Training regimen pioneered at KU now spanning generations

Bob Lockwood spent many years at Kansas University, first as a student in the late 1950s, then as a coach, physical education instructor and researcher from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Over the years, he pushed hundreds of students through his class called “Jump Training,” a rigorous training regimen that used a scientifically designed method called “plyometrics.” That refers to training muscles to produce fast, powerful bursts of motion to maximize an athlete’s ability to jump and sprint.

So it was a poignant moment last week when Lockwood, now 74, came and watched one of his former students, Chad Richards, lead an after-school fitness program at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School where two of the participants in class were Lockwood’s own grandchildren: eighth-grader Zach Lockwood and his sixth-grade sister, Lexie.

But Lockwood said he wasn’t terribly surprised to see the training program that he helped pioneer in the United States be passed down to a third generation.

“Really, my biggest guinea pigs were my own children,” Lockwood said. “I had three sons that were all 40-inch jumpers. My middle son was a 48-inch jumper. But it all came from initially doing a plyometric jump from any corner when they were in high school. My youngest son (Perry) who coaches basketball at McLouth High School, they’re his two kids that are in this program. And of course he’s worked quite a bit with them.”

Michel Loomis, the physical education teacher at Liberty Memorial Central, has been coordinating the after-school fitness program for four years. This year, she has about 60 students in the program, as well as a number of adults, including a few other teachers at the school.

The school contracts with Chad Richards, owner of the Summit and Next Level fitness clubs in Lawrence, both located at 901 New Hampshire St., to come in and lead the classes.

But Richards said the program he leads at the school is significantly less strenuous than Lockwood’s class to make it more age-appropriate for middle-school students.

“It’s modified quite a bit,” he said. “With kids, you’ve just got to keep them mainly active. We used to have ninth-, eighth- and seventh-graders here. And you could see as the seventh-graders became eighth-graders, and then ninth-graders, how well they were developing. And even kids that weren’t maybe giving their best effort that first year, you could see how the repetition really stayed with them, and the next year they’re the example of what that form should be.”

Richards said he has fond, and also somewhat painful, memories of going through Lockwood’s class in the late 1990s.

“The very first day, he shows you a video of previous classes and said, ‘Half of you will either quit or you’ll get hurt, so you can either go to admissions now, or you can stick it out and try it.’ And I stuck it out and did it,” Richards said. “I dedicated my leg workouts just to his jump classes. I got tested on my first day on my vertical. It was a 33-inch vertical, which is really a good vertical. But by the end, after four and a half months, they tested us again and I had a 37-inch vertical. So I gained 4 inches in four months. It’s pretty amazing.”

Although Lockwood was one of the early advocates of plyometric training in the United States, he says it actually began during the Cold War in the former Soviet Union to train their military and their national athletes, among others.

“I think they get credit for that type of loading the muscle and explosion afterwards, and the great results that they had. But interestingly, the greatest jumpers in the world that I’ve ever known were dancers. (Mikhail) Baryshnikov, of course, was a Russian dancer who reportedly had a 60-inch vertical jump. In his prime, he was just unbelievable.”

Over the years, Lockwood said he’s seen a lot of training programs come and go like fads, but he’s not surprised that his plyometric program has stayed around for generations.

“The results have been outstanding,” he said. “In the early times in the Soviet Union, it was kept secret pretty much from the rest of the world, as were many things in the Iron Curtain countries. Like diets and different kinds of foods, or whatever, it’s the same kind of thing with exercise. We find different ways to make things better and improve on them, and sometimes they work. Mostly they’re a fad and they wear out because people wear out.”