How Did You Improve Your Athletic Performance?

Coach Thib

I heard you on a podcast about neurotyping where you said you improved your 40 yard dash speed by like 0.5 second by getting extremely strong in the weight room.

I think you said you went from like 375 squat while playing football, and then got up to 600lb, and also had 315 snatch and 155k clean for reps.

You said that having a very large strength reserve allowed you to have explosiveness and have that translate to fast 40 and high vertical jump.

I would love to read more about your journey, how you became so strong, and how you made that also transfer to other athletic activities like 40 yard dash and vertical jump.

I can squat more than 375, but I can’t ever imagine myself squatting even 500, let alone 600. I’d love to read into how you made such drastic improvements in strength as well as athletic performance. It is very uncommon (sorry no offense) for someone to become that strong and athletic when they previously had 375 squat and 5.0 40 yard dash.

Do you have any article or something where you talk about your journey to become so strong and athletic?

I have actually changed my mind a bit on that one.

t’s true that my numbers went up quite a bit You are pretty accurate with the numbers you posted.

But other things to consider:

  • When I played football I was fatter: coming out of high school I wanted to match the roster weight of the linebackers (some of whom were 21 years old to my 17 with lots more training experience than me). So I went from 179lbs up to 220lbs… but my waist also went from 31" up to 42".

  • When I hit y 4.54/40 (laser) my waist was back down to 32" and I had veins on my abs, although my body weight was fairly similar (210-215).

  • I was doing jumps every day as part of my activation routine. Normally 3-4 sets of 5 max effort jumps of various kind 6 days a week.

  • I was doing loaded jumps at least once or twice per week.

  • I was a shitty technical lifter on the snatch, clean & jerk. My power snatch and power clean were pretty much the same as the full squat variations because instead of focusing on moving fat under the bar/reducing pulling height to be faster under (modern technique) I would try to produce as much bar height and speed as possible all the time. I was essentially trying to jump with the bar (and I did with lighter weights). This is not optimal for actual weightlifting results, but it is more effective for power development.

  • When I was squatting, I used a huge rebound/emphasis on the stretch reflex rather than sheer strength.

I wrote in a recent article on my personal website, that I believe that these elements are likely the real reason why I was able to gain so much speed, rather than just getting stronger.

I’m not saying that strength work had nothing to do with it. But I think that heavy strength work is overrated when it comes to getting faster.

If strength was the key to getting fast, powerlifters in the 181 - 198lbs class would win the 100m at the Olympics o at least be very competitive. But that is obviously not the case.

After more studying my belief hs evolved.

Strength work’s likely effect on speed is probably simply due to the fact that it increases the nervous system’s capacity to send a strong excitatory drive to the muscles, improving fast-twitch fibers recruitment and firing rate.

A stronger drive gives you the tools to get more out of the speed and power work that you do.

But here’s the thing: once the strength of the neural drive is sufficient, improving it further by getting even stronger will not contribute to making you faster.

That’s why strength work can directly increase speed in those with a shitty neural drive to start with, but will do nothing for those with an already great capacity to send a strong neural drive.

FORCE APPLICATION IS VELOCITY-SPECIFIC

One of the main reasons why getting super strong doesn’t translate to getting super fast is that the muscle recruitment pattern is different between explosive and slow high force productions.

In an explosive movement (left) you have an initial burn of the agonists (prime movers in the movement and their synergists) with almost no antagonist co-contraction. After the peak agonist force production there is a burst in antagonist contraction to stabilize the joint(s) and there is a second burst in agonist force production and a reduction in antagonist co-contraction to facilitate the movement. This is called a triphasic pattern… this all occurs in milliseconds, of course.

In slow high-force movements, the muscle recruitment pattern is monophasic: throughout the whole action the agonists fire and there is a background antagonist co-contraction.

You can be very efficient at one of those patterns, without being good at the other one.

Simply put, to be capable of contracting muscles fast to produce acceleration and speed, you must train explosive movements.

I was talking to Ben Prentiss a few months ago (he trains dozens of NHL hockey players) and he does a lot of testing/data crunching. And in over 10 000 tests, he found no correlation between strength and speed among his athletes.

