A Strength Coach's Job is Bigger Than One-Rep Maxes

When it comes to performance training, what you do isn't always as important as how you do it.

Strength and conditioning coaches are often the ones who are screaming about "the process" and how important it is to stay the course.

When it comes to training, however, many of those same coaches often display the exact opposite philosophy. They believe that max-out day is the be-all to end-all. They sacrifice form and safety to chase bigger numbers. They get so obsessed with immediately validating themselves and their programming that they lose sight of the big picture.

In this article, I am going to cover where I believe some of the biggest mistakes are made in the performance field, and why coaches need to drop their egos immediately if they want to see their athletes truly prosper.

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Strength and conditioning coaches are often the ones who are screaming about "the process" and how important it is to stay the course.

When it comes to training, however, many of those same coaches often display the exact opposite philosophy. They believe that max-out day is the be-all to end-all. They sacrifice form and safety to chase bigger numbers. They get so obsessed with immediately validating themselves and their programming that they lose sight of the big picture.

In this article, I am going to cover where I believe some of the biggest mistakes are made in the performance field, and why coaches need to drop their egos immediately if they want to see their athletes truly prosper.

I have been asked what my training philosophy is since the day I became a performance professional. From the beginning, I identified my philosophy based off of the exercises that I used to make athletes better. It would sound something like "ground-based" or "modified Olympic training with concurrent periodization." All that jargon sounds smart, but did I even know what it meant for my philosophy?

As I continued to grow as a professional, I started to truly evaluate every process I use to develop programs for athletes to get better at their sport. I came to the conclusion that my training philosophy was weak and would not survive the test of time, as it was not principle driven.

One phone call with a coach named Alan Bishop, who's the current Director of Sports Performance for Houston Men's Basketball, changed everything for me. He drove home the point that your philosophy should be something you can weigh every decision against, no matter the circumstances, and it should hold up. My philosophy was limiting me as a coach, and I needed a mindset shift.

I finally came to the conclusion that my training philosophy was based on three words: Health Drives Performance. What does this mean? Why is this my overarching philosophy? Why is this where I think most coaches miss the mark?

In my system, Health Drives Performance means that every decision that is made in training will benefit the athlete's health. Just like the medical field, our No. 1 mantra should also be "Do No Harm." By no means am I claiming that my system is injury-free. We all know that injuries are going to happen due to the myriad of factors that cause them. We simply can't control everything. However, my system revolves around the athlete being served at all times for the sake of their performance. This means that if range of motion and neuromuscular control is slacking, the training max will be lowered. This means that if the athlete's readiness is below optimal, we will back off per protocol. This also means that if the athlete is feeling well, and has owned their training process, they may earn the right to attempt something that may be slightly more difficult than what is planned. The Health Drives Performance philosophy is dynamic in nature, and it's something I believe can stand the test of time.

I do not see a lot of this in most weight rooms, especially at the high school level. The sad reality is that most sport coaches do not know how to comprehensively evaluate the physical capabilities of their athletes. Therefore, coaches look at "max numbers" as the sole metric of improvement. This can be dangerous for many reasons.

The point of "max day" should be just like any other experiment. It is to test a hypothesis, analyze the data, and come to a conclusion. The conclusion that we want to see is that the athlete got "stronger" (we must define strong), leading to a more resilient and robust player. For this data to be reliable, each repetition must be completed the same way as it was tested before. If not, the data is unreliable.

I understand that as coaches, there are only so many factors we can control. We often cannot control the amount of sleep the athlete got the night before, if they ate breakfast that morning, or the amount of water they have had in the past 48 hours. This is all understood. The point being made is that if your standards of testing are compromised for the sake of being able to write down a larger number, your data is false. I see this way too often from coaches in weight rooms, and most of them won't admit to it. They're of the mindset that the only metric of measurable improvement comes from these max-out days, so if an athlete uses shoddy form but puts up a bigger number, they'll let it slide. They also may believe this is the right mindset because it's "the way it's always been done."

To truly maximize performance, I believe we can't continue to stick to certain ways simply because it's "what we've always done." We must think outside the box to understand how to best develop athletes in the weight room. The data that we gather, including one-rep maxes, is important. But it is how we use that data to influence our athletes where the power lies. If we can understand that getting to a certain squat number is not the end destination, we will be better coaches because of it.

Have you heard the old adage, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it?" I'm sure most of us coaches hear this from our significant other. I do quite often. This also applies in performance training, except it goes "It's not what you do, it's how you do it."

Every decision made in the weight room needs to be in the athlete's best interest. Coaches, what difference will a 405-pound Squat and a 425-pound Squat make for your team? If your athlete has to compromise the integrity of the movement to lift the weight, then the risk completely outweighs the reward. Does the faux 20-pound increase mean more to you than the health of your athletes? Unfortunately, this is a constant in weight rooms across the country. It is time for performance training to increase across the spectrum. We must validate every step and every move in our training programs and systems to give our athletes what they need.

Photo Credit: Neustockimages/iStock

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Topics: INJURY PREVENTION | STRENGTH COACH | PERFORMANCE COACH