Evolution of Strength Training – A Personal Perspective Over Fifty Years (Summary & Conclusion)

Looking back over the past fifty years there were many influences on my strength training:

  • Olympic Lifting
  • Power Lifting
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial Arts
  • Rehabilitation Techniques
  • Wresting & Grappling
  • Body Building

I have learned many times over that a sound comprehensive strength training program incorporates elements of all the above as needed based on sport demands, the qualities of the individual athlete and the time of the training year as well as the stage of the athlete’s career. I have begged, borrowed and adapted from all to develop an eclectic system that I could adapt to the sport and athletes I was working with at the time.

Based on my experiences I derived the following principles to guide my strength training:

  • Train movements not muscles
  • Train postural (core) strength before extremity strength
  • Train bodyweight before using external resistance
  • Train strength before strength endurance
  • Train power before power endurance

These principles have guided and will continue to guide me regardless of the sport.

So, where are we today? Where are we going? What have we learned? In some ways I feel we really have not progressed very far. Many of the methods used in the sixties and seventies are being used today without any consideration for what we have learned and a completely different talent pool. It is relatively easy to get “weight room” strong but the key is how that strength is transferred to the sport. I have learned that you don’t need fancy equipment and huge air conditioned weight rooms to produce champions, in fact some of the most functionally strong athletes I have seen have come out of a “weight room without walls” environment. Use the the time, personnel, and space you have to get the athletes prepared.

Outside of track & field and a few isolated pockets in other sports there is not a good understanding that the key is the nervous system. That is what Sam Cunningham was trying to tell me in my first year of coaching. Just because he could not lift more weight that is not what is most important. It is how you can recruit and fire the muscles in a coordinated pattern that is most important. Strength training is about intermuscular coordination and neural drive; it is training the command and control system. That is why it is so important to train movements not muscles! This is where we have to go in order to progress to do a better job of integrating strength training, making it specific in order to develop athleticism. Some prefer to call it functional training, I prefer to call it sound training where all elements of training are integrated so that strength training is always in context with it’s proper place the training spectrum. We need to keep striving for a balanced approach based on coaching experiences and sound sports science research.

I continue to strength train at least three day a week myself. It is something that I do to stay healthy and to keep learning. I keep experimenting, trying different combinations and sequences and methods in a continual search for a better way. Certainly strength training coupled with the aging process offers many possibilities for experimentation and continued learning. I hope to be around to write an update on this post in ten and twenty years. Good luck in your training, remember strength training is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

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