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Considerations in Athletic Performance Enhancement Training: Athlete Weight Room Preparation
Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS Professional Physical Therapy Professional Athletic Performance Center New York, New York
During my 30+ career as a Physical Therapist (PT), Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach, I have been involved in both the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Enhancement Training of athletes and have had many valued experiences throughout my years of practice in these two related professions. When confronted with an athlete who presents with a pathology that occurred during the course of S&C or personal training participation, my observations of the athlete, the review of the athlete’s injury and medical history, and my experiences in the sports rehabilitation of athletes, often reveals that the injury is not directly due to a specific exercise performance, but to one of two other training considerations. The first possible cause is the implementation of a poor program design, i.e. inappropriately prescribed exercise weight intensities and exercise performance volumes, which is beyond the subject matter of this dialog, and the second, is the athlete was not properly physically prepared prior to their participation into the formal training program design. Often times, the athlete enters the weight room to initiate their physical training and regardless of their physical condition and/or training experience, they are expected and instructed, along with their peers, to participate in the first day of the identically prescribed formal training program design. This is especially true of the high school athlete. The question then arises, how does the S&C Professional know the athlete will be able to correctly perform and physically tolerate the prescribed program design when implementing this manner of training?
My good friend and one of my mentors, Hall of Fame S&C Coach Al Vermeil has established and imparted upon me his hierarchy of athletic development. This system is utilized as a well-organized progression to assist the S&C Professional in the optimal athletic development of the athlete (Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Vermeil’s Hierarchy of Athletic Development
Coach Vermeil’s system is fostered upon a continuum of the physical qualities necessary for optimal athletic performance. A review of this hierarchy will reveal that strength is the physical quality, the foundation, from where all other physical qualities evolve. Each physical quality is dependent upon the optimal development of the preceding physical quality so that the ideal development of each successive physical quality in the hierarchy may transpire. One should note that although several physical qualities may be trained simultaneously, the emphasis of training is placed upon one specific physical quality until the time where the next ascending physical quality in the pyramid is determined to be developed.
Prior to the initiation of training, a review of Coach Vermeil’s hierarchy will exhibit the necessity for the physical evaluation of the athlete, as well as the development of the athlete’s work capacity, or as some coaches may call this level of the pyramid “general physical preparation (GPP)”. Work capacity or GPP is necessary for the preparation of the athlete for their eventual safe participation in the formal weight training program design.
During my time studying at the Soviet Institute for Physical Culture and Sport in Moscow, prior to the break up of the USSR, the topic of the system of athletic development that ensued at the thousands of Soviet Sports Schools across the USSR was discussed. Included in this lesson was the necessity for the preparation of the young Soviet athlete prior to the progression of applied higher stresses,over time, that would occur during their specific athletic development (specialization). A modification of this concept is presented in figure 2.
Figure 2. The General Physical Preparation and Specialization of the Young Athlete
The successful Soviet structure of training acknowledges the importance and incorporation of a systematic process of general physical preparation prior to the athete’s eventual participation in 100% specialization of training, therefore, shouldn’t we as S&C professionals also heed from this lesson of athletic development?
Javorek’s Exercise Complexes
One method utilized over the years to prepare our athlete’s for the participation into the formal training program design is to incorporate Javorek’s exercise complex system into the training process. These exercise complexes were developed by S&C Coach Istvan “Steve” Javorek as part of the training system utilized with his athletes. These exercise complexes require the athlete to perform a series of specific exercises, employing either barbells or dumbells, with one exercise performance immediately followed by another until an “exercise cycle” or “set” is completed. The athlete then performs the prescribed number of exercise cycles/sets to complete their prescribed daily workout. An example of a Javorek’s exercise complex is as follows:
Barbell Upright Row X 6 Reps
Barbell Snatch High Pull X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Squat Push Press X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Good Morning X 6 Reps
Barbell Bent Over Row X 6 Reps
In this example the athlete will have performed a total of 30 successive exercise repetitions while incorporating the entire body during the training in the exercise cycle/set. Exercise weight intensities are initiated with 10% to 15% of the athlete’s body weight and are progressed over time until the athlete is able to perform the exercise complex with 30% – 35% of their body weight. The workouts are performed three days per week and depending upon the individual athlete, may begin with three exercise cycles/sets in their initial workout and progressed over time until the athlete demonstrates the performance of 5-6 cycles/sets at 30% to 35% of their body weight per daily workout.
