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.

Simple Combo to Eliminate & Prevent Knee Pain

Many individuals experience minor pain and discomfort from chronic injuries over the course of their training.  One injury experienced by active individuals is patellofemoral stress syndrome.  This diffuse aching pain in the front of the knee plagues many athletes and non-athletes who strength train.  Even though it typically affects females more often than males, this injury may be sustained by anyone involved in physical activity.  Without getting too in-depth as to how this occurs, basically what happens is the patella (“kneecap”) doesn’t track right in the front of the knee, which causes friction and irritation as one performs activity. 

There are various reasons as to why this occurs in individuals; typcially muscle imbalances are the culprit.  One common imbalance that causes this is a tight and overtive IT band (long band of tissue that goes down the outside of your thigh) coupled with a weak VMO (the teardrop shaped muscle on the inside part of your quad).   This combination causes your patella to have a tendency to track to the outside (lateral) area of the knee, which causes the irritation. 

One way to both solve and prevent this problem would be to incorporate the following two exercises into your warm-up prior to lower body strength training days (especially if you are squatting):

 
  

Harder version with no support foot

Start Position- Band TKE

Finish. Drive heel into the ground.Heel touch TKE.

 
        
 

Begin by performing the foam rolling exercise for the IT Band.  20-30 Slow rolls over the outside of the thigh between your hip and knee (avoid going over the bony protrusions in both areas).  If you have never done this before, it will be uncomfortable.  Depending on how hard the roller is you are using (I actually use a PVC pipe, but I wouldn’t recommend you start there) will dictate how aggressive the rolling will be.  Pictured above are two versions of foam rolling for the IT band.

For the TKE, take a resistance band and wrap it around a stationary object and the back of your knee (you can place a towel between the band and your knee if it bothers you).  Do 2-3 sets of 10-30 reps for this exercise (this area responds better to higher repetitions).  It it better to do the foam rolling first, as this will relax the tissue on the outside of your thigh prior to doing the TKE exercise.  

A variation to the TKE is the heel touch TKE.  Using a low step or box, lower yourself under control and lightly touch your heel to the ground.  Driving your heel into the ground on the weight-bearing side, straighten your leg out completely.  Sets and reps for this exercise would be the same as for the band TKE.

 

Utilize this combination with some other lower extremity mobility exercises to complete your warm-up.  Post any questions related to including theses items into your warm-up.

      
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