Aug 21, 2002

Attention: Risk is Real!

"Those who aim at great deeds must also suffer greatly." -Plutarch
We received an e-mail this week that we feel stamps an exclamation point on the issue of weight room safety. As we have said before, risk in strength training is inherent, however we feel that a coach can reduce the risk by installing a fundamentally safe program. In the past, coaches have discredited our stance on safety claiming that athletes have never been hurt while performing quick lifts under their supervision. We remind coaches that just because a loaded bar does not
fall on an athlete in the weight room he can still sustain an injury. Low back injury is real despite the fact that the coach can not see it. Any coach can identify the injury in the weight room such as a plate falling on a kid's foot. However, the coach does not see the athlete squirm in pain as he tries to put his socks on in the morning after a set of heavy power cleans. Coaches, the risk is increased and the injuries are real when working with quick lifts.

Due to the sensitivity of this letter the names have been withheld. Coaches we just ask that you place yourself in this athlete's shoes. Could this football player been an asset to his team without performing quick lifts? We'll never know.
Hi, Coach Rody

I returned to College at the age of 29 to play football for [a competitive N.A.I.A. Team]. Things were going great until I herniated a disk in my lower back doing clean and jerks in our 2000 spring strength training program. It ended my football career. I have been recommended for surgery.

The reason I write you is because our strength coach runs a complete Olympic lifting program. He feels that it is superior for building strength for athletes. Before I even knew what Olympic lifting was, I ran a 4.48 forty and vertical jumped 35+ (among the top three on the team). I also had very strong lower and upper body strength.

I think this coach is dangerous and I have heard several of our athletes complaining about injuries from his methods. In fact, many of the athletes lift at other gyms to gain strength and size because the strength coach (who is an avid Olympic fan) will not let them do exercises like the bench press [in the college's weight room].

One of many examples of how risky this man is: he has all returning football players do a one rep max of the clean and jerk at the very beginning of two-a-days football camp. It is amazing to me the administration has not acknowledged this unsafe behavior. I have heard he was let go at other institutions, possibly because of this.... Our national champ track coach (also a football coach for 30 years) rejects [this coach's] program but the football coaches seem to be naive about it. Is there any advice you can give me to help expose this risky program and present a stronger case to the administration.

Sincerely, Steve

First, we wish you the best of luck in your surgery and recovery. Secondly, there is a ton of research pointing to the problems that you have addressed. We have mentioned in previous articles, books by Matt Brzycki, that are great for their bibliographies alone. You should consult these sources before making a presentation. Avoid being confrontational, as this mind-set will hinder rather than help your cause. Simply present the facts, safety concerns, and strength gains that can be made without quick lifts. Keep in mind, Olympic lifting coaches are not the enemy. Olympic lifting is a wonderful sport and thus the lifts have their place. Like you, we simply feel they serve no useful purpose in the realm of training traditional athletes. The risk outweighs the benefits. Good luck.

Coach Rody

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note

Aug 12, 2002 Classic: What are our Athletes Training For?

"College students have a number of daily and weekly obligations and commitments: class attendance, study time, part-time employment, meals, sleep and personal matter. This can be a job in itself." -Tom Kelso
For the summer, we have decided to reduce our frequency and post once or maybe twice a week. We will be very busy training our athletes and taking vacations. We will pick up the frequency again in the fall. We will continue responding to your e-mails regularly so please do not hesitate to send us your thoughts or comments about training.

Please excuse this "re-run" article. We are gearing up for both the start of football practice and the launching of's 2nd school year. We hope you will enjoy this commentary reminding coaches that sports/training is rarely as important to the athlete as it is to the coach. Thus, do the most you can with the time you have. believes athletes should spend 1.5 hours to 3 hours in the weightroom per week. In order to do this the athlete must be on a productive and efficient program. Strength training is an activity to help athletes perform their sport specific skills to the best of their ability.

