16 June, 2003

Sample High Intensity Workout for Athletes

"Pleasure in the job put perfection in the work. Aristotle

A Sample High Intensity Workout

Fred Cantor, Head Strength Coach at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, suggested that we post some sample workouts that coaches can use with their teams. The purpose of articles such as this one is NOT to assume that this is the perfect workout. Each coach must work within the elements that he is given. What follows is the workout plan that we are using this summer with our athletes.

The workout card includes these lifts in the order they are presented, however, we do individualize the workout for certain kids. For example, one kid is having knee surgery this summer so we have isolated his healthy leg on lower body movements. Other kids are comfortable with the squat rather than the leg press, however we are strongly encouraging them to use the leg press. On movements that can be done using a variety of equipment we are encouraging the kids to choose what they like the best and stick with it. Again, this allows for individualization and choice for the athlete.

To begin the workout we jog for 5 minutes followed by a stretching routine. Then the athletes are paired up and complete a set of manual resistance neck exercises. We do this first to emphasize the importance of neck work for combative athletes. Then an abdominal routine, again, the kids choose how they want to do this. Once the kids have a sweat going they are warmed-up and can begin the resistance training.

You will notice that our repetition ranges have 2 numbers. If an athlete reaches momentary muscular fatigue before he reaches the lower number on the rep-range the weight is to heavy. Likewise if he reaches momentary muscular fatigue beyond the higher number then it is time for him to increase the load.

If an athlete demonstrates the ability to train with high intensity, meaning pushing himself to the point of momentary muscular failure then we encourage him to use just 1 set. For younger or inexperienced athletes we encourage them to use 2-3 sets, however we record just the first set which should be taken to momentary muscular failure.

You can tell if an athlete is training with high intensity if he cannot lift the same amount of weight on his second set as many times as he did on his first set. We are big believers in the 1 set protocol but understand that high volume, or multiple-sets, can be beneficial for athletes as well.

You will also notice that our rep-ranges for the lower body movements are fairly high. High rep-ranges ensures that the athlete will use relatively low weight which translates into less stress on the lower back. We maintain that there is no excuse for injury while training.

Leg Press or Squat15-20We give the athlete the choice but require perfect form for the squat. We maintain that the Leg Press is no doubt a safer alternative for certain athletes. However, not all leg press machines are equal and we employ a Hammer Strength Leg Press that we feel gives a smooth, good range of motion.
Leg Extensions8-12This is quite possibly the best thing we could do directly following a good set on the Leg Press. We emphasize full contraction.
Leg Curls8-12The spotter plays a huge role in making sure the athlete does not use momentum in bring up the weight and also makes sure he lowers the weight under control. Too many athletes think this exercise is a break if they are not forced to do it right.
Calf Raise8-12This is the first example of giving the athlete a variety of movements. We do not care if he uses the leg press machine, uses a standing flex while holding a dumbbell, or uses our calf machine.
Bench Press8-12We are sticklers on spotters paying attention and not letting the athlete use momentum while lifting the weight. The spotter also forces the athlete to train to momentary muscular failure. Immediately following this exercise the athlete should go to either the chest press (see below) or he can simply roll off the bench and do a set of push-ups to failure. We do this to fully exhaust the muscle.
Chest Press6-10As mentioned before the athlete goes directly to this machine to fully exhaust the muscle. We feel this is the safest way to ensure total muscle fiber recruitment.
Dips/Tricep Extensions8-12Again, we do not care which type of movement the athlete uses. We have a weight assisted dip machine that the younger kids can get good work from.
Shoulder Press8-12Here is another example of choice the athlete is given. Dumbbell, machine, or straight bar. We encourage the spotter to immediately follow up the set with manual resistance.
Hex Bar Dead Lift12-15This is the exercise that I am still struggling with. We have the athletes using a high rep-range to offset heavy loads, but I am still afraid of lower back stress. We do not have athletes who are injured or complain of low back pain perform this movement. Alternatives would be a second type of leg press machine (which we do not have), DB step-ups, or lunges. (I would appreciate any feedback on this concern of mine as these workouts are always a work in progress.)
Seated Row8-12As the athletes are really getting tired at this point in the workout the spotter's role is increasingly important. He watches to see that the athlete is getting a full range of motion with a pause in the full contraction of the pull and then a slow lowing of the weight.
Reverse Grip Pull downs8-12This is a super lift as we feel it gives awesome work for the bicep as well at the lat. Again, the spotter should be helping the athlete get the full benefits of this lift.
Bicep Curls6-10We end the training with bicep curls of the athlete's choice. We have towels that the spotter uses to give manual resistance immediately following the set to failure.

We strength train on Mondays and Thursdays and do agility/conditioning work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The athletes are given a grade at the bottom of each day's column. If they go up in either resistance or repetitions in all their lifts they get an A+ and so on down the grading scale. You would be surprised how much harder a kid will work at the end of that set to push out one more rep if he can get an A.

Grading each workout card takes a while but it is enjoyable as I can see first hand how the athletes are progressing. I keep a pad of small post-it notes next to me and make comments on their workout cards as I go.

If anyone is in the Kansas City area and would like to see how we train please give me a call and we would love to have you visit. We by no means have the perfect workout, but we feel we are doing a good job of helping our athletes improve safely, and efficiently.

We would like to continue this series of Sample Workouts. Please send us the workout you use with your team and we will share it with our readers. Good luck this summer!

Sam Knopik
Head Football Coach
Pembroke Hill
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 936-1529

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

28 May, 2003

How Important is Safety?

"You can observe a lot by watching." -Yogi Berra

Is Safety The Number One Priority In Your Training Program?

We have visited with many coaches that provide various types of strength programs for their athletes. Many coaches take the issue of safety in the weight room very seriously while some coaches will put safety, “certainly in their top 8 priorities”.

The latter attitude is a big problem. With some sports being so demanding to our athletes bodies, more attention needs to be directed toward safety in training for those sports. We still find that many coaches have their athletes perform a 1RM on the Olympic lifts as well as the power lifts. This is not necessary nor is it safe for the athletes.

Roger Schwab in his article, “Personal Reflections on Weight Training and Spinal Injuries,” reflects on his own experience in lifting. He performed heavy bench presses, squat snatch, and below parallel squats with a pause at the bottom with significant weight. Schwab explains the result of this type of training, “My choice of exercises caused structural damage that would manifest in long term chronic pain. Advanced spinal pathology at 20 plus years old! Disc herniations throughout my neck (cervical spine) C3-C7, a reversal of my lordotic curve and spinal stenosis at C-7. My lower back suffered severe degenerative change as well with disc herniations at L4-5 L5-S1.”

Roger Schwab currently works with Main Line Health & Fitness in Bryn Mawr, PA. He has a series of outstanding articles which can be found at the Main Line Health & Fitness web site.

StrongerAthletes.com does not advocate the squat snatch, 1RM in bench press, or pausing at the bottom position of a heavy squat. None of these movements are safe nor do the positives outweigh the negatives. Using common sense in an athlete's training is mandatory. As Schwab indicates, “Rather than finding out for themselves what does and does not constitute safe, result stimulating exercise, trainees are being taught training regimens that are outright dangerous and lack the fundamentals of common sense.” This is unfortunate but true in many programs.

We will leave you with a suggestion from Roger Schwab on the proper approach to strength training. “After too many years of repeated mistakes, I finally "woke-up" to the fact that if anyone is going to lift weights to improve functional ability and build stronger muscles, do so in a slow, deliberate focused manner. Choose exercises wisely. Follow sound routines that emphasize quality rather than quantity and which do not leave the overall system depleted and ripe for muscular or skeletal injuries. Fast movements do not build fast muscles no matter what any "expert" might tell you. Even if fast lifting did build fast muscles, it would never be worth the risk of injury.” Well said, don’t you think?

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

15 May, 2003

Top 10 Mark Asanovich Quotes

"Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved." -Albert Einstein

Although we have never had the opportunity to meet or visit with Coach Mark Asanovich we really like the things he has to say about strength training and the use of supplements. What you find below is his bio taken from the Official web site of the Jacksonville Jaguars, http://www.jaguars.com/ and our list of the Top 10 Mark Asanovich Quotes. Enjoy.

"Mark Asanovich is in his first season as the strength and conditioning coach for the Jaguars and his ninth season as an NFL coach.

In 2002, Asanovich was the assistant strength and conditioning coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He was the head strength and conditioning coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996 through 2001 working under former coach Tony Dungy. Asanovich brought to the Jaguars a new strength and conditioning regime that emphasizes individual supervision of player workouts. The cornerstone of his program is to ⌠coach reps rather than merely count reps. It is his belief that players who are coached in the weightroom will develop better results from what is inspected rather than what is expected.

With the support of Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, Asanovich oversaw a $260,000 renovation of the Jaguars weightroom before the start of the 2003 off season conditioning program. Wayne Weaver has given us the resources to win and Jack Del Rio and his staff have given us their support, Asanovich said. The players have responded and have garnered the results.

Asanovich spent the 1995 season as assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Vikings. From 1987 to 95, he was the strength and conditioning coach at Anoka High School (Minneapolis, Minn). In 1984, he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State, staying there two years. In 1986 he coached at The Citadel.

Asanovich, 43, has published several articles in his field of study and served as a member of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Health & Physical Fitness. He earned a bachelor's degree in education from St. Cloud State and a master's degree in exercise science from Ohio State.

Asanovich was born May 20, 1959 in Duluth, Minn. He played guard and linebacker at Duluth East High School and attended St. Cloud State.

COACHING BACKGROUND: 1984-85 Ohio State, 1986 The Citadel, 1987-95 Anoka High School (Minn.), 1995 Minnesota Vikings, 1996-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002 Baltimore Ravens, 2003 Jacksonville Jaguars"

Top 10 Asanovich Quotes

  • 10) "You have to take a look at the paper trail," he says. "It's skewed. Small numbers (of test subjects) were used ... and it tested football players, who were told that at the end of the study, they'd be given a free can of Creatine."
    Discussing the use of studies that shed a positive light on the use of Creatine by athletes.

  • 9) "Over and beyond telling them about the four-game suspension, which is a pretty loud message, the thing you tell them is that when you buy a dietary supplement, you're dealing with a product that's totally unregulated," he said. "It's like buying something on the black market. It may contain an ephedrine-containing product, but it may be something different. It may be totally inert. So we tell them what you're doing is you're playing supplement roulette with your health."
    Discussing the risk of over the counter supplements.

  • 8) "Players that are deconditioned and lack appropriate strength levels are most susceptible to [knee] injuries. However, past injuries, improper training protocols (i.e. Olympic lifting, depth-jumping and other ballistic training protocols), and over trained athletes can also exasperate risk of injury."
    Discussing what may predispose athletes to certain injures.

  • 7) "The fact of the matter is that ballistic resistance training is unproven and/or unproductive at best, and potentially dangerous at worst (especially in prepubescent athletes). Ballistic resistance training, like any momentum-assisted movement, violates the most fundamental principle of strength development, that being, the Overload Principle."
    Discussing the risk vs benefits of ballistic training methods for traditional sport athletes.

  • 6) "As a Strength & Conditioning Coach, it is my job to maximize our players' performance and minimize injuries in a manner that is prudent, productive, practical & purposeful. As such, my recommendation to our athletes is to consistently train hard, rest, eat right and live right. In regards to anything beyond these fundamental principles, I advise them to use their common sense and beware of sensationalized gimmicks/supplements that make hyperbole claims."
    Discussing the stance his organization takes on nutritional supplementation.

  • 5) "Our in-season training or exercises are a direct reflection of our off-season training or exercises. As such, the training protocols that we employ in the off-season are identical to the protocols that we employ in our in-season protocols."
    Discussing the fact that training is training off-season or in-season.

  • 4) "Unfortunately, well-intended (but not well-educated) athletes, coaches, and parents are easy targets for such commercially hyped hocus-pocus."
    Discussing the pitfalls of effective product marketing on eager consumers.

  • 3) "Accepting a risk of injury in training... is unacceptable, unprofessional, and unethical."
    Discussing the role safety should play in strength training.

  • 2) "Yet, regardless of which training protocols may be right or wrong, as health/fitness professionals our first responsibility is to the safety of those who have entrusted their health to us."
    Discussing the role safety should play in strength training.

  • 1) "The principle of specificity states that training/practice must BE SPECIFIC to an intended skill in order for skill improvement for carryover to occur. Specific means exact or identical, not similar or just like. Therefore, accelerating a bar from the floor or knee-height-position by a forceful rolling of the hips may somewhat assimilate driving off the line of scrimmage-but the truth of the matter is, Olympic lifting will only improve one's skills at Olympic lifting and nothing else."
    Discussing the false notion of using the quick lifts to develop better tacklers.

21 April, 2003

Muscle Fiber Recruitment-Again

"The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good." –Baltasar Gracian

With the help of several strength coaches we put together this comprehensive article on Muscle Fiber Recruitment.

We are very thankful for the help we received from a several of coaches across the country who helped us put this article together. Namely, Coach Tom Kelso and his staff at University of Illinois-Chicago. Some did not wish to receive credit for their help as they do not want to receive the "ranting" e-mail that come with taking a stand for safe, productive and efficient training. The topic of Muscle-Fiber Recruitment is an important element of why we train our athletes the way we do. However, this topic, like others in the strength training world can be confusing and misleading for many coaches. With the help of these coaches, who are considered experts in the field, we will make a further attempt to clear up this issue.

Coaches, please take the time to educate yourself on issues of strength development. If strength training is important enough to make your athletes do, then it is important enough for you to learn as much as you can about it. We know the time commitment coaches are under, we are coaches ourselves. This website serves to be an informal, yet informative resource for the busy strength coach. We are by no means experts! However, we rely on what we can read ourselves, and from coaches whom we have grown to respect who are on the front lines of athletic strength development.

If you are truly interested in learning more about safe, productive, and efficient strength training we recommend two books in particular: "Maximize Your Workout" which has various essays written by strength coaches from around the country who work with developing athletes in a variety of sports and "A Practical Approach to Strength Training" by Matt Brzycki. We are not trying to make a buck off of this endorsement, go check them out from the library for all we care. However, we feel that these books gave us a greater understanding of the topics discussed on this website and can help you as well.

Listed below are several responses to our question about muscle-fiber recruitment. They are listed in no particular order but are meant to clarify various issues concerning this topic. We begin with opening remarks from two collegiate strength coaches.
Many high school programs (and some smaller college programs) are sub-par (poor supervision, lack of qualified strength coaches, poor facilities, etc.) The information on StrongerAthletes.com is to provide practical suggestions to coaches who may have substandard "resources" to work with. Aside from this point, its difficult to argue against safe and time-efficient programs as they are proven to work at both the collegiate and professional levels, especially due to 1) limited time we all face and 2) the potential of legal issues in our increasingly lawsuit-happy society. From the outset, please understand this fact: one does NOT have to do Olympic lifts and/or variations of them in order to win championships or improve the physical qualities of athletes that will help them achieve in sport. Numerous teams/individuals have proven this – especially on the professional and collegiate levels. You are NOT at a disadvantage if you do not do them provided you are doing a progressive, total body-emphasized strength program, coupled with out-of-the-weight-room sport-related speed and skill training. End of that issue. -Tom Kelso
In my opinion, you must ask yourself three questions before you engage in a philosophical conversation regarding strength training.
  • 1. What is strength?

  • 2. What is strength training?

  • 3. Why strength train?
In my opinion, a major reason for the dissension within the profession is nebulous terminology. Forget HIT vs. periodization or one set vs. multiple sets, ask ten individuals their definition of strength and get ten different opinions. If you are going to develop something, it should be understood what it is that you are attempting to develop, in our profession, strength. -Coach B [This coach who, with the help of one of his university's faculty, were happy to help contribute to this article did not want us to use their name or school. They understand the problem associated with taking a stand for safe, productive and efficient training: angry e-mail's! While they support these issues they do not wish to spend their time receiving any e-mail from every power cleaning coach in the country.]

In regards to muscle fibers being recruited in an orderly fashion, some believe that by training fast in the weight room one can develop fast twitch fibers. If this were the case one would skip over the small motor units, A.K.A. slow twitch fibers, and begin to work the larger units or fast twitch fibers. Some coaches maintain that the muscle recruitment pattern is not the same from set to set.
Yes, each set would be "different" if 1) different loads were used, i.e. 70% would initially recruit "x" number of fibers and 85% would recruit "x" + "x" more, and/or 2) in consideration of fatigue, the fatigued fibers in set one would create a slightly different situation in set two due to some fibers being less than 100% fresh. However, a similar demand pattern is naturally elicited for each situation: clearly, the greater the demand, the greater number of fibers twitching and/or being recruited as opposed to a lesser demand where a lesser number of fibers are twitching and/or being recruited, independent of a person's genetic make up (i.e., fiber type, number and distribution through the body). That is why if you had ten people lift a 100 lb. barbell as many times possible you'd get varied results, but each would be governed by the aforementioned force demand/recruitment phenomenon. This is the essence of the Henneman's Principle of motor unit/muscle fiber recruitment. Henneman's Principle is the generally accepted recruitment process within the neuromuscular system. It is based on both science and common sense. Lower demand activities don't require a lot of force (relatively speaking), so the lower threshold (type I) fibers are called upon first. If more force is needed, 1) the working fibers (type I or even the higher threshold type II fibers, depending on how low the demand is) are stimulated more frequently then 2) more fibers are recruited to assist. Newly recruited fibers are then stimulated more frequently if more force is needed, then further recruitment of higher threshold fibers occurs to keep the activity going. This is the basis of the aforementioned scenario regardless of one's genetic make up (i.e., again, fiber type, number and distribution throughout the body).

