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Safe, Effective Strength Training for Athletes

April 10 "There never were in the world, two opinions alike. Their most universal quality is diversity." Michel De Montaigne

April 10 "There never were in the world, two opinions alike. Their most universal quality is diversity." Michel De Montaigne

Mystery Guest: Day 2

(So far we only have 5 correct guesses..come on guys this is easy!) Just like last week we present a Mystery Guest. If you think you know who this pioneer in strength training is drop us a guess, via the contact form, and our correct winners with be posted on Friday. Good Luck!

This week's guest was one of the first people hired on the NFL's newest franchise, he was hired even before the head coach!

He "spent the previous 19 seasons [as the head strength and conditioning coach] with the Washington Redskins where served as an integral part of three Super Bowl champions, four NFC champions and five NFC East champions."

"This coach is known as a leader in his field. He has written several books and served as a fitness columnist for the Washington Post."

"Prior to his stint with the Redskins, he spent five years as the strength coach at Penn State. The Nittnay Lions won their first national championship after his last season. Before arriving at Penn State, he served as the strength coach at Army from 1974-77."

His tenure in the NFL has produced several head strength and conditioning coaches who have worked with him. Steve Wetzel, last week's mystery guest, recognizes this man as one of his biggest inspirations.

**Note** Much of this bio was taken from another website which will be recognized on Friday, as we don't want to just give away the answer now do we?

Dear StrongerAthletes.com: Various Topics

Over the past week we have been kept really busy with comments and questions from several Olympic lift coaches. These guys run successful programs and they are genuinely concerned about the profession of strength training. We think that by posting these comments and our responses that our readers can benefit from our discourse. Ken Mannie, Head Strength Coach at Michigan State University, informed us that he thinks this element of our website is very benefitial to others. We think so too.

Both of the coaches presented below have been very open-minded while making their arguments. We hope they have gotten as much from our discussions as we have. It is important to keep in mind that we will not respond to flaming e-mails. Our purpose is to present a philosophy on strength training not bash others. We welcome comments and questions either for or against our positions but we will not respond to those who cannot have a professional conversation.

In the following letters some of the major topics addressed are frequent ones such as developing power vs expressing power, safety, and principle of specificity. However, both of our e-mail writers use the term HIT and refer to Arthur Jones. It should be noted that StrongerAthletes.com has never used the the term HIT referring to High Intensity Training. HIT has a large following but it is not a uniform, come in a box recipe that many coaches are used to, such as the BFS program, which many high school coaches use and are comfortable with. For example, there are factions of HIT strength programs that preach very slow movements and other that preach anywhere from 1 to 3 working sets. Some preach free weights others machine weights. Believe it or not some HIT programs use olympic lifts! So please be careful not to stereo-type training programs from what you may have heard at gyms or read in magazines.

In regards to Arthur Jones, although we have never mentioned him he is a great credit to the field of strength and conditioning. His early work in the 1970's helped to pave the way for modern training practices and present day coaches should recognize him for his trailblazing efforts regardless if they agree with him or not. Others such as Boyd Eply, Nebraska's Strength and Conditioning coach served a similar role in the "early days". It is not our place to be critical of these men's efforts only to take what they have given us and continue.

Coach Burk responds to our last Dear StrongerAthletes.com from April 5, 2002.
Dear Coach Rody,

Where can I get scientific evidence that training in a slow controlled manner develops power? How do you go about testing power? Besides anecdotal evidence and an example of a single instance from a doctor, what studies have shown increased risk of injury with olympic lifts? Where can I find these studies (medical journal...).

Olympic lifts and plyometric lifts are not neccesarily specific to movements performed in sports (however many jumps do seem similar in basketball). But if I have the ability to generate more power and recruit more muscle fibers - more quickly, wont this help me become a better athlete? [**Note** This thinking violates the Principle of Fiber Recruitment -S.A.] Yes we will practice skills that are specific to the sport, such as tackling. But how does overload factor into drills of this nature. Efficiency is vital, and time should be spent on practicing the sport. But Im not sure a good in season lift including olympic lifts will take longer than 20 minutes - tops. Where does the coaching come in to play, if we are looking for the easiest method to train our athletes. I'm not sure this should be a strong consideration. We should search for the most effective method, not the easiest to teach or implement.

Lets don't compare what one program does versus another, lets look at what science says, and site our sources from peer reviewed literature from journals, not other websites or what other coaches say or believe. Much of what Arthur Jones wrote in his bulletins is not scientifically found, or may be dated. I'm not sure, but I think somewhere in there he encourages the consumption of raw eggs, should I suggest my athletes also do this?

James Burk

Coach Burk,

We appreciate your new comments. We respectfully address your concerns.

