Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Increasing Ground Force Production For Athletic Performance.

I was watching a video of MMA fighter Jon Jones skipping and shuffling on a treadmill the other day and laughed to myself about how over the next month “MMA conditioning experts” will be talking about the latest secret to dominate your opponent in the ring. Prepare for the onslaught of YouTube videos and E-Books, “Fight Training’s Forgotten Secret – THE TREADMILL”!

BJJ brown belt Chris Jones uses heavy deadlifts to build enormous hip, back, torso and grip strength.
While that short video was just a snapshot into Jon’s training and was likely him just warming up for his training session, it did get me thinking about the sport performance training industry. There are so many experts hocking gimmicks and methods everywhere you look. It’s big business. Most of it is just that, a gimmick.

The biggest thing that can help an athlete is increasing ground force production. This will impact all sports. In a recent blog I pointed to two studies that show how increasing ground force production impacted runners, both sprint and distance runners, but this would be a huge benefit to every athlete. Swimmers will be able to get off their blocks faster, fighters will be able to strike harder, grapplers will be able to shoot faster, throwers will be able to throw harder and further and so on.
Every athlete can benefit from building absolute strength, power and speed, even elite swimmers!
The two most effective ways to increase force production are to become stronger and faster. Sorry football players, but dancing through agility ladders may give the illusion that your moving faster but it’s doing squat to improve your ground force production. Speaking of squat, that is a far better choice than skipping through a plastic ladder.

I don’t mean to single out football players, but over the last 20 years I’ve been in the training industry, many of the football players I worked with were surprisingly weak, especially for a sport that is supposed to be dominated by some of the strongest and most powerful athletes out there.

I recently worked with a defensive lineman from a D2 school here in Georgia. I spent the summer training him and noticed from day one his lower back was incredibly weak. Our first training session had him squatting 50% of his max for 10 sets of 2 reps and doing sumo stance rack deadlifts with 50% of his estimated deadlift max (he didn’t know what he could deadlift, go figure) for 10 sets of 2 reps. An additional 25% band tension was used on both of the lifts on top of the barbell weight. By the second set of deadlifts his lower back had locked up and he was on the ground. He struggled to do reverse hypers for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps with half his squat max as well. 

In comparison, I had a female powerlifter I was training at the time who used the exact same weight on the deadlift workout as this football player. She was twice the age of the football player and had some pretty jacked up knee issues. She could crush that deadlift workout in about 5 minutes and move on to reverse hypers with 50% of her squat max for 4 sets of 20 reps with no issues. I’m sorry, but a female masters division powerlifter should not dominate a collegiate football lineman in the weight room.

How To Increase Ground Force Production.

Get Stronger
Elite BJJ athlete Chris Jones developing strength by doing Zercher squats w/ 205lbs on the bar and 225lbs on the belt squat.
Stick with your basic exercises that lend themselves to heavy loads. Squats, deadlifts, and variations of those lifts rule here. I can hear the sport specific coaches now, “But where are the 1-leg exercises at? Most sports are no bi-lateral and require uni-lateral loading for improved performance.” 

Improving athleticism happens during practice where athletes learn to play their sport. The goal in the weight room should be to make the athlete strong, more explosive, and more resilient. The primary strength exercises should be the multi-joint compound lifts that allow the athlete to handle the greatest loads through joint angles required in the sport. The maximal effort method, lifting weights in the 90% or greater range, should be utilized here. Single leg exercises are great and should be incorporated with the accessory exercises after the main lift.

Get Faster
High school running back Noah Venable developing explosive power doing kneeling power cleans.
Louie Simmons talks extensively about the importance of training all velocities of strength. This was one of the many concepts I learned from him that really made me question how I was training people. I always thought of weights as heavy and light and he said, “No, heavy and light is different for everyone. Weights are fast or slow.” Because of this I follow his recommendations of breaking training up by speed. Regardless of the load used the goal should always be to move the weight as fast as possible.
  •         Power training – jumps, other explosive bodyweight exercises and throws
  •          Dynamic effort training – submaximal weights lifted with maximal acceleration

o   Explosive strength – 30-40% loads plus accommodating resistance
o   Speed strength – 50-60% loads plus accommodating resistance
  •        Maximal effort training – handling loads 90% or greater

Using these methods to improve strength, speed and power will have a very positive effect on an athlete’s performance. I recently started working with an up and coming MMA fighter and after only a couple of weeks using these methods he reported that he is hitting a lot harder without “trying to hit harder”.

I worked with a college football player when he was preparing for his pro-day and in 6 weeks with no running, just working on his maximal strength, speed strength and power his vertical jump went from 29.5” to 39.5”, his 40-yard dash went from 4.85 seconds to 4.60 seconds, and his squat went from 535lbs to 600lbs. In nearly 20 years I’ve seen nothing but exceptional results with all of my other athletes including grapplers, powerlifters, swimmers, tennis players, volleyball players, wrestlers, and many more.

If you want further reading about the importance of increasing ground force production for athletes I strongly recommend picking up Barry Ross’ book Underground Secrets to FasterRunning, it was recommended to me by Louie Simmons and is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


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