30 September, 2002

Dear StrongerAthletes.com: Mature Discourse

 "He's too big and strong. I don't know if I could ever beat this guy." -Mike Tyson concerning Lennox Lewis. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Dear Coach Rody,

It's been a long time since we had a discussion. As I found myself wandering on the Internet I decided to take a deeper look at your web site and send you a few things to chew on. Our discussions have been very cordial in the past, hopefully we will keep in the same line with this new discussion. First I'd like to address a point that was made on your web site (front page actually). Be assured that the quote is integral and not modified:

From StrongerAthletes.com "Momentum generated by these lifts takes tension off the muscle which in turn makes recruiting type IIb, (or "fast twitch"), muscle fibers inefficient."
While I do agree that momentum can decrease muscle tension (because the muscle doesn't need to exert as much force on the bar since momentum contribute to the movement) I do not think that lifting with momentum renders IIb (or any other fiber) recruitment less efficient.

Allow me to make a simple point. Momentum has to be created by an external force, we all agree here. The external force can come from multiple sources, but in the case of lifting exercises it can only come from the external forces applied to the barbell from the human body (unless one is "bouncing" a deadlift on the floor or a bench press off his chest ... which can create momentum). Specifically momentum is created by the action of the muscles. In fact, the force output necessary to produce sufficient momentum to help lift a barbell of relatively heavy weight can far exceed that of any "slow-speed strength" exercises.Let me explain my point. To create momentum you must exert a force high enough to increase the kinetic energy of the barbell a level sufficient to allow the object to continue it's course with the interaction of little additional external force, agree? In other words, if you do not exert enough force the barbell will not continue it's course because not enough momentum will be created.

Now, not only is force necessary to create momentum, the acceleration factor must be very high. Why? Because for momentum to occur, the barbell must have a high rate of acceleration (otherwise it will quickly loose velocity and fall on the ground). So you must be able to create a powerful action (high acceleration).

Since F = ma, we can conclude that creating barbell momentum requires a lot of force because the accelerative need is very very high. The greater the required force output, the greater the muscle tension. The intramuscular tension refers to the effort of the muscle necessary to produce a certain force output.So even if the time under tension is lower in exercises with momentum, the actual maximum tension achieved is a lot higher. This is a powerful stimulus for the CNS and can lead to great improvements in neural efficiency (increased intra and inter-muscular coordination, and rate encoding).

As a result it is unjust to state that lifts with momentum leads to less efficient motor recruitment. Remember that YOU must create the momentum.

Coach Thibaudeau,
You stated, “The force output necessary to produce sufficient momentum to help lift a barbell of relatively heavy weight can far exceed that of any ‘slow-speed strength” exercises. We disagree with this statement . The reason is that to create momentum on the bar, as you have indicated requires relatively heavy weights. That is the point we are making. In order for the force out put to be maximum, the weight should be heavy.

Now we are not saying that one should train with singles, doubles, and triples, we advocate reps ranging from 8-15. Athletes should train to momentary muscular failure.

When performing Olympic lifts, many types of athletes give out because of technique breakdown because of fatigue or for cardiovascular reasons. What muscles are being trained to momentary muscular failure during a clean?

Think about it, we are talking about training high school and college athletes. These athletes cannot efficiently train with these exercises to the point of the desired fatigue level because they do not spend the time to become efficient in these exercises.

Their sport is football, wrestling etc... Ask an athlete, after performing a power clean, how he/she feels. What muscles do you feel like you’ve exhausted? They usually respond be saying, “Well I don’t feel it in any one area but I’m pretty tired after doing them”. Our goal is not just to get an athlete to feel tired. It is to train specific muscle groups to fatigue.

We see the point you are trying to make about maximum force output but must do not believe that research backs it. Muscle fiber is recruited in an orderly fashion from Type I to intermediate to Type II as the body requires them. -S.A.
[Coach Thibaudeau continues...] From StrongerAthletes.com: “The Principle of Specificity rejects the idea that lifts such as the power clean transfer to sport specific skills such as tackling or throwing a shot put”.

