28 May, 2010

The Case Against Explosive Weight Training - A Rebuttal to the NSCA Position Paper on Explosive Training

A Rebuttal to the NSCA Position Paper on Explosive Training


by Ken Mannie, Strength and Conditioning Coach - Michigan State Spartans(Editor: This article was presented to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Since it threatens the position of the NSCA, and because the NSCA controls this journal, they refused to print it. We, on the other hand, are not threatened by the truth.)

Introduction

The subject of explosive weight training is one that has been in the center of a maelstrom among strength and conditioning practitioners for quite some time. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recently published a position paper35 advocating the use of so-called explosive weight training movements, which purportedly offer trainees a distinct advantage in speed and power development over those who choose to incorporate more controlled movements. It is also suggested in the position statement that explosive weight training movements prepare the body for the exorbitant, potentially traumatic forces of competition more so than other strength training techniques.

For the purpose of this article, only the explosive lifts will be discussed. These include -- but are not solely restricted to -- the Olympic lifts (i.e., the snatch and clean and jerk), power clean, speed-squats, push jerks and any variations of these movements. Basically, any movement performed in a rapid, jerky manner where momentum plays a key role in the execution and/or completion of the movement would be included.

The intent of this paper is three-fold: (1) to elucidate the fact that ballistic weight training movements carry with them the highest injury potential of any resistance exercises performed in the weight room setting; (2) to dispute the erroneous notion that there exists a definitive physiological or biomechanical mechanism by which ballistic weight training movements result in a distinct and irrefutable advantage over controlled, high tension resistance exercises in producing and/or enhancing speed, power or athletic skill development; and (3) to offer safer, more efficient and more productive training alternatives.

The Risk Factors

It is an accepted premise that all types of resistance modes and/or ideologies will have a certain degree of risk attached to them. This is why instruction and supervision are paramount in resistance training programs, regardless of the lifting movements being performed. There will also be contraindications regarding exercise prescription in isolated cases due to past injuries, structural abnormalities and other physical impediments. As with any physical activity, there exists an assumption of risk with strength training and this is why the participants must be well-schooled regarding lifting/spotting techniques and the myriad of safety guidelines which are of utmost importance in the weight room setting. With judicious care, the majority of the environmental risks associated with the weight room can be effectively controlled.

However, the aforementioned ballistic lifts are immersed in inherent dangers, even when supervision and correct techniques are evident. There exists a preponderance of evidence4,5,8,9,10,14,17, 21,22,23,29,33,34,38 indicating that so-called explosive weight training movements carry a high risk of injury, both acutely and cumulatively, to muscle tissue, fascia, connective tissue and bony structures. Westcott38 states that the acceleration and deceleration forces placed on involved tendons, ligaments, muscle fascia and bone create both initial and terminal stresses on these structures which are likely to produce training injuries.

Several of the lifts being examined here -- primarily the Olympic lifts, power cleans and their analogs -- cause repetitive forced hypertension of the lumbar spine. This forced hyperextension can lead to any number of physical anomalies and injury defects including lumbar sprain, strain, disc injury or a condition known as spondylolysis, which consists of a fracture of the pars interarticularis (an area between the superior and inferior articulating facet on a single vertebra). Dangles et al.3 noted a 44% incidence of spondylolysis in a group of 47 Olympic lifters, while Kotani et al.22 identified the condition in 30.7% of 26 male lifters. It is important to note that these were experienced lifters. Dr. Lyle Micheli, a past president of The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM), has also indicated that ballistic weight training contributes to spondylolysis.14

While the low back region is a major concern with regard to the injury potential of these lifts, their nature embodies concern for other areas of the body, as well. Dr. Fred Allman, another past president of the ACSM, has commented on numerous occasions on the danger in performing Olympic lifts, as well as the hazards of introducing speed to weight lifting movements. Dr. Allman has also stated that the performance of the Olympic lifts provides little benefit to athletes in their training programs for any sport other than Olympic lifting.9

Kulund23 has mentioned injuries to the wrist, elbow and shoulder while performing Olympic lifts -- injuries which were obviously related to the acceleration and/or deceleration forces imposed on these areas. Hall17 concluded from her study on the clean and jerk that fast lifting speeds generate dramatic increases in compressive force, shear force, torque and myoelectric activity in the lumbar region.

