This is part IV in a series titled "Training the Modern Athlete". Click here for Part III!
"It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential." Those words are accredited to Bruce Lee, one of the greatest martial artist to ever walk the earth. The first time I read these words was in a book titled Easy Strength. The premise of the book was getting the most out of your training by doing the least amount of work. Now, this might sound a little counter-intuitive but let me explain. Your time is valuable when you train. Working with high school kids, you do not have an endless amount of time to spend in the weightroom. We get anywhere from 60-90 minutes to get everything in. This time gets cut down on days when sport practice is going on. This means we need to hack away some of the unessential lifts and focus on the big bang lifts. If we get really strong in the clean, we are probably going to be fairly explosive. If we get really strong in the squat and deadlift, we probably don't have to focus on doing a ton of other leg exercises. The same is also true for pressing and pullups. Improvements in these areas will carry over to other characteristics that your sport may require.
With genetics being taken out of the equation, there is a reason that some individuals can achieve a high level of success and others cannot. It is because they do the little things better than others. When you rely on the basics, on your fundamentals, you can have a lengthy career doing the things you love. In the sport of boxing, it is the boxer who can parry shots because of great defense. It is why a guy like Bernard Hopkins can fight well into his forties. He didn’t rely on his reaction time and athleticism, those two traits will diminsh as you age. He relied on the one thing that he could do at age 20, 30, and 40: have technically sound defense and avoid taking unnecessary shots. In comparison, you can look at the career of someone like Roy Jones Jr. Super fast, super agile, and super quick, he fell in love with those traits and used them to storm the scene and become one of the greatest fighters in the world. When those traits began to whither due to age and punishment, his career began to take a turn for the worse.
The same could be said for strength & conditioning training. I had an athlete ask me about some crazy ladder drills that he viewed on the internet. He said, “what does that do for you?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question because I had no freaking clue.
One of my favorite coaches Dan John wrote that "Everybody has the same basic body and needs, and we have to have the courage to train the fundamentals, the basics, at least 80% of the time. Sure, add some spice in there now and again, but focus on the basics." Making a commitment to the fundamentals can be quite hard. Working on the flashy new drill or technique might be what you want to do, but that should not make up part of your 80%. After you get the work in that is required, the 80%, then you could spend some time working on things that you think might be the key to your future athletic success. If you think calf raises will make you jump higher, then go ahead and do them. If you think you need bigger arms for your sport, have fun hitting some biceps curls after the workout. If you think ladder drills will improve your short area quickness, work them into your program. But just remember, these types of things should only occupy the 20%. The 80% should be focused on improving strength. Which will then boost power and speed. Two attributes that every athlete can afford to be a little better at!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!