Is Strong the Goal?

March 9, 2019

For quite a long time I have been contemplating starting a blog. Is it worth my time? Will people read it? Do I even know how to write effectively? Well today was the straw that broke the camel’s back (we will get into that a little later). For a long time Kayla has said that she just wishes she could get all of the info that I have gained down on paper….. well this is the start.

At Enzo Athletic Performance, we train a lot of athletes ranging from 8 years old to 60 years old. Our programs include Middle School Sports Performance, High School Sports Performance, Olympic Weightlifting, and a general population Strength & Conditioning class. With all of these programs the goals vary. For my middle school kids, I simply want to introduce correct fundamental movement patters to them, as well as give them some competition in the weight room and make it fun for them. My high school kids start to get into more complex movements i.e. snatch, cleans, plyometric variations, sprint variations. We also introduced them to ways of transferring what we do in the weight room over to the field or court. Our Olympic Weightlifting team trains towards one goal, to lift as much as possible in the snatch and clean and jerk. We practice these movements on a daily basis and train the strength movements that are going to help us lift the most weight in those two competition lifts. And lastly, our Strength and Conditioning class is for general strength along with some energy system training, a well-rounded program that will keep them healthy and active.

Is strong the goal? As you look back at this previous paragraph, which one of these programs would you say that being strong is the goal? Hopefully you are thinking Olympic Weightlifting. As previously stated, our goal in Olympic Weightlifting is to lift as much as possible for 1 rep in the snatch and clean and jerk. With that being said, the law of specificity would say that we need to train close to 1 rep maxes often. Let me preface that by saying that my new athletes do not train at or even close to 1 rep maxes. But as a whole, that is our goal to push our 1 rep maxes higher so that we may compete at a higher level. To answer the question, is strong the goal? YES!

Before I go on, I would like to inform you of something I learned when I got into this industry. The number one rule in all of strength and conditioning/sports performance programs is DO NOT HARM. We are a supplement to whatever outside activity the person may be doing whether that be a certain sport or being a full-time mother. Whatever the goal is, we MUST be training in a way that allows us to always perform at a high level. If you tweak your back maxing out your back squat and you can’t train for 2 weeks, was that extra 10-20 pounds you put on the bar worth it?

Now to the real point of this article. Today I had an athlete come to me with a tweaked back. When I asked how it happened, he informed me that he was instructed to max out (1RM) his back squat. Although he made the lift, he told me that he was folded over and not in a good position (the straw/weight that broke the camel’s back). Instead of his planned workout, we altered it to essentially all bodyweight movements, stretching, and activation. After he had left my thoughts started to culminate about what was wrong with the system. Initially, I go back to the number one rule, DO NOT HARM! But then I start to look at what was the goal for this athlete? Is his goal to squat 1,000 pounds? To become a world champion power lifter? His answer to that question is no. His goals are to get quicker off the line, move better and not be as stiff. Now, don’t confuse getting stronger with squatting 1,000 pounds. To squat 1,000 pounds he would have to get stronger, this is true. But does he have to squat 1,000 pounds to get stronger? NO. Our athlete’s goals are to be better athletes, and they know that lifting weights will help them be a better athlete. So, if our goal is not a 1 rep max, then why are we testing it? Is the risk of injury doing a 1RM, worth the reward? To me, the answer is no. Is strong the goal? The answer is also no.

What is the answer? The first thing that comes to mind is that testing for athletes with 3-4 years training age (have been seriously training for 3-4 years) cannot be the same for those of less than 1-year training age. Training should be a slow cooker, and we cannot force results to happen. In the first couple years of training, in fact, there should be no focus on how much is being lifted. Instead the focus should be on the quality of training. My second thought is that we must use key performance indicators that show progress towards our goal. If we are in a phase of training in which we believe that getting stronger will help toward our goal of being a better athlete, then we need to test certain strength exercises. HOWEVER, that does not mean that a 1RM must be used. Using a 3 or 5RM is sufficient enough, and also way safer, to test if we are getting stronger. To elaborate further on this point, stronger does not always mean faster or more explosive. At certain points in training towards being a better athlete there needs to be more focus on more velocity-based movements such as sprinting, jumping, and medicine ball throws to fully develop the whole force/velocity curve.

I am completely realistic in knowing that injuries may happen at some point in an athletes training career. However, are we doing everything in our power to mitigate injury in the weight room? In the end, we need to be doing what is best for our athletes-not what is easiest for us and not forcing them on what WE like to do in our own training.

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