Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methods (2015)
BONUS SECTION 1
ADVANCED SPEED TRAINING: “COACH” WADE’S TOP TEN TRICKS AND HACKS
If you’ve read through this manual, you’ll now know the best way possible to become a more explosive athlete—by becoming elite-level at a handful of classic bodyweight movements which require huge power, awesome speed, and epic agility and reflexes. You’ll know the finest progressions to use while training in these exercises, and you’ll also have some programming approaches under your belt.
Most authors would stop there—quit while they’re ahead. Not me. I’m too dumb. Plus, I like writing for you guys too much. That’s why I had to slip in just one more chapter before bedtime; and in this chapter I’m going to be giving you my top ten tips and tactics for becoming faster than a speeding bullet!
Some of these ten ideas are pretty fundamental and anyone with any common sense will understand that they must be adopted by any athlete who wants to really amp up their quickness. Others are a little more abstruse...some are downright wacky. You choose. If just one of these here ideas helps you in your training, or evolves the way you mentally approach your training, then it was worth writing it.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #1:
HACK THE SPEED CYCLE!
Nope, the speed cycle isn’t something you head for in the gym so you can chit-chat to that hot fox wearing lycra on the bike next to you. The speed cycle is a theoretical process by which we do super-fast stuff—like dodging a punch, jumping to catch a Frisbee, or even leaping over a moving vehicle. You need to understand this process first and foremost if you want to maximize your speed training. Why? Because it contains components most athletes automatically bypass.
Let’s look at the stages of the speed cycle:
I. PRE.PERCEPTION AWARENESS
This is the first stage of fast movement, where you become aware of the possibility that you may have to move fast. Let’s say, you are in a dive bar in Detroit wearing a Red Wings Suck! T-shirt, when some big toothless hockey fan squares up to you. If you have any brains at all, you’ll begin to realize the possibility that you may be assaulted, even though it hasn’t actually happened yet. This is pre-perception awareness. This stage involves sensory awareness of your environment, but also a trained or intuitive mental processing of what you are experiencing. This stage may not exist at all in some circumstances, where you have to react to something you couldn’t predict—say you were walking along and out of nowhere a brick flies at your face. But those circumstances are fairly rare.
II. PERCEPTION SPEED
This is where you first become cognizant of the event that requires you to move fast—the punch flies towards your face, for example. This occurs through the senses, primarily the visual, although depending on the circumstances your other senses can be a big help too.
III. RECOGNITION SPEED
After your eyes lock onto the fist moving towards them, it takes a tiny fraction of a second for the brain to actually realize what exactly is happening. Believe it or not, we can easily interpret a fast-moving hand in several different ways: is this huge man falling over? Is this guy going to pat me on the shoulder, or give me a high-five? Etc.
IV. DECISION SPEED
Okay, now you recognize that you’re being attacked. You need to decide the best thing to do about it. All of this happens very, very fast of course; forget what you saw in the Sherlock Holmes movie where Robert Downey Jr. perfectly plots out every stage of his bare-knuckle fight. No prolonged upper-cortex mental decisions are made. It’s a nearly-immediate brainstem thing. Do you dodge? Do you block? Do you try and hit the other guy first?
V. MOVEMENT SPEED
Great—your brain decided that blocking the punch by raising your arm and leaning back was the right course of action. All that remains is for your body to actually do that. Movement speed is about how quick the nervous system/muscles can actually move and do what they’re told to.
There are various different formats of this progress, and some use different terms for the stages, or more complex stages. If you prefer you own interpretation, that’s cool.
What’s most interesting about this paradigm for me, is that fact that most athletes who want to be fast spend up to 100% of their training time exclusively on stage V: building greater movement speed. That’s awesome, but it’s also pretty misguided—athletes who do this are missing out on the other four stages. Damn, that’s 80% of what makes you truly fast!
The solution? Find ways of training the other four stages, and build them into your workouts. The next few speed tactics will focus on this concept, and give you some prime ideas on how to do just that.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #2:
EXPLOIT GRETZKY’S LAW!
Wayne Gretzky was one of the all-time greatest hockey players ever to set foot on the ice—maybe the greatest. He had a bunch of incredible qualities, but possibly most impressive was his lightning speed: and remember, hockey is as fast as hell to begin with.
Whenever he was pressed on what made him so damn good, Gretzky had a stock reply:
A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.
— Wayne Gretzky
Think about how this relates to the speed cycle: it has nothing to do with reaction time or movement speed. It’s about anticipating what’s going to happen next, before it happens—this relates to stage I: Pre-Perception Awareness.
Anyone can apply this to any sport, or any situation where they need to be fast. Instead of just passively waiting to “react” to something, you try to actively predict that event ahead of time—even just a split-second ahead of time—so your reaction time will be that much quicker, making you faster than the next guy. This is true of combat, emergency situations, but also all sports: tennis, basketball, wrestling, you name it.
Gretzky became the best partly though his power to predict where the puck would wind up—giving him a kind of “free” dose of quickness!
How do you get better at this? Three points: sensory openness, mental focus, and an understanding of the situation in front of you. The first two you can pick up more or less immediately if you try; the third is about study. Study your game, the environment you’re in. Study your opponent. If you can put some energy into these things, you are much more likely to pick up tiny cues and clues as to what’s going to happen next. In sparring: is your opponent shifting his weight onto his back leg, ready for a front kick? In tennis: is your competitor looking to your left, to place a shot there? Etc. There are too many variables to spell out here, but depending on your sport or situation you should be able to work them out yourself.
This is the most logical and primary way of getting faster: but very few athletes ever seem to work on this aspect. Most people are too used to instinctively 6 than 6 making rapid predictions. Like animals, we just instinctively respond when the adrenaline kicks in; we rarely step up to that human potential of ours and unlock the power of our brains.
...If it was so key to Wayne Gretzky’s speed, it’s worth thinking about, right?
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #3:
TRAIN THE SENSES!
If the last tactic relates to the first stage of the speed cycle, this one relates to the second stage: Perception Speed.
The overall health and efficiency of our senses play a crucial role in our total speed: if we see an “event” slower, we react slower. A large component of total speed is reaction time: and if you are reacting, you are reacting to some external event, be it a punch, a kick, a missile, an upcoming obstacle, whatever. The vast majority of these “events” are visual in nature; we see them, and our vision tells us to judge when and how to react. We are often so wrapped up in the idea that speed is all about a fast muscular system, that we rarely train the perceptual system: the five senses.
Martial artists—particularly aficionados of the traditional, classical systems—may be an exception. The older arts contain various methods for training the different senses, and all athletes can learn a lot from them. All you need to train your senses is your imagination, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
All the voluntary muscles can be trained to greater strength through calisthenics—even the eyes. “Occular calisthenics”, from a 1920’s health manual.
Speed is not just
about the muscles
are your sensory organs?
There are numerous exercises designed to increase eye health—the old yoga technique where you stare at a candle to nullify the blinking instinct is just one. Another is to follow a “circuit” of a figure- 8 with your eyeballs; do it ten times, then rest and repeat. Over time, the muscles of your eyes will get faster, improving your perception speed. You can train your peripheral vision by something as simple as watching TV sitting side-on; look straight ahead, and see what you can pick up. As the nerves in the sides of your eyes strengthen, you can alter your angle even further.
Everything is so goddamn loud these days—TVs, radios, and the cinema actually rattles your fillings. The French philosopher Rousseau predicted that as our technology makes things easier for us, our natural senses would decay accordingly. It’s true—most of us keep our vision fixed for hours at a time, to a TV, laptop, whatever. Weak hearing is epidemic these days. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who had to attune to the slightest rustle of a leaf, or even bending of grass, to locate predators or quarry. You can train your hearing back to the Paleolithic default setting with specific techniques. Build the muscles and tissues of the eye by looking around when you walk—focus on different objects at different distances to keep the lenses pliable and fresh. Turn your TV down until you can barely hear it. When it becomes audible, repeat the process. Sensory mediation is a more advanced method; sit in silence for a while. Soon you’ll discover that the world around you isn’t “silent” at all: you’ll hear creaking walls, water moving in the pipes, birds outside, people in the distance. Over time you can refine your hearing to ridiculous levels with this technique. Sonic location is another good skill to drill: place something quiet—say, a laptop with a whirring cooling fan—some distance from you. Then spin around until you lose your bearings. Pause and listen until you can work out exactly where the device is, relative to you. Knowing where slight sounds emanate from—especially if they are out of your line of sight—is also useful in combat, for obvious reasons.
We don’t often think of movement or touch as a speed-sense, but we can potentially react much faster to touch than we do to sight. Many security personnel and bodyguards use a contact technique Geoff Thompson calls “the fence”, where they gently put their hand out in front of their chest; the second an aggressor touches their fingertips—and therefore comes within attacking range—they strike. Ancient wing chun masters took tactile reflex training to the level of a science, with a practice called chi sau. Was it a coincidence that Bruce Lee—considered one of the fastest men of this, or any other era—learned wing chun as a kid? I don’t think so.
Chi sau or “sticking hands”, a sophisticated combat drill designed to develop lightning tactile reflexes. Some masters even practice blindfold.
Can your senses of smell or taste help you get faster? Just maybe. Mammals all sniff the air to get a sense of their surroundings; reptiles like snakes stick out their tongues to (literally) get a taste of the action. Many species can pick up pheromones or hormones from other creatures which send specific messages of attraction, fear or even potential violence. Sure, perhaps human beings can’t consciously pick out those variables in our environments any more, but trust me—those senses didn’t go anywhere. They just manifest as “gut feelings” about people or situations. Most civilized folks struggle to ignore their instinctive reactions to people and things. Don’t. Learn to listen to your instincts and trust them, wherever you are. Even today, it could mean the difference between life and death.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #4:
EXPLOIT REFLEX CHANNELING!
Go to an FBI training school and you’ll see that the bulk of the crisis training there is about drilling the same techniques—based on time-worn tactics—again and again. They do this for two reasons. The first is based on a scientific principle called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law states that, at a higher level, there is an inverse relationship between arousal and performance. In other words, when you are extremely emotionally excited—which is what a crisis or a critically important event does to you—your performance (including your speed) goes down the toilet. When this happens, you can’t think your way out of things. You need to have already programmed your behaviors into your reflexes to get the job done without “you” being present.
FBI shooting. To “program” a movement into your reflexes, 6-10 reps won’t cut it. You need thousands upon thousands.
Tom Wong—kung fu master! This is not a kick which he practiced just once or twice.
How do you “program” your reflexes? This has to do with another bit of science called Hebb’s Rule. This is sometimes known as the law of repetition, and—to paraphrase—it states that neurons that fire together, wire together. In other words, if you want to program your nervous system with certain automatic behaviors—whether it’s blocking a punch, serving well at tennis, or shooting a bad guy—the best way to make it sink into your nervous system is to drill it. What do I mean by “drill”? There is an old story in kung fu, of a student who wanted to master a certain kick for combat. He asked his sifu how to achieve this, and the master told him to perform the kick in mid-air a thousand times to be able to do it correctly just once. Then, when he could kick correctly, he would have to practice the same kick against a solid target a thousand times. Then he would practice the kick against a solid-but-moving target a thousand times. Then he would have to perform the kick a thousand times perfectly in sparring—only then would he be ready to perform the kick once in a real fight! That’s what I mean by drilling. The move becomes part of you.
What does all this have to do with speed? It has to do with the third and fourth stages of the speed cycle: recognition speed and decision speed. Maximum speed at these stages cannot come from the mind or thoughts—it has to come from the brainstem and nervous system: the automatic reflexes. The only way to have the best reflexes in there is to program them in: by drilling. Build that speed-software into your nervous system by thousands and thousands of reps in training, and you’ll be unbeatable!
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #5:
UTILIZE THE PLYOMETRIC EDGE!
Too many athletes (and even coaches) confuse plyometrics and explosiveness training. Many athletes working with jumps or power pushups assume they are doing “plyo”—they ain’t. The two are not the same.
Plyometrics is a neologism drawn from the Greek words plio meaning “more” and metric meaning “measurement”. Plyometrics as a training method was a special “secret” Soviet technique created by Yuri Verkhoshansky in the late sixties. Used properly, plyometrics refers to any exercise which causes the muscles to stretch under force a fraction of a second before contracting again; and this was originally done by rapidly “loading” the muscles with stretch-energy via gravity. The typical example was the depth jump, where the athlete jumps down off an object—which would rapidly force the muscles to stretch, when the athlete hits the ground—then immediately jumps back up.
Verkhoshansky developed this method to help track athletes. He believed that the sudden fall would “shock” the muscles and nervous system, causing them to respond defensively by firing back with extra power. (Verkhoshansky didn’t coin the term plyometrics; that was made-up by an American athlete, Fred Wilt, witnessing the Soviets train. The method was originally called “shock training”.) The method works, at least partly, by activating the myotatic (stretch) reflex. Modern exercise ideologists have expanded on this, by throwing in theories like “the stretch shortening cycle” and concepts like “muscle spindles” and “golgi tendon organs”.
So—how can you apply the idea of plyometrics to the exercises in this book? The key is to begin each rep with a fall; you then immediately explode back up, after a small dip (which is the bending of the joints). You can apply this concept best to the power stuff, the jumps and explosive pushups. There are two ways to apply it. In the first (and flashiest) method, you jump down off a box, and jump back up (maybe even onto another box, or in mid-air).
You can apply the same idea to pushups; begin in the pushup position with your hands on two boxes either side of you, then drop off the boxes and explode back up off your hands onto them. Some athletes can get an unreal height doing this.
Another “shock” method involving depth—drop from standing into a pushup position. Only for the very strong, with robust joints, okay?
The second (and simpler) method is to perform multiple reps, with no rest in-between those reps. Think about it—if you jump up from the ground, that first jump is not truly plyometric, because it’s not preceded by a “shocking” drop. However, if you land from that first jump, and immediately perform a second jump, you can access the drop/shock forces of the landing from the first jump: therefore the second rep (and every one following) can be plyometric, provided you don’t pause during the set. You can do the same for pushups—use the fall from the first rep to immediately “charge” your second rep.
It’s a good idea to take a short breather to mentally focus and readjust between reps on exercises like flips and kip-ups. But you should not apply the rebound principle for your multiple reps on jumps and pushups if you can. Knock them out machine gun-style. Hit your first rep hard as possible, then the second you land, use the rebound and elastic forces in your muscles to immediately bounce back up. Verkhoshansky nailed it: shock training does work, and it will increase your explosive speed.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #6:
This one’s a no-brainer—but surprisingly few students of calisthenics take it seriously. I’m not saying that a calisthenics master needs ripped abs—that depends on the last few percent of body fat being stripped away, and an athlete can easily be at their best when they are not emaciated that way. That said, carrying twenty, thirty, forty, or even more than fifty pounds of excess blubber (like most Americans are today) is a big no-no.
Movements like back flips, kip-ups and muscle-ups are damned hard even for light athletes. Carrying a bunch of extra weight will make them virtually impossible. Sure, I know: there are some tubby athletes who can perform these moves—if you haven’t seen it happen, you can if you look hard enough. But just think how incredible these guys could be if they jettisoned all that extra weight! Wow. Plus, imagine how much unnecessary extra force it transfers to the joints during explosive movements. A lot.
Calisthenics—even explosive work—is really just movement. Nobody (provided they can move) should be restricted from taking part. Even if you are very obese, you can begin some kind of calisthenics training. (With your doc’s permission of course. How sad is it that I have to say that to avoid getting my ass sued, huh?) Just begin with the earliest steps you can perform without hurting your body; anything is better than nothing. Progressive calisthenics is the perfect discipline to go alongside weight loss, because it doesn’t prioritize excessive calories/protein intake (like bodybuilding or weight-training) and it doesn’t exhaust you so much that you become ravenous and undo all your hard work (think cardio/endurance sports). I have always argued, too, that calisthenics has a “subconscious effect”—when you force your body to move its own weight, your brain realizes that fact and adjusts your metabolism and appetite accordingly. Dieting sure is easier with a side of calisthenics, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others.
The less weight you carry around your middle, the more explosive you will become. There’s only one training manual I recommend for athletes looking to perfect their midsection: the awesome Diamond-Cut Abs by Danny Kavadlo.
