28 June, 2019

The Importance of the Squat

To be an athlete you have to squat.  The heavier the better.   That seems to be the mantra.   Is it true?  Always?  Really?

How much do you think Chuck Norris could squat in his prime?

How much should a water polo player be expected to squat?

Well, no doubt many would say that squats are always important. The key is that more leg strength is better than less, but the caveat being, how much is enough for the sport you are in and what is the trade off in time and energy developing more leg strength vs some other weakness or skill for the athlete.  You do have FINITE resources after all.

In other words, find the bottle neck and work on that.

11 May, 2019

Why are you training your high school athletes like powerlifters?

"as a means to improve in another sport I have a hard time seeing the value in heavy singles lifting given the risks..." -NFL HOF Strenth Coach, Kim Wood

If you have your players on a steady diet of sets of 5 - 3 - 1 reps, why are you training your high school athletes like power lifters? While that is one way to go about gaining strength, it places unneeded stress on joints and is more likely to cause an injury and is less useful on the field.

Powerlifters are competing in a sport that requires pure strength.  Powerlifters don't need ANY muscular endurance, or other capabilities.  Simply the ability to contract the muscle as forcefully as possible.

Let's see how powerlifters compare with football players. Maybe some comparisons will help us determine if the type of strength powerlifting develops and how it develops it is in sync with what athletes in traditional sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, etc require.

Ever watch a powerlifter working out? It's rather like watching paint dry. There isn't much to see except every 5 minutes or more when he lifts a weight a few times and then takes another inordinately long break.

Joke: How do you know when a powerlifter is doing cardio? He rests less than 5 minutes between sets.

Do your football players rest 5 minutes between plays so their muscles fully recuperate so they can output a maximal effort again? I'm guessing they don't.

Powerlifters train to do 9 attempts at a meet. 3 lifts, 3 attempts usually increasing in weight. How many attempts (plays) are executed in a typical football game?   More than 9?

What I'm saying is the sport of powerlifting and the sport you are training your athletes for has different requirements, so it doesn't make sense to train them in the same way.

Low reps will place more stress on the joints. That's ok, if you've chosen to powerlift in competition, then you take the risks along the way to the reward.

Putting athletes in a situation where they are more likely to injure themselves from intrinsic force of the weight or because they don't have enough skill yet.

A weight an athlete can do 10 reps with is one thing if it gets a little out of the groove, but one he can only do 3 reps with is another story.

Higher reps will build strength too, but better than that, it builds in some metabolic conditioning to the muscles as well.

Think I'm wrong? Try a set of 20 or 30 squats. That conditioning, physical AND mental, goes a long way in a game situation. It takes "want to" to get through higher rep training. That "want to" will come through on the field as well.

I'll leave you with a little excerpt from a larger discussion here.  This quote is from Kim Wood, the first strength coach in the NFL.  Kim knows a thing or two about how strength training athletes should be done.

I once had a player...a great guy...came over from the Jets and was billed by a power-lifting magazine as the "strongest man in football" ...he was studly...well, once he said to me... "my power-lifting program gets me stronger than your program. But your program gets me stronger for football. I'm a stronger football player doing it your way..." I sat down with him and said,"Matt...getting stronger for football is the ONLY reason we are here...it's the only reason I KNOW YOU...it's the only reason we are in this room right now!"

So what do you as a high school strength coach KNOW that an NFL strength coach doesn't?

Well then, give up the powerlifting workouts.

'Til next time, good training.

An article we wrote awhile back that has some of Dr. Ken's words of wisdom.  Simple Does It - Good Advice.

05 May, 2019

Remembering Dr. Ken

"as a means to improve in another sport I have a hard time seeing the value in heavy singles lifting given the risks..." - retired NFL Strength Coach, Kim Wood

Stronger Athletes would like to recognize Dr. Ken Leistner for the decades he spent in service to athletes, fitness enthusiasts, the average guy that wanted to get stronger, youth and many others.

