Hit the Lights – Training in the Dark to Improve Reaction Time


Ever tried to jump up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night and run as fast as you can to the bathroom in someone else’s house? Well, when you did it, how’d that wall to the face feel? Probably not too good. The reason for this temporary blindness is something that we can control to some degree, in such a way that it benefits our athletic performance by improving our reaction time – but only if you know how.

As a strength coach, my methodology hasn’t come from reading books and listening to seminars. It’s come from my experience as a professional athlete. Natural talent and skill are always part of the equation, but this wasn’t the catalyst that helped me excel. It was my realization that my talent must also be accompanied by an ability to pick up on the things that others do not. ( Like most things in life, details do matter. )

This mindset has also aided me when trying to find new and uncommon ways to help the pro athletes I train gain an advantage. A good example of this is reactionary timing. Many of the athletes I work with are involved in sports that require strong reactionary timing; Boxing, hitting a baseball, adjusting to a moving puck… all things that require split second decisions. Of course this reaction has to do with several varying muscle groups coming into play at just the right moment in order to facilitate the desired result. But, the big x factor I realized was the one dealing with eyesight itself.

In the mid 90’s, there was an experimental training program done seasonally with Norwegian athletes. The program was done outdoors and consisted of two groups. The first group met at 5:30 AM while the other group met at 5:00 PM. Both groups participated in the same drills, most of which consisted of timing and agility. At the end of the eight-week training cycle, it seemed as though the early morning athletes gained a far better benefit than the evening training group. I say benefit in terms of improved sport performance on a sport specific basis – things like a higher batting average, a higher save percentage as a goalkeeper… etc. What I learned from this training program wasn’t so much the dedication these athletes had to getting up earlier, somehow working harder, and thus producing better results. I noticed a less obvious detail – that maybe there was some benefit coming from training in minimally lit conditions.

To understand this point, you first have to understand that the eye is a sense organ that reacts to light and pressure by providing a three dimensional moving image. When you try to do something in the dark, like reading, your pupils dilate in an attempt to take in more light through the lens in your retina. The photoreceptor cells in your retina, rods and cones, use what light is available to provide information to the brain about what it sees. The rods are responsible for motion detection (a huge thing in athletics) and work better in low light. They’re almost entirely responsible for our night vision. Just as we can train other organs in our body, such as our heart, to get stronger and more efficient, we can do the same with our eyesight. What better way to do this than to challenge your vision when it’s at its weakest point? In other words, do the training you’d normally do in a lit room, in the dark. That might mean something as simple as your lifting. The more drastic the changes you make, the greater the benefit you will get, which is the case in anything we do. In this instance, thinking outside the box isn’t just recommended for the best results, it’s mandatory. I’ve gone so far as to have some of my fighters hold their sparring sessions in complete darkness. If you don’t want to go to that extreme, try any type of reactionary drills. Speed bag work, ball tosses, even taking batting practice in the dark will return results that you just can’t achieve by doing the same training in a conventional way.

Because the rods concentrated around our retina are used most effectively when NOT looking directly at the target, doing anything that forces you to pick up a target without doing so will generate a measured improvement in reaction time. The eyes use more rods when averting your sight and tracking the target through space using your peripheral vision. When you train in the dark, this happens naturally because you can’t focus completely on the moving target by the simple fact that there’s not enough light. Because of this, your eyes become more efficient at picking it up sooner by the increased rod usage. Over time, this translates into a better reaction time in your actual arena of competition.

It’s not that dissimilar to running with a parachute on. You won’t run as fast with it as you can without it. But, when you’ve trained enough with that chute and the time comes to run without it, you’ll move like a ’67 GTO running a 1/4 mile. And who doesn’t want a ’67 GTO?



The Chocolate Milk Lie

Much of this article was taken from Endurance News, issue #105, by Hammer Nutrition


Having been a sponsored athlete with Hammer Nutrition in the past, I had access to their products and Recoverite was something I used religiously in my training. That being said, this article is less about a product pitch and more about basic sports nutrition. Now time to debunk the myth…

Based on a single study in 2006 that reported chocolate milk to be a highly effective recovery drink, thousands of athletes have consumed countless gallons of it, believing it provides optimal recovery benefits. However, before jumping on the bandwagon, have a closer look at it in comparison to some of the other more traditional recovery supplements.


