of nutrients, thyroid levels, androgen levels, and overall anabolism/catabolism. We know about too much stress and its effects on cortisol, but it’s important to remember that having a lowered response to stress can be just as problematic as having too much. There’s no doubt in my mind that methods to more optimally manipulate all these central controls will become very popular in the next couple of years

EC: It speaks volumes for knowing something about everything. It’s not enough to be a strength coach that only understands training; you have to be up-to-date on nutrition, endocrinology, anatomy, biomechanics, rehabilitation, supplementation, motivation, equipment, and how they all are interrelated. There aren’t many coaches out there that are that good, but you’re definitely one of them, Kelly. Thanks for your time.

KB: No problem; thanks for having me!

EC: For more information on Kelly, check out the outstanding product he and Alex Maroko created, The Truth About Quickness.

  • James

    So if I’m reading this right, my speed in performing a 1RM could determine how useful incorporating DE work would be for that lift. For example, if my 1RM deadlift takes upwards of 5 seconds from floor to lockout, some speed pulling would seem to be in order. On the other hand, if it takes 3 seconds, I can get away without it. Yes no maybe so?

  • Yes, James; I’d say so.

  • Steve

    Great knowledge in here Eric, thank you. Quick question egarding the faulty biomechanics info and its relation to general programming. If upon assessment you notice someone has faulty biomechanics (i.e. flat foot, patellae squinting etc), would you try and correct this before prescribing any sort of jumping/maximal strength exercises in your program?

    Many thanks, Steve


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