Dr. Ken passed on about a month ago.  Over the decades he's written literally thousands of strength training articles.  He espoused safe strength training methods that enabled strength acquisition without the injury potential that is part and parcel of acceleratory training methods that are best left to the people that are performing lifts in a competition.

I did not know Ken personally, though he did at one time answer a letter of mine.   I found the address of the Iron Island Gym and sent Ken some questions.   Ken took time out of his day to review my questions and craft a personal response.  That meant a lot to me.

Our condolences and prayers are with Ken's family and friends.  

Thank you for all you did.

Maximum Bob Whelan has some nice tributes to Dr Ken on his site written by himself and others.  Here is one that really hits home.


24 March, 2019

Seven Ways to Strengthen Your Athletes

"Leap, and the net will appear." – John Burroughs

It's possible that your athletes are as strong as you want them to be now and you feel that they won't benefit from any additional strength.

Now that we got the joke out of the way let's get on with it.
  1. Use the correct working range for reps  Generally, your athletes should not be doing sets of less than 5 reps or more than 30 reps.  7 - 15 reps is a nice workload for much of the lifting you will do.   I like one warm up set and one work set.   On the work set once you can get 15 reps easily, add a bit of weight at the next workout.
  2. Add single limb movements.   Don't go heavy on these.  The main thing is that the weights put the body in an unbalanced state.   The sports your athletes play don't present athletes with forces that are all nicely balanced and come at the athlete perpendicular and centered.  So, it makes sense to do some movements that cause the body to have to stabilize itself.

    For legs consider step ups with a dumbbell held in one hand. You can alter the hand that holds the weight doing two sets per leg. One set with the weight in the right hand and one set in the left. Single arm db overhead press is a good lift. If you have resistance bands, these are optimal for this type of training. Single arm standing bench press is a great move for linemen in football.

  3. Cut down to three lifts per strength session. The three simplest would be a lower body movement, upper body pulling movement and upper body pressing movement.

  4. Focus on technique. Slow down the lift so you are doing a 4 second eccentric and 4 second concentric. This will eliminate any momentum and keep tension on the muscle the entire movement.
    The athlete should feel the muscle being worked very directly. They may need to use lighter weights if they've been moving faster and cheating the weights through sticking points.

  5. Drink some water. These days lots of people either don't get enough water or even if they get enough liquid aren't getting enough pure water. An extra quart of water consumed throughout the day over what they athlete is currently doing will help with recovery from training.

  6. Focus on a weak spot. Athletes tend to like to do what they are good at, as a coach it's your job to spot what they are weak at and work to improve that. Find their sticking points and what muscles are weak. Don't add volume to the workout to fix the weakness. Instead drop the primary lift with the weakness every other session and do a specific exercise to work the weak muscle.

  7. Talk with your athletes and learn about them and what makes them tick. The more you know about each one, the easier it will be to motivate them in the weight room. The motivation will lead to better gains

These are seven ways to strengthen your athletes, but really this is a starting point. Of the seven I've outlined you could break each one down further. You could come up with 7 ways to motivate your athletes for instance.

19 February, 2019

Training To Failure For The Advanced Athlete

Suprirse, surprise, surprise! -- Gomer Pyle

In this article I'll be talking about training to momentary muscular failure and how you can adapt it to better suit the more advanced or veteran trainee.  Keep in mind this article is NOT targeted towards strength training athletes such as Olympic Lifters, Power Lifters, or Body builders.

All three sports, well... two sports and a freak show have distilled down the training that is generally accepted as the most successful per each activity and I won't go into that here other than to say, at the highest level of those sports it's the genetically gifted and the pharma enhanced that are competing so their methodologies really don't apply all that well to the high school sport setting.