The nearly 12.5 grams of carbohydrates in 100 calories of chocolate milk is comprised of sucrose, lactose and high fructose corn syrup. If you’re interested in recovery, you probably don’t want all that “junk sugar” going in to your body. Most top supplements supply 36% more carbohydrates per 100 calories and none of them are in the form of simple sugars or lactose. They’ll typically be made up of more complex carbs like Maltodextrin, which is a far better source than what’s found in chocolate.


In that same 100 calorie sample, you’ll get 5 grams of fat in the chocolate milk and the majority of those are saturated. Your glass is typically larger than 1 serving, so plan on getting close to 10 grams of fat every time you sit down with one. Not the case with the supplements, unless you add chocolate to them. Which may be good, just not in this case.


Chocolate milk, like other dairy, does contain protein. That’s a good thing because it’s one of your body’s most important building blocks for post workout recovery. Unfortunately, over 80% of it is in the form of casein. Casein is known to be a poor protein source for athletes because of its bioavailability. All proteins have a BV, or biological value rating assessed to them and casein carries a rating of 77. With athlete specific supplements, you’ll get significantly more protein per serving and it’ll come from a much better source. The majority of the higher quality supplements will use whey isolate as not just the main source but the only source. Whey has a much higher BV value as well as a greater percentage of branched chain amino acids, which will make your body very happy come recovery time.


If you want to put your body in the best possible position for it to recover quickly and efficiently, you’ve got to put the highest quality fuel into it. Every athlete has been told countless times about the “food is fuel” thing. We all know it to be true but, that being said, some times are more important than others to adhere to this fact. If you’re going to cheat on the calories you put into your body, don’t do it in recovery. Recovery sets the table for absolutely everything else you’ll do training wise. It’s the single most important component to athletic performance. When you compare the profile of chocolate milk to that of the top recovery supplements, there’s really no comparison. Though this goes for everyone doing any type of athletic activity, the highest level of athlete needs to be far more diligent than does someone going out to run 2 miles. In the way that everyone can benefit from this, the higher the level you compete at, the higher the importance that you adhere to strict guidelines. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy some chocolate milk, not even close. What I’m saying is that it just happens to be the sexy thing to talk about once someone decided that they were going to get their name out there with an oddball concept. It’s not the worse one in the world, nor is it the last one – remember running in those ridiculous 5 finger running shoes? Keep in mind that for every fad theory that comes out, we typically wind up right back where we started. Tried and true research gives us facts that can’t be disputed. As smart as you are when you train, put your body in the best possible position to continue doing it. Will you pay a more for the supplement than for a gallon of milk? Yep. So what… make meals for yourself a few time a week instead of buying out. You’ll save that money and most likely eat cleaner. Kind of like a two for one. And who doesn’t like a deal?




Lessons We Can all Take Away from McGregor vs Mayweather


I think everyone that took out a loan to watch the May-Mac fight wound up being surprised, likely pleasantly, by what took place. Me, as a fighter, expected it to go the way that most other writers had suggested it would. That Mayweather would counter, move and pot shot a frustrated McGregor for 12 rounds. That he would thoroughly embarrass him for the mistake of taking on what most people, including myself, believed to be the best defensive fighter in history. What we got was far from that.

When a fighter tells the media how he’s going to approach the fight strategically, they’re bullshitting you 99% of the time. We know this, which would seem to make the question irrelevant but oddly difficult to avoid asking in some obligatory way. Maybe forcing them to lie makes it easier for us to judge them should they lose. But Mayweather did something different, he told the truth. He said he would be aggressive, walking McGregor down and forcing him to exhaust much more energy than what he’s used to in order to keep Mayweather off of him and, by Mayweathers lack of output, give in to his own adrenaline rush of thinking he may actually have a chance. The problem with an adrenaline rush is that the inevitable adrenaline dump is soon to follow. This is something that didn’t seem to get mentioned in McGregors camp. What made this even more interesting is that this style of fighting is so drastically different than the Mayweather style that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed he was going to do it. But he did.

Floyd Mayweather is a fighter often referred to as being boring by people that don’t know or understand the sport. At least not to the extent that they believe they do, which means most of the general population. The flip side of that are the fighters and coaches that have lived it. The sport is about hitting and not being hit back. He’s not a risk taker, he fights safe. He gets away with it because his skills are so far superior to those he fights that the often lopsided fights lost any real excitement due to his lack of desire to finish off his opponent, usually opting to ride out his victory on  massive point differential. Exciting, usually not. Smart? We’ll know in 10 years if he doesn’t sound like Muhammad Ali.

So what’s the lesson here you might ask. Floyd Mayweather came out, aware of his own criticism and equally aware of his legacy and how we wanted to go down in history. He said he was going to come out and give the people what they wanted to see, mostly because of what he knew the fans saw as a let down when he fought Pacquiao. That mega fight as it was billed, wound up being as one sided as most of his other fights. It was also, in the eyes of people that know boxing, a masterpiece. Nonetheless, in what he knew was his last fight, he wanted to go out giving people something the fans hadn’t seen him do but that he claimed he was quite capable of doing. Which was to stalk someone until he was able to take him out. He did. He risked his legacy by doing exactly what sports people said he needed to avoid doing in order to win a fight with someone that had no business being in the ring with him. He said what he was going to do, against all advice and “wisdom”, and was successful at it. He did it knowing he would be criticized during and after the fight for doing it that way but he did it with enough belief in himself that what anyone else said became insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We’re told every single day of what we shouldn’t do and why we shouldn’t do it. Probably with more regularity than we’re told what we SHOULD do. It’s the problem of people being afraid instead of encouraged. The ever present value of pessimism vs optimism. Why something won’t work instead of why it will. Our ability to test that seemingly unsolid ground that lies in between what we think we believe and what others claim to know best is where few dare to tread. Often times when we do tread there we fail. When we do, those who thought they were supporting us only by discouraging our own longing for more than the ordinary will be sure to let us know that they were right. That’s a large price to pay for many. The price of failure not in our eyes but living with knowing how others view us. What if we went back to the drawing board of life and regained our own confidence while somehow calming that voice in our head that tries to convince us that we have to let others decide our value should we fall short of our goals rather than knowing with certainty that those voices don’t mean shit unless we let them?

As for my little Irish friend. Connor McGregor, you managed to talk yourself into a 100 million $ payday. You garnered yourself a fight that you had no business getting. Not only did you have no business getting it, you had no business being in the ring with someone who’s skill set was so vastly superiour to your own. The problem with this is that nobody told Connor McGregor that he didn’t belong there. He was so consistent in his needling of Mayweather that it became almost impossible for the fight NOT to happen. I say in jest that nobody told him that he couldn’t compete, everyone did. Even his own camp was realistic in his chances. Not telling him what he needed to do to win but rather reminding of him of what a great performer he is on the big stage. That translates into “do your best and everyone will be see it as a success”. Those voices never got through to him. Nobody is sure of what he truly believed his chances were but he certainly didn’t fight like an athlete that didn’t believe he could win. He proved that through persistence and hard work that you can not only succeed in someone elses domain but that you, and all of us, have the ability to create our own domain. Completely free of the restraints placed on us while trying to follow someone elses rules. He could easily have found a way out of this fight. I don’t believe he ever thought Mayweather would agree to it and I’m sure he was just as surprised as everyone else when he did. But he didn’t bail, he followed it through to it’s conclusion. He made no excuses. The energy most of us use to come up with reasons to avoid doing what needs to be done was used by him to pour back into doing whatever he needed to do to make the best showing of himself. He knew others had no expectations of him winning and he could have let that dim the light he carried with him throughout his training camp. He didn’t. He gave the FU to anyone questioning his ability, his integrity and his work ethic. He followed through with what he said he was going to do, not caring in others eyes whether or not he “failed”. In his eyes, he couldn’t fail. In his eyes, the fact that he made it to the ring that night was his success. Everything after that was gravy because he knew he became more than himself to anyone following his career.

Both of these men had every reason to fail, the odds were stacked against them both. For very different reasons. Though those reasons were different, their resolve was the same. They came out and did what they said they were going to do, regardless of what the end result may be. They laid out a plan and the stuck to it. They based their success not on how they thought others would judge them but by how they knew they’d judge themselves when it was all over. They didn’t let the game play them. They didn’t even play the game, they created their own game and in doing so they set themselves up for a scenario where they couldn’t do anything other than succeed. It’s amazing what believing in ourselves can bring to our lives. We all claim we do but not many of us are willing to show it when the time comes to make the choice between our voice and theirs. Sometimes you just have to take their voice, grab it by the arm and throat punch it. Drown it out so that all we hear is our own and follow it to it’s logical conclusion


Road Running Makes You Weak

(From Outdoor Athlete Magazine 2013)

Road Running Makes you Weak!