Some of the advantages for incorporating Javorek’s exercise complexes include but are not limited to:
Establish the proficiency of exercise technical performance
Preparation of the neuro-muscular and musculo-tendonous systems of the body for the eventual application of high volume, high weight intensity exercise performance
Enhance joint mobility and soft tissue compliance
Enhance strength and power output
Increase work capacity
Depending upon the specific needs, presentation, and medical history of the athlete, exercises may be substituted and/or modified for the athlete as part of their prescribed exercise performance.
Javorek’s exercise complex systems work well to assist in the preparation of the athlete for the ensuing intergration of the formal training program design. A program design that will include the application of higher exercise volumes and weight intensity performance. We have also implemented Javorek exercise complexes during the “end stage” of the athletes sports rehabilitation prior to their discharge from the clinic and eventual particpation in a formal off-season S&C program.
The preparation of the athlete prior to their initiation into the formal training program design is an important aspect of training that is often overlooked. A properly prepared athlete will not only perform superiorly in the weight room, but likely reduce the incidence of training injuries as well.
In strength coaching circles, there’s a highly effective hamstring exercise that is well known to coaches, athletes, and sports medicine personnel.
The exercise has many names, including the Russian leg curl, Russian lean, Russian ham curl, kneeling Russian hamstring curl, Nordic ham curl, Nordic hamstrings, Nordic hamstrings lower, Nordic leg curl, Nordic reverse curl, glute-ham curl, bodyweight leg curl, natural hamstring curl, and bodyweight hamstring curl. The most common name used in the literature is the Nordic ham curl (NHC).
The Nordic Ham Curl (NHC)
These exercise variations typically involve kneeling on a pad and lowering under control while the ankles are held in place by a partner, a lat pulldown apparatus, a sit-up apparatus, a loaded barbell, a poor man’s glute-ham apparatus, or any other immovable object you can think of using. Here’s a video of my sister from several years ago busting out 3 reps.
NHC and Hamstring Strain Injury Prevention
I would guess that the NHC is one of the top ten most studied and referenced exercises in the literature, probably behind squats, Olympic lifts, bench press, push ups, lunges, and deadlifts. In fact, at the end of this article, you’ll see over 100 studies listed. The reason why it is so popular is due to the prevalence of hamstring strain injuries in sports and the belief that the NHC can help prevent them. The eccentric nature of the NHC is believed to increase hamstrings length and shift the maximum strength of the muscle toward longer muscle lengths, which is believed to be important in sports. For more information along these lines, please read:
Questioning the NHC as a Hamstring Injury Prevention Method
If you’re a strength coach or physical therapist, then you should definitely include the NHC in your arsenal. There’s a wealth of research behind it, and there’s no doubt that it can help prevent hamstring strains. Moreover, knee flexion torque is highly correlated with sprint speed, and the hamstrings contract to both extend the hips and flex the knees during sprint running (and this is vital during the window immediately before, during, and immediately after the foot strikes the ground). So knee flexion shouldn’t be omitted in sport training.
But before I delve further, I want to be very clear about something. Possessing high levels of eccentric hamstring strength does not guarantee that hamstring strains will not occur. In Hamstring strain injuries: are we heading in the right direction?, Mendiguchia et al. explain how hamstring strains are predicted by the interrelated nature between flexibility, strength, fatigue, core stability, architecture, and previous injury.
An athlete could possess sound levels of hamstring strength to absorb eccentric stress, sound levels of hamstring flexibility to lengthen sufficiently during high load activity, and sound levels of core stability to prevent aberrant pelvic motion, but still wind up with a hamstring strain due to excessive fatigue, a prior injury, or simply a skeletal anatomy or muscle architecture that lends itself to large strains on the hamstrings.
