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Shoulder Prehab and Rehab: Taking a Functional Approach

Shoulder Prehab and Rehab: Taking a Functional Approach to Training the Shoulder

                                                           By Grif Fig

Shoulder injuries are very common in swimming and prevent many swimmers from reaching their potential. Implementing a “shoulder prehab” program that has the correct exercises can greatly reduce the amount of injuries in the sport and ultimately would result in faster swimming. This article will discuss the concepts of taking a functional approach to training the shoulder and the exercises that are used to do so.


When looking at the upper body during swimming it is obvious that this requires repeated overhead motion. It has been established by many professionals that the shoulder is very vulnerable in this position.  Not only is the humerus creating a long lever when in flexion but this is also the pull phase of the stroke, which means a lot of torques is being created at the shoulder joint during this phase. From this we can gather the conclusion that one of the main goals of a shoulder “prehab” program is to increase strength and stability in the overhead position.


Even though this is obvious people are still using traditional methods that ask for us to strengthen the shoulder joint with the humerus at the side while isolating the external rotators. Isolating the rotator cuff and putting the humerus at the side of the body is not functional to having a strong shoulder in swimming.  The bottom line is that the shoulder should be trained were it is most often used in swimming, in the overhead position.

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Is Creatine Safe and Effective?

Here is a great article on creatine written by Jose Antonio, Ph.D who is one of the top guys in sports nutrition right now.

Creatine – Is it safe and effective?
“Yes, it’s safe and it’s effective”
by Jose Antonio, Ph.D.
For those of you with memory-challenged cortex, here’s the rundown.  Regular creatine supplementation (3 g per day for at least a month) will in conjunction with heavy resistance training:
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase muscle power
  • Increase lean body mass
  • Increase skeletal muscle fiber size
  • Activate satellite cells
  • May improve neuromuscular function in patients with neuromuscular diseases (e.g., dystrophic muscle)
  • May assist in cellular hydration
  • May decrease brain damage subsequent to head trauma (ok, at least in rats).
Will it harm you?
In a word NO. There is data showing that up to five years of creatine use result in no harmful effects on the kidneys.  So don’t believe the bull@#$% you hear in the mainstream press. 
The mainstream press rarely does its homework when it comes to the facts around creatine.  I mean why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?  So what we’ll do is explore the facts (and there is a huge volume of scientific data!) surrounding creatine.  Explode the myths, and give you the latest in creatine research and development. 
Get Big!
Bigger… yes!  In fact, work by Dr. Rick Kreider of the University of Memphis showed that after one month of supplementation, the average fat-free mass gain in the creatine-supplemented group was 5-6 lbs compared to 2-3 lbs in the placebo group.  Also, Jeff Volek, Ph.D. performed a study in which he had subjects perform bodybuilding training and consumed creatine over a 12 week period.  Creatine consumption was 25 g per day for the first 7 days followed by 5 g per day for the remainder of the 11 weeks (maintenance phase).  The increase in muscle fiber size was more two times greater in the creatine group versus the placebo (29-35% increase versus 6-15% increase).  So clearly, creatine helps you gain body weight, fat-free mass, and most importantly, muscle fiber size!
It’s Safe
Despite the anecdotal reports, there is no evidence that taking creatine can increase the incidence of muscle pulls/strains, muscle cramping, dehydration, or kidney problems.  In fact, noted researcher Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D. stated that “creatine may be a useful adjunctive treatment in neuromuscular and neurometabolic disorders.”  So rather than worrying about some mythical side effects that creatine supposedly causes, realize that there is a lot of supportive data showing creatine to be safe and effective.
1,000% increase in Muscle Mass?  No way!?
You’re probably wondering why you haven’t made the gargantuan gains in size as promised by those ubiquitous and somewhat amusing ads.  Well let’s do some basic math.  Even if you graduated from public school, you’ll find this quite edifying.  Let’s say you trained for 8 weeks and during those 8 weeks, took 5 grams of creatine monohydrate.  On average, let’s say you gain roughly 10 lbs of lean mass.  But if you were to take the fake creatine (the Placebo!), you’d only gain 2 lbs of lean mass.  Now to you and I, that’s a difference of 8 lbs. 
So reasonably, you could rightfully claim that creatine monohydrate supplementation can increase lean mass by 8lbs more than the placebo.  Now let’s massage the data a little.  Massage? mmm…sounds titillating.  Actually, this is a term I learned in graduate school, not to be confused with the more relaxing massages one receives from the friendly but expensive young ladies in Vegas.  So if we “massage” it…I’m getting excited… you could say (and you’d be technically correct) that creatine supplementation produced 400% more gains in lean mass than the placebo.  How does that work? 
Follow this:  (10 lbs – 2 lbs) / 2 lbs = 4, then take 4 x 100 = 400%.
Now we can get even crazier; let’s say the placebo gained only 0.5 lbs of lean mass while the creatine group gained 10 lbs (and certainly this is possible if you use trained subjects).
Follow this:  (10 lbs – 0.5 lbs) / 0.5 lbs = 19, then take 19 x 100 = 1,900%
So there you have it.  A 1,900% greater increase in lean mass! 
OK, it’s statistical sleight-of-hand and skull-full-of-mush stuff.  But don’t fall for it. 
Creatine is a great supplement; but you don’t have to promise the second coming to believe in its value!


