Why Monster Trucks Shouldn’t Be Driven in the Express Lane

I’m not exactly sure how we got to this point in our society, but I’m going to assume that it’s simply the same way we’ve come to many points in history where our envisioned leaders have sent the masses to slaughter—lack of knowledge and greed. But mostly greed! I feel compelled to write this article despite skewed opinions or criticisms from “peers.” I feel obligated as a professional to make my disapproval of certain training means known. I’m referring to high volume squats, deadlifts, power and hang cleans, snatches, and plyometric jumps with limited or no recovery. The reason being is I’ve had two immediate family members fall victim to this leadership with knee and low back injuries in recent weeks. I saw it coming the whole way and couldn’t stop it. I mean how can I compete with the illusions of success and glamour set forth by the “infallible” infomercials and internet based sites with these “new” workout programs that are being so widely accepted that in 90 days you can work miracles?

I’ve seen many people have major changes in their body composition in 90 days without these programs. Nutritional changes and due diligence to training sessions were the culprit. I firmly believe that an exercise or training program’s success or failure is rooted in the execution of its work. I work as a collegiate strength coach at a Division 1 school and echo this concept to each and every athlete I work with on a daily basis. It’s my job description to design safe and effective training programs that physically develop an athlete to his potential. This means it’s on my shoulders to filter and decipher what works and what doesn’t and what is appropriate or safe for each level of athlete.

During my formative years as an athlete and graduate assistant in strength and conditioning, I was taught to think independently and not to “drink everyone’s Kool-Aid.” Question everything and if it makes solid logical sense, use it! This is how you grow and develop as a professional.  That being said, what doesn’t make sense to me and what has prompted this article is why there is widespread use of technical power and “explosive” power exercises being incorporated into endurance and “Cross” fitness routines. We’ve all seen the infomercials lately and the fad gyms popping up in every town over the last few years. I’ll leave the names out, but if you have watched television or been on the internet in the last 3–5 years, you’ve seen them.

As a professional strength and conditioning coach for the last five years, I’ve picked up on hundreds of techniques and “cues” for getting athletes to perform lifts such as barbell front and back squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and plyometric jumping mechanics correctly. I’ve spent countless hours in clinics and discussions, watching videos, and reading books such as Starting Strength, Practical Programming, and Science and Practice of Strength Training. Not to mention, I’ve had years of graduate level classes. I’ve felt the joys of watching an athlete finally “get it” as well as the frustrations of failures and realizing what a timely process the learning curve truly is. There is a reason we (strength coaches) spend the amount of time we do on perfecting these lifts with our athletes. It’s because we realize the real potential dangers of form breakdown under heavy loads and the timely maturation process in physical development.

Well, in a world of “we want it now” and “more is better,” these lifts don’t fit that description. Yet so many buy into the idea that it’s OK!  I suppose as long as a fitness guru with six pack abs tells you that you can do it with a half-wit description prefacing what to watch out for, it’s safe to do. I envision the package being sold online and on television as a road map with purposed short cuts on a cross country journey that will shave months off your travel time. Oh yeah, with a small little warning sticker that tells you, “This map will lead you through unstable mountainous terrain and is full of pitfalls and tight roads without any safety rails to guide you in the event that you lose control.” It would be like if it was legal to drive a monster truck on a freeway and anyone could drive one as long as they paid three payments of $19.95 for a license. Not all exercises are created equal!

Doing high reps for 30 seconds to a minute of an exercise designed to be executed in two seconds or less seems to be an oxymoron. Not to mention, it also causes the breakdown of smaller muscle groups designed to support our structure, thus hindering us helpless against a heavy load. “But coach, it helps with your cardio.” I say go jog. “But coach, it works all my muscle groups.” I say so does a well-rounded lifting program. “But coach, it helps with my explosive endurance.” I say is there truly such a thing? Don’t drive monster trucks in the express lane. They will likely break down and you probably don’t have a license. “But coach, we don’t use that much weight.” I say then why do you need a monster truck? Go buy a Chevy hybrid!

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About the Author

Coach Joe is a head strength coach at a Division 1 university.