Wednesday, December 13, 2006

DVD Review

The following will appear here on Friday.

Joe DeFranco didn’t ask me to review his new Super Strength DVD. He neither threatened me nor cajoled me, nor did he make any vague references about his “crew from Bayonne” coming to my doorstep for a “sit-down.” He sent Super Strength to me as a courtesy because I’d visited his facility, said some nice things about him on the internet, and proved to him that I have some degree of knowledge about his training system and how it applies to the development of athletes. He mailed me a copy because he knows his system works, and because he knew he’d produced a DVD that would be beneficial to anyone looking to become a better athlete.

See, the training of top-flight athletes isn’t anything that could ever be described as pretty. We see these people – both men and women - in action in their shiny new stadiums and arenas, and what we don’t realize is that the science behind the results we’re witnessing is grounded in the simplicity of toil and rooted in the brutality of pure physical strength. We fail to understand, when looking to improve our own athletic performance or that of the people we’re training or coaching, that all the fancified obfuscations and doublespeak mumbo-jumbo offered by the countless “gurus” and “Yodas” of the profession are nothing more than a conspiratorial smokescreen designed to separate the athlete from his money and his potential.

So, what to do? When sifting through programs, how and where does one begin separating the wheat from the chaff?

DeFranco stakes his claim eloquently and effectively with the long-awaited release of Super Strength. This DVD is an absolute masterwork, and should serve as the benchmark for all future athletic strength training videos. In it, he outlines the principles of his training methodology: the Russian Conjugate Method or, as it’s more commonly referred to in the fitness industry, Conjugated Periodization. Conjugated Periodization involves working several different “training abilities” – i.e., speed, hypertrophy, or endurance – simultaneously throughout the year, as opposed to the more conventional Western Periodization method, which segments these abilities into training “blocks.” The Western method, according to DeFranco, forces the athlete to work against himself during the course of a training cycle, improving one specific ability at a time while others are neglected.

This is all very clearly explained in the introductory section, as DeFranco walks the viewer through an overview of his training philosophy and discusses why he and so many others have become “Darkside” converts over the past few years. He then proceeds to explain the purpose and progression of a proper warm-up, then illustrates, with each individual movement demonstrated by one of his athletes, every step of both the lower and upper body routines used by his clients in preparing for their sessions.

The body of the DVD contains the nuts-and-bolts of Conjugated Periodization: the Maximal-Effort, Dynamic-Effort and Repeated-Effort methods. In these sections, each training ability is explained in detail and actual filmed workout sessions with DeFranco’s athletes are used to show how and where the various segments fit into the program. DeFranco leaves no stone unturned here, demonstrating every possible exercise permutation for each training ability, complete with set and rep guidelines and thorough explanations of proper technique.

Of particular interest to me was DeFranco’s coverage of plyometrics. Search the internet for explanations of “box jumps” and “depth jumps,” and you’ll come across more material on how to do the exercises than you could ever possibly use. Try to find any information on where and when to integrate these exercises into the framework of an athlete’s training week, however, and you’ll realize, after a fruitless hour of mouse-clicking and reading, that it simply isn’t out there. In the Dynamic-Effort method section of Super Strength, DeFranco finally puts “plyos” in their proper place once and for all. For athletes, this section alone is worth the price of the disc.

The balance of the video covers the various unilateral, posterior chain and unconventional exercise movements that have become hallmarks of DeFranco’s system. I’ve been studying Conjugated Periodization and applying it to my own training for several years, and I still learned nearly a dozen new exercises from these sections alone. In fact, for the past two weeks, I’ve referred to the “unconventional exercises” section almost daily in order to find something new to add to my workouts.

A few things stood out as I watched this video for the first time:

  1. The presence of female athletes. This system isn’t just for meatheads. The exercise demonstrations are split almost evenly between male and female athletes, and DeFranco’s female athletes can do some very impressive things – so impressive, in fact, that it’s obvious they’ve been engaged in this sort of training for extended periods of time. The thing that jumps off the screen at you, however, is that they’re all very attractive and very feminine, and they’re decidedly not afraid to lift weights. Let’s face it: we all love to watch “hot chicks.” But a “hot chick” who can do 36” box jumps? Sign me up for that…immediately.
  2. Demonstrations of exercises by Joe DeFranco himself. DeFranco is not one of the aforementioned “Yodas.” He’s a guy who’s in terrific shape, does these exercises alongside his athletes, and has gained his knowledge “under the bar.” There’s something to be said for that, and it’s rather impressive.
  3. Clarity. Most fitness training DVDs function solely as catalogs of exercises. They show you a crapload of movements, then leave it up to you to choose where and when you’re going to use them. DeFranco, by contrast, offers a system. He shows you what to place where, and when. He explains what needs to be in place at certain times, and where the athlete has the flexibility to tailor the program to his or her individual needs. For trainers, this video is akin to a master class in program design.
  4. Cross-section of athletes. DeFranco’s client list is impressive, and they’re all represented here. From high school sophomores to current NFL stars, you’ll see workouts being performed by athletes of all different skill and strength levels, demonstrating that DeFranco’s system can be adapted to suit the needs of the individual no matter what his or her particular sport or training age happens to be.
  5. It absolutely does apply to the “average guy.” People don’t stick to workout programs because the vast majority of these programs don’t work. They quit going to the gym because they don’t know how to train properly, because the wool is being pulled over their eyes by “expert” trainers who don’t know their asses from their elbows, and because they’re tired of doing the same things every week without seeing any noticeable improvements. DeFranco’s program isn’t just for athletes. It’s for anyone who wants real results from their gym membership. Who wouldn’t want to be a better athlete?

Overall, this video is an absolute must-have for any coach, trainer or athlete. For my money, it’s as comprehensive a guide to the improvement of athletic performance as anything available today. As DeFranco states at the very beginning, “The goal of this DVD is to improve your strength and explosive power.” With this masterpiece, Joe DeFranco has provided us with a video that will serve as the definitive reference on the subject for years to come.

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