Blog - Strength training for athletes, part 2 - STRENGTH & Company
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25 Jan On the need for strength (training) for athletes, and reasonableness in it – part 2


“Enough is enough when it comes to strength”

– Dan John, Intervention

In part 1 of this series, I wrote about the need for strength & strength training as a competitive athlete. Regardless of the sport, there is great benefit to building a foundation of general physical strength and letting this foundation be another pillar for your flagship of sport performance.

Because, remember, you can’t fire a canon from a canoe, you need a freakin’ flagship – that is, if you want your performance to be repeatable and you would like to stick around for as long as you can. I would suggest you take another 2 extra minutes and have a quick re-read of part 1 to refresh the whole idea of the need for strength.

Following, I also suggest there is a need for reasonableness in strength training. This means that at the same time you should also keep in mind that “bigger and stronger is great but it doesn’t make you more athletic”. This is what Dan John is referring to when he says that “enough is enough”. You would like to be just strong enough in order for it to help your performance.
Or, as Eric Cressey – another top coach in sports performance – has quipped: “There is a certain level of strength where strong is enough.”

Adding another 10kg to your front squat, bench press or deadlift is something you could boast about but unless you are into powerlifting it won’t necessarily win you anything come game day. Besides, you only have so much time and energy to spend, so you would be better of spending it wisely.

Some of you might have thought already ‘So, when exactly is strong enough enough?’. Good, you are paying attention. The answer: it depends. A more in-depth answer is that this relates to strength standards, sport specificity and is food for a whole other, new discussion.
For now, I can tell you this much: do not worry about being too strong, for now. I am going to go on a limb and say that most of you are probably not even close to being strong enough.

Remember the examples of Allison Felix and Sergey Litvinov? It is important to note that in the first place we are talking about the idea of a strength training practise here.

1- Assess

Hopefully, by now, you made an assessment of your strength training, by answering the questions posed in part 1 as a start. If not, do it. Be critical, have an open mind and don’t judge. Be honest with yourself. Just assess, by looking at it matter of factly.
In doing this, you know where you stand right now. This is important. If you want to improve, first know what you would like to improve, then you can start thinking on how.

2 – Establish a movement quality baseline

This is actually still in line with step 1, assess. As a strength coach I look to have people move better by doing strength training and to become stronger by moving better.
Looking at it from a movement perspective, we want to own and control the few basic human movement patterns. Getting a movement screen, such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), will help to establish if you can indeed own and control these patterns and are ready for lifting heavy. Based on the FMS, you can do regressions and progressions that help to develop movement patterns safely and soundly and become stronger.

3 – Seek to train optimal

Ideally, you want to do the stuff that matters (i.e. makes you stronger) and discard all the rest. Strength training is to support your sport, not vice versa. You want to find what works for you, do it and move on. Again, you want to spend your time and energy wisely, so it is important to find out what does the trick for you. These articles and the principles discussed are here to help. It is up to you to connect the dots (as they apply to your own story).

4 – Follow these few principles to train optimal

  • Do compound lifts

These are multi-joint, universal movement patterns (such as, squat, hinge, push, pull,…) performed with resistance. Choose 2 to 3 compound movements (e.g., front squat, military press and deadlift) for every training.

  • Apply the ‘Rule of Ten’

Follow the advice of Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John and do a total of about 10 repetitions for each lift in each workout (e.g., 2 sets of 5; 5 sets of 2; 3 sets of 3; a set of 5, a set of 3 and a set of 2; or 1 set of 10) if you want to focus on strength.

  • Learn to ‘get tight’ and relax

When you are actually lifting, the point is to create force. So it is important to learn to create tension (correctly). The more tension you create, the more force you produce, the stronger you become – as more tension enables you to lift faster and/or more weight.  At the same time, when resting between sets, relax. Breathe, ‘shake off’ the last set. This will help you to stay fresh.

  • Know thyself

Learn to listen to your body, and ignore when it matters the most. When you feel tight, do your corrective exercises. When you feel like you are not fully recovered, sleep an extra hour or take a nap. Eat more when you are not becoming stronger. Once you are in competition, dig in deep, push a little harder and go all out – if needed.

  • Variety can be your best friend, or your worst enemy

A few variety exercises or drills can be useful (e.g., corrective drills). In order to address weaknesses, to reduce or avoid a higher impact but still work on parts of the technique, or simply as accessory or auxiliary work. Just don’t get caught up and try to be too cute by doing a ton of them. One or two is enough. A great, simple example of accessory work would be ab wheel roll outs.

5 – Get coached

Youtube University and Google College provide access to a sh*t ton of information. Too much info and way too much clutter. Yes, you can and should educate yourself but be very aware of which sources you learn from. If you want to make sure you are doing the lifts correctly or are unsure of your approach, find a quality coach who understands what you are looking to achieve (and not a guy who is just trying to sell you one of his programs or tells you what to do without really listening). 50 or 100 euro for 1 or 2 personal training sessions is money well spend on your career – if you found the right person.


These are 5 simple guidelines to follow that could do wonders for your training practise as a whole and the positive impact of strength training in particular to perform in your sport.

As the Dude would say in The Big Lebowski : “… this could be a-a-a-a lot more, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, complex, I mean, it’s not just, it might not be just such a simple… uh, you know?”. Well, in this case, it just might. It could be more…uh, uhhh…complex, but really, should it?