Furthermore, the NHC works primarily on knee flexion. In sports, the knee joints do not move independently from the hip joints; they work in concert with one another. Moreover, hip extension exercises stretch the hamstrings to a greater degree than knee flexion exercises. Therefore, it is very important to perform hip extension exercises as they will lead to a greater stretch in the hamstrings, and they are more specific to sport movement.
The NHC as a Hamstrings Builder
Can the NHC pack on serious hamstrings muscle mass? I believe it can. Take a look at a study conducted by Ebben et al. which showed that NHCs (in this study they were called Russian Curls or RCs) outperformed seated leg curls, stiff leg deadlifts, single leg stiff leg deadlifts, good mornings, and squats in hamstring EMG activity.
As you can see, the NHC is no joke. Now, there are several articles in the literature investigating hamstring EMG activity, and they show conflicting results, probably because hamstring activation is highly influenced by the precise placement of the electrodes along the length of the muscles. At any rate, the NHC undoubtedly leads to high levels of hamstring muscle activation and should be included in a comprehensive hamstring strengthening protocol, especially in conjunction with other exercises such as Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), glute ham raises (GHRs), and lying leg curls. RDLs, GHRs, and NHCs are well-suited for producing high levels of tension and damage, whereas lying leg curls are well-suited for producing high levels of metabolic stress.
The Band Assisted Nordic Ham Curl: A Better Alternative
In this article, I’d like to impress upon you what I believe is a more effective NHC variation compared to the standard exercise. The vast majority of lifters and athletes are not strong enough to adequately control the lowering portion of the exercise throughout the entire range of motion (ROM). Almost inevitably, athletes lower their bodies under control during the first half of the movement and then sink like a ship during the second half of the movement. This rapid descent is accompanied by a sharp decline in muscle activity.
To prevent this occurrence, the lifter can simply use a band to provide assistance, which kicks in more and more as the lifter descends into the latter portion of the movement. This is importance since the torque angle curve of the NHC is sharp such that the most torque out of the knee flexors is required at the end of the movement when the muscle is lengthened (but it’s important to realize that in a NHC, the hamstrings don’t even reach resting length at their maximum stretch).
Of course, not every athlete needs the band assisted version of the NHC. Take a look HERE at former NFL athlete Adam Archuleta – skip to the 2 minute and 32 second mark and watch Adam bust out NHCs with ease. But guys like Adam are the exception, not the norm.
In the video below, you can see that I’m able to control my body throughout the entire range of motion. In fact, I don’t even have to use my arms to “push up” and provide assistance.
I hope that you give this variation a try, I think you will find it to be more effective than the traditional version, at least until you build up enough strength to sufficiently control your bodyweight during the eccentric phase without the use of bands.
Research on Nordic Ham Curls
Below is a list of over 100 linked journal articles that investigate, program, discuss, or recommend the Nordic Ham Curl exercise.
Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS Professional Physical Therapy Professional Athletic Performance Center New York, New York
In a recent conversation with my good friend Hall of Fame Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach Johnny Parker, he commented on his recent visit to a D1 University where in discussions with this University Head S&C Coach regarding the review of the football team’s weight room program design, it was stated that approximately 80% of the program design placed emphasized toward athletic performance and approximately 20% placed emphasis on “prehab” and injury prevention. A breakdown of this football training program design revealed a 50%/50% split of the program exercise volume for both athletic performance and prehab/injury prevention and not the assumed 80% to 20% originally stated.
Coach Parker and I had previously spent time together at a D1 University to present on the topic of program design for the S&C staff at this institution with an emphasis on football program design. We also observed and made recommendations during the football team’s participation during their off-season training.
During our first “classroom” session with the football S&C staff, they were asked to list in order of importance; the exercises they felt should best be incorporated in their football program design. The top 2 exercises listed were the squat and the Olympic lifts. A breakdown of this particular D1 football program design revealed that approximately 10% of the total program volume was dedicated to the squat exercise performance and approximately 12% was dedicated to the Olympic lifts. Just as in Coach Parkers recent visit, you could imagine the surprise of this D1 football S&C staff when the actual numbers presented were very far below the program design perceived squat exercise and Olympic lift volume of work. These examples of the misconception of the actual work performed occur more often than assumed. Why does this incident of perception vs. reality of program design exercise (athletic performance) volume occur? Before I proceed I would also like to mention that these two D1 programs have excellent Head S&C Coach’s and staffs. These S&C coaches have the respect of their players, football coaching staff, and university administration. They are very organized and run outstanding and successful programs, i.e. conference championships, bowl game appearances, etc.