In regards to our thought on power please read our Expressing vs. Developing Power article as well as other articles related to power. There is a fundamental difference between Expressing and Developing Power. In order to effectively train the type IIb fast twitch muscle fiber. The athlete most train with heavy weight. If momentum occurs during the repetition, the muscle tension is released.

The most widely accepted scientific theory of how muscle fiber is recruited is called the Henneman Size Principle of Activation. Ken Mannie, Michigan State Strength Coach, explains in his article, "Explosive Weight Training, " "Henneman states that the size of the newly recruited motor unit increases with the tension level of which it is recruited. Smaller motor units are recruited first, with successfully larger units firing at increasing tension levels. Slow twitch units (type I) tend to be smaller and produce less overall force than the intermediate and fast twitch units (typeIIa, type IIab, and type IIb)."

You either can lift with high intensity or with speed, you can't do both. Fast twitch muscle fiber will be trained with a high amount of intensity. That makes the Olympic lifts the least effective for developing power and training the Type IIb muscle fiber because the weight is too light and momentum is involved. Tell me another way of how fast type IIb muscle fiber is trained? You can't bypass the slow twitch and directly train the fast twitch, muscle is recruited in an orderly fashion.

The article posted on April 8 is one incidence of how an athlete can get injured during an Olympic type of lift. Please read other articles we have written to get more safety related articles and there will be more to come. These will be posted over the course of our future postings. In the meantime you may wish to visit PubMed, a web site for finding medical related publishings.

Like I said there are piles of medical research that have shown similar results. Can you show me medical research that indicates that slow movements create injury more than quick lifts?

You mentioned plyometric lifting. When an object such as a barbell is used to increase the vertical jump of a basketball player, the neuromuscular pathways used in the exercise are different than the ones used in the jump without weight. This is maintained by the scientific Principle of Specificity (Please see our previous article explaining this as well.)

If a basketball player wants to increase his vertical then he must develop power through heavy, slow controlled lifting then practice vertical jumping. If an athlete generates power more quickly then he begins to express power. We want our athletes to develop power in the weight room then express it on the field.

As far as overload, this pertains to weight training. Weight training and movements on the field are entirely separate entities.

We are not seeking the easiest method of strength training, we want he safest, most productive and efficient method. That method happens to incorporate the less complicated lifts. We are not training our athletes to become Olympic lifting competitors, we are developing strength and power to enhance our sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, track & field, etc...

You said it best when you said, "Look at what science says". Science says that slow controlled lifting is the safest most productive and efficient methods to train. I encourage you to read our other articles and you will understand where we are coming from.

In every physiology text you will find Principle of Activation. This is science. There is no scientific evidence that indicate slow training causes more injuries than fast weight training. We need to look at sound scientific evidence, not misleading, contradictory science of Olympic lifting for athletes.

You mentioned out dated information. In the 1960's Eastern Block countries were very successful in the Olympic lifts. At this same time American coaches discovered that stronger athletes were better athletes. They looked around and saw that these Eastern Block countries were the most successful weight lifters. American coaches saw this and learned their methods thinking that this is the best way to train our athletes... but not knowing why. Just because they, the Eastern Block countries that were good in the Olympic lifts doesn't means that our football players, for example, should be doing their lifts.

We believe that we must continue to challenge our current knowledge levels and find the safest, most productive, and efficient programs for our athletes.

Coach Rusty Whitt, Strength & Conditioning coach at Sam Houston State describes his role as a collegiate strength coach that uses Olympic lifts.

Dear Coach Rody,

I recently read this post on your website. I found it of interest. First of all, I have worked with Olympic athletes, Division III, Division II and 1.

I work at a small college and find myself having to develop athletes, more so than a Michigan State or a Stanford. You have to agree that the stronger, more flexible, more powerful, more mature and coordinated players out of high school will get to the higher collegiate levels. Your training methods are governed by the type of athlete that you train.

Now, I have friends at the NFL and collegiate levels who perform various degrees of HIT (High-Intensity-Training) training. They do what works, and are qualified, conscientious fellows. I believe the best coaches have open minds, and are not afraid to try various techniques out. These guys do just that. With that said: I love teaching the Olympic lifts. I like the hang snatch overhead squat--it requires a high level of balance, coordination, and flexibility.

We don't do much weight, you don't need to. I'm not training Olympic weight lifters, (Who I believe are among the greatest athletes in the world) but exercises they do are very beneficial. I like the power clean, hang clean, and every variation of these lifts. The position coaches I work with would not want it any other way--they see the improvement in ATHLETIC ABILITY that these lifts foster. As far as injuries go, I have not had an athlete ever miss a competition because of any injury on the platform. I believe that occasional wrist discomfort is actually worth the benefits they receive.

More importantly, the athletes respect these lifts, and they do a great job of following instruction. They see the benefit, they understand the intensity required, and enjoy the improvement that they see in their abilities. We start on the platform, and then do powerlifting--they complement each other well. I have witnessed a 198 pound competitive Olympic lifter vertical jump 42 inches, no approach--he did little powerlifting so I know where his power came from.