I agree that a power clean (or any other lift) cannot improve technical efficiency in a sport movement. However, lifting can improve specific skill performance by increasing the physical capacities of the athlete (no news there!). If a lifting exercise increase the athlete's force output and the rate of force development (which can only be improved by accelerative a load) in the muscles involved in a specific sport skill the athlete will become effective (notice that I did not say efficient) at that skill.

If you have the general capacity to produce more force and produce force faster you will be more effective because you are structurally more solid and have a faster muscle recruitment. I know that you will argue this point, but research has indeed shown that high acceleration exercises can indeed improve motor unit recruitment speed by improving rate encoding, pattern encoding and number encoding.

I have never been one to preach what I call "excessive specificity". There are various levels of specificity. A movement is not 100% or 0% specific to another. A training movement can be specific in structure, pattern, power output level, force output level, etc. I feel that trying to duplicate sport actions in the gym is hogwash, but I believe that trying to train for what you have to do makes a lot more sense than just lifting weights! That means developing the capacity to generate a high level of force as fast as possible.

We will again make the point that even though we train to maintain constant speed through an entire set, it must be understood that as the athlete fatigues as the set progresses, it is necessary to attempt to move the weight faster to maintain the desired rep speed. At the end of the set, the athlete is attempting to move the barbell as fast as possible to maintain speed. This is maximum force and power output.

This is higher than if the athlete used relatively heavy weights creating momentum. If the weight is not heavy enough then the athlete will be expressing power. In other words, if the momentum is created on the bar, the weight is too light. Ken Mannie states this well in his article “Power Points," “Basic neuromuscular physiology indicates that maximum fast twitch fiber recruitment is achieved with maximal intensity, regardless of the movement speed. “Intensity” in strength-training is defined as the percent of your momentary ability to execute a given exercise- that is, the amount of effort you are able to put forth”.

The “Size Principle” of motor unit recruitment-which is one of the most supported principles in neurophysiology-states that muscle fibers are activated from smaller to larger (Type I to Type II) relative to the force requirements, not the speed requirements”.

“The force velocity curve indicates that there is an inverse relationship between movement speed and muscle force production. In other words, slow muscle contractions generate more force. StrongerAthletes.com believes that slow movements can produce more force and recruit more muscle fiber and in turn create more power and therefore is a more efficient way to train. -S.A.
[Coach Thibaudeau continues...] From StrongerAthletes.com "Quick, momentum generating lifts can be unsafe in the short term if not coached and supervised and in the long term in regards to the low back and wrist regions."

I agree. That's why I feel that un-supervised use of the Olympic lifting variations is unwise. However, if properly taught these lifts can be as safer (and even safer as illustrated by the smaller injury rate in Olympic lifting compared to powerlifting)

[FYI- We do not endorse power lifting as a training method for traditional athletes. -S.A.]
than most slow-speed lifts. Furthermore, when properly used they can improve performance more than slow-speed lifting (albeit both are complimentary). However I concede that if a qualified coach is not available, the Olympic lift variations should not be used.

Thanks for listening. Keep up your good job and I wish you well for the season.
Christian Thibaudeau
Qu├ębec Canada

Keep in mind that we may focus on the lifts that power lifters use but we do not train our athletes like power lifters.

We understand the point you are making and will concede that the more efficient an athlete becomes at the Olympic lifts, the more muscle fiber he/she can recruit therefore the more power and force he can develop. But let’s face it, these athletes (high school and college) do not have the time to spend trying to perfect these lifts. They have their season and studies to think about. Even if an athlete performs the quick lifts with perfect form or whether he uses slow movements, power and force can still be developed with either method. Most athletes will not perform them in perfect form, therefore the power developed would be less. Performing the quick lifts is more of a demonstration of power. Remember, developing power is different than expressing it. Look back at our article on "Expressing vs. Developing Power" and you will see what I mean.

We have enjoyed reading your comments and appreciate your professionalism. The goal is to train our athletes in the safest most productive and efficient manner possible. Let our readers decide for themselves which method they prefer.

Coach Rody

24 September, 2002

In Season Training Routine # 1

"This is what college football should be: the most rewarding experience in a young man's life." -Bo Schembechler
Several readers have requested a little less "air-time" devoted to the Olympic Lifts and more towards applying a safe, productive and efficient workout.

