I am a big believer in strength and conditioning coaches being able to do the things that they ask their athletes to do. I also believe that a strength coach’s philosophy is based on personal preferences from what has worked or hasn’t worked for them in the past. Not only with the athletes that they are coaching, but also themselves.
Back in 1999, I was a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach at a Big Ten university. I was 2 years removed from my last college football season. At the time, my training regimen consisted of performing similar routines to what the athletes who I was coaching were doing. Within my program, full back squats, power cleans, and pulls from the floor were part of the regimen. The thing about it was that I was not able to back squat or pull from the floor heavy with the form I had. I had good form until the weight got heavier on the bar. I can remember forcing myself down in the hole when I probably shouldn’t have been using that amount of weight on the bar. Was this stupid? Yes it was, but I continued to push through. Knowing what I know now, this was the definition of putting strength on dysfunction or maybe trying to screw a square peg into a round hole.
A few months later, I got a lumbar discectomy at the L4 and L5/S1 levels. Before the surgery, it was so painful that I couldn’t walk or do other activities of daily living without pain. (Those who have undergone this know what I am talking about.) Back to knowing what I know now again- I probably wouldn’t have done the surgery without trying extensive physical therapy, stretching, A.R.T., and/or massage therapy first.
The point of the story is that you have to learn from your mistakes. I know that I will do my best to make sure that the athletes I coach will never have to go through something like that. As a result, we don’t back squat or pull from the floor. In my opinion, there are different and safer methods to get strong and powerful. Most of the athletes that I work with have done well without doing some of the exercises that I think have a good chance of being dangerous. Most of them are playing their sport in the highest level that their talent level allows. Most importantly, this helps me with designing programs for those who have undergone the process of lower back surgery or who experience low back pain. There are some exercises that will never be included in a