Over the last few weeks a video of Joe Kovacs back squatting 770 pounds has gone viral. My first thoughts were, “How mad is (Kovacs’ coach] Art [Venegas] going to be that this was posted on the internet?” and “That’s normal for a world class shot putter at that size.”
See discussion of Vern Gambetta’s post here.
Then a firestorm of opinions about the squat were posted, many in a slightly negative manner–questioning if moving 770 lbs was useful. In some ways that really surprised me, in other way I could see it coming. Over the past ten years I have seen this trend with university strength coaches. This trend has taken us to where we are losing the ability to know what strong is, or even know what it takes to be world class in many track and field disciplines (and many other sports). The weight room is slowly turning into a rehab’ center instead of what it was meant for, to make people physically strong. The two big questions that have to be answered are:
1.) How you use the weight room for your specific endeavor?
2.) How you recover from what you lift?
After years of talking to elite coaches and coaching world class throwers I’ve come to the opinion that there is no such thing as being too strong.
Many strength gurus will speak about how the weight room should be all about speed–that moving a bar faster at a submaximal weight is what’s it’s all about. So my question to the critics is what would you rather have:
a.) A man that can move 50-60% quickly of a 770 pound squat max.
b.) 50-60% of a 600 pound squat max.
*assuming bar speed is achieved at somewhere between 50-60% of someone’s 1 rep’ max.
I’ll take the 770 lb squatter any day of the week. Absolute strength and speed strength are married and by shorting either end you’re hurting the other; and hurting your athlete.
While getting hurt lifting heavy is always a risk–in my experience, if the training is planned out correctly throwers become injured far more throwing than they do lifting. A strong athlete is just simply harder to hurt while doing ballistics events such as the throws.
Also, if being too strong was real in track and field then simply speaking there would be no need for drug testing.
Think about it:
- Where did the 70’+ male and female shot put standing throws go?
- Where did the 220’+ female discus standing throws go?
- Where did the 250’ female discus throws go?
- Why do hammer throwers take sudden 35’ distance drops?
- What happen to all the 80m hammer guys that the world had years ago?
- Where did all the 22m male gliders go and was this simply tied to the huge standing throws?
- American male discus throwing ?
The answer is simple–it was banned drugs that built huge strength levels that in-turn built huge throws. The truth is that those kind of throws happened when world class throwers lifted world class numbers.
- squatted 750 lb to 900 lb
- power cleaned 450 lb to 510 lb
- pad bench pressed 600lb to 800lb
- snatched 375 lb to 400 lb
- squatted 550 lb to 660 lb
- power cleaned 350 lb to 400 lb
- bench pressed 365 lb to 465 lb
- snatched 265 lb to 310 lb
I’ve seen a 138 lb female javelin thrower snatch 240 lb for an easy double. The weight room numbers were huge.
So, my wife [Olympic head coach Connie Price-Smith] and I, after seeing all of this in person, can say without a doubt that big horsepower is important and should be a main training staple–along with learning how to move big weight quickly. This however, requires even a bigger number; which results in a slower speed during that lift, but is part of the process.
Our competition loves to “criticize” the Americans by saying we “just care about strength,” as if they don’t get strong. Believe me, those same people are very strong and love to hide it. But, you’re not going to see any of their coaches talking about it (unless you pay them) or posting videos of big lifts on Facebook. Most of our competition know the path to throwing far is mapped out by the training system–not just by spending hours on screens watching film of world class performers. While technical models are part of the puzzle–it’s only one piece of the puzzle and without the other pieces you cannot figure out how they make big throws or how to build the power requirements of the technique that bring home medals.
They don’t care if you see their technique as long as you don’t see their training schedule or lifting numbers. In the end it just creates a mess watching hours of something you can’t do without their day-to-day methods and horsepower. In the old days their support staff at the major championships would usually rent out entire weight training facilities and have private lifting sessions away from prying eyes, especially western ones.
I’m not saying that certain athletes can’t be world class without having great strength levels in the weight room because there are some freaks of nature out there–and some of them will be in Rio. Still, we don’t coach a squad full of those freaks. I believe strength has become even more important in today’s environment, not less important. Achieving great strength has to be turned back into a badge of honor and not a four-letter word in the USA.