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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 62 0

Logic, Equipment, CrossFit (and that is a trademarked name)!

From Wikipedia: “CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program designed to help people gain a broad and general fitness. CrossFit programming concentrates on constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity to achieve overall physical fitness, so people are prepared for any physical challenge. CrossFit is a trademark of CrossFit Inc”

We’ll get back to this shortly.

While I have been aware that I can, and have in the past, used logical thought to solve problems and come to conclusions that seemed reasonable to me and those I was dealing with, I haven’t placed myself in the category of “very smart individual.” I have never considered using the descriptive term “intellectual” in any sentence that had my name in it for very obvious reasons. I would probably qualify as a street-smart Polack with a good education but that’s my limit. However, one would be surprised how far logical thought and a little bit of street smarts or common sense can go. I spent decades writing and editing articles for Mike Lambert at Powerlifting USA Magazine, without a doubt, a sorely missed touchstone for the sport of powerlifting and a publication that will never be duplicated in its influence and effect on our sport. During my tenure there, from 1978 through 2002, I watched Mike carefully wind his way through the most tumultuous time in powerlifting’s relatively short history and not yield to political pressure, threats, money, or anything else that would have made him waver from what he felt was an unbiased and neutral reporting of the sport’s important news and events. While my columns and articles were given wide latitude to state what I wished to say and serve as the constructive criticism he would not bring down on others, the standard approach was to avoid “rants” and offensive tirades that served to detract from any legitimate point we were trying to put before the public. My service to TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS mimics what I did for PLUSA which is to bring information and hopefully, a bit of enjoyable reading to those who are interested enough to “tune in” each month. I would like to conduct what I hope will be an enjoyable excursion into the realm of logical thought and common sense this month.

Multiple squat record setter Pat Susco squatting: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Multiple squat record setter Pat Susco squatting: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Powerlifting is a sport that requires the elevation of a barbell in three specific movements or planes of motion. A competitor or participant can become stronger by focusing their energies upon the three lifts of the squat, bench press, and deadlift, and ensuring that they are progressive over time. If they do this, they will lift heavier weights and total more in contests. Some contend that using exercises other than the three competitive lifts, specifically designed to strengthen the musculature utilized in the lifts, will enhance progress, provide variety when training, and perhaps reduce the probability of injury. The proviso here of course, is that in all movements, the trainee must maintain progression in the resistance and/or repetitions used. Obviously both approaches work as the history of the sport notes lifters of record setting caliber who have used either training philosophy. Some of the actual training programs are a bit more complex and involve more equipment or planning than others but either approach can work if the physiological needs of stimulating growth in strength and/or size and allowing time for recovery are met.

Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl center John Sullivan: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl center John Sullivan: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

If you are a lifter who believes that “more than” the three lifts can and should be done in order to best prepare for competition, a careful analysis of the needs of the body relative to the three lifts would be completed, and any assistance movement(s) chosen would be incorporated into the program to meet a specific need. That assistance or additional exercise would be learned so it was done properly and safely, and it would “fit” the rest of the program so that training was optimized and over training or under training was avoided. All of this is both obvious and logical.

Only because our series of TITAN columns has purposely been heavily slanted towards equipment development and use, allow me to introduce our first request for logic and an equipment comment of the day. It would be assumed that any exercise chosen to enhance one or all of the three competitive power lifts would be chosen because it did in fact provide work that would increase the muscular strength and/or size of the involved muscles. When Nautilus machines were introduced to the public, there was no real “equipment industry,” no “fitness industry,” very few health clubs or gyms open to the public, and an almost total absence of women strength training in public if at all. Much of the Nautilus equipment was effective, some was not. Much of the Nautilus equipment was extremely effective and has yet to be matched by the biomechanics of today’s industry and much of it had application to the sport of powerlifting. The philosophy, one borne of common sense and logic, is that for any sport, one enhances the “raw material” of the body and then applies the improved muscular strength, size, and conditioning components to the specific sport of interest. Combining the improved physical components with skill training that is specific to whatever sport one is pursuing, is the most efficacious and yes, logical way to reach one’s potential.

Former CFL linebacker Ken Cobb: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Former CFL linebacker Ken Cobb: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

The “problem” that lifters had with Nautilus equipment came from the misguided belief that any modality other than a barbell, dumbbell, or long established “lifting machine” like a leg press or pulldown apparatus, would not transfer to the three competitive lifts. Of course if the old fashioned inverted leg press would be considered an acceptable assistance movement, despite the very deleterious effects it had upon one’s blood pressure and lumbar spine components, then a better designed leg press should have been at least as acceptable. Of course it wasn’t because Nautilus didn’t look like anything that had preceded it, and the short sighted lifting media neither understood the underlying concepts of the equipment nor its application. That said, one of the primary problems was a lack of adequate instruction and at times, any real instruction. In an attempt to cash in on the new fitness and training popularity that became a national trend between the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s, many “business types” opened up establishments with no credentials, no background in the lifting sports, and no understanding of the equipment. Many trainees suffered injuries because everyone used the same exact training program; many trainees were not properly fitted to each machine; many trainees were given a standard weight increase protocol with no regard to their actual rate of progress; many trainees were not given an understanding of the exercises they were doing nor proper instructions.

