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Safe, Effective Strength Training for Athletes

March 24 "The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council." -Homer

Dear StrongerAthlete: Squat

Dear Coach,

Thanks for your article on the squat. [March 9, 2003] I concur with you. The potential danger with this exercise is two-fold, I believe. First, compressive forces are placed upon the spinal column due to the nature of the bar on the shoulder. Our disks are like shock absorbers and compress with force. Over time, excessive compression could lead to bulging disks. Second, again due to the nature of the bar placement, as the load increases the trunk must work harder to prevent flexion or forward lean during descent. This also places stress on the vertebrae. However, it is the combination of both compression and flexion during descent that creates the most problems for the lower spine L-4, 5, 6 and S-1.

I'd like to share a brief story. Several years ago, I was discussing strength training with a friend of mine who is an assistant football coach for a large, suburban Chicago high school. During our discussion, we began to talk about leg / hip development and I made some suggestions for exercise selection regarding his strength program. He stated that in order for his players to be competitive they had to perform the squat and the power clean. I related the potential dangers with these exercises to him, but he insisted that his team would be at a disadvantage if they did not perform them. He went on to say that all the teams in his conference performed these movements for "power and explosion." I then asked him if he was able to perform these movements (we are both 37). What he then stated to me is the epitomy of the strength psyche, "No, I can't power clean or squat anymore because my back pain is so bad." I then asked how his back became injured. He replied, "Well, I know it was from all of the heavy squatting and power cleans I performed in high school and college." I answered, "Why would you want to set anyone else up for back pain later in life or maybe even in the present." He stated, "My high school coach said we could not be the best without these exercises. I want my kids to be the best, too." Sometimes, we have to reconsider what it means to be the best or what it takes to get there, especially when we have to sacrifice our health or the health of others to do so. God bless, keep up the good work.

John Mikula, CTRS
Certified Recreational Therapist

Mr. Mikula,

Thank you for the comments and the story. We too hear similar stories. Many coaches are ignorant to the safety and science of exercise. We know of a coach whom told a story about when he coached in college they were testing the athletes on the 1 rep-max. The athlete injured himself while lifting. This coach's reasoning for never using the 1RM anymore was that he did not have a back up for this injured player! Ignoring the unfortunate fact that the athlete got injured and ignoring the fact that he was training the athlete in an unsafe manner. It seems his lack of having a backup was of primary importance to him.

Thanks again for your comments. Please feel free to sound-off on any other safety concerns.

Jeff Roudebush
StrongerAthletes.com

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