Stronger Athletes

Fundamental Questions On Specificity Of Strength Training

April 5 "When one helps another, both gain in strength." -Latin American Proverb

Mystery Guest: Steve Wetzel, Minnesota Vikings

We had several responses to this week's Mystery Guest but only a handful of correct answers. Correctly identifying Coach Wetzel were Jim Bryan, Winter Haven; Fred Cantor, University of Maryland-Baltimore County Strength Coach; and Joe Ross, Tampa, FL.

Steve Wetzel has been working in the NFL for 12 seasons and 2 teams including the Champions of Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. He got his start in the field as a collegiate powerlifter and then as an intern at the University of Maryland. While working with the Terrepins, he worked part-time with the Redskins before getting hired by George Mason University. He was working at George Mason just 3 months before being "called-up" to the Redskins as a full-time assistant.

Currently serving as the head strength coach in the NFC, his staff's #1 goal is injury prevention. He takes some pride in the fact that his team's work-outs do not change from off-season to in-season, with conditioning serving as great a role as strength development.

He enjoys teaching his athletes he works with,

"By training guys one-on-one, there are a lot of teachable moments that come up, a lot of time for interaction as far as finding out about them, answering their questions about their training. A lot of guys have done programs since they were in high school. They do them but they don't know why they do them, so there are a lot of teachable moments that come up when we are training guys, which I really like. They have questions. We always tell them if we don't have the answer then we will go find it. That's what I like about it. Basically we are teachers, just like the football coaches. They teach the position and we teach them how to prepare their body to play the game of football."

Steve's photo and quotes were found at the Minnesota Viking's web site where he recently gave an interview about the Viking training program. Coach Wetzel also spoke at the recent 2002 National Strength & Science Seminar were he discussed in great detail what an NFL athlete does in the weight room.

Dear StrongerAthletes: Fundamental Questions

We have received a great e-mail from one of our new readers. Coach James Burk has concerns over some of the most important elements of a safe, productive, and efficient strength program. Others, no doubt, may also have these concerns and questions so this informative "e-dialogue" makes it on "Dear StrongerAthletes."

Dear Coach Rody,
I have a few questions:

  1. ) How is a bench press, leg curl,pulldown... specific but not an olympic lift?
  2. ) By listing teams that are non olympic lifting teams, does this imply that they are more successful than olympic lifting teams?
  3. ) Teaching these lifts takes time, so does implementing a new offense or new plays, should we also avoid doing these things?
  4. ) What studies show a higher level of risk and injury in olympic lifts than non olympic lifts?
  5. ) How is power developed in this type of training? Are plyometrics and medicine ball training used to cover this aspect. If you are training slowly but with great resistance and muscle tensions, when does the velocity component of power come in to play?
James Burk

Coach Burk,

We appreciate your comments and questions and will address them one at a time. It is important to note that many of us have been where you are at: that point of realizing there is another way of doing things and challenging ourselves to find the "best" way. There is no perfect program only one that the strength coach can justify as the "best" for his athletes.

The bench press, leg curl, pulldown etc. are not specific lifts that mimic sport skills because there are none. No exercise can transfer to better skills other than the skill of that exercise itself. This is mentioned in previous articles we have written. The Principle of Specificity states that to improve sport skills you must practice those skills not do other activities that are close to the movements in that skill. The neuromuscular system is very specific, the neuromuscular pathways used to do a skill are different than the patterns used in a strength training exercise.

No, it does not... The purpose for listing the teams that perform non-Olympic lifts is to show that the Olympic lifts are not essential for a successful strength training program for athletic teams like many coaches think. We recently spoke at a clinic about our style of training and most coaches could not believe a team would not do the Olympic lifts because they thought that was the most effective or the only way to develop power and explosiveness. We believe it is a fairly poor way to increase power and explosiveness. As we have said in previous articles, we challenge the top teams that perform Olympic lifts to take these lifts out of their program and we believe they would still be top teams as they currently are. This will just prove over time that these quick lifts are not necessary for success. These teams still do the slow controlled movements such as the squat, deadlift, bench press etc... so we know they are doing the movements that we feel are the most productive for developing athletes. Non-Olympic lifting teams as you can see from our Teams Page can be just as successful.

