‘Train slow – Best slow’
Have you heard this saying before? I want to give credit to legendary strength & conditioning coach Al Vermeil as he’s been known to have a number of original saying related to training. Another one I know for sure Al said was related to plyos where he said ‘the bigger the athlete the smaller the hurdle’ (or box).
But back to the original statement this has to do with the specificity of training. If you are an athlete that requires speed it is important to use movement, drills and exercises that develop the capacity of the athlete to move and perform at a high velocity.
And typically what happens is people watch YouTube videos of people performing insanely high box jumps or their favourite athlete is featured in a commercial doing something explosive. All of a sudden everyone wants to start there. Day 1 and they want to do max height box jumps, plyos, Olympic lifts and anything else that is worthy of a facebook post. Let’s face it there aren’t too many ‘likes’ for someone being able to hold a proper plank for 60 seconds.
So do we really have to ‘go big or go home’? Is there value to slowing things down a bit? Can you still achieve your potential without going all out all the time?
The answer to all of these is No-Yes-Yes.
In particular there are a couple of times when slower is better. In particular when you are performing stability or balance drills there is more benefit to slowing things down.
Consider the following couple of scenarios.
Slowing Down Plyometrics
An athlete could be performing Heidens, bounding from one leg to the other. This is a great drill to develop power in the frontal plane.
When this drill is performed with a pause on landing there is a good demonstration of proper eccentric loading, core stability and overall control. Check out the video below.
On the other hand if I perform the same drill without holding the landing for 3-4 seconds I can use momentum to generate force for the next effort. As well this continuous motion masks the inability to reduce the force of landing and for my body to be able to hold a controlled position between efforts.
Slowing Down Warm Ups
In addition to bounding we can use the same example when we look at warming up.
A common warm up drill is walking toe touches or tin soldiers. And have you ever noticed you see all types of mobility on this exercise? Some people have very good hip and hamstring mobility and can lift their leg quite high for a toe touch. Others struggle to get the leg past parallel to the ground.
But here’s the thing though. For the people who can raise their leg up high pay attention to how fast they perform the movement. Most likely they quick the leg up as fast as they can and then are able to touch their toes. Sometimes this might look like the video below.
Compare this to doing the same drill more slowly with control. And as the leg reaches its highest point try and hold this position. Much different challenge. Check out the difference in my range of motion in the video below.
So the take home message is to not rush things. In the end explosive speed and power are the ultimate goals for athletes. That being said you will achieve better long terms results, train more safely and avoid burn out if you can incorporate control into some of your training. Specifically think about slowing things down for mobility drills, balance drills and when initiating a phase of plyometrics to allow the body to adapt to eccentric loads on landing.