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Ask Less, Less, or More?

January 9, 2011

Hi there UltiTraining readers 2011! I hope your pre-season / off-season is going swimmingly. In this edition of UltiTraining, we’ll answer a couple of reader questions. If you have any, be sure to ask them here, and/or check out the Building the Ultimate Athlete Expert Panel at

Today’s topics: training with less (equipment, money), and training with more (weighted vests). Let’s go!

@James asks,

I’ve been working my way through Boyle’s book, and was wondering if you’ve run into some of the issues of scaling I have (as a preface, I think the book’s brilliant). A rough look at it suggests a team would need a foam roller, 2-tennis-ball roller, a lacrosse ball, and a 8-10 pound medicine ball (for on-field chop and lift work, especially important i think for non-ambidextrous handlers) just to get through the warm-up and plyo parts of a practice. Additionally, his proposal for a SMR-stretch-dynamic warm up system is great in a toasty warm practice facility, but somewhat unwieldy for teams which spend much of their season suffering through cold rain and permafrost turf.

Obviously it’d be preferable to get some corporate sponsorships, get a team kit for the equipment and rent a practice field, but do you have any suggestions for the less affluent squads looking to emulate his low injury records?

Great question. One way to address this would be to start practice inside at a nearby gym or dormitory, and do warm-ups in a circuit. That is to say that you’d have half a dozen stations, each with 1-2 pieces of equipment (foam roller, 2-tennis-ball roller for t-spine mobility, lacrosse ball for the foot, med ball), and have 2-4 athletes at each station (one or two active, one or two coaching while stretching).

If it’s difficult to stay inside during part of practice, here are some cheaper alternatives.

Foam roller > large PVC pipe > carpet / the ground (!)

Use a basketball for throwing movements or even for SMR / self-massage

IronGrip barbell > barbell set off of or > Home-made Slosh Pipe > PVC pipes / bamboo

DragonDoor Kettlebells > PerformBetter KBs > T-handles > Barbell Plates with 3-ring holes > Home-made 50lb. Sandbag

For less affluent teams at the college level (or before/after), hand-made equipment can be a useful recourse, when combined with appropriate programming.

Another idea would be to have athletes individually or in small groups do SMR (with text message reminders 30 min before practice) and pre-practice stretching before they bike/walk/drive to the fields. Although perhaps sub-optimal, some SMR/stretching/mobility is better than none at all.

But let me explain some of the tools above. Foam rollers are great, but once you progress to a certain level, you can start using simple alternatives such as large-diameter PVC pipes, or more simply the cheapest roller of them all, the ground! If you simple roll around carpet you can actually get a decent self-massage, particularly in the glutes / lower-back / t-spine. For the smaller areas, try the Trigger-Point Therapy self-hands-on book.

Lifting: if the “warmup is the workout”, then even if the team cannot afford a $200-300 barbell set, you could make your own slosh pipes or sandbags (in the simplest case, a duffel bag / super-strong garbage bag / 50lb. play sand from Home Depot (as pictured below–I use this for suitcase carries, swings, and heavy Turkish get-ups).

A dozen PVC pipes / bamboo rods can be used for warming up or working out with snatches and overhead squats (learn as much as you can from this Dan John character)–50 overhead squats in a row to below parallel with a PVC pipe strictly overhead [hang some Home Depot chains if you want] with kick most athletes’ butts in no time.

Also consider bodyweight, with or without hand-made / commercial suspension trainers. For example, I have started doing “Firefighter Get-Ups” with my smaller/petite female friends (105 lb. gal on the floor “unconscious”, do a Turkish Get-up but place her on your shoulder instead, punch&crunch to lunge/split-squat position, then get-up with her still on your shoulder), and deadlifting my average-weight male friends from the ground up [not strong enough to snatch a college student from the floor just yet ;].

Cement blocks can be used for elevated push-ups, rear-foot elevated split squats (Bulgarian), and old futons can be used for layout practice. You get the idea, have fun but be safe =). Ask followups in the comments!

@Phoin asks,

Is training with a weighted vest a good idea? I have been doing hill sprints for a while now and considering using a weighted vest to go along with them for the added resistance.

Weighted vests can be useful and fun, as a tool for conditioning and strength-endurance. I guess I’d ask what the specific purpose is-–the nice thing about parachutes or sleds is that it’s your bodyweight pushing something or pulling something offset from your center of mass, whereas weight vests add weight but not in that exact way.

The argument against would be: just sprint harder / find harder hills / put weights in your hands (heavyhands) or do sled pulls / parachute, since these seem less likely to affect your sprinting form (running is a skill, not just muscle development).

The argument for would be: adaptation is useful, and vests may be good for a little variety. So yes I’d probably say it could have it’s place, but I wouldn’t necessarily do that year round / on a regular basis, but perhaps for mixing it up, or if you want to work on strength-endurance. Investing in a sled to push/pull on the field, or a cheap parachute might be more cost-effective and useful in comparison.

So.. we’d would have to know the rest of your program (deadlift / single leg squat / Oly lift / KB / bodyweight / plyo / lactate threshold?) to critique as well. In other words, what are your goals? What aren’t goals of your training? =)

Good luck!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2011 1:48 pm

    Wow! Lots of great info. Love the suggestions to make your own “kettlebells”

  2. October 4, 2011 1:16 pm

    I was wondering if you still happen to hold the same views on using a weighted vest. I have always wanted to use one but have heard positive and negative aspects like you listed except for the potential damage caused to joints due to the added weight. What are your thoughts?


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