24 December, 2009

Merry Christmas from Stronger Athletes

Stronger Athletes would like to wish you a very merry Christmas.

As such we'd like to give you a gift.  This is a very lengthy discussion on muscle fiber recruitment that I feel really brings home a lot of the key points of recruitment and why the olympic lifting proponents are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to strength training.

Without any further delay, here is the article

03 December, 2009

Cleans Claim Another Victim

"A committee is twelve men doing the work of one." -John F. Kennedy

Cleans Don't Care Who You Are, They'll Injure You Just the Same

The professional athlete Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.

The professional athlete:  This is obviously a red-siren, MAJOR setback for Cap and the Avs. He has, in essence, missed eight of the last nine games now. He has yet to play a full game in any of the three he’s allegedly been healthy enough to play in those last nine.

This is serious. A bad back can very often mean the end of a player’s career. Knowing the Avalanche and their medical staff, I would bet the ranch that they will now shut Sakic down for at least another few games and try to get this thing cured.

Not knowing the location of the injury, I can’t say how bad it is for Sakic, but as someone who has had back surgery to his low back before (1997), I can personally vouch for the fact that you’re NEVER the same again.

Sakic suffered the injury doing “cleans”, an Olympic weightlifting exercise. This is the second time an Avalanche player has hurt his back.

Several months later Joe retired from hockey all together. [the quote above mentions another player with a back injury.  That injury was sustained performing the squat.  Squats are generally less risky than cleans, but we've expressed concern about squats here and here.]

And now the other end of the spectrum.  The average "Joe".

Joe Average:  I'm enjoying the Crossfit workouts, but I seem to have managed to pull/separate something in my right shoulder during the cleans from 2-3 days ago. I couldn't lift my right arm above my head for a day or so, and it's still very sore when I raise my arm.

I've never done Olympic lifts before, and I think I was lulled into a false sense of "bad-assedness" by the fact that I was strong enough to handle the weight..it appears my joints disagree.

The poor crossfitter now feels anything but bad ass.

Why do I bring up these two stories?   To illustrate that the clean is a dangerous exercise no matter who is performing it.  A professional athlete under the tutelage of a strength coach can be injured just as severely as a rank amateur doing crossfit.

Some lifts no matter how much they are coached cannot be made safe enough to be of serious consideration as part of a strength program for athletes - any athletes - unless the athlete is an Olympic Lifter, but then they must accept the risk as that is their sport.

What about the others though? Is the false promise of untold speed and athleticism that is sure to be derived from the "quick lifts" enough to make the risk worth the "reward".  To a lot of coaches and a lot of uneducated lifters alike, the answer is yes it would seem.

To a logical person looking at the situation is seems absolutely absurd that one would take that risk considering that so many better strength building movements are available and that there is no transfer of performance in the clean to the venue of play.

It is because of the continued use of the Olympic lifts to train athletes that we will continue to put out these educational posts showing the damage that can be done with improper training and tell about safer methods of training.





Reader's Comments:

Lincoln Brigham, writes:
Wow, you guys make sure you never let facts get in the way of your point of view.
Sakic retired after he MANGLED HIS FINGERS IN A SNOWBLOWER and this was 20th season. And of course there’s no proof that his back didn’t already have problems from 30+ years of HOCKEY before it seized up. He was already down to half his normal number of games per season. But your story loses a lot of sizzle if you mention that, doesn’t it?
 Trying to use an injury caused by squats as a reason not to do cleans is sinking pretty low, even for you guys.
[Try to avoid the personal attacks, Mr Brigham. Please review our contact us page, paying close attention to the "Keeping it professional and mature" section. SA]
The guy going heavy on his very first day doing the Olympic lifts? That’s just stupidity. Apparently this guy didn’t feel the need to follow the Crossfit "Start Here" instructions. Olympic lifting can’t cure stupid.
It says right in the Crossfit "Start Here" FAQ "If some or many of the exercises are unfamiliar to you and you are only modestly acquainted with elite athletic training, we recommend that you follow the WOD and substitute other exercises for those where you don’t have either the equipment or skill and then devise a plan for acquisition of the necessary skills or equipment needed to participate completely. "
That means even you could do the Crossfit workouts without having to do cleans

Our Reply:

You’re right, someone is missing facts. Apparently though, Mr. Brigham, it’s you.
"It’s all back. My hand’s doing well," Sakic said. "It’s irrelevant. When my back’s ready to play, I’ll be back.”
When you stated "Trying to use an injury caused by squats as a reason not to do cleans is sinking pretty low, even for you guys."