Designing a Power Workout

IHPSWIM – Designing a Power Workout

 By Grif Fig

 Many different options exist when it comes to strength training making it difficult to design a program that has time restraints. Where do the traditional exercises go? Where do the functional/sports specific exercise go? How about core exercise and the power exercises? Deciding where to put these exercises and how much to do of each one is a challenge for a lot of swimmers and coaches.



IHPSWIM uses triplexes, which is a 3 exercise circuit that integrates the many different options that exist in one workout.  This is a great way to integrate traditional lifting with a power movement and a functional or core movement. Performing these types of circuits during training enables you to work on absolute strength, power development, core strength, and sports specific movements all in one circuit! Here is the basic format that we use.


Exercise # 1 – Traditional Exercise (ex. Squat, lat pulldown)


Exercise # 2 – Power Exercise        (Box Jump, Med Ball Slam)


Exercise # 3 – Functional/Core Exercise   (Standing Cable Pulls, Prone SB Twisters)



For the next 4 weeks I will have our swimmers go through a power phase. They will performs a traditional strength exercise (5 reps), followed by an explosive exercise using the same muscle groups (5 reps) and ending the circuit with a functional movement (10 – 20 reps).

Is Weight training safe for my child?

Is weight training safe for my child?
 The IHP youth resistance training: lifting weight lifts the spirit

Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS
Is weight training safe for my child?  At the Institute of Human Performance (IHP), this is one of the most popular questions posed by concerned parents. Although resistance training carries some injury risk, the risks to children are similar to those of adults!  Additionally, as a recreational activity as well as a sport, statistics clearly show weightlifting/weight-training carries a lower incidence of injury than many popular sports such as football, tennis, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, baseball and basketball.
Traditionally, abnormal and stunted bone growth has been the primary concern in this area.  Yes, there have been cases of growth plate fractures in adolescents.  However, the use of improper technique, excessive loading or lack of qualified supervision characterized most of these cases.  To date, the position of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the world’s foremost authority on strength training, is that well-supervised weight training programs are well tolerated by children as young as 8 years of age!  To put it in simple terms, there have been no reports showing the fracture of growth plates with properly designed and supervised resistance training programs.  This data includes countries in which children as young as 8 years participate in advanced multijoint lifts that require a high degree of skill demand.  The key to minimizing the risk of injury in resistance training for children is the type of supervision found in IHP; close qualified supervision implementing sound programs!
At IHP, we have seen that the benefits of properly designed resistance training programs for the youth far outweigh the risks.  Our view is also supported by the scientific data. Contrary to conventional wisdom, children as young a 6 years of age can significantly increase their strength with a properly designed resistance program, above and beyond their natural growth and maturation.  However, the training effects in children are not permanent.  That is, if they don’t keep it up by training at least twice a week, strength gains are quickly lost.  The mechanism behind this rapid de-training still remains unclear.
Since children often participate in sports or activities that are strength and power dominated, it is reasonable to expect that resistance training would enhance their performance in such activities.  One of the greatest benefits of IHP’s youth resistance training program is that it better prepares children for participation in sports and recreational activities and reduces the likelihood of injuries. In addition to the physiological benefits, youth resistance training programs also impact various psychosocial parameters.  The parents of the children involved in the IHP youth resistance training program report better cognition and class/home work, improved self-esteem, and healthier attitudes toward physical education, physical fitness and lifelong exercise.   The IHP youth resistance training program has also shown to have various health benefits associated with it, such as, improved blood pressure, improved bone density, and favorable body composition changes.
In closing, one should keep in mind that it is not so much the activity (i.e. resistance training) that is in question, but rather the intensity and appropriateness of the exercise.  I often find that the biggest hazards athletic children face are overzealous or ignorant parents and coaches.  The win, win, win mentality is truly the enemy of a child’s proper development.  Furthermore, specialization in a single sport does not provide enough movement variety for full biomotor development.   Regardless of the activity, children should be encouraged to participate in a wide assortment of fun and developmental activities, resistance training should be one of them.  Come to IHP in Boca Raton, Florida and ask about our youth resistance training program. 




