Strength Training

Joe D. discusses LIFTING SPEEDS & CROSSFIT for ATHLETES

Q: Hey Joe – I have a question about lifting speeds.  I read in an Exercise Science book that during concentric actions, maximal force development decreases progressively at higher speeds and fast eccentric actions allow maximal force application.  With that being said, does that mean that when bench pressing, I want to lower the weight as fast as possible and lift it slowly in order to increase my 3-5 Rep Max?  Thanks for your help and good luck being a dad. – Greg

A: Greg,

Please, please, please don’t EVER go out of your way to lift anything slowly, especially if your goal is to increase maximal strength!

Let me clear up what you read in your Exercise Science book…

It is true that if the weight is too light on a barbell, you will NOT be able to produce enough force to develop power. There is an optimal weight/percentage of your 1RM that is best for power development. (This is something that is discussed, explained, and shown in our soon-to-be-released POWER! DVD. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this DVD if power development is an area of interest to you. This DVD is going to be the definitive resource on this topic for a long time to come…trust me!)

For now, the simplest/quickest analogy I can give you in order to answer your question is that of a wiffle ball, compared to a baseball. Obviously, I’m sure you’re aware that you can throw a baseball much further and faster than a wiffle ball — even though a baseball is heavier. This is because the wiffle ball is way too light to develop enough force when you throw it. On the other hand, the baseball is optimal weight (not too heavy, not too light) to develop force and speed.

fastest_pitch_chapman
Hey Mr. Chapman, bet you can’t throw a wiffle ball 105mph!

Same concept holds true for barbell exercises; if you’re a 405lb. bencher, there’s no benefit of benching 95 pounds “explosively”. That weight is way too light (for someone that strong) to generate max tension; therefore it’s not an effecient way to develop power. The best way to increase your rate of force development (RFD) in the weight room is to work with the optimal percentages of your 1RM, while taking a page out of Fred Hatfield’s book and implement the concept of Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)! “CAT” refers to applying as much force to the bar as humanly possible! In other words, when you have 225 pounds on the bench press bar, press it off your chest like it’s 405! Once you start working up to heavier weights, the intent to move the bar fast – even if it’s not actually moving fast – is of utmost importance! I have used these concepts since the day I sat in the front row of a Dr. Squat (Fred Hatfield) seminar in NYC well over a decade ago. (FYI, it was one of the best seminars I’ve ever attended!) I can tell you first-hand that if you’re looking to improve maximal strength and/or power, CAT works!

POWER_manual_coversIronically, ‘POWER’ by Fred Hatfield (pictured above, left) was the very first book on strength training I ever read! My dad bought it for me in 1989 when I was in 8th grade. (It was a little too scientific for me at the time, so my dad highlighted the ‘good parts’ for me to read LOL!) I’m very proud and humbled that 22 years later, I’m involved in an awesome product on the same topic I’ve been obsessed with my entire life. Hopefully the methods and exercises explained in our POWER! DVD/ebook can impact the strength & conditioning/personal training industry half as much as Dr. Squat’s original product did! 

To recap: If you’re looking to improve your RFD, make sure you’re training within the proper “power percentages” of your 1RM in any given exercise. Too light = not enough resistance to generate max tension and produce adequate force. Too heavy = not optimal for producing adequate speed.

Hope this answer helped clear things up for you!

 -Joe D.

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Q: Coach Defranco,

I just spent a few hours looking through your website and didn’t come across anything regarding your thoughts on nfl players and other athletes using crossfit. I know your big into the mental aspect of athletic preparation so I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for all your invaluable contributions to the industry sir. -Sam

A: Sam,

I’m going to preface my answer by saying that I have nothing against crossfit for the general fitness population. I know many police officers, fire fighters and weekend warriors who love the quick, challenging workouts associated with crossfit. I will also take Crossfit gyms over “carpet & chrome” health clubs any day of the week!!! But, with that being said, I am not a fan of Crossfit for high school, college or pro athletes. Here’s why…

There are a bunch of reasons why crossfit isn’t optimal for athletes, but my biggest problem with crossfit for athletes is that there is no specific focus to their workouts; it’s a “Jack of all Trades” type of mentality. I’ve seen crossfit workouts that consisted of 20 meter sprints, 30-rep sets of snatches, high rep ‘kipping’ pull-ups, squat jumps and handstand push-ups. This type of training isn’t optimal for athletes because athletes need to develop specific physical attributes to excel at their sport.

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For example, football players need to develop maximal strength, explosive power, speed, agility, mobility, specific endurance, etc. BUT, the “catch” is that they don’t need to develop every attribute equally. The key is knowing when, how much and how often to train each attribute. Dave Tate spoke about this topic at a seminar at my gym a few years back; he used a great analogy that I still love to use today. He compared training to going out to dinner. When you go out to dinner, you’ll have a few appetizers, a main course and dessert. You don’t go too crazy on the appetizers because you want to save room for your main course. You really stuff yourself on the main course because that’s what you went out to dinner for in the first place. Then, you may or may not have dessert, depending if you have ‘room’ or not. Here’s how the “dinner analogy” compares to training athletes… Let’s take a football player/wide receiver as our example: a wide receiver should look at speed/agility as their “main course” in training. Maximal strength and mobility will probably be two of the “appetizers” for most NFL receivers. Hypertrophy training/bodybuilding methods may be “dessert” for some of the skinnier bastards in the NFL. If wide receivers “fill up” on one of their appetizers (maximal strength) by training too much like powerlifters, they won’t “have enough room” for their main course! In other words, if they’re maxing out on bench, squat and deadlift 3X a week, they won’t have enough energy (muscularly or neurologically) to put sufficient effort into their sprinting/route-running workouts! Hopefully this analogy hammered home my point. Simply put, every athlete needs to focus on improving different attributes (during different times of the year) in order to excel at their sport. They must first define these attributes and then define the order of importance on their specific “training menu” during different phases of the training year. 

The problem with crossfit is that EVERYTHING is the “main course” — aerobic endurance, maximal strength, strength endurance, jump training, anaerobic circuits, Olympic lifting, etc. This is like going out to dinner and ordering steak, tofu, pancakes, sushi, ravioli’s and cereal — THERE’S JUST TOO MUCH RANDOM FOOD TO DIGEST!! And you know what happens when you eat too much random foods that don’t mix well together? …YOU PUKE!

Hmm, sounds kinda like a crossfit workout!? 

The bottom line is that when you try and train for everything, you usually end up with nothing. If you want to get to a high level in any sport, you must focus your training on things that will specifically help you with the physical demands of your specific sport. 

-Joe D. 

Drop me a comment below and let me know if you think my “dinner & crossfit” analogy helped athletes realize why they shouldn’t train like ‘crossfitters’. 

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