Apply this to any situation you've encountered, athletic or not. For example, if I squat down to lift a two-pound rock, it requires very little fiber involvement. If I squat down to pick up a two hundred pound rock, I have to recruit a heck of a lot more fibers. I could rise and descend many times when repetitively lifting and lowering a two-pound rock before becoming fatigued, but the greater initial effort required to lift the two hundred pound rock would be more taxing when it is lifted repetitively. Consequently, I would have to halt the endeavor or take longer rest intervals between a series of lifts, long enough to replenish ATP-PC stores and remove accumulated lactic acid in order to continue. -Tom Kelso
Through personal research and in conversation with colleagues, the general principle of muscle fiber recruitment doesn't change per exercise. Those fibers that attach to lower electrical threshold motor units are activated first regardless of the activity. Granted, a second set of the same exercise may involve different fibers due to a change in repetition speed, angle of movement, etc. but that doesn't alter the general principle of muscle fiber recruitment. -Coach B

Some coaches believe that it is not possible to determine how muscle fibers are recruited during training.
It is true that increasing frequency of activation (twitching) and increasing the number of fibers being recruited lead to increased force production. However, the point that ".. it is not possible to determine how muscle fibers are recruited during training" contradicts the previous statement referring to increased force production by: 1) increasing frequency of activation (twitching) and 2) increasing the number of fibers being recruited. That IS how it is done: some combination of increasing firing rate and further recruitment of fibers. Specifically how it happens is not important, but what is important is we know it happens as the demand for force increases. This is simple common sense. -Tom Kelso

In an earlier article we wrote about muscle fiber recruitment we used an example of how one might go about tapping into their fast twitch muscle fibers. We labeled the various levels of motor unit groups into Type I (slow twitch), Type IIa (intermediate slow), Type IIb (intermediate fast), and Type II (fast twitch fibers). This example was a simplified breakdown of the various levels of motor units used. We have been criticized for limiting the body to these 4-types while there is a whole range of muscle types ranging from slow to fast twitch.
There are a number of classification systems, but for sake of simplicity, it is pragmatic to use the 4-class system as it represents a reasonable consensus on motor-unit (fiber) classification. The bottom line is that there are obviously different fiber types for different situations. How else could you explain the short-nature of lifting a heavy resistance for only a few number of repetitions, or the longer duration potential when lifting a lighter resistance? Likewise, muscle fiber characteristics do play a key role in running a marathon as opposed to sprinting 100 meters. I think we'd all agree to that. -Tom Kelso
I would agree that there is a continuum of muscle fiber types with Type 1 at one end and Type 2B at the opposite end. Along this continuum, there are intermediate fibers displaying characteristics that "bridge the gap" as the essay states. To simplify the obvious, approximately 10-180 slow twitch fibers attach per motor neuron. Approximately 300-800 fast twitch fibers attach per motor neuron. This explains why fast twitch can be defined as "strong" (capable of producing a large amount of force) and slow twitch are considered "weak". In regards to contraction speed, fast twitch fibers reach tetanus in approximately 10-50 milliseconds and slow twitch fibers can contract within 100-110 milliseconds. Therefore, the contractile difference is only 60-90 milliseconds. This fact becomes lost because of the term "slow" twitch fiber. "Slow" carries a negative connotation within the strength training field. -Coach B

Critiquing the same muscle fiber recruitment article some coaches argue that our example is misleading. We state that during the first 2 reps one trains the Type I fibers, the 3-4 reps train the Type IIa fibers, 5-6 train the Type IIab fibers and the 7-8 reps train the Type IIb fibers. That example can be misleading but the point we were making is that if a person were to reach the point on momentary muscular fatigue at the 8th rep they would be recruiting all of their muscle fibers, including the Type IIb. As the athlete was getting to rep 8 he would be depleting the slower twitch fibers and gradually acquiring the need for more motor units.
Tom Kelso gives another explanation: Maybe a better way to explain the schematic would be to say that on repetition number 1 "x' number of fibers are working. For sake of example, this could be 500 of one type, 200 of another and 125 of another. As each repetition is performed and fatigue begins to set in, the "x' fibers are stimulated more frequently (some of them being rendered useless due to fatigue) and more fibers ("y") are then recruited to assist. For example, one could then progressively recruit 150, 75 and 100 additional fibers of each of the previous types. As further repetitions are performed, the newly recruited "y" fibers are stimulated more frequently and the process continues (some combination of increasing frequency of stimulation and recruitment of more fibers) until it is impossible to due to fatigue. This is a hypothetical and simplistic overview of what happens, but a very good description of what is actually "going on" in muscle tissue/the neuromuscular system. Understand that there are numerous scenarios based on the force demand and time components of the situation. For example, a 2-RM resistance exercise would recruit a large number of fibers due to its nature, but would be a very short-duration endeavor due to the recruitment of the faster-to-fatigue, higher threshold type II fibers (B and C, for sake of example). When they are fatigued, the event is done as it is then impossible to continue on with the other "weaker" but un-fatigued fibers. A 20-RM resistance would actually work a greater "pool" of fibers due 1) a more prolonged frequency of stimulation and 2) the progressive recruitment of more and more fibers over a longer time period – that is, a greater percentage of overall fibers are recruited and a longer time they are under tension). This is why one feels more fatigued (lactic acid accumulation) following a higher repetition set as oppose to a lower repetition set (and one reason you can get "more bang for the buck" with sets of this nature). -Tom Kelso

Some coaches feel that Henneman's Size Principle does not apply to all situations, that there is a way to go around the slow twitch muscle fibers. They maintain that this can be done by using high speed movements that do not allow the slower type units to make their connections, or create tension.
Regarding "selective recruitment" (disregarding Henneman's Principle by suggesting lower threshold fibers are bypassed to go directly to higher threshold fibers), it depends on how you view this. Simply stated, if a huge demand is required (i.e., heavy resistance), then the dependence shifts to the higher threshold type II fibers (B and C, for sake of example). No question about this. However, it does not mean the lower threshold fibers are not recruited. They are. They would have to be, but their contribution is overshadowed by the higher threshold fibers. I state they "would have to be" because if the generally accepted Henneman's Principle is relevant, it would have to apply to ALL situations as it can't indiscriminately be applied. This would defy scientific law, similar to the law of gravity that applies everywhere and every time (on Earth). So, a high-demand activity does involve type I fibers, but the critical ones are the higher threshold type II fibers. This is analogous to going to war where a large-scale battle requires a large number of troops and progressively increased firepower. The first line of troops may be equipped with rifles, which gets part of the job done. As more power is needed, here come the tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. To totally fortify the attack – building upon the continued effort and needed contribution of the rifles, tanks and BFV's – F-18 bombers are brought in to significantly impact the effort, making the greatest contribution of the four. -Tom Kelso
Is the fiber recruitment pattern set in stone? I would agree that it isn't. However, is it orderly? Yes. Is it possible for a movement to bypass slow twitch fibers. Yes. It is possible for a movement to bypass all fibers. Most biomechanics textbooks that I have read suggests that muscles respond to tension. Therefore, if no tension is placed upon a muscle there is no need for the cross bridges to attach because the muscle isn't performing mechanical work. Place a subject on a force plate connected to an oscilloscope and have the subject perform the jerk or push press. A sixty-pound barbell would exert as much as a few hundred pounds of force and as little as zero. With zero force, no mechanical interaction is present, because the muscles are not under tension (i.e. no need to perform work).

In regards to skipping over the slow twitch and developing the fast twitch fibers, one potential problem is how fast is fast enough to bypass the slow twitch fibers? At the speed needed to bypass the slow twitch fibers, do the forces exceed the structural integrity of the joints and connective tissue. If so, then doesn't an injury occur? As a health care professional, I'm under the Hippocratic oath, which states first, do no harm. -Coach B

Some coaches overly credit the use of quick lifts as the reason for their athletes' success on the field. These coaches down play the role genetics plays in determining fiber type make-ups. A reader recently wrote to us comparing weight lifters (athletes training for traditional sports) with bodybuilders noting the higher level of fast twitch to slow twitch fibers present in the weight lifter as compared with the body builder.
World-class weightlifters are undoubtedly genetically gifted. The amount of resistance they are lifting cannot solely be attributed to their work ethic and training program. They are blessed with an abundance of Type II fibers, good nervous systems and advantageous body leverages. Otherwise, you could take anyone (read: a "slow-twitcher" with lousy leverages) and put him/her on the same program as a world-class lifter and they'd lift similar poundage. It won't happen as the "raw material" (the aforementioned genetic advantages) must first be present. It has been proven that intermediate fibers (for example type IIA) can be influenced to "take on the look" of either type IIB or type I fibers if exposed to training that stresses them. In other words, if one does a lot of aerobic/low-intensity work, the intermediate fibers will adapt to that form of stress. Likewise, if high intensity exercise is undertaken on a regular basis, they will adapt to that. Therefore, if lifting very heavy resistance on a regular basis (i.e., weightlifters, bodybuilders or football linemen), a muscle biopsy may naturally reveal more type II fiber characteristics in these individuals.