Matt Brzychi, the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Princeton University, offers this perspective: "Using momentum to lift a weight increases the internal forces encountered by a given joint; the faster a weight is lifted, the greater these forces are amplified -- especially at the points of acceleration and deceleration. When these forces exceed the structural limits of a joint, an injury occurs in the muscles, bones or connective tissue. No one knows what the exact tensile strength of ligaments and tendons are at any give moment. The only way to ascertain tensile strength is when the structural limits are surpassed."11

Dr. Ken Leistner, who has long excoriated ballistic lifting in training programs, points out that the inclusion of these movements in strength programs may, in fact, b e the genesis of injuries incurred later in practice or games. As Dr. Leistner states, "...the continuous exposure to acceleration/deceleration forces present when doing cleans, snatches and jerks can produce tissue damage which literally is the accident waiting to happen."26 In younger athletes, the risks of damage to the epiphyseal area on the bone is also a cause for concern, as complete ossification may not take place until the late teens or older.

The NSCA position paper takes to task the injury potential of this type of weight training by citing the Zemper et al study,40 which looks at time-loss injuries incurred in the weight room. The NSCA interjects, "Many of the exercises used by those players would be considered speed-strength exercises... the average team can expect one time-loss injury from the weight room every three years." The unanswered questions, however, include: (1) How many of the injuries incurred were a result of ballistic training?: (2) This survey measured acute injuries; what about cumulative trauma which was aggravated on the field and not attributed to the weight room?; and (3) Is any injury in the weight room acceptable? In the injury potential discussion of the position statement, it is disturbing that there is no mention whatsoever of the single most vulnerable area subjected to the compressive and shear forces propagated by the majority of the ballistic lifts -- the lower back region.

Another notion presented in the position statement, which is sure to be heavily scrutinized by the sports medicine community, is that explosive weight training movements are necessary in increasing the tensile strength of viscoelastic tissue as well as increasing bone density and strength. While it has been shown that progressive resistance training, in general, can accomplish these goals, there exists no definitive scientific finding indicating that explosive lifting induces a better adaptation than high tension, velocity-controlled movements. Heavy resistance movements -- relative to the parameters of the repetition scheme, safe range of motion, and controlled movement speed (which will be addressed in the next section) -- will strengthen the aforementioned tissues without the introduction of unnecessary momentum.6,7,11,15,21,25,26,31,32,38 You need not perform ballistic weight training movements for injury prevention purposes any more than you need to pound your head with a hammer in order to prepare for a concussion.

Contrary to the suggestions of the NSCA, injuries do occur in the weight room and have been documented in the literature.5,9,10,29,33,34 Many of these injuries can be directly contributed to ballistic lifting, not merely the failure of the participants to comply to safety guidelines. Also, it is categorically unacceptable to compare weight room injuries to sports-related injuries and to subsequently state that there are fewer injuries in the weight room. Strength training for athletics is not a sport, nor is it an activity where injuries should be commonplace. The comparison is ludicrous.

It should also be noted that certain sports, especially football, place inherent technique stresses on the lumbar spine.16,18,19,26,36 In light of this, performing ballistic lifts, which have proven to be traumatic to the same region, is hardly the prudent thing to do. For example, the Zemper study noted a total of 18 injuries involving either the lower or upper back. The majority of the total injuries were incurred by defensive linemen and offensive linemen/tight ends (19 total). It would be interesting to note the type of lifting which was being performed when these injuries were sustained, but the study fails to examine those important specifics. Dr. Zemper states that the most likely explanation for the higher incidence of injury in these positions is that "...they tend to spend more time in the weight room and generally are lifting more total weight."40 Could the actuality that these positions are also ones most persistently directed by their coaches to perform cleans, snatches, etc., be a factor as well?

The NSCA's underlying tone when discussing injuries is that they are a part of athletics, therefore the fact that certain lifts may carry inherent risks must be accepted. This thinking represents a negligent, haphazard approach in the training of athletes who are not competitive weightlifters.