Then why do coaches implement Olympic lifts in their program at the college level and especially at the high school level? Athletes at these levels are very busy with classes, practice, study time, social life, and rest. It takes quite a bit of time to learn and master the proper execution of the quick lifts. Athletes must have a proper balance in life; Weight room time being just a fraction of that time. [We understand that many coaches, that use these lifts, feel that the time is not spent unwisely or that it takes any longer to perform these lifts within a exercise program. That point can be debated (and has been debated over and over again). For further understanding of our stance on Olympic lifts being inefficient for the training of traditional sport athletes, please read some of our other articles that deal specifically with that topic. -S.A. August 12, 2002]

Tom Kelso, Strength Coach at the University of Illinois Chicago, in his article “Strength Training the Collegiate Athlete” explains,
“Valid research studies and empirical results obtained from hands-on experience have all proven that a minimal amount of very demanding training is all that is necessary to stimulate strength gains. Common sense then dictates that if a low volume is effective, then it should be used because of its many virtues, most significant being the time efficiency factor.”
Kelso continues,
“College STUDENTS have a number of daily and weekly obligations and commitments: class attendance, study time, part-time employment, meals, sleep and personal matter. This can be a job in itself. College STUDENT-ATHLETES have the same, including all obligations relating to their sport: practice, meetings, contests, team functions, travel, strength training, conditioning, etc. It is a “no-brainer” then that the most logical approach to all sport-related commitments be quality oriented and done as efficiently as possible. If the existing time allotted for strength training can be reduced-and yet produce the same or better results-one should take advantage of it.”
In order to implement Olympic lifts in a program, athletes must spend a considerable amount of time in the weight room. Certainly more than the 1.5-3 hours we recommend. realizes that many of these programs still only spend only 2-3 hours per week in the weight room but these coaches may not really be concerned if the athletes are executing the Olympic lifts with perfect form. We have heard many coaches say, “Well I have not had any major injuries yet.” These athletes do get those minor injuries and what about how these kids' backs will be when they get older? We talked to many former athletes and they do attribute Olympic lifting to some of their back pain in life today. Do they know for sure, probably not, but we believe there are more former players with back pain that used to do the quick lifts than the athletes that did not. We would like some feedback on this.

JP O’Shea reported, in “ Principles and Methods of Strength Fitness”, the major causes of low back pain among athletes using weight training or Olympic lifting are due to: 1) lifting weights improperly from the floor, 2) overhead lifting, 3) loss of balance when lifting, 4) trying to catch oneself after a slip, and 5) insufficient warm-up. will not be a possible contributor to an athlete's back pain now or in the future. [Several readers have pointed out our hypocrisy in this regard. Meaning, some see that, while pontificating the safety issue, we turn around and promote the bench press and the squat. These are great points and ones we have tried to address since this article was first published. 

First, we maintain that bench press injuries occur under elements of competition such as power lifting or 1RM testing, both of which we are against in the training of athletes. Power lifting and 1RM testing are great for the sports themselves (just as we maintain for Olympic lifting, but not as a means to train traditional sport athletes). We have asked those questioning our use of the Bench Press to lead us to research that points to Bench Press dangers because we sincerely would like to know the "truth", however, none has been presented. 

The squat is another issue altogether. We are aware of several programs, similar to our own who have eliminated the squat from their routine. Quality Leg Press machines are hard to come by and out of reach for many high school programs. We feel that certain body types, shorter/stockier athletes can perform the Squat, with proper spotting and rack, safely. With injured or awkward athletes we do not hesitate to prescribe the leg press. -S.A. August 12, 2002]

Good form performing Olympic lifts will help reduce the amount of injuries in athletes but much more time spent in the weight room teaching these lifts is a must. Not only that, proper supervision is also a necessity. We have not seen the proper supervision and coaching especially at the high school level.

One coach training 30-40 athletes is an impossible scenario for proper supervision using Olympic lifts. Even with necessary time, the Olympic lifts have been known to cause many injuries when athletes have very good form. If a coach did demand this kind of time from their athletes, we ask: “What are you training your athletes for? An Olympic lifting competition?” We maintain that these lifts do very little to help athletes in their prospective sports as our research indicates in previous articles. [We do not literally mean that we have scientifically performed research studies, but rather researched what others have done. We were recently labeled as a website that brings nothing new to the table. That maybe true but what we are trying to do is educate those people already sitting at the table, eating whatever the Old Guard sets in front of them. -S.A. August 12, 2002]

Get your athletes in the weight room and then get them out. Spend proper time on specific skills for your sport and spend more time studying, your athletes will be much better off.

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note.

