Home Posts tagged "Sprinting"

Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 59

It's time to rock and roll with a new installment of quick tips you can put into action with your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs:

1. Enjoy some cherries!

Cherries are in-season right now in the Northeast, and my wife and I have been enjoying them regularly. In addition to being really tasty and loaded with nutrients and some fiber, there is actually a bit of research to suggest that eating them may help us overcome muscular soreness. Granted, working around the cherry pits is a bit of a pain in the butt - especially if you want to use them in a shake - but it's still worth the effort. Enjoy!


2. Watch baggy shorts with kettlebell swings.

Rugby players and female athletes excluded, most athletes prefer longer shorts that are a bit baggier these days. I don't anticipate a return to the era of Rocky and Apollo anytime soon, so it's important to appreciate this fashion sense and coach accordingly.

The biggest issue with baggy shorts is that they can get in the way on exercises like kettlebell swings and pull-throughs where you want to keep the weighted implement (kettlebell or rope/cable) close to the family jewels. When the shorts are too baggy, they can actually get in the way.  With that in mind, when an athlete is wearing baggy shorts and performing these exercises, it's best to have him folder over the waistband a bit so that the material won't block the movement path.

3. Find your biggest windows of adaptation.

Dr. John Berardi gave a great presentation at the Perform Better Summit in Chicago last weekend, and while there were a lot of outstanding points, one stood out the most for me. While "JB" is an incredibly bright guy with seemingly infinite knowledge, he never overcomplicates things when counseling folks on the nutrition side of things.  In fact, he stressed fixing the most glaring problems for individuals before even considering anything more "sexy." On the nutrition side of things, it might be as simple as correcting vitamin/mineral deficiencies, getting omega-3 fatty acids in, improving hydration status, or eating protein at every meal.  When things like these are out of whack, it doesn't matter what your macronutrient ratios or, or whether you eat two or six times per day.

It got me to thinking about how we can best apply this to training. One thing that popped to mind: a lot of people jump to advanced training strategies when they simply haven't gotten strong in the first place. If you are a male and only bench press 135 pounds, you don't need wave loading, drop sets, German Volume training, or accommodating resistances; you just need to show up and keep adding weight to the bar each week with straight sets, as boring as they may seem. And, if you aren't training very hard or frequently enough, you need to increase your effort, not find a fancier program.

Likewise, there are a lot of people who look to add, add, and add to their training volume, but never pay attention to recovery. If you're sleeping three hours a night or eating a horrible diet, a lack of training volume probably isn't what is keeping you from reaching your goals.

The takeaway message is that everyone has different windows of adaptation where they can improve. And, what a novice lifter needs is usually much different than what an experienced trainee should incorporate.

4. If you're going to sprint, start on the grass.

It's an awesome time of year to get out and do your conditioning in the beautiful weather. For me, this means I get to get outside and do longer sprints than I can do the rest of the year when the weather is less than stellar and I'm limited to a 45-yard straightaway at the facility. A common mistake I see among folks at this time of year, though, is heading right out to the track or an even more unforgiving surface: pavement. If you want to start sprinting, grass is your best friend - and it's even better if you can find a slight hill up which you can sprint. For more tips on this front, check out my old article, So You Want to Start Sprinting?

5. Try some band-resisted broad jumps before deadlifting.

Whenever I'm not feeling so hot when I first go to deadlift, it's usually because I just haven't warmed up thoroughly enough. I've found that the bar speed almost always seems to "come around" when I add in a few sets of plyos before returning to try deadlifts again. Without a doubt, my favorite option on this front is band-resisted broad jumps:

These are a great option because they offer a little bit of resistance to push you more toward the strength-speed end of the continuum, but perhaps more importantly, the band reduces the stress you encounter on landing, as it effectively deloads you. Next time you're dragging and it's time to deadlift, try two sets of five jumps.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Read more

So You Want to Start Sprinting?