By Jeff Watters


Ha! Far from my belief, but it got your attention didn’t it? I’ve always found it interesting that there’s usually such a huge distinction between road runners and trail runners. You’d think that there’s just “runners”, right? Not so much the case. Well, as a devout trail rat, here is my attempt at converting the “others”.

Why trails? There’s a ton of people out there that stay away from running trails, especially those new to running, because of the belief that there’s more of a chance that they’ll get hurt. Maybe they’ll trip on a tree root or fall down a hill. So? That uneven ground that you’re avoiding is one of the things that makes trail running better on your joints than running pavement. The uneven ground on the trails will help strengthen tendons and ligaments by adjusting the amount of tension, through balance and natural body weight, from stride to stride. Flat roads don’t do that nearly as effectively. The pounding that your body goes through on the road, impact after impact, causing shin splints and other overuse injuries, is far less likely to happen on the trails. Why? The surface you’re running on is much softer than the road. What about those tree roots? Pay attention! One of the best things about trail running is the view, THE VIEW! It’s easy to lose yourself in it but, at the same time, trail running puts you into some zen like stage of hyper awareness that makes everything in your mind slow down. You’ll not only see the trail but you’ll feel it. It just takes a little time to trust yourself. Added benefit? Calories, calories and more calories. One of the quickest ways to up your cardio level is to push your limits while training anaerobically. Yes, anaerobically. Your pace on a trail will vary greatly, much more so than in road running. That’s a good thing! You’ll naturally go through slight intervals without even knowing it. One of the best tricks in my bag when it comes to working with elite athletes looking to amp up their cardio in short time? Get them on the trails for 30 minutes of natural running. No GPS, no stopwatch. Just listen to your body and run. When you need to slow down, do it. If you can speed up, do it. It’s the best quick fix there is.

New on the trails? Start out easy. You don’t have to run fast to progress fast. You should follow the same guidelines above, as their relative. Go out and run at a pace you can maintain for a couple of minutes, walk when you need to. Follow this run walk method by listening to your body. Once you can run for 20 minutes without having to stop, slowly increase your time, not distance. I’m a big believer in having a goal. This also applies to trail running. Pick a trail event, Michigan has some GREAT ones. Give yourself about a month to train for it, if you’re new to the sport. If you’re already running, substitute a road run for one on the trails. Remember, your body becomes its purpose. In other words, if you’re planning to run a trail race, train on trails. Come race day, just have fun with it! If at all possible, try to familiarize yourself with the trails you’ll be racing on. If you can’t physically get on them, try to find a map. Even if you can’t, you’ll still be fine. Another benefit to trail running? They all climb and they all drop. If you train for time, you’ll be fine wherever you’re at.

Ready to go find a trail event? First things first. Where will you train? The best trails to run on are mountain bike trails. You can check out the Michigan Mountain Biking Association’s site to find a trail near you. As I said earlier, Michigan has a ton of great trail events. Here are some of my favorites – Dances with Dirt, Great Lakes Relay, Stay in the Shade’s Mountain Man Run…  These races all vary in distance and difficulty. I’ve done them all and would encourage anyone reading this article to try any one of them. Some of them, including mine, will take registered racers out to the course to do a guided pre run the week before the race.

Whether you’re going to race or just go out and play on your own, here’s a couple of trail running tips / etiquette that should always be followed –

-Stay on the trail

-Run OVER obstacles, not around them

-Respect animals

-Keep your dog on a leash if you can’t control it

-Leave no trace; take out what you take in!

-Most importantly, GIVE BACK! Volunteer, support, & encourage others to participate in trail maintenance days.

Follow the guidelines, get some good trail shoes, take off your headphones and enjoy the sights and sounds. Now go break a leg, but not really.


Jeff Watters owns Motor City Bootcamp and Watters Performance LLC. He’s also a member of the Brooks ID (inspire daily) and PACE (performance and coaching elite) programs. You can view some of his programs, or contact him, at www.jeffwatters.com