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Strength: Do You Have It?

Strength training simply means the pursuit of being stronger. Somewhere down the line this theory has been lost. Many times there is too much emphasis placed on maintaining strength and not creating it.

I just returned from a consulting engagement with a Division-1 football program. I was contracted to review and give insight on their strength-training program. This university had one of the best facilities I had ever seen. They must have had 15 power racks, 15 power bench racks, 15 lifting platforms plus all the latest machines and dumbbells you would ever need.

The first thing I thought was, "Man, you could really make a team strong here." At least that is what I thought until I looked up at the wall. They had a list of standard goals to be met by each position.

The Lineman's Goals Were:

I was first amazed at how low the numbers were for a lineman who weighs between 260 and 300 pounds, but I thought at least they had standard goals for each of them to strive for.

This was fine until I looked further down the wall and saw a chart for all those who have reached this status. I stood in disbelief, as there where none listed. Now I was determined to figure out how this could be.

As I stood there in disbelief, I overheard two people passing by that were in town for a coaching conference. They were also very amazed at these numbers. I was about to comment when I learned that they were amazed for different reasons than myself. They thought the numbers were great! Now, I'm beginning to wonder what is wrong with this picture. After some thought, I figured out what it was. People need to begin to view strength for what it really is.

Strength training simply means the pursuit of being stronger. Somewhere down the line this theory has been lost. Many times there is too much emphasis placed on maintaining strength and not creating it. How can two people look at the same board and one be amazed at how low the numbers are and another amazed at how high they are? To answer this...we must look at what I call the personal paradigms of training.

Personal Paradigms

A personal paradigm is the way in which one sees the world behind their own eyes. I heard this once explained with the example of a map by Steven Covey author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." If you were to attend one of my seminars in Columbus, OH and I sent you a map titled Columbus but it really was a map of Detroit, MI, the first thing that would happen is you would get lost and back track to see if you missed a street.

After getting lost again you may give me a call and I would tell you to try harder, re-read the map. You would reply, "I have read the map and can't find the streets." I would tell you to take your time and look at it more thoroughly. Well you would head back out and once again and get lost. This time you may head into a bookstore and buy the best motivation book on the market.

Now you are fired up and head back out again only to get lost once again. You see, the problem is very simple, no matter how hard you try or how motivated you get you still have the wrong map. Until you change your current map you will be lost. Most coaches and lifters underestimate what strength really is either because they have been viewing what strength really is by using the wrong map, or the wrong set of definitions and standards?

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In the field of strength training there really are no set definitions of what expectable levels of strength are for individual athletes. The only definitions are the personal definitions set by the lifters them selves, the trainer or the coach. Let me explain further. Lets assume you decided to hire a personal trainer or coach to train you for your next competition.

Your current lifts are: Squat 700lb, Bench 450lb and Deadlift 650lb. Unless this trainer has processed a certain degree of strength themselves they may feel impressed with your current level. How hard do you think you will be trained and on what level of knowledge is this program built on?

This trainer may only be able to bench 300lb and their best current client can only bench 350lb, so to him your 450lb bench is outstanding. This will make you feel great to receive all the praise from this trainer but will it help? Your current level of 450lb may be far under what you are really capable of doing. One standard goal I believe in for the squat, bench and deadlift for most power athletes and foot players is the Top 100 in Powerlifting USA.

Now I understand that not every athlete is a powerlifter or even wants to be, but I also feel a college or professional football athlete should be able to at least break into the top 100 or at least 100 pounds shy of it. Another standard for reviewing the squat and bench press strength are the strength ratings compiled by Dale Harder in his book, "Strength & Speed Ratings" available from Crain's Muscle World. (See Tables listed below).

Bench Press Ratings By Bodyweight

Body Weight 114 123 132 148 165 181 198 220 242 275 SHW
World Class 215 253 300 355 400 435 462 492 525 540 560
National Class 175 230 275 340 380 420 450 485 515 529 540
College Star 160 180 200 250 300 330 340 350 375 390 400
College Letter 140 155 180 200 250 275 300 315 320 340 350
High School Star 125 140 170 190 200 215 225 230 250 270 300
High School Letter 115 135 150 180 190 200 210 220 225 250 275
Junior High Star 90 100 135 160 180 190 200 210 220 230 240
Junior High Letter 80 90 115 130 150 170 175 180 185 190 200

Squat Ratings By Bodyweight

Body Weight 114 123 132 148 165 181 198 220 242 275 SHW
World Class 330 380 450 515 585 605 675 722 738 755 793
National Class 270 325 385 501 566 600 655 698 710 730 775
College Star 235 300 350 425 470 500 545 570 585 615 640
College Letter 205 265 310 375 405 425 460 470 480 490 500
High School Star 180 240 270 330 360 380 400 425 450 460 470
High School Letter 160 200 235 250 270 280 290 300 320 340 360
Junior High Star 135 175 200 220 240 250 260 270 280 290 300
Junior High Letter 115 150 165 180 190 200 210 220 230 240 250

Keep one thing in mind about powerlifting and please don't misunderstand my point. Powerlifting is a very small sport compared to others and is filled with a majority of athletes who were not good enough to play football, basketball, baseball or any other high profile sport past the high school level or is retired from those sports (past their prime).

Yes, many lifters are suited for the sport but not as many as one might think. Take a close look at many of your top 100 lifters. Only a small percentage of powerlifters are suited for the sport, most have average structure.

This does not mean that powerlifters do not train hard for what they have achieved, I believe they train harder and smarter than most coaches and trainers are currently training their athletes in terms of maximum strength development.

