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Sometimes the difference doesn’t come from how much you train but how smart you do it.
By Reed Sainsbury
Published: Summer 1999
Pull the bar to you as slow as you can. Good! Take ten seconds to lower it and ten more to push it back up. How many of you have walked in to a gym to see a fitness trainer working with young athletes in this fashion? I spent last summer working with high school football players who claimed they were really getting prepared to play football. Some athletes had hired personal fitness trainers to instruct them on how to lift weights and prepare them for football season. These athletes thought they had an advantage over others because they were training in this super slow fashion. What I heard them saying was, “Well Big Joe over there has 23 inch biceps and that is how he told me to train to get big and strong for football.” Too bad Big Joe's biceps are stronger than his hamstrings. To make matters worse he can curl more than he can squat and guess what? Big Joe is not an athlete. He doesn't play sports, he just lifts weights to look big. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Everyone who runs, jumps, pushes, pulls, throws, kicks, punches, or hits is performing what is called ballistic movements. Most of us perform ballistic movements more often than we think. Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D, explains that all human movement ordinarily performed daily is done within a millisecond of time; stepping, throwing, etc. He states, “Life requires that your body can deliver and receive ballistic stretch on a daily basis. Every step you take in life causes a ballistic stretch on your inner organs so you need to train for it.” Therefore, even daily movements are not generally done in rehearsed, slow movements such as the lifting style of Big Joe. Daily movement and athletic movement is immediate and on demand; body parts constantly moving in many different directions quickly and on demand, often without prior thought. If an athlete wants his or her weight training to carry over to the field, mat or court, then they must train in an explosive, ballistic fashion. Doesn't it just make sense that, whatever your sport is, you must train accordingly? A linebacker in football coming out of his low squat, explodes up into the ball carrier with every ounce of power his muscle fibers can muster; almost an exact duplicate of the power clean and squat. See how that carries over from training? Now someone who takes five or ten seconds to move a weight in training will not be training for the explosive movement necessary for athletics. There is little benefit for athletes from slow and steady weight lifting. It is only beneficial for bodybuilding competitions where very little explosive, ballistic movement takes place. Most athletics are explosive and require as much force as possible in each movement. Athletics demand muscular strength to twist, turn and move in ballistic or reactive motions; athletes must condition their muscles appropriately. So what is the bottom line? If you are doing arm curls and other simulated slow movements that don't involve the core strength building exercises, which are: squats, power cleans and the bench press, then you're training your muscles to do so much less than they are capable of doing. Athletes gain tremendous strength and power from core lift training. In moments of intense competition ballistic stretching is inevitable. This is when explosive strength is essential. How is a football player going to react when suddenly a 230-pound fullback is running full speed at him? Explosive. He doesn't want to be laying on his back wondering what hit him while his opponent celebrates in the end zone. Get prepared physically so when you're in the heat of battle you can explode with precision and power. When core lift training is done properly an athlete doesn't have to think about what his next move is, his body will automatically perform the perfect squat, power clean or bench press. Do you want to be a dominant force and posses this kind of power? Do you want to win and be crowned a champion? If your response was yes, then you must develop explosive strength. There are no short cuts or replacements for the three core lifts.