April 2, 2020

Functional vs Dysfunctional Strength

Much has been written on the topic of functional strength.  Too much really.  There is the argument of what that phrase even means.

Functional Strength

In general all strength is functional to an extent.  I will cover why that is not always true a bit later.   If you gain muscular strength.  Anything those stronger muscles do becomes easier.   if that is the case then more must be better.  Well, that is typical muscle-head thinking.  If some is good, more is better.

We are building athletes for sports other than powerlifting, and olympic lifting.  In that way there is a "strong enough" destination wherein the athlete is fully strengthened for the sport she or he plays.  In other words the acquisition of additional strength translates to no improvement on the court or field.  In fact the acquisition of additional strength is a detractor.  It detracts from the time that could be better spent on doing sport specific training or even just recovering from training sessions.  Once an athlete is strong enough for their sport, they need only maintain their strength.  One workout every 7 days or so will accomplish that. 

Dysfunctional Strength

For the athlete dysfunctional strength is, as I said before strength beyond what is needed.    For the non athlete, dysfunctional strength is the pursuit of strength beyond which is healthy for the organism.  There is the level of strength which allows one to merely do every day life.   There is a level higher than that worth striving for that makes one more resilient to the demands of daily life and work  Beyond that there is another level of strength that actually detracts from one's health.

Yes you may be able to lift a heavier weight to satisfy your ego, but at what cost?  Higher blood pressure, unhealthy body mass, damaged joints.   Remember, your heart works just as hard to haul 275 lbs of beef around just as it does 275lbs of lard.  Just because you carry a low level of bodyfat does not mean you are healthy. 

If you want to be a healthy adult and grow old, strong, and fit, you should emulate Clarence Bass, not some power-lifter or strongman competitor.   Clarence is a model of health.  The others are a cardiac event waiting to happen. 

April 1, 2020

Coaches Workout

Coaches need to stay in shape too.  Coaches have a lot going on.  Many teach in addition to coach, so obviously an efficient workout is one that might actually get done.  You should be able to be done with this workout in less than 20 minutes even if you loaf. 

I say this is a workout for the coaches, but this will be effective for your athletes as well.

To be done on two different days per week.  Ideally with at least two days rest between. 

Day 1
Overhead Press
Chest Press
Leg Press

Day 2
Calf Raises

One set to failure.  If you can't get at least 8 reps in a 3/3 cadence, decrease the weight.   Or don't pay attention to reps at all.  Just time your set and work to fail between 45 and 90 seconds.

This will give you all the stimulus you need for strength and muscle gains.  Worried this isn't enough?  Then you aren't working at a high enough intensity.   Failure means you can't do another rep in good form no matter how hard you try. 

June 28, 2019

The Importance of the Squat

To be an athlete you have to squat.  The heavier the better.   That seems to be the mantra.   Is it true?  Always?  Really?

How much do you think Chuck Norris could squat in his prime?

How much should a water polo player be expected to squat?

Well, no doubt many would say that squats are always important. The key is that more leg strength is better than less, but the caveat being, how much is enough for the sport you are in and what is the trade off in time and energy developing more leg strength vs some other weakness or skill for the athlete.  You do have FINITE resources after all.

In other words, find the bottle neck and work on that.

May 11, 2019

Why are you training your high school athletes like powerlifters?

"as a means to improve in another sport I have a hard time seeing the value in heavy singles lifting given the risks..." -NFL HOF Strenth Coach, Kim Wood

If you have your players on a steady diet of sets of 5 - 3 - 1 reps, why are you training your high school athletes like power lifters? While that is one way to go about gaining strength, it places unneeded stress on joints and is more likely to cause an injury and is less useful on the field.

Powerlifters are competing in a sport that requires pure strength.  Powerlifters don't need ANY muscular endurance, or other capabilities.  Simply the ability to contract the muscle as forcefully as possible.

Let's see how powerlifters compare with football players. Maybe some comparisons will help us determine if the type of strength powerlifting develops and how it develops it is in sync with what athletes in traditional sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, etc require.

Ever watch a powerlifter working out? It's rather like watching paint dry. There isn't much to see except every 5 minutes or more when he lifts a weight a few times and then takes another inordinately long break.

Joke: How do you know when a powerlifter is doing cardio? He rests less than 5 minutes between sets.

Do your football players rest 5 minutes between plays so their muscles fully recuperate so they can output a maximal effort again? I'm guessing they don't.