Bodybuilders, however, do lift significant resistance in order to hypertrophy muscle. Even as low as 60% of a 1-RM is significant in that it is 60% greater than zero resistance. And taking a 60% resistance to the point of muscle fatigue does indeed overload a lot of fibers, many Type II included. And to end the issue on bodybuilding (we'd have to get into drug usage, extreme dieting and other nauseating issues which is beyond the scope of this point) I'm sure they use resistance equivalent to 75%, 80% and 85%+ of a 1-RM in their training, something weightlifters also do. And I doubt there are many championship-caliber bodybuilders out there who are muscularly weak. They do not practice the clean and jerk and snatch as there is no need for that. And I'm sure if they did they would become stronger in those lifts, so you can't really make a fair comparison on strength levels between weightlifters and bodybuilders (the old adage, comparing "apples to oranges" applies here).

Interestingly, in Zatiorsky's book, The Science and Practice of Strength Training, (Zatiorsky is widely noted by much of the quick lifting world -S.A.) he notes that the distribution of weights lifted by the former U.S.S.R. weightlifting team in preparation for the Seoul Olympics in 1988 was as follow:
  • (percentage are of a 1-RM)

  • <60% = 8% of all lifts (mainly warm ups/restoration)

  • 60% to 70% = 24% of all lifts

  • 70% to 80% = 35% of all lifts

  • 80% to 90% = 26% of all lifts

  • 90% to 100% = 7% of all lifts
Almost 60% of all lifts were in the rage of 60% to 80%, which is equivalent to a range of approximately 8 to 15 (give or take a few) repetitions when traditional set/rep schemes are applied (independent of such factors as lifting speed, cadence, R.O.M., level of muscular fatigue attained, etc.) Also, 26% of all lifts were in the 80% to 90% range, equal to a range of approximately 4 to 8 repetitions (give or take a few). Interestingly, in a sport where the goal is to lift as much resistance possible, only 7% of all lifts where in the "heavy" (90% to 100%) range. Time obviously had to be spent lifting competition-specific resistance, which the 7% would account for. It can be surmised that the relatively "lighter" resistance (60% to 90% resistance – totaling 85% of all lifts) where used to increase muscular strength somehow, which simply proves that these supposed "moderate loads" can indeed work in a strength-enhancing capacity.

It should also be noted that being "explosive" does not mean one has to be "fast" when moving a resistance. When we are discussing fast and slow – both relative terms – fast would naturally be on the continuum where the speed at which actual sport skills are performed (i.e., swinging a baseball bat, long jump take-off, tennis serve, soccer kick, etc.) In the weight room, to move a resistance fast the resistance MUST be relatively light as it is impossible (laws of gravity/physics) to move a heavy resistance fast compared to no resistance at all (i.e., sport skill). Even 40% of a 1-RM – considered "light" by most strength program standards -- cannot be moved at a speed that is exactly similar to the speed of an un-resisted sport skill.

The point here is simply as long as one is trying to be explosive against a resistance when strength training (significant tension-producing resistance), it does not have to move at the speed exhibited during an actual sport skill. In fact, it is impossible to exactly replicate the exact speed of ANY skill, even when only a few pounds of resistance are used. So, lifting meaningful resistance (i.e., 60%+ of a 1-RM) will naturally move "slow" but involve a greater amount of muscle fibers (force/demand relationship). The heavier it is the slower it becomes but with greater fiber involvement, all other factors equal. So, improving muscle force potential in the weight room (read: getting stronger!) will then better one's ability to exert force in an athletic situation, all other factors equal. This is really simple to understand, but many have hard time grasping it for some reason (ego? financial gain? Ignorance?). -Tom Kelso

Ultimately, the disagreement over this issue comes down to this. Some coaches will maintain that by moving a lighter load quickly an athlete can develop more power that moving a heavy load slowly.
This is a great point, and is essentially the crux of the matter: Part I If I stood on a force platform with 200 lbs. on my back and drove out of a squat position, the speed exhibited and amount of force registered would depend on two factors: 1) my maximum strength and 2) my conscious effort to move it. If my 1-RM was 200 lbs., it naturally would NOT move fast, but the force exerted would be high. If my 1-RM was 400 lbs., I could move the 200 lbs. consciously faster and thus with high force. If my 1-RM was 300 lbs. the 200 lbs. would not move as fast as compared to having a 400 lb. 1-RM, but it would still move faster than the first scenario (lifting a 200 lb. 1-RM).

If one becomes STRONGER, he/she can exert faster force with sub-maximal resistance. For example, if a person had a 1-RM of 300 lbs., he/she could consciously lift 200 lbs. faster than lifting the 300 lb. 1-RM. They could also consciously NOT lift 200 lbs. faster if they simply slowed it down. If the 1-RM was increased to 335 lbs., then they could consciously lift 200 lbs. even faster than when at a 300 lb. 1-RM because more muscle fibers can be recruited and/or their inherent capacities enhanced for greater force exertion.

In these examples, the exact amount of force registered on the force platform is unknown. Could the amount registered be higher when lifting 200 lbs. as fast as possible as compared to lifting 300 lbs. consciously slowly? Possibly. It all comes down to those two important factors: 1) strength and 2) conscious effort.

We all have the ability to regulate/control force within the confines of our neuromuscular systems: intra-muscular coordination (individual muscle firing rate/type of fibers recruited) and inter-muscular coordination (coordination of different muscle groups ). It is up to the individual how he/she wants to express force: 1) a quick burst/firing of fibers as in a vertical jump, 2) a sustained, maximal bearing-down fiber recruitment as in attempting to lift a 1-RM or 3) a sustained, but longer sub-maximal fiber recruitment as in a 15-RM set of an exercise.

In examples 2 and 3, "x' number of fibers are recruited to initiate the endeavor (1-RM = a maximal number and 15-RM = a sub-maximal number). Then, to keep it going:

  • 1. The initially recruited fibers increase their firing frequency (during a 1-RM it occurs immediately due to the extreme effort needed; during a 15-RM it occurs gradually over time).

  • 2. More (higher threshold) fibers are recruited to assist (during a 1-RM it occurs immediately due to the extreme effort needed; during a 15-RM it occurs gradually as the repetitions become more difficult due to the onset of fatigue).
Remember, depending on our individual genetics, we can express force in three primary ways as in the previous examples: 1) the quick burst (power) force application, 2) the maximal bearing-down (strength) application and 3) the sub-maximal extended (muscular endurance) force application. ALL OF THESE CONSCIOUS AND SELF-REGULATED EXPRESSIONS OF FORCE ARE GOVERNED BY ONE'S STRENGTH LEVEL AND INHERENT NERVOUS SYSTEM THEY ARE BORN WITH (AGAIN, FIBER TYPES, NUMBER AND DISTRIBUTION THROUGHOUT THE BODY). -Tom Kelso

Some coaches maintain that both moving a lighter load quickly and moving a heavy load slowly will both develop fast twitch muscle fibers.
The crux of the matter: PART 2. Yes, moving both consciously fast and slow with significant resistance – all other factors equal -- both work fast twitch (type II) muscle fibers, BUT THE FASTER MOVEMENTS UNDOUBTEDLY INCREASE THE RISK OF INJURY! (moving too fast can also create too much momentum and lessen muscular tension making it an inefficient means of overloading). I fully understand that many have trained for years doing high-momentum, ballistic lifting and have not incurred an injury. Similarly, one could drive his/her automobile for years without using a seat belt, but in that one moment when an accident does occur, it could be nasty. It's simply a matter of common sense and not worth the risk imparting excessive momentum in the weight room.

But a more significant point is this: if moving both slow and fast work fast twitch (type II) fibers, THERE OBVIOUSLY IS NO SUPERIOR ADVANTAGE IN MOVING FASTER (INJURY) AS COMPARED TO MOVING SLOWER. Likewise, there is no superior advantage in moving slower as compared to faster, other than less chance of injury (a no-brainer!) Rational conclusion: make it safer by slowing it down. You CANNOT argue that point when you are dealing with the health and well being of athletes. It would be quite awkward explaining to Mr. and Mrs. Smith that their son, athlete Johnny, fractured his wrist while performing an exercise and/or using a speed of movement that could have been avoided. -Tom Kelso
The term explosive is deceiving as you know. You can train explosively without a great deal of speed being produced on the bar. We have a student-athlete that participates in the sport of football. This student-athlete is non-traditional and was an alternate on the US Olympic weightlifting team for a few years. According to the preceding paragraph, this young man's percentage of fast twitch fiber to slow twitch fiber should be off the chart. It probably is. The bottom line is this athlete doesn't play in the fall due to limited football skills. All the fast twitch fiber in the world doesn't ensure success in specific sport skills. -Coach B

Many coaches are frustrated with our down play of using movements such as the power clean.
Regarding the power clean, I've heard many reasons why to do it:
  • 1) "It's a football lift" (so I assume basketball players have a "basketball lift"?).

  • 2) It develops power.

  • 3) It develops "explosion."

  • 4) It replicates jumping, which then would purportedly augment rebounding in basketball, spiking a volleyball, high jumping or blah, blah, blah).

  • 5) It develops overall coordination.

  • 6) It enhances "Hip Roll" (to purportedly augment football tackling).

  • 7) "It's a total body lift."

