Risk vs. Reward

JJ Watt

This is a picture of NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt recently taking a tumble off of a plyo box while training.  That’s right.  He flat out missed it.  His jumping exploits in the weight room over past couple of years have made him just as much an internet sensation as his skills on the football field.  He’s even performed it on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

This is no doubt impressive for such a large man and world class athlete.  I would also argue that it is stupid.  Not too long ago Eric Bach wrote a pretty solid article entitled “Stop Doing Box Jumps Like J.J. Watt A Jackass”.  For a little more perspective, below is a video on how to properly perform box jumps.

Risk vs. reward.  This is something we talk about on a regular basis in our facility and should always be considered in any training program.  Why do we use The 80% Rule when we train?  Because the benefit derived in the 90% zone and above is far, far less than that gained in the other 80%, and the risk, as so eloquently displayed by Mr. Watt, is much, much higher.   Kettlebell snatches, barbell snatches, barbell clean and jerks.  Why don’t we do these with the vast majority of our clients?  Well, generally the risk is rather high for the population we train.  And, as for the reward/results?  These are no doubt effective exercises but the reward/results our members seek can be found through much simpler and equally effective means.

This same concept can apply to “adding weight to the bar”.  I can recall coach Dan John talking about when he was a college discus thrower he at one point worked tirelessly to improve his squat from something like about 550 lbs to 600 lbs (I don’t remember exactly). At which point he saw his discus performance (the true goal) decline.  In this article he states, “The lesson I missed was that “enough is enough” when it comes to strength.”, in reference to the fact that he could out deadlift America’s best shot put and discus thrower by more than 200 lbs. while also throwing the discus 20 ft. shorter.  I’m in the process of watching a dvd seminar by coach Charlie Weingroff.  While discussing the double bottom up kettlebell squat he mentions the concept of getting the most bang for your buck while using the lowest load possible.  An interesting concept indeed.  I’m not asking you to change your mind about anything but only consider the benefit of a bottom up kettlebell press vs. a conventional press or a heavy barbell back squat vs. a single leg squat or in Weingroff’s case a double bottom up squat.   It’s not easy to know when enough is enough as it relates to strength and we could argue all day about it.  However, with something like a box jump it’s pretty clear when enough is enough.  No one should be missing reps like that, ever.

I could honestly care less about the guy he nearly crushed.  A spotter for a box jump makes about as much sense as using one while attempting a world record in the snatch, so maybe he deserved it just for being in the way.  My point is, as discussed above, if J.J. spent any significant amount of time trying to improve his box jump from 59.5″ to 61″, it was a waste of time as those 2.5″ inches are not going to improve his game.  The risk is much greater than the reward and the overall benefit just isn’t there.  And, if he didn’t spend a lot of time on this (more likely the case), he is simply performing a circus trick. While fun for him, as a multi-million dollar athlete, falling 5 feet backwards off of something at the gym and potentially hurting himself simply to make an Instagram video is not a good investment of time.  Should he perform box jumps in his training?  Sure.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But to a maximum height is risky and really defeats the entire point of the exercise as discussed in the article and video above.  As a professional that relies on his body to perform, any amount of time during the year spent out of work due to a gym injury is unacceptable.  He had this to say after: “You’ll never know what you’re truly capable of until you’re willing to push yourself to the absolute limits. 5’1″ fail.”  For all of the kids out there I hope they feel all warm inside and super motivated now to really give it their all in life but, really?  In this context it just doesn’t make sense.  I recently considered playing some real life Frogger on the 5 Freeway, at night. But does that mean I should?  After all, I would really be pushing myself to find what I’m capable of.

– Mike Baltren