Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness II

1.   Strength training will make you slow and inflexible.

Herein lies a situation which again is dependent upon how training is implemented.  I can attest (from my experiences in training when I was younger) that if you don’t implement mobility and corrective exercise as a part of your routine, your mobility will decrease and your chances of injury will increase.  The same idea is applicable when saying that heavy strength training will make you slower.   If speed and power are important components of your training, then you need to accommodate this.  And in order to be powerful and explosive, there is something you need to consider: you need to be able to apply force.  So getting stronger is absolutely a vital training component in a speed and power athlete.  There are countless ways to do this in your training; again the important thing is understand the process and how all training modes will help you achieve your end goal.  So while you can sit there and cite bodybuilders (particularly the ones that compete in heavier weight classes) who wouldn’t be able to run and move on a football field, remember that is NOT their goal in training

If you are worried about maintaining your movement while undergoing training the slow component of strength (i.e. lifting heavier weights), utilize mobility drills and corrective exercise prehab movements to prevent injuries.

2.  If you want to lose weight, cardio is all you need.

I would think in the internet age that most people are probably past this one, but I will address it anyway because I know there are people out there that still believe this.  I am also going to lump into this discussion all of the various types of group training “classes” that don’t include any significant level of resistance training into their workouts with the intent to “tone” muscles (For the record, there is not such thing as muscle tone in the way it is described by infomercials. Tone is a function of the central nervous systems in regards to muscle activity; the tone people are usually aiming to get through training involves having low body fat and MUSCLE MASS).  Yes that is correct, you need muscle in order to have tone.  How do you do this?  Strength Training.  Now this is not to say that some type of conditioning is not important.  Everyone at some point in their training should do various types of cardiovascular/aerobic/anaerobic conditioning as a part of their exercise for overall health and well-being; and if you are an athlete, training these energy systems is all the more important in training for your sport.

In summary, if you want a complete exercise plan regardless of your fitness goals, strength training should be included.

If you get this and want to post a question on how to incorporate these variables in your training, post in the comments.

Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness

All you need is a barbell and plates . . . . . . .

Bodyweight training is the only thing you really need . . . . . . . .

A kettlebell and an open field will be all that is necessary to make you strong . . . . . .

Strength training will make a female bulky. . . .

If you have been into reading anything about physical preparation or fitness,  you may have come across statements such as these.  There are professionals in the field of exercise that will tout certain training modes over others, especially if it is their “thing”.  What is going to be discussed are some issues as they relate to strength training that individuals commonly perceive to be absolute truths.  Falling into some of these thoughts could hamper some of your progress as far as your fitness goals are concerned.

However, there are truths to the above statements.  For instance, if someone where to do push-ups, pull-ups, bodweight squats and lunges everyday, they would get stronger and achieve a certain level of conditioning.  The same can be said for any of the above methods in the initial statments; there are countless stories of athletes, strongmen, and bodybuilders who had nothing but a barbell and some rusty plates in their garage to train with.  Without getting too deep into this, the human body will adapt to a stress which will cause changes to the body.  The problem is that once the body adapts, one will cease to see changes occur.  If you do limit yourself to one execise mode or another, it is definitely important to some how vary your stimulus with your exercise to continue to progress.  This becomes all the more important for competitive athletes who limit their training to certain types of training.  As a for instance, I knew a coach once who had his athletes performing a plyometric (or a jump program as individuals who understand this stuff would refer to it) and thought (no, he knew for a fact according to him) that this was all his athletes would need to make themselves better on the field.  What he failed to realize is that without some level of strength, the benefits from this type of routine would be limited– it’s that whole needing to be able to apply force thing.

So without going any further with this I will just address some of the issues as it relates to how people understand strength development.  What I don’t address here will be discussed in a future post.

1. Bodyweight exercises are all you will ever need

I think bodyweight strength movements are outstanding for helping to develop strength and just overall conditioning of the body.  As a matter of fact, I think most young athletes would all be better served is they could actually perform bodyweight movements (I could have counted way to many athletes I dealt with at the college level who would not perform ONE good push-up).  The problem here again lies in functioning in absolutes.  If you are a competitive athlete (no matter at what level) you at some point will have to add external resistance to your exercise, or for that matter, work on the development of MAXIMAL strength (which depending on your sport or chosen activity, can become very important to your overall development).