  • 8) It makes one mentally tough.
The power clean (or hang clean, snatch, push press, etc.) is unique as compared to other exercises because both the lower body and upper body musculature is involved. But that is simply the nature of the lift, and many have stretched the facts behind it elevating it to magical proportions. If you want to do it, fine, but you don't have to for a number of reasons (beyond the scope of this discussion, but mainly safety, time spent teaching, it's ineffectiveness on lower body musculature overload and that it's not "sport-specific"…if you want more, I suggest reading Dr. Ken Leistner's The Steel Tip discussions on it or Jim Kielbaso's chapter in Matt Brzycki's text, Maximize Your Training, or even Matt's other writings as there is a lot of truthful information on it "out there").

In reality it is simply a test of strength and skill. One can power clean (or snatch) more resistance than another if 1) they are stronger and/or 2) they are skilled at doing it. Likewise, an individual can power clean more resistance over time if he/she 1) becomes stronger in the muscles involved with the lift and/or 2) improves their skill at doing it. World-class weightlifters back squat, front squat and perform overhead presses in order to get STRONGER. They also practice the skills of their sport (clean and jerk, snatch) to perfect them. Yes, one could improve his/her muscular strength by doing power cleans or snatches if progressive resistance is used (in as much as the muscles performing the work are overloaded).

Regarding muscular failure, I've seen it during a power clean. Usually, it's in an upper body muscle group such as the traps, deltoids or arm flexors – the limiting muscle groups that prevent heavy loads from being used (as compared to heavier dead lift resistance). Ironically, this is one reason why the power clean would be a better upper body exercise than a purported lower body exercise and a squat clean a better option (although not recommended) because heavier resistance can be used in squat cleaning.

Regarding the "strength quality of rate of force development," (RFD) the "strength quality" WOULD be related to the force aspect of rate of RFD, so increasing strength would be a desired option. Also, reaching "failure"(muscular fatigue) is an objective way to 1) increase strength [muscular fatigue = a maximum number of fibers recruited and overloaded] and 2) measure progress from workout to workout.

RFD is primarily a nervous system/conscious effort issue. That is, RFD is increased when a person consciously attempts to fire the greatest amount of fibers possible in a given instance. If subject A has been blessed with a high neurological ability and a majority of type II fibers, they can produce high force and do it quickly. If subject B has a low neurological ability and a low percentage of type II fibers, their speed of execution and amount of force will be less than subject A, all other factors equal. Of course, enhancing the STRENGTH of all muscle fibers will improve either subject, but subject B will always be at a disadvantage as compared to subject A, all other factors equal. This simply shows the significance of the genetic factor, why some have it and some don't regardless of how hard they try or train.

Again, because we all (healthy people) have the ability to consciously regulate force development – quick burst, maximal bearing-down force, low force/extended, slow, etc. – the highest RFD is obtained by the conscious effort to fire a large number of fibers instantaneously. If these fibers have been enhanced via progressive strength training, even greater force can be expressed because of this enhancement and the fact that more can be recruited. Therefore, RFD is enhanced in the weight room not by moving fast, but by using heavier resistance (strength training!) as they demand greater fiber recruitment (i.e., types IIA, IIB and IIC).

Heavier resistance do not and cannot move fast, but the conscious effort to try to move them fast is the key. If moving fast in the weight room was important for improving RFD, then the lightest possible resistance would be used as it would offer the fastest speed. However, a light resistance requires less overall muscle fiber involvement, rendering them ineffective. Outside the weight room in practice is where one can augment RFD by performing sport skills as fast as will be needed in competition. They can train the nervous system to activate specific muscles, do so in the proper sequence(s)/joint angle(s) and recruit individual motor units/muscle fibers to express the force requirements needed to complete the task(s) (i.e., maximal, sub-maximal or quick burst actions). -Tom Kelso

Some coaches disagree with our use of the term "Intensity". We use the term intensity to mean the increasing difficulty to move a resistance through a working set. For example while the first few reps of a set are performed with somewhat ease the intensity is low. However, as the set continues and the resistance becomes more difficult to move the intensity increases. Finally when the set reaches the point just before momentary muscular fatigue, the intensity it at its highest. Some quick lifting coaches follow the Russian definition of intensity which is measured by a percentage of an athlete's 1-RM.
Strength training properly done takes great effort. It would be very difficult to find anyone who became larger and stronger without working hard at some point along the way (unless they were genetically gifted and/or utilized an effective drug program, yet even then they would have to exude some level of "above average" effort to create an overload on their muscles). It makes perfect sense then to define intensity as it relates to strength training in terms of level of effort/exertion (as intensity is defined in any dictionary). The Russian definition if intensity is applicable to a point, but doesn't take into account the trainees' level of effort exerted, which makes it somewhat of a misnomer and thus confusing (also, any mention of the former Soviet methods should include their performance enhancing drug program that undoubtedly was a factor in their overall success in international competition). They suggest that the heavier the resistance, the more intense it is. Therefore, lifting 90% of a 1-RM is more intense than lifting 70%. This is true if only a few repetitions were performed. Three to four repetitions with 90% would result in, or come very close to, muscular fatigue. The same number of repetitions with 70% of 1-RM would not, thus it would not be intense relative to those who ascribe to intensity being related to level of effort/exertion exuded. On the other hand, it's ridiculous to label 70% of a 1-RM as "low intensity" (by Russian standards) if it is lifted to the point of muscular fatigue. Because muscular fatigue is an objective of most safe and efficient programs, the level of effort required to take 70% of a 1-RM to the point of fatigue would be very high, thus making it intense. In fact, 70% worked to muscular fatigue involves a greater "corridor" (as Zatsiorsky calls it) of motor units/muscle fibers as compared to 90% worked to muscular fatigue. -Tom Kelso

Some coaches feel that by not preparing an athlete for the demands of sports, such as using momentum to ones advantage and absorbing momentum we are doing our athletes a disservice.
Now we are getting into a totally different topic: sport-skill training. To better prepare athletes for the demands of competition the practice of competition-specific skills/situations must occur. Through repetitive practice of sports/sport skills, it does prepare athletes to play with the forces of momentum. If I am an offensive tackle, to better myself I'm surely going to practice coming out of my stance, foot work and pass blocking against a live opponent. Same for a wrestler or tennis player: practice wrestling maneuvers and hit/return tennis balls against a live opponent, replicating competition-specific situations. In the above examples, they will use and absorb momentum through the nature of the sport, which could lead to an injury even when practicing. As a result, having stronger muscles throughout the body will minimize this risk in both practice and competition as stronger muscles can contract to better support/stabilize joints and absorb forces during skill performance and when the body is placed in compromised positions (i.e., landing or falling awkwardly). Lifting weights fast to develop supposed similar momentum encountered in competition is borderline ludicrous as it 1) does not replicate exact sport skills in the first place, 2) could lead to an immediate injury due to increased strain/force placed on muscles and joints and 3) increases the number of "exposures" to high-momentum situations which over time could lead to an over-use, wear-and-tear injury. -Tom Kelso

Some readers we hear from down play the role of training to fatigue use the example of distance runners, who train for long periods of time but obviously do not make use of their fast twitch fibers.
This is a questionable and somewhat irrelevant point. Distance runners do fatigue fibers, but primarily the Type I fibers as the intensity of distance running is far from the intensity of work that recruits the higher threshold fibers (i.e., sprinting, weightlifting). And fatigue DOES play a role in muscle fiber recruitment (Henneman's Principle, fatigue/continued force output options = firing rate, then recruitment of new fibers as FATIGUE sets in). Low intensity training (marathoners) = call upon predominately type I fibers; High intensity training (sprinters) = call upon predominately type II fibers. -Tom Kelso
First we must define intensity and duration of exercise. You may work out at a high intensity or a long duration but not both. For example, is a 100 meter dash an all out activity or do you run a 100 meter dash at 90% capacity? If the former, how long could you maintain the pace? 300 meters? 400 meters? I don't know that distance running is a good example of what I would consider a high intensity activity. -Coach B

Some coaches question our use of training to failure as athletes, specifically, football players use short bursts of energy. Train in the weight room in the manner in which you play is their argument.
How much is enough to prepare an athlete for competition? Ken Mannie has a great quotation regarding this line of reasoning. "Using potentially dangerous movements in the weight room to prepare for potentially dangerous activities is like banging your head against the wall to prepare for a concussion." -Coach B
We are talking about two different things here: 1) strength training and 2) sport-related conditioning. In the weight room (strength training), "…stopping an exercise short of fatigue…" will undoubtedly mean some fibers were not recruited and overloaded. The closer to muscular fatigue one gets, the more productive the exercise is. If one stops an exercise at 10 repetitions when 15 could have been performed, those fibers that would allow for the performance of the additional 5 repetitions were not worked as hard as they could have been. If 14 repetitions were performed, it would be a better situation as those extra 4 repetitions worked more fibers, thus more were overloaded. (duh!) Regarding the fact that football calls for short bursts of energy followed by periods of rest: a sound conditioning program would take this into consideration and prescribe appropriate interval conditioning. For example, 15 to 25 x 30 to 40 yard sprints with a 1:4+ work-to-rest ratio (:05 to :06 sprints followed by :20 to :25 (or :35) recovery time. Another example would be performing short (:04 to :10) agility/change of direction drills at full speed with a minimal recovery time between each bout (i.e., :30). Either example would address the anaerobic nature of the game and lead to better conditioning provided it was done progressively (i.e., manipulation of intensity, frequency, duration, and bout recovery time variables).