Powerlifters train to do 9 attempts at a meet. 3 lifts, 3 attempts usually increasing in weight. How many attempts (plays) are executed in a typical football game?   More than 9?

What I'm saying is the sport of powerlifting and the sport you are training your athletes for has different requirements, so it doesn't make sense to train them in the same way.

Low reps will place more stress on the joints. That's ok, if you've chosen to powerlift in competition, then you take the risks along the way to the reward.

Putting athletes in a situation where they are more likely to injure themselves from intrinsic force of the weight or because they don't have enough skill yet.

A weight an athlete can do 10 reps with is one thing if it gets a little out of the groove, but one he can only do 3 reps with is another story.

Higher reps will build strength too, but better than that, it builds in some metabolic conditioning to the muscles as well.

Think I'm wrong? Try a set of 20 or 30 squats. That conditioning, physical AND mental, goes a long way in a game situation. It takes "want to" to get through higher rep training. That "want to" will come through on the field as well.

I'll leave you with a little excerpt from a larger discussion here.  This quote is from Kim Wood, the first strength coach in the NFL.  Kim knows a thing or two about how strength training athletes should be done.

I once had a player...a great guy...came over from the Jets and was billed by a power-lifting magazine as the "strongest man in football" ...he was studly...well, once he said to me... "my power-lifting program gets me stronger than your program. But your program gets me stronger for football. I'm a stronger football player doing it your way..." I sat down with him and said,"Matt...getting stronger for football is the ONLY reason we are here...it's the only reason I KNOW YOU...it's the only reason we are in this room right now!"

So what do you as a high school strength coach KNOW that an NFL strength coach doesn't?

Well then, give up the powerlifting workouts.

'Til next time, good training.

An article we wrote awhile back that has some of Dr. Ken's words of wisdom.  Simple Does It - Good Advice.

May 5, 2019

Remembering Dr. Ken

"as a means to improve in another sport I have a hard time seeing the value in heavy singles lifting given the risks..." - retired NFL Strength Coach, Kim Wood

Stronger Athletes would like to recognize Dr. Ken Leistner for the decades he spent in service to athletes, fitness enthusiasts, the average guy that wanted to get stronger, youth and many others.

Dr. Ken passed on about a month ago.  Over the decades he's written literally thousands of strength training articles.  He espoused safe strength training methods that enabled strength acquisition without the injury potential that is part and parcel of acceleratory training methods that are best left to the people that are performing lifts in a competition.

I did not know Ken personally, though he did at one time answer a letter of mine.   I found the address of the Iron Island Gym and sent Ken some questions.   Ken took time out of his day to review my questions and craft a personal response.  That meant a lot to me.

Our condolences and prayers are with Ken's family and friends.  

Thank you for all you did.

Maximum Bob Whelan has some nice tributes to Dr Ken on his site written by himself and others.  Here is one that really hits home.


March 24, 2019

Seven Ways to Strengthen Your Athletes

"Leap, and the net will appear." – John Burroughs

It's possible that your athletes are as strong as you want them to be now and you feel that they won't benefit from any additional strength.

Now that we got the joke out of the way let's get on with it.
  1. Use the correct working range for reps  Generally, your athletes should not be doing sets of less than 5 reps or more than 30 reps.  7 - 15 reps is a nice workload for much of the lifting you will do.   I like one warm up set and one work set.   On the work set once you can get 15 reps easily, add a bit of weight at the next workout.
  2. Add single limb movements.   Don't go heavy on these.  The main thing is that the weights put the body in an unbalanced state.   The sports your athletes play don't present athletes with forces that are all nicely balanced and come at the athlete perpendicular and centered.  So, it makes sense to do some movements that cause the body to have to stabilize itself.

    For legs consider step ups with a dumbbell held in one hand. You can alter the hand that holds the weight doing two sets per leg. One set with the weight in the right hand and one set in the left. Single arm db overhead press is a good lift. If you have resistance bands, these are optimal for this type of training. Single arm standing bench press is a great move for linemen in football.

  3. Cut down to three lifts per strength session. The three simplest would be a lower body movement, upper body pulling movement and upper body pressing movement.

  4. Focus on technique. Slow down the lift so you are doing a 4 second eccentric and 4 second concentric. This will eliminate any momentum and keep tension on the muscle the entire movement.
    The athlete should feel the muscle being worked very directly. They may need to use lighter weights if they've been moving faster and cheating the weights through sticking points.