In concluding this section of the paper, it is important to note that the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, an organization which happens to distinguish between strength training and weightlifting in it's position paper, contraindicates the Olympic lifts in training regimens. Also, the ACSM, the world's foremost authority on training protocol since being founded in 1954, recommends safer movements in their strength training position paper and makes no mention of the inclusion of Olympic lifts in training .6

There is no question that the medical community needs to become more actively involved in this controversy. It is my personal belief that, with their continuing input, we will be able to slam the door on this dangerous and unnecessary type of lifting for the general athletic population.

Ballistic Weight Training is Unnecessary

It is the contention of the NSCA that ballistic lifting movements are necessary in enhancing athletic performance in addition to "simulating movement patterns and velocity and acceleration patterns of many sports movements." These claims are not supported with definitive, conclusive research data. While the NSCA cites numerous "suggestions" taken from bits and pieces of the scientific literature which fit into their ideology, the smoking gun is nonexistent. At best, the conflicting data and/or lack of irrefutable findings on these matters render the entire controversy inconclusive.

One promising aspect of the position statement is that the NSCA has finally conceded that, "Slow movement speed does not necessarily mean that an exercise is not explosive. A slow movement may be considered explosive if the athlete applies maximal force as rapidly as possible, although the weight moves slowly due to its great inertia." If one performs a maximum or near maximum set of an exercise within a given repetition range, this "controlled explosion" will be in effect for the majority of the reps performed. This type of training can be done with exercise machines, free weights and the various velocity-controlled modes (i.e., isokinetic devices). It is definitely a safer way to train and, as will be explained in the remainder of this section, is a more efficient manner in which to train.

Any type of progressive strength training will elicit gains in muscle hypertrophy and strength with concurrent enhancement in the contractile properties of muscle tissue.6,8,11,27,39 However, high force/low velocity movements produce longer periods of continuous muscle tension during both the concentric and eccentric phases, thereby placing heavier demands on the target muscles.7,11,12,15,27,31,32,39 There exists an inverse relationship between movement speed and muscle force production, which dictates that maximal tension is developed at slow velocities (though the "intent" to move rapidly is evident) and decreases as the speed of contraction increases.7,8,12,15,27,31,32,38,39 Low force/high velocity movements, therefore, are less productive with respect to maximal force production and concomitant strength development.

While there exists considerable controversy in the scientific literature on the mechanisms of motor unit recruitment, the most widely accepted precept is the "size principle" of activation.7,12,15,27,32,39,40 Henneman39 states that the size of the newly recruited motor unit increases with the tension level at which it is recruited. Basically, smaller motor units are recruited first, with successively larger units firing at increasing tension levels. Slow twitch units (Type 1) tend to be smaller and produce less overall force that the intermediate and fast twitch units (Type II A, Type II AB or Type II B). A major difference in the speed of contraction between the Type I units and the Type II units (including the intermediate Type II fibers) is the fact that they have different degrees of myosin ATPase activity. Myosin ATPase is intimately involved in the muscle contraction process and the fibers that have more of this activity can contract more rapidly. Also related to contractile speed is the fact that slow twitch fibers have a very poorly developed sarcoplasmic reticulum when compared to fast twitch fibers. This may help explain the response of slow twitch fibers to stimulation, as the sarcoplasmic reticulum is important for the quick release of calcium to trigger contraction. Couple this with the fact that the troponin of Type I fibers has a low affinity for calcium when compared to the continuum of Type II fibers, and a clearer picture of the differences in contraction capabilities surfaces. There are also numerous metabolic differences between slow and fast twitch units, due to oxidative properties which dictate energy production and endurance capacities (e.g., mitochondria supply, glycogen stores, etc.).

The element most germane to this discussion, however, is that of neural innervation. Slow units are innervated by motor neurons that tend to be much smaller -- both in the diameter of their axons and in the size of their cell bodies in the spinal cord -- than that of fast motor units. In addition, the net conduction velocity is much slower in the nerves of slow motor units. These differences in innervation elicit a lower threshold for activation in the slow motor units as compared to the fast motor units. The net effect of this neural mechanism is that slow units are recruited first for nearly all activities, regardlessof movement speed.7,8,11,15,27,32,39,40 It is only when the intensity of activation is very great, or when the slow twitch units are fatigued that the larger, more powerful fast motor units are brought into play.

