Justin Ochoa STACK
As a coach, I think it is important to look back at your older work—programs, blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.
This is a great way to check in on your own progress as a coach, mentor and leader.
The other day, I stumbled upon some older programming from 2015. I was shocked by how different it looked compared to my current programs.
It’s important to grow and always have an open mind to new concepts, methods and executions of lifts. So it’s not a bad thing that your programs change over time. In fact, I’d argue it’s completely natural. And hopefully beneficial to your clients.
In these older programs, there were several exercises that I used back then, that I rarely—if ever—use today
Below are three popular exercises that fit that category. I’m not saying they are wrong or bad. I’m simply saying I no longer use them, and I’d like to provide some context for that as well as the alternatives I know use instead.
Exercise 1: Snap Downs
I used to really love Snap Downs. I once wrote a STACK article about why I loved them. However, I’ve now come to believe I was mostly wrong about them.
In the article, I wrote:
“The Snap Down is an awesome drill for developing the proprioceptive relationship you need your body to have with the ground or training/playing surface. It’s low-impact, very easy to coach, extremely easy to learn, and has numerous benefits.”
I still agree with that part, but here’s where things got hazy:
“For athletes to truly grasp what it takes to be faster, more explosive and more agile, they must understand the relationship between their feet and the ground. To a certain extent, much of those athletic traits can be attributed to two things—force absorption and force production.
How much force can you absorb? How much force can you produce? How fast can you absorb/produce it? How long can you sustain that level of force production? Can you absorb or produce force in numerous positions and planes of motion?”
So, yeah. About that. I now disagree with my former self regarding anything that mentioned force absorption.
Here’s the problem. I now believe force absorption is a myth. Force actually cannot really be absorbed. Ultimately, this is a communication and terminology beef.
The concept of force absorption is fine, but that’s not what’s actually happening, so why should we continue to use the term? Through reading deeper and seeking knowledge from others on the topic, my definition of force absorption has changed.
When you land from a jump, your muscles contract and apply force to the ground, the ground applies force to you, and then you stop moving. You didn’t absorb anything, you just landed a jump.
Landings with less knee flexion are going to be stiff landings. Landings with more knee flexion are going to be soft landings. Whether you land with less or more knee flexion, jumping off a 30-inch box is still going to result in the same amount of force, and you’re not going to be absorbing any of it. It is simply being managed through different center of mass postures.
Force can’t be absorbed. Energy can be managed. Posture can be manipulated. Those two things can help athletes express force in various ways upon landing. But, force is never absorbed.
Additionally, many coaches use the Snap Down to practice landings, train “force absorption,” and reduce risk of injury. I often thought of this exercise as a progression in a plyometric series that would get us to Drop Jumps and Pogo Jumps faster, but I do understand the logic behind the injury prevention theory.
The problem is… now I feel that athletes can navigate their way through a set of Drop Jumps at an appropriate height without ever needing to “practice landing” as a progression. If they play a sport, surely they can handle the load of a 12-inch box Drop Jump.
Plus, just watch sports. You will rarely see a “Snap Down”-type landing. Here are some videos of iconic plays in sports. Watch the landings. None of them look like a Snap Down. Yet all of them look more forceful than a Snap Down.
I’ve come to believe the Snap Down has a very poor application to sports.
Instead of using them to progress athletes to a Drop Jump, now we just do Drop Jumps, Vertical Jumps, Ankle Pops or Pogo Jumps. You get more bang for your buck and it prevents you from wasting time practicing a landing that will never happen in a game.
My good friend and fellow STACK expert, Jake Tuura, said it best: “You’re practicing perfect landing technique that never happens in a game, in a closed controlled environment, which also never happens in a game.” So, really, is it the best use of our time?
Exercise 2: Timed Planks
Another exercise I have really moved away from is a Plank for time. Again, this article isn’t about what is good or bad. This is about advancement and progression as a coach.
I believe a timed Plank can be useful for about the first 6 months of someone’s training career. Whether that’s a 12-year-old or a 50-year-old, the first 6 months of training is probably a suitable phase for this. After that, it’s probably a waste of time.
By that time, the athlete will definitely be able to hold a sturdy, 60-second plank with no issues. In my opinion, beyond that 60-second mark is when we get into the zone of planking longer just to plank longer. And really, shorter planks may result in higher quality efforts.
What actual benefits are we really getting by spending more time in a plank position? Are we still activating our core after a minute, or do shoulders, arms and lower-back strength start to become the bigger factors?
To me, if the athlete can master the one-minute plank, they are ready to move on to more difficult core training variations. Maybe it’s a weighted plank, or an RKC plank, or maybe you remove an arm or leg as a point of contact, or maybe you add a stability ball, or maybe you move to an entire different position or exercise. Whatever you do, it’s probably better than prolonging the static plank.
Another reason I’ve moved on from long duration planks is because this is a position that good athletes are great at cheating. A plank can look good from one angle, but if you change your viewpoint or even use your hands to check the athlete’s position & activation, it can tell you an entirely different story.
When you’re working with several athletes at a time, it could be easy for athletes to cheat. And it’s not that they want to cheat the system, they just may not know what to correct or how. And their body is naturally going to find the path of least resistance once the going gets tough. If you’re dealing with a big group, it can be hard to catch all of these issues.
Of course, this could be unique to team sports and semi-private settings like mine, but it’s worth bringing up as a point to even those who work 1-on-1 with people.
We still do Planks, but we now use breaths instead of seconds/minutes to dictate the duration.
We program 3-6 diaphragmatic breaths as one set, which usually lasts 20-30 seconds tops. This gets a much more intense core activation through the breathing technique.
This can unlock some extra time for your programming. You can use the time spend holding long duration planks to address more important issues without leaving any gains on the table.
Exercise 3: High Box Jumps
This last one was pretty emotionally challenging for me, but I have moved away from max height box jumps almost entirely.
I love box jumps. I just don’t program them for MAX HEIGHT anymore.
First and foremost, a set of box jumps will undoubtedly become an ego contest at some point of the program. It’s absolutely unavoidable. If you are working with an athlete, competition is ingrained in their soul. They can’t fight the urge to push the limits. This is why they have a coach like you to rationally weigh out pros and cons of training situations. It’s all but inevitable.
All it takes it one bad jump on a box that’s too high for the athlete to injure themselves.
Then you have to explain to a coach, parent or GM why you thought it was a good idea to let them jump onto a 30-inch high box with four 45-pound bumper plates stacked on top of it.
I’m not saying an athlete should never advance their box height. I just feel that pursuing a true “max” height box jump carries far more risk than reward.
It also doesn’t even represent what we want to get out of the exercise.
In training, jumping is really about hip displacement. How much vertical change in your hip height do you get from point A (takeoff) to B (max height)? Jumping onto a higher box does not automatically equal more hip displacement automatically.
A high box jump is often more about how high you can pull your feet up off the ground. I’m not concerned with that. If I was, we’d do a Tuck Jump. I care about your hip displacement.
We still do a lot of our box jumps on relatively high boxes, but we coach a stiffer landing.
Instead of bringing their feet up to the box, we coach the athlete to jump, extend up to a maximal jump height (over the box), and then stiffen their lower body in the air and on the box.
If an athlete has tested at a 26-inch vertical, I’m going to have them use a 24-inch box. This ensures that they can perform this method safely without risk of clipping their toes on the box.
Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock