Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wooden Legs

This past weekend I was at an event, hitting friends with swords as usual. One of the guys there described feeling 'wooden' in his footwork. And he talked about what training things he was doing about it.  While we were fighting he said that he started off feeling like he was moving well, what I think of as explosive, but that he quickly slowed down.

He attributes the problem primarily to some weight that he's put on.

After watching the video of the day's fighting, I'm not sure that he actually slowed down all that much. So maybe part of the problem was perception. Maybe it was cardiorespiratory.

His chosen solution was Tabata's or rather high-intensity interval training (HIIT). He does footwork patterns at high-intensity with an interval timer. And some of those intervals he does while carrying extra weight. He also does jump rope, and I'm not sure what else is part of his training regimen.

I think there are a couple of ways he can improve the training for his footwork.

1) The Tabata's - the Tabata protocol is based on very high intensities of exercise - in the realm of 170% of VO2max. These are done for short durations, generally around 20 seconds. And there are rest periods in between sets of anywhere from half as much time to two to three times (that is work:rest ratios of 2:1 to 1:3). Footwork patterns aren't gonna do that. And footwork while carrying extra weight still aren't likely to hit that intensity for his legs. To get that kind of intensity of exercise in his legs, he should probably be jumping, hopping, bounding and other plyometric exercises like that.

Carrying 50lbs. while doing footwork increases the intensity by about 25% for a 200 lb. person. But jumping easily reaches 100%+ of bodyweight. So added weight is good, but jumping is better.

By carefully picking what kinds of plyos he does he can maintain a high-degree of specificity in the exercises, while also upping the intensity level beyond just footwork. As these are a new exercise for him, he should start with low-intensity plyos and work his way up progressively.

Altogether, this should provide a better conditioning training for his footwork.
The next two sections are more strength training than conditioning solutions to his wooden legs. And should be done in conjunction with the HIIT. The basic idea is that if the necessary force for a given action is a smaller percentage of max then endurance increases without sacrificing speed. For example, if I go from a 12" vertical to a 18" vertical then I can do 6" more times because each one represents a smaller portion of my max.

2) Explosive lifts - Ideally, these would be Olympic lifts, like the Power Clean. However, those require expensive equipment and significant training. So for a simpler solution we can do Squat Jumps, as described by Mike Boyle in Functional Training for Sports (p. 165). This exercise consists of simple jumping straight up from a squat position. It is important to get full extension of the hip, knee and ankle in this exercise.

The intensity of this exercise should be increased until each set consists of only 3-5 jumps in a row. This is done by adding weight, such as dumbbells, which can be held in the hands. For a lower body exercise like this weight can be increased in 10-20# increments.

Rest periods between sets should 2 minutes or longer, and the athlete should do at least 3 sets. For efficiency of time the athlete could do a light upper body activity in between sets.

3) Conventional weight lifting - Squats, leg presses and deadlifts will all contribute to lower leg strength and be useful in explosive footwork. Straight leg deadlifts do a good job of focusing on the glutes, while the squats/leg press focus on the quadricpes, so both exercises should be done. Single-leg variants of both of these exercises are also a good addition to the program.

For improving explosiveness in footwork weights should be chosen in the range that develops strength and power. So 1-6 RM weights. These are going to be large weights for such exercises and an athlete new to these should proceed slowly.

A program might look like four workouts a week for this, with two strength training and two plyo/conditioning days each week. A day off between each workout is ideal, which results in an 8 day cycle.


  1. I have had some positive results in improving footwork using a good old fashioned agility ladder.

  2. I would expect as much.

    One of the points of this blog is not so much that Strength and Conditioning is the answer, but that S&C is part of a complete program to achieve the best possible results. That by incorporating all of these training elements the athlete achieves more than would be achieved with just some of these elements.