Joel Smith: "trénink kondice v USA"

Joel Smith: "trénink kondice v USA"

Vážení čtenáři, je mi ctí vám nabídnout interview v původním znění s naším zahraničním hostem, kterým je Joel Smith, specializující se především na zvyšování vertikálního výskoku, ale také kondiční trenér napříč různorodými sporty. Pokud vás tedy zajímají poznatky a dojmy člověka, který pochází z Mekky sportovního tréninku, má za sebou více, než 15 let trénování, a spolupráce se světoznámými trenéry, nenechte si ujít tento zajímavý rozhovor. Jménem redakce Aktin.cz vám přeji příjemné počtení, a budeme rádi, pokud nám dáte vědět, jestli máte zájem o více podobných rozhovorů se zahraničními hosty.

pozn redakce: český překlad bude dostupný v průběhu příštího týdne, chvilku jsme přemýšleli, zda uveřejnit text i v angličtině, nicméně vás o něj nemůžeme připravit a věříme, že tento náš odvážný a moderní krok uvítáte. 

text: Jakub Kalus

Joel Smith: "trénink kondice v USA"

Dear Joel, first of all, thank you for making time for this interview. You have been specialising on vertical jump training for a long time. Could you please tell us how this specific ability became your area of interest, and why it still fascinates you after all these years of doing the drills yourself, and also coaching others?

Hi Kuba, thanks for having me for this interview.  Vertical jumping has been a passion of mine ever since I was young.  My first memory of jumping was when I was in the 5th grade, and there were ceiling beams in our school classroom that the other boys would occasionally try to jump and touch.  It turned out that, with my height advantage (I was the tallest kid in our small class) that I was the only one who could actually reach the beam with a running jump.  It was one of the first things I did athletically that really impressed anyone, so I kept doing it.  I had the jumping bug, and literally jumped to touch a high light or ceililng beam most chances I got.

In a nutshell, that love of jumping stayed with me through high school, and college.  I discovered the high jump in track and field my freshman year at age 15, and things took off even further from there. I was always a huge information nerd, as I would read the encyclopedia for fun when I was a kid.  I took the same approach to learning more about jumping, speed development, and eventually, human performance. 

Jumping still fascinates me at age 32, although I am fortunate to coach athletes in a variety of means at this point.  I’ve worked with track athletes for the last decade, but am now working with elite swimmers dryland training, as well as water polo and tennis players.  I coach youth club track in my off-time.  I don’t train specifically for vertical jumping anymore, but I do make it a point to dunk a basketball at some point before my next birthday, and at least maintain my jumping ability to a reasonable level.   My current training passion has actually turned to rock climbing, since it will likely be a little more of a lifetime sport than high jumping, but I do intend on being able to dunk a basketball each year until I turn 40. 

If you could go back to the start of your coaching career with the wisdom and experience you have now, would you find some training principles, you were neglecting, or on the opposite site, were there some training methods, whose effect was not so effective in the development of an athlete, but you used to use them a lot?

Yes, absolutely.  When I first started coaching, I was so concerned with how my athletes felt on each given day, I was afraid to press them.  I also never checked into mental factors when they told me that “they felt terrible“, as I now realize that for many atheltes this is a psychological handicapping mechanism.  Some of my athletes I coached when I first started went on to much higher performing levels once I left for another job, and they switched to a coach who just beat them down with plyometrics and didn’t ask so much how they felt every day.  Some athletes just need to work and train.  There are of course, those athletes who will work extremely hard, and not tell you how sore they are (aka, swimmers), and for these athletes, you must constantly adhere to the „less is more“ ideal.

I also didn’t train athletes multi-laterally well enough in my early years, and I didn’t train them in enough total volume.  Although I now know that optimal training is a mix of higher and lower volume periods, relative to when you want to be at your best.  I also didn’t have quite enough training variation early on, as I am continually realizing how important that is now.  I generally didn’t do enough coordination, mobility, and proper trunk work early on, and I think my athletes could have really benefitted from that. 

What do you think are the most important qualities coaches should have to be succesful? And what do you think are the key elements in coach-client relationship, that makes this cooperation efficient and long-lasting?

Self awareness and self-realization is huge.  After coaching for a number of years, I’m realizing that the truly great coaches are also great people.  They are humble, kind, and wise, and typically good at understanding how athletes think and function.  I have realized that if you take care of yourself as a coach, as a person, that the performance of the athletes will take care of itself. 

