Coach Potts helps you to improve your vertical jump, provides advice on how to retain muscle while losing weight, and more!

Coach Joseph PottsWould there be any strength or agility exercises you would recommend to a 400/800 meter type athlete?

Agility is not really an aspect of athleticism that you see much of in track and field so, for the sake of training efficiency, I’m going to say no that that is not really an aspect I would chose to have one of my athletes focus on. That said, I would still train the muscles used for lateral and multi-directional movement. Those muscles will function and support the primary movers in a 400/800 meter event. When strength training for those events I would focus on compound movements such as the squat and deadlift along with exercises for the posterior chain such as the glute-ham raise, reverse-hyper and Romanian deadlift.

I also have my athletes train the muscles iso-laterally with exercises as the lunge, pistol, reverse-lunge and step-up. I also make sure to include a day of dynamic training using Olympic lifts such as the hang clean and plyometrics such as a single-leg sprint. Upper body training is also necessary but the brunt of our focus is with the lower body. Volume and intensity will obviously vary depending on the time of year and how close we are to the season.

How can I get more agility, quickness and speed for the LB/DE position?

My first piece of advice would be to focus on the basics. While many people turn to products like speed/agility ladders I personally am not a big fan. Ladders are great for helping teach coordination through specific patterns of movement (which could be useful as a warm-up prior to an actual workout) but as an overall tool I tend to rate them low. Once the pattern is learned the ladders do little more than reinforce short choppy steps which help neither stride length or frequency, the two main components of speed. Agility and quickness are a byproduct of reaction-ability and coordination.

To become more agile I like to train the muscles used for such movement in both a strength-training and plyometric fashion. To do this we might incorporate exercises such as the lateral lunge or skater jump during a workout session. Outside of the weight room we work on lateral and multi-directional movement with drills such as the pro-agility (also called the short shuttle) along with various wave and cone drills. To improve the reaction-ability aspect of the process we add in what are called open-chain drills where the athlete must perform an agility movement either initiated by or followed by a coach’s verbal or visual cue. An example of this would be a W-and-chase drill where the athlete performs a standard W-drill followed by sprinting to a cone indicated by a coach’s point.

What I have generally found is that an athlete's lack of speed generally stems from one of three things (or a combination thereof), I have nicknamed these the "Big 3". These include 1) a lack of strength, 2) a weak rate-of-force production, and 3) terrible technique. Generally with high school and younger college athletes the greatest improvements can be made by simply increasing their strength levels, specifically in the posterior chain via squats, deadlifts, glute-ham raises, Romanian deadlifts, etc. An athlete is generally thought of as having a good base of lower-body strength when they are able to squat lift 1.5-2 times their bodyweight. At that point, if the athlete is still relatively slow you can begin to look for a weak rate-of-force development.

The athlete may be strong as an Ox, but do they lumber around like one too? The thing to remember is that strong does not always equal powerful, high strength levels mean a higher potential for power production, it is not necessarily a given. So the question to ask is, is the athlete able to harness that strength and move weight at a high rate of speed? Athletes with a weak rate-of-force development can improve this area by training with Olympic lifts such as cleans, snatches, and push press. As they advance they can also begin to incorporate plyometric training into their program. The last area, technique, varies from athlete to athlete and can be addressed by a knowledgeable track or sports performance coach but I do always recommend that they begin working to improve their flexibility as a lack of flexibility can be the reason behind their bad technique. Taking 10-15 minutes to stretch before heading to bed can help an athlete more than they often realize.

Football Explosive Strength

What's the best way to improve my vertical jump?

Get stronger and more powerful. Think about it this way, not only does getting stronger make your body feel lighter to itself (i.e. relative strength) it also increases your potential for putting force into the ground (GRF) which is what you do when you jump. It’s physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you want to go up you must put energy into the ground below you. Recent studies (Mangine & Ratarness, 2008) published in the National Strength & Conditioning Journal of Research over the past year came to the same conclusion. By incorporating exercises such as heavy squats in with plyometric movement such as the box-jumps you can improve in both of those areas within the same workout session. So save the money you might spend on gimmicks like Strength Shoes and put it towards a plyometric box and more weight to add to your squat bar.