Apparently you missed it when we said “the quote above mentions another player with a back injury. That injury was sustained performing the squat.

Squats are generally less risky than cleans, but we’ve expressed concern about squats in the past here, here and here.” I put that in there specifically so people, like you perhaps would not think I was trying to imply that the second injury too was caused by cleans.

Sure Sakic took a lot of hits in Hockey. How much of the damage was done in his years of cleans? That’s harder to quantify. Perhaps without cleans he could have had a longer career. We’ll never know.

As for the Crossfit… even having cleans as an exercise in Crossfit is asking for trouble. How many that come to cross fit have done any or have been trained in properly doing one? Just look at some of the videos online of the cross fitters doing cleans. It’s a back surgery waiting to happen.  It's been said, orthopedists love Crossfit.

02 October, 2009

Bench Press Safety

With the advent of USC football player Stafon Johnson's benching accident this week, Stronger Athletes would like to remind coaches that all lifts whether ballistic or not need to have the utmost in safety precautions taken.

It sounds like Stafon is going to be fine and did have spotters at the time so it goes to show you that accidents can and will happen.

On a more general note with bench pressing, we'd like to also address one of the stupidest practices we see employed in the performance of the bench press, the THUMBLESS grip. It should be called the brainless grip. We have opposable thumbs! They help us hold onto things. Heavy bars with weight on them included.

Watch this video of a thumbless grip.

Any questions? Also note how having a spotter didn't help a bit. Also to note lift offs can be a hazard point too. Sometimes the people doing the lift off simply deadlift the bar off the rack and more or less drop it into the lifters hands. A safer method is for the player to lift the bar off the rack themselves, then it is under their control at all times.

Bench presses can also be performed in a squat rack as well with the pins set to just below chest level.  This is the safest method of all with free weigths.  Hammer and other bench / chest press machines are also a good and safe substitute for the bench press.

[Follow up on the Stafon situation.  He is purported to be entering the NFL draft, so has obviously recoverd.  We wish Stafon the best.]

30 June, 2009

The "Dos" and Don'ts of Graphs

I hope that when I die, people say about me, 'Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money.'
Jack Handey (1949 - ), Deep Thoughts

Good graphs are gold. Bad graphs are worth less, worthless.

Recently I ran across a site that takes exception to our common sense approach to training stronger athletes. It's a typical Olympic lifts are the way, the truth and the light type of site run by a strength coach that teaches the same. The site uses a graph to try to say that explosive ballistic lifting is superior to
what they call heavy resistant strength training (I'll have to assume means non explosive training) because of the rate at which they allow an athlete to express force

The site had this to say about the graph:
Folks, force production is great and the reality is that any sound strength and conditioning coach knows that there need to be MANY tools in his/her toolbox so there is a place for strength-based exercises. The problem is that TIME is a huge factor in sport performance. Sure, force production is great but if you can't produce it FAST ENOUGH, the play is over. Take a look at this graph. It compares three groups, a strength training group, an explosive training group, and a group that did NOTHING. At 200 milliseconds (the time in which most critical athletic movements occur), the power training group is blowing everyone away. The untrained group is right with the strength training group at this time period...remember that they did NO TRAINING AT ALL!

It's a real pretty graph and probably takes in some folks who only look at the picture and don't think about what it's telling them.

This graph reminds me of one of those "what's wrong with this picture, picture they used to put in the Sunday papers comics section when I was a kid.

The longer you look at it the more you will find wrong with it.

First off, let me say, it's a real nice graph, I would presume it came from a study of some sort, but the website I got this from gives no indication of that by way of mention or citation.