In the same vein, coaches need to be able to connect with the athletes.  They need to show the athletes that they truly care and are invested in their performance.  The following statement is true more with females then males, but either way it’s still important, and that statement is this:  „They won’t care what you say (or how you coach) until they know that you care“.  I made that mistake early in my coaching career by neglecting some of the second tier athletes on my roster.  Despite a descent training program, those neglected athletes were mentally gone, and it wasn’t until another coach started working with them that they „came to life“.  It wasn’t the training that was holding them back, it was the fact that I gave them the perception that I didn’t care very much about them.   


In the last years, we can find lot of articles and studies, that refutes the importance of aerobic/cardio/long distance running training in programming of athletes participitating in dynamic team sports, such as football, hockey, handball, or basketball. In our country, there was a lot of importance put on aerobic training during the off-season in those sports in last decades. So my question is: would you incorporate some kind of aerobic training to your plan, when working with this kind of athletes, or would you rather prefer only high intensity, sport-specific conditioning drills?

I am certainly of the opinion that an excessive amount of aerobic conditioning for sports like basketball, or those with similar energy requirements is a worthless, and counter-productive venture, but a little bit is fine in my opinion.  How much is fine?  I would say <10km per week, and generally, if a longer run is done, just once a week is an adequate frequency.  The „long run“ done in a nice scenic area at a relaxing pace is a nice strategy for recovery. 

This type of aerobic work also shouldn’t be done intensely, but at a very easy pace, and much more for the purpose of recovery than anything else.   I do believe that it is also fine to do a slightly higher volume of aerobic training for a 2-3 week time period at the commencement of off-season training, but beyond this, there isn’t much to be gained from it.

The majority of conditioning for team sports should be from either playing the sport itself, or interval based work that is designed to improve the specific demands of that sport.  Conditioning that utilizes changes of direction, and running routes that replicate much of the demands of the actual sport are important, and there should be benchmarks and goals for key conditioning sessions that have a similar layout to playing the sport itself. 

Bottom line, a little longer running is OK, particularly in the first 2-3 weeks of training,  but after this, it must be down-graded to only once per week, or nothing at all. 

Do you think, that weight training is absolutely necessary if we want to reach maximal potential of an athlete, or could you find some examples, where someone become succesful athlete just by playing sport/running or doing the preferred activity itself?

This totally depends on the genetic profile of the individual athlete.  I personally feel that 90% of athletes really do need some form of resistance training to achieve their highest level, and the other 10%, resistance training isn’t going to hurt if done correctly. 

I think that the best example of people who are very successful without doing resistance training would bet be Jamaican sprinters.  The sprinters do „lift“, but the programs don’t feature anything that the strength and conditioning world would consider valid.  Those guys don’t care about how much they squat or clean, they mostly do upper body and trunk work, and some half-hearted, random lower body exercises, but they run FAST.  They have the genetics not to need much else in the lower body to sprint at very high speeds, and also, once you are running 12 meters/second, strength work isn’t going to help much there anyways, in fact, it can even be detrimental!


My next question follows the question above. Do you think, that there is a level, where too much weightlifting, even done correctly, and focused on development of specific strength (so not hypertrophic training) in athletes and players can become detrimental to athletic performance?

I guess I lead into that a bit with my last sentences in the answer to the last question!  The answer is absolutely yes, it can be detrimental.  An easy example would be in the world of swimming, where there are specific „swim benches“ that replicate swim strokes on land, where swimmers push in a similar manner to the water.  Unfortunately, this type of training is very in-effective for swim performance, as swimmers are already completing hundreds, or even thousands of strokes each day in the water, and then they go beat down that swimming pathway even more with some „specific“ work on land, it doesn’t add up. 

When doing anything that is „specific“ in the weightroom, such as for running and jumping, you have to weigh it against how much of the specific sklil you are performing in your practice.  If you are a volleyball player, and doing lots of jumps in practice each day, it might be counterproductive to do depth jumps afterwards.  You are probably better served by a more general training means, such as deadlifts.  The same thing would exist in sprinting and track and field.  It is not uncommon for coaches to drop the volume of an explosive posterior chain exercise, such as cleans, in-season, when athletes are doing a lot of hard sprinting, and still seeing the clean performance rise, because of the explosive posterior chain work that the intense sprinting is doing.  Speed work transfers to lifting, and lifting supports speed qualities, but cannot create speed. 

