Questioning Training Methodologies

TAGS: cleans, posterior chain, Tim Kontos, David Adamson, training athletes, Olympic lifts, squats, powerlifting

There Is Not Always An Easy Answer

When I was an assistant at VCU, Tim Kontos (Assistant Athletic Director at Virginia Commonwealth University) accused me of “riding the fence” and not taking a stand on many issues. While I don’t remember the specifics of that conversation and I left VCU in 2007, that statement has managed to haunt me over the course of the past six years. I've always respected Tim’s opinion, even on issues in which I didn’t like what he had to say. In processing Tim’s statement over the last six years, I've discovered that he was right and that I also feel many coaches and lifters would be better served if they would “ride the fence.”

The problem isn’t that I don’t think standing for and knowing what I believe in isn’t important. This is very important. But I also feel that there are many sides to every issue we face and that we should objectively process and consider all options in order to solve the problem at hand. Many times when I'm not taking a stand, I'm at the same time trying to present a different viewpoint. After all, how can we truly know what we believe in unless we thoroughly understand all sides of the issue?

Below, I will discuss several issues that commonly arise and cause conflict in the strength and conditioning community. For the purposes of this article, I will keep with true form and not take a stand but will show that the answer isn’t always as simple as picking the side you believe in. Every situation is different, and sometimes a similar issue may have a different resolution considering the specifics of the given situation.

Full, Olympic-style Squats vs. Wide-Stance, Powerlifting-style Squats

Many coaches argue that Olympic squats are superior for athletes because that is the stance they use when playing their sport. Other coaches advocate a powerlifting style because of the superior strength it builds in the posterior chain.

First, why would stance width matter if all squatting is a general exercise to all sports other than powerlifting, weightlifting, and Strongman? I knew an offensive line coach who taught his linemen to take a very wide stance at the line of scrimmage. Would it make more sense for those athletes to squat with a wide stance? Sprinters and jumpers never get into a wide position with their feet but need to devote special attention to developing their posterior chain. Powerlifting style squats are better at developing the inner thigh and outer hips, which are crucial for lateral movement and change of direction.

Full Range-of-Motion vs. Partial Range-of-Motion

To many strength coaches, it is almost sacrilegious to even mention squatting high, but there are track and field coaches who never allow their athletes to squat below a quarter squat position. Why is it important for an athlete to develop strength in a position he will never be in when performing his sport?

When accentuating the range of motion of the sport technique, it is important to develop special strength in the exact range of motion of the activity being trained. Highly advanced athletes may benefit immensely from training through a partial range of motion. Training through a partial range of motion during certain periods of the year may allow for a better carryover to the actual sport movements. A beginning powerlifter may not benefit from board presses while an elite level powerlifter may focus the majority of his bench training off boards, foam, or pins. To properly develop the joints and flexibility, it is important to train through a full range of motion. If only quarter squats are trained, the athlete will be capable of lifting loads that his spine and knees may not be prepared for, predisposing him to injury. In order to maintain strength, it may be beneficial for an injured athlete to train through a partial range of motion while rehabbing an injury before returning to a full range of motion.

Cleans vs. No Cleans

Are Olympic lifts the best way to develop power? Should athletes (other than weightlifters) do Olympic lifts? Are Olympic lifts safe? If you didn't answer both yes and no to each of those questions, you probably have a narrow-minded viewpoint and need to rethink your position.

 

If you're coaching by yourself (no assistants or interns to help) and have fifty collegiate football players in the weight room at the same time, how do you ensure that they're all using safe technique? If you're working with professional baseball players who live and die by their wrists and shoulders, are cleans and snatches the best option? Should football players who get their shoulders, wrists, and elbows consistently beat up on the football field do cleans? Are there certain times of the year when cleans are more appropriate than others? If you have ten volleyball players who pay close attention to your coaching and work to utilize proper technique, could cleans be beneficial? If you have a freshman girl who can’t even squat close to her body weight, would cleans be effective or would improving maximal strength through squatting be more beneficial for developing power?

Linear Periodization vs. Everything Else

Linear periodization, block periodization, the conjugate method, undulating periodization, concurrent training, triphasic training, the tier system, the Westside method, sequential training, reverse periodization—I’m sure that I’ve failed to mention ten or more different methods or variations of organizing training. So which one is best? What level athletes are you working with? What type of training have they done in the past? What sport are you working with and which abilities are most important in that sport? What is their competition schedule? What is their school schedule? Does the sport coach prefer a certain type of planning? What type of planning are you the most comfortable implementing? What types of planning do you have the most knowledge of?

Sit-ups vs. Bridges (planks)

Over the last ten years or so, Stuart McGill has become one of the foremost authorities on training for the low back. He has devoted his career to studying the low back, low back disorders, and injury mechanisms of the low back. He has strongly discouraged the use of sit-ups, crunches, or other means of spinal flexion, especially when loaded, to strengthen the abs because these movements, over time, predispose the back to injury. Instead, he advocates the use of isometric means such as bridges or anti-flexion exercises to strengthen the abs and help stabilize the low back. However, I don't know many, if any, strength coaches who have eliminated the use of sit-ups or variations of sit-ups to strengthen the abs. Could the strengthening of the abs be weakening the low back? Javelin, baseball, and volleyball athletes all need to use a certain degree of spinal flexion to perform their sport movements correctly. Should they utilize abdominal movements with spinal flexion in their training?

Advanced Athletes vs. Advanced Lifters

Most athletes at the Division 1 level should be considered advanced athletes and the professional level elite athletes. Does this make them advanced lifters? Some coaches claim that most collegiate athletes are beginner or intermediate lifters and that they shouldn't use advanced lifting methods. Other coaches repeatedly use advanced exercises and loading methods. Does one group have more injuries than the other? Does one group make more progress than the other? Does one group plateau earlier than the other? Do we have any way of knowing the answer to any of the preceding questions other than speculation? Should we even take into consideration how advanced the lifting is since these athletes aren't and most likely never will be lifters, meaning that the majority of work we do in the weight room should be considered general preparation? Do they need to be advanced in the weight room to incorporate special exercises, which, when applied correctly, will have a significant carryover to the actual sport being trained? If we choose not to use advanced loading, will there come a point in the athlete's career when her strength levels will plateau? At that point, how will we continue to develop strength or will that level of strength be at a sufficient level for her sport, meaning she no longer needs to improve that particular ability?

Riding the Fence or Comprehensive Analysis?

Again, before I get a ton of criticism for what I’ve written in this article, my viewpoints aren't present or are at least limited. I'm merely trying to show that each specific situation may require a different perspective. Sometimes a coach may break from what is commonly accepted as being correct because, in that specific situation, the best option may be something from outside the box. From the outside, criticism may be drawn because those looking in don't stop to think about the reasoning behind the methods or take into consideration the entire situation the coach used to develop the methods being applied. It is imperative that we don't become narrow-minded and biased when choosing how we train our athletes. We must think through every situation from all viewpoints to understand what needs to be accomplished and how it should be accomplished.

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