I’m not saying that getting my squat up to 585-600 and my front squat to 485 didn’t help with my speed and jump. But my theory is that it’s effect might have been more indirect by allowing me to perform better on the olympic lift variations.

I believe that all the explosive work I did had a lot more to do with gaining speed than the strength work that I did.

As for how I got my squat from 375 up to 585-600… well first understand that this wasn’t done in a year. It was more like over 3 years, maybe even 4.

I didn’t do anything special at first. Just started squatting a lot more. My squat went from being trained once a week with no special priority when I played football (basically just another exercise in the program) to being trained 3-6 days a week when I switched from football to weightlifting, because I was told that the squat was the foundation to weightlifting performance.

Having poor technique on the olympic lifts, and no coaching, I reasoned that my only way to be competitive was to squat monster weights. So the squat became my obsession.

Just squatting heavy more often got me from 375 to 465 pretty quickly.

From that point on I kept progressing my adding special methods like clusters, eccentric overloads with weight releasers, wave loading, heavy partials, etc. And that got me to the 525-550lbs range.

I got to 585-600 by specifically peaking my squat, like for a powerlifting competition.

Honestly, I didn’t really do anything magical, except being absolutely obsessed with squatting more.

For a very long time my training was actually very basic…

Basically:

3-5 sets of jumps
Power snatch variations
Power clean variations
Squat or front squat

I did that 4-6 times a week with varying sets and reps but always with the intent to be violent with the bar whatever load I was lifting.

I only started adding special methods when I was squatting heavy weights.

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The problem is that you are thinking about this short-term. No you are not going to go from 375 to 500 in a few months or even a year.

But can you see yourself adding 30-35lbs to your squat in a year? That shouldn’t be hard to do if you approach it properly.

Do that for 4 years and your squat will go from 375 to 500-515lbs.

The reason why people don’t get strong is because they are trying to progress too fast. Burn out, get injured or disrupt adaptations.

Let’s look at it this way.

In a year you can do four 10-12 weeks training cycles (with a short recovery period in between).

If you add a mere 10lbs on your squat per training cycle (which is actually conservative) that’s 40lbs/year.

Do that consistently for 5 years and you can get your squat up to 575-600.

Granted, each year you might need to use more advanced methods to keep progressing.

That’s actually one of the problems: people who want to get strong often jump the gun and use advanced/intense methods when they don’t need them and that will hurt their long-term progress.

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thank you very much for such fast and detailed response

so you were always fast and athletic, but you were just heavier and lost your speed at some point when you played football? or do you think that all the explosive work, jumps and olympic lift, etc had huge influence to improve your athletic qualities?

as for the squat, no I wasn’t thinking about it in the short term. I mean I literally have hard time adding adding 40 lbs in one year as you said.

I’ve been trying to do 6 week training cycles (5 training+1deload) and add 5lbs every 6 weeks, and I’ve failed in that very quickly. Based on how easily I stagnated, I think I’ll be lucky to add 20 lbs a year with 4 successful 5 lb increases.

I’ve been trying to do 5x5 squat 2x week. I’d start slightly lighter in the beginning of the cycle and add weight throughout the cycle. I went from like 255 to 285 in the previous cycle, and 260 to 290 this cycle (high bar, I don’t think I can do 1x375 with high bar, but I’ve done it with low bar before)

Of course, progress slows down as you get stronger and stronger, and that applies to everyone.

I’m going to have to scale down my weight again, because my RPE got way too high and made me lose strength due to fatigue and technical breakdown.

I really hope I can be stronger next time I build up to 290 again. I wish I can average 20lb per year increase for the next 4 years. even if it takes longer, I’ll still have to keep going though.

I’m definitely a hard gainer in terms of strength (not body weight), and already been lifting for longer than 10 years, but I do want to persevere to add a little more strength.

I didn’t know clusters, eccentric overloads, wave loading, and heavy partials work to make you stronger. I previously thought clusters were just for being time efficient in the gym. I really haven’t got much information about eccentric overloads and heavy partials. how well they work, how hard it is on recovery, and injury risk, but sounds like you had great results from them.

I wouldn’t say that.

I was always involved in many sports since I was 6 and always played sports with my friends, always played outside as a kid (which you don’t see much nowadays).