Bottom line, train speed and sport specific skills first, then if you are in a more off-season training time, and aren’t doing as much actual sport work, you can do more special and specific training.  For example, if you were a volleyball player, and not playing so much in the off-season, maybe only 2-3x per week, then this would be the time of year to really get those depth jumps in.  If you are a sprinter, and not sprinting hard in much volume the first few training months of the year, that would be the time to do a lot more „specific“ looking things in the weightroom, but you can’t go hard in your sport, and then be „specific“ in the weightroom at the same time. 

We could say, that there are two numerous groups interested in vertical jump training: high jumpers and basketball players. If you could take a basketball player, and a high jumper with comparable physical abilities, body composition, of the same age etc. Do you think there should be some difference in the principles of vertical jump training between these two groups?

Yes, absolutely!  High jump (and any other track and field jump) is much more reliant on speed and reactive training (plyometrics) than basketball jump training.  There was a study done some time ago that showed that in performing a single leg jump for height, basketball players exhibited nearly twice the ground contact time in takeoff than long jumpers in track and field.  This shows that there is a really big difference in the two skills! 

Basketball players generally can do a little more strength oriented work in improving their vertical, and don’t need to worry about plyometrics quite as much (they still need to do them, just not as often) as high jump athletes.  Basketball players are already getting a good amount of „plyometrics“, simply by playing basketball, so they need to compensate for this by doing workouts such as depth jumps a little less often.  A basketball player who is playing 4-5x per week only needs to do a plyometric depth jump workout once every week or two, and should focus on strength, and explosive strength more. 

On the other hand, a high jumper needs to prioritize getting faster (better times in the 30m dash, etc.), do plyometrics 2x a week, give or take a day, and focus more on explosive strength than absolute strength.  Some „power“ oriented high jumpers can do with a little more heavy lifting, as the high jump takeoff does have a bit of range to it in terms of body position and contact time.


A lot of coaches or scientists think, that you must reach high level of strength, master the squat or Olympic lifts before using plyometric workouts in your routine. Do you think it’s true, or would you incorporate some plyometric work to routines of beginners or athletes, that aren’t so strong, or don’t have the experience with lifting weights?

Not at all.  I would actually say the reverse is true.  I want athletes to be able to move well, and in a diverse manner before I want to start teaching them ground based lifts.  The reason for this is simply because I want their CNS to „wire“ around dynamic eccentric contactions, and explosive extension, rather than „wiring“ around slower, barbell driven movements where the barbell alters the body’s perception of where their center of mass is.  I think to say you must reach a particular level of strength before doing plyometrics is one of the worst „lies“ in the industry! 

I do think though, that there is some warrant to it in, if there is a very weak athlete with little muscle mass, they’ll need to do some barbell training to reach their potential, and shouldn’t just go for plyometrics in their training career.  A proper strength program is important for many athletes when they are developmentally ready for it.  For most athletes with a low training age, doing basic things like learning how to do a pushup, deadlift, and some bodyweight single leg squat variations is just fine for quite some time in their athletic development.


My final question is following: could you recommend some books, that most affected you in your coaching career?

Sure thing.  Here are 5 off the top of my head that have had a good impact on the way that I coach and teach my athletes:

Easy Strength: Dan John and Pavel.  This is a must read for anyone interested in the training of athletes.  It covers a wide range of topics, from strength to plyometrics, and has a lot of great training wisdom.

The Science of Jumping.  This is an older book, and was the first „real“ book I got that had training science behind it.  The principles are very effective for anyone looking to jump higher.  It operates heavily on the idea of training specifically, intensely, and only in a state of full recovery. 

Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports: Tadeusz Starzynski.  This book was years ahead of its time, and has tons of insights for training jump athletes.  Published in 1995, it has plenty of information that modern coaches regularly overlook, or are just finding out, saying that it is a „new way of training“.

Triphasic Training: Cal Dietz.  No matter what sport you play, or are interested, this is the best form of strength training to compliment what you do.  It forms the basic of how I approach a large portion of my training programs, and also has a lot of great scientific theory and training templates.

Running, by Frans Bosch and Ronald Klomp.  This book is heavy reading, but it is incredible if you want a thorough understanding of running, gait, and athletic movement in general.  This is one of the few books that approaches a skill on the deep level of muscular function and motor learning. 


Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us in this interview. We really appreciate it.

You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.  

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