Paleo f(x)! — and, Too Strong for Your Own Good?

Posted on 26. Apr, 2014 by in Fitness, Theory to Practice

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” – Virginia Woolf

Not much in the way of posting the past couple of weeks. That I’ve been a little busy might be a slight understatement… ;)

So, did you attend Paleo f(x) this year?  If you did, you know it was an absolutely awesome event.  If you didn’t, you’ll get another shot this year, as we roll into Denver, CO in the fall.  Mark your calendars now for October 10th – 12th.  Be there!  Paleo f(x) is going to get a Rocky Mountain high fix, y’all!

Shifting gears just a bit, let me ask you this: can a trainee ever be too strong? This is, of course, a trick question, of sorts.  A stronger trainee/athlete is generally a better trainee/athlete… until — well, until they’re not.

Wait… what??  You can be too strong?  That’s blasphemy!  

Haha!  Okay, hang on!  Slow your roll, bro!  Let me explain:

First off, beyond an “intermediate” training age, it takes quite a bit of time, energy and resources to become, in an absolute, F(max) -sense, “stronger”. Time, energy and resources have to come from somewhere, and that “somewhere” usually means at the expense of skills training for the athlete’s chosen sport. In other words, at the expense of power, speed and sport-specific skills. If you happen to be a powerlifter, then cool!  Because terminal strength is all that matters in that endeavor, you’re golden. In fact, if powerlifting or strongman is your game, you might want to move along now to your favorite powerlifting/strongman site, because I’m not going to have anything new to offer you here. But what if you’re a track athlete, football or baseball player? Does a continual push to ratchet-up a single-rep max translate into on-the-field performance?  What if you’re simply a trainee who’s looking to be healthy and happy?

Well, sure — chasing strength is a good and noble thing… but only to a point. What really matters (again, outside of powerlifting/strongman), is the rate of force development and the total amount of force that can be developed in an instant. Now, in the early going of an athlete’s career, top-end strength will have a huge effect on how much force can be created by that athlete instantaneously, and/or repeatedly, in rapid-fire bursts. In the latter going though, top end strength becomes eclipsed by the aforementioned rate of force development. It’s an n=1, sliding scale of course (like all things), but it is for sure something to be cognizant of. It simply boils down to this: strength fixes a hell of a lot of things, but it simply cannot fix everything. Proper training is a lot more complicated than just “getting stronger”. Getting better is the real goal, and “getting better” is a friggin’ Pandora’s box of potentials and possibilities which include, but are in no way limited to, top-end strength.

Confused? Don’t be. It’ll all make perfect sense in a bit.

Ok, so what about speed and power development? And specifically, what is the relationship of terminal strength (or Fmax, if you like) to power, speed and overall athleticism? Well, in layman’s terms, strength in sporting applications must be realized immediately. In other words, an athlete has to be, not just strong, but, more importantly, powerful. Training specifically for that aspect takes — you guessed it — time, energy and resources.

Check out the photo below:

I’ll get to where I found this picture in just a moment. For now, though, let’s consider what’s depicted here: that it takes approximately .4 seconds to fully realize maximum force output from a particular movement; say, for instance, a squat. Unfortunately, this is way too slow for just about all sporting applications (except for, of course, powerlifting and some strongman-like events).  In actuality, it’s a bit more complicated than this.  But for the purposes of this discussion, this is as deep as we need to go.

In fact (again, consider the depiction above), raising F(max) will do little in the way of raising the maximum realized output at the .12 time frame — the time requirement for actions like jumping, or cutting, say, or heaving a shot put. Would increasing F(max) here have some effect? Of course it would! Especially in the early going of an athlete’s career. But remember, we have to consider maximum bang for the training buck, here — and especially so in a more highly trained athlete. Now, consider if we were to positively alter the rate of force development, even a bit — in other words, increasing the slope of the curve above. In this instance, we’d realize a hell of a force increase at that critical .12 point. Even, that is, if F(max) were left unchanged.

Interesting. And now a little background on the image above:

As I was scouring the interwebs trying to find the graphic above, I stumbled upon this piece, written by Brett Conteras. Holy crap. Well, no need to reinvent the wheel here, as Brett has covered this topic soup to nuts.

Be sure to read Brett’s article, as it’s well-written, spot on, and thoroughly covers this subject. I only have a couple of anecdotal points to add.

First off, I can’t tell you how many “strongest on the team, but never started a game” football players I’ve seen and/or coached. Hell, coaches in every power/technique sport you can recount similar stories. And then, of course, there’s the hypertrophy vs athleticism disconnect.  As S&C professionals, our goal is to make athletes better at their chosen sports (or, for the general population, move them toward their goals). We are also charged with helping redirect athletes toward endeavors that may better match their inherent attributes. I have personally redirected a few of those “first in the weight room, last on the field” type guys toward more fulfilling careers in power and Oly lifting. This is another topic entirely, but just because our culture values football, baseball and basketball as THE sports our society most “values”, does not imply that superior athleticism can only be expressed via those narrow-focused mediums.

And here’s an interesting anecdote from Paleo f(x) workshop leader, Wil Fleming. Wil reveals, in episode 7 this awesome new podcast that he and coach “Dos” are doing, that he was at one time the strongest, collegiate, 51-ft shotputter ever. For those unfamiliar with the event, a 51-ft collegiate shotput is — how shall we say — rather pedestrian? And which for sure puts things into perspective! So what did Wil do to correct that disparity? He focused on developing speed, and honing sport-specific techniques. Did his lack of attention to top-end strength negatively affect his top-end strength? Sure it did! But his dedicated focus on rate of force development and technique vastly improved his throwing distance. Eventually, every athlete has to face this dilemma: be a better athlete, a stronger one… or choose a more n=1 appropriate athletic outlet.  And this isn’t just an exercise in mental masturbation; it’s a real crossroads that every athlete eventually has to navigate.

The final point is this: training for strength is indeed a specialized skill in and of itself. But, like any skill, exclusive concentration in this one area can lead to a detriment of skill in other areas. There are just so many hours in a day, so much available energy, and so much in the way of available resources. Specifically, in regard to strength vs power, the CNS has to decide what it’s going to “specialize” in.

And, if you’re an athlete, you’ll need to do the same, and train accordingly. As always though, every trainee — from the generalist, to the accomplished athlete — simply must keep in mind their goals, and the interplay of those goals with their Five T’s.

In health, fitness and ancestral wellness -
Keith

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