Stronger Athletes

Dear Mature Discourse

October 1 "He's too big and strong. I don't know if I could ever beat this guy." -Mike Tyson concerning Lennox Lewis. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Dear Coach Rody,
It's been a long time since we had a discussion. As I found myself wandering on the Internet I decided to take a deeper look at your web site and send you a few things to chew on. Our discussions have been very cordial in the past, hopefully we will keep in the same line with this new discussion. First I'd like to address a point that was made on your web site (front page actually). Be assured that the quote is integral and not modified:

While I do agree that momentum can decrease muscle tension (because the muscle doesn't need to exert as much force on the bar since momentum contribute to the movement) I do not think that lifting with momentum renders IIb (or any other fiber) recruitment less efficient.

Allow me to make a simple point. Momentum has to be created by an external force, we all agree here. The external force can come from multiple sources, but in the case of lifting exercises it can only come from the external forces applied to the barbell from the human body (unless one is "bouncing" a deadlift on the floor or a bench press off his chest ... which can create momentum). Specifically momentum is created by the action of the muscles. In fact, the force output necessary to produce sufficient momentum to help lift a barbell of relatively heavy weight can far exceed that of any "slow-speed strength" exercises.Let me explain my point. To create momentum you must exert a force high enough to increase the kinetic energy of the barbell a level sufficient to allow the object to continue it's course with the interaction of little additional external force, agree? In other words, if you do not exert enough force the barbell will not continue it's course because not enough momentum will be created.

Now, not only is force necessary to create momentum, the acceleration factor must be very high. Why? Because for momentum to occur, the barbell must have a high rate of acceleration (otherwise it will quickly loose velocity and fall on the ground). So you must be able to create a powerful action (high acceleration).

Since F = ma, we can conclude that creating barbell momentum requires a lot of force because the accelerative need is very very high. The greater the required force output, the greater the muscle tension. The intramuscular tension refers to the effort of the muscle necessary to produce a certain force output.So even if the time under tension is lower in exercises with momentum, the actual maximum tension achieved is a lot higher. This is a powerful stimulus for the CNS and can lead to great improvements in neural efficiency (increased intra and inter-muscular coordination, and rate encoding).

As a result it is unjust to state that lifts with momentum leads to less efficient motor recruitment. Remember that YOU must create the momentum.

Coach Thibaureau,
You stated, "The force output necessary to produce sufficient momentum to help lift a barbell of relatively heavy weight can far exceed that of any ‘slow-speed strength" exercises. We disagree with this statement . The reason is that to create momentum on the bar, as you have indicated requires relatively heavy weights. That is the point we are making. In order for the force out put to be maximum, the weight should be heavy.

Now we are not saying that one should train with singles, doubles, and triples, we advocate reps ranging from 8-15. Athletes should train to momentary muscular failure.

When performing Olympic lifts, many types of athletes give out because of technique breakdown because of fatigue or for cardiovascular reasons. What muscles are being trained to momentary muscular failure during a clean?

Think about it, we are talking about training high school and college athletes. These athletes cannot efficiently train with these exercises to the point of the desired fatigue level because they do not spend the time to become efficient in these exercises.

Their sport is football, wrestling etc... Ask an athlete, after performing a power clean, how he/she feels. What muscles do you feel like you’ve exhausted? They usually respond be saying, "Well I don’t feel it in any one area but I’m pretty tired after doing them". Our goal is not just to get an athlete to feel tired. It is to train specific muscle groups to fatigue.

We see the point you are trying to make about maximum force output but must do not believe that research backs it. Muscle fiber is recruited in an orderly fashion from Type I to intermediate to Type II as the body requires them. -S.A.

[Coach Thibaudeau continues...] From "The Principle of Specificity rejects the idea that lifts such as the power clean transfer to sport specific skills such as tackling or throwing a shot put".

