Kelly Bagget on Quickness & Becoming a Better Athlete

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

I’m really psyched today to have an awesome interview with my colleague, and performance enhancement expert,  Kelly Bagget (that’s him dunking to the left). Whenever I read any of Kelly’s work I always find myself nodding in agreement and am sometimes shocked by how much we agree on almost every subject training related. Today Kelly’s going to be dispelling some myths and talking about improving your quickness and overall performance. Check it out…

Jason Ferruggia: Kelly, could you give our readers a quick glimpse into your background as a coach and also share some of your personal experiences that have influenced your training theories and methods?

Kelly Bagget: I got interested in training as a teenager and never looked back. At one time or another I experimented with just about every possible training method there is and made about every single mistake a person could make. I guess you could say I’m from the school of hard knocks.  I started training people in my early 20’s (I’m 37 now) and thru most of that time continued to take my own training seriously as well.  There have always been a lot of coaches that take their own training seriously when it comes to lifting and such but when I was younger I think I was kinda unique in that I continued to train for athletic goals thru most of my 20’s.

It’s more common now but at the time you didn’t find many 25 year olds who consistently trained for stuff like vertical jump and speed improvement recreationally, but that’s a big part of what I was interested in personally. That obviously carried over into my training for athletes.  Along the way I learned a ton and screwed up a lot, but after 10 years of doing it I finally started to figure things out a bit as far as what works and what doesn’t and why.

One of the biggest things I discovered was entirely by accident – and that was how much of an impact proper “gym” work would have on athletic qualities. Sometime in the late 90’s I started discovering by accident that most people could substantially improve sports specific movements without much focus on them.  I’d get these athletes that would come to me and say something like, “Hey I’m not gonna play football or basketball anymore but I still want to look good. I want you to train me to get me big, lean, and strong”.  So I would.  Then 2 months later the guy goes out and hits a PR vertical jump and PR 40.  I had experienced that myself in my own progress as an athlete but I always thought I was sort of an anomaly. But then I experienced it many, many times with other athletes. It didn’t happen every time, but enough to raise my eyebrows.  From there things sorta evolved into a challenge of finding the right combinations of movement, strength and recovery work and discovering why certain approaches work for some athletes and not for others.

JF: One of the things I love is how you always do a great job of simplifying things that others try to over complicate. For example, you say that to run faster and jump higher there are really three main things you need to be focusing on. Can you explain what those things are and why focusing on them without adding a thousand other variables is so important?

KB: Sure.  Establish proper movement patterns, (which include optimizing  recruitment/compensation patterns and optimizing coordination)  then simply increase the horsepower behind the movement pattern.  The recruitment aspects would include anything done with the focus of getting the body to operate more efficiently – stuff like corrective exercises, activation drills and stretches.  You then have to engage in enough sports specific movement training (sprints, agility, jumps etc.) to optimize intra and inter-muscular coordination in those tasks – and honestly since those are gross movement patterns it really doesn’t take a ton of volume.  Then it’s just a matter of maintaining those things while progressively increasing the power of the relevant contributing muscles – which is easily done thru strength training.  Put all that together into a plan that properly addresses recovery between all the elements  and you can’t help but get better as an athlete.

JF: As strength and conditioning coaches we are always fighting a battle with parents and athletes who have been led to believe that you constantly need to be doing more and more SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) drills in order to improve your sports performance. This nonsense is spoon fed to the parents and athletes by big “sports specific training facilities,” which obviously just want to make money and don’t really care about results. It’s a lot easier to have kids get better at SAQ drills than it is to actually get them strong. Can you let these people know why this is such a mistake?

KB: If you think of the body as a machine what people and parents need to realize is that for all practical purposes the fastest kids aren’t faster and more athletic than other kids because they do more SAQ drills than the other kids. They’re faster and more athletic because they have a better machine. It’s kinda like cars – If you want your car to run faster on the road you don’t go out and drive it more, you go under the hood and enhance it’s functionality there.  That’s what you do with strength training and other foundational training methods.

The actual SAQ drills are kinda like driving a car – They’re largely just an expression of the inner workings of your physiology.   If you want to get better at them long term you’ll be best served by enhancing your inner workings, which include strength, power, reactivity, flexibility, fat to muscle ratio etc.

