Coaches Should Ditch These Nonsense Training Beliefs

TAGS: common myths, Challenging Common Training Beliefs, training knowledge, work capacity, Gabriel Naspinski, training athletes, coaching

There are many things that are thrown out on the internet, in the gym locker room, or in other places that many think are set in stone. I'm a person who isn't inclined to believe everything I hear or read. Maybe it's because I'm somewhat of a contrarian by nature or that I like to go against common beliefs and find my own way, but I usually like to challenge what may be considered status quo and think critically and analytically before I buy into anything that someone may be selling. Because of this, I wanted to spend some time touching on a few things that I've heard lately and in the past.

#1 Strength and conditioning coaches aren't concerned with strength anymore. They should just worry about max strength and the rest will take care of itself.

I honestly don't know if this is a common belief or not, but there was a recent article published online that talked about how strength and conditioning coaches don't make athletes strong or care about making them strong. In this article, the author said that just getting stronger at lifting barbells in the power lifts will cure almost every problem that an athlete has. I usually hate articles like this because of the condescending approach that the author takes.

In this article, not only does the author say that we should just worry about lifting weights, but he also goes on to say that attempting to make an athlete faster or more explosive is a waste of time. He cites that this is largely genetic, which is somewhat true. However, we have to consider that even small improvements in speed or explosive capabilities can make a tremendous difference.

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My problem with what the author says is that people who focus so hard on the maximal strength side of the force-velocity curve only see the improvement in terms of quantity. They see that they have put 50 pounds on a squat, they thump their chests, and they proclaim that they know more people who actually work in the field. In the article, the author refers mainly to football, so let’s consider this. In a sport where players will need to display force as fast as possible, a fraction of a second could mean the difference between making a big play or coming up short. If we can shave even a relatively small amount off the time it takes for a defender to close or an offensive player to hit a hole or get past a defender, this could be the difference between winning and losing. While a relatively untrained athlete may get this out of maximal strength work, in other cases it isn’t going to happen from adding some more weight to a squat, bench, or deadlift. In addition, sprints, jumps, and other highly intensive training modalities can and will contribute to strength gains in the weight room, but strength gains in the weight room won’t necessarily contribute to becoming faster or more explosive. It isn’t a two-way street unless we're talking about very novice, untrained, and often untalented athletes.

My other problem is with the subject of work capacity. The author suggests that work capacity can be developed in a rather short time right before the season starts. So he states that we should do nothing for the most part except lift weights and use a couple weeks before the season starts to “get in shape.” I think we could easily come up with the correct answer when we consider who would ultimately have a better chance of winning a game—the team who actually trained to have a specific work capacity toward the demands of the sport or the team who may be marginally better at lifting weights in general exercises but can’t last more than a series. If all things are equal from a standpoint of skill and talent, I would take the former over the latter any day. Why? Because I've seen it firsthand over the past eight years while actually coaching instead of shooting my mouth off on message boards or articles for other non-coaches to read and applaud. In fact, in our season opener and a pivotal district game this year, we played a team that had bigger and possibly stronger linemen and linebackers. On paper, it looked like a mismatch. In the second half, our offense was slicing through their defense like a knife through butter, and our defensive players were beating every block. What were their guys doing? Bending over between every play or tapping their helmets to be subbed out.

To end this, I think that the vast majority of strength and conditioning coaches probably concentrate on strength more than anything, and if some of the people writing these “just get ‘em strong” articles actually worked in the field, they would know this. Some of this may be so they have data to provide to administrators or head coaches to show that they're doing a great job or some of it may be always defaulting to strength.

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I agree that strength is a great baseline quality to have and can serve to help other abilities to develop, but I don’t think that it should be focused on at the expense of what an athlete needs to do on the field. Figuring out what can help contribute to this takes a little more analysis than just adding arbitrary amounts to a barbell. And yes, you can get too strong. How strong is too strong? When it stops having any relevance to the actual sport you play and you're wasting time by developing it any further.

#2 If you aren’t training around people who are stronger, better, or more talented than you, you're wasting your time.

I have mixed opinions on this because there are some positives to being around others who may have more talent than you. Notice how I'm phrasing this. In the case of any motor ability, you have to be able to look at how that person got to where he is before you determine if he actually knows what he's talking about. Training alone or in a small group that may not have the talent pool that other places have has gotten banged on more than necessary, and the positives of being in this situation are never explored.