Bottom line: the weight room is for getting stronger to 1) improve the force needed for conscious expressions of strength, power and muscular endurance and 2) minimize the risk of injury. Running/conditioning workouts predominantly prepare the athlete for the energy demands of their sport to prolong their ability to execute skills properly (i.e., delay the onset of fatigue that diminishes functional ability). -Tom Kelso
Do you need to train to failure for a training adaptation to occur? Research has not been able to prove the minimum level of intensity to stimulate muscular growth. Is it 85%? If so, how do you determine 85% intensity? Do not confuse intensity with a percentage of a 1 RM. On the intensity continuum, only two levels of effort can be accurately identified. Zero percent or total inactivity and 100%, characterized by the inability to perform another repetition, an all out effort. -Coach B

Some coaches refuse to see the logic in finding the most efficient manner in which to train athletes. By efficient we mean best return in terms of the time spent in the weight room.
Here is just one example of why we believe in efficiency: Here is the reality of strength training. We currently have 13 men's basketball players training in off-season workouts. Twice a week for one hour. Four of the 13 are from Puerto Rico and lack basic English speaking skills. We have enough problems communicating coaching points of basic compound and isolation movements without over complicating the issue. In fact, our staff would be better served to enroll in some Espanol classes as opposed to attending a strength seminar. These realities are not understood or swept under the rug during academic discussions regarding strength training. Another reality, you set up a time to train a student-athlete (i.e. 2:00). The student-athlete shows 20 minutes late because of a meeting with an advisor. You have 40 minutes to train this athlete because a team lift is schedule at 3:00. Do you spend time teaching the skill of certain exercises or do you prescribe a protocol that you know will provide musculature overload with minimal coaching points? For me, a no brainer, option two. -Coach B

30 March, 2003

Teach Athletes the Right Way

"You can't make a great play unless you do it first in practice." –Chuck Noll
We at StrongerAthletes.com observe athletes in-season and off-season quite frequently. Many of these athletes really do not understand how to properly get in shape for their sport. For example, any coach that sees a football player running lap after lap on the track should be stopped and taught the correct way to train, assuming the football coach has not not instructed the athlete to run those laps. The athlete would be much better off doing sprints of varying distances with varying recovery periods between sprints. These athletes are very appreciative of coaches that take the time to help them.

Another example. We heard a baseball coach proudly claim that he made his athletes run 5 miles yesterday. Why? Wouldn't they be much better off running sprints at the distance that are required in their sport? Also they can do shuttle type of agility drills for movements that they will do in baseball.

Now, we do feel there is a general need for fitness and continuous aerobic exercise is one way to achieve that.  Some coaches use distance running to develop an athlete's mental stamina as much as his sport-specific ability. However, it is important that the coach have a plan and understand why he prescribes certain workouts for his athletes.

Many athletes have the greatest intentions but are often led in an unproductive way on their own or by suggestions of others. If your sport requires quickness and speed then train to get quicker and faster. Doing a low intensity exercise such a jogging around the track will do NOTHING for your speed. It will recruit Type I (slow twitch) muscle fiber and never recruit the Type II muscle fibers that they need to use.

Coaches, do athletes a favor and set them straight in their training so they can achieve the goals that they set for themselves in their sport. They will become better athletes and will appreciate your suggestions in the long run.

24 March, 2003

Dear Stronger Athletes: Squats

"The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council." -Homer
Dear Coach,

Thanks for your article on the squat. [March 8, 2003] I concur with you. The potential danger with this exercise is two-fold, I believe. First, compressive forces are placed upon the spinal column due to the nature of the bar on the shoulder. Our disks are like shock absorbers and compress with force. 
Over time, excessive compression could lead to bulging disks. Second, again due to the nature of the bar placement, as the load increases the trunk must work harder to prevent flexion or forward lean during descent. This also places stress on the vertebrae. However, it is the combination of both compression and flexion during descent that creates the most problems for the lower spine L-4, 5, 6 and S-1.

I'd like to share a brief story. Several years ago, I was discussing strength training with a friend of mine who is an assistant football coach for a large, suburban Chicago high school. During our discussion, we began to talk about leg / hip development and I made some suggestions for exercise selection regarding his strength program. 
He stated that in order for his players to be competitive they had to perform the squat and the power clean. I related the potential dangers with these exercises to him, but he insisted that his team would be at a disadvantage if they did not perform them. He went on to say that all the teams in his conference performed these movements for "power and explosion." I then asked him if he was able to perform these movements (we are both 37). What he then stated to me is the epitome of the strength psyche, "No, I can't power clean or squat anymore because my back pain is so bad." I then asked how his back became injured. He replied, "Well, I know it was from all of the heavy squatting and power cleans I performed in high school and college." I answered, "Why would you want to set anyone else up for back pain later in life or maybe even in the present." He stated, "My high school coach said we could not be the best without these exercises. I want my kids to be the best, too." 
Sometimes, we have to reconsider what it means to be the best or what it takes to get there, especially when we have to sacrifice our health or the health of others to do so. God bless, keep up the good work.

John Mikula, CTRS
Certified Recreational Therapist

Mr. Mikula,

Thank you for the comments and the story. We too hear similar stories. Many coaches are ignorant to the safety and science of exercise. We know of a coach whom told a story about when he coached in college they were testing the athletes on the 1 rep-max. The athlete injured himself while lifting. This coach's reasoning for never using the 1RM anymore was that he did not have a back up for this injured player! Ignoring the unfortunate fact that the athlete got injured and ignoring the fact that he was training the athlete in an unsafe manner. It seems his lack of having a backup was of primary importance to him.

Thanks again for your comments. Please feel free to sound-off on any other safety concerns.

Jeff Roudebush

16 March, 2003

CCU Joins Our List

Happy St. Patrick's Day

CCU Joins Our List of Teams Using Safe Training Methods

Hi Coach,

Would it be possible for you to add us to your college/university list of schools. We too subscribe to this type of training and have been associated with many coaches of the teams (pro and college) that you have listed on your site.

Al Jean
Head Coach, Strength and Conditioning
Coastal Carolina University

Al, You've been added. S.A.

08 March, 2003

Another Safe Training College / Squat Update

"Associate with people of good qualities: it is better to be alone than in bad company." –Proverb
Dear Coach,

I just happened to come across your web site and wanted to let you know that Fairfield University up in Connecticut has been training safe and effective for two years now. I am the Director of the Strength and
Conditioning Program and have had the opportunity to work with some of the best in the field: John Philbin, Dan Riley, Mark Asanovich and Jeff Watson. All of these individuals have helped me become the Strength and Conditioning Coach that I am and I have continued to use what they have taught me. Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that there are more of us out there.

Professionally Yours,

Mark Spellman
Director of Strength and Conditioning
Fairfield University

Mr. Spellman,

Thank you for the information. We'll add Fairfield to our Teams Page. We are finding more and more Teams all the time that have the same philosophy. We have had great support from Ken Mannie, Matt Brzycki, Tom Kelso, Jim Bryan, Fred Cantor, Mike Lawrence and many others like you mentioned. If you have any other information or any success stories etc... we would love to hear about them and post them for our viewers.


StrongerAthletes.com Exercise Update - Pre-Exhaustion

As we further our research in strength training and the training of athletes we would like to add additional thoughts to our first printing. The training program in our manual is designed for the weight room that may not be able to afford modern training machines. For this reason, we include strictly free weight exercises except for the leg press and pull down.

In this regard we strongly suggest that the coach take a concerned look at the squat. We would like to emphasize that there is nothing magical about placing a bar across one’s back to develop lower body strength. Please understand that there is some risk in placing a heavy load on the athlete’s vertebra. If one has access to modern leg press equipment this would be a super alternative to the squad.

However, if a coach needed or wanted to use the squat movement with his athletes there are some steps one can take to help reduce the risk. First, we suggest that the athlete pre-exhaust the legs with leg extensions, leg curls, and perform the leg press first. This will lessen the weight the athlete can use in the squat and still make the movement productive and intense. We also suggest a slower cadence 4 or 5 seconds for the eccentric and 4 or 5 seconds concentric part of the lift. This will allow the athlete to use less weight, which will alleviate some of the strain that might be put on the vertebral column.

We simply want for coaches to know why they do what they do in the weight room. “To squat or not to squat,” that is the question. If coaches can create as safe an environment as possible, that is the answer. Let us know what you think.

02 March, 2003

More Teams Training Smart

"An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." –II Timothy 2:5
Some followers of our website have recently become concerned that we are being misleading with the purpose of our Teams Page. We feel that it is important for readers to understand that we are not affiliated in any way with the teams listed, except for the two we directly coach. If a school or team is listed it simply means that they currently, or at one time, have trained with methods similar to our own, NOT our own. These teams have had coaches who believe in safety, efficiency, and strength productivity while producing better athletes.