The type of routine an athlete needs during the season depends on the nature of the sport in which they are participating. StrongerAthlete.com recommends less sets and lower frequency for football players for example.
Football is a very demanding sport and can leave the athlete exhausted at times during the week. We train football players once per week while in season using compound movements. Extremely demanding exercises such as the deadlift we have our athletes perform once every 2 weeks. Below is a suggested routine for the in-season football player:

* Squat
* Bench Press
* Dips
* Deadlifts
* Chin ups or Rev. Grip Pulldowns

Athletes should perform one set of each exercises to momentary muscular failure. Training day should be the day after or 2 days after their game to ensure that they are fully recovered by game time.

The coach needs to watch added additional exercises because this could lead to over training that could affect their performance on the field.

The above exercises will train every muscle group directly or indirectly. Athletes should continue to progress either in reps or weight during this time. We do not believe that they should just maintain. If athletes should get exhausted enough to where the coach feels they might be in an overtrained state then they should reduce the weekly frequency.

If anybody has any comments about this routine or would like to suggest a routine of their own, e-mail us and we will post you comments or workouts.

20 September, 2002

Back to the Fundamentals... Again

"Whether I succeed or fail, shall be no man's doing but my own." -Elaine Maxwell
We are more than happy to respond to e-mails for the discussion of strength training issues. We find it extremely repetitive to hammer home the same points week in and week out. However, just like anything in athletics and life... fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.
Dear Coach Rody,
Having read more and more of your site, I'm struck by the constant cry of "Safety, safety, safety!" You make equal efforts arguing against power lifting as you do Olympic lifting, in the interest of 'safety'. [Yes, you are correct. -S.A.]
You seem to say safety is the #1 goal of your program. You claim the safety problem is due to the ballistic nature of the Olympic lifts and the 1RM max attempts in power lifting. I quote you, "At this age particularly, they really need to make safety the first priority in training. The growth in the epiphyseal should not be interrupted by performing ballistic movements. These movements create injuries and make athletes more suseptable[sic] to injuries in their sport."

Yet you are primarily football people. [To clarify, we coach football, track, and in the past have coached wrestling and basketball. -S.A.] This I do not understand. Surely nothing is more ballistically violent than football. Surely few sports are as statistically dangerous as football. I have one study in front of me that claims football is 58 times more dangerous than Olympic lifting, 28 times more dangerous than power lifting, 77 times more dangerous than volleyball. How do you reconcile your stated interest in the safety of high school kids with your active contribution to one of the most dangerous and ballistic sports around? If a parent came to you wondering if their child should play football or perhaps another sport, would you tell them, "No, don't play football. It's too dangerous?" This is not a rhetorical question; I would like to hear your answer, with specific examples if you have any.

[To respond to your first question, which we find irrelevant to safety in the weight room, (which we advocate), the potential for injury is there for most sports. But our concern lies in the training methods NOT THE SPORT. We have stated in the past that we are fans of power lifting and Olympic lifting. If you choose to quote our own web-site against us please at least keep us in context. Therefore, SPORT is why we train. Injury is inherent in the sport and in training. However, we feel that we can reduce the risk of injury in training. Why train in a way that has a higher potential for injury? Why not train in the safest possible way? Do we want our kids injured before they hit the field? Obviously not.

In regards to parental concerns for injury... a parent should understand the risks of the game and expect me to reduce those risks the best that I can. For example, we do not teach tackling by lowering the head, or blocking below the waist... thus reducing the risk of injury. -S.A.]
Question 2: Are there any football teams that do not use non-sport-specific ballistic or power-oriented training? By that I mean do not exclude activities outside the weight room. Include such non-sport-specific activities as running stadium steps, hill sprints, blocking sleds, sled pulling, medicine ball tosses, car pushing, etc. Are there ANY teams whose training consists solely of slow strength training, running, and practicing plays? What is the purpose of a blocking sled, anyway? It has no arms like a defender, it weighs more than a defender, it does not REALLY behave like a defender, surely it has no better skill transfer than, say, squats? But is it not a ballistic exercise? Is there any team that does not use them?

