Strength Training with LSU Track

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On Aug. 26, 2004, John Moffit took flight into the Athens, Greece, air landing more than 27 feet farther than his starting point. Although Olympic track fans world round watched the American long jumper capture the Olympic silver medal, few had any knowledge of the road Moffit took to his tremendous achievement.

However, Irving "Boo" Schexnayder, Louisiana State University jumps and multi-event coach, understood. In fact, he provided the training Moffit needed by plugging him into a jumper-specific strength-training program.

According to the coach, when Moffit arrived on the LSU campus, lifting weights wasn't his strong point. "When the track team had weightlifting, he would kind of disappear," Boo explains. But, this quickly changed as he helped Moffit morph into an Olympic athlete.

Elevating an athlete to elite status requires a variety of training tools. With this in mind, Boo uses five types of strength development to produce freakish jump performances: Olympic lifts (which Boo considers the biggest and most important part of the program) static, elastic and general strength training, and bodybuilding work. Each element of this program serves a specific purpose, including balancing blood chemistry levels, effecting core strength and benefiting endocrine system functions.

Although Moffit might be the most notable, he isn't the only athlete on Schexnayder's list of successes. Under Boo's guidance, LSU jumpers took home three individual national championships and 12 All-American honors—just in 2004. Boo has coached at least one national champion in seven of his nine seasons at LSU with 53 All-American honorees. It was those numbers that earned Schexnayder the 2004 Mondo Award as National Track and Field Assistant Coach of the Year.

Following is a look at Boo's jump factory process.


Olympic Strength Training
Olympic lifts properly align and utilize all strength elements, which is why Schexnayder refers to them as the harmonizer. This style of strength training places absolute strength, power and elastic strength demands on the athlete and necessitates coordination. Schexnayder believes this hybrid quality of strength and coordination teaches an athlete how to apply force, not just develop it. "We have all seen someone who can lift the entire weight room, but can't jump worth a lick," he says.

According to Boo, technique is a premium in Olympic training, especially in the shoulders. Boo watches closely to ensure shoulders stay over the toes long enough so the hips don't fire in the wrong sequence of movement. "The sequence of hip, knee and ankle firing is very similar to the action of running and jumping," he explains.

Other elements Boo watches for are a straight back and slow initial movement off the ground. Gradual bar acceleration should facilitate bar speed, not a sudden jerk.

Schexnayder prescribes his players a weekly diet of 18 to 25 sets of Olympic lifts broken into 3 lifting sessions. Beginning in the developmental phase with sets of 5 reps, the routine decreases sets to 3 and 2 quickly over the 12 to 16 week progression. The athletes then stick to this routine during the competition season, but in most cases the weight is reduced.

*Coaching points: Schexnayder advocates total recovery after each set and taking as much time as necessary for each lift. But, he discourages the use of artificial blockers, as it might sacrifice quality.

Schexnayder gives his jumpers the option of starting with the bar in three possible positions: the floor, just below the knee or on the thigh above the knee. However, the technique is the same for each variation.

Begin with the bar at the designated starting position with the shoulders over the toes. Set your grip about shoulder width. Using an upward motion, fire the hips, knees and ankles rapidly while pushing through the ground. Continue the upward motion with a shrug of the shoulder girdle followed with a rapid pull of the arms. Drop into a slightly squatted position under the bar. Bring the elbows around the bar catching it across the collarbone.

Snatches mimic cleans in that they begin from one of the same three starting positions and employ the same explosive motion of the hips, knees and ankles. However, your grip should be about as wide as your elbows when you hold your arms to the side.

Begin with the same upward motion and shrug, keeping shoulders over the toes. Once the pull with your arms is complete, drop under the bar into a squat and catch the bar overhead slightly toward the back of the head with straight arms. Do not get into habit of swinging the bar away from the body during the pull; keep it as tight to your body as possible.

Clean Pull/Snatch Pull
These lifts are identical to the clean and snatch respectively, except no catch is involved. Fire the hips, knees and ankles in the same manner, but once you shrug and pull the bar to below chin level, allow the bar to drop back into starting position.

Static Strength Training
Boo defines static training as producing force regardless of speed of movement. Deep squats and their variations are the most important elements in this category of strength. Perform static training 3 times per week with 40 reps each session. However, do the reps through a variety of exercises. In the development phase, LSU jumpers begin with 4 sets of 8 reps with light weight, sometimes lower than 50 percent below a 1 rep max. Decrease to 4 reps and lower later in the progression.