And how should you diet? Damn, diet books are always the biggest sellers in any bookstore, so you probably don’t need me chirping in. I gave my full outlook in Convict Conditioning 2, but the principles are nothing special:
· Don’t be obsessive—ever. Be flexible with food choices
· Eat a balanced diet (some carbs and some protein at each meal, and a blend of meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit and cereal)
· Reduce basic portion sizes to lose bodyweight
· Eat 3 x per day (possibly with a snack or two)
· Don’t eat several hours before bed, and try and go to sleep on an empty stomach
This advice is nothing mind-blowing or esoteric, but it’s pretty much the opposite of the usual fitness junk advice, which says:
· Be as strictly disciplined as possible—junk food will kill ya!
· Focus primarily on large amounts of protein, plus supplements
· Count calories/grams of macronutrients
· Eat 6-8 times a day
· Never go without food for more than a couple of hours, or your muscles will drop off and you’ll become fatter!
If you want to follow the usual “health and fitness” advice, go for it. But be warned that it has only made our nation heavier and poorer, while making the supplement companies that much better off.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #7:
OPTIMIZE JOINT HEALTH!
One reason older folks move slower is that they condition themselves to it—literally, they program themselves to move slow by moving slow all the time. They could potentially move much faster, but their bodies are limited by the software they’re running. The reason so many older people program themselves to move slowly like this is that they have painful joints. If you really want to be fast—young or old—you must, must take care of your joints. Some general thoughts on this:
NO PONDEROUS WEIGHTS
Yeah, I know squatting four-figures is all the rage in some gyms, but you will pay for it later. My opinion—bodyweight-only is the best method for joint health and longevity. Nature’s way wins, hands down!
CULTIVATE SUPPLE STRENGTH
I discussed this elsewhere—I also call it tension-flexibility. Use calisthenics methods to stretch and bend your joints under the body’s own power and load. This strengthens the joints, draws blood to the soft tissues, healing them, and retains an ideal range-of-motion. There’s a reason NFL guys go to yoga for rehab.
One reason the old-timers used to build strength slowly was that they believed the muscles grow and develop quicker than the joints (the tendons, soft-tissues, cartilage, etc). I totally agree with this. Work in new exercises slowly, and progress at a sensible speed. Once your joints “catch up” to your muscles, you’ll be surprisingly bulletproof.
TRAIN YOUR WEAK POINTS
Joint injuries constantly cause further injuries because athletes inevitably over-protect injured areas, causing further strength asymmetry. A chain always snaps at its weakest link—never its strongest link. So remove your weak links!
Bodyweight training and mobility go together like bacon and eggs! For the ultimate book on the subject of calisthenics joint training, check out Al Kavadlo’s groundbreaking work: Stretching Your Boundaries.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #8:
EXPLORE B.BALL DRILLS!
This is another training methodology drawn from prison experience. I’ve known a number of cell athletes who, to hone their reactions and movement speed, work solo with a basketball. It might sound nuts, but it makes a lot of sense. If you’re spending a lot of time in a cell, your reflexes rust up like you wouldn’t believe. You probably don’t get any team sports, and you get no time to play on the Xbox. So how do you hone your reactions? Time tested b-ball drills.
The kind of drills you perform are limited only by your imagination. I could fill another book with ‘em. You can catch, twist, drop, duck, jump, bend, bounce, and on and on. Here are a few basic drills to give you some flavor.
JUMP THROW: (1) Stand around two arm’s lengths from the wall, holding the b-ball to your chest. (2) Jump as high as you can: the second your feet leave the ground, throw the ball at the wall. (3) You need to catch the basketball on the rebound before your feet hit the ground again.
360 THROW: (1) Hold a b-ball down near your belly. Get into the ready position by bending at the knees slightly. (2) Throw the b-ball up against the wall. (3) The moment the ball leaves your hands, immediately spin/hop around 360 degrees to catch it. (If you don’t have a wall, you can also throw the b-ball straight up.)
DIP THROW: (1) Hold a b-ball at the level of your belt-line. Bend the knees a little but don’t bend at the waist. (2) As soon as you are ready, release (don’t throw) the ball downward. (3) The moment the ball touches the floor (not before!) dip down and catch it before the second bounce.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #9:
MASTER THE SPEED ILLUSION!
