Until recently, all I knew about the P90X workout program was that Mike & Mike in the Morning interrupted my morning sports fix to rave about it.
Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention.
I did listen intently, though, when Marcus Elliott got on the phone with me and explained the biomechanics principles involved; and how that type of training promotes the core strength and movement that produces home runs for Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun and 60-yard spirals from Aaron Rodgers.
It’s the hips, not the arms.
Elliott, a physician schooled at Harvard University, runs the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif. He charges NBA basketball players $2,500 a week to suffer through workouts designed to make them faster, quicker and more powerful.
He also works for the Seattle Mariners and the Utah Jazz and came on board to consult with P90X creators on their coming second edition, P90X2, the series of workout DVDS for home use.
“I saw that it was a program that did a lot of athletic work, movement in the training program,” Elliott said. “It’s mobility, stretching and stability work.
“They were moving more in the direction we are, more on the front edge of sports science than a lot of the pro sports strength coaches are.”
Putting that philosophy in his own practice, Elliott scrapped much of the equipment from the Seattle Mariners weight room.
He uses high-tech video analysis to identify how an athlete moves and pinpoint strengths and imbalances. The workouts are centered around athletic movements, exercises that activate stabilizing muscles and build flexibility.
Resistance bands, dumbbells, stability balls, jumping motions and plyometrics have replaced the traditional barbells and benches.
Dynamic movements - jumps - are combined with strength exercises and lifts in what is known technically as "post-activation potentiation."
Marcus Elliott (left) with one of his NBA athletes.
“The model for training pro athletes and getting somebody fit were really limited and pretty similar,” Elliott said.
“If you’re not fit enough or carrying too much fat, you go run or do aerobic training and if you’re not strong enough or big enough, you go lift weights.“That’s a single algorithm. Those are terrible solutions to building a body that works well. That’s really what people want.
"The body loves to move and when you get somebody moving, whether an NBA player or a 50-year-oldexectuive, you trigger all these althecism based systems."
Elliott also promotes a work/rest interval much different than the old three sets of 10.
“Working at submax intensities, and doing only 10 reps, you have no chance to really challenge the muscle or fatigue the muscle,” he explained. “Doing the long sets, you end up fatiguing the high-intensity, high-output fibers, as the fast-twitch fibers fall off. It can force your body to adapt.
“The key is challenging your body at an intensity, duration and rate that pushes its ability, pushes it right to the edge where you don’t have a lot of reserve. If you send the signal that it needs to build a better system, it adapts.”
That training technique is similar to the one I’ve found working with John Burns, the Tao-Well coach in Milwaukee who directs athletes to do a specific exercise as many times as they can in two minutes. The idea is to exhaust the muscles, forcing them to adapt to the work load.
How does that lead to a home run or a touchdown pass? It’s the core.
Most observers would look at Albert Pujols and conclude that his home run stroke comes from his powerful upper body. Similarly, Green Bay Packers fans long credited Brett Favre’s remarkable passing ability to his right arm. Wrong.
Elliott has observed Favre and tested Pujols and Braun.
The two sluggers are the best in baseball at creating power from their lower body, generating a great lateral force toward the pitcher with their hips, according to Elliott.
Similarly, Favre and Aaron Rodgers launch bullet-like passes from the strength in their torsos.
“If you’re able to accelerate your hips, then you translate that momentum to your trunk and your arm receives that momentum from your trunk,” Elliott said. “Every great thrower does this. Favre has great hip extension when he throws. His arm is just a whip. The arm just goes along for the ride.”
The benefits for runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes are less significant, but still worth exploring improvements in strength and balance, according to Elliott.
"We don't often work with endurance athletes, but when we do we focus a lot on stride mechanics, multi-directional stability (has shown to improve power in and reduce injuries for linear athletes) and energy systems.
“We use advanced sports science technologies to understand movement patterns and quantify forces across different joints. We then train athletes out of patterns that have shown to lead to injury, while at the same time trying to give them more power and efficiency in the movements of their sport. We also use more plyometrics with endurance athletes than most training programs."
Note: My interview with Elliott was done before reports that Braun had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.