no brain - no gain (III)

Part one introduced this series and the limited value of complete rest for "treating" pain. Part two focused on some specifics of back and neck pain. This final entry offers a few thoughts on pain as related to high level sports performance.

One of the things that separates good from the great athletes is the ability to endure both "good" pains and "bad" pains. Pain? Yes, please. It hurts to be awesome, and we should make no apologies there.

I don't care what sport you're talking about, from cheer leading to golf (okay, maybe not golf)...to mountain climbing, neither of which I know much about. In just about everything that a 67 year old man can't easily destroy you (like golf), there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to have fun or work to get better. Even snowboarding becomes tedious, I'm sure.

The best athletes are driven. They enjoy the sport/activity so much that it's worth it for them to sacrifice a significant portion of their lives in order to be the best they possibly can be. They have consistently delivered the goods for a decade or more, and nobody was calling them "lucky" or commenting on their "freak genetics" when they were stuck at practices for three hours a day and up early for individual conditioning and skill work.

While I don't have "beef" with the pain and suffering required to achieve new heights of performance, I do have a problem with the typical training methods. If you're going to dive in and suffer in order to build a better machine, so be it. But oh, what a shame, to sacrifice and be miserable in order to stay the same or go backwards?

A recent issue of the official publication of the National Strength and Conditioning Association is a perfect illustration of the typical overkill. One article details an off-season training program for football players. The speed conditioning workout includes 4 80-yard sprints, 6 60-yard sprints, 8 40's, and 10 20's, all separated by twenty seconds of rest. And this was after 20 to 30 minutes of dynamic warm-ups and form running drills. Oh, and the training week is to include another conditioning day similiar to this as well as two to three days of heavy lower body weight training.

Are you kidding me? Are they training some kind of half human machines? This speed program definitely sounds like the work of a coach or trainer who hasn't actually done a hard sprint in a very long while.

I'm sure your typical 340-pound lineman can do 28 sprints of any distance and set new personal records in squats and power cleans the next day. I question if it's possible for even the leanest, meanest defensive backs to make it through this workout going full bore, without pacing the "sprints." Athletes who are deconditioned and in need of some leaning out may become faster. But the far majority of football players are going to be run into the ground, made literally slower and less powerful in no time flat.

As mentioned in this piece about over training, the body responds not by how much training an athlete performs, but by how much training an athlete can recover from. Every athlete is different. You don't need a PhD in kinesiology to know that these two athletes couldn't possibly both benefit from the same training program.

Probably could use some speed/conditioning focus for the demands of basketball.

Could use strength/power focus for the demands of baseball.
I believe you can and should focus on strength/power while maintaining "conditioning" or focus on "conditioning" while maintaining strength and power. But you simply cannot make optimal improvement in both. Yet is seems that we try to accomplish both, year round, training young athletes as if they're otherwise sedentary middle aged men who need to lose 30 pounds in order to compete as middle distance runners.

Pain and gain, yes, but what kind?
The typical wiry 15 or 22 year-old will never gain much size or explosive strength on an off season running protocol like the one above. They should sprint, for sure. They should train brutally hard in the weight room, and rest and recover. It's the off season, for crying out loud. Pick a goal and stick with it.

Running bleachers three days per week and being timed in the mile can be painful. Quite painful indeed. But that's far from the best way to increase vertical jump and sprint speed. There's little reason why higher level athletes should have to bench press or perform any other pressing type movement more than twice per week.

 What do I know - I'm not a coach at the high school or collegiate level. But I've been run into the ground by a few. I regularly see the consequences of the "more is better" mentality all the time. Why do young athletes and their parents jump through all these hoops with unproven overkill training methods? Am I missing something?

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