There’s a famous maxim by the great master of strategy, Sun Tzu:
When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I used to have a buddy who was a huge Kempo nut, who always used to tell me that—even in his late fifties—he could kick the ass of much, much younger guys in sparring, because he was smarter than them. This thought stuck with me for years. What did he mean by smarter? He was talking about using his body positioning to make his opponents think he was further away than he really was—then BANG! When he lashed out with a strike, it seemed like it was faster than lightning. In fact, the strike was probably slower than the punches and kicks coming from the guys he was fighting, but it seemed faster because it had less distance to travel due to his sneaky posture.
Those cats were fast as lightnin’. Combat is just one example where tactical posture can make you seem much faster than you really are.
Of course, this is not really about being faster than the next guy—only seeming that much faster than you really are, which amounts to the same thing. The iconic martial arts writer Loren Christensen calls this tactic the “illusion of speed”, and he explains the art and science of this approach beautifully in his legendary book Speed Training (1996). I’d advise all fighters interested in the details of this strategy to get their hands on the book—the moment it came out it became the classic of the genre, and it hasn’t been toppled since, in my opinion.
As ever, I’m using the example of speed in combat, but this basic strategy—Sun Tzu’s strategy—is applicable to any other areas where you use speed against an opponent: football, basketball, hockey, etc. If you can use various cues to fool your opponent as to your direction/positioning, you can come out of nowhere to dazzle them with your apparent speed.
However brutal or physical your discipline, the smart approach works better than you might imagine.
SUPER.SPEED TACTIC #10:
THINK FAST, KIMOSABE!
Think fast? Is that joke?
Zen and the art of super-speed? Maybe!
Nope—I’m deadly serious. By thinking you are fast—and thinking about speed generally—you will literally become faster.
I’ve already mentioned Christensen’s martial arts bible Speed Training in this chapter. In closing the manual, Christensen notes how radically his own movement speed had increased as a result of all his research during the writing process. Much of this, he states, was due to the fact that he was putting his money where his mouth was, and experimenting hard with speed techniques in the dojo. So far, so reasonable, right? But then—out of the blue—Christensen hits you with something that sounds so bizarre, it almost seems as if the author himself has trouble accepting it:
...as much as I sweated over them (training techniques), I’m convinced that at least half of my improvement has been from just thinking about speed over the past few months. “What did he say?” inquires the lazy reader.
“This guy got faster from just thinking about getting faster?”
— Loren Christensen, Speed Training, p. 244
In my book C-MASS, I described the phenomena of neurological inhibition. This is the idea that the human body is physically capable of much higher levels of performance that we can usually consciously access. So why can’t we access it? Because the nervous system deliberately puts “blocks” on your abilities, in order to prevent your body from damaging itselves or burning out. But, via the mind, the brain can manipulate those subconscious blocks. Just by watching super-fast movements, or even thinking about moving very quickly, we convince the nervous system that moving real fast is actually something we can do safely. As a result, the blocks get lifted.
Lift those mental blocks! Watch the fastest humans in the world do their thing. Speed them up, digitally—your subconscious won’t know the difference! Imagine yourself moving with lightning speed, again and again. Picture yourself as dynamite—think of the words fast and loose. Banish words like slow or rusty from your mental vocab. Cultivate a positive, speed-based mindset. If your performance needs improving, never say to yourself: I’m too slow! Say: I can go faster!
...And you know what, kid? You will.
If there’s a take-home message on really maximizing your speed, it’s this: keep training faster. We can talk about scientific laws and biological ideas and whatnot, but it’s really not weird or esoteric. You need to move efficiently and perform lots and lots of reps, all the while thinking you are fast, and trying to move as fast as you can. Accept no limits.
Let’s finish with a quote from one of the truly great speedsters—the legendary Bruce Lee. At a martial arts seminar, the movie star was harassed by an eager fan who was desperate to improve his punching speed. He kept on asking whether Bruce could help him—if he could share any “secret” tips or advice.
With the whimsical-but-wise deadpan expression he was famous for, the master replied simply: Sure. Punch faster.