Herein lies much of the controversy regarding fiber recruitment: Is there a preferential recruitment of the fast motor units when fast movement speeds are employed? Again, literature exists where "implications" and/or "suggestions" are made in favor of such an occurrence, but the preponderance of currently available data do not support this viewpoint. Lesmes et al.27 state that both muscle fibre types are actively recruited during maximal muscular contractions, regardless of the movement speed. The entire "size principle" of fiber recruitment is predicated on muscle force production, not the actual speed of movement. As can be gathered from this discussion thus far, slow motor units are quite capable of initiating fast speeds of limb movement if the force requirements are low. Therefore, if the training goal is the recruitment and development of the fast twitch muscle fibers, fast weight training speeds at low intensity (i.e., high velocity/low resistance movements) represent the least efficient approach. As stated by Pipes, "Speed of limb movement has little to do with intensity. If anything, there is an inverse relationship ... you can have speed or you can have intensity; you cannot have both."31 Studies by Palmieri30 and Wenzel et al.37 measured training speed and power development with no significant differences being found at slow, fast or a combination of slow and fast speeds. The relevance of these studies is in the conclusion of each that fast training speeds are not needed for power improvements. If controlled speed is at least as effective (if not more so) and safer than faster speed, wouldn't the controlled movement speed be the more judicious option? More importantly, if the safety and welfare of those athletes entrusted to you truly supersede any personal preference or commercial bias in training techniques, then the choice should be quite obvious.

"Movement specificity" is a term that has long been misinterpreted by the NSCA. To say that, "the snatch and clean are very similar to other athletic movements such as jumping," is to contradict many of the basic principles of motor learning. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into an in-depth discussion on skill-specificity, a few points need to be addressed.

First of all, a clear definition of "specificity" is in order. The encoding principle of specificity states that the closer the influence of the practice on the test context characteristics (i.e., the competition situation), the better the practiced movements will be recalled during the test.1,2,28 Simply put, your practice drills, situations, etc., should mirror the conditions under which you will be tested. Performing a certain type of lifting movement with the hope that it will transfer to a sport-specific or position-specific task is useless. The central nervous system acquires, stores and uses only meaningful information when movement is required.28

Strength training and competitive weightlifting are consummate examples of "closed skills"; those which take place in a stable, predictable environment, have clearly defined beginning and ending points, and require little afferent feedback once the skill is initiated. Most athletic skills are "open skills"; those which involve actions that take place in a temporarily and/or spatially changing environment. The initiation of an open skill can be a visual cue (e.g., a tennis player reacting to an opponent's serve), an auditory cue (e.g., an offensive lineman's reaction to the snap count) or some other external stimulus. Open skills are usually "force-paced" in nature, due to the fact that the performer is required to respond to numerous types of feedback and must do so at times when s/he is "on the run." I can find absolutely no definitive scientific support for the NSCA's claims on the transfer of skill development or improved performance in a given sport/event as a result of performing ballistic lifting. This does not come as a surprise, since the motor learning literature is quite clear on skill transfer.

Speed and "explosive" type training should be worked on in the proper setting - by performing skills, running programs, drills, etc., at the appropriate task-specific speed with correct techniques. Again, this is in line with the principle of specificity. Proper strength training programs, which incorporate safe movements and a system of progressive overload coupled with "speed-specific" work in the field setting, will accomplish the goal of developing athletes within the boundaries of their genetic potential. Ballistic lifting movements are not requisites to speed and/or power development, performance enhancement of skill acquisition. As once stated by Dr. Lyle Micheli " ... strength training has the potential to improve size and strength; skill development is something different."25 That brief, candid statement says it all.

Perspective on Proper Strength Training

Strength training programs should be comprehensive in nature with the emphasis placed on exercising the major muscle complexes throughout their fullest range of functional motion. The selected movements should include a variety of multi-joint and single-joint exercises, utilizing a good mix of machines and free weights whenever possible, and be safe and relatively easy to perform in terms of technique.

Set and repetition schemes can be varied, but the program should strive for intense efforts, accurate record keeping, a system for progressive overload and time efficiency. Movements requiring excessive momentum for the execution and/or completion of the lift should be avoided. (More specific information is available upon request.)

