Lower Body Strength Circus

While I'm not the oldest, nor the most experienced coach in the industry, I certainly have been around long enough to have seen and experienced quite a few training "trends" over the last twenty years.

To clarify, I see a trend as what is coming out in young coaches.  The "old-bulls" that have been around don't tend to change a whole lot.  They adapt a few things here and there but strategically and tactically stay fairly true to their backgrounds.

Young coaches on the other hand, tend to be strongly influenced by the movement of the day.  We've seen the machine based lifts come and go, we've seen the proliferation of lifting on unstable surfaces to the exclusion of all else and we've seen the almost "cult-like" drive of the current crop of coaches for everybody, irrespective of function or purpose, to clean, deadlift and squat.

Now don't get me wrong, the big lifts are great...but are we ticking all the boxes?

I believe the movement away from ludicrous "ball-balancing" tricks has been a great one.  In the 90's I saw too many coaches wasting time developing pointless skills on balls at the expense of maximum strength in sports where it was clearly needed.  Funny how things work out, one of the environments I'm thinking of as I write this I ended up coaching at, and proceeded to spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to change a rubbish culture that had been ingrained in the players.

In my mind maximum strength, and more importantly (for most) relative maximum strength, is central to success in team sport.  In every field sport you have to carry your "fire-power", so the amount you can carry will always be determined by the interval and duration of the sport and the nature of the job the athlete is required to do.  Focusing on elements of power before developing sound maximum strength is achieved is fruitless.  Just as top speed ability drives acceleration by allowing the athlete to accelerate toward a higher end point, so too, maximum strength allows for the development and application of greater magnitudes of force in any given epoch across the entire force-velocity curve.

One of the current trends I see gaining lots of momentum is bar velocity.  The assessment of bar velocity and its use in programming has been around for years, however the proliferation of commercially accessible tools such as GymAware (www.kinetic.com.au) have made the process much more wide spread.  While the concepts surrounding the use of bar velocity as a auto-regulatory device are great, I get a touch disillusioned with the use of bar velocity and its associated calculation of power in trying to optimize loads in young athletes that have no strength platform.

I don't care if you are developing RFD...it won't matter if you are firing a "pop" gun.  Yes, we should be teaching our young athletes all the skills required for everything between power and speed/strength on the force velocity curve, but the main focus must be to develop a sound strength platform first.  Once they have a base, a move can be made toward concerning yourself with bar speed.

While I'm harping on bar speed, with regard to more advanced athletes, it would seem that some on the "tweet circuit" don't realize that if you are using loads less than ~80% of 1RM you will be decelerating the bar at far less than 100% of the range of movement for the lift.  YES that means you are actually producing the GOOD STUFF (acceleration) for only a portion of the available ROM.  Now, compare that to any dynamic athletic movement you can think of...running, jumping, side stepping.  There aren't many that only require acceleration for 60-70% of the movement.  Therefore where do you think the specificity of that funky bar speed lift is at?  I don't care what you do at 0.7m/s if you don't do it to the end of range of motion its not specific...its general at best!

Solutions...accommodating resistance (bands or chains), jumps, bounds, throws and lifts that express full ROM (Olympic lifts and some other lift variants I will explore in future articles) .  I love chains, but don't get carried away with their specificity as a true strength-speed (and visa-versa) activity relative to on-field athletic development either.  Westside barbell popularized the use of accommodating resistance in power lifting.  But just be careful, because what Louie Simmons created was "specifically" for power lifters, not field sport athletes, although much of his methodologies have drifted into conditioning field sport athletes.

Using squat plus chains, we recently measured bar velocity on a cross section of athletes and S&C staff at varying loads and found that the best we were able to achieve was acceleration of the bar to 82% of the ROM.   It's certainly not bad, but relative to jumping etc, the specificity is still not there.  I'm not suggesting you exclude squat with chains...I'm suggesting you need to truly understand what it is, and what it is not achieving before you start claiming the "specificity" of the activity.

I don't have all the answers...far from it!  The purpose of this article is to encourage you to critically evaluate what you are doing, what it is achieving, where it fits in your program and how it forms part of a progression for the athlete toward improving performance on the field, not solely in the gym.

Train well!








1 comment

Johnny Vincenti

I think I read this article every time I pop past this page – and it still rings true. Of the plethora of literature I have read in my time, this is one of my very favourite articles, period. Master the fundamentals and evaluate the purpose behind what you do – a simple message that can often get lost amongst the gimmicks of the moment. A quality piece of writing JW (Y)

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