“Find the Weak Point and Fix it!”Dennis Unsderfer
I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a bit.
I don’t remember where I heard it, but I believe the entire world of sports performance training can be summed up in these words. Fix the athlete’s weaknesses. Use whatever tools are at your disposal to do it, and constantly learn new ones. Don’t limit yourself to only one kind of training.
As coaches we often lock ourselves into stylistic boxes: bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, conditioning, or even corrective exercises. We end up convincing ourselves that only one kind of training is worthwhile, most often because it is our favorite kind of training. All the time we are missing out on chances to better ourselves and put essential coaching tools into our kit.
This doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t serve our athletes or clients either.
There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite type of training—most of us got into fitness or sports with at least one specific idol. For those that remember the 80s, it may have been Arnold (no last name needed) and his epic arms or godlike chest. For others it may have been the otherworldly speed of Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner Kersee, or Ben Johnson. Younger coaches and athletes might idolize The Rock, or Anderson Silva, or Serena Williams. We all remember our first addiction to fitness, and the intensity that we loved it with.
That’s fine. I wouldn’t trade my early idols for anything, and I STILL don’t want to do body weight training…it bores me to death!
The trap we often fall into, though, is confusing our personal passion with “the only correct way” to train someone entirely different than us.
For anybody who came from a powerlifting background, squatting less than parallel depth is blasphemy and the offender is likely to either get beaten into submission or grilled mercilessly. Unfortunately, there are some really important things that partial squats can do for athletes who need jumping power or sprint speed. Besides, if the coach is worth a damn then the athlete won’t ONLY be doing partial squats anyway. And while I may hate body weight training, I know its value for people and I use it.
Even bodybuilding style training can prove useful in training an athlete. This is one of those areas where even mentioning the idea can make a lot of athletic coaches cringe instinctively. Obviously it shouldn’t be your primary tool for improving performance, but think about what highly accomplished bodybuilders do well: they can feel each muscle working in detail, and they develop high local muscular endurance and growth.
Break Out Of the Box
For some advanced athletes, even targeted bodybuilding style isolation work can drastically change their ability to feel and recruit the right muscles. Christian Thibaudeau likes to say “the muscle stretched the most is worked the most” – when an athlete gets an extreme stretch on a muscle it lights up in an unmistakable way and makes it impossible to ignore. The same holds true for the pump and burn – they’re almost impossible to ignore. If you can avoid exhaustion and impaired movement patterning, the enhanced mind-muscle connection can make for a great teaching tool in subsequent movements.
Again, if the coach is smart they won’t be doing a “bro split” with an athlete. Instead they’ll be targeting certain areas with isolation and specialized training within an athletic context. Use is always dependent on the athlete and the sport, of course. More often than not, though, we have a tendency to only use what we like and not what improve the athlete. Part of that is natural – you shouldn’t coach things you don’t have expertise in. That’s one reason it’s so critical to continue broadening the knowledge base. The other part though, is that we as humans like being comfortable. We like the familiar, not the challenging. We like to think we have it all figured out.
It is critical that we use any and all tools available to find the weakest links and eliminate them. For example, manual therapy can do some absolutely amazing things that weight training can’t do. So can yoga (for certain populations). Everything has its place – it doesn’t mean that your passion isn’t badass. It just means your athlete has to come before your favorite training style.