[To respond to your second set of questions, our site primarily focuses on strength training in the weight room. For what coaches use on the field I recommend you try a Yahoo! Search for "football drills". Incidentally, the blocking sled works as an excellent blocking dummy in the fact that a player can unload violently upon it without injury to a teammate. However, you are obviously missing the point our our web-site, or you are attempting to twist things to your liking. Set aside your ridiculous analogies and focus on the goal which is to strengthen our athletes in a safe, efficient, and productive manner to reduce the frequency of injury on the field. -S.A.]
Question #3: Why do you quote [a professional in the field of strength development (who's name we removed out of respect)] objections to quick lifts so often, when in fact he has no real personal experience with them? He comes from a power lifting background, with no record of ever having competed in weight lifting nor ever demonstrated any ability to train Olympic lifters. Would you listen to the advice of a non-swimmer about the dangers of water polo?

Sincerely, Lincoln Brigham

By the way, I find it interesting that many individuals that are closed-minded like your self attack [strength training professionals, who have differing opinions than your own]. As far as 2 book publishers, a nationally recognized magazine publisher, and a ivy league university are concerned he is very knowledgeable in the field of strength development. If in fact simply participating in an activity made one an authority on the subject I would like to refer you to Coach Mike Jeffries of Helias High School in Jefferson City, Missouri. Coach Jeffries has never wrestled 1 match in his life yet claims no less than 11 state championships in the past 19 years. Coach Tom Wales of Moberly High School, in Moberly, Missouri is on the verge of winning his 3rd cross country state championship, and he has never ran a cross country race. These are just local guys I know. How about Coach Mike Leach of Texas Tech? He has no formal football playing experience yet he managed to land a Big XII head coaching gig while also helping to publish a widely read journal for college football coaches. I'm sure there are thousands of examples along this line of reasoning.

One of the individuals on our StrongerAthletes.com staff was an Olympic lifting advocate for years. GUESS WHAT? he realized that there is a more productive and safer way to train. He realized the high potential for injury doing the Olympic lifts not to mention the tension taken off the muscle etc... and he was not too proud to turn his back on what he had done as an athlete and a coach.

Interestingly, we have had many Olympic lifting advocates e-mail us in support of our efforts. They are open-minded individuals that realize that there is more than one way to train. What do you think of the Olympic lifters themselves e-mailing us telling us that they find that football players are not athletic enough to do Olympic lifts? This is not a rhetorical question. Or they tell us that football players should not do the Olympic lifts because they do not have the time to learn the O-lifts because it is not their sport? THESE ARE OLYMPIC LIFTING ADVOCATES STATING THIS.

More and more people are realizing that the Olympic type of lifts are not necessary for a successful strength training program.

Thanks for your comments and batting practice... we were getting a little rusty.

Coach Rody

17 September, 2002

Role Of Olympic Lifts In High School

 "Too many coaches attempt to learn the tricks of the trade rather than simply learning the trade." -Coach Johnny Mallettt
Dear Coach Rody,

In one of your articles, you mention a lack of carry over between the power clean (or any Olympic lift) to running. Stating there is no forward lean. I am confused as you use the deadlift and squat. But all three lifts are in a vertical plain.................so how do
they (SQ/DL) differ from the power clean, in terms of effectiveness? Any insight you have would be appreciated. Good training to you,
Chad Touchberry

Coach Touchberry,

I think there was some misunderstanding concerning your power clean question. We know that those movements such as the squat and dead lift do not incorporate a forward lean. Our point was that the power clean does not simulate a sprint as the authors of that book contend. I hope we have not misled you to think a weight room movement should simulate a sprint. We believe that if your athletes want to get faster they should practice sprinting while getting stronger in the weight room. Thanks for you question. I hope this helps.
Coach Rody
Coach Rody,
I understand what your saying. I just disagree with it. I say if you can lift a heavier load......your talking about strength. Power is per unit of time. Big difference. To develop power one must overload the muscle and recruit as much muscle fiber as possible." Resistance lifted is a factor......but not without speed. Power per unit of time. greatest power outputs occur between 50% and 85%. Well below the need %'s for changes in strength. Two different and important attributes in training. Both have a separate protocol. My 2 cents.
Coach T

Thanks for your comments. Let me reassure you that we use the same definition of Power you do. However, where many people assume the answer to the equation = developing power we say if you can lift a heavier load than you are simply expressing power as one would express power in throwing a shot put or make a tackle. To develop power one must overload the muscle an recruit as much muscle fiber as possible. So, we use the same formula everyone else uses but we recognize a deference between expressing power and developing power. We would rather develop power in the weight room and express it on the field.