Description and illustrative comparison

Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS


In past articles we have suggested that the most effective way to increase strength, lean body mass (LBM) and athletic performance is to participate in a multiple set (MS), periodized resistance training program.    The main objective of this article is to elaborate on the application of Periodization and offer some examples on how it compares to progressive resistance training and single set (SS) programs.  First, let’s provide a quick summary to bring the new readers up to date.
Research studying SS systems have shown improvements in strength during the beginning stages of an exercise program.  This is especially true in untrained individuals who are still learning how to perform the exercises.  However, these historical studies lack applicability to real life situations due to questionable protocols and the evaluation criteria implemented.  Current, properly designed research clearly demonstrates that periodized MS training offers several advantages to SS training.  First, periodization varies the training stimulus over time, causing a peak in strength and avoiding overtraining and staleness.  This variability has been shown to be a key factor of stimulating physiological adaptations resulting in superior strength and LBM gains, along with improvement in athletic performance. Second, it offers the extra volume of work that causes greater testosterone and growth hormone responses.  These hormones are associated with muscle building and fat reduction.  Third, MS systems eliminate the necessity of training to physiological failure, thereby increasing compliance.  Now, let’s take a look at the three main types of training systems used today: SS, progressive MS, and periodized MS.
The SS training system has its foundation in the 70s with the advent of Nautilus.  The genius inventor, Arthur Jones was its architect.  Today, many people still use his system of training.  They as a group like to refer to this training as High Intensity Training (HIT).  They vigorously defend their system with a cult-like conviction.   Their philosophy is that every set not performed to failure does not contribute to growth because “new muscle fibers” are not stimulated.  They are also of the opinion that once these new fibers are stimulated, they need 5-14 days for recovery and growth.  These programs are usually performed in a circuit fashion and are very popular in machine-based fitness clubs.  The objective is to get in and out in 20 minutes.
Progressive resistance training has been the most popular method of training.  This approach to training is typified by performing multiple sets of the same number of repetitions.  Those wanting muscular endurance would stay above 15 repetitions.  Those desiring to increase muscle size would stay in the 10-15 repetition range.  A nice combination of muscular size and strength development can be achieved by an 8-12 repetition range.  For that reason, this is the most popular repetition range used.  Finally, those looking for increases in absolute strength would perform multiple sets of 1-7 repetitions.  Although exercises may change, the repetition range remains the same throughout the year.  Most dedicated trainees use this training.  However, they soon find themselves at a plateau that lasts for years, or until they get sick.  Getting sick may be an indication that one is overtraining, and is the body’s way of “periodizing” the current training program!
Periodization has its roots in the eastern block countries where it was first used in track and field.  Coaches found that they couldn’t “run” their athletes 100% all of the time without causing them to “breakdown”.  They developed a method of training where they varied their training intensity in accordance with their season.  High volume, low intensities were prescribed during the “preparatory” phase to develop a “training base”. This stage prepared the body for the more demanding work to follow.  Progressively higher intensities and lower volume typified preseason training.  The objective of this “pre-competition” phase was to bring strength to a peak and get the athlete ready for elite competition.  The “competition” phase was a maintenance period with the main objective being  “not to lose” what was created during the previous phases of training.  Finally, a  “transition” phase was designed after the competitive season to allow the athlete to recovered and regenerate.
Periodization was brought to the states in the 70s.  During this time, several scientists described it as the best method to train for improved performance.  The manipulation of volume and intensity is seen as the predominating stimuli for new adaptation, progressing from high volume – low intensity to low volume – high intensity. 
Here are just some examples of the three different training systems.   There are many permutations of each system of training.  Therefore, for simplicity, I have made all three programs 3 days/week.   I have made the SS program a machine program since many times this is what is recommended in smaller machine based gyms (e.g. in hotel gym, resorts, clubs, etc.).  The right column has the sets x reps and % of 1RM.  RM stand for repetition maximum and it is the number of repetitions a weight can be lifted until fatigue does not allow another repetition to be completed.  Thus, a 1RM is the maximum amount of weight that one can lift a single time with good form.  Likely, a 10RM is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted a 10 times with good form.  All other workloads are based on a percentage a 1RM maximum capability.  Thus, if you could lift 200 lbs. one time and I asked you to do 10 repetitions with 75% of your 1RM.  Then you would perform 10 repetitions with 150 lbs.  This process is applied to all exercises.
SS Machine circuit                                  Sets and reps
Leg press                                                       1 x 10RM
Leg curls                                                        1 x 10RM
Bench press                                                   1 x 10RM
Seated rows                                                   1 x 10RM
Overhead press                                              1 x 10RM
Wide grip pull-downs                                    1 x 10RM
Biceps curls                                                   1 x 10RM
Seated Calf                                                     1 x 10RM
Sit-ups                                                           1 x 10RM
Hyper-extensions                                          1 x 10RM
**When a weight can be lifted for an 11th rep, increase the load by 5%.
Progressive MS Program            Sets and reps (75%1RM)
Power Clean                                                  3 x 6
Squats                                                            3 x 8-10        
Bench press                                                   3 x 8-10
Seated rows                                                   3 x 8-10
Overhead press                                              3 x 8-10
Biceps curls                                                   3 x 8-10
Sit-ups                                                           3 x 8-10
Hyper-extensions                                          3 x 8-10
**When a weight can be lifted for an 11th rep, increase the load by 5-10%.
Periodized MS Program     Weeks/Sets x reps (% of 1RM)
Power Clean                          1-3/3 x 5 (75%), 5-7/4×3 (82%), 9-11/4×2 (90%)
Squats                                    1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Bench press                           1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Seated rows                           1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Overhead press                      1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Biceps curls                           1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Sit-ups                                   1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Hyper-extensions                  1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
**Weeks 4, 8 and 12 are active recovery weeks.  Perform some light sporting activities to help the recovery process and get ready for the heavier work ahead.
As you can see the Periodization model manipulates the training volume and intensity throughout a 12-week cycle.  This cycle can repeat itself over the year many times.
In summary, remember the above programs are just examples.  There are many different exercises and variations of your training scheme that will result in increased strength and improved performance.  SS training will provide some strength gains for beginners or individuals on very tight schedules, but don’t expect to reach your potential on it!  MS programs will take your development much further than SS systems, but expect a plateau of some kind sooner or later.  A Periodized MS program will not necessarily make a gold medallist out of you, but it will get you as close as “you are willing to work for” to your performance potential.