Take full recovery on these exercises.

Deep Squat
Schexnayder promotes deep squatting for several reasons. "When you go deep, you involve more muscle tissue and the endocrine response that you get from the exercise is more pronounced. You cannot get that from shallow positions. You have to keep blood chemistry in mind when doing these things."

In addition, Boo blames many athletic injuries on a skewed quadriceps-to-hamstring strength ratio, which results from not squatting deep enough.

Boo also believes deep squatting positions emphasize core strength, which the body uses for balance over time.

Begin with the bar resting on your back across your trap muscles. Descend slowly by bending the hips, knees and ankles, keeping the back arched and chest out. Come to a controlled stop about 12 inches from the floor. Accelerate upward by firing the hips, knees and ankles while keeping your torso in the same position as the descent.

Do not allow the knees to extend over your toes; align them with the balls of your feet. Schexnayder focuses on deceleration the entire way down and acceleration the entire way up, although he advises against going from 0 to 60 on the way up. "The higher you are, the faster you are moving and the lower you are, the slower you are moving," he explains.

Once you get to sets of less than 4 reps in the power phase, Schexnayder says not to squat to the full 12-inch depth. "When applying that much muscle tissue, fatigue sets in quicker so the power development becomes difficult," he says.

Split Squat
LSU's jumpers do a true split squat. They begin with their legs in a wide split or lunge position so the movement is only about 8-10 inches. This helps the athlete balance weight on both feet.

Again, do not allow your front knee to go over the toes and apply the same squat principles regarding descent and ascent. Use either the standard squat position with a bar on your back or hold dumbbells at your side.

Lunge Walk
Beginning with dumbbells in hand or a bar on your back, step forward with one foot and lower into a lunge position. Keep the front knee behind your front toes and descend until the back knee is an inch above the ground. Push through the ground with the front foot, bringing the back leg forward until you have risen to a standing position. Immediately repeat with other leg.

Elastic Strength Training
"Elastic strength refers to a reflex type of force production," Boo says.

To highlight this form, place your hand flat on a table, raise your index finger and slam it down as hard as you can. Now, use your other hand to cock back the index finger, and slam it down. The second example shows increased force produced by the elastic nature of muscles. Jumpers employ this stretch-reflex action when in motion. So, it makes sense for them to train with this action.

Jump Squat
Jump squats have two variations—the deep squat jump and the half squat jump. In both, begin in standing position and lower down to the specified height, either deep position or half position. Accelerate upward quickly firing the hips, knees and ankles to gain maximum height with the jump. Upon landing, immediately begin the next rep. Spend as little time on the ground as possible.

*Coaching point: Schexnayder recommends athletes use about 1/4 of their body weight for this exercise. Depending on your weight, use a bar on the back or dumbbells.

Split Jump Squat or Lunge Jump
The only difference between this exercise and jump squats is that you begin and land in lunge position during each rep.

Bodybuilding Exercises

Leg Curl—On leg curl machine, bring heel to buttocks and then lower weight to straight leg position in a controlled manner.

Twist Lunge—Step forward into lunge position and twist torso towards front knee. Push back into standing position and repeat with other leg.

Back Hyper—Use a back hyper machine; keep back flat.

Bent Over Row—Bend over with back flat and bring bar to sternum

Lat Pull Down (behind)—Pull bar down behind the head to the traps on lat pulldown machine.

Behing-The-Neck Press—Raise bar from behind the head until arms are straight overhead.

Leg Extension—Use seated leg extension machine.

Twisting Sit-up—Sit up and twist to one side. Alternate sides each rep.

Hanging Leg Lift—Hang from a bar and raise your legs up until they are parallel to the floor. Do not swing them, but use a controlled movement up and down.

Russian Twist—Sit with legs in air. Twist to one side and then the other with a weight in hand. This constitutes one rep.

Straight-Leg Deadlift—Hold a bar with a slight bend in the knees and maintain an arched back while sliding the bar down your legs. Bend as much as possible at the hips. Try to descend as far as possible without changing the position of your back.

Weighted V-Up—Lie on the ground with arms overhead and a weight in your hands. Keeping the legs and arms straight, fold up so your hands and feet meet above your belly button.

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