By Yosef Johnson
In my time interacting with strength and conditioning coaches from all over the country, it has become apparent to me that many take their job title quite literally. It seems that their role is viewed as peripheral in the athlete’s development. The thought is that a “stronger” and more “conditioned” athlete will perform better and be less prone to injury. Further, it is widely believed that tough workouts will produce tough athletes. This is what every head coach can’t get enough of. While in very loose terms these things may be true, there is far more that can be accomplished by those in the profession.
In my own work with athletes, my approach has continually evolved and improved as seen with the results produced. When I first began to work in the field under my mentor, Dr Michael Yessis, I was certain that you simply kept pushing the intensity and worked harder than everybody else. Against his teaching, I kept this temperament for a while. I have an intense personality and my attitude toward athletic development mirrored that. As time passed and I became less hard headed, the light bulb started going on in my head. I began to realize that my intensity was misplaced. Instead of applying it to the training, I needed to apply it to learning my craft. This led me to become far more efficient and effective. I learned that properly managing intensity, volume, and technique rendered a much better result than previously seen.
I concentrated on having my athletes master excellent technique in their general and specialized exercises. I also honed in on proper performance of plyometrics and other jump exercises. I was surprised to find that all of my athlete’s marginal improvements actually increased over previous off seasons. This isn’t supposed to happen, right? I was further amazed to find that my athletes went into their preseasons in far better shape than their counterparts who had been run into the ground. It turns out that whole “whatever doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger” idea does not apply to developing athletes, especially ones that are not high level. So what did I actually do? I nitpicked on technique at low intensity levels (60-70%) for months. I did this with only one set per exercise. After laying this base, I only added one more strength set per exercise and never exceeded 80%. In later phases, I integrated low intensity plyo’s that observed the rules of ground contact time and good technique. At first glance, this does not look like it’s enough to elicit a great response from the athlete’s body. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not a scientist so the language I am most conversant in is results. After all, this is what we are all pursuing; quantifiable, relevant results.
In the past 2.5 years one athlete has dropped his 40 time from a 5.1 to a 4.4 and increased his VJ by over 21 inches to 36+. The best news? He is only 16. Another athlete in the same time frame gained 60 pounds while dropping a full second from his 40 time from 6.1 to 5.1 and increasing his squat well over 200lbs and nearly 100lbs on his bench. While I do not focus on lift numbers, it gives perspective on this approach and how it affects strength. I have also had one of my quarterbacks increase his throwing distance from 30yds to just under 70yds at a bodyweight of 160lbs. In a similar time, one of our athletes went from unrecruited at a division 8 high school to being on the team at Western Michigan University. This was done in a little over two years. More remarkable, was that he was the number one athlete in the annual combine at WMU. He went from a 5.15 40yd to a mid 4.4 and increased his VJ from 23” to 36”. Most impressive was his 20yd shuttle time of 4.10; .23 seconds better than second place and good enough to be in the top five at that year’s NFL combine. There are many other examples but this gives some perspective on this approach.
So what is most important in our approach to training? Being precise. Precise technique, precise intensity, and precise volume. More is not better, but being precise is. The results will speak for themselves.
Yosef Johnson is the owner of Ultimate Athlete Concepts, a Michigan based company dedicated to providing top quality information from the world’s leading coaches, scientists, and researchers