Here are the key things that jump out at me as being completely missed in the graph and the lack of a the research info:
  • Units of force - what are they

  • Background on the test subjects

  • What movement was tested

To elaborate, the critical things we don't know are the units of force, and the movement performed in the graph and if the "heavy resistant strength training group had practiced the movement.

The units of force are critical, how else are we to tell that the difference between the groups are significant. What if the differences in force at 200 ms are less than 1 lb? Would that make you think differently about the "benefits" of explosive, ballistic lifting? It's certainly worth not risking your athletes' health so they can express an additional pound of force at 200 ms. StrongerAthletes.com maintains it's never worth the risk of additional injury, regardless of the benefit, supposed or otherwise.

Another missing piece of the puzzle is what movement was this that was performed? If the test is to be valid at all it should be a movement all three groups have the same amount of experience performing. Due to specificity we know that practicing a movement will make you better at it. So if the three groups tested hadn't performed the same movement before or performed it for a similar number of times in their life, one group may perform better just because they practiced the movement more and the type of training they undertook had no effect at all.

It's a pretty graph, but it proves to be pretty much useless for any real information to base a conclusion upon without more information, but then I think the author hoped you would just look at it and not think about it.  If anyone has seen this or a similar study feel free to give a citation.

16 May, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture and Olympic Style Strength Training

"Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves."  Dale Carnegie
If you follow strength training as it relates to athlete’s one thing is certain. Many people will tell you the best way to strength train to improve an athlete’s performance is to build the foundation of your program on Olympic lifting style movements. The reasoning is that
these “quick lifts” enhance explosiveness in the athlete rather than teaching slow strength as other forms of lifting are considered by the quick lift proponents.

Here we lay out some of the myths perpetuated as reason athletes should embrace this style of strength training.

Myth 1: Olympic lifters when tested, were the best group of athletes for vertical jump, so it follows that your athlete’s should train that way as well.

Reality 1: Olympic lifters are Olympic lifters because they have nervous systems that inherently (that means without ever touching a barbell) allow them to jump higher or be more explosive than the average person. These genetic traits carry them far in their chosen sport. Having an athlete do these movements will strengthen the muscles that are involved in a vertical jump, but they will not turn a genetic plodder into a skyscraper leaping superman as the quick lift proponents lead you to believe.

Myth 2: Olympic lifts mimic major sports movements and thus are more likely to have a transference to the athletic skill.

Reality 2: Specificity is VERY specific. A power clean though rather like jumping with a barbell is no means specific enough to jumping up as say… jumping up. [See specificity and skill transfer] You can get far greater benefit simply by strengthening the muscles used in a movement and then training them. For example, strengthen the hips and legs by squatting, leg pressing, or dead lifting. Then go practice jumping to use your newly developed strength. Because jumping is exactly specific to jumping and the muscles that perform the movement are stronger, jumping will improve. That improvement is because the muscles are stronger and you practiced the specific movement. It doesn't matter if you developed that strength with bodyweight exercises, barbell exercises, machines, dumbells, with a fast motion, slow motion whatever. It's the increased strength in conjunction with practicing the movement you are trying to improve.

Myth 3: Olympic lifts are statistically less dangerous than performing your chosen sport, so that means they are safe enough.

Reality 3: That's certainly one way to look at it, but aren’t other less ballistic, less risky forms of strength training even safer. Especially since we now know Reality 2. It’s so simple even a caveman understands it. (this is the part on an internet lifting forum, where people would get called a wimp or sissy if they suggested that a power clean may not give sufficient benefit to offset the risk)

The other part of the statistically more safe argument is that the statistics don't indicate the severity of an injury or any lasting issues due to the injury. It's one thing to turn an ankle in basketball and quite another to blow a disc power cleaning.

To summarize, Olympic lifts are complex movements that require a coach to actively coach the athlete in order to perform them properly and safely. If performed in poor form they have a greater capacity to injure than other types of strength training because of their ballistic nature. Think of this in terms of a car accident, the faster you are going the worse will be your injury.

For the time pressed high school and college athletes, StrongerAthletes.com doesn't believe Olympic style lifts are worth the tradeoff in time to spend learning the lift properly when that time could be better used practicing some sport specific skill.