Former eight year NFL linebacker Rocky Boiman, member of the Super Bowl winning Colts: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Former eight year NFL linebacker Rocky Boiman, member of the Super Bowl winning Colts: is this “functional,” getting stronger, or “CrossFit?”

Does it make sense that every individual’s program should be tailored to their exact needs and abilities? Should a competitive lifter at 123 pounds make the same progressive jumps as a 220 pound competitive lifter? Should one expect that the leverage factors of a 5’2” lifter would be different than one 6’1” in height? Should any consideration be given to a history of previous injury? Obviously, if any lifter expects to make the greatest amount of injury free progress, every one of these factors must be taken into consideration. Nautilus, unfortunately, was not introduced to the lifting public or the powerlifting public in this necessary manner. The statement that any modality that can make one stronger, and then allow the increase in muscular strength to be applied to the three lifts concludes the logical part of today’s “lesson” as it relates to powerlifting. Let’s jump ahead to the present and apply the same rules of logic and in fact, the same aforementioned logical statements. In our training facilities, from our office that focused upon injury treatment and rehabilitation as well as the preparation of athletes for their competitive seasons, to the highly successful Iron Island Gym that competed well on the lifting circuit in the years Kathy and I owned it, we utilized a variety of training modalities. Any particular day’s training program, dependent upon the needs of that athlete, might include barbells, dumbbells, machines, tires, logs, stones, chin and dip bars, and/or maritime chains that were dragged in our driveway or behind the gym. My articles that date as far back as the early to mid-1980’s in Muscular Development Magazine and other publications explained our penchant for car pushing, beam carrying, log pressing (with wooden logs I had made), and similar exercises that at the time, were considered to be “off beat” or “way beyond the norm” in strength training.

Now comes the brief “rant” or semi-rant portion of this column. There seems to have grown a well marketed strategy to incorporate the same variety of exercise movements long used by our athletes and among strongman contest competitors for decades. It is called CrossFit and any individual with a passing interest in strength training knows what it is, has witnessed it, and perhaps has fallen under its spell. I am reminded of a comment made by the uncle of a close friend, an older gentleman who was a chiropractor long before I returned to school to become licensed in the same profession. In the mid-1970’s upon hearing of my employment with Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries he stated, “I’m not even sure what all of this Nautilus stuff is but it’s been the best thing for my business.” Recently, an orthopedic surgeon said the same thing to me about the CrossFit phenomenon. I don’t claim any in-depth understanding of “CrossFit” but rather view it as a construct of various exercises, done with minimal rest between sets, of very standard things done by those with a history of strength training to their credit. However, my criticism, and the rationale behind the comments of the aforementioned orthopedist, stem from the same problems that Nautilus focused training had when introduced to the public. Repeating what I wrote earlier in this article:

One of the primary problems was a lack of adequate instruction and at times, any real instruction.

Many “business types” opened up establishments with no credentials, no background in the lifting sports, and no understanding of the equipment.

Many trainees suffered injuries because everyone used the same exact training program.

Many trainees were not properly fitted to each machine (or for CrossFit, modality).

Many trainees were given a standard weight increase protocol with no regard to their actual rate of progress.

Many trainees were not given an understanding of the exercises they were doing nor proper instructions.

Repeating further: Does it make sense that every individual’s program should be tailored to their exact needs and abilities? Should a trainee (or competitive lifter) at 123 pounds make the same progressive jumps as a 220 pound trainee (or competitive lifter)? Should one expect that the leverage factors of a 5’2” trainee would be different than one 6’1” in height? Should any consideration be given to a history of previous injury? Obviously, if any trainee or lifter expects to make the greatest amount of injury free progress, every one of these factors must be taken into consideration.

Thus, while there is nothing inherently “wrong” with a training program that has one do the Olympic lifts, it certainly is if there is a paucity of instruction. There is nothing wrong with doing “Strongman Lite” movements with small tires and stones but it certainly is with a paucity of instruction or the lack of consideration of the body leverages of each individual trainee. There is nothing magical about CrossFit or any other training program or approach. “Hard exercise” with minimal rest between sets will provide many benefits but only if there is an attempt to tailor the program to the individual’s needs and specific abilities. There is nothing deleterious about utilizing machines or different modalities to specifically enhance the three competitive powerlifts unless proper instruction and forethought are given to the inclusion of each movement. All and any of this is logical.

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Ken Leistner

About Ken Leistner

American strength training writer, personal trainer, strength consultant for the National Football League, and chiropractor. He is often known as "Dr. Ken". Read More >

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