In the past year I’ve had the privilege of meeting many different strength coaches. When I meet strength coaches, I try to do a little investigating as to what their background is, what other subjects they specialize in, who their mentors are/were, what sports they played, and what population of clients and athletes they train.
The sad thing is, we’re all a little biased by our background. For example, before I became a strength coach I read a ton of information on bodybuilding and powerlifting. I also taught high school math and science for six years. While I’m very proud of my background as it helps shape who I am as a trainer and coach, it leaves me with biases. I’ll be completely honest. I’ve always been biased toward strength. I have videos of powerlifters and bodybuilders lifting really heavy weights. Right after college all of my friends got together for a bachelor party and had a big softball game. We put all the “Stoners” on one team (guys who smoked weed) and the “All-Americans” on the other team (guys who didn’t smoke weed). I hadn’t swung a bat in years, but what I had done in the past several years was lift weights and gain a ton of strength. Although many of my friends were on the baseball team in high school, none of them hit a homerun that day. The only guy who hit any homeruns was me…and I actually went 5-for-5 with 5 out of the park homeruns (with one of them clearing the fence by around a hundred feet). Prior to that day, I didn’t realize how important strength was in certain sports. On a side note, the Stoners kicked our ass (the All-Americans) by a score of around 18-11. So much for just saying no!
So when I started learning more about sport-specific and functional training and I see guys wobbling around on inflatable discs and bouncy balls, I thought it was completely idiotic. I said to myself, “You keep wobbling around and I’ll keep deadlifting and when we go head to head I’ll put your head through the wall!” I read Dave Tate and Louie Simmons articles and watched their videos over and over ad nauseum. I learned how to get people really, really strong. I watched Ronnie Coleman yelling “Yeah Buddy,” “Ain’t Nuttin’ but a Peanut,” “Light Weight,” and my favorite, “Everybody Wannabe a Bodybuilder, but Nobody Wanna Lift No Heavy Ass Weight” over and over and over. I bought an Olympic Weightlifting VHS tape by Jim Schmitz and reviewed it monthly. Strength and power were all you needed in my world.
Fast-forward to present-day. I still have to remind myself that there’s more to athleticism than just strength. When I see someone tossing around a kettlebell, I’m naturally inclined to think, “Why not use a barbell and move heavier loads?” I have many friends and colleagues in the profession who I speak to regularly and I listen to their advice. If they advocate something, then I trust them enough to at least give it a fair shot. Single leg RDL’s, pistols, kettlebell swings, and Turkish get ups would have been something I wouldn’t have tried in the past because I was so focused on bilateral strength, heavy loads, and maximum stability. Luckily I have great friends who entice me to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things.
Moving along, the topic often comes up in strength training circles….”how strong is strong enough?” It depends on the sport!!! A football player pretty much can’t be too strong, whereas a golfer doesn’t need as much strength. Finesse sports require less strength than strength and power sports.
I often hear Olympic coaches talking about how “there’s no such thing as overtraining.” Well, there is such thing as overtraining syndrome, and it’s a terrible thing. It’s just that the nature of Olympic lifting allows more training frequency and volume due to:
1. anthropometry of typical lifters which allows for balanced joint stress throughout the body rather than concentrated stress on a particular joint
2. typical trunk angles being more upright in the full squat, front squat, and clean which equates to less back stress
3. lower rep ranges with a focus on ramping up
4. longer rest periods and less metabolic fatigue
5. speed strength, RFD, and reactive strength emphasis and avoidance of “grinding reps”
6. concentric emphasis over eccentric
7. auto-regulation/biofeedback and daily “training maxes” not “competition maxes”
8. good warm-up and restoration protocols
9. a preference of clean and snatch variations over max effort deadlifting and good morning variations
10. proper form and good mobility which equals good joint centration and less concentrated stress in a particular area
11. not much specific upper body work, and sometimes not much core work
12. usually it’s just lifting; plyos and sprints are rare, agility work and energy system work are even more rare
So the average Olympic lifter can lift with much more frequency and volume than the typical powerlifter. There are some Oly lifters who find much success lifting 7 days per week. Some bodybuilders are known to lift two weeks in a row without a day off if they’re taking in a lot of calories and feeling good. Should a football player attempt to pull this off? What about a sprinter? Should a powerlifter try to deadlift seven days per week? Hell no! When you engage in “combined training” or even “heavy grinders,” it complicates matters.
To provide another example, coaches like to talk about the role of certain muscles and “what they were designed for.” For example, you often hear that the rectus abdominis was designed for transmitting hoop stress or transferring power rather than creating power. Doesn’t it depend on the sport? In gymnastics, what does the rectus abdominis do when hanging from a bar? In MMA, what does the rectus abdominis do when on your back on the ground?
I’ve come to conclusion that the Track & Field coaches are biased toward max speed development (but they’re experts in periodization, very skilled in program design, and quite knowledgeable about biomechanics and transfer of training). The football coaches are biased toward limit strength and ground-based lifting (but they know how to get athletes strong!). The golf coaches don’t give a damn about strength, but know a ton about corrective exercise as it pertains to hip, t-spine, and ankle mobility. The dual strength coach/physical therapist types (not all but some of them) err too much on the side of caution to the point where they can’t get their athletes strong because they’re actually too strict and too cautious. I’m sure that many people think I’m biased about the glutes (but they don’t see my overall program in order to make an accurate judgement regarding my methods).
When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.
When “talking shop” with fellow strength coaches, it’s important to understand these biases so you can better understand their frame of reference and make better decisions as to whether you’ll “take-home” what they advise. It’s also very important to have discussions from time to time with those who disagree with you or oppose your position on a various topic, and to speak from time to time to experts in other sports, fields, or subjects. Often this is the key to innovation! Most important, as a strength coach it’s critical that you possess an arsenal filled with all kinds of tools.