Aug 5, 2002

Is Training to Failure Necessary? Mystery Guest: Father Lange of Notre Dame

"That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." -Thomas Jefferson
There continues to be a misconception among coaches that using multiple sets rather than single set programs produce superior results in strength gains. In truth the research has shown no difference in the use of multiple sets over single sets in this regard. The "trick" to make single sets work
for your program is the level of intensity. Working to momentary muscular fatigue is vital in promoting strength gains.

We understand that progress in strength can be made not reaching that point of muscular fatigue. However, despite the strength gains, the recruitment of muscle fibers would not be complete. It is the concept of exhausting the muscle that triggers the recruitment of total motor units.

The Overload Principle, based on stressing the muscles with higher resistance or intensity on an ongoing basis, forces the muscles under stress to grow. Beginners will make good progress in strength while not reaching the point of muscular failure and that may be well advised to do so at a young age. This approach is prudent until they have at least learned the exercise movements and develop efficient neuromuscular pathways.

In the November 1999 edition of Coach and Athletic Director,
Dan Riley and Jason Arapoff state that "high intensity exercise strictly adheres to the overload principle." Athletes who end an exercise movement when they are straining or tired, but do not continue the movement to the inability to move the weight, will leave some muscle fibers un-recruited. "Its that simple: work until you cannot work anymore!"

Also, training to failure will make tracking progression easier. If you stop short of failure, say at 90% of your potential intensity, it would become difficult to know when to move up in weight and reps. There will be no doubt as to when to move up when you train in an all out manner to momentary muscular failure. We believe that if the athlete is using the correct exercises and proper spotting that this is a very safe way to train and it is also the most productive and efficient way to train. Riley and Arapoff conclude, 
"Without overload, there is no reason for the muscle to get stronger. The muscles will simply adapt to he level of strength they are exposed to."

In conclusion, there are various ways to make strength gains. For simplicity let's use two groups Volume & Intensity

Volume:  The volume group may perform a rigid prescription of sets and reps such as 5 x 5 or 3 x 8. The athlete in this program will simply perform the prescribed repetitions even if they could continue lifting the weight. Some programs such as BFS allow for this by encouraging the athletes to continue to failure on the last set. Although this wrinkle in the rules looks to align itself with our way of thinking we differ in the fact that the athlete has to perform 3-5 sets before working to failure. While we allow for a warm-up set, 5 seems excessive to say the least. (This is not to pick a fight with coaches who use BFS, we used it ourselves for several years). 

Intensity:  Compare the Volume group to the Intensity group, who completes 1 set of appropriate weight to failure... total and utterly complete failure. Done... muscle fibers recruited. Move to the next exercise. While the Intensity group is on movement number 3, the Volume group is on set number 3.

Do both work? Yes.

Why choose the Intensity method? 
  1. We feel we can work more in less time.
  2. We feel we can accurately measure gains in strength without the use of percentenges or 1RM.

Mystery Guest: Father Lange

We return to our Mystery Guest feature in which we present figures who have impacted the role of strength training in the field of traditional athletics. This week had just one correct answer: Jim Bryan, New Haven FL.

Father Lange can be credited with helping to start the strength training movement on college campuses long before the strength boom of the 1970's. In fact it was in 1922 when Knute Rockne, legendary Notre Dame football coach, began pushing his athletes towards this barbell-happy priest. Lange trained over 6,000 athletes, from all collegiate venues trained under his supervision. This all happening without official University support.

It was not until 1960 when Notre Dame began a physical education program and gave it's strength training priest a brand new facility. So, in a way, linked closer to the traveling strongman than the educated ivory tower, (although it was his academic resume which brought his efforts credibility), and decades before any university would hire an official strength coach, coaches at Notre Dame were sending their athletes to his charge. "The strength coaching profession truly should regard him as a founding father."

This week's mystery guest information was found in a book of collected essays by various strength coaches and experts from around the country. "Maximize Your Training: Insights from Leading Strength and Fitness Professionals," edited by Matt Brzycki is simply loaded with history, science, and tons of information on safe, productive, and efficient strength training. This 450 page book is well worth the $20 you'll spend to have it on your shelf. The story of Notre Dame's early strongman/priest was found in Chapter I, Might and Muscle: Antiquity to Arnold, by Jan Dellinger. The image of Father Lange comes from the Notre Dame Archives .

If you have questions or comments about this web site or strength development or training please drop us a note


***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.***