Dryland Training During Taper

Dryland Training During Taper


All the hard work has been put in over the course of the season and finally its time to Taper. Every swimmer and coach has a different approach to their taper but everyone wants the same results. Peak performance at the right time! 

Dryland training should be part of your seasonal training program and it should also be a part of your taper. A good dryland program develops strength and power thoughout the season and this should continue during taper.  If  these exercises are eliminated completely during taper then the  power  gained thoughout the season will most likely drop off. This is the exact opposite of what an athlete or coach wants during this time. In order for peak performance levels to be reached we need to be producing maximum power.

 .  Many swim coaches are resistant to doing any dryland in fear of “messing up the taper”. It is detrimental to just completely eliminate the exercises all together. Instead just change the variables. Compare this to the work done in the pool. Do we just stop swimming. Of course not, we reduce volume, increase rest periods, and increase speed work. Almost the same exact thing should be done with our dryland training.  

 During taper exercises should be selected that emphasize power. Fast explosive movements that teach the muscles to generate force quickly are ideal. Reduce the volume and the resistance the closer you get to the championship meet. In addition to this increase the amount of rest the swimmers get between each set.

 The last thing swimmers want is to feel weaker because their dryland program has been eliminated the last 2 – 3 weeks before the big meet. If you have a plan then dryland training will improve your taper and certainly won’t hurt it!

Stability and Balance Training

Stability and Balance Training
Performance Training or Circus Acts
The resurgence of functional training has forced many strength and conditioning profes­sionals to reexamine many of the traditional concepts. At times, ar­guments and discussions regard­ing functional training have grown heated. What is interesting is that some of the time, strength and conditioning professionals may be arguing about a topic they agree on—they just don’t know it. One of the topics surrounded by heated discussion is the use of unstable training environments for perfor­mance enhancement. Some of the confusion may re­volve around the assumption that functional training exclusively uses stability and balance training in unstable environments to en­hance strength and performance. Furthermore, some fitness profes­sionals may have inadvertently projected the wrong image of what functional training is by perform­ing exercises that more closely re­semble circus acts and calling them functional strength exercis­es (e.g., squatting a 135-pound barbell while standing on a stabil­ity ball). In my experience, these extreme applications are not the norm of functional training but rather the exception. The use of unstable training environments for the purpose of displaying and developing stability, balance, and athleticism is not new or mysteri­ous. It actually has a long history and some well-documented sci­ence. Unstable training environ­ments have been utilized for many centuries by a variety of popula­tions. Martial artists have trained in a variety of unstable training environments to enhance stabili­ty, balance, strength, and power. Training barefooted in sand and walking on a variety of wooden poles were some of the simple ways martial artists created un­stable training environments. The theater and circus also have a rich tradition in the use of unstable training environments. Standing and walking (often while juggling) on giant balls, ropes, a partner’s shoulders, or animals (e.g., hors­es) were used to demonstrate in­credible stability, balance, and athleticism. Needless to say, this practice in part created athletic bodies with unbelievable power and strength—characteristics all coaches try to develop in their ath­letes. The scientific data also show the efficacy of unstable training environments. For example, a re­cent study showed increased core muscle recruitment during an abdominal curl when performed in an unstable environment com­pared with a stable surface. Re­search has also demonstrated the efficacy of using unstable training environments when rehabbing the ankle complex. Training under vibratory stimulus, which can be seen as a form of an unstable training environment, has also been shown to enhance perfor­mance parameters, such as a ver­tical jump. Functional training utilizes unstable training environments to enhance performance through en­hanced stability and balance. However, there is much debate re­garding the efficacy of this train­ing approach. One of the reasons for this debate may be that many exercises performed in unstable training environments have been labeled functional just because they are hard to perform and look different (e.g., barbell squats on a stability ball). This exaggerated methodology and misrepresenta­tion of functional training may be what has fueled the arguments against the use of unstable train­ing environments. Perhaps some clarity may be useful in bringing strength and conditioning profes­sionals to a common ground of discussion. Stability and balance train­ing in unstable training environ­ments is no more effective than any other performance enhancement method; specificity still governs the training adaptation. The use and effectiveness of this training ap­proach has been proven on the field, in the gym, and in the lab. However, this does not mean it is magic. For example, training in unstable environments would cer­tainly not be my first choice to de­velop hypertrophy or explosive-ness;   there   is   nothing   like high-volume training, Olympic lifts, and plyos for that. Having said that, I would certainly incorporate a measured dose of stability train­ing (i.e., using an unstable training environment) within any hypertro­phy or power program to help di­rect and control the size and power my program will surely provide. We must all remember that training modalities are just like tools in a toolbox. Training with the philosophy that all you need is a hammer in that toolbox is a my­opic and unidimensional view of training. A more professional ap­proach to performance enhance­ment would be more creative and diverse. Personally, I choose to pack my toolbox with many di­verse and interesting tools, unsta­ble training environments being one of them, using each tool ap­propriately and to the best inter­est of my athletes.


 by JC Santana

Strength you can use!

slide 5 Elle2 - rope climbStrength is the quintessential quality most sought by athletes and coaches. If you look at any performance enhancement program, you will usually see the development of strength at the forefront of its objectives. Listen in on any conversation between coaches, or jocks, and you’ll here a repeating theme, how much can you lift? Strength is one thing everyone can’t get enough of. The purpose of this article is to discuss the different forms of strength and its different classifications, and finally ask the question – how much strength is enough?

Strength and its development can be broken down into three basic categories; general, special and specific strength. General strength is developed with your standards resistance training modalities (e.g. weight training, body weight exercises, etc.). This training does not try to mimic any specific athletic movements, it mainly concentrates on developing strength in the large muscle groups. Squats, shoulder presses and bench presses are examples of exercises geared to the development of general strength.

Special strength is developed by exercises that more closely resemble the actual athletic mechanics targeted for improvement. Special strength exercises help transfer general strength to the next category of strength, specific strength. Medicine ball throws and plyometrics are examples of special strength exercises.

Finally, specific strength training is necessary to make the final transfer of special strength to the target activity. This training category tries to mimic any athletic moves targeted for improvement, to its exact speed and mechanics. Hitting a blocking sled, swinging a weighted bat and “sport specific mechanics” with resistance bands are examples of specific strength exercises.

The expression of strength can be separated into three basic classifications. First, we have the absolute strength developed during the general strength phase. This is many times expressed by heaviest weight that can be lifted for a specified number of repetitions. A maximum single repetition is referred to as a one-repetition maximum (i.e. 1RM). This method of expression just tells the weight lifted but tells you nothing about the size of the individual who lifted it.
The type of strength developed in the general strength phase can also be expressed in a relative manner. This is called relative strength. That is, the weight lifted divided by the weight of the individual who performed the lift. This method of expression allows one to make judgement of strength per pound of body weight. Thus the saying, “pound per pound, this athlete is stronger”.

Finally, strength can be expressed in real obvious but very subjective ways. Have you ever seen an athlete that does not look very impressive, can’t lift very much weight in the gym, however, shows deceptively strong qualities when playing a sport. These athletes many times can not express their strength in traditional ways. These special athletes posses what we in the conditioning field call “functional strength”. You know who I’m talking about, the players that may not lift weights, but can “out power” any opponent within their athletic arena. Wrestlers, boxers, soccer players, gymnasts are some of the functional monsters of the athletic world. They may not be impressive in a weightlifting environment, but they’ll kill you with their ability to apply ALL of the strength they do posses. This ability to USE strength is the essence of functional strength – strength you can use!

Does this mean that strength training is not important? Of course not, it is very important. Increases in strength, as a result of a properly designed resistance training program, has resulted in improvements in just about every aspect of athletic performance you can imagine. Running speed, vertical jump, throwing speed and are just some of the athletic components which have improved after strength increases due to resistance training.