Training to Failure for the Beginner

In the beginning training to failure is easy. The subject doesn't have any background in strength training or understand perceived effort in any meaningful way. Training to failure is a great way to start out.   Several reasons are:
  1. The athlete has little or no experience strength training thus doesn't know the lift or how strong they are in said lift.
  2. Easy to train safely - start light and shoot to have failure occur around the 10 rep mark.  If failure occurs well beyond that, increase the weight the next time.

Training to Failure for the Advanced Athlete / Trainee

After a few months of training, the trainee learns what fatigue feels like and builds up some tolerance to it and builds up the mental fortitude to push through it. As you go into a set lactic acid builds up and creates a "burn" in the muscles. Nothing new there.

Why this matters is the advanced athlete is able to push into this fatigue at much greater level, commonly called in inroading amongst the HIT lifters. The problem becomes that the veteran trainee becomes better at fighting through this fatigue than he needs to be and is willing to do so as he feels the harder he drives himself the stronger he will be and the more respect he will earn from coaches and peers.  The trainee is training with more intensity.

Isn't that a good thing?

Yes to a point.  Yes because you are upping intensity, and stimulating your muscular system more efficiently or perhaps the better term is completely.  But, we have to keep recovery in mind and our capacity to recover.   If you remember we covered that in an article about training volume.

Simple Failure Is ALL That is Needed

There are advanced techniques that are sometimes employed.   Negatives, drop sets or strip sets, where training partners will take a small amount of weight off the bar so the trainee can get a couple more reps, pushing further into failure.

These are specialized techniques and should be saved for the off season when there is more time for recovery. 

Also remember that the athlete has learned to push himself/herself very hard and is motivated to do so in most cases.   So sometimes they are eager to use these advanced techniques to fatigue the muscle.   As a coach you want to avoid that.

Remember, the goal with the athlete is to enhance their play and keep them less injury prone in their chosen sport. Making them too tired to practice their sport is not helping them become a better athlete. If you are the coach of the sport as well, then it's bad enough. However in the day of dedicated strength coaches, if you want a long career, you should try to avoid having the head coach unhappy with you because his athletes are too tired to train the sport. The strength coaches job is to help, not hamper an athlete's progress at a sport.

Recovery Is the "WHY"

So are you saying not to train advanced athletes to failure.  No.  Advanced athletes can train to failure and gain strength just as a new athlete.

The caution comes into play that because the trainee has learned to push themselves so hard through fatigue they start to work at odds against their recovery system.  This would not matter if the trainee was just training for strength on their own and not for a sport.  For the athlete, especially in season, when recovery is critical one needs to avoid pushing too hard.  In fact we talked about this earlier in Efficiency in Training.

Because the advanced trainee is stronger and can handle more weight AND push themselves very hard the risk that they fatigue the muscles beyond what is needed. 

Just what is needed?  

Momentary muscular failure on the concentric contraction is as far as one needs to or should go.   You don't need stall and push for 5 seconds or resist the weight as your concentric turns into an eccentric.  All this does is eat into recovery.  As soon as you failed to move the weight concentrically, the muscle was as stimulated as it needed to be. 

So to recap, as soon as form breaks down or the athlete can't move the weight concentrically, the muscle has been stimulated and the set should be terminated.  Doing more will only eat into recovery and won't create any additional gains.  The phrase "leave it all on the field or court" need not apply here.

07 February, 2019

New Lift, The Dead Bug Bench Press

Stupid Is as Stupid Does / Look it's the dead bug bench!

What the hell motivates people to this level of stupidity. Brainless personal trainers? An article in a supplement magazine? What?

20 January, 2019

Visual Tutorial on Squat Mechanics

"I'm sorry, if you were right, I'd agree with you. -Robin Williams

Squats - For Those That Need A Visual On Body Mechanics

Earlier we posted about needing to serve athletes better when considering the squat.

Here is a video for those of you that STILL don’t/can’t/won’t understand this based on words. That might sound harsh but many coaches and trainers STILL don’t understand why squats might not be for everyone. Watch and learn.