Does Order Matter?
When I went to Drake University, I worked in the Tennis facility. Drake had a great Tennis program and an impressive, brand new facility to go with it. My job was to sit at the front desk and only let Tennis players in. The regular student population wasn’t allowed to use it. The facility was huge, with a state of the art gym and six amazing indoor courts. One day I got a call from my manager telling me to shut the facility down and get everyone out. He wouldn’t tell me what was going on; he just demanded that I clear the facility. It took me about thirty minutes to get everyone out and lock up. As the last person left the facility, three black SUVs pulled into the parking lot. About five staff and coaches walked out of the cars along with Andre Agassi. This was mid-nineties, during his long hair phase. My manager told me to lock the doors behind them and make sure nobody got in. Agassi, apparently, flew into Des Moines to train at the facility and then was driving two hours to Omaha, Nebraska to play a charity match.
I was studying health and fitness so I was prepared to geek out on what one of the best players in the world was doing for his training. I asked one of the staff members if it would be ok if I watched, and they were very welcoming. What I witnessed was a precision approach to how a training session should be run.
They started with a simple warm up, then moved to some foot agility drills. By the way, fastest feet I have ever seen live! From there they did these short, very aggressive intervals of two people hitting balls to Andre while he had to work to cover as much ground as possible. By the end of the series, he was torched, lying on the ground barely able to catch his breath. They gave him a break for about five minutes, and then he hit and played against another fresh player. This appeared to be a real “practice type match.” He was tired, but working as hard as he could. They played for about forty-five minutes. Then, finally, they finished with cool down and mobility.
I had a chance to talk with his strength coach after they finished and he broke the session down for me. He stressed the importance of the order in which the training session took place. He was very clear that the agility was a stimulus that was about muscle and brain connection. Less work, more thought. He explained that sometimes they would lift heavy before a workout like this. It was a similar stimulus to the agility in terms of it not being conditioning, but more power. The agility and heavy strength was less of an out-of-breath type stimulus, but more of a focus and concentration type stimulus. It’s aggressive work with a lot of recovery. This type of stimulus elicits more of a hormonal response than a metabolic one, meaning that it might not feel like you are working hard, but you are working hard in a different way, increasing metabolism and output of human growth hormone. This had to always come at the front of the session, because doing it while fatigued served no purpose at all. You just don’t have the energy to be quick and aggressive or lift heavy loads at the end of a session. Then he would dose up what he called the meat of the session. That was the 2 v. 1 drill that left Andre on his back gasping for air. Train hard for short periods of time, but make it a sprint, aggressive. It taxes a metabolic system that not only helps increase performance, but leaves a lasting metabolic effect. Lastly, work hard, but make it something long. This is where Andre played his practice match.
In order to preserve each stimulus in the way we want, we should take a look at the order in which we go through a training session.
Most potent order in which to train:
Power and/or Agility
Short, aggressive workout
Long, tough, sustainable workout
*Yes, all of this in one training session!
Of course, this is a formula that is proven to be effective, but, like with anything else, we sometimes have to add variation. So, while you might guess at what order we will be doing things in the gym next week, I reserve the right to flip it around in the name of variation.