Why does Perception vs. Reality in the Program Design occur?
With all of the available training information presented at conferences, in books, articles, and videos, as well as the gazillions of internet articles and blogs, etc. available, the S&C Professional is faced with a significant dilemma, which exercises to include and which exercises to omit from the athlete’s training program design. What appears to transpire is that the S&C Professional attempts to include everything they can in their program design i.e. as many exercise’s as possible for athletic performance and prehab/injury prevention. This seems to occur because the S&C professional is faced with the concerns of (a) if I don’t include all of these exercises am I cheating my athletes from being the best that they can be and (b) If I don’t include everything in our training program design and my competition does, do my opponents now have an unfair advantage over our players?
This trend also occurs in the field of rehabilitation as I have witnessed less experienced physical therapist’s and athletic trainer’s who will appropriately add more advanced exercises as their patient’s/athlete’s condition progresses, yet do not remove the easier basic rehab exercises performed at the initiation of care. As this tendency continues over time the total volume of work performed by the patient/athlete may become excessive and may lead to the risk of overuse type pathologies.
With regard to the S&C program design, how does the S&C Professional determine which exercises to include and which ones to omit?
Establish a Training Philosophy
It is important for the S&C Professional to establish an athletic performance training philosophy. Once this philosophy is established, regardless of the type of philosophy, the S&C Professional should adhere to this philosophy to allow enough significant time for this philosophy to make its impact upon the athlete regardless of all the “outside noise” of additional exercises of which the coach may continue to be bombarded. Now does this infer that the S&C Professional should not continue to strive to progress and improve to achieve the best training program design as possible? Of course not as to do so would be certainly be foolish and limit the positive outcomes of the athlete during the training process. However, with that said the S&C Professional should not ignore the successes of the past.
As an example when establishing the selection of the specific strength and power type exercises to incorporate into the athlete’s program design the S&C Professional should review the exercises that are performed by some of the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world. Arguably the most powerful athletes in the world are the Olympic Weightlifters and Track and Field Throwers. A review of these competitive athletes training programs would include exercises such as the squat, Olympic lifts, and overhead pressing and jerking type activities.
The next question that may be asked is why are these specific exercises utilized? The answer obvious answer would be because they work. These exercises have been utilized for athletic performance for over 100 years and are still being utilized by the best athletes in the world today. Why would this occur as there are so many other training exercises to choose from? Unlike some of the exercise fads that have come and gone through the decades, these exercises have passed the stringent test of time, over a century of time. When something passes the test of time it’s because it has value and obtains results.
Lessons from a legendary football coach: “Know what is important and don’t worry about the rest” and the “Birthday Rule”
Through the years of working many off-season training periods with Coach Parker and his football players during his tenure as the Head S&C Coach with the NFL New York Giants not only did I learn a tremendous amount from him but I also met and over time developed a friendship with NFL Hall of Fame Football Coach Bill Parcells. Coach Parcells is a very wise man and over the years he has also been instrumental in teaching me many lessons with regard to working with players and coaching. One of the many lessons I received during my conversations with Coach Parcells, as well as with Coach Parker was “Know what is important and don’t worry about the rest”. In regard to the performance training of athletes this would necessitate, based upon the training philosophy, the selection of the exercises that are most important for the athlete’s development and performance and don’t worry about the other exercises. The S&C Professional may ask “but what about all my prehab and injury prevention work?” I do get this question often and will address this topic a little later.