We include some new teams to add to the list:

  • "Could you add Minnetonka High School to the list of non-Olympic high schools... thanks." Luke Carlson, Strength & Conditioning/Fitness Coordinator, Minnetonka High School, Minnetonka, MN
    Coach Carlson and his brother Ryan are hosting the 2003 Strength & Science Seminar in Minneapolis, MN. He writes, "The clinic will be held Saturday, April 12th at Minnetonka H.S. in the brand new 5,400 square foot Pagel Center. If you can imagine, it's much nicer then the Blaine H.S. weight room. Speakers will include Tom Kelso (Illinois-Chicago), Tim Wakeham (Mich. St.), Dr. Ted Lambridines, Matt Brzycki (Princeton), and Jim Flanagan. The seminar will include practical breakout sessions lead by me and Scott Savor (Detroit-Mercy). " Please contact Coach Carlson for more information.

  • Scott DiNardo gave us this scoop, "Hey, I talked with my guy from Siena College, Justin Livezey, and he said that all the teams use [safe, efficient and productive training]. So you can add another to the list.Coach DiNardo is currently seeking an opportunity to work in the collegiate strength and conditioning field. If any of our readers have any information in this regard please contact Coach DiNardo.
  • Coach Kelso, of University of Illinois at Chicago, informed us of Coach Ray "Rock" Oliver, who works with the University of Memphis basketball team and Coach Mike Bradley who also works with the basketball team at Florida State.Coach Kelso will be speaking at the Minnesota clinic along with other distinguished speakers. Don't miss the opportunity to learn from these coaches.
  • Two more local Kansas City high school track and field programs also train with safe, efficient and productive methods: Lincoln College Prep and St. Theresa Academy.
If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

16 February, 2003

Slow Rep Speed StrengthTraining

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." –Vince Lombardi

Slowing down the Rep Speed

A January 30, 2003 article published in the Omaha World-Herald, Slow Burn Catches Fire, by Corey Ross discusses some of the issues surrounding this training practice. Ross visits with those who wish to promote this type of training as well as those who are staunchly opposed.

  • "Lifting so slowly, advocates say, stimulates the muscles more than traditional training and reduces injuries by eliminating momentum and encouraging good form." –Corey Ross

  • "A claim that SuperSlow isn’t for athletes, Colleen Allem, a trainer from Colorado, says that couldn’t be further from the truth. SuperSlow not only produces adequate intensity, she said but it also spares athletes from injury. She also noted that the Australian bicycling team uses SuperSlow." –Ross

  • "Most athletes overtrain. They don’t allow enough recover time." –Allem

  • "According to the Boston Globe, a YMCA study found that SuperSlow produced a 50 percent greater strength gain than conventional lifting. But only two people reportedly continued the workouts after the study. The others found it too taxing." –Ross

  • "It’s intense. It’s challenging. It takes as much mental strength as physical strength." Allem
We maintain that in order to recruit the most efficient number of muscle fibers, especially the fast twitch fibers, one should train in a deliberately slow manner. First and foremost this creates the safest environment both for the lifter and those around him, but additionally allows the muscle to become fully exhausted in a brief training session.

While Ross spends most of his article discussing the Ken Hutchins’ SuperSlow technique, one can apply these same principles with a more conservative cadence. In SuperSlow, coaches want their athletes to use a 20-second cadence: 10 lowering and 10 lifting. We like for our athletes to work a 4 down, 2 up but we do not split hairs over this issue assuming they are not using momentum or training too fast.

As expressed by Allem, training to failure is NOT EASY! The coach will be required to push the athlete to the limits. Penn State Coach John Thomas makes no secret about the fact he trains the mental strength of his athletes just as much at their physical strength.

In conclusion, The "old-wives-tale" that is perpetuated by football coaches that one must train fast to be fast is simply untrue. Again we maintain that the weight room is where we develop the strength and power of the athlete and the field is where we express the power of the athlete.

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

06 February, 2003

NFL Team / Program Fundamentals

"Look for players with character and ability. But remember, character comes first." –Joe Gibbs

Another NFL Team to Train Safe, Productive, and Efficiently

Mark Asanovich was named Head Strength coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this week. Coach Asanovich brings a philosophy committed to weight room safety and productivity to Jacksonville. He recently has served under Brian Billick in Baltimore and Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay. Congratulations Coach.

Training Program Fundamentals

StrongerAthletes.com advocates a fairly low number of sets in one training session. There are many very good programs that require the athlete to perform anywhere from 12-22 sets for one workout. We have had great success with our approach and know that others have had very good success with the high volume, or multiple-set, training.

The entire workout can last anywhere from 20-60 minutes depending on the athlete’s level of experience. We believe that the more advanced the athlete is in training, the lower the amount of exercise that is necessary to continue making progress. However, doing less exercise means that every set performed must be taken to muscular failure using the highest amount of intensity possible. There is no magic substitute for work.

Coaches must be careful in developing their program. For example, a problem may arise if one performs several chest exercises followed by the shoulders and triceps. The shoulders and triceps can be easily overtrained if not careful. Some of the smaller muscle groups do get trained sufficiently indirectly through other exercises. Depending on the selection of exercises, we do have our athletes perform 1 set for these smaller muscle groups and at times we will not.

Now, we do advocate some direct neck training because we have found that many exercises do not train the neck like we would like. Again, the exercises that you choose will determine if you must do direct work in all areas. We understand that many philosophies do emphasize direct work in all muscles. There are many factors that should determine this though. Intensity, exercises, technique, etc...

The least amount of exercise possible should be the goal of the trainer if they are wanting the most efficient program possible. Remember, the training in a lower volume session must be extremely intense. The more intense the athlete is the less he/she needs to do for progression to continue. Our program ranges anywhere from 6-12 exercises depending on the athlete.

Every athlete should eventually be on a program that is individualized to their level. It is not necessary nor productive to have all of your athletes performing the exact same program. While we understand that many programs do this with success it is important to keep in mind that every athlete recovers at their own rate. Adjustments, although minor, at times can easily be made by having an athlete skip an exercise for a few workouts if he needs more recovery time.

There are obviously many excellent programs out there and it is important that you sell your philosophy to your athletes. The bottom line is that your program should be safe, productive, and efficient. If one of these aspects is missing, then you should reevaluate what you are accomplishing in the weight room. Most importantly, all strength coaches, regardless of philosophy should understand why they are doing what they are doing. For the sake of your athletes don’t simply be a sheep following the herd… (or flock, gaggle… whatever you call a bunch a sheep.)

Let us know if we can assist your program in anyway and please send us your ideas as well as we would like to learn from your program and what your teams are doing. Nobody has the perfect program and we all can learn off of each other.

02 February, 2003

Becoming Mainstreamed: Coaching Videos & Books

"If the enemy opens the door you must race in." –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Often times when we meet other coaches and begin discussing strength training, we find that most, if not all, have never heard of training philosophies similar to the one we promote at StrongerAthletes.com. These coaches either respond in one of two ways. Some develop a keen interest as we tell them that our so-called, "non-traditional," methods have been around for decades and that the likes of high schools through NFL teams use these methods. Others will disregard us as if we were the newest cult since Hale-Bop.

We do not blame these close-minded coaches for their perception. They have been brought up with a background that training must be done a certain way. Chances are these coaches train their athletes the way they were trained by their coaches. These guys, assuming they are football coaches, probably run the same offensive and defensive systems they ran as players for that is what they are comfortable with.

Many coaches turn to popular literature and coaching videos to help educate them on the current trends. A popular catalog that is distributed to coaches all over the country is published by Championship Productions. (Let us say this is not an ad for their company just an example of popular coaching products.)

The Championship Productions catalog offers a variety of books and videos on topics from "Wing-T Schemes" to "Defensive Line Play". Contributing authors of these books and videos include coaches from the nation’s top programs including Kansas State, Iowa, Iowa State, Miami, Georgia, Texas, Washington State, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Marshall, Nebraska, and Florida State. Many coaches, who receive this catalog use these resources to grow and learn from the best.

On the Strength & Fitness page of the January 2003 catalog, 11 books and videos are listed. Assuming that most coaches are unfamiliar with our training philosophy one would think that resources about that philosophy would be limited. However, I was pleased to discover that 4 of the 11 products were aimed at safe, productive and efficient training methods. Another 4 were aimed at training that would promote what we feel are unsafe movements, but would fall into the mainstream. The remaining 3 of the 11 items are most likely of little use to the traditional sport coach doubling as the strength coach such as, "Strength Ball Training" and "Buddy Lee’s Instructional Jump Rope Video & Magic Speed Rope Cross Trainer".

Our point being that 1/2 of the products aimed at strength training for football, or other traditional interscholastic sports, promote safe, productive, and efficient methods. It is our hope that more and more coaches will become aware of these and increase their working knowledge of strength training.

