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Safe, Effective Strength Training for Athletes

August 5 "That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." -Thomas Jefferson

For the summer, we have decided to reduce our frequency and post once or maybe twice a week. We will be very busy training our athletes and taking vacations. We will pick up the frequency again in the fall. We will continue responding to your e-mails regularly so please do not hesitate to send us your thoughts or comments about training.

Mystery Guest: Father Lange

We return to our Mystery Guest feature in which we present figures who have impacted the role of strength training in the field of traditional athletics. This week had just one correct answer: Jim Bryan, New Haven FL.

Father Lange can be credited with helping to start the strength training movement on college campuses long before the strength boom of the 1970's. In fact it was in 1922 when Knute Rockne, legendary Notre Dame football coach, began pushing his athletes towards this barbell-happy priest. Lange trained over 6,000 athletes, from all collegiate venues trained under his supervision. This all happening without official University support.

It was not until 1960 when Notre Dame began a physical education program and gave it's strength training priest a brand new facility. So, in a way, linked closer to the traveling strongman than the educated ivory tower, (although it was his academic resume which brought his efforts credibility), and decades before any university would hire an official strength coach, coaches at Notre Dame were sending their athletes to his charge. "The strength coaching profession truly should regard him as a founding father."

This week's mystery guest information was found in a book of collected essays by various strength coaches and experts from around the country. "Maximize Your Training: Insights from Leading Strength and Fitness Professionals," edited by Matt Brzycki is simply loaded with history, science, and tons of information on safe, productive, and efficient strength training. This 450 page book is well worth the $20 you'll spend to have it on your shelf. The story of Notre Dame's early strongman/priest was found in Chapter I, Might and Muscle: Antiquity to Arnold, by Jan Dellinger. The image of Father Lange comes from the Notre Dame Archives .

Is Training to Failure Necessary?

There continues to be a misconception among coaches that using multiple sets rather than single set programs produce superior results in strength gains. In truth the research has shown no difference in the use of multiple sets over single sets in this regard. The "trick" to make single sets work for your program is the level of intensity. Working to momentary muscular fatigue is vital in promoting strength gains.

We understand that progress in strength can be made not reaching that point of muscular fatigue. However, despite the strength gains, the recruitment of muscle fibers would not be complete. It is the concept of exhausting the muscle that triggers the recruitment of total motor units.

The Overload Principle, based on stressing the muscles with higher resistance or intensity on an ongoing basis, forces the muscles under stress to grow. Beginners will make good progress in strength while not reaching the point of muscular failure and that may be well advised to do so at a young age. This approach is prudent until they have at least learned the exercise movements and develop efficient neuromuscular pathways.

In the November 1999 edition of Coach and Athletic Director, Dan Riley and Jason Arapoff state that "high intensity exercise strictly adheres to the overload principle." Athletes who end an exersice movement when they are straining or tired, but do not continue the movement to the inability to move the weight, will leave some muscle fibers un-recruited. "Its that simple: work until you cannot work anymore!"

Also, training to failure will make tracking progression easier. If you stop short of failure, say at 90% of your potential intensity, it would become difficult to know when to move up in weight and reps. There will be no doubt as to when to move up when you train in an all out manner to momentary muscular failure. We believe that if the athlete is using the correct exercises and proper spotting that this is a very safe way to train and it is also the most productive and efficient way to train. Riley and Arapoff conclude, "Without overload, there is no reason for the muscle to get stronger. The muscles will simply adapt to he level of strength they are exposed to."

In conclusion, there are various ways to make strength gains. For simplicity let's use two groups Volume & Intensity. The volume group may perform a rigid prescription of sets and reps such as 5 x 5 or 3 x 8. The athlete in this program will simply perform the prescribed repetitions even if they could continue lifting the weight. Some programs such as BFS allow for this by encouraging the athletes to continue to failure on the last set. Although this wrinkle in the rules looks to align itself with our way of thinking we differ in the fact that the athlete has to perform 3-5 sets before working to failure. While we allow for a warm-up set, 5 seems excessive to say the least. (This is not to pick a fight with coaches who use BFS, we used it ourselves for several years). Compare the Volume group to the Intensity group, who completes 1 set of appropriate weight to failure... total and utterly complete failure. Done... muscle fibers recruited. Move to the next exersice. While the Intensity group is on movement number 3, the Volume group is on set number 3.

Do both work? Yes.

Why choose the Intensity method? 1) We feel we can work more in less time. 2) We feel we can accurately measure gains in strength without the use of percentenges or 1RM.

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