“Strength and conditioning”—the collective sobriquet most often assigned to the profession of training athletes to soar toward the upper limits of their potential—is an amalgam of two tremendously elastic and ill-defined words. They are among many terms in the coaching lexicon that are, most often, used without much concern for their precise meaning.
About Steve Myrland
Steve Myrland has worked as an athletic development coach at the youth, collegiate, and professional levels. He was formerly the strength and conditioning coach at the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and the University of Wisconsin. He is also a GAIN faculty member.
Entries by Steve Myrland
Perhaps the most persistent blunder athletes and coaches make in training to compete is regularly mistaking “strength” for “athleticism,” so let’s clear this up right away: Athleticism—the ability to express one’s physical self with optimal speed, agility, strength, balance, suppleness, stamina and grace while avoiding injury—is the goal. Strength, as you will note by re-reading the sentence, above, is a single element of the collective term: athleticism. You cannot be athletic without being strong; but you can be strong without being athletic.
When I think about long-term athlete development, the first word that comes to my mind is difference. My first guiding rule as a coach came from my mentor Roger Eischens: “It’s aways about difference.” That couldn’t be more true when we start talking about long-term athlete development. Coaches need to account for different bodies, a different society, and different priorities while maintaining the same purpose.
When I started coaching at the University of Wisconsin, our men’s soccer team always started the season in August by playing an exhibition against a visiting club from Germany. Despite the mid-summer heat, the German goal-keepers would be out on the field a good hour before the game, building progressively towards game-like movements at game pace.
I joined this week’s HMMR podcast to share some ideas with Nick and Martin on my approach to training. We spent a good deal of time talking about how I’ve rethought the role of the barbell in training and how this has led me to use different types of functional equipment such as the aquabag, kettlebell, sticks, straps, and more. As I put it during the interview: functional equipment asks your body what it can do; less functional equipment tells your body what it can do.
An Vern always says, you shouldn’t try to mimic the game in training, you should try to distort it. During last month’s HMMR Media Hangout, another member asked me about how a coach knows when something has been distorted too much. The question got me thinking because this is an issue you see all around. At a certain point, if you distort things too much they start to get weird.
I was musing recently on concepts like “long-term athletic development,” “periodization,” and “adaptation” and I had a thought which I hope carries the idea of “athlete-appropriate” a bit further into the light. Adaptation is the tool we use to get better, but we have to know where we are adapting from and where we are adapting to first. What is are generally missing in our hopeful attempts to accelerate athletic progress with young people is not about the methods or tools, but about the awareness and full appreciation of the deciding factors that permit a coach to know what kinds of training are appropriate with individual athletes and what kind are not.