Think about this for a minute and you will see my point. A Division-1 athlete has reached that level because of their genetic disposition and the hard work required to reach that level. They are the cream of the crop or some of the best athletes in the country. Now why is it that these best of the best athletes can't even come close to those powerlifters that were not regarded as the "best of the best" or "past their prime?"

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Is it because the powerlifters have better facilities? Most train in garages, key clubs and local gyms...while Division-1 athletes train in multimillion dollar complexes complete with physical therapy centers and the best equipment money can buy.

Better coaching? How many powerlifting coaches do you know of? I can think of about ten. Now how many strength coaches and trainers are there? There are about one or two strength coaches for every school, now including high schools and thousands of personal trainers.

Difference In Strength

Why the difference in strength? There are a few reasons I can think of but the one that comes to mind is the comprehension level of strength. A powerlifter may think they are strong until they go to a local meet and find out they may not be as strong as they thought. So they head back to the gym and reevaluate the program and start back to work with a new definition of what strength is.

Then when they build themselves up to a higher level and compete at their first national competition, they find out again that they still are not as strong as they thought and need to change their definition of what strength is. The best lifters are the ones who are always in a constant process of trying to push it up to the next level and redefining themselves.

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If you listen to these lifters you will almost never hear them say they missed a lift because they were not strong enough, what you will hear them say is that the bar fell out of the groove, the equipment didn't fit right or they had one lagging muscle but never that they were not strong enough.

Being stronger is a forgone conclusion and just a matter of putting it together. For a novice lifter, coach, or trainer you will hear they or I was not strong enough or that they just don't have the strength potential or genetics, there is never any new definitions being made.

Another reason for the strength difference is many coaches and trainers feel that a 400-pound bench press and 500lb squats are unnecessary for sports performance. I ask, is not all strength based on maximal strength? Plus, if you are spending time in the weight room should that time not be devoted to getting stronger? Why spend valuable training time just maintaining?

It makes no sense to go into the weight room to work on maintaining strength when the same time could be spent on developing strength. I do understand that there are many components of fitness when it comes to the total development of the athlete and that maximum strength is only one of them. A training program for a client or athlete based solely on maximum strength development is a major mistake.

You must also address flexibility, endurance, mobility, agility & speed as well as many other components. I believe these components need to be trained and are all effected by the total absolute strength you have. In other words, all things being equal, the stronger athlete will win.

So then, how can you change your definition of strength?

  1. As a powerlifter you must train with a group of other lifters. Having good training partners is a vital part of the process. Very few ever reach the top by themselves. You should try to get with a group of lifters who are stronger than yourself.

    This will reinforce the belief that it can be done when you see it being done time and time again in the gym. I used to feel a 600lb bench was a big bench until 8 people in our gym (Westside Barbell) did it. Now it seems to be in reach for anybody who believes it can be done.

  2. As a lifter you must compete! Have you ever noticed the biggest attitudes are held by those who only lift in the gym? These lifters believe they are the biggest and best out there. Why is it that the lifters who compete at the highest levels do not possess these same attitudes? I believe it is because to compete at this level they have all been humbled many times and realize that there are many strong lifters out there and they are only one of them.

  3. As a coach or trainer you must workout. You would think this is a given but it is not. There are many trainers and coaches out there who have the credentials on paper and wear them as well but there are still far too many who only have credentials on paper. I wonder how you can teach strength if you have never possessed it in the first place.

    I overheard a top trainer giving training instructions to an 800-pound squatter on what he had to do to fix his technique. I would venture to guess that this trainer's best squat ever is around 400lb. Having done an 800lb squat I can tell you there is a big difference in what you have to do to squat 800lb compared to 400lb.

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    I am not saying that all strength coaches and trainers need to squat 800 pounds. This could be further from the truth, but they should at least know what it feels like to lift maximal loads. I was always brought up with the belief to never ask someone to do what you would not do yourself.

    A second point about this topic is the value of respect. You will gain greater respect from your client and coach if you are practicing what you preach. This is best done if you have the opportunity to train with the client or team. Let them see the intensity you put into you own training and you will get the same intensity back.

    Come to Westside and view the intensity of the training. You will notice that Louie is right in they're banging away with us. Would that same intensity be there if he was not training? If you look at the recent success of Westside in the past five years, it directly relates to the time when Louie started his comeback. Think about it!

  4. Check PLUSA top 100. As mentioned above, show your clients and athletes these lists. Let them know that they can reach the same strength level. Praise them for all personal records while encouraging and recognizing their potential to reach even higher goals.

    In comparison to the lineman's goals at the beginning of the article, the last numbers on the top 100 for the 275lb weight class last year were a 700lb squat and a 507lb bench. If this doesn't inspire the athlete to strive for bigger numbers let them know that the goals of a 500lb squat and 385lb bench would not even break the top 100 for the 165lb weight class. With this in mind, are those goals solid goals for a lineman weighing 275 to 300 pounds in a four-year program?

  5. Believe in yourself and act as if you do! This goes for both the powerlifter and coach. If you tell them to act as if they are the strongest team in the league or you act as if you are one of the top 10 powerlifters then you are on the right path.

    Act as if, means to do the same things they would do. Do they spend time in the gym training on solid programs? Do they research and read everything they can on strength? Do they have a positive attitude? Do they never skip workouts? Do they look to those who are better than them for guidance? Do you?

In Closing

Vince Lombardi once said...

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour - his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear - is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

Do you want to lie on the ground victorious or with your face down in the dirt?