Now, when it comes to the actual movements encountered in your sport those are things that do need to be practiced and honed but the extent really depends on your sport and position. The further away the movements in your sport/position are from running in a straight line the more you’ll need to practice them.  If you’re a defensive back you better perfect your backpedal and footwork. If you’re a wide receiver you better be able to run your routes. However, you get better at those things by actually going out and doing them.

JF: What are a few of the other biggest mistakes you see people making when training for enhanced athletic performance?

KB: I think the real key is finding a balance between all the areas of specialty.  People tend to get married to one concept and overemphasize that at the expense of other things. Some functional guys have a ton to offer in that area but they promote so much corrective work in their training they neglect the acquisition of strength.  Strength guys often neglect flexibility and movement work.  Speed/SAQ guys overemphasize movement work and neglect strength. I think it helps to think in terms of principles and work from there. In other words, what does science and real world observation tell us makes a better athlete? Ask that question and use the answer as a starting point.

JF: Are quickness and explosiveness the same thing? If not, what is the difference and could you briefly describe how to you train for each?

KB: They’re related but they’re not really the same thing.

Quickness is more about moving rapidly in the absence of extreme force.

Explosiveness is how much force you can deliver in a short period of time.

If you think of boxing, those with the fastest hands and those with the most powerful punches aren’t typically the same.  The fast handed guys would be quick. The knockout guys would be explosive. In football, guys like Wes Welker and Davone Bess are exceptionally quick but not all that explosive.  A guy like Brandon Jacobs is explosive but not all that quick. In basketball a guy like Larry Bird was exceptionally quick even though he had the explosiveness of a dud stick of dynamite. Ideally you want both.  Assessments like the 40 yard dash and vertical jump are pure measures of explosiveness but your quickness will determine how well you translate those to the field in game type conditions.

Explosiveness is relatively simple to train for. Increase your power to bodyweight ratio.

Training for quickness will be impacted by the same things that improve explosiveness but it’s also different in that rehearsal (skill) is a big part of it. Rehearsal, relaxation, body awareness, and reaction time are huge.  The best example of this I can give you is thru traditional martial arts like Kung-fu, Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo etc. If you go to any traditional martial arts school and study some of the advanced ranks you’ll see people that have trained themselves to be exceptionally quick even though they likely didn’t have much innate ability to be that way. In my opinion it’s largely due to the way things are taught and repeated in traditional martial arts. Movements are broken down to their most basic levels and repeated over and over and over again until they become second nature. A good instructor will not allow a single flaw in body position or technique and over a period of time the body inherently learns to eliminate all wasted movement and that allows better and faster function.

You see the same thing with athletes in other sports. Despite being slower than molasses Peyton Manning is as quick in the pocket as anyone and that’s due in large part to the years of repetition and attention to the fundamentals of playing QB. His movement skill enables him to physically perform at a higher level than his physical attributes would suggest.

JF: You just came out with your new program, The Truth About Quickness, which I’m sure will dispel a lot more myths and help a lot of athletes. Can you give our readers a sample of a quickness drill you would have athletes do and how often they should do it to see results?

KB: Sure. Put a piece of tape on the ground on a flat surface, stand parallel to it on both legs, and hop back and forth over it at rapid speed. The best athletes will do this drill with the speed of a jackhammer. As you get better your ground contact times will come down and the speed will go up. Ideally you want the ground contact times down around .1 of a second or less, which will equate to a speed pushing 20 hops per 5 second interval.  From there you make the exercise more challenging by adding force, which you can do by standing on one leg instead of 2. Once you’ve mastered that you can make the exercise harder yet by increasing the force further, which you can do by raising the height of the object you’re hopping over. The basic idea is you want to increase the progression of force over time.  You can get good results doing that drill a couple of times per week. I often have people do these drills as a short extension of their warmups.  In fact what a lot of people like about the quickness workouts is they’re progressive yet not time consuming and can be added to any existing workout.

JF: Awesome stuff, Kelly. Thanks again for the info.

If you want to check out Kelly’s new program, The Truth About Quickness, now is the time to do so as it’s on sale for 40 bucks off during the next three days.  Like I said, I give Kelly my highest recommendation when it comes to improving athletic performance and am confident that he’s as good as anyone at what he does. If you want to run faster, jump higher and get quicker, Kelly’s methods won’t disappoint.

Click HERE to check it out.