There's More to the Weight Room Than Getting Strong
For those of you who are not a part of team strength and conditioning, what I am going to tell you might come as a surprise. First, I have the incredible fortune of getting to work in the college setting and have the privilege to train some of the most driven, focused, serious athletes you can conceive. But I also have the daunting task of working with some of the most selfish, unmotivated, and distracted kids you can imagine.
This article is for both of those groups, and everyone in between.
The hardest groups to work with in the college setting are defensive backs, wide outs, kickers, and track and field athletes. And when I mean hard, I am talking about the groups who, in my experience, put up the biggest fights when it comes to showing up to lifting sessions. I find it astonishing that these people even exist in this day and age, but the trend has stayed strong for all my years of coaching.
So this conversation is for you, the athlete. I’m not selling you a product; I’m not trying to be your friend, and I’m certainly not trying to get you to like me. Since I can’t grab you through your screen and shake you into understanding, I will list all of the reasons that you need to buy in.
Your Team Is Counting on You
The most obvious reason to dedicate yourself to your strength and conditioning program is so that you can get strong and fast. Your ability to compete at the highest levels in your respective sport is directly correlated to your strength. Now before you get your panties in knot, understand that I understand that strong is relative to the person. Do I need a place kicker who can squat as much as a lineman? Well, if you are a 6’5”, 315lb kicker, then yes. But you are likely not close to that size. Same goes with defensive backs and wide outs. I couldn’t care less how much you pull, squat, or bench, as long as it suits you, your frame, and the physical demands of your job.
We strength coaches know what we are doing when it comes to other sports, too. I am a member of a three-person staff and between the three of us, we hold seven higher education degrees. Seven! We have all met with your sport coaches, understand their wants and needs, and we spend an enormous amount of time writing our programs to fit their goals for you.
Remember, you are a part of a team. You are a piece to the puzzle of our success. If you are not going to be a full partner in our efforts, we will almost certainly fail. That applies to you folks who play individual sports, too. Even athletes in track and field, tennis, and golf are still members of a team. I know it might be difficult to separate your drive to be the best in your event, but you have team responsibilities that come before your own. Your selfishness will not only be the demise of your team, but will sabotage your own performance.
There isn’t an athlete in any sport that will not benefit from getting stronger. It’s as much a fact as the sun rising in the east each day. When you think you are “strong enough,” it’s time to get a little stronger.
It’s About Staying Healthy
This is my biggest reason for my athletes to train. Truthfully, getting strong is easy. And strong for strong’s sake is not necessarily the goal. I’m not training people to enter powerlifting meets.
The sport you play has very specific physical demands that put tremendous stress on your body. Play after play, rep after rep, your tissues are tested to specific tolerances before they pull, snap, or break. It’s basic physiology. The higher you climb the ladder towards the top of your sport, the faster the game moves, the bigger your opponents are, and the greater the need for additional size and strength. Think about it: how many 150-pound male athletes do you see in any professional sport outside of cycling? Even if they are seriously fast (and they better be, at that size)? It doesn’t happen.
As the game speeds up, the collisions are bigger, the forces on knees and ankles become significantly greater, and likelihood for major injury increases dramatically. That is, if you aren’t strong. I want my athletes to survive game day. I tell my kids that the harder you train in the offseason, the easier the act of playing in a game becomes on your body. They say that in terms of impacts, playing in a football game is nearly the same as getting in a car accident. So get strong, and survive the crash.
Strong Does Not Equal Slow
“If I get too big, I’ll get slower.”
Whoever told you this, unfriend them on Facebook. They are morons.
I’m not sure I’ve heard anything dumber in my life. First off, the guys who are big, like bodybuilders, train 4-6 hours a day. They also are the most disciplined people you can imagine when it comes to diet and exercise. Not to mention, they are all using some sort of steroid or performance enhancer that you are not allowed to touch. So get over yourself about the fear of “getting slower.” Ladies, that goes for you too. None of you have the hormonal profile to get big.
Back in the old days, the general consensus among speed coaches was that if you wanted to manipulate speed, you had to increase either stride frequency (how many stride cycles in a given time) or stride length (how far you step in a given stride). The problem was, typically, you couldn’t alter one without negatively affecting the other.
What we began to see was there was a third element that most people were either overlooking or completely ignoring. When your foot contacts the ground, the amount of force you are able to generate is directly related to how hard you can push. What makes this even more interesting is your power to weight ratio. If you increase your strength relative to your bodyweight, you will dramatically ramp up your ability to move fast. Most of us strength coaches are so locked into how to manipulate training variables that we can get you considerably stronger without you gaining a pound. It’s fundamental in how we have all been trained, the scope of our knowledge, and how we conduct business.
Strength Is My World
This one might upset some, but the first question I ask anyone who wants to challenge us on our strength program is, whose advice are you listening to? I run into this situation more than you might think. “Well, my dad says…” or “my cousin is a trainer a Golds and she thinks…” I don’t want to get into who is smarter than who. My concern is, who has the most experience in prepping athletes for competition?
Your strength coach is not only degree’d and certified out their ears, but they have also watched, coached and taught hundreds of thousands of exercises, repetitions, and lifting sessions. Experience is the golden goose when it comes to program design for athletes.
Look at it like this. Your grandma has been riding in a car for how many decades now? She’s driven hundreds of thousands of miles. She’s driven in the day time, and she’s driven at night. She’s even owned several different types of cars. Does that mean you’d ask her to replace the transmission in your car? So what makes you think that your uncle who spent a few years in the league would know more about what you need in the weight room than I do?
Your strength coach is likely the most versatile, intelligent, creative coach on campus. Even more so than your head coach or position coach. Trust that they know what they are doing.
Teamwork Matters Everywhere
You might not think that your casual approach to training has any impact on your place within the team, but you’d be dead wrong. Everyone is watching. Everyone. If you are one of the guys who loafs in the gym or becomes an attendance problem for your coaches, you officially have a target on your head. Your teammates will notice that you aren’t pulling your own weight, and so will the entire coaching staff.
Team chemistry has more to do with unified effort than it does with liking one another. We can hate each other, and still take the field and work together for the common goal of the team. The problems rise when an individual isn’t doing their part in the weight room, then plays poorly. I see this a lot. So-and-so was a ghost in the weight room this week, and then got burned twice this weekend for touchdowns. It’s enough to make you sick.
You have an obligation to the guys or gals you play with to hold up your end of the bargain. We all have to show up and do our jobs. The last thing we need to do is put one of our teammates in the position where he or she has to do her job, then chase you around and babysit.
Be an Adult
You have a job to do. When you sign those scholarship papers every year, you are signing a contract. Go to class, show up for weights, be on time for practice, give your best effort all of the time, and never do anything to leave a bad mark on the university.
You are going to be out of athletics sooner than you think. You are going to have to get a job and support yourself. There isn’t an employer in the United States who is going to let you come and go as you please, do a substandard job and become a problem for their company. You’ll just be fired. Simple and easy. Might as well start practicing with an adult work ethic now.
If you practice half speed, you'll play that way too: