Evolution of Strength Training – A Personal Perspective Over Fifty Years (Part Three)

In 1973-74 while attending graduate school at Stanford University I also had the opportunity to coach the jumpers and decathletes. This gave the opportunity to apply what I had learned with more mature male athletes. It was also the opportunity to work with Payton Jordan, the track coach at Stanford who was a pioneer in weight training. He had worked with a man named John Jesse who authored many books on strength training for sport. Jesse was way ahead of his time in the application of strength training to prevention and rehabilitation of injuries. Doctor Wesley Ruff, my adviser, encouraged me to do research in the area of strength and power training, which I found very helpful. This helped me to better understand the scientific reasons for the things that I was observing as a coach and experiencing as an athlete.

In 1975 –77 coaching Track & Field and Cross Country at Santa Barbara high school was my first experience working with female athletes, I did not make distinctions as to gender, they were athletes. They strength trained with the boys. In fact we learned that the girl’s derived even more spectacular benefits than the boys and that they needed to continue their strength training throughout the season or the drop off would be dramatic. The Strength training was an important part of the program regardless of the event or gender.

A watershed moment for me came when I was coaching at Cal Berkeley in the spring of 1978. We were doing some research at Shriners Hospital biomechanics lab in San Francisco on my runners. It involved biomechanical analysis, EMG and force platform analysis. One day when I was at the lab I was introduced to a women, looking back, I would guess who was in her mid fifties at the time. Knott and Voss at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland had trained her when they were doing their original research on Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). We talked for over an hour about the concepts of PNF.  Just like everyone else I had mistakenly thought PNF was a stretching technique when in fact it was a strengthening technique used to rehabilitate polio victims. The concepts stuck in my head. I began to research it more and came to the conclusion that the principles needed to be adapted to my strength training system. It was my venture outside the sagittal plane and the traditional lifting movements. It was something I continued to prefect over the next few years and I continue to use today. It literally opened up a whole new vista for me in regard to strength training. It became much less about how much an athlete could lift and much more on movement patterns with appropriate resistance.

Before the late 1970’s there did not seem to be distinctions between all the styles or schools of lifting. You just put together an eclectic program, you were not labeled a free weight guy, an Olympic lifting guy or a HIT guy, and you trained athletes. Two things changed this:

1) Olympic lifting ascendancy in the late 1970s that I believe resulted from the spectacular gains made by the Bulgarian weight lifters. The Bulgarian methods were thoroughly detailed by Carl Miller in his book “Olympic Lifting Training Manual.” The Olympic lifting movements had always played a major role in weight training for improving sport performance, but things seemed to change in the late seventies. There was an attempt to blindly copy Olympic lifting training protocols without any apparent regard to its relationship to the whole training program. Just because an Olympic lifter, who does nothing but lift, is able to lift up to five times a day does not mean that a football player or a basketball player can copy what they do. Different sport, different demands, different body proportions. Olympic lifting for sport performance is a means to an end. If you are an Olympic weight lifter then it is as end in itself, because those lifts are the performance standard.

2) The rise in popularity due to marketing in the mid 1970’s of a new machine oriented system based on a cam system that was invented by Arthur Jones. The Nautilus system based on eccentric loading and one set to failure. It was not that these were the first machines, but they were the first machines that were marketed with a training system and philosophy to back them up. It appealed to the American mentality of instant gratification. It was hard work, but it was over rather quickly. In addition because of the eccentric emphasis it was possible to gain hypertrophy rather quickly, which appealed to American football.

Things began to change rapidly with the advent of the full-time professional “Strength Coach.” In the seventies there were very few strength coaches at any level and if there were most of their attention was centered on football. In professional sport there were few fulltime strength coaches, in fact you count them on the fingers of one hand across all sports. In 1976 the Dallas Cowboys hired Bob Ward, who was the track coach at Fullerton College in California. He had a full time year around program that was backed by management so that the player’s had to comply. This was the exception, not the norm. Superior talent and genetics continued to prevail even into the late 1980’s. Not all the teams in professional football had fulltime strength and conditioning coaches. The advent of the strength coach in college and professional sport was like a good news bad news joke. The good news was that now there would be someone who whose sole responsibility was to condition the athletes. The bad news was that was that with the exception of those who had a track and field background they seldom got out of the weight room and all programs were derivatives or copies of the football program regardless of sport or gender.

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