Coach Parcells also had an instituted a rule called the “Birthday Rule”. His birthday is August 22nd and this rule stated that no additional football play was ever to be placed into the NY Giant playbook after August 22nd. Why? Because the Giants were going to master and be proficient in the running the plays in that playbook by repeatedly working and practicing these selected plays that were important to them. Opposing teams were going to have to beat the Giants at their game. The NY Giants didn’t add fancy plays during the course of the season to beat teams; opponents were going to have to beat the NY Giants. If you ever watched one of Coach Parcells football teams play, there was not a lot of trickery or fancy plays. Parcells’s teams were physical with their opponent. They did what they did best time and time over the course of the game. Coach Parcells knew what was important and he didn’t worry about the rest. The S&C Professional should place emphasis upon the exercises that are most important for the development of their athlete’s physical qualities and performance, and train the athlete to become proficient when executing them.
The relationship between Science, the Program Design and the connection to Athletic Performance, Prehab, and Injury Prevention
Science and research will provide the S&C Professional with valuable information for athletic performance training as well as for the prehab/injury prevention of the athlete. Three of the various topics of my personal interest in exercise science and sports rehabilitation are the joint biomechanics and forces that occur during exercise performance, muscle activity during exercise performance, and the effect of muscle fatigue upon exercise performance. How does this information assist in the program design of the athlete? When incorporating exercises for athletic performance as well as prehab/injury prevention, the S&C Professional must acknowledge both the risks and benefits of each exercise selected as well as the relationship of the similar muscle activity that is present during the performance of these two exercise categories. This concept is often ignored during the process of the program design development. In the establishment of a sound program design wouldn’t the exercises performed during the training for athletic performance enhancement include many if not all of the same muscles/muscle groups and muscle activity that are incorporated during the application of prehab/injury prevention exercise performance? There certainly are situations where additional isolated prehab/injury prevention exercise prescription may be necessary, but this should be determined on a case by case basis.
As an example many prehab/injury prevention programs I have reviewed incorporate the performance of numerous rotator cuff and deltoid muscle exercises for the prevention of shoulder pathology in football players. This was also the case in both D1 program examples mentioned above. When considering the muscle activity during the performance of overhead weight type exercises the anterior and middle deltoid, rotator cuff and scapular musculature have been demonstrated to be very active. The addition of rowing/pulling type activities to the program design will likely include all the necessary components for optimal shoulder development and shoulder health. Depending upon the athlete, the sport and position played, as well as the athlete’s medical history, it may be necessary for the athlete to perform additional rotator cuff exercises as part of the prehab/injury prevention portion of the training program. That said does the athlete have to perform TEN different rotator cuff exercises? If exercises such as overhead pressing and pulling type activities demonstrate high deltoid muscle activity is an additional exercise prescription with the intension to both isolate and train the deltoid musculature of the shoulder also necessary to prescribe?
By attempting to incorporate “everything” presented in discussions and lectures, read, and seen with regard to the training of athletes, the following is likely to occur:
The volume (percentage) of work performed with the exercises considered the foundation and most important for athletic performance is likely diluted by the overprescribed volume of additional training exercises as well as the prehab/injury prevention exercise performance, thus the appropriate exercise volume for the foundation and advanced athletic performance exercise program design being performed by the athlete becomes a perception and not reality.
The NCAA regulations allow the S&C Professional only 8 hours of performance training per week. Isn’t this important and limited training time better spent with the athlete on the more substantial facets of training vs. the overprescribed and excessive additional volume of exercises including the prehab/injury prevention type activities?
Incorporating “everything” into the athlete’s training program increases the overall exercise volume. This increased exercise volume may produce excessive muscle fatigue, especially in smaller muscle groups such as the rotator cuff. Therefore while the S&C Professional may be of the perception they are preventing injuries with this high volume of assistance and/or prehab/injury prevention exercise prescription, the execution of these types of exercises in conjunction with the corresponding muscle activity that occurs during the athletic performance based exercise execution may actually be setting the athlete up for overuse type injuries.
