I was listening to an IronRadio podcast recently where Charles Staley was talking about training for elite performance vs. for health and longevity. He and some of the others made some great points that really made me think.
The first point mentioned is that anyone who is training for elite performance is typically dealing with some sort of chronic issue. It’s unfortunate, but common. When a person specializes in a sport the repetitive nature of it will eventually cause wear and tear. Some are luckier than others and some are perhaps smarter when it comes to a long-term career. There is a price to be paid for performance at a high level. Think about it, runners and their knees, hockey players and groins, baseball players with their shoulders and elbows. I have had the privilege of working with a small number of pro athletes in my career but when I consider what Staley was talking about, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that Mike Boyle sometimes gets a lot of shit for not doing heavy squats with his athletes, especially his older ones. Again, I have little experience with these athletes but if what Staley says is true, many of these guys are constantly beat up and working around nagging aches and pains from the amount of time that they put into their sport. This is one way Mike combats this. As the strength coach it’s our job to find the safest and most effective way to get them stronger and moving better so as to prevent future risk and minimize chronic issues. My second thought is that elite athletes, of any age, in various sports don’t necessarily need to become elite lifters. Although some may reach great levels of strength in some lifts, and let’s face it, we all have a favorite exercise because we are good at it; the focus needs to be on well rounded strength and durability. No doubt, strength is important for multiple reasons but priority number one is to keep players in the game. How strong is strong enough? I don’t have a clear answer for any one exercise but I think that if an athlete can demonstrate great technique in a lift and has potentially been doing this for many years then at some point there is no need to push for more weight. Either the speed of the lift can change or possibly switching to a unilateral version if applicable could be the best way to progress at this point.
For those seeking overall health and longevity a few thoughts come to mind. One, small variations in exercise selection are a good idea so that overuse injures don’t occur. Two, it might not be the most important thing for everyone to be strong but in the very least obtain or maintain the ability to do so. I think this is more or less achieved through the mastering of bodyweight exercises whether it be a push up, squat, proper deadlifting hip hinge or a get up. However, being or becoming strong can be very fun and should be pursued. In order to master said bodyweight exercises, proper mobility is key. Without that it’s harder to use variety and achieve a greater level of all around fitness without risking injury.
There is a fine line. Strength being a skill, it is built through repetition just as athletic and technical mastery of sport. Too much in the weight room may be detrimental, especially with poor recovery strategy. Too little means the athlete is weak and less resilient. As I write these thoughts, over a long period of time, I have recently heard both Bret Contreras and Jim “Smitty” Smith talk about auto-regulation. I had not previously heard of this term but it is something I incorporate regularly. Even in dealing with young athletes who seem to play fewer sports and far too many games/tournaments per weekend, I sometimes have to change workouts on the fly to adjust to how each athlete is feeling or performing. Sometimes it is best to back off. Less is sometimes more. Which also makes me further consider that in certain situations maybe training can be as simple and complete as only get-ups and swings or just sled pushes and inverted rows.
We could debate all day on exactly which way is best but what we do know is that there are many ways to get strong. Whether you are training young or old, elite performers or those seeking health, at the end of the day, if your clients are making subjective improvements, staying healthy and they keep coming back to continue on their journey, then everyone is a winner.