Lifting by the Dozen
With the rise of Ultimate as the States’ fastest growing team sport, it’s great to see the development of the UPA Coaching Corps and efforts to develop more women leaders in the sport. In college-level and pro sports, coaches are often divided into two camps, game/sports coaches who focus on strategy and sport-specific drills run on the field, and strength & conditioning (S&C) coaches who may train athletes on the track and in the weight room.
Now, imagine you are the S&C coach for your college Ultimate team. What do you think your #1 job is? You might answer, “to make players stronger and better conditioned”. Well, that’s not a bad start. Perhaps better is “to make athletes more efficient at sports movements”, to crib a random PLU S&C web page. But at the professional level, if you ask a S&C coach what their #1 job is, they might actually say it’s injury prevention.
If you skim Mike Boyle’s Functional Training for Sports or listen to him talk on the StrengthCoach podcast, you’ll hear Coach Boyle come back to this time and again. As S&C coaches, or perhaps more aptly as athletic development coaches as Vern Gambetta would have it, it’s very easy to be seduced by the desire to max out your sets / reps / 1RM lifts or presses, but how much this does really help on the field? How many of you have gotten injured just training for your sport?
In “Strong Athlete, Zero Injuries” (PDF), Coach Boyle reminds us that “undisputed reality is that professional sport uses the avoidance of injury as the measuring stick of success in strength and conditioning. Shouldn’t that tell you something? Pro teams don’t test squats or deadlifts. I don’t know one professional sports team that does 1RM strength testing. That should also tell you something… Success as a strength and conditioning coach at the professional level is measured by keeping the best players playing.”
In retrospect, this is obvious, how many of the best players on your Ultimate team aren’t playing right now due to injury?
“The NFL uses a statistic called “Starter’s Games Missed.” The NHL uses a similar stat called “Man Games Lost to Injury.” Same concept.” Does you or your S&C coach keep track of how many games, tourneys, or even practices you missed? “What gets measured, gets done.” Are you measuring your own (team’s) rates of injury?
“The real key is that strong and healthy aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive… There was a time I believed that everyone should have a sore back for a week after a deadlift workout and that everyone iced their shoulders and took Advil after every pressing workout. I now know that wasn’t true. I want my athletes to have all the benefit that science and experience can provide.”
So, given this, how shall we approach our training? A few high-level principles to guide us:
- Train movements, not muscles.
- Strength is a skill.
- Movement quality, not quantity.
If you’re a bodybuilder, you might want to train muscles, not movements, but as a competitive sports athlete, you probably want to try it the other way around, focusing on multi-joint, functional exercises with your feet (foot) on a stable surface. Examples? In the strength sphere: Bodyweight squats and compass (multi-planar) lunges. One-legged squats and single leg deadlifts. Pushups (see Strength by Sara or Eric Cressey on this one!) and Kbell Swings and Get-ups.
[In “Strong Athlete, Zero Injuries”, Coach Boyle continues with “8 Ways to (Weight) Train Safely and Effectively”, which is targeted toward the T-nation crowd rather than sports athletes, but two bits of advice I like are to try one-legged squats and DB snatches. I actually like bilateral deadlifts (Mike doesn’t) based on what Gray Cook has to say on DLs vs squats, and enjoy KB snatches even though they’re way more technical than a DB snatch.]
Do these train muscles? Probably, but you should be focusing on training the movement and not the muscle, since fundamentally athleticism is about the ability to move well, brute strength does not suffice.
You also want to be able to move with good linear speed and quickness / agility, and here I will just point you to the excellent Ultimate Fitness DVD featuring Bryan Doo (review forthcoming in another blog post).
“Strength is a skill” is a reminder from Pavel Tsatsouline that strength is not simply about the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy of your muscles, but also about the mind-muscle connection, the techniques of proper breathing, rooting, and alignment. Approach it as practice, not just mindless reps if you would, comrades =) Same goes for how you move! Movement quality, not quantity. Symmetry.
Two more principles before we call it a night.
4. Recovery and Regeneration
5. Find your Weakest Link
I don’t have a cute phrase for this off-hand, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that training is merely a stimulus. Perhaps the most important phase is this one, recovery and regeneration, what happens off the field and outside the gym. Whether you think of this as Supercompensation or Regeneration it matters how you eat, sleep, and hold yourself all those other hours of the day when you’re not in cleats or Frees or VFFs.
Finally, Gray Cook in Athletic Body in Balance reminds us that you need to constantly be looking for your weakest link. As athletes and people, we tend to play to our strengths, which is great, but also holds us back. If you can do a 2x BW DL but not a rock-bottom deep squat, then maybe mobility or flexibility is your weakest link. If you can run for miles with ease but have knee pain after practice, maybe you (after you consult with medical / fitness professionals) need more strength / activation in your posterior chain (get off that treadmill!). Maybe you need soft tissue work–today at a tourney I was in serious TMJ pain which I localized to a trigger point in my SCM, and even though my energy systems were raring to go, you can’t do much when you’re in serious pain & startle (soo unlike these guys!).