The CrossFit games just ended, and those contestants definitely contend for fittest on earth. But, not most athletic. In my view, neither do sprinters, high jumpers, or triathletes. To me there is one key demand which truly tests athleticism: REACTIVENESS TO DYNAMICALLY CHANGING DEMANDS.
I am not intent on taking away any of the amazingness exhibited by competitors who sprint faster than 99.9% of humans, or can do Fran in 38 seconds (or whatever), or can do the iron cross and other crazy stuff on the rings. BUT, there is NO comparing the demands of a sport like basketball or volleyball to other events which contain no dynamic reactiveness. I’m quite sure we could take the best competitors from track and field and they would excel at football and other dynamic sports-that also is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that in my view, the pinnacle of athletic expression is tested in a dynamic field of play or demands.
Now, in these sports which require the most athleticism as I describe above, the majority of performance happens between 50ish%-90ish% of the max effort of the athletes. The athletes must be able to fluctuate their speed, strength, effort, and relaxation in order to accomplish always changing tasks. That IS harder and requires more athleticism than giving everything you have into one task, or even one series of predetermined tasks. This 50-90% of max effort is where the magic happens, and also happens to be where I think most athletes should be training. From a % effort standpoint, that shouldn’t be earth shattering for anyone-we all know that we want to move sub maximal loads faster/more explosively. But what I think is this: true athleticism means being able to do more with sub maximal loads/efforts.
- Your max power clean is 200lbs. Traditionally you might train weights between 100-150 focusing on speed (yes, my %’s aren’t technically exact, i’m just making a point). I believe that has it’s place and should be done. BUT, I also think those cleans should be trained with sandbags, stones, D-Balls, in different stances like a split stance—with the goal being more mastery of sub maximal efforts.
- Your max broad jump is 10 feet. I want you jumping between 5 and 8 feet in different directions, landing on different targets, from different approaches. Again, I want you mastering sub maximal efforts.
Rarely does 90-100% get tested on a field/arena. 100% means lack of control to an extent-and athletes always need control. This is a reason why sandbag and kettlebell training lends itself to athletic training so well-because they both allow for sub maximal loading in novel ways requiring additional control. The sandbag especially tests dynamic reactive components in lifts due to its shifting nature. I believe that we shouldn’t just try to have athletes be faster at lower %’s of weight-but to be able to demonstrate more control over their sub maximal efforts with lifts and exercises. This gets tricky-because it will inevitably result in someone trying to juggle a kettlebell while standing on a bosu ball wearing a scuba mask—BUT, if done intelligently it can be very valuable. What I’m talking about lies in the middle of the pendulum, where one end is very traditional “but it’s not max effort and therefore isn’t as good” thought, and the other end is the bosu ball scuba gear knucklehead. I don’t know what the amount is where diminishing returns are seen on max loads, but it’s probably less than a lot of S&C coaches think it is.
There will be people, friends of mine, who don’t agree with this idea. They will argue that a split stance swing doesn’t produce as much power as a bilateral stance swing, and that is true. However, there is more going on in a split stance swing than a bilateral swing: anti rotation, higher loading on one leg, balance challenge, all of which test the athlete’s control of a sub maximal effort aka where sport happens.
Just so people don’t get mad that I didn’t list their sport: MMA, dodgeball, even baseball, basketball, football, soccer, rugby, volleyball, tag, basically anything which has DYNAMIC REACTIVE requirements. Those requirements demand coordination, agility, and balance that CF, olyweightlifting, and other events don’t require. Again, I’m not saying one is better or harder, because at the elite levels of track Lebron wouldn’t compete either…I’m just defining what I think athleticism is TO ME. And how I like to train it. Because unless I was competing at an elite level at one thing, I’d like to be better at the 50-90% range of what I’m doing.
This is how you’ll train if you come out to BA training classes with me in San Diego.