Standards. We all have them; whether you’re determining clean clothes from dirty, a productive workday from a wasteful one, or scoping out a potential stud/studette. In most cases, they are a measurable, quantifiable way to observe an expectation being met or any deviation from that expectation. It seems that although our standards may all differ in the aforementioned instances, they are universally understood. When we take a look at our world of strength and conditioning, we find innumerable examples of how standards are being used properly, improperly, and not at all. So, when do standards matter and what is their pertinence to lifting, training, testing, CrossFitting, and sport? It’s good to have standards- but standards are useless if you don’t know what purpose they serve.
The first distinction we need to make is between training and sport. A lot of athletes lift weights and do things like CrossFit Football or Field Strong to aid them in improving their athleticism on field. But, what if your training (GSP) is also your sport (SPP)? This would be the case for Powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and competitive CrossFitters. When banging weights IS your sport, suddenly the standards for your training become very finite. This is because the rules of those barbell sports require very strict standards i.e. squatting below parallel, pausing in a bench press, or getting your chin over a bar as in CrossFit. In this instance you can absolutely argue that these standards must be met in the training day because those training days are the equivalent to, for instance, a football player practicing or scrimmaging. To get better at your sport, you must “play” your sport – standards included.
Even as we transition into the world of field sports, you see standards placed in front of athletes with an expectation. This is where I would take issue with testing for several reasons. Do we need to test? Sure. You can extrapolate information from things like a 40yd sprint, 5-10-5, 225lb bench for reps, or vertical jump. But, as in any “standardized testing” situation, many imperfections exist within the system. As these things apply to sport, again, they are merely snapshots of things that can be quantified. They cannot directly reflect athleticism in it’s most pure form. We know this because of the way athletes train for the given tests. Players know exactly how many steps it takes to get them through a 3-Cone Drill or 5-10-5 but in a real game time scenario, this luxury is not afforded. Instead, a player must rely on reaction time, agility, and seamless change in direction. In addition, there have been many NFL players who were in no way weight room behemoths but could manhandle opponents play after play. These athletes are excellent examples of how me may draw conclusions about certain biomarkers from things like the bench press and power clean for field sports, but they are not the end all be all…particularly if you were raised tossing hay bales as is the case for many athletes who exhibit inexplicable (or rather, “untestable”) brute strength on field.
Testing is not a bad thing. You can track progress through the test-retest philosophy and it allows us to see how an athlete performs in various domains, power or speed requirements. But again, coaches should appreciate that what is being observed can be practiced and “gamed” and is not necessarily comprehensive. In contrast, the sport of CrossFit embraces the idea of standards and testing with workouts. CrossFit being both a training system and a competitive discipline, has very specific standards that must be met to observe progress, winning, and losing. As in any other competitive forum, this isn’t Nam. There are rules…and if you hope to shake weights with the best of them, you had better be practicing like you play. This includes meeting range of motion standards that are congruent with “rep” and “no-rep” outcomes.
Power Athlete HQ is responsible for the programming that takes place on CrossFit Football where CrossFit movements have been implemented in a way that makes sense for athletes with training goals outside of the “box”. Where things get a little dicey is trying to reiterate to athletes that training is just that…training. In utilizing CrossFit style movements, we often find that athletes become so stuck on meeting the standard for CrossFit the sport, that they forget the intention of the workout. Our intention is always to protect good posture in position and we refuse to compromise this to meet a standard that is less applicable to performance in field sports. That means that if you’re dealing with an athlete who is unable to squat below parallel, fully extend his arms overhead, or needs to modify a movement- lift anyway. Yes, you heard me correctly. High level athletes and particularly contact sport athletes have a history of being beat up. These “broken” individuals may not pass your standards test but it’s no reason to eliminate the necessary stimulus to drive adaptation. Find what works and load them up. Training is training. You can address their limitations in conjunction with maintaining or even gaining strength then hand them off to their sport coach to dominate.
Ultimately, there a lot of beneficial reasons that standards exist in training, testing and sport. What’s important to remember is exactly why the standard was created, employing it for that intended use, and not extending or taking liberties to implement it where it’s inappropriate. Know what your athlete is training for and create the desired effect with or without the necessary standards. The last thing we want is for coaches to become so fixated by standard that they are willing to compromise or abandon solid athletic position to perform the given exercise. Power Athlete HQ’s standard is perfect movement. Period.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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