Thanks for the good dialog, hope this helps clear it up.
Coach Rody
Coach Rody,

We agree on something's. Its just our application of ideas is different.

I agree that most HS programs are not prepared to teach Olympic lifting, nor should they try. But I do believe that Olympic lifts, as well as their variations are appropriate when properly instructed. I don't believe that a lift is dangerous........just the mis-coaching, or poor supervision of the lift. I realize there is no momentum in the deadlift, and there is in the clean. But less we forget that it is muscular effort that imparts force on a barbell to create momentum.

"The tension is taken of the muscle of a brief second making the lift less efficient to develop power." True, but there is also a moment of eccentric or yielding strength following the completion of the lift. I also disagree with the idea that the muscle must remain under tension to develop power. Time under tension operates under the idea that increasing tension over time leads to greater development of force.......this does not apply to power. Long periods of time and power cannot work!!! It goes against the actually scientific definition of power................... Moreover, this is very similar in terms of how athletics are played. Lets stay with the sprint. A burst of muscular effort, but then a brief second of non-linear tension. We also disagree on the definition of power. You seemed to have created your own operational definition. One which I don't really understand.

Not trying to pick a fight. I myself am a strength coach and realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Just like some educated debate.

Good training,
Coach Chad


We agree that there is more than one way to train our athletes. There are many successful teams that have performed the Olympic lifts just as there is many successful teams who do not perform them. We strongly consider safety and efficiency which we think are aspects of our program that puts our style and many alike above the rest.

Appreciate your comments and wish you the best of luck. Coach Rody

02 September, 2002

Decide For Yourself

"When you are an anvil, hold still; When you are the hammer, strike your fill." -George Herbert
If tone of this article sounds repetitious...it is. We feel that to start our 2nd year off we should lay down one of our fundamental stances early and often. For those who follow our website regularly we hope you understand. For those who are just "browsing" we hope you stick around and help us spread the word about safe, productive and efficient strength training.

StrongerAthletes.com cannot emphasize enough that coaches should take
all Olympic type of exercise out of their program whether it is off or in-season. These types of lifts are dangerous and unnecessary. An important part of a proper training program is to prevent injuries.

In his article, “Improper Training”, Dr. Ken Leistner states, “The purpose of an off-season weight program is to reduce the incidence and severity of on-field injury, not produce injury itself or leave the player prone to injury during play.” A well said statement.

We get many e-mails from coaches stating that the bench press ands squat , and deadlift are the exercises in which injuries occur. If done slowly, not in powerlifting manner the lifts are much safer than performing a lift in a ballistic manner.

The ballistic nature of the Olympic lifts are what we feel make the lifts dangerous. However, many of these coaches say that the Olympic variation lifts do not even involve momentum. They are very persistent in their beliefs. Come On! Quit fooling yourself and be sensible. We believe many of these coaches were taught this way and think that it is the only way to train. This is unfortunate.

Now, we mean no disrespect to these coaches and particularly the Olympic lifting athletes. We enjoy watching the sport of Olympic lifting. We just do not believe that the quick lifts belong in strength training program in other sports other than Olympic lifting itself.

Many coaches, especially at the high school level, have these Olympic type of lifts in their program and do not know why. To say that it works for Nebraska or some other school is not a good enough response. Take a look at our Teams Page and you will see very successful teams that do not do them. The intent of this article is not to question the intelligence of coaches with respect to strength training but to inform them to research the negative effects of Olympic lifting for sports and ask yourself: Is this lift worth the risk? Most teams that perform these lifts perform the slow controlled movements such as squat, deadlift, and shoulder press etc... Could it be that these lifts are developing power and explosiveness in our athletes of is the power developed from the quick lifts exclusively. The point is that if all top teams that do these Olympic type of lifts were to take them out of their program, they would still be just as successful.

In conclusion, StrongerAthletes.com is attempting to educate as many coaches as possible to a style of training that is as successful as any Olympic lifting based program. We have been very successful thus far and appreciate all the support we have been getting from strength coaches, athletes, and other individuals in the field.