Keep Your Eye on the Ball-Yosef Johnson

In today’s post Yosef Johnson of Ultimate Athlete Concepts asks some great questions about why we are implementing specific means in training and what the goal of physical preperation of athletes is actually attempting to achieve.

What is the main aim of a strength/performance coach? Is it to help prevent injury?  Should one adhere to the Hippocratic Oath i.e. not screw the athlete up? Is getting the athlete generally stronger ad nauseum our main goal?  If we were to ask ten different coaches, I feel certain we would get ten different answers. What is the right answer? In my work with athletes, I let them know at the very beginning that there are only three things that matter amongst the training objectives: what a school will give you a scholarship for, what they will give you an Olympic medal for, and what a professional team will pay you for. Everything else is irrelevant. Does that mean a functional movement screen bears little relevance? Yes, if your only intent in using the screen is to get better at the screen. What about combine testing? Same. Take these measurements with a grain of salt. The combine looks at several qualities. Don’t make the assumption that improving a combine test score or FMS screen will positively correlate with skill on the field. The same applies to powerlifting and Olympic lifting. Strength, in its many manifestations, is important for many sports, but it’s usually not the goal.

Having talked with scores of coaches from professional, collegiate, and high school teams, I come away amazed with what coaches generally fixate on. From bench pressing to tire flipping to marathon running, it seems that there is little consensus as to what makes a great athlete. While speed, quickness, strength, and different forms of endurance are all vital attributes for an athlete, having a superior collection of them does not ensure anything. There are numerous examples to illustrate this point. At last year’s NFL combine, Terrence Taylor bench pressed 225 lbs. more time than anyone else. How did that work out for him? He went from being drafted by the Colts to ending the season on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad, hanging on for dear life. Does anyone one know how Ray Lewis performed at his combine or where he would rate at the NFL Strongman contest? Does it matter? His paycheck keeps coming like clockwork. Why? Because he can play the game. What is the one thing Wayne Gretzky did better than anyone else? Play hockey. Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk brings this point all the way home when he compares his star pupil, Yuri Sedykh to the other great hammer throwers in the world. Of all the tests of strength, speed and explosiveness, Yuri was not the best in one category. However, he was the best hammer thrower in the world and is still the world record holder 25 years later.

Why do coaches obsess over things that do not necessarily translate into sporting success? I believe the main reason is that they do not know what else to do. They know that some measurements have correlation to performance on the field and this is true. They are also fearful of stepping too far outside convention to save face or their job. In the end, the athlete in their care suffers. The irony is that some of our best performers in sports are not at the top in combines or great Olympic lifters. In contrast, there are many who blow combines up and can’t even keep their job. A great example of this is Barry Sanders. Arguably the best running back in history, Barry was by no means the biggest, strongest or fastest. However, he could change directions like few others. If this is the case, how should it be trained? What technique should be implemented? What exercises would augment the technique? These are questions that go unanswered in any meaningful way.

Having established the lack of focus on the field, what should a coach do? First, he needs to have a knowledge base that allows him to determine what he is actually training. He needs to identify the biomechanics involved in the sport’s skills and also have the kinesiology background to develop exercises that enhance that skill.

Does that mean all general training goes out the window? No! Does it mean it should be applied and sequenced differently? Absolutely! It should be done with the end goal in mind. This means the intensity and technique of each general and special exercise should be tailored to the situation, athlete, sport, time of year, etc… It is grossly underappreciated that the technique even in the general exercises has tremendous

Influence on performance. As Dr. Verkhoshansky pointed out, the body remembers very specifically the stress that was applied. This means ROM, intensity, amplitude, etc… are all very important in the usefulness of even the most general exercises.

After years of practical research, Dr. Bondarchuk concluded that the high level athlete should go no deeper than a full squat. I recently read an article by a best selling author in the field who states he does not even allow people in his gym who do not full squat. What is his rationale? Because it’s hard to full squat. If only finding hard things to do were all it took!

One other sacred cow amongst performance coaches is the notion that max effort work be integral in the athlete’s training. This idea has been foolishly perpetuated down to the high school level. While many coaches have seen plans involving max effort work, including books I publish, they forget that the method should only be used by high level athletes. Guess what? If you coach at the high school, college or even pro level, you most likely do not have any high level athletes. In fact, most coaches have never trained a high level athlete. Dr. Bondarchuk has even stated that this intensity zone should be no more than 10% of the high level athletes’ training year. He believes it actually does a good deal of harm for the lower level athlete on up to the high level when overused. Being the most successful coach in the world’s history, his word should settle it for you.

What’s the point of this article? To encourage coaches and athletes to expect more from their training. Train with more precision and only the appropriate intensity to gain the absolute best result. Step out of your comfort zone and seek out credible information that challenges you. This is the purpose in our business. To provide knowledge that will allow you to gain results you never thought possible.

We are hoping to provide the best possible content for strength coaches with each of our shows. If feel this could provide value for anyone else in the strength and conditioning field please feel free to share.

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5 thoughts on “Keep Your Eye on the Ball-Yosef Johnson”

  1. Mike-Thanks for checking out the site and the response. I too have utilized the max effort method in the past and seen great success in improving absolute strength with it. With that being said though, there are two things I’d like to point out. The first is that after we changed our protocols to using lesser intensities we have noticed greater strength gains with longer durations of sustaining those gains due to minor increments of increasing the load bringing about small, consistent adaptations. The second is that the exact point of this article is that we need to take a look at other things other than just increasing maximal strength numbers and start to evaluate what we are doing to increase sport form. Maximal strength in general exercises is important, as mentioned above, but it is just a small part of things. There is no research to show us that the athlete with the best squat, bench or clean will be the best at performing their sport and we need to find more effective means in increasing the athlete’s sporting ability then just chasing numbers and improving max strength.

  2. Yosef said it over and over again…. and again.. and again.
    The only reason for my response as that I feel a responsibility to the athletes that we are ruining everyday in the US. I’m getting more pissed than usual because I’m on Prednisone for the poison ivy that’s overtaking my body right now.
    If any reader doesn’t agree with Yosef, go read “Transfer of Training I&II”. Two decades of extensive research and 10,000+ elite level(international level athletes not cable crossover doing frat boys)athletes should be enough to shed some light on why max effort work for an athlete is unnecessary.

  3. Hi there,

    I am interested in sharing more information with my readers of the APA blog on transfer of training and achievement of sport form. Could I ask permission to reproduce this blog article on my website, as I think it is a nice introduction to the debate?

    Many Thanks,

    Daz Drake

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