28 December, 2001

Intensity and Fiber Recruitment

We here at StrongerAthletes.com hope you and your family are enjoying a wonderful holiday and Bowl Game season!

Intensity

Without intensity a program is not very productive. As pointed out by Tim Swanger, Mike Bradley, and Steve Murray, Strength and Conditioning Coaches at the United States Military Academy, “You must place your muscles in
a critical situation. The effort level must be maximum. Your brain will only recruit the minimum number of muscle fibers necessary to do the job.”

Intensity has to be learned. Usually after a year of training the athlete will understand what an intense workout really is. A coach can identify it by looking at an athlete after a set of squats. If the athlete has to sit down a few minutes because of muscle exhaustion, they finally understand intensity. There are specific ways to teach intensity if a coach is not satisfied. This brings up the type of exercise performed. In order to train the fast twitch muscle fibers effectively and efficiently, the athlete must use a heavy weight and perform enough reps to trigger the strength process.

Olympic lifts such as the power clean does not effectively train the fast twitch muscle fiber like a slow, controlled movement would. If a lot of momentum is put on the bar that means that the intensity of the exercise is reduced and thus not very effective. Momentum lifts take the stress off the muscle for a brief time during the repetition of an Olympic lift. This is what makes those exercises less intense.

Why is intensity so important? As it will be pointed out below in our Fiber Recruitment comments, intensity triggers the fiber recruitment process. According to Matt Brzycki, Strength Coach Princeton University, “It is only when the intensity of activation is very great or when the Slow Twitch [fibers] are fatigued that the larger, more powerful fast motor units are brought into play.”

 Fiber Recruitment

The time has come for us to revisit some fundamentals of a safe, productive, and efficient training program. As our readership grows we are receiving a lot of e-mails asking us to defend our views against using Olympic lifts to train traditional athletes. This article explains the Principle of Fiber Recruitment, which is a basic element in terms of developing the quick twitch muscle fibers. This article first appeared in December of 2001....

Muscle fiber is recruited in a certain way during a set in any exercise. There are 4 types of muscle:


To illustrate when an athlete trains to failure on the bench and happens to reach failure on the 8th repetition, the first 2 reps have trained the Type I fibers, the 3rd and 4th reps have trained the Type IIA fibers and so on.


Matt Brzycki, Coordinator of Recreational Fitness and Wellness Programs, expresses a concern over the misconception that quick lifts can defy the fiber recruitment pattern. “It is believed that explosive movements [power clean, etc..] will somehow bypass the Slow Twitch fibers and target the Fast Twitch fiber population, which would be a clear violation of the orderly recruitment pattern suggested by Henneman’s Size Principle of Fiber Recruitment.”

In an Olympic movement such as the power clean, Type IIB fibers do not get trained to the fullest extent because failure was not reached in any particular muscle. The momentum of the clean reduces the intensity of the exercise, which takes stress off the muscle never allowing the muscle fibers to get fully exhausted.

Tim Swanger, Strength Coaches at the University of Cincinnati, Mike Bradley, former Strength Coach at Stanford University, and Steve Murray, Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Toledo, give a proper analogy of this principle. “As fatigue sets in on the playing field, you are gradually bringing more fibers into play. It could be during a long drive, the fourth quarter, or halfway through practice. If your training consists of a few heavy reps or stopping your exercise short of fatigue, you’ll eventually be using muscle fibers on the field that you didn’t strengthen in the weight room.”

19 December, 2001

Power Clean to Hang Clean

 "Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness." -James Thurber
It seems there has been a recent trend moving from the power to hang clean. Why is this so? Are coaches finding out that power cleans are creating many back injuries so not starting from the bent position will help prevent this problem?

Dr. Greg Shepard, in his book, Bigger Faster Stronger the Total Program, admits
, “hang cleans are easier on the lower back [than power cleans].” Yet the power clean is 1/6 of his program’s Core Lifts. Why?

It’s troubling to discover that popular and influential coaches around the nation do not understand this major conflict in philosophy. In a recent article published by Coaches Education.com a preeminent Track and Field coach relates that if he could recommend just 1 exercise for his throwers it would either be the “clean or the back squat.” However earlier in the article he states that Olympic lifting causes wrist and lower back pain and injuries.

