I have been influenced by some of the greatest strength coaches in our industry and I have also pushed back against them with the might of both my hands, not because of an intrinsic need for rebellion or antiauthoritarian tendencies, but because their systems were preventing me from winning.
Allow me to explain.
I was introduced to the world of barbells and dumbbells through the pages of magazines, and from that point on, strength and power were things that I wanted to have as a part of my life. This journey has taken me through the ranks of the NCAA both as an athlete and as a coach, before I eventually worked in the NFL and beyond.
However, the lessons that I learned from the point of view of an athlete have shaped my personal coaching methodologies more then any other factor in my coaching life. The reason is that it always comes down to wins and losses for an athlete. You can take all the other shit out of the equation, but in the end your whole purpose for developing your body to be to ensure better performance.
Yet here in lies the conundrum: passionate coaches with a deep-seated love for the iron tend to influence the type of strength information that gets published. Yet the problem that I find is that the information is too hard and fast in its presentation, and the same passionate coaches are too good at making you believe their system is the only system.
For example, the Westside method has pioneered many advancements in loading parameters for maximal strength and power, and you can’t argue with the results on the whole. But then to argue that the deadlift is a superior movement to the clean for power development? Looking at transferability of acceleration in the rotational shot put exposes this as an example is a one-dimensional statement. Just because the movement related to relative load can be measured at a higher velocity due to shorter length of pull, higher power output in the deadlift does not translate into the real world in which reciprocal activation and inhibition in necessary at the speed of sport. Meaning that though on a Tendo, there may be a greater initial force production for the deadlift (though this is also arguable) the real importance is the ability to contract and relax to allow a body to move and apply force over time, which is what you get with a clean.
Yet the fundamentals of deadlifting, bench pressing, and squatting are at the core of development in all athletes from beginners to the world-class level, so conversely one cannot simply rely on the Olympic lifts to master all goals. For instance, there is nothing more arrogant to me than coaches and athletes that speak in terms of hardened laws regarding Olympics Lifts and their absolute necessity for other sports! The complexity of these movements have earned them their own spot on the Olympic stage, and to assume that they can be haphazardly thrown into a strength program as an after thought is exactly that: arrogant and perhaps even ignorant.
The average athlete can adapt or advance 2-3 central nervous system-demanding movement patterns at one time or during one training block without a significant loss in the total goal. This was explained to one of my training partners by none other Tudor Bompa. This is why so many CrossFit athletes run headlong into the scenario where they struggle to see an improvement in their specific squatting program. They fail to count total volume of CNS dependent movements in their training block, let alone the fact that every time their knees go in and out of flexion under load, that is some form of squatting.
“That’s weird I have done 3 Olympic lifting sessions, five AMRAMP involving thrusters and wall balls this week and sprinted, but I think your squat program sucks because I have not improved.” Says every fitness athlete ever.
So when introducing Olympic lifts during the same time of the season that an athlete is developing or focusing on more pressing tasks, like perhaps the fundamentals of the sport, it can come with significant consequence to overload the neural net. Or, more importantly, these coaches do not understand that there are at least 20 variations of the Olympic lifts that can be used to simplify the movement without losing sport transferability of the movement pattern while keeping the athlete healthy. For example, you could use high pulls for offensive linemen so the catch doesn’t aggravate the wrists and shoulders.
Yet even with the worlds of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting pushing back and fourth under the idea that one system is the king of strength and the other is not, we also have the “movement” movement: the idea that we need to focus on the muscle first, then the motion. Systems like this make up the majority of the bodybuilding profession obviously, but also the functional sector as well. From the booty shaping coaches that have invested their life into asses to self proclaimed “world greatest coaches” who claim that a tenth or more can be dropped from training a muscle as specific as the VMO.
However, you might as well set up a tent because this system is going to take a while. The one thing that you cannot do is truly balance the body of an athlete that plays a sport, especially if it is a sport with a clear dominant side like throwing or hurdling, in which training muscles tends to shift us towards compliance instead of dynamic. Training the muscle will protect you during deceleration as well as maintaining extremely compliant joint angles for eccentric or isometric contractions, but is a poor system of development for the exchange back to dynamic.
So this brings us full circle again to the fact that you have to incorporate variations of all systems. I’ve been fortunate to work with many top coaches and I would never disregard what they’re saying. I use all of their systems with my athletes but I don’t believe that you can follow one truth, because the moment you do, you set yourself up for the opportunity to fail in the performance arena because you were too dogmatic in your belief.
Over the course of the following series of articles, I am going to break down the pros and cons of the different systems from my personal experience, and discus how I have seen them used and misused from amateur to professional athletics.
Derek Woodske is considered to be one of the premier lecturers on the topics of strength and conditioning and sports performance currently working today. In the past four years, Derek has spoken in more than a dozen countries, has been translated into multiple languages, and influenced thousands of coaches and personal trainers around the world.
Derek began his journey and passion into the world of human performance through his own athletic success as an NCAA All-
American and National Champion in the sport track and field. Derek was able to transfer that success beyond college where he represented his home country of Canada on two separate occasions as a member of the Canadian National Team. During his tenure as a member of team Canada he broke two Canadian National Records and won multiple National Championships.
Derek retired from the sport track and field to pursue his passion, having worked in both the NFL and NCAA as a professional coach, reaching the pinnacle of the industry that he has so much energy and enthusiasm for.