While sprinting has been around since the dawn of man, only in the past few years has it really taken off as true fitness trend. In other words, it was either what we did to kill our dinner in prehistoric times, or it was a modern athletic competition. Only recently have we realized that doing sprint work for our interval training is a tremendously effective way to get/stay lean, enhance mobility, improve athleticism, and prepare ourselves for the demands that life throws our way.

Heading out to sprint full-tilt when you haven’t been doing any running work in recent months is, however, analogous to signing up for calculus when you haven’t brushed up on basic math of late. The main difference is that you can’t rip your hamstrings off your pelvis doing calculus!


Sprint work requires tremendous mobility, good tissue quality, and adequate strength to tolerate significant ground reaction forces and a wide variety of joint angles. You don’t prepare for this with your “typical” gym workouts, so before I have some specific modifications in place that you’ll want to follow. To that end, below, I’ve provided you with seven tips you can apply to ease into sprint work so that you can get the benefits of it with less of the risk.

1. Do these foam rolling drills and four mobility exercises every day for a month.

These drills are like summer reading before a tough English class. You have to do them so that you can hit the ground running (pun intended).

2. Sprint uphill first.

People often get hurt when they overstride; they’ll pull the hamstrings on the front leg. Sprinting uphill doesn’t really allow you to overstride, though, and it’s also good because you go up with each step, but don’t come down quite as much. Ground reaction forces are much lower, so this is a great option for easing into top-speed sprinting. (great studies here and here, for those interested).

While it’s more ideal to do uphill sprinting outside, it is okay to do this on a treadmill. After all, you’re just trying to lose your spare tire or be a little better in beer league softball, not go to the Olympics.

I like to see a month of 2x/week uphill sprint work before folks start testing the waters on flat terrain.

3. Don’t sprint at 100% intensity right away.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to run at 100% intensity to derive benefits from sprint work. In fact, a lot of the most elite sprinters in the world spend a considerable amount of time running at submaximal intensities, and they are still lean and fast.

The bulk of your sprint work should be in the 70-90% of top speed range. You might work up to some stuff in the 90-100% zone as you’re fully warmed up, but living in this top 10% all the time is a recipe for injury, especially if you’re over the age of 35-40 and degenerative changes are starting to kick in.

When you first start out, sprinting is new and exciting, and it's very easy to get overzealous and push the volume and frequency side of the equation just as you would the intensity side.  Don't do it.  For most folks, twice a week is a sufficient complement to a comprehensive strength training program, and the session shouldn't last for more than 30-45 minutes - most of which will be you resting between bouts of sprinting.  If you find that they're 90-120 minute sessions, you're either doing too much volume or not working hard enough.  The speed and quality of your work will fall off pretty quickly as you fatigue, so be careful about forcing things too quickly.  Beyond just injury prevention benefits, taking it slower on the progressions side of things allows you to test out your footwear of a few weeks to make sure that they're the right shoes for you.

5. Don't sprint on pavement.

I can't think of a more unforgiving surface than pavement, especially since it means that you're more likely to get hit by a car. Unfortunately, it's also the more easy accessible surface for most people. In an ideal world, I like to see folks sprint on grass, artificial turf, or a track surface. Broken glass and hot coals would also be preferable to pavement (for the record, that was a joke, people; don't be that schmuck who goes out to try it).


6. Don't sprint through fatigue early on.

This is a "go by feel" kind of recommendation. On one hand, you have to sprint through some fatigue to get in the volume it takes to derive the training effects you want: namely, fat loss. However, we also have to appreciate that states of fatigue drive injury rates sky-high in the athletic world. With that trend in mind, I encourage people to run conservatively in the first few months of their sprint training programs; in other words, don't allow a lot of fatigue to accumulate. Instead, take a little extra time between sprints. Then, as your sprinting mechanics and fitness improves (and you've gotten rid of the initial soreness), you can push through some fatigue.

