I’m kind of known as the physical training guy in my circle of tactically minded friends. I was a graduate assistant in the exercise physiology lab at my university and worked at a hospital human performance laboratory for five years. I have trained a number of people and have written a lot about training.
So, it might surprise you when I recommend weight training and cardiovascular training as supplemental to your main activity/endeavor/or sport. You should do the minimum amount of weight training and cardiovascular training to get the desired adaptations. You then reduce training and maintain the attributes you gained through training. The majority of your time should be spent practicing your sport/endeavor.
Does general strength and cardiovascular conditioning carry over to sports? Yes, but it doesn’t supplant specifically training for your sport.
There is no way to know how strong you need to be for your endeavor. Even the oft quoted: 1.5 bodyweight bench press, 2 x squat, and 2.5 x deadlift, have no real basis in sport performance. Can Marcelo Garcia (A multiple time grappling world champion, including absolute champion) 2.5 imes his bodyweight for a one rep max deadlift? We don’t know because Garcia admittedly does not weight train. He is one of the best grapplers in the world, arguably one of the best grapplers of all time and he does NO supplemental training, he just trains BJJ.
There is no formula for how strong you need to be in a particular lift which translates to elite performance in non strength sports.
Legendary strength trainer Dan John, has the following standards:
Expected = Bodyweight bench press
Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press for 15 reps
Expected = 5 pullups
Game-changer = 15 pullups
Expected = Bodyweight to 150% bodyweight deadlift
Game-changer = Double-bodyweight deadlift
Expected = Bodyweight squat
Game-changer = Bodyweight squat for 15 reps
Expected = Farmer walk with total bodyweight (half per hand)
Game-changer =Bodyweight per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water
All of these standards could be met with a concentrated, consistent, basic, strength program.
There is not a linear relationship between strength and performance in any (non-pure strength) sport.
Years ago, I taught boxing for self defense at a seminar. There was an extremely huge powerlifter in the class. He was strong and he looked strong. He trained to maximize his one repetition maximal lift in the: Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift. He did not train to box. What do you think happened? He gassed in 30 seconds and eventually had to sit out the rest of the session. I was concerned he was going to pass out or force me to use my CPR skills…no joke.
Many conditioning coaches and strength trainers come from strength sports, powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, Track and Field or endurance sports. For most strength athletes, lifting heavy things is their sport. So lifting four to six days a week IS sport specific training.
Some trainers love to whip out platitudes like: “Strong people are harder to kill” and “An adult male weighs over 200 pounds”. Marcelo Garcia weighs well under 200 pounds and would display one tenth of the strength of an elite powerlifter but I guarantee Garcia would take the elite powerlifters back and choke him unconscious within seconds.
Skill makes you harder to kill, strength supports skill and supports your ability to drill and train more to develop that skill while reducing injuries.
So, how do we determine what to train to supplement our sport?
For the athlete, shooter, tactician, or multidisciplinary practitioner, the goal of strength training is to support our skill training. Because we are stronger we could squeeze out 200 reps of a technique drill rather than gassing at 50 reps. We are also healthier and more resistant to injury when stronger.
Like the physician’s Hippocratic Oath, strength training programs and trainers should “do no harm”.
You should never be injured from your supplemental training program.
This cuts out aggressive plyometrics, kipping pull ups, or other inherently fast, ballistic movements…like the full versions of the snatch and clean and jerk. Unless your sport involves kipping pull ups, jumping, or the full range Olympic Lifts, doing these exercises enhances risk. If you do not have a sport or side line your training for or you really like Olympic lifting, have at it, your training is your sport.
We need to be strong enough but not chase numbers. Injuries occur when athletes skate on the thin edge. Once we can squat 2 times body weight is there more crossover if we could squat 2.5 times body weight?
A more relevant question is “what do I have to do to go from a 2 times body weight max squat to a 2.5 times body weight max squat”? If that involves more squat work, bands, chains, and accessory work, you are just taking time away from skill training to hit a random number in a gym, to impress your training partners (who really couldn’t give a shit). The small injuries, sore legs, sore knees, etc. will make training your actual sport harder.
Dan John said: “The goal is to keep the goal the goal”. I love that. If your goal is to be a better shooter, boxer, or grappler (or all of the above), keep that your goal, don’t get distracted by the 315 pound bench press.
How do you know if you’re strong enough? Get input from coaches, trainers, training partners, and your own self evaluation. My BJJ training partners have never told me I was weak. I don’t feel weak when rolling. At various times in my training and competition career I have felt gassed. When that occurred, I focused on cardiovascular conditioning and maintained my strength. If you are self aware and train with realistic pressure, you know.
One of the most common refrains after a Craig Douglas’, Extremely Close Quarters Concepts class (basically grappling with firearms) is: “I need to get in shape”! If we drill down we learn people hit or go over their anaerobic threshold, hit a wall, and cannot continue or can only continue at a much reduced power output.
This issue is actually a tad more complicated than just “getting in shape”. Skill breeds efficiency. The more efficient you are the less energy you expend. Experience breeds confidence. The more confident you are the less nervous you are and the better you could control your heart rate. The stronger you are the easier it is to move people using submaximal contractions (if you bench 250 moving around a 150 pound person is easier than if you bench 150). And, of course, the more conditioned you are, the better you are able to generate submaximal power for longer periods of time. We have to balance this with the time we spend actually doing our sport, working, and actually having a life!
I accomplish this by focusing on one attribute at a time while maintaining other attributes. I find three days a week of strength training using 2-5 reps, 3-5 sets, major compound lifts is perfect for building strength. I structure training is 8 week blocks changing the reps, sets, and working weight (as calculated by percentage of 1 rep max), every week.
So when building strength I would prescribe 3 days of lifting, one long cardiovascular session at a low heart rate, and one interval cardio session, usually 15 seconds hard followed by 45 seconds slow x 15 – 20 reps.
If I had to focus on another attribute, say anaerobic threshold, I would focus 4 times a week on cardiovascular training and maintain strength with two sessions a week. I find, at 53 years old, I could maintain or even build strength (albit slowly) with two short, intense, weight lifting sessions a week.
If I just wanted to cruise and train my sport hard, I would lift two times a week, do one long cardio session a week (1 – 1.5 hours, mixed modalities, usually at least 30 minutes of running outside), and one high intensity interval training session of about 15 minutes.
I will detail a lifting program in a future post.