I agree that a power clean (or any other lift) cannot improve technical efficiency in a sport movement. However, lifting can improve specific skill performance by increasing the physical capacities of the athlete (no news there!). If a lifting exercise increase the athlete's force output and the rate of force development (which can only be improved by accelerative a load) in the muscles involved in a specific sport skill the athlete will become effective (notice that I did not say efficient) at that skill.

If you have the general capacity to produce more force and produce force faster you will be more effective because you are structurally more solid and have a faster muscle recruitment. I know that you will argue this point, but research has indeed shown that high acceleration exercises can indeed improve motor unit recruitment speed by improving rate encoding, pattern encoding and number encoding.

I have never been one to preach what I call "excessive specificity". There are various levels of specificity. A movement is not 100% or 0% specific to another. A training movement can be specific in structure, pattern, power output level, force output level, etc. I feel that trying to duplicate sport actions in the gym is hogwash, but I believe that trying to train for what you have to do makes a lot more sense than just lifting weights! That means developing the capacity to generate a high level of force as fast as possible.

We will again make the point that even though we train to maintain constant speed through an entire set, it must be understood that as the athlete fatigues as the set progresses, it is necessary to attempt to move the weight faster to maintain the desired rep speed. At the end of the set, the athlete is attempting to move the barbell as fast as possible to maintain speed. This is maximum force and power output.

This is higher than if the athlete used relatively heavy weights creating momentum. If the weight is not heavy enough then the athlete will be expressing power. In other words, if the momentum is created on the bar, the weight is too light. Ken Mannie states this well in his article "Power Points," "Basic neuromuscular physiology indicates that maximum fast twitch fiber recruitment is achieved with maximal intensity, regardless of the movement speed. "Intensity" in strength-training is defined as the percent of your momentary ability to execute a given exercise- that is, the amount of effort you are able to put forth".

The "Size Principle" of motor unit recruitment-which is one of the most supported principles in neurophysiology states that muscle fibers are activated from smaller to larger (Type I to Type II) relative to the force requirements, not the speed requirements".

"The force velocity curve indicates that there is an inverse relationship between movement speed and muscle force production. In other words, slow muscle contractions generate more force. believes that slow movements can produce more force and recruit more muscle fiber and in turn create more power and therefore is a more efficient way to train. -S.A.

[Coach Thibaudeau continues...] From "Quick, momentum generating lifts can be unsafe in the short term if not coached and supervised and in the long term in regards to the low back and wrist regions."

I agree. That's why I feel that un-supervised use of the Olympic lifting variations is unwise. However, if properly taught these lifts can be as safer (and even safer as illustrated by the smaller injury rate in Olympic lifting compared to powerlifting) [FYI- We do not endorse power lifting as a training method for traditional athletes. -S.A.] than most slow-speed lifts. Furthermore, when properly used they can improve performance more than slow-speed lifting (albeit both are complimentary). However I concede that if a qualified coach is not available, the Olympic lift variations should not be used.

Thanks for listening. Keep up your good job and I wish you well for the season.
Christian Thibaudeau
Quebec Canada

Keep in mind that we may focus on the lifts that power lifters use but we do not train our athletes like power lifters.

We understand the point you are making and will concede that the more efficient an athlete becomes at the Olympic lifts, the more muscle fiber he/she can recruit therefore the more power and force he can develop. But let’s face it, these athletes (high school and college) do not have the time to spend trying to perfect these lifts. They have their season and studies to think about. Even if an athlete performs the quick lifts with perfect form or whether he uses slow movements, power and force can still be developed with either method. Most athletes will not perform them in perfect form, therefore the power developed would be less. Performing the quick lifts is more of a demonstration of power. Remember, developing power is different than expressing it. Look back at our article on "Expressing vs. Developing Power" and you will see what I mean.

We have enjoyed reading your comments and appreciate your professionalism. The goal is to train our athletes in the safest most productive and efficient manner possible. Let our readers decide for themselves which method they prefer.

Coach Rody

***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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