Conclusion

This rebuttal to the NSCA Position Statement on Explosive Training was not written for individuals who are firmly entrenched in their thinking one way or the other, but rather for those who are seeking to compare training information in order to make a rational, educated decision. It must be repeated and emphasized that any type of progressive overload strength training will elicit gains in muscular size and strength with concurrent enhancement in the contractile properties of muscle tissue. However, I caution the reader not to fall prey to the notion that there is a distinct advantage in producing "explosive" athletes by training them with ballistic lifting movements. This erroneous proposition continues to be force-fed to the coaching community by organizations and individuals who, because of prejudiced thinking based on their backgrounds or vested interests, are married to this closed-minded philosophy.

It is my personal opinion that the NSCA Position Paper on Explosive Training is rife with ambiguous suggestions, one-sided half-truths, and incomplete interpretations of the scientific literature. If accepted as doctrine by those in the coaching ranks who are searching for training information, it could contribute to a higher incidence of weight room injuries - a situation that is totally unacceptable, both professionally and ethically.

I will continue to write and speak out against this potentially dangerous and completely unnecessary type of lifting, and I encourage those who share the same views to do the same.
Ken Mannie can be reached by writing him c/o Michigan State University, Duffy Daugherty Football Building, East Lansing, MI 48824.

References

1Adams, J.A., Historical Review and Appraisal of Research on the Learning, Retention, and Transferof Human Motor Skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 41-74, 1987.

2Adler, J. Stages of Skill Acquisition: A Guide for Teachers. Motor Skills: Theory Into Practice, 1981.

3Aggrawal, N.D., Kaur, R., Kumar, S., Mathur, D. A Study of Changes in Weight Lifters and Other Athletes. British Journal of Sportsmedicine, 13, 58-61, 1979.

4Alexander, M.J.L. Biomechanical Aspects of Lumbar Spine Injuries in Athletes: A Review. Canadian Journal of Applied Sports Sciences. 10: (1), 1-20, 1985.

5American Academy of Pediatrics. Weight Training and Weight Lifting: Information for the Pediatrician. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 11: (3), 157-161, 1983.

6American College of Sports Medicine. Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription: 4th Edition. Lea and Febiger, 1991.

7Bell, G.J., Wenger, H.A. Physiological Adaptations to Velocity-Controlled Resistance Training. Sports Medicine, 13: (4), 234-244, 1992.

8Birk, T., Assistant Professor Departments of Medicine and Rehabilitation Medicine. The Medical College of Ohio, Conversation and Correspondence, 1992.

9Brady, T., Cahill, B.R., Bodnar, L.M. Weight Training Related Injuries in the High School Athlete. American Journal of Sportsmedicine, 10: (1), 1-5, 1982.

10Brown, T., Yost, R., McCarron, R.F. Lumbar Ring Apophyseal Fracture in an Adolescent Weightlifter. The American Journal of Sportsmedicine, 18: (5), 1990.

11Brzychi, M., A Practical Approach to Strength Training. Masters Press, 2nd Edition, 1991.

12Costill, D., Coyle, E., Fink, W., Lesmes, G., Witzmann, F. Adaptations in Skeletal Muscle Following Strength Training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 46: (1), 96-99, 1979.

13Drowatsky, J.N., Chairman & Professor, Health Promotion and Human Performance, The University of Toledo, Conversation, 1992.

14Duda, M. Elite Lifters at Risk of Spondylolysis. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 5: (9), 61-67, 1977.

15Enoka, R.M. Muscle Strength and Its Development. Sports Medicine, 6: 146-168, 1988.

16Ferguson, R.J., McMaster, J.H., Stanitski, C.L. Low Back Pain in College Football Linemen. Journal of Sportsmedicine, 2: (2), 63-69, 1974.

17Hall, S. Effect of Attempted Lifting Speed on Forces and Torque Exerted on the Lumbar Spine. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 17: (4), 1985.

18Hoshina, H., Spondylolysis in Athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 3: 75-78, 1980.

19Jackson, D.W. Low Back Pain in Young Athletes: Evaluation of Stress Reaction and Discogenic Problems. American Journal of Sportsmedicine, 7: (6), 364-366, 1979.

20Jackson, D.W., Wiltse, L.L. Low Back Pain in Young Athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 2: 53-60, 1974.

21Jesse, J.P. Olympic Lifting Movements Endanger Adolescents. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 5: (9), 61-67, 1977.