I am tired of the HIT vs Olympic lifting debate--any coach that says you cannot benefit from both, is being close-minded and insecure about their own approaches. We are paid professionals who must teach complicated exercises--good coaches can teach a complete, safe clean technique in 1 week, and the athlete can benefit from this for years. I know, I have seen it done for a long time.

Thanks for the time,

Rusty Whitt

Coach Whitt,

Great comments. Thanks for your input.

Please understand that the purpose of our website is not to be closed minded in fact what we really want to do is get many coaches who look down their nose at high intensity coaches to understand that we are not crazy. I hope we don't come across as close minded ourselves.

I should explain that my partner is new to non-Olympic training. He coaches high school football, played small college football and cleans were normal, everyday exercises. He never asked why he just did it.

After taking a new job and meeting myself he challenged himself to look at the why in regards to cleans. He couldn't find the answers. As he read and visited with many coaches he has found something he is comfortable with.

However, like yourself he took the time to COACH in the weight room and has not experienced quick lift injuries. [However, a great point was made by Coach Jonathan Grey, Strength Coach at Southeast Missouri State, that Olympic lift injuries can be long term. Coach Grey writes, "The thing that many of these coaches fail to realize is that they may be predisposing their athletes to injury. In other words, injuries may occur on the field that are either a direct or indirect result of Olympic lifting.] Many high school coaches just sit behind a desk or even worse sit in their office while the kids lift.

I hope you can understand our perspective and get something out of the articles we post.

-S.A.

Coach Whitt, continues the discussion.

Coach Whitt continues...

We use sport specific drills AND weight lifting exercises to teach sport skills. why not do both, if you see progress, if you have a system that works? One can complement the other. I am a strength coach first--the position was created to get players stronger--then I implement on field drills to take what they learn in the weightroom and apply it to the field.

As a college coach, I had better understand the correlation between strength gains, wins, and losses. I cannot separate the three, because having a job depends on if the team wins. At the levels that pay the best, a strength coach is as much a part of the coaching staff as the Offensive Coordinator.

Now I do agree that high school coaches must be great teachers, they have to stay out of the office. They can do a good job of teaching powerlifting and Olympic lifting.

FYI- Thursday we did power cleans at 60% of their max-4 sets of 4-- today, after our scrimmage, the guys did 1 set to failure on DB alternating incline press.

Thanks,

Whitt

Coach Whitt, [Going back to some of your earlier comments...] First of all, we respect your opinion. We all have our beliefs and opinions and can learn from each other. The sites purpose is to share ideas and thoughts like you have done but also to educate coaches on what we believe is the safest, most productive and efficient approach to training for athletes to use to prepare them for their prospective sport. We believe Olympic lifting and Powerlifting are not necessary.

You mentioned that you have to develop athletes more than a Michigan State or Stanford. I am a strength coach at the high school level and believe me I have my work cut out for me. I have trained some of the best athletes in the area and they never performed an Olympic type of lift. Believe me, some of these athletes were not naturally talented genetically to begin with.

As far as the best coaches having open minds, I couldn't agree more. The longer I am in this field the more I realize many coaches are closed-minded.

Early in my career I tried to incorporate some of the Olympic lifts in my program and wound up with injuries that prevented some athletes from performing on the field. They too had good technique, which proves the point that even with perfect technique, the athlete can still get injured. But I do understand that good technique does reduce the injury risk.

You said that he Olympic lifts require a high level of balance, coordination, and flexibility. I agree but this will not transfer to better tackling, blocking etc. I do not believe one compliments the other. It has been scientifically proven that neuromuscular transfer does not occur from lifting movements to the field or from any activity to the next. The activity that you are wanting to get better at must be practiced. Doing similar types of activities will not help athletes become better at the activity they are wanting to perfect.

As far as coaches seeing improvements in athletic ability, I'm sure you have other lifts that do train fast twitch muscle fiber effectively, such as heavy squats, heavy dead lift and heavy bench.. That will increase strength, power and explosiveness that will help athletes in their sport not to mention I'm sure that these coaches have them do drills that are specific to their position. I believe that is where the increased ability comes from. You also had mentioned that you do not use heavy weight in those movements. Heavy weight is a requirement to train the type IIb fast twitch muscle fibers effectively. That is why I believe in heavy, slow controlled movements are best so the athlete can achieve overload. Olympic lifting is overtaken by momentum during each repetition. Overload cannot be achieved because the stress is taken off the muscle each repetition. This is an ineffective way to train the muscles.

I disagree with your statement that occasional wrist discomfort is actually worth the benefits they receive. A few years ago, I had an all state shot putter insisting on doing power cleans behind my b