The problem arises when the expression of absolute strength begins to dominate the training objectives and the performance objectives become a secondary objective. That is, athletes and coaches get into trouble when strength is developed for the sake of strength and not for what it can do for you. This is just like working really hard for money that you can’t spend. This trap of “over-emphasizing” strength is easy to fall into. The increases in strength are easy to measure and notice. Additionally, the athletic world seeks and generously rewards strength development because it has become synonymous with performance. Just look at the football combines. Contracts, bonuses, drafting positions are based on expressions of strength that many times are unrelated to football performance!

As a conditioning coach, I see the development of strength as an investment vs. profit endeavor. The question I always ask myself is, will the time devoted to additional strength development yield me big dividends in return? Or, would I better serve that individual by maintaining respectable strength levels and work on qualities that can significantly improve athletic performance? The answer is simple. If there is enough strength, focus in the athlete’s ability to apply most of the available strength, instead of spending several weeks or months to increase strength by 5% and not be able to apply half of it! The way I see it, 75% explosive application of a 200-lb. bench press equals 150lbs of devastating force. On the other hand, 40% slow application of a 300-lb. bench press is 120 lbs. of “non-damaging” force. Which situation would you prefer for your linemen to be in? I would prefer to play my functional dynamo that appears to be the “weaker” lineman with a 200-lb. bench press. He can apply 75% of his strength and is functionally stronger.

I’ll give you a real life example of a decision I made not too long ago in regards to how much strength is enough. I had a young strong pitcher come to me with about 16 weeks to get ready before a tryout with a minor league club. He was 195-lb. and 6’-2” tall. His squat was about 250-lbs., his bench was around 215-lbs. and he could do about 8 bodyweight pull-ups. His fast ball had been clocked at 92 mph with nothing but arm. After running a couple of functional tests on him, I quickly found he could not balance dynamically on one leg. Now here is an athlete who spends most of his on one leg while powering his arm to speeds of 7000-10,000 degrees per second, yet, he can’t balance dynamically on his plant leg!

I asked myself the following questions. Will he be better served by functionally strengthening his legs and hips so that they can support and better transfer explosive power, or should I dedicated the next 16 weeks to increasing his squat to 300 lbs. and his bench to 275 lbs.? Should I pack 10 lbs. of muscle on him over the next 4 months, or should I work on developing his deceleration capabilities, pitching flexibility and energy transfer mechanics (i.e. his kinetic chain)? Should I focus on the expression of absolute strength so he can look great on paper, or should I concentrate on enhancing his pitching and give him the best shot he can possibly have at making a squad?

We decided this young man was strong and big enough for a pitcher! We took a functional approach to his training; maintained his current levels of strength while improving his balance and power transfer. Our main goal was to close the gap between his absolute strength, which was respectable, and his functional strength, which was almost non-existing. Well, four months later this young man is in the best pitching shape of his life and ready to be seen by the scouts!

The main problem with functional strength is that it is difficult to quantify. Functional strength does not have the standardization in evaluative techniques that general strength has. Therefore, is you want to show how powerful and strong a player is, you show their numbers for the vertical jump, power clean, squat, bench etc. If you gave their distance for a “one-leg, contralateral, counterbalanced, one arm reach test”, or a medial one-leg jump, no coach, agent, or sport team would know what you are talking about. Therefore, the dilemma is – how do you make the athlete look good on paper and at the same time a “better functioning athlete”?

From a personal perspective, I have become a believer of augmenting functional strength, and sometimes at the expense of increasing already high levels of absolute or general strength. I myself have test driven a purely functional strength program for 12 weeks. The differences in my swimming, running, jumping and change of direction capabilities have been remarkable. However, I do not believe that a purely functional program is the answer. Integrating general, special and specific strength development is the best way to improve performance and develop strength you can use!

Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS

Number One Resource in Dryland Training