While anyone who is a football fan has heard the legendary stories of Herschel Walker (who was an athlete at a level that most people cannot even dream of getting to) doing is regimen of push-ups, pull-up, and sit-ups, there will be other things that have to get done, most notably using resistance.  This also means that athletes at some point should train HEAVY.  Now there are right and wrong ways to go about training to get to that point, but notheless it is something that eventually is necessary for athletes to do.

2.  Strength training and females

Everyone has dealt with the issues of females not wanting to strength train heavy for fear of getting “bulky” or too muscular.  While I am not looking to get into a discussion of physiology for the purposes of this post, females (yes, I am saying females as in all, don’t start telling me about your “genetics”) don’t have the capability to add on muscle mass due to lower resting levels of testosterone.  This means females resort to limiting themselves to spin classes, the lates froms of dance aerobics (I refuse to mention any by name), or the next “bootcamp class”.  Meanwhile, much of the complication with their training and meeting their fitness goals may be achieved by doing some basic strength training with RELATIVELY heavy weight.  This means not only doing high rep sets which do not tone muscles, but rather doing even some 3-5 reps sets of basic compound exercises.

The strength training issue is something that particularly needs to be addressed with young female athletes.  While working at the collegiate level, it amazed me at how when some athletes just dedicated themselves to basic strength training how their performance improved and the number of injuries they experienced decreased; or, when they did get injured how quickly they recovered.  It almost made things easier for me when I worked with these athletes because just about anything that covered working on their strength seemed to help them.  The bottom line is that for females to improve in their sport, they need to train to improve their strength.

I will address some of the other issues in a future post.  For now just remember that everything as it relates to strength training is a tool to be used to achieve a goal; their is not one perfect training modality that works best for everything.

Abdominal and Low Back Training

With injury prevention being a high priority in strength training and conditioning programs, much attention should be paid to the low back.  Low back injuries are both common and quite debilitating, but what most individuals don’t realize is that their exercise routine can be contributing to their low back problems.  This is due to the fact that many individuals begin with exercises that their bodies are not prepared to handle (even though from a movement perspective, they can complete the movement through an inappropriate motor pattern).  It is not until one beings to experience pain that something is wrong.

There are many novel approaches for individuals doing abdominal or “core” work.  The issue becomes that people begin an exercise program using many novel approaches without a basic understanding of how to move and use the musculature appropriately.  An example of this is the common use of the swiss ball for exercises.  While I believe the swiss ball does have a place in training and exercise, it is many times utilized by individuals who do not know how to perform basic movement patterns to maintain a healthy spine.

While there is not one ideal execise approach for all individuals, there are some basic exercises that should be appropriate for most individuals.  The following 3 exercises are advocated for by Stuart McGill, spine biomechanics expert at the Univeristy of Waterloo.  While they are very simple movements, they are very effective in strengthening the torso.

McGill Crunch

**NOTE:  Most people do not need to do the more advanced version with the hands by the head (notice, the hands are in front and not supporting the back of the head.  Many individuals who hold the back of the head end up pulling up with their arms putting added strain on the cervial region).  And, before I get any corrections on technique, I actually lift by upper body a little higher than needed on the second version in the video (although I still keep my rotation pretty much isolated to the thoracic region).

Side Plank

Side Plank V2


Birddog OneBirddog Two







These three exercises activate all of the appropriate musculature for the core, while simultaneously sparing the lumbar spine from increased stresrses commonly seen with many other abdominal exercises.  It would benefit most individuals undertaking a fitness/conditioning program to implement these exercises as a way to strengthen the abdominal and low back regions.  While they may look simple, if performed correctly, these exercises can be challengening.

Most trainees need to understand that they do not fall into an advanced category, and that by doing abdominal and low back exercises that cause added stress to the spine can result in injury.  Even some individuals that do fall in the advanced classification can benefit from exercises like this if they have succumb to muscle imbalances due to their chosen activities.  In another post I will further get into these exercises, along with variations that can be implemented, and also how to incorporate these exercises into a training regimen.  In closing, the referenced text below is a must read.


McGill, S.  (2006).  Ultimate back fitness and performance (2nd ed.).  Waterloo, Ontario:  Backfitpro Inc.

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