  5. Drink some water. These days lots of people either don't get enough water or even if they get enough liquid aren't getting enough pure water. An extra quart of water consumed throughout the day over what they athlete is currently doing will help with recovery from training.

  6. Focus on a weak spot. Athletes tend to like to do what they are good at, as a coach it's your job to spot what they are weak at and work to improve that. Find their sticking points and what muscles are weak. Don't add volume to the workout to fix the weakness. Instead drop the primary lift with the weakness every other session and do a specific exercise to work the weak muscle.

  7. Talk with your athletes and learn about them and what makes them tick. The more you know about each one, the easier it will be to motivate them in the weight room. The motivation will lead to better gains

These are seven ways to strengthen your athletes, but really this is a starting point. Of the seven I've outlined you could break each one down further. You could come up with 7 ways to motivate your athletes for instance.

February 7, 2019

New Lift, The Dead Bug Bench Press

Stupid Is as Stupid Does / Look it's the dead bug bench!

What the hell motivates people to this level of stupidity. Brainless personal trainers? An article in a supplement magazine? What?

January 20, 2019

Visual Tutorial on Squat Mechanics

"I'm sorry, if you were right, I'd agree with you. -Robin Williams

Squats - For Those That Need A Visual On Body Mechanics

Earlier we posted about needing to serve athletes better when considering the squat.

Here is a video for those of you that STILL don’t/can’t/won’t understand this based on words. That might sound harsh but many coaches and trainers STILL don’t understand why squats might not be for everyone. Watch and learn.

August 22, 2018

TNT - It's Dynamite!

For the chemists out there, they might think of trinitrotoluene when they see TNT, the rest of us though,  probably just think of dynamite.

However, there is another meaning you should know. 

It is an acronym that stands for Truth Not Trends.  TNT is an evidence based podcast site featuring podcasts from renowned exercise authorities such as Mark Asanovich, Wayne Westcott, and Michael Bradley et al.

Their mission and values have similarities to StrongerAthletes, but with a stronger focus on the individual.  No nonsense and a strong focus on the clients health and goals.

  1. To promote health and prevent disease through strength training in the safest, and most efficient way humanly possible. To help people become the best version of themselves.
  2. Promoting individual strength through evidence-based progressive overload training.
  3. Supporting individual health through evidence-based nutritional counseling.
  4. Strengthening communities by connecting practitioners of the evidence-based, high intensity training (H.I.T.) philosophy to clients who value evidence-based training regimen.
  5. Disseminating up-to-date scientific research regarding the application of safe and productive exercise, and neutralizing misleading and/or unscientific information.
  6. Bolstering Oakland’s image as a hub for fitness innovation and technological advancement.
  7. Providing the owners with returns on their investment sufficient to continue sharing the tenets of high intensity, evidence-based training.

The site is the work of strength coaches Jesse Schmidt and Liam "Taku" Bauer who is celebrating his 30th year as a strength coach.

There are a bunch of great podcasts available as well as articles that explain the "why" to various training methods.   Liam will tell you when something is worthwhile and when it isn't.  There are lots of things being sold to the trainer today that are wrong, dangerous or dangerously wrong. 

Liam and Jesse's site has none of that.

I encourage you to check out Truth Not Trends and find out for yourself the quality of the content Liam have to offer.

May 3, 2018

Less is More, More or Less

How Much Is Too Much?

What is the optimal amount of strength training? The short answer is the least you can do while making credible gains.

Why would you do more? Like anything we pursue in life strength training has a point of diminishing returns. At some point x in no longer equals y out. Eventually 2x in starts to equal y out, then 3x and 4x in.

How Full Is Your Recovery Cup?

Think of recovery like a cup. The more volume you add the more the recovery cup empties to get you ready for the next workout. If you have more volume than the recovery cup can handle, you aren't recovered by the time the next workout comes. Life is very busy for the high school athlete. There are numerous demands on their time.

In addition to the normal academic demands, athletes have sport demands. Sport demands can further be broken down into strength training demands. Everything is cumulative. So if you can save some time somewhere, it's a good thing. Time saved can be shifted to be utilized to improve another area the athlete needs improvement in. Also though, time saved can be banked, that is not spending the 20 minutes saved by having them practice 20 minutes longer at something else. This can foster improved recovery both physically and mentally from sport.

How Do We Determine The Right Volume?

The key is to monitor your progress and keep accurate records. Conversely you can reduce volume and if the gains stay the same, then you've got a win on your hands.

We have found that more volume does one of the following: 1.  No change in gains.  2.  Decrease in rate of gain. 

You can reduce the strength training stimulus while getting the same strength gain. This allows better recovery for the athlete. As stated earlier, don't be quick to spend the reduced volume by filling it with other exercises. Less can and often will be more.

What Are Some Ways To Reduce Volume In The Weight Room?

Reduce the sets - An obvious way to reduce the amount of volume. Many studies show one set is enough stimulation for strength and muscle gains and diminishing returns set in on subsequent sets.

One working set is best.  Do a warm up with about 75% of what the work set will be.  Eight nice controlled reps no faster than a 2/2 cadence.

Remember, one of the key reasons powerlifters and olympic lifters do many sets is for the practice of the lift itself.

Their one and only goal is to lift more weight in that movement. Set upon set helps to build motor memory for that movement and when you are lifting for competition, you want to be able to hit the efficient groove 100% of the time.

For powerlifters and olympic lifting, lifts are their skill training and strength training in one.  For athletes in other sports that is not the case.

Athletes need strong muscles.  This can be accomplished by working a muscle group(s) irrespective of the particular movement.

Strength training for athletics is not the same. You are trying to make the athletes stronger, but you are not trying to turn them into a world record squatter, so having them squat as a world record pursuing lifter doesn't make sense. It's waaay past the line of diminishing returns.

Fewer Exercises - One per body part or muscle group.   A leg press/squat, deadlift, chest press, overhead press, lat pull or row will work all of the groups an athlete needs to work. 

Fewer Sessions - The old off season of 3 to 5 days a week schedule is more strength training than you need.  The athlete will gain just as well from two heavy sessions a week with a limited number of lifts each session.  So on the days you gain back from only lifting two days per week, consider some skill/position specific training and some general training such as sprints or HIIT to keep their wind up.


If you look around at what you are doing you will find places and ways to save time and wear in your strength training program.

This is also an activity where another set of eyes can help. Talk to other strength coaches and agree to critique each others programs with an eye toward reducing the work. That other coach will probably spot ways that don't occur to you and vice versa.

January 14, 2018

Introducing Corporate Warrior

In the next few months, I'm going to make a an effort here to talk a little bit about some of the folks on our Sites Of Interest.

The links you see there are people or organizations that we feel are doing good work by promoting the correct training methodologies and have some unique information that we think would benefit our readers.

The first one I'm going to talk about is the newest addition to our Links, Corporate Fitness. Corporate Fitness is the effort of Lawrence Neal. Lawrence states he started the site

"after having the epiphany that redefined what I considered to be "effective exercise". My journey starts here... 

It's Sunday evening 22nd July 2012. I'm sitting down planning my workouts for the week: 
Monday - Running and "Core" Work Tuesday - Upper Body Strength Training and Grip 
Wednesday - Interval Sprints 
Thursday - Lower Body Strength Training and Grip 
Friday - Hill Sprints 
Saturday - 45 Minute Run  
I pointlessly penciled in other activities in the few available spaces, knowing full well they weren't going to get done.  
I planned my life around the workouts that should have come second to my relationships, family, and mission. The result: my career suffered, businesses failed, and I never saw family. I was pretty unhappy.  
14 months later, things were different. I watched this video by Dr Doug McGuff. It was a game changer.  
On a Sunday evening (29th September 2013), I sat down to plan my week. I planned when I was going to see friends and family, work on my business, network, develop/acquire skills for my day job, attend seminars, and play sport.  
Once I had filled this in, I penciled in a single 15-minute workout for Tuesday evening, knowing it would provide all the benefits and more of my previous 6 to 8 training sessions per week with minimum wear and tear on my body.
My journey took a turn.  
I realised that, like exercise, I was ineffectively managing my life. I started to hunt for the critical counterintuitive in everything. Looking for the principles, strategies, hacks and tactics to more effective living. Default living just didn't make sense to me."

[Excerpt from http://www.15minutecorporatewarrior.com/about-us/ 

Lawrence came across the high intensity training and saw what positive it gave him and then sought a similar approach to living life. I don't think we'll try coining the phrase High Intensity Living (HIL), but it's clear that Lawrence has made every effort to maximize his progress by investing quality time into the things that matter to him.
Just as we do with high intensity training.

I've listened to some of the podcasts on Lawrence's site and really like them. Lawrence asks good questions and probes for answers making the podcasts more interesting and valuable to the listener.

I think you will benefit from Lawrence's information, positive outlook and energy he brings to the table. Visit Corporate Warrior and see what we mean.