As far as the Olympic lifts taking time to teach and master, it sounds like you agree. Implementing a new offense or plays does take time. We believe in an efficient strength training program. In order to be efficient, we need to have our athletes train in as little time as possible with exercises that are not so technical so that we can go out and practice the necessary skills or implement a new offense. These activities are entirely 2 separate entities. Efficient strength training allows for more practice time. Athletes learn to perform the squat, bench press etc... with much greater ease than a power clean or snatch.

As far as what studies show a higher level of risk and injury in Olympic lifts than non-Olympic lifts, I have a pile right here next to me. We periodically post an article indicating medical research that indicates that the injury potential in Olympic lifts are much greater than the slow controlled movements. We will post another article on safety next week. It will indicate another incidence of how quick lifts can be dangerous. We have safety articles posted from previous days that include several of the studies to which you refer. However, many of the sources we use on this web site include Dr. Ted Lambernetes, Dr. Gordon Bell, Dr. Ken Leistner, and Strength Coaches Mark Asonavich and Ken Mannie from the Baltimore Ravens and Michigan State respectively.

Understanding how power is developed is very important. There is a difference between expressing power and developing power. [See Expressing vs. Developing Power]. Power is developed through slow controlled movements because because there is constant tension on the working muscles which will enable the athlete to effectively train their fast (type IIb) twitch muscle fiber. This type of training also allows you to overload the muscles which is a necessary component of effective training. We believe overload cannot be achieved in Olympic lifts because after the initial part of the lift momentum takes over and the tension is taken off the muscles. How can this develop power? When the muscle tension is taken off this will make the exercise a very poor way to train the fast (type IIb) twitch muscle fibers. [See Muscle Fiber Recruitment].

In training for power, remember, it is the intent of the athlete to move the weight quickly. For example, during a set of squats to failure at about 10 repetitions the weight will feel progressively heavier with each succeeding rep until the end of the set. It is important that the athlete try to maintain consistent speed throughout the entire set and when he reaches the last rep or two the speed will slow but the athlete will be trying to lift the weight as quickly as possible but the weight is moving slow. That intention to move it quickly develops power and explosiveness. Going all out on the last reps of the set is very explosive.

As far as plyometrics and medecine balls are concerned, we do not believe that these are a necessary part of training. We would rather go out and practice our sport specific skills to become more efficient at them. [See Specificity and Specificity II].

We hope we have answered your questions. Let us know if you have further comments.

Thank you,
Coach Rody

New Coaching Resources

At the 2002 Strength & Science Seminar introduced our new resources for strength coaches and athletes. We now offer a video supplement to our Coach's Manual that explains in detail some of the finer points of the Training Program.

I just got through reading my copy of Stronger Athlete's Coach's Manual. I recommend this manual to any Coach needing help in setting up a Strength Training Format for their team. It's easy to read and the advice works for a Free Weight Program as well as Better known Strength Training Machines such as Pendulum Fitness, Nautilus, MedX, and Hammer. Good solid information without boring you with unnecessary pseudo science. They have a video companion and although I haven't seen it, I would bet it's the same good quality. -Jim Bryan, Strength & Conditioning Coach

Also just released is the Opposing Viewpoints: Traditional vs Non-Olympic Training video. For more information on these products please See Our New Products.

***No Liability is assumed for any information written on the website. No medical advice is given on exercise. This advice should be obtained from a licensed health-care practitioner. Before anyone begins any exercise program, always consult your doctor. The articles are written by coaches that are giving advice on a safe, productive, and efficient method of strength training.***

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