So I was above average compared to the kids who didn’t play sports, but I was never among the most athletic kids.

As a teen, I always was in the upper tier, speed-wise, in my class groups but never in the top 3.

Same thing when I played football (or any other sport I played): I was always a starter, but never one of the top players.

I don’t think that genetically I’m a superior athlete. But from a very early age I was always very active and actually started training very early on (I was doing push ups, body weight squats, wall squats and abs daily at 10 years of age).

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As for strength, again, I don’t think that I have a genetic predisposition for building muscle and strength. I would rank myself as average in that regard I have small hands, a small head and small wrists which typically are not associated with someone who is built to be strong.

However, I do seem to have a very good capacity to tolerate and recover from training. Which has allowed me to do a lot of work for many years.

But the one thing that I have for me whe it comes to strength is short legs and short arms. Which gives me very good leverage for the squat and bench (shitty leverage for the deadlift).

Regarding the squat. Also understand that, on top of good leverage for the lift, I started focusing on y lower body very early on.

Although I eventually moved on the linebacker, at first I wanted to be a receiver and reasoned that I only needed strong legs to be fast (I was 12 years old).

So at 12, when I started weight lifting I only trained my lower body. Basically every week day at the school gym I would do all the lower body exercises that were illustrated on the wall: squats, hack squats, leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, lunges.

Probably not super smart, but I personally recovered from it and quickly became very efficient at using my legs. Then my training changed when I discovered the appeal of training arms and chest LOL

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As for my training history. I can give you some broadstrokes. But keep in mind that I’ve been training for 32 years and I’ve always been one to experiment, even when I was young. So it’s hard to remember exactly EVERYTHING that I did training-wise. Heck, sometimes I have to go re-read articles that I wrote myself to remember some of the stuff I used!

But here is a general outline

  • From 10 to 12 I did a lot of body weight exercises, daily

  • From 12 to 14 I trained my lower body almost daily at school with lots of variety and volume

  • From 16 to 17 I had my first “bro phase”… stopped training legs completely and did mostly arms and chest

  • From 18 to 20 I followed the training program from our strength coach which was 4 days a week centered on the big lifts for sets of 5 to 10 reps (depending on the phase). That’s also where I was introduced to the olympic lifts (power clean, power snatch, push press). The sessions were typically divided into 2 upper body sessions and 2 lower body sessions. I also did plyometrics 1 phase out of 3. During the summer I would add some bodybuilding work for the upper body, but with lower reps (6-8/set)

  • At 21 I switched to olympic lifting, for roughly 4-5 years. So I trained like an olympic lifter… did my jumps at the beginnig of the session then a snatch, a clean, an overhead and a squat variation, 4-6 days a week. I gradually included more demanding methods I remember loving heavy clusters (search for my article on the topic), heavy partials and 3-2-1 waves… these were my favorite

  • After a dismal performance at my last national championships I moved away from weight lifting and trained for a mix of strength and size at the same time, I was using a hybrid of Westside training (which was first getting popular at that time) and a small amount of power snatches and power cleans.

  • I injured my left biceps and decided to get lean… It eventually led me to want to try out bodybuiding. I got destroyed at my first competition because I had never touched steroids and compered against guys who were juiced to the gills.

  • That started the “dark” part of my training career: my bodybuilding phase which lasted a few years in which I used steroids and even though I was never excessive, it did some serious damage to my health and psyche.

  • Then I went back to more strength and performance training which is where I still am, with some phases of hypertrophy thrown in there.

From the best of my recollection, I’ve always preferred lower reps. Even at 12, when I started training, I would do mostly sets of 6 to 8.

I also remember that the first time I deadlifted 500 and squatted 400 I was 19 and that was one summer where I did Fred Hatfield’s 80 days powerlifting cycle (which is similar to the 915 program I posted on T-nation).

I also did all my strongest lifts, except the bench press, when I was 100% natural. I also got into my leaner condition without steroids. BUT I did get much bigger during my “bodybuiding days” (as high as 252 on 5’8". while my normal decently lean weight is in the 210 - 215 range and 190-195 in very lean condition).

I really appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge and experience.

Your experience is something I really wanted to learn from since you are one of very few people who didn’t start out with extraordinary numbers, yet made such respectable improvements.