7. Generally speaking, sprint before your lower body strength training work, not after.

People often ask me when the best point in one's training split is to sprint.  As a general rule of thumb, I prefer to have people sprint before they do their lower body strength training sessions.  We might have athletes that will combine the two into one session (sprinting first, of course), but most fitness oriented sprinters would sprint the day or two prior to a lower body session.  A training schedule I like to use for many athletes and non-athletes alike is:

Mo: Lower Body Strength Training (with athletes, we may do some sprint work before this as well)
Tu: Upper Body Strength Training
We: Sprint Work
Th: Lower Body Strength Training
Fr: Upper Body Strength Training
Sa: Sprint Work
Su: Off

In this case, the intensive lower body work is consolidated into three 24-36-hour blocks (Mo, We-Th, Sa).


Conversely, I've also met lifters who like to sprint at 70-80% effort the day after a lower body strength training session, as they feel like it helps with promoting recovery.

Closing Thoughts

As you can tell, while there are definitely some tried and true strategies for avoiding injury when you undertake a sprinting program, there are also some areas that are open to a bit of interpretation.  The value of incorporating sprinting into one's program is undeniable, though, so I'd encourage you to test the waters to see how it fits in with your strength and conditioning programs.  At the very least, it'll give you some variety and help get you outdoors for some fresh air.

If you're looking for ideas on how to incorporate sprinting in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program, I'd encourage you to check out my latest resource, The High Performance Handbook


Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Read more

The New Era of Interval Training

Most of you already know by now that I'm not a fan of "traditional" cardio. Step aerobics classes have ruined enough knees, Achilles tendons, and hips. Ellipticals don't allow you enough hip flexion to avoid developing hips like a crowbar. Most people don't need to sit on their fat a**es on bikes, either because most people, well, they sit on their fat a**es enough as it is. In short, as I've noted in the past in my discussions of The Law of Repetitive Motion Part 1 and Part 2, take a small amplitude of motion and repeat it thousands of times and you're going to wind up with some issues sooner than later.  And, to take it a step further, you're going to get efficient at this motion - and over the course of time, burn fewer calories (especially if you're doing steady-state cardio and not interval work). It's not like I haven't made suggestions on other stuff to do, either.  Try Sprinting for Health, Rethinking Interval Training, or When Things Get Boring, Turn to Cardio Strength Training.  I also recently raved about the emphasis Chad Waterbury placed on movement on his great new fat loss program, Body of Fire. And, if you need one more example, here was a little fun I had with an impromptu conditioning session on Sunday afternoon at Cressey Performance: Alternating Lateral Lunge Walk with Keg paired with Inchworms.

I'd already done some cable woodchops, t-push-ups, face pulls, slideboard, easy sprinting progressions, and medicine ball throws in a circuit format that day (pair up two exercises with low resistance and rotate back and forth without stopping for three minutes).  It's not rocket science because we aren't building rockets; people just need to move more. Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.

Read more

CP Internship Blog: Can Circuit Training Develop Work Capacity? – Part 2

This guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Sam Leahey. Last time, we discussed circuit training and the validity of whether or not it develops "mental toughness" in our athletes.  We then questioned whether this "mental toughness" (however one defines that term) is actually translating into enhanced sports performance. This week's article focuses on the implications regarding circuit training and "work capacity". Simply type the term "work capacity" into YouTube and you'll end up with tons of videos implementing a wide variety of exercises in circuit training fashion, most which consist of modified strongman events, and every one of these claims the same thing: "it develops work capacity."  What does that even mean?

Now, enter "work capacity" into the search bar on a peer-reviewed research journal site (PubMed, etc.) and what are the findings? Nearly every study listed with the term "work capacity" in the title is in direct reference to something specific like "physical work capacity," "anaerobic work capacity," "aerobic work capacity," "wingate test work capacity," "upper body work capacity", "cardio-respiratory work capacity," or "functional work capacity." Compare and contrast these two discoveries and we are left with the simple conclusion that "work capacity" is specific and using it as a general term is scientifically unjustifiable.  In fact, it is pretty much theory altogether unless directly tied to something else. Yet, when looking across the landscape of private training facilities and collegiate Strength & Conditioning settings, we find that most coaches and trainers use the term "work capacity" in the aforementioned grossly-oversimplified way as opposed to a specific type of capacity that actually makes transferable sense. I often wonder why that is?