Here is what I think you can gain from being around those who are more talented. You may become more motivated because of what you see them do. You may push yourself harder to catch up or compete with the group. If we're talking about strength, you may learn more about technique and programming if you train with a group of stronger guys. However, you may not. Some guys are what you could refer to as “ugly strong.” They have shitty technique and muscle everything up, but because of their natural abilities and higher power outputs, they'll probably always be stronger than most. Some guys are what I like to refer to as “stupid strong.” They get stronger or are stronger for the same reason as the “ugly strong” guys but couldn’t string together a coherent twelve-week training cycle or even a coherently designed training session to save their lives. Because of this, you have to be a little more discerning than just thinking that being around strong guys will make you stronger. It isn’t osmosis, and you won't just absorb their strength.

In the NFL, Richard Sherman of the Seahawks is arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the league. I really can't verify this because I haven’t sat down and broken down game film or graded him out in comparison to the other 63 guys who start at corner in the league, but from what I've seen, he's pretty damn good. Does this mean that he has to go find another group of defensive backs who are better than him in order for him to keep improving? Or could he analyze what is wrong with his game, consult with his coaches, watch film, and figure out what he needs to do? Does Usain Bolt have to find a group of sprinters faster than him to continue to improve? This seems silly, but it's the approach that many take.

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You eventually have to figure out how to do things for yourself. You want to know what some of the best training cycles of my life were? When I trained the majority of the time by myself and infrequently had people who could help me (as in one or two days a week). You want to know why? Because I had to sit and think about what I needed to get out of my training as opposed to just aimlessly jumping in with what the group was doing. You will never reach a higher level unless you can analyze your needs and figure out how to train for them.

As far as training partners go, I've had some disgustingly strong ones and others who weren't exactly setting the world on fire. When I first moved to Tampa, I started training at Tampa Barbell and was squatting in a group with Tommy Fannon, Mike Schwanke, and Nelson Castellano. They've all done 1000 pounds or more in the squat in competition. Fast forward a few years. Mike moved to Las Vegas, and Tommy and Nelson are now doing bodybuilding training. Now I train with a group of varying levels and a mix of geared and raw. However, the core beliefs haven’t changed. When I trained with Tommy, Mike and Nelson, you worked hard, form was coached and feedback was given. You were told what you needed to hear. With my current training partners, this hasn’t changed. This has always been the focus at Tampa Barbell (and if you're in the Tampa Bay area, I suggest that you check us out because we're the only gym with a pure focus on powerlifting and strength training). Honestly, the coaching you receive is what matters, not the amount of weight that your training partners are moving.

#3 What a coach can do physically is an indication of his competence.

We've all talked about “under the bar” experience in the past. I don’t think that it's necessarily a bad thing if your coach trains and looks the part. However, I think there are some people who use this as the only deciding factor about whether or not someone is a good coach. In my opinion, this is one part of the equation, but it really doesn’t mean as much to me as someone having a level of competency in fact versus belief. Let me give some examples.

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Bill Belichick is probably one of the most successful coaches in the history of football. Looking at him, he doesn't look overly athletic and you can't really tell if he even works out at all. He may not be able to perform the skills of athletes in his sport, but he certainly knows how to handle what is important including having game plans, hiring quality assistant coaches who fit his system and drafting or signing players he can use in his system. If we look at his playing career, he played at a small college and was even noted as saying that he liked lacrosse better than football, which he also played in college. Apparently, he developed a level of competency to be able to understand how to tactically coach and prepare an NFL team. That didn’t happen because he was the most physically gifted athlete or the best technical/tactical player in the NFL.

Michael Yessis and Mark McLaughlin are physical preparation gurus. They may never have lined up and played football at a high level, but I've been able to observe some of the things they've done and use it to help my athletes. The same goes for the Soviet sports scientists Bondarchuk, the late Verkhoshansky and Issurin. I've been able to learn from their principles and information and how to apply this to training football players. While none of these coaches have ever posted a powerlifting total, I would be damned if they had some advice to give me about programming that I wouldn’t take to improve my own training.

Too many default to what others have done as athletes instead of what they can do as coaches. If you're only concerned with numbers and physical accolades as opposed to what your coach knows and can or has done with athletes, you aren't really a student of training. You're a fan and spectator. I know the thing to do nowadays is to blabber on about how the internet is full of gurus and how we aren't supposed to trust anyone without a certain three-lift total on all things training, but this isn't the only thing that determines whether or not someone is a knowledgeable person.

Not long ago I saw someone post a debate on Facebook about the importance of a coach being able to bench some amount more than his body weight before he could physically prepare athletes. I don’t necessarily know if this matters as much as the coach being able to understand the needs of the sport and how to efficiently and safely designate the ways to reach the desired training outcomes and produce results. We have to remember that the physical preparation of athletes isn’t all about getting strong and beating everyone up. While some sports need a certain amount of maximal strength—and being someone who has trained for this is a plus—it's irrelevant in other sports.

Photos courtesy of Chris Whitacre
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