How do I keep most of my strength/size when trying to lose 10-15lbs?

Well since asking how to retain size while losing weight is, by definition, an oxymoron, I’m going to assume you want to maintain strength and lean muscle while losing fat. As far as retaining your strength, use it! Most people make the mistake of changing their workout routines to a high-rep/low-weight routine in an effort to “tone up”. The problem with doing this and still wanting to maintain strength is that you don’t use that strength that you’ve spent so much time building up. When volume goes up, intensity goes down. So my advice is to try a non-linear routine such as those used in the Westside Barbell methods, one day may be max-intensity, the next a high-rep day. You could even go so far as to conjugate them into the same training session. This way you body feels the need to maintain its muscle mass and retain the neural aspect of moving high loads of weight.

Another pitfall to avoid is the steady-state cardio trap. For decades upon decades many people thought that in order to lose weight they had to spend hours on the treadmill, bike or elliptical. That simply isn’t the case and research is coming out by the boatload in support of high-intensity interval training. Put simply, moderate periods of high-intensity activity (i.e. sprinting) followed by a rest period that allows you to return to near 100% work capacity. One of the more popular is a 1-minute sprint followed by 3 minutes of rest, repeated 8-10 times. My last point will be to make sure you have your nutrition in check and are getting plenty of rest, starving yourself is not the way to safely lose weight and be able to keep it off while maintaining muscle mass. Not getting enough sleep has shown to cause the stress hormone cortisol to become elevated while also not allowing natural growth hormone production to reach its full potential. Aim for eight hours a night.

I was just wondering, what's your opinion on strength-endurance training. Do you have any experience on it? Does it work? Is it an efficient way to gain strength and endurance at the same time or would focusing on one goal be better?

In my experience strength-endurance is an underestimated aspect of sports performance. Most coaches are ecstatic when an athlete is capable of running a 4.4, pancaking a defender across the line of scrimmage or leaping higher than an opponent for a rebound. However you need the ability to accomplish that feat over and over again. That is where strength-endurance comes in. Luckily, strength-endurance is one of the easiest aspects of performance to train because it is a byproduct of nearly all training methods. I will use the NFL Combines 225 bench press test to illustrate my point. Whenever I prepare an athlete for this event, depending on the time we have available I will attack this test in two different ways.

If we have enough time before the event (i.e. 3 months+), we will focus on increasing absolute strength or 1 rep-max as it is commonly called. So how does taking an athlete from a 325 to a 375 max help him bench 225 over and over again? By increasing his relative strength, the stronger you are the lighter 225 feels. As the weight feels lighter you are able to move it more times. When an athlete has a max of 325 a weight of 225 is roughly 70% of his max while the same weight with an athlete who can move 375 checks in at 60% of his max. If time is short (generally less than four weeks) we will focus on increasing the endurance aspect of the musculature involved. Generally we use the weight (or slightly above) that will be used at the test and focus on increasing the ability of the muscles to use oxygen efficiently by taking all sets to the point of muscle failure.

How would you incorporate plyometrics and weight lifting? What are the effects/benefits of this?

I generally go one of two routes when using plyometrics. I use them as either a standalone workout by themselves or I incorporate them into a strength-training workout session. Using them as a standalone workout allows you to focus the majority of your energy into that particular aspect of your workout, power for plyometrics and strength for weight-lifting. This is the more common linear periodization model you will see used. It is very useful for building up a base of strength and power in athletes. Incorporating the two methods in to one workout is known as non-linear periodization or the conjugate-method of training. It generally is used by following up a strength-training movement such as a heavy back squat with a plyometric movement such as the box-jump, either as a superset or next in the order of exercises. Fairly recent research has shown that this method may be better for more experienced athletes to improve their performance (Rhea and Ball, 2002).

I hope these answers help you improve your performance, be sure to check out for more information along with exercise videos, pictures and training manuals.

- Coach Potts