There are many common arguments in favor of the work capacity idea. Coaches and trainers are now more than ever espousing and raising "work capacity" awareness.  Let us look at some of the underlying principles and theories behind the "work capacity school of thought" and try to make sense of it and establish how coaches arrived at the solution of "in order to develop work capacity we need to do circuit training". This will lead into the conclusion of this article. Principle: Work capacity is developed when the human body tolerates and recovers from a workload. Once adapted to that stimulus they need to be able to work above that "work threshold" for continued success. I can't believe how much this gets parroted these days. When I think about this statement I am left wondering how this is any different from regular strength training or even a stinkin' bicep curl? It sounds to me like just another way to describe the Principle of Overload, not the "principle of work capacity"! Furthermore, I wonder how it's indicative of the conclusion so many people reach: "I have to do circuit training to develop work capacity?" Theory: If an athlete's general fitness or capacity is low, their specific fitness or capacity will not improve. So you're saying if I take a highly deconditioned athlete with no general fitness and make him play soccer for one week straight he won't be a better, more conditioned soccer player by day seven than he was on day one because his "general fitness/capacity" was low to begin with? Really?


One more time. . . Theory: If an athlete's general fitness or capacity is low their specific fitness or capacity will not improve. Though still a vague statement perhaps, now we're getting closer to something actually definable - "general fitness." Many coaches use the terms "general fitness" and "work capacity" synonymously. Perhaps this is where coaches arrive at the conclusion of "I should do circuit training to develop general fitness." More importantly, though, do I even want "general fitness" for my? Or, just specific fitness? It seems we need a definition or list of components of "general fitness" before we can answer that question. You might say that the progression should go from general to specific and my response there would be general WHAT and specific WHAT? What quality are we talking about - strength, power, flexibility, speed, or something else? I feel that to simply just say we should go from general to specific may be shortsighted; we need to clarify what quality we're covering. If you do an internet search or academic search to define "general fitness," you most often times end up at the same thing that is still taught in academic settings today - "General Fitness consists of the 5 Health Related Components of Fitness," which are:
  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body Composition
Once here, we can actually begin to clarify the argument.  Am I supposed to develop all these above qualities optimally to attain "general fitness"? Do I even need or want some of these above qualities to be maxed out in say, a sprinter? Nope. If we're talking about Muscular Strength then I totally accept the idea of general strength to specific strength.  However, if we're discussing cardiovascular endurance, then I think most of us would disagree with the general-to-specific thought process. Both Charlie Francis and Mike Boyle have obliterated this general-to-specific idea with regards to energy systems years ago. They speak against doing "general running" (aerobic jogging) and then moving into "specific running" (anaerobic sprinting). Francis has written about how kids need to do enough power related activity in their teen years to really reach optimal performance in sprinting when they get older. What is he saying by that? He's saying we should start specific and end even more specific.


Mike Boyle took Francis' thoughts and began doing tempo runs in early off-season with his athletes to develop a sprinting base, which is still inherently specific, and then progress them to higher intensity sprints. Basically, he started specific in as broad a way as he could and then got even more specific with the training. He did not attempt to develop an aerobic base first by running miles and then gradually move to sprinting; rather, he started the off-season with higher volumes of lower intensity "sprints" (tempo runs) and then moved to lower volumes of higher intensity "sprints" (shuttle runs). A different way Coach Boyle also approached this idea during his career of building proper sprinting work capacity (notice it's specific and not "general") is represented in this graphic:


Though a different order of intensity and volume, all I'm trying to get you to see is the point that it is not developing "general fitness," but instead specific fitness. So, hopefully now we can all see that the general to specific idea doesn't hold up too well until we clarify what quality we're referencing (strength, flexibility, energy systems, or something else). Theory: Work capacity enhances and coordinates the cardiovascular, metabolic, and nervous systems and it is composed of 2 components: 1) The ability to tolerate a high workload by recovering quickly from the stimulus so that another stimulus can be presented on a consistent basis. 2) Being able to resist fatigue no matter what the source. These two points taken alone, I struggle to see how people are lead to the conclusion that they need to be implementing circuit training to develop this so called "work capacity." However, taken all together with the initial mention of the physiological systems, we may have finally arrived at a specific qualitative point - the nervous, cardiovascular, and "metabolic" systems. Somehow coaches take this to mean that doing circuit training is the best option for coordinating and enhancing these systems. If I take time in my program to do circuit training, will it coordinate and enhance my nervous system optimally with all that fatigue going on during the circuit, especially compared to what I else could be doing instead to prepare my nervous system? I would say "no;" circuit training does not fit the bill optimally. If I take time out of my conditioning program to do circuit training, will it coordinate and enhance my cardiovascular system better than what I'm already doing? Again I would have to answer "no." Will circuit training enhance and coordinate my energy systems (metabolic system) better than my conditioning program? Nope. The point here is the traditional methods you're already using in your strength training, power training, and conditioning program are far superior in developing those physiological systems than doing circuit training. Here's another definition being thrown around the internet: "Work capacity refers to the general ability of the whole body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body." This is probably the best attempt at defining "work capacity." Yet, the question still arises: do I need or want this "general ability" of my body to "produce work" of varying intensities and times? Instead, how about narrowing it down to what specific energy systems I'm going to need to compete in my sport or event and at what intensity or durations? Doesn't that make more sense that just saying to somebody, "Hey, I've got good work capacity because I can do a million sit-ups, a 1RM squat, a bunch of pull-ups, and then sprint 50 yards - all in under 5 minutes!" Does a competitive sprinter benefit from being able to run a marathon, do a ton of pushups, then do a ton of pull-ups, when he's competing in a 55 meter dash? Would a golfer optimally benefit from doing random "general fitness" activities at random intensities and durations as opposed to specific fitness activities?


So, I humbly ask: why are we doing circuit training to develop general work capacity? How did we ever arrive at the conclusion that a general work capacity was needed as opposed to a specific work capacity like linear sprinting or multiple changes of direction or vertical jumping or asymmetrical rotation (golfer/pitcher)? Instead, can I suggest we seek to develop specific work capacities instead of general ones? How about we develop the ability of a basketball player to reproduce jumping and hopping performance throughout the course of a game. Also, how about we build a golfer's capacity (through corrective exercise) to take all the swings he/she requires without getting hurt instead of running him/her through a modified strongman circuit to build "general fitness" or "work capacity?" Eric Cressey has good work capacity by powerlifting standards; he can take a lot of singles over 90% of 1RM in a single training session and bounce back reasonably quickly.

Does that mean, though, that Eric can just walk outside and play soccer and be good at it because his "work capacity" is up? I don't believe so, because work capacity is specific, not general. Instead, develop the specific capacity to play soccer! There's no need to develop tons of different, and in many cases competing qualities just for the sake of saying we have a general capacity to tolerate a bunch of random events. All in all, it may be best to simply stick with the traditional methods of training and develop the specific capacities needed for a specific event or sport as opposed to taking hours during the training week for circuit training. Just think of what higher-yield activities you could be doing instead while you taking hours of time out each week to do circuit training... Sam Leahey CSCS, CPT can be reached at sam.leahey@gmail.com.
Sign up for our FREE Newsletter today and and receive this deadlift technique video!

Read more

Pulled Quad – or is it?

