Asinine Expectations in Strength Training

Posted on 10 Jan 2011 15:00

I have noticed something curious in the strength training world and in the fitness world at large. Strength training and fitness professionals need to be less "me" oriented and the public needs to be less "other" oriented.

For fitness professionals it's easy to see. Suppose you go to the doctor and he or she regales you with a fascinating low-down about what an amazing individual they are and how they are such very successful medical professionals. You'd be sitting there thinking you'd just entered the Twilight Zone. Yet this is reality in much of the fitness industry. It is ME, ME, ME!

The Russians and Bulgarians do it, So…

Yet for the trainee it is them, them, them. "If I could only be like them, I'd be successful." One of the most oft-encountered beliefs is the belief that since a successful athlete engaged in a certain activity during his or her training, we will be successful if we too engage in this particular activity.

Training is cumulative, individualistic, and dynamic. It is the integration of a great many factors, not all of which are training, that lead to success or failure. You need to have a better reason to do an exercise than "so and so did it". IF YOU DON'T KNOW why you are doing it and can't find a legitimate reason then you probably shouldn't be doing it.

Before I continue though, I'm going to throw you a curve ball. You won't see this coming, given the tone of this post. "I want to be able to deadlift heavy" is a BETTER reason to deadlift than "So and so deadlifts and is really jacked."

Powerlifting is notorious for this kind of spurious logic. The Bulgarians, Russians, something, and they were good, so we must do that thing they did. There are a great many things that these countries did to produce successful athletes that have NOTHING to do with you or I. Or, am I wrong and you were handpicked from an early age and spent years on nothing more than foundational training before you ever trained specifically for your sport? No? I thought not. Be smart.

Once you realize that strength training is best viewed as a goal oriented activity you will realize that all the factors you choose should be conducive to that goal. If your goal is to lift heavy, then what you choose to do, and that which you prioritize, should be there for a reason. Yet, the increasing "medicalization" and "scientizing" of strength training may have a trainee believe that "slide board leg curls" are as important for your deadlifts as deadlifting itself!

Physical Therapy as Part of the Medicalization of Training

Physical therapy is therapeutic right? Therefore everyone should be doing "physical therapy type stuff".

Wrong. This is still very out of hand. The job of a PT is to take an injured or other wise symptomatic person and return them to NORMAL FUNCTIONING. Normal functioning does not include 350 plus pound squats or body weight overhead press.

What is appropriate in a PT setting is NOT always appropriate for the healthy and can be downright dangerous or harmful in a lifting environment where heavy loads are supported. A common example is the leg extension. While this can have merit where rehabilitation for the knee is concerned, when heavy weights and/or high volume are habitually used in a strength training or bodybuilding setting it can do the opposite it is intended for in the rehab sense.

I like to use a comparison with certain medications or even herbal medicine. There is what is called a "therapeutic window". This is a certain dosage that is a "sweet spot". Below this and the medication is ineffective. Above it it may be toxic or present so many side effects as to be unmanageable. PT is much the same in many instances and practices that are "just right" under the right circumstances are 'toxic' if used habitually as a 'cure all'.

Although there are many PT's who also know a great deal about performance related issues, athletics, etc..and there are specialized areas, a physical therapist is not an exercise and fitness specialist. Many PT's don't seem to realize this themselves.

There are many general things we can all do in the realm of injury prevention. And a better knowledge of kinesiology, general anatomy, and exercise physiology can only make ue more successful in the long run if we know how to apply what's appropriate. But if you don't have knee problems, for instance, you don't need to address knee problems, you need to PREVENT them. That is an entirely different subject than rehabilitation.

Some Succeed Despite Their Best Efforts at Stupidity

Realize that people can and do succeed despite the things they do and not always because of them. Many exercises, Krok rows for instance, are illogically deemed to be a primary factor in lifting success. We see someone doing something slightly different and we assign great importance to that thing, even when we know that there are way too many variables in strength training to justify such importance to only one training practice. This is part of the problem with anecdotal evidence.

What is really astounding about this is the tendency to react more strongly to what happens in another's training than to what happens in your own! To be more precise, trainees tend to react only to the negative results of their own training and to the positive results of others. And there is an almost opposite tendency leading to how success rates are perceived.

I've talked about this certain phenomenon many times before and it bears repeating again and again. Success is reported more often than failure! Not because success happens more often but only because people rarely want to publicize their failures in strength training. It is almost the opposite to everything else. If you are shopping for a certain type of product, for instance, there may tend to be more negative reviews than positive ones, leading you to the false conclusion that the product is no good. But in reality those who have not had problems with the product are too busy going about their merry way to report on it. However, when a product fails, it is deemed the fault of the manufacturer. When training fails, it is the fault of the trainee. Even when they have a a professional to train them! Nobody wants to tell you how they screwed up but they will be eager to tell you about their new PR and happy to report that a certain kind of row or core exercise made it possible.

To sum it up, there is no way for you to know at any given time, what factors are responsible for someone else's success. They themselves can never be completely sure. Even the most successful athlete can have a bad day, on the same type of training, that apparently led to success a couple of days before. It is asinine to expect that you can handpick a single factor, such as an exercise technique, that made the difference between success and failure for someone else.

This page created 10 Jan 2011 15:00
Last updated 17 Jul 2016 23:09

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