Lessons Learned After my First Year of Flywheel Training
I blame it all on Chris Chase.
A few years back, I ask Chris to come on my Physical Preparation Podcast, and we start discussing his experience with flywheel training.
You see, Chris is one of those guys’ that’s always asking questions and trying to find better ways to train his athletes, which is probably why we get along so darn well!
As we’re getting into the discussion, I quickly realize Chris was having some of the exact same thoughts and issues I was.
For instance, how do you expose your athletes to high-level eccentric forces without loading up a barbell?
OR how do you better mimic the forces you’ll see in a basketball game, without getting on a court and getting run?
Look, we know everything we do in the gym is general.
We can never be truly “sport-specific” without playing our given sport.
But at the same time I’m always trying to bridge that gap between general and specific training, and hopefully, make my athletes as physically prepared as possible every time they step on the court.
It was kind of a joke, but during that episode Chris kept saying “Sponsored by Exerfly”....
...and just like that, the seed was planted!
I knew I had to get my hands on an Exerfly and see for myself what it can do.
So the first part of this article will be an overview of my thought process going into this, and the second part will discuss how I integrated the Exerfly into my off-season training programs.
Why Flywheel Training?
As I alluded to above, one of the biggest perceived weaknesses in my programming up to this point was an inability to expose my athletes to high-eccentric forces.
My core groups of athletes are basketball and soccer players - neither of which are known for loving the weight room.
But furthermore, many of their bodies simply aren’t designed to push heavy weights in the gym, either!
Imagine a basketball player: Those long limbs, stiff ankles, and high levels of reactivity that make them elite on a basketball court make squatting an incredibly challenging task.
But taking this a step further, if I know an athlete struggles to perform a given activity well, why on Earth would I take that athlete and try and load them up heavy with a barbell to develop eccentric strength?
It doesn’t make strength.
So this is the question I kept asking myself:
How can I find ways to develop eccentric/rapid load tolerance without doing a bunch of stuff they hate (or flat out suck at)?
So I talk to Chris on the podcast, who introduces me to Jordan, and the rest as they say is history!
I really felt like the Exerfly could help me bridge that gap between general and specific training, and we made moves to get a unit into IFAST ASAP.
But that’s not the end of the story...
Getting Started with Flywheel Training (Or Any New Tech)
When you add any new tool to the toolbox, I think you go through a few steps:
- General Interest. You’re made aware of some tool or piece of tech and see what it might be able to do for you.
- Excitement. Once you’ve gotten past the general interest phase, now you’re legitimately excited. You start to envision and imagine how this tool is going to improve your training process, and you literally can’t wait to get your hands on it.
- Overwhelm! Too often once we finally get our hands on something cool like an Exerfly (or force plates, or BFR, whatever) that excitement turns to overwhelm.
Like “oh crap it’s finally here – now what do I do with it???”
You inundate yourself with questions like:
- What’s the best way to set up for XYZ activity?
- How many discs, or what discs, should I choose?
- Should I have slack in the system or not?
And if you have felt this way at any point in your career, I’ll let you know – you’re not alone.
While I’d like to think my 20+ years of experience in this industry makes me immune to situations like this, that’s simply not the case.
Once we got our unit, the first thing I did was go to the YouTube page to brainstorm ideas.
Which sounds like a great idea, but in retrospect, was probably the worst thing I could’ve done!
Instead of focusing on a few key exercises, I’m hit with the fact that you can probably do 100+ exercises with your Exerfly!
To get past this, I remembered the old adage when it comes to choices:
If there are 2-3 types of jelly to choose from in a grocery story, it’s easy to pick because options are limited.
But if there are 25-30 options available, you’ll end up not picking any because there are TOO MANY choices!
So instead of considering the 100+ exercises I could choose, I told myself to focus on just four.
Here’s what I went with:
- Belt squats
- Rear-foot elevated split-squats
- Triple flexions/extensions (think a jump movement but without jumping)
I told myself that once I got comfortable setting up, loading, and coaching these four activities, then I could start adding more.
And you know what was cool?
Once I narrowed that focus everything immediately got easier.
The next step was learning how to use the horizontal attachment, because I wanted to get some isolation work in my programs as well.
I’ve been incorporating isolation work for the quads, hamstrings and calves in my programs for a few years, but again, we were lacking the ability to perform these activities with higher rates of force development, both concentrically and eccentrically.
But once again, using the horizontal attachment allowed me to bridge that gap between general strength and more reactive/explosive strength in the isolated movements, and my guys seemed to notice an immediate change in how their bodies felt on the court.
But Mistakes Were Made…
Looking back on my first off-season with flywheel training, I would say the biggest mistake I made was the timing of the intervention.
My initial thought process was focused on syncing the flywheel training with when my athletes would be hitting their highest workloads on the court.
In my head, it made sense that we’d want to consolidate all those stressors, and have the fastest contractions happening right before they go into pre-season or training camp.
But after having some time to reflect, I think it’s important to always be a step ahead of our athletes needs – to prepare their bodies in a controlled environment with our training programs before they get into the chaotic and reactive nature of competitive sport.
This was highlighted in a recent podcast I did with Alex Natera, where he talked about using flywheel training earlier in the off-season versus later.
Think about it like this: In an off-season period, basketball guys are going to start the off-season by doing light skill work, getting shots up, and easing into their off-season program.
From there, they’ll progressively start ramping up.
Their on-court work will get more intense, and they’ll transition into 1’s, 2’s or even 3’s in the half-court.
And finally, as camp approaches, they’ll want to get some full run in for at least a month (or maybe 2) before pre-season hits.
So instead of dropping a soreness bomb on these guys in late July or early August, this year I’m actually going to introduce flywheel training much earlier in the off-season.
By introducing our eccentric-focused training earlier, I hope that when they do start doing more live and reactive work on the court, they’re already prepped and ready to go – and hopefully reducing the likelihood of injury along the way.
I’m 23 years in the game now and I still learn something new every day.
I’m always looking for ways to smooth out and streamline my training process, and I feel like incorporating flywheel training into my programs has made that transition from general to specific training that much more efficient.
And while it’s incredibly anecdotal, after adding the Exerfly into my athletes off-season training this past year, this has been inarguably our best year ever with regards to player availability as well.
Needless to say I’m a big believer in Exerfly, and I know that as I get better as a coach with programming and implementing flywheel training, the best years for my athletes are still to come!