The Smoothie Theory of Athletic Development

If your smoothie is mostly made of solids, don’t expect it to be fluid.

When programming, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What does their sport ask of them?
  2. What kind of athlete are they?

Then give them what they need. Read on for more details.

I prefer my smoothies to be just thick enough they aren’t runny but I can drink them. Any other way calls for a 2 part reaction.

Part One: Disappointment. Disappointment because I won’t be able to enjoy the delicious smoothie the way I like it.

Part Two: Anger. Anger because it’s my fault for not adding the appropriate mix of ingredients to get the smoothie how I want it.

As coaches, we program certain methods of training with our goal being to jump higher, run faster, or get stronger. We might test an athlete in these areas prior to beginning these methods then retest once we’ve finished that training block. Picture the strength coach standing next to the vertical jump test with fingers crossed, hoping the jump is higher than it was before. I equate it to spinning the wheel on “The Price Is Right” and anxiously waiting to see where it lands while trying to scream it into fruition.

If I know the cause and effect of the training method I am giving my athlete, then I should be expecting a certain outcome. Do it enough times and you become shocked when it doesn’t happen… like Steph Curry missing a free throw. So when I am making my smoothie and I add cherries, blueberries, yogurt, avocado and so on — without adding hardly any liquid — I shouldn’t be surprised when that thing ends up so thick I could throw it against the wall and see it stick.

The SAID Principle is an obvious principle once spoken but it challenges you to think about the training stimulus you are giving your athletes.

SAID Principle
Adaptation of

Specific Adaptation of Imposed Demands basically means: whatever stimulus or demand you place on an athlete, you will get the adaptation that accompanies that stimulus. So if I continue to leave out the liquid in my smoothie and only include solid foods, my result will be one that accompanies only using solid foods in smoothies… a smoothie thick enough to patch drywall. If I add the right amount of water with the right amount of solids, I get a delicious smoothie that doesn’t need a knife and fork.

There are 2 questions you must ask about your athlete before determining what training stimulus to give them:

  1. What does their sport ask of them?
  2. What kind of athlete are they?

This programming stuff can get pretty simple once you know the answer to these questions. It keeps you from placing an unwanted and unnecessary training stimulus on the athlete. Need an example? I have plenty from my “mistakes I’ve made archive”.

I work with a D1 basketball player that can move a house. He’s a 6’8, 240 pound rock. Picking up heavy things isn’t a problem for him. As far as the weight room goes, it’s the thing he does best. But as a basketball player that needs to step out and guard ball screens and run rim to rim, he needs to be able to move well and move fast too. When clean and quick movement is absent from his programming, you get an athlete that can’t finish a set of bodyweight split squats without falling over (I’m dead serious!) and has a slow first step. Basically, his program used to consist of just heavy lifting because that is what he did well. But at some point it becomes enough. Water doesn’t need to be more wet and sometimes strong doesn’t need to be stronger, especially when there are glaring needs in his athletic game. This athlete was a clear gorilla, all force and no velocity or control.

Remember those all important two questions about your athlete?

  1. What does their sport ask of them?
  2. What kind of athlete are they?

Once you have these answers, you now need to know the appropriate training stimulus to give your athlete. Do you know what adaptation comes with what stimulus? Here’s a guide using Velocity Based Training strength zones.

Force, power, and the strength zones.

Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”. There may not be a more accurate phrase spoken when it comes to training and adaptation. The body responds to the training stimulus given. So, if I am constantly doing high velocity plyometrics and little to no heavy lifting then I will be springy and elastic with little force production. Genetics obviously gives the athlete its potential, which biases them toward being a force dominant or velocity dominant athlete, but there is room for manipulation. Let’s take a look at what changes come with specific training.

Heavy Strength Training
  • Increased total force production
  • Slower movement velocities
  • Less elastic, more rigid tissues
Power Training
  • Some force production increase
  • Improved rate of force development
  • Improved acceleration
High Velocity Training
  • Increased movement velocity
  • Lower muscular force output
  • More elastic, less rigid tissues

Remember those two questions about your athlete?

  1. What does their sport ask of them?
  2. What kind of athlete are they?

You now know how each type of training can change an athlete. Next, you have to choose the right one and the answers to those two questions will do it for you.

Every athlete needs force production. Force is the thing that drives performance. It dictates the direction of our movement and how fast we get there. However, athletes that need to be explosive may not want all the adaptations that come with Force Training.

Force, power, and the strength zones.

An athlete that needs to be explosive for their sport will want to do their force training in the Accelerative Strength zone. This strength zone bridges heavy lifting and power training, allowing for heavy enough loads to be lifted to elicit an increase in force production but also light enough the rep isn’t grinded out slowly like they are in Absolute Strength. This will allow the athlete to increase force production without losing their ability to move at high velocities. An athlete that needs more brute strength and less of a need to move fast needs to train in Absolute Strength and less on the velocity side of the strength zones. This figure marks off the strength zones each type of athlete needs to train in. If you need to be more like a gorilla, then train in a way that creates that adaptation. If you need to be more like a kangaroo, then there is no need to spend large amounts of time in the slowest strength zone.

Loading windows for Kangaroos and Gorillas.

One of my favorite quotes about misguided training is from a biomechanics professor I sat with one day. He said, “Too many athletes are working way too hard to be slow.” You can bust your butt in the gym and get absolutely no athletic development. Powerlifting works well for some, but it’s a total waste of time for others. You must know the change you are making in your athletes.

Train for what you need to be and that change will follow.

Posted by Tyler Terrell

  1. Great article.


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