May 25, 2017
Safety First

Strength training can take your program to the next level. But if done incorrectly, it can lead to more harm than good. In a blog post titled “Don’t Get Strong Wrong,” Joe Powell, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Central Michigan University, offers guidelines on how to improve athlete strength and performance in safe and sustainable way.

The majority of the risks involved with strength training occur when athletes try to lift heavy loads with poor or underdeveloped mechanics. Powell explains what this looks like and why it’s so important that coaches help their athletes avoid making these dangerous mistakes.

“This is where we see half squats, rounded backs on deadlifts, barbells stapling athlete’s chests on the bench press, cleans being pulled in atrociously inefficient manners, etc. The list goes on and on,” Powell writes. “The implications are numerous and can prove to be quite detrimental for the athlete. When an athlete adds weight to a dysfunctional movement, the risk of injury increases exponentially. This is brutally counterproductive.”

Athletes are often driven by the desire to get strong as fast as possible. But this can lead to major issues when shortcuts are taken and proper technique is sacrificed. As Powell explains, athletes who develop poor motor patterns can often have issues with joint mobility and flexibility, which leads to frequent soft tissues injuries when they go to practice or compete. That is why it is so important to develop strength throughout a joint’s full range of motion.

Further, by allowing athletes to cut corners in the weightroom, coaches might foster a problematic mentality that carries over into their sport. It’s important to motivate athletes in the weightroom and encourage them to push themselves, but allowing improper form or inflated lifting numbers does more harm than good. An athlete might be pumped up when they get to say they lifted a ton of weight or ran an extremely quick 40-yard dash, but if these numbers are inflated they are only going to be disappointed when it comes time to compete.

Powell offers a few pointers for coaches who want to avoid making these mistakes and ensure that their athletes are getting the most out their strength training:

  • At the start of each strength training session, have your athletes perform a full warm-up that targets the muscles and joints that will be utilized.
  • When teaching a new exercise or progressing athletes to a more advanced movement, start with a simpler, lower weight version. This could mean performing the movement with just bodyweight, doing a regressed version, or utilizing teaching aids, such as dowels or practice bars.
  • Before allowing athletes to progress through an exercise to a larger load, make sure that they are performing the movement with proper range of motion and understanding of the exercise.
  • For each exercise that you teach, you should also have a regressed, modified, or simplified version of it to be used to correct any dysfunctional patterns that may occur.

“Not every athlete will learn or progress at the same pace. Many factors come into play such as age, sex, training status, height, weight, etc,” Powell writes. “A successful strength coach should always be able to teach proper movement mechanics and make any adjustment necessary to prevent getting strong wrong.”

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