This coach stresses proper lifting technique as the key to solve many of these problems, as do many Olympic lifting proponents. That being the case it is important to note that according to Jeff Friday, Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, there are 19 things that could go wrong with the power clean. “If just one error occurs, the rigid chain of links becomes broken and the lift is no longer efficient. Not only will technique errors change the movement pattern of the lift, but injuries have been reported as a result of faulty technique (Hunter and Hunter, Vorobyev, 1989).” So, can a power clean be done correctly? Yes. Is it practical for a high school weight room coach to devote the majority of his time to teach, coach, and supervise this 1 exercise that demands perfection? Not at the expense of safety. Furthermore, even if a coach could devote this time to the power/hang clean, we believe the only thing it would do is make the athlete better at performing cleans. (See Priciple of Specificity)

Contrary to popular belief, hang cleans could potentially be dangerous to the back, shoulders, and wrists. Maybe hang cleans will eventually change to something else soon...I wonder what. Once again, we believe coaches owe it to their athletes to provide a safe strength training program.
Hunter, G. R. and R. L. Hunter. "Avulsion Fractures of the Lower Cervical Vertebra in Strength Training." National Strength and Conditioning Association Bulletin 3, no. 5.
Vorobyev, A. N. "Weightlifting Injuries and Their Prevention." In Soviet Sports Review 24, no. 2, edited by M. Yessis, 83-85 (June 1989).

16 December, 2001

Specificity I: Do Olympic Lifts Enhance Athletic Ability?

"Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true." -Demosthenes

Do Olympic Lifts Enhance Athletic Ability?


Proponents of Olympic movements claim that exercises in the weight room such as the power clean transfers to skills on the field. One example, given by M. Arthur and B. Bailey in "Complete Training For Football," is the similarities in body position between the acceleration phase of running a 40-yard dash and a power clean.




The claim says that a power clean execution involves triple extension of the joints involved, (the ankle, knee, and hip) which matches the triple extension of the joints in a sprint. It is exactly true if you power clean leaning forward! (FYI: Authur and Bailey maintain that this relationship happens).




But who is going to do that?

Even if you could power clean leaning forward, we believe the lift still cannot transfer to a better sprint. Different neuromuscular pathways are used in the 2 activities. Ken Mannie, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University, writes, “Performing a certain type of lifting movement with the hope that it will transfer to a sport-specific or position specific tasks is useless. The central nervous system acquires, stores, and uses only meaningful information when movement is required.” Meaning the closer the drill is to the actual desired movement the better. If you want to run the 40 yard-dash faster: practice your starts; If you want to tackle better: practice tackling. If you want to make your body stronger in order to perform at a higher level in both the 40 yard-dash and tackling: you need to squat, dead lift and bench, etc..

In closing, if it did transfer, that means a sprint should feel similar to a power clean. In our opinion, this entire reasoning of the triple extension comparison is bunk and goes against the true meaning of the principle of specificity.

14 December, 2001

Expressing Power or Developing Power

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks." -Charlotte Bronte

Expressing Power or Developing Power

A popular and somewhat sound argument for Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, snatch, etc.) is based on performing exercises that maximize power.

Using the following formula:

  • Work= Strength*Distance
  • Speed= Distance/ Time
  • Power=Strength * Speed
  • Thus Power= Strength* Distance/ Time= Work/ Time


This means that Athlete A who lifts an amount the same distance as Athlete B, only faster generates more power. The example shown by M. Arthur and B. Bailey in "Complete Conditioning for Football," is




The above is exactly right but we believe it is incomplete. Arthur & Bailey’s example is actually defining what Ken Mannie, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University, calls “Expressing Power”. It seems to me that athlete A is expressing power because he moves the load faster, however, he is not developing power.

Mannie tells us there is evidence to support developing power through slow to fast speeds as well as isometrically, so we cannot allow that speed is the sole factor in developing power. In order to develop power there is only one truth= Large loads must be used.

Mannie says it best, “The point we are making is that there is a clear distinction between developing power and expressing it. Expressions of power in the athletic setting, (hitting a baseball, jumping, sprinting, blocking, tackling, throwing a discuss, etc..), are the result of strength/power increases from the weight room coupled with the neuromuscular and cognitive components of skill development through quality practice.

Safety: An Important Factor

Coaches should provide a safe strength training program for their athletes. Many coaches forget about the safety factor in weight training. After all, one of our goals is to prevent injuries through strength training. I have witnessed many programs that use momentum lifts such as power cleans, snatch, power press and have always heard many complaints that their back or wrists are bothering them.

According to Dr. Ken Leistner “who has long [spoke out against] ballistic lifting [a.k.a. Olympic lifts] in training programs, points out that the inclusion of these movements in these strength programs may, in fact be the genesis of injuries incurred later in practice and games. As Dr. Leistner states, “…the continuous exposure to acceleration/deceleration forces present when doing cleans, snatches and jerks can produce tissue damage which literally is an accident waiting to happen.” In younger athletes, the risks of damage to the epiphyseal [the area on the end of the bone where growth takes place] is also a cause for concern, as complete ossification [cartilage turning into bone] may not take place until the late teens or older.”**

Even if a coach does not hear many athletes complain about injuries, do they ever stop to think about how the athletes back will feel 10-20 years from now? I know of many athletes that attribute momentum lifts to their back pain in later life. As coaches, we owe it to our athletes to provide a safe strength training program.

**Taken from "Explosive Weight Training" by Ken Mannie.