Q: How should I warm up properly before sprinting sessions? Back in the day when I did sports my quads were always prone to injuries. Funny thing is I haven't had any problems when doing squats of any kind. Recently I decided to involve some alactic work in my workout and immediately pulled a quad doing sprints. It's obviously something wrong with my warm-up! A: Saying "pulled quad" might be a little bit too general.  In reality, most of the time, you're looking at a rectus femoris strain.  While it is one of the quadriceps, the rectus femoris is also active as a hip flexor.  So, as the picture below shows, it crosses two joints.


The rectus femoris is responsible for both hip flexion and knee extension.  So, as you can imagine, it is placed on a huge stretch when an athlete goes into a position of hip extension and knee flexion - kind of like this:


You're asking the rectus femoris to go on a huge stretch there - and under very high velocities.  With a squat, you're not putting it on full stretch, as the hip and knee are both flexed.  So, with that in mind, it's not surprising at all that sprinting would bother your "quad" when squatting doesn't - especially since we know the overwhelming majority of folks out there are tight in the rectus femoris.  Why?

Well, first, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that, as a society, we sit far too much.  Second, though, is the fact that most people never really get above 90 degrees of hip flexion in anything that they do.  Mike Boyle has done a great job of outlining how we can develop imbalanced hip flexion patterns; essentially, we never use our psoas, the only hip flexor active above 90 degrees of hip flexion. The picture below is kind of rudimentary (and somewhat awkward), but it shows what I'm getting at with respect to the advantageous attachment points for psoas with respect to hip flexion above 90 degrees:


How many of the folks at your gym are getting 90+ degrees of hip flexion with their treadmill, stairclimber, and elliptical work?  None.  So, we underuse psoas, and overuse rectus - and it shortens up over time.  Take a short muscle through a maximal stretch at high-velocities, and it's going to hate you.  So, what to do?

Well, first, I'd recommend running through some warm-ups from Assess and Correct, and that'll cover a lot of the fundamentals (especially if you go through the assessments to figure out what else is going on).  One important thing that'll cover is activation work for psoas; Kevin Neeld demonstrates one option here:

Second, just add in some targeted static stretching for the rectus femoris a few times a day using this stretch (don't start using it until the "pulled quad" has settled down, though).


Third, and most importantly, ease your way into sprinting.  Not everyone is prepared to just jump right in full-throttle.  I discuss this in further detail in my contribution to the most recent Mythbusters article at T-Nation.  Basically, just get out there twice a week and do some 60-yd build-ups at 80% of your best on a grass field.

Sign-up Today for our FREE newsletter and receive a deadlift technique video!
Read more

The Neural Fatigue of CNS Demanding Workouts

Q: Why is it that training that is very CNS demanding requires such long recovery periods between workouts. I understand the need for long recoveries between sets, but not between workouts. So why is it that many coaches recommend training things like depth jumps, or speed and agility drills only 1-2 times per week?

A: The truth is that we really don't understand neural fatigue to the extent that we'd like simply because it isn't as easy to quantify or observe. With muscular damage, we can use biopsies in the lab and blood measures (creatine kinase, for instance). Neural fatigue is really only truly assessed by performance measures; it's why "a decline in performance" is about the only true definition of non-volume-induced overtraining.

Here's a very cool read on this front.

Some guys can train at a high-intensity more frequently, while others have to take more time between efforts. This is where it’s as much a science of interpretation as it is of experimentation and application; you’ve got to respond to how each athlete recovers a bit differently.

Eric Cressey
Read more

Talking Plyos

I believe that during bounce drop jumps, the heels should make contact with the ground lightly. Very few athletes have the eccentric strength to land completely on the balls of the feet. You're also putting a lot of undue stress on the Achilles and patellar tendons and limiting your ability to cushion with the hip extensors. Additionally, you're really increasing the amortization phase, therefore killing the very elastic response you're trying to train.

A lot of people will argue that it's counterintuitive in light of the sprinting motion, but I don't see that argument as holding water. Vertical displacement is centimeters in sprinting, but meters in bounce drop jumps, so you're comparing apples and oranges in terms of ground reaction forces. I use different short-response tactics for using just the balls of the feet.

Eric Cressey
Read more
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series