22Kotani, P.T., Ichikawa, N., Wakabayaski, W., Yoshii, T., Koshimuni, M. Studies of Spondylolysis Found Among Weightlifters. British Journal of Sportsmedicine, 6: 4-8, 1971.

23Kuland, D.H. The Injured Athlete. J.B. Lippencott Co., Philadelphia, pp. 158-159, 1982.

24Kulund, D.N., Dewey, J.B., Brubaker, C.E., Roberts, J. Olympic Weightlifting Injuries. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 111-119, 1978.

25Lambrinides, T. Strength Training and Athletic Performance. High Intensity Training Newsletter, Spring/Summer, 1989.

26Leistner, K. Strength Training Injuries (Parts 1 and 2). High Intensity Training Newsletter, Spring/Summer, 1989.

27Lesmes, G.R., Benham, D.W., Costill, D.L., Fink, W.J. Glycogen Utilization in Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibres During Maximal Isokinetic Exercise. Annals of Sports Medicine, 1: 105-108, 1983.

28Magill, R.A. Motor Learning: Concepts and Applications, 3rd Edition. Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1989.

29Mazur, L.J., Yetman, R.J., Risser, W.L. Weight Training Injuries: Common Injuries and Preventative Methods. Sports Medicine, 16(1): 57-63, 1993.

30Palmieri, G.A. Weight Training and Repetition Speed. Journal of Applied Sports Science Research. 1: (2), 36-38, 1987.

31Pipes, T.V. High Intensity, Not High Speed. Athletic Journal, 59: (5), 60-62, 1979.

32Riley, D. Strength Training by the Experts. Human Kinetics Publishing, Champaign, Illinois, 1982.

33Risser, W. Weight Training Injuries in Children and Adolescents. American Family Physician, 44: (6), 1991.

34Risser, W., Risser J., Preston, D. Weight Training Injuries in Adolescents. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 144, 1990.

35Stone, M.H. Literature Review: Explosive Exercises and Training (Position Statement). NSCA Journal, 15: (3), 1993.

36Watkins, R.G., Dillin, W.H. Lumbar Spine Injury in the Athlete. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 9: (2), 1990.

37Wenzel, R., Perfetto, E. The Effects of Speed Versus Non-Speed Training in Power Development. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 6: (2), 1992.

38Westcott, W. Strength Fitness: Physiological Principles and Training Techniques, 2nd Edition. Allyn and Bacon, Newton, Mass., 1987.

39Winter, D.A. The Biomechanics of Human Movement. Wiley and Sons Publishers, Chapter 7, pp. 165-189, 1990.

40Zemper, E.D. Four-Year Study of Weightroom Injuries in a National Sample of College Football Teams. NSCA Journal, 12: (3), 1990.


04 May, 2010

Training with High Intensity Sets

"What you get for free costs too much."  -Jean Anouilh
When considering efficiency in training it is important to understand that one set to failure per exercise would be an optimum way to train. In order to do this productively an athlete must understand the concept of intensity and have the ability to put it to use. When the ability or understanding to train with high intensity is lacking a coach can substitute with higher volume, or additional sets.

The problem is that many high school and college athletes to not understand how to train with high intensity. Failure should not necessarily mean concentric failure but it can also mean taking a set to concentric, static, and eccentric failure. When performing a set to total failure like this, it will never be necessary to perform a second or third set.

It takes a lot of training and experience to understand the level of intensity required. Coaches can keep this in mind as they begin athletes on a training regimen to begin with high volume and taper off as the intensity of the athlete picks up.

When training to failure in the method described above we recommend the use of machines for safety purposes. There is a line of equipment that is being manufactured by Negative Attitude that allows the athlete to perform eccentric failure movements safely. This is not an ad for their line of equipment but they do serve training for that purpose. If you would like more information about Negative Attitude e-mail us and we can get you their contact information.

Performing two or three sets on certain exercises is fine for those who are still trying to learn to train with high intensity. To test whether an athlete has mastered this, have them perform a set to failure then wait about 60 seconds and perform another set. If they can't perform any reps (or maybe one or two because of the brief rest) using the same weight then they are beginning to understand how to give a 100% effort in their set.

Some athletes in high school will figure it out but often it takes many athletes longer to understand how to train with the maximum amount of intensity. Let us know if you have any comments or questions about training to failure.




05 March, 2010

Don't Injure Your Players While Testing Them

"The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey.  The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front.  The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back."  ~Steve Garvey

The title seems like a fairly obvious one.   Don't injure your players while testing them. Yet we hear reports of players getting injured during strength assessments more often than we should.


Case in point  just this week
Linebacker Barquell Rivers, a rising junior, tore his left quadriceps tendon Wednesday during max-out weightlifting testing and will miss five to six months, which means he might not be ready for the beginning of preseason practices in August.  See full article

So Mr Rivers is likely out until at least the start of the pre-season and who knows how this inury may affect his career.  This kind of injury is highly preventable by following some simple guidelines when assessing your athletes strength.

[S.A. We first covered the topic of testing back in 2003. See testing]

You don't need to look at max singles to see who's getting stronger.  A heavy set of 6 or 8 reps will tell you just as much as a max single will and with a whole lot less risk.  Compare the number of reps at a certain range with the same range from the last assessment and bingo, you see if your athlete has improved or not.

I'm not sure why the mystique of the one rep max exists.  Sure it shows what your strength limits are but realize also that since it is a limit lift, there is a higher potential for form to break down.  If the form does break down, you are essentially doing the lift in a manner you have not practiced.  This means you may compromise joints, tendons and ligaments because they are being asked to bear maximal load in new patterns.  At least if your form breaks down on the last rep of a weight you can lift eight times, you are not near your structural limits, so a new movement pattern is less risky than if it occurred with a one rep max.

So to recap, one rep max assessments tell you no more than an assessment with a lower weight and higher number of reps, but DO come with more risk.  So more risk to find out the same information is not an acceptable protocol to be putting your athletes through.

Think about the pride you can show telling Johnny's dad how strong he was and that you're sure he'll help lead the team's way to the championship once he heals up from your max-out weightlifting testing.

Related Articles on our site:

How Heavy of  a Load Should One Use?


26 January, 2010

Squat Thoughts and Alternatives

Matty Noordberg wrote us:
Hi Coach Rody,

I would like to share some thoughts on the squat after more than 25 years of lifting and trying out a lot of exercises and set/rep/duration schemes.


1. it is indeed questionable if loading the spine with a lot of weight on your neck when doing squats that it is a safe thing to do

2. a very simple alternative would be to do 1-leg squats when you want to train the legs/hips and want to avoid excessive loads on your shoulders

I use the following arithmetic: when a person weighs 100 kg. his upper-body weight will be around 70 kg. and his legs will weigh around 15 kg. each (for the average person).

When doing a 1-leg squat bodyweight only the weight moved by the working leg will be 85 kg. per rep (70 kg upper body + 15 kg. for the non-working leg which is kept off the floor and is used as additional weight to move.)

This 1-leg squat bodyweight only is equal to a traditional squat with 100 kg. on the shoulders (100 kg weight + 70 kg bodyweight divided by two makes 85 kg. per leg).

Notice the big difference in spinal load when comparing the 1-leg and 2-leg squat versions !

Calculating in the same way will find that a 1-leg squat with 50 kg. on the shoulders is equal to a traditional squat with 200 kg. on the shoulders ! (again for a person of 100 kg bodyweight).

If you can do 15-20 reps (nice and slow: at least 4 seconds per rep) with the 1-leg squat with 50 kg on the shoulders you are plenty strong in my book without having to bear tremendous (and dangerous) weights on your shoulders.

3. Never go deeper than 90 degrees in your knee joint, going deeper will greatly increase the chances of knee pains/problems, I can speak of personal experience. This subject is also the stance of the British Army regarding their official fitness rules for their personnel

(see the book: the official British army fitness guide as written by the army).

4. Training the lower back can best be done (according to my personal experience) by using the exercise known as the back extension.

Keep up the good work regarding this sensible website, I salute you !
Cheers,

Matty Noordberg

The Netherlands

Thanks for writing Matty and for the the compliments.  There are certainly some good points you make there and you provide some good alternatives to loading up the spine to get enough resistance for the legs.

In the past we've advocated pre-exhaustion to reduce the amount of weight that can be handled in the squat, but yours is certainly another way to skin the cat.