Don’t forget the guys with the rings
Three of my very good friends are now retired Hall of Fame S&C Coach’s. Together they have 15 Professional Championship rings including 10 World Championships. These S&C Coaches are Al Miller, Johnny Parker, and Al Vermeil and all are leaders in the field of S&C. They are all very successful S&C Coaches and all have won Professional and/or World Championships during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Presently we are now in the year 2014 so one may ask why are the successes of long ago so important at this time. During the 1980’s and 1990’s these three S&C Coaches did not have the information that is available to the S&C Coaches of today. However these coaches where very successful with the information available to them at the time they were coaching. Although these three Hall of Fame professionals coached different professional teams, they all won championships (Al Vermeil is the only S&C Coach in history to win both a Superbowl and 6 NBA Championships) and their program designs were very similar. They all achieved their goal of getting their athlete’s strong and powerful and kept them strong and powerful throughout the competitive season. What about the “prehab/injury prevention” programming? Well although these coaches were very serious about injury prevention and protecting their players from injury, the term “prehab” likely didn’t exist at that time.
To win championships a team not only has to have players who have championship caliber talent, but these talented players must remain healthy to play day in and day out and survive the stresses of a long physical season, the playoffs, and championship games. These three coaches time and time again led their respected league with the lowest team injury rates and if they were not the best (led the league); their respective teams were always in the top 5 in this particular category. How did these S&C Coaches achieve this accomplishment if they didn’t focus on “prehab/injury prevention” type exercises? They achieved this landmark by developing athletes who were very strong and powerful as acquiring optimal strength and power also assists to prevent injury.
I am not insinuating that injury prevention and the incorporation of “prehab” type exercises are not an important aspect of the training program design. I also am aware that some individual athletes may need more of this type of training than others. However the S&C Professional should remember that many exercises incorporated for the foundation of athletic performance also work the same muscles during the execution of “prehab” type activities. The S&C Professional should also remember that the successes of the past can assist to lead to the success of the future, and when developing the training program design, to remember what is important and to forget the rest. The S&C Professional should develop a training philosophy, and based upon this philosophy, select the best exercises that will optimize your athlete’s performance on the field and don’t worry about including “everything” else in the program design. There are certainly many instances where incorporating everything may lead to achieving nothing or as my good friend Derek Hansen and Charlie Francis would state, “You wind up creating a junk pile.”
The more programs like CrossFit and Insanity gain mainstream traction, the more people seem to use their level of fatigue as a barometer for the quality of a workout. Once you get accustomed to grueling workouts, it’s as though you crave the feeling of fatigue. If you’re not crushed at the end of a workout, you feel like it was a weak session. But, if we’re puking in a bucket or can barely walk, it MUST have been fantastic.
Throw in all the positive reinforcement we get about this –non-stop social media posts about how hard someone’s workout was today, YouTube videos of people trashing themselves, etc. – and it’s hard to avoid this trend.
People also seem to judge their strength coach or personal trainer by the difficulty of his/her workouts. So, in an effort to establish credibility, many coaches crush their athletes/clients so they are viewed as the “best” or “most intense” coach on earth.
I certainly fell into this at one point in my career. I felt like I had to make athletes puke or crumble to assert my dominance. I’ve talked to several other coaches who have fallen into this trap. A recent conversation with University of Michigan Strength Coach Mark Naylor revealed that, when he was younger, he felt like he couldn’t go home at night until someone puked. This was obviously an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Interestingly, this works for a lot of coaches. It did for me. I had a reputation as being a bad-ass, hard-core strength coach, and I loved it. Athletes would talk about how hard the workouts were and share stories about what they went through. We all hear people comparing stories about who creates the hardest workouts. It’s like a badge of honor to be able to administer a severe beat down.
It actually took me a long time to figure out that crushing people day in and day out wasn’t what was best for them.
Let’s be clear, I love hard work. I still love intense workouts. I love burying myself and my athletes with an intense training session. Developing the physical and mental capacity to overcome enormous obstacles is a huge part of strength and conditioning, and I’ve used just about every tactic in the book at some point.
I believe that pushing athletes hard and using training programs to develop work ethic and intensity develops the psychological benefit of being able to push through discomfort. In my opinion, the benefits of raising work capacity through intense training cannot be under-estimated. I’m not one of those guys who freaks out when a kid pukes or thinks that everyone should be “comfortable” all the time. On the contrary, there is no question in my mind that intense, general physical preparation has a solid place in training, whether you’re working with athletes or you’re just trying to look good on the beach.