Listed below are the items a coach seeking sound strength training instruction might want to purchase. Again, this is not an advertisement for Championship Productions, but it should be known that the following images and descriptions come from their website.

_High Intensity Strength Training for Football with Ken Mannie, Head Strength Coach and Tim Wakeham, Asst. Strength Coach, Michigan State University

Mannie had developed a weight training program designed to enhance players’ performance potential, specifically their strength and explosiveness, along with decreasing chance and severity of injury and enhancing body composition. The top exercises for each body part are demonstrated while Wakham provides key teaching points for success. Sample training programs are also included. 2000. ISBN 1-56404-463-7.

FV-1285-FB08(High Intensity Strength Training) 37 minutes…..$39.95
_Manual Resistance Training with Tim Wakeham, Michigan State Strength and Conditioning Coach and Jim Kielbaso, University of Detroit Director of Strength and Conditioning

Wakeham and Kielbaso introduce an intense training methodology used by many of the top strength coaches, personal trainers and rehab specialists in the country. Manual Resistance Training is body on body, heavy-duty resistance training. A perfect mode of training when expensive equipment and/or time isn’t available! The video covers a comprehensive list of over 30 manual resistance exercises for all major muscle groups and sports needs. Each exercise is described using sport-specific training cues and demonstrations. 2000. ISBN 1-56404-491-2.

GV-1307-FB08(Manual Resistance) 32 minutes…..$29.95
_Fundamental Strength Training for All Sports with Chip Harrison, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Penn State University

Harrison introduces the concept of training to momentary fatigue and of the benefits of such an approach. Athletes are taken through a complete off-season workout from start to finish. Harrison provides an in-depth view of the implementation process for strength training, from proper training technique to guidelines for spotting, exercise selection, and training intensity. He also shows how to devise a year round strength training program, underscoring all the components of a safe, well-designed program. 2000. ISBN 1-56404-431-9.

GV-1208-FB08(Fundamental Strength Training for All Sports) 36 minutes…..$39.95
_A Practical Approach to Strength Training (3rd Edition) by Matt Brzycki, Princeton University

Matt Brzycki examines all aspects of strength training, including: specificity, high intensity training, explosive training and plyometrics and offers advice on organizing individual and group strength training programs. Featuring Nautilus, Universal Gym, free weight and manual resistance exercises, this revised edition also includes chapters designed for those who teach strength training at the high school and college levels. 1995. ISBN 1-57028-018-5.

GB-45-FB08(Strength Training) 249 pages…..$17.95

We feel that all coaches who work with kids in the weight room should continue to grow and learn about their profession. If you are new to safe, productive, and efficient training ideas or you are already a believer we suggest you make these products a part of your curriculum.

You can contact Championship Productions online at www.ChampOnline.com or by phone 1(800) 873-2730.

If you know of any other products of this nature that would be useful to the strength coach please let us know and we’ll post ‘em up!

30 January, 2003

Testing Athletes / Dear StrongerAthletes: Neck Work

"I've never let formal education interfere with my learning." -Jim Bryan

Testing Athletes

Now that many schools and teams are well into their strength programs coaches are turning to various means of measuring progress. Many will have their athletes perform a one-rep max (1RM) all too often to check their strength. We feel that this may not be the wisest choice for measuring progress, primarily for safety reasons.

If you are training your athletes for traditional athletic competition and not power meets you could be putting your athletes at risk for no reason.

However, progression is important and should be consistently checked. We monitor to see that our athletes are either lifting more weight (in an appropriate rep range) than the workout before, or they are lifting the same weight for more reps. This should be sufficient.

We have observed another problem with checking the 1RM's. The athletes tend to focus on that particular performance too much and thus lower the focus away from the rest of the workout, or send the message that the rest of the workout is not important.

Not to open another can of worms, but… we also feel that many coaches put too much emphasis into testing vertical jump, long jump, 40 yard dash, etc... We believe the focus should be on strength training exclusively in the off-season. The real test is how well they perform at their specific sport, not vertical jumping, long jumping, or sprinting 40 yards in a straight line.

Dear StrongerAthletes: Neck Work

Coach Rody,

Is it safe for middle school athletes to do neck work on a four way neck machine. If so, how many sets and reps for these exercises. Thanks for your web site. I have learned a lot from it.

Steve Noland

Coach Noland,

We think the neck machine is safe for the middle school athlete. Overall training however should focus on developing the skills of strength training at that age. If some kids can develop efficient neuromuscular pathways in the eighth grade they are in good shape.

We recommend sets of 8-12 for the neck machine movement. We like to work the neck through manual resistance early in our workout.

Hope that helps.

Another School On TEAMS Page

Coach Rody,

Please add Fowlerville H.S., Fowlerville, MI to your list of high schools who employ a non-olympic, non-plyo, safe, and sensible strength training and conditioning program. We have run this "non-traditional" type of program for the past 17 years. All our teams (especially football) have been very successful using these methods. I have gained a great deal of knowledge and experience from Mike Gittleson (Univ. of Michigan), Ken Mannie, Kim Wood, Dr. Ken Leistner, Dan Riley, Matt Bryzcki, and many others along the way. Our athletes learn how to train hard, and get the most out of each rep and set! You have a great site, enjoy reading it on a regular basis. Keep up the good work and spreading the word that: you don't have to follow the crowd to get the job done and be successful.


Scott Hays
Football/Strength Coach
Fowlerville High School
Fowlerville, MI

Thanks for the support Coach!

27 January, 2003

Clinic Update/Video Review/Another Plyometrics Concern

"No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office." -George Bernard Shaw

Clinic Update

2002 Missouri 4A State Champion, Coach Mark Thomas from Kearney High School will join our list of featured presenters. Coach Thomas will speak on "Staff & Practice Organization." We feel that Coach Thomas’ presentation will have much to offer those in attendance as football practice will be starting soon afterward.

Coach Thomas joins Sam Brown from Shawnee Mission North, Mike Lawrence from Missouri Southern, and Fred Cantor from the University of Maryland Baltimore-County.

In addition, area high school football coaches will benefit from attending the Kansas and Missouri Football Rules Interpretations Meetings. Ours will be one of the earliest offered from either states' athletic associations.

Video Review

Coach Rody,

I have a snow day from school here in N. Indiana so I finally had some time to review the video tapes and manual. You all have done a really good job on the material. It lays all the facts and philosophy out clearly.

I enjoyed the non-inflammatory exchange and differences in philosophy between you and your fellow coach. I too am in a situation where I feel like I am from Mars when training philosophy is discussed. Teaching and talking to someone about common sense training and High Intensity Training can be exasperating at times. None of our coaches had ever heard of the High Intensity Training concepts prior to my arrival. I will be showing the tape to members of our coaching staff and our AD.

I worked in the commercial, corporate, and clinical health/fitness settings prior to returning to teaching. My time included working as an exercise specialist at Texas Back Institute in Plano, TX. I saw MANY former [athletes] who had injuries directly related to improper exercise practices, ballistic lifts, and plyometrics.

The thing is most of their attitudes were [that training injuries are] just part of the sport! Working in medical related settings has given me a different outlook on the [load of bunk* StroungerAthlete’s words] of these accepted training practices. I saw many individuals who had life altering, NEGATIVE consequences from this nonsense.

I plan to organize my own web site in the future focusing on this injury aspect exclusively. I believe there are many credible individuals and orthopedic surgeons who believe as we do.

I will look forward to attending your clinic and meeting you guys. Tim Wakeham at Michigan State would be a good one to have on your agenda. Ken Mannie is usually swamped with football that time of year. Take care.

Coach Frank Severa

Thanks for the support. First, we are finding out about more and more people who are realizing that injury in training is so unnecessary. We think your idea about a website focusing on that topic is well needed and will help anyway we can.

Coach Wakeham and Coach Mannie would be awesome presenters. One of the hardest things we have discovered as we are putting this program together is "who not to ask". We just hope that there will be an interest in doing this clinic annually so we can invite more great speakers in the future. Looking forward to meeting you in August.


Another Plyometrics Concern

This e-mail was sent to us way back last May. For some reason it was "lost" in our mailbox before we could post it up. Sorry about the delay Coach Durell.
Dear Coach Rody,

Regarding your discussion on plyometrics several days ago, I have personal knowledge of a male varsity basketball player at Southern Connecticut State University shattering his femur doing single leg bounds on a basketball court. Southern CT is my alma mater (Bachelors) and this incident was reported to me by an Athletic Trainer who was on the scene at the time. How would you like to be the one who had to call that kid's parents?

I share your views on ballistic training and do not perform any such techniques with any of my personal training clients, which include an NFL starter and a scholarship collegiate golfer. Nor did I use those techniques when I worked with Tom Kelso at Southeast Missouri State or with Mark Asanovich at Tampa Bay (Buccaneers). Many things work in terms of productivity, not everything is safe. Coaches in charge of strength training athletes are responsible for the health and well-being of the athletes under their care. My advice is to think about having to call the parents of that basketball player when selecting training techniques.

Keep up the great work on the website.

Dave Durell, MS, PTA, CSCS
Sports and Fitness Training Systems