Freelap Friday Five with Jorge Carvajal
Jorge Carvajal is a performance coach and consultant who has worked with elite athletes in multiple sports and the tactical world for over 25 years. Jorge has trained thousands of athletes at the University of Florida, the University of Nebraska, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, along with numerous professional athletes from the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL; World Surf League Big Wave Tour surfers; and tactical athletes in the fire service, law enforcement SWAT and SRT, and military communities.
Freelap USA: How have your methods and approach to training absolute strength changed over the years, and what do you do once an athlete is “strong enough” to keep things fresh in the strength building department?
Jorge Carvajal: Developing an athlete’s absolute strength is critical to their long-term physical development. It is the fundamental phase of athletic development and establishes the foundation for the entire strength continuum. It enables athletes to efficiently switch between different aspects of the strength continuum—strength speed, speed strength, and absolute speed.
The level of absolute strength required of an athlete is really dependent on two variables. One is the needs of the sport and the other is the level at which the athlete wants to perform. The fallacy lies in trying to develop weightlifters when the athletes play at a high level. That’s bled down to youth levels now, where we are forgetting that we need athletes to be strong, yes, but we are not developing powerlifters or weightlifters.My philosophy as it relates to strength is minimum dose, maximum effect. Click To Tweet
My programs are heavily based in sprinting, throwing, and jumping. I use velocity-based lifts and the development of strength as a means to an end… better movement and movement that can be performed with maximal strength and expressed with speed and power when necessary. My philosophy as it relates to strength is minimum dose, maximum effect. The athletes I work with have full lives outside our working together. I want to get adaptation without overcompensation, which would make inroads into their recovery.
To me, “strong enough” is strong enough to perform their best on Sundays. That’s a lot less than most people think. Our weight room sessions are short and explosive with minimal time spent on anything that does not help the athlete move efficiently. Because in the end, the work done in the weight room is simply so the athlete can move with efficiency on the field. We keep it fresh by rotating exercise, sets, reps, recovery etc., based on the different blocks of training, but I don’t feel obligated to change anything. My time in Russia taught me the value and simplicity of sticking to the basics because the basics have always and will always work.
Freelap USA: It is said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” What things are you measuring with athletes now, after your years of experience in the field, and why?
Jorge Carvajal: There are two things that I like to measure. One is bar speed. The end goal of measuring bar speed is a more precise evaluation, and the reduction of mistakes in programming via objective bar data. I also like it because it helps in managing athlete intra-workout and intra-set fatigue. Though I began with, and still use, a TENDO unit for tracking bar speed, I currently use Push Bands. They are a viable and economical option for most coaches for tracking bar speed on key lifts and getting valuable tracking information. One of the things I really like is that they help validate the coach’s eye with objective data by providing purposeful and actionable training feedback.
My philosophy is to use the minimum dose required to get a training effect. Push Bands have allowed me to maximize the athlete’s weight room efficiency so that I am able to, in fact, use the minimum dose and get the maximum effect.HRV is a simple tool with profound implications for assessing athlete readiness and recovery. Click To Tweet
The other thing I find value in measuring is heart rate variability (HRV) to assess for readiness. There was a time when we, as coaches, had to guess whether an athlete was ready to train. More often than not, it was a very subjective measure using the coaching eye. And most often than not, we got it wrong when trying to assess athlete readiness. Again in line with my minimum dose philosophy, measuring HRV allows me to train the athlete less and achieve more. It’s a simple tool with profound implications for assessing readiness and recovery.
Freelap USA: What are your thoughts on deceleration training for athletes in context of change of direction? Do you feel this is a necessary component?
Jorge Carvajal: Several years ago, I did several presentations that had deceleration as the main focus. I started to see, after speaking with other coaches, that there was a missing piece to most athlete development programs. That missing component was deceleration training. Though you can’t train force absorption/deceleration without thinking about force production/acceleration (deceleration does not exist in a vacuum by itself), you certainly can emphasize deceleration in both the weight room and the field during athlete training sessions.
I believe that force absorption is extremely important in the context of athletic development. Deceleration—the ability to slow down and control force production—is often ignored during training, which usually focuses primarily on acceleration and top speed. As coaches, we put such an emphasis on athlete strength development (force production) that we forget about the force absorption component. Yet, you can’t have athletes train force absorption/deceleration without thinking about force production/acceleration.Deceleration training is a missing component in many athletic development programs. Click To Tweet
Having said that, in my personal opinion, deceleration training is a missing component in most athlete development programs I’ve seen. Teaching athletes that the faster they can slow down, the quicker they can change direction and re-accelerate, is necessary from both a performance and injury prevention standpoint.
Freelap USA: How has the pendulum on screening and correction swung for you in your time in the field, and what’s your approach to athlete assessment at this point?
Jorge Carvajal: I began as an FMS guy, because I thought it was a simple and easy-to-use assessment tool. I credit Gray Cook with opening my eyes to the value of assessing people so they can move well and then move often. It’s a fairly static test with slow movements, but it can begin to give you a picture of the mobility, stability, balance, and symmetry of an athlete by assessing weak links in the kinetic chain. It’s a foundational layer assessment though and you have to expand on its capabilities if you want to better assess movement.
After a foundational base layer assessment, I assess athletes on broad jump, seated medicine ball throw, vertical jump, 5-10-5, 3 cone, 10-yard dash, 20-yard dash, dominant hand grip, and 300-yard shuttle. I focus on perfecting athlete on-field movement efficiency. We first assess their signature movement characteristics, and then we work on improving the weaknesses found so they can then expand their movement intelligence and find their own sweet spot of optimal coordination.In the end, work done in the weight room is simply to help athletes move efficiently on the field. Click To Tweet
A lot of emphasis is placed on this concept that the movement that takes place on the field is a screen all by itself. Therefore, I watch a lot of game film and do frame-by-frame video analysis, (which is tedious, but I believe is the best way to actually see what’s really going on in the field of play) in order to assess whether what we have been doing actually frees up the athlete to move with efficiency while demonstrating the expression of power and explosiveness when needed.
Freelap USA: With surfing and balance, how has this impacted your thoughts on what balance is, on and off the water?
Jorge Carvajal: Surfing, and a head injury, taught me a lot about balance. You can simulate surfing all you want in a weight room, but in the end, you have to get on a board in the water to learn the sport and graduate to more advanced skills. There is a school of thought that believes that learning how to balance on something unstable will make us more stable on solid ground. Physiology and neuroscience have shown us that we improve exactly what we train for. This means that training on an unstable surface makes you better at standing on an unstable surface.I personally saw balance improvement for a group and myself after using unstable surface training. Click To Tweet
I’ve incorporated a lot of different unstable surface training into my big wave surfing and my own personal training, and each group has improved their balance on the board. In the end that’s all I was looking for—more stability in an unstable environment—and its worked. What I’m not a fan of is introducing balance training for all athletes simply because I want something gimmicky to do. That said, balance is a human ability and an important human skill.
That was never more evident than when I suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost my ability to balance. I never considered living in a world of dizziness and the simple inability to balance even while on two feet. Any attempt to return to a world of balance quickly sent me into a spiral of nausea and dizziness. It was only after months of simple, progressive training that my brain began to see the familiarity of being unbalanced.
I don’t know if taking up surfing at the age of six had anything to do with my recovery, but both my neurologist and I believe it did. The vestibular system and vision in general are extremely important and have taken a front seat in my current assessment protocol. You don’t think too much about balance until you lose that ability to balance. Nothing matters and everything else in your life will take a back seat when that happens.