Today marks the unofficial anniversary (at least in my memory) of the introduction of one product that was going to revolutionize the sports world. Roughly 22 years ago we saw the advent of something that would have you jumping higher, running faster, changing directions quicker and would help you achieve a fitness level that would blow your competition away. This product was aptly called, the Strength Shoe. Just one thing…it was totally unnecessary.
How often do we see these wonder products and end up wondering whether they really could live up to the hype they’re built around. I don’t want to rag too harshly on this one product (especially because it did work…to an extent), but I do believe this is a perfect example of a principle that could very well revolutionize your competitive level. In order to understand what I’m talking about I need to explain what the Strength Shoe does, and how it works.
If you’ve never seen a pair of these shoes before (and you would remember them if you had) here’s how they’re built: First, you have your standard tennis shoe, I don’t know if they were built for comfort, style or function, but they did have a shoe. Second, the shoe was positioned off the ground by a few (possibly 6 or more) inches through a small connector piece that attached to a platform that was on the floor. The platform was about the size of the front of a normal shoe and was positioned underneath the ball of the foot. Basically what this causes you to do is walk in such a way that you’re always on the ball of your foot, your heel can’t touch the ground even if you wanted it to because of how far off the ground it is. To get the feel for what this does, try walking around your house for a few minutes without ever letting your heels touch the ground. You’ll notice pretty quick that your calves are being used much more than normal since a burn has started to develop. Supposedly if you played basketball in them, magic would happen and you’d become a monster that could terrorize the floor like never before.
When you move away from the advertiser wording, here’s what is actually going on: Because you’re constantly walking around on the balls of your foot, you are putting increased strain and effort on the calf muscles as well as the Achilles Tendon. Any time you add stress to muscles/tendons they are going to react, and in this case, you develop these muscles to help you jump higher, run faster, etc. The whole idea these shoes were built on is this: Strength vs. Power.
I know some of you may be thinking that these are the same thing, but I don’t think so. If I wanted to build more strength or muscle mass in my calves, I would probably load up some weight on a machine, do some standing calf raises, then switch to a seated calf raise and repeat. Power is developed in a very different manner. One definition of power is that it is energy, force or momentum, think of it as maximizing the strength that you already have. I’m not going to dwell on strength training because of the amount of information you can easily find on the topic, but I do want to touch on the basics of power training. So how do you develop your power? Plyometric training.
Plyometric training was designed with this idea of strength vs. power in mind. Developed by Yuri Verkhoshansky in the
- Squat Jumps. An all time favorite of basketball coaches around the world. Squat down to the ground and bring your arms to your side. Raise your arms above your head and jump as high as you can. Return to the squat position as you land and repeat. Try to minimize the amount of time it takes between the squat and jump positions.
- Jump to Box. Stand facing a sturdy box (start with one that’s only about 6 inches or so off the ground, then work up to taller ones). Squat down slightly and jump onto the box with both feet. Step off the box one foot at a time, then repeat.
- Split Squat Jumps. Start with your legs together then bring one leg back about 2 feet or so. You should now be standing in a split stance. Squat down by bringing your back knee toward the ground and lowering your hips. When your front leg is parallel to the ground, explode upward as high as you can. While you’re in mid-air, switch feet so that you land back in a squat with the opposite foot in front. Repeat.
- Lateral Hurdle Jumps. Pick an object that is a few inches wide and that you can jump over comfortably with both feet. The goal is to jump side to side over the object without kicking it. Make sure you keep both feet together and go until you can’t do any more.
- Single Leg Bounds. FYI: These can be very strenuous on your legs. Pick one foot to start with. Jump as high as you can off chosen foot in a forward direction. Bring that leg up underneath you and then down to land on the same foot. Repeat. Once you have traveled a certain distance, turn around and do the same thing with the other foot. After breaking 4 Guinness World Records doing basically this, I can say this will definitely build some power in your leg. Just be careful that you don’t push it too hard as it can cause some pain in your hip(s) due to working your muscles in a way that they’re not used to.
- Multiple Unders. Jump rope has some great built in plyometric exercises. One of the goals in true plyometrics is to minimize the amount of time you spend on the ground, in fact, you should try to spend less than 0.2 seconds if possible. Multiple unders are any skill where the rope passes under you more than one time per jump. Start out with doubles and try to work up to triples or even quads. One thing I love about using jump rope for plyometrics is that the exercises are a lot more fun to do. As you’re doing multiples you can do different tricks, add crosses, under the legs, turns, etc. The only thing to remember is that you need to do as many as possible, jumping as high as you can every jump to get the benefit.
Get a rope, practice and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. If you haven’t already done so, check out all the skills available in the Basic Multiples and Advanced Multiples sections for ideas on multiple under tricks you can do. I’m a firm believer that exercise should be fun. I’ve found that with a little practice, even something as strenuous as plyometrics can be enjoyable. Strength vs. Power, develop both to maximize your potential.