“Just as those who practice the same profession recognize each other instinctively, so do those who practice the same vice.”
Note 1: This subject may seem over and above what any “normal trainee” need worry himself with, and to some extent, that’s true enough. However, the take away message here — Know thyself, know thy goal, and train appropriately — applies to any trainee (or potential trainee, even) at any skill level.
Note 2: For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, SS/HIT in the Strength & Conditioning community parlance, simply refers to Super Slow (as in rep speed)/High Intensity (as in one set to failure) Training. For all intents and purposes, and at its roots, this is essentially the same protocol as that espoused by Dr. Doug McGuff in his book, Body By Science.
Chris, of the fabulous Conditioning Research blog, alerted me to this Sports Illustrated article which apparently hit the Net last month. I don’t know how this one got past (what I though was, at least) a pretty thorough article screen, but alas, it did. Anyhow, much thanks again to Chris for sending it my way.
I “Twittered” about Ross Tucker’s SI article at the time Chis alerted me to it (I make Twitter updates frequently with little finds like this), however, in light of the discussion having ensued as a result of the Body By Science Part 3 review, (and the Conditioning Research post cited below), I’d like to re-visit the article now, as it somewhat verifies – even amongst the most highly trained and resilient of athletes – a notion that Dr. McGuff has pointed out in his book. Namely, the point of injury (and especially cumulative trauma injury) incurred directly as a result of questionable training practices. As Dr. McGuff (and Nassim Taleb) are fond of saying, one really ought to “survey the graveyard” as part of any complete study on the efficacy of any purportedly “successful” training program. The fact of the matter is that survivors of certain questionable training practices (or hell, any training practice for that matter) are just that — survivors — and there’s a big difference between merely surviving a protocol and actually having been made a better athlete by that training protocol. And this difference is very, very hard to discern.
One victim of this Strength and Conditioning coach carnage, as described in the article above, was Houston Texans S & C coach, Dan Riley (link here). Some discussion of Dan’s methods (SS/HIT intensive, for the most part) vis-a-vis his firing were discussed recently over at this Conditioning Research post dealing with the idea (or lack thereof?) of functional training in relation to SS/HIT. Additionally, you can glean some insight into Dan’s training philosophy here, at the achieve of the “Fitness Corner” articles he did for HoustonTexans.com. Be warned, though, that the preceding link may not be around too much longer, for obvious reasons. The point of this post, though, is not to attempt to discredit the SS/HIT methodology — I happen to think that SS/HIT, properly applied/dosed, can be a productive methodology if employed under certain circumstances — but to emphasize the need for individually customized training protocols. And this, is my mind, would be a dictate for every trainee, regardless of skill level or specificity of goal. Follow any “canned” workout protocol (including my own) without adjusting for your own goals and needs, and you’ll end up with, at best (and only if you’re lucky) lackluster results. The worst that can happen is that you’ll either get hurt, or suffer some other form of a setback; physical, psychological, or otherwise.
Grasping the Contextualized Content; or, Digging for the Underlying Meaning, as Opposed to the Gathering of Specifics
In the spirit of intellectual juxtaposition, I didn’t want to let this blog post from Vern Gambetta, of Elite Track, go by unnoticed. Vern is voicing a sentiment here you’re unlikely to hear very often, especially from such a high-profile coach, as sentiments like this serve to severely undermine the potential profit margins of the few big players in the S & C community. So what does Vern’s post have to do with the Sports Illustrated article cited above? Well, everything that is Strength and Conditioning, if you ask me. And here, too, can be found edification of that valuable nugget of wisdom that any trainee, regardless of ability, goal, or “training age” (i.e., experience) can put to use immediately — namely that, to be effective, ant chosen training methodology must be matched to the specific trainee, and to that trainee’s specific needs at the particular time in question. Identify the need, and pick the methodology best suited to address that need; that is to say, train the specified weakness, in the context of current circumstance, via the most appropriate methodology suitable in the pursuit of trainee’s defined goal . Unfortunately, for NFL (and for the collegiate level, even more so) S & C coaches, this is a theory that’s next to impossible to put into practice. As Ross Tucker states in the aforementioned SI article:
…There is another well-known strength coach whose program is the same for every position on the team. Now the actual weights the players lift may be different, but the specific exercises that every player is asked to complete are identical, which makes absolutely no sense to me. How can he possibly think offensive linemen and cornerbacks are the same type of athletes and need the same workouts? That’s like training a bear and a cheetah to hunt the same way. They’re different animals.
Interior linemen and perimeter skill guys are barely even playing the same sport if you ask me. Offensive linemen need to focus on power, short-area quickness and lateral movement. Cover corners need to concentrate on speed, flexibility and fluidity in and out of their breaks…
This pretty much sums-up my sentiment on the subject as well. Now, I wouldn’t say that I agree totally with Dan Riley’s application of SS/HIT, but I certainly don’t think that his over-reliance (my opinion) on SS/HIT was the whole reason behind the Houston Texans lackluster, on the field performance the last few seasons. There are many, many factors to consider — some of which may have been under Dan’s control, most of which, though, assuredly were not. Back to the point of the previous article excerpt, though, and, as Vern Gambetta puts it:
…I realize it is so easy to get caught up in the trap of the new great exercise or the next great machine, but as I have said many times in this blog, there is so much more to it than that. First of all, do you have a plan, a plan for that session, for the mesocyle, for the block and for the year. What are your goals? Are those goals measurable? How will you measure them? When you get down to selecting the actual exercises in some ways that is the easy part, does each exercise have a specific context? Where and how does it fit into the bigger picture?
…Frankly that is why when I write or speak I am very reticent to show or print workouts, because people want to copy them and apply them, without any thought to the considerations I previously mentioned. I will put up a couple of workouts this weekend and the audience will try furiously to copy them. My intent will be to show context, but I am sure the audience will be looking for the magic bullet, it is the same everywhere. Coaching is a creative and a scientific process…
Training has always been thus, and thus it will remain; a unique mix of properly applied science, creativity, art, psychology and feel. Cookie-cutter programs and across-the-board delineations are not, and will never be the answer. Just as each individual is unique, so is each individual’s training needs at each unique point in time.