But, intense GPP is not COMPLETE training, and it definitely should not be used at every training session. It’s only PART of a comprehensive performance training program. If you’re just trying to get yourself in great shape, it can be great, but too much of a good thing can also lead to problems.
When done correctly, intense GPP-type training can raise your work capacity and allow you to train harder and longer. When done poorly, it can cause injuries, lack of progress, over-training and can develop a poor sense of what training is all about.
The trick is to balance this kind of ball-busting training with quality work and recovery so you can maintain your health, stay injury free and continue training toward your goals. Maybe I’m older and wiser than I used to be, but seeing past today is definitely important in training.
Unfortunately, many attempts at including intensity are overzealous and misguided, and our clients aren’t always getting what they need….or deserve.
I’ve seen far too many people fall into the intensity trap and get hurt. They either over-train and develop over-use injuries or they let their exercise technique crumble in an effort to set a new PR on some meaningless workout, and they end up getting hurt.
Interestingly, once a person gets injured, I often hear them say things like “I need to get better so I can get back to those great workouts.” Instead of recognizing that the workout was the cause of the problem, and making adjustments, people get so indoctrinated into a “workout culture” that they are blinded to the reality of the situation.
I recently read an article on a popular training site that was basically a short story documenting the details of a really intense training session. People were puking, fighting through injuries, ripping skin off their hands and covering up blood with chalk so they could continue lifting. While I respect hard work and determination, none of these guys got paid to do this, none of them got closer to a goal, and I’m sure the toll (and injuries either caused or risked) of the workout was far greater than positive stimulus.
The issue here is that this style of training gets glorified and reinforced in the minds of many people, and they end up thinking that they should be training like this all the time. My prediction is that the author of that article will look back in a few years and wish he never wrote it (like I’ve done several times).
What’s ironic about all this is that creating fatigue is very simple. It takes very little skill or knowledge to create a workout that would beat the brakes off of any client. Once you’ve done it enough, creating fatigue is mindless.
Creating a complete athlete or higher functioning human is much more difficult and requires far greater thought, patience and long-term planning.
U.S. Military Tactical Performance Coach Blair Wagner put it best when he told me “You need to have a plan in place that takes the accumulation of stress into consideration. You don’t have to walk out of the gym feeling like you got the crap kicked out of you in order to have an effective training stimulus. If we beat people down day in and day out, there will be no performance enhancement, and we will probably cause problems for that person. Making people tired and sore is easy. Making them better is a much more difficult task.”
Always remember, just because you’re tired doesn’t mean it was a great workout, and a harder workout is not necessarily a better workout.
To be clear, I’m not talking about taking a few sets to failure or adding a finisher at the end of a workout. I’m talking about workouts that include so much volume you can’t walk for a week, spending an hour doing bench press so you get that “deep soreness,” or doing 100 reps on clean & jerk even though technique goes to complete crap. I’m also not talking about including brutally hard conditioning intermittently applied in order to increase work capacity. I’m talking about things like doing Prowler pushes, tire flips and Tabata sets every day for two weeks. I see this happening, and glorified, daily by people who mistake fatigue for progress.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every workout needs to end in a puke-fest for it to be productive. Instead, concentrate your efforts on developing qualities like strength, speed and power – which take a lot more precise work to enhance – and learn how to insert intense GPP workouts at times that allow for recovery and continued training.
The next time you feel like administering a beat-down workout in the name of hard work and intensity, make sure that all of your bases are covered first. Don’t be afraid of teaching good, old fashioned hard work or executing a ferocious training session. Just make sure you start with some quality work before you induce complete fatigue, and take the accumulation of stress into consideration and plan your recovery so you can stay healthy and continue to train long-term.
Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS is the Director of the Total Performance Training Centers in Michigan. He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility and Maximum Football Training. With over 20 years in the industry, Jim has trained thousands of athletes at every level including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and Olympic competitors. You can read more from Jim at http://UltimateStrengthAndConditioning.com or http://FootballTrainingPros.com.