By Dr. Ken Leistner
Any reader of the Legend Fitness site is obviously interested in strength training. The opportunity to gather useful and applicable training information or perusal of the great equipment offerings give more than enough reasons to “tune in” when e mail notifications are sent. Thus almost by definition, any of our readers would be surprised if they entered an NFL or major collegiate program strength training facility and observed the training procedures, routines, specific movements, and equipment utilized. While every coaching professional has a base philosophical stance that provides a foundation for their training program, the surprise would come from the immediate realization that “everyone does a bit of everything.”
Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. Hard, consistent training works. Hard, consistent training works in the resultant stimulation of the body that brings enhancement of muscular size and strength. Changes in prevailing training methodologies, equipment, coaching “styles,” and extent of supervision has revealed one constant when a program has success and that is hard work done in the weight room, over time, on a consistent basis, brings results. Here is a brief historical tale, brief but accurate:
Strength training for athletics and strength training for football did not begin with actual strength coaches per se. The very first attempts at organized team weight training specific to football came with the supervision of a coach who usually had training from their military experience in assisting the conditioning of the squad. He could have had more of an interest in health and exercise than the other coaches on staff and/or volunteered for the task. If his background included any type of resistance training, he may or may not have added that to the team’s program of preparation.
The first “strength coaches” were not full time program or team employees but instead, consultants. They were usually those who had garnered success as lifters or the coaches of lifters. The prevailing “weight training” sport and thus “philosophy” was that of Olympic weightlifting in the mid-1950s when a few forward thinking coaches decided to “try this weight lifting stuff” for their teams, and those tapped to oversee the few programs that utilized organized strength training were thus Olympic lifters. The clean or easier to perform power clean, snatch or easier to perform power snatch, press, jerk, squat, and deadlift became part and parcel of these early programs. Hard, consistent training brought results.
When powerlifting became popular in the 1970s, many formerly successful football players who had become strong and retained an interest and connection to their football programs also became early employees in the S&C field. They were not Olympic weightlifters, may or may not have been competitive powerlifters, but the lifts themselves which had become more popular now served as the basis for many if not most organized strength programs for football. The emphasis was now on the bench press, squats although done to varying and often far from productive depth, and deadlift with a smattering of the assistance exercises often done by powerlifters such as dips, pulldowns, and incline presses. Those that were successful worked hard and did so consistently.
With the early 1970s introduction of Nautilus equipment, the landscape was altered and for the relatively few S&C coaches who understood the machines and their application, results were positive although many programs purchased the machines if only to “cover themselves.” On the national stage of “big games” or conference championship games, if and when a team that utilized primarily powerlifting type movements defeated a team that used Olympic lifting type of movements as the program foundation, those in one camp would point to the results as proof that the bench press and squat were more effective than presses and cleans. If a machine based program defeated a team using powerlifting type movements, there would be an assumption among many that “the machines are better.” Pseudoscience, pseudo research, and what could be termed a pseudo industry arose in which each group provided “research,” the likes of which despite the honest efforts of those performing it would have been laughed out of legitimate scientific conferences, and “proved” that their methods were more effective in producing winning athletes. Professional meetings and organizations were ruled by contentious behavior, especially when commercial interests became involved. Of course the programs that were successful no matter what modalities or methods used, worked hard on a consistent basis.
Over time, it became obvious that it was more productive to note the similarities of successful programs rather than the differences because over time, a variety of training approaches, equipment, and coaching styles had in fact proven to be successful. The common denominator was, remains, and has always been hard, consistent work and thus it matters less “what” is done in the weight room as long as there is a modicum of safety involved, relative to “how” it is done in the weight room. Still, there are die-hards that contend that there is but one way to produce a muscularly larger and stronger athlete while a peek into any “big time” room indicates otherwise. Players will squat, bench press, deadlift while also doing curls, triceps pressdowns, and machine lateral raises and leg curls. Some narrow-minded coaches have stated to me that they “don’t allow bodybuilding in their weight rooms, just football exercises” and I have countered with “doesn’t any exercise that builds muscle qualify as a football exercise if a football player is doing it?” If the goal is to “build muscle” and enhanced strength that can then be brought to the field of play through the application of skill work, any exercise that produces effective stimulation is in fact acceptable.
There are provisos of course; do time constraints limit what can be done? Does available equipment limit what can be done? Does supervision or the lack thereof limit what can be done? Does the maturity and weight room skill level of the athlete limit what can be done? Do these limitations lead to choices?
Find out more in Part Two of this series.
For more information about Dr. Ken, go here.