As seen on: http://optimumsportsperformance.com/blog/?p=1608 | October 13, 2010
Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas on training with us, Jeremy. Since some of the readers may not be familiar with you, can you please give us a brief background on yourself and talk a little bit about your philosophy on training?
Thanks for having me on here Patrick. Sorry this took so long to get done. Boy I have been busy the past few months. I recently left my job at Holy Cross to start my own training facility but I actually had to pull double duty all summer working at both facilities during the week. Throw in the fact that I have two little boys 3 years and under it’s a no writing time for me.
The name of my facility is called Achieve Performance Training. We are located right in my home town of Clinton MA where I was born, raised and currently reside with my wife Emily and our two boys Ethan and Grady. I was an 3 sport athlete growing up here and learned to play sports from watching my 4 older brothers who I idolized growing up. I had the opportunity to play div3 college football and got the training bug while in college.
My philosophy has evolved over the years but I have finally come to realize that if you plan on performing at a high level your body better be prepared to deal with the demands of the game. That means first being a strong and mobile human being. When those qualities are in place we then can become a faster more explosive athlete and finally we can then use our sport and practices to condition us appropriately to play. (I am sure some people are not going to like that he he)
You have talked about iso-extreme and eccentric quasi isometrics on Mike Boyle’s Strengthcoach.com. Can you please tell us what these techniques are why strength coaches should consider writing them in their programs?
Good god, I could write a book on this, don’t know where to begin. Before I start I just want to add that what I attempt to explain here is simply my interpretation of how these exercises are performed and why I think they are useful. A couple of years ago I saw Jay Shroeder of evosport speak at a seminar. The entire time he only talked about a form of exercise called iso-extremes. He basically told us that this is where an athlete should start their training. When they master these, then and only then can they move on to more complex training. It was based on the idea that you first teach an athlete proper position, once you get them into position, the athlete tries to continue to voluntarily contract certain muscles in that position which will eventually allow that athlete to get stronger in that position and ridding the body of certain compensatory issues. Some of the positions that we were taught were a push-up position and a lunge position.
I listened to what he had to say but really didn’t give it any worth and continued on with what I was doing at the time. But then I started reading supertraining (for like the 10th time) and realized some of the things he was saying were spot on. Siff mentions at least 20 different times how valuable using methods of PNF and modified PNF can be in improving qualities like strength, flexibility-strength and static strength for athletes. True functional training uses the best methods to stimulate the nervous system to allow the body to move more efficiently.
Funny thing is that many of the athletes we were seeing were presenting with some serious physical limitations and we were searching for a better starting point. I was always scratching my head trying to figure out why some athlete’s could do the things I ask and other couldn’t. So I kept doing more searching and was surprised when I read a book titled Explosive Muscular Power for Championship Football by John Jesse written in 1968 it spelled out exactly what I was looking at clear as day.
John Jess (1968): Overdevelopment of one muscle at the expense of its antagonist can lead to muscle boundness with restricted joint action and loss of speed. Over development of muscles on one side of the body joint and neglect of the antagonist muscles, place the antagonist under constant stress. This leads to premature fatigue in the antagonist muscle and makes the joint much more susceptible to injury. The constant stress on the underdeveloped antagonist muscles and the lack of flexibility in the overdeveloped prime movers make it extremely difficult to relax the antagonist muscles when the prime movers go into action. The secret of the champion athlete’s well coordinated, fast, explosive movement is directly related to his ability to exert maximum contraction of the prime mover muscles while completely relaxing the antagonist musclese fatigue in the antagonist muscle and makes the joint much more susceptible to injury….
Then it all hit me that this is why Schroeder so passionately talked about the use of iso-extrmes. You have to have a starting point and once you master part a, then and only then you can move to part B, otherwise you could be risking injury or hindering performance. This was the exact issue I was looking at with many of our athletes. We were trying to start them on part B and skipping right over part A. By first improving strength and flexibility in certain positions you then set your bodies up to better perform when moving in and out of those positions. The muscles that act on the joint will be working more efficiently and allow less joint stress. Basically it’s like training to train.
Ok so how do they work:
To start you first must get into proper position. That is the key to the entire exercise. Let’s take the Bulgarian Split Squat for example. The goal of this exercise is to eccentrically lengthen the hip flexor. The athlete must get into the deepest bottom position possible. Back foot elevated to knee height, shin vertical, thigh 45 degrees. Front leg shin vertical because the goal is to push down. The athlete is now in proper position.
With an EQI the athlete will simply try to relax and let gravity pull them down. With an Iso-extreme the athlete will contract the appropriate muscles as hard as possible to neurologically get the hip flexor to relax and thus allow more length. The muscles to contract are the rear glute and anterior wall of the abdominals and the hamstrings on the front leg. That will allow the pelvis to a more neutral position and a better all around contraction. The athlete keeps this up for as long as they can maintain, rest, then do it over again and again. Eventually your brain will get the message that this is the right position to be in and everything will function more appropriately. This is why I am not a fan of static stretching, when an athlete can do an exercise like this and not only lengthen certain muscles but strengthen other muscles at the same time.
In short we are looking to develop better communication between agonist and antagonist. While one muscle is concentrically contracting its antagonist should be doing the opposite at the same speed and intensity. This allows for more efficient movement of the joint i.e. less co-contraction. When I see an athlete who can’t move well, it’s a clear sign that the communication I am talking about is not very efficient. Almost always when we take these same athletes and put them in these extreme positions they struggle. For example in the above exercise the inefficient athletes will feel an insanely intense painful stretch in the hip flexor, because they can’t get the glute to contract hard enough. Same goes for the front leg. They feel all the stress of the exercise in the quad because they are so dominant in that muscles group it takes over and will not relax. So the first order of business is to work in this position until they can do it right and then move on to other forms of training.
How are you applying these types of isometric activities in the training programs you write for athletes? What part of the workout do they fall into? What sort of frequency and volume do you recommend, and do different isometrics lend themselves to different phases of the overall training program?
To be honest these exercises are so hard for some people that I often cannot use them right away. It takes a fair amount of mental toughness and willingness to take a leap of faith for these exercises to really work well. Oftentimes I use less stressful forms of training first to get an athlete acclimated to the training stimulus and then eventually slowly add in these holds at the beginning or end of their workouts.
Some of my serious athletes used these EQI/Iso-extremes for their in season training sessions. They tell me they are no fun while doing them but their bodies feels great after they are done. Usually they will do 2-3 exercises for 3-5 minutes 2-3 times a week. So for example iso-extreme lunge they will start the watch go for 5 minutes running time and get as many sets of hard contractions as possible during those 5 minutes.
Great stuff Jeremy. Can you please tell the readers where they can find out more about you and how they can get in touch with you?
I don’t have a fancy website yet but it will be up very soon. I have a blog that I recently started called physically educated: http://achieveperformance.net/blog
I often post on my facebook page every day and I have gotten some pretty good responses from that as well. Facebook
I have also have some articles I wrote a few years ago an t-nation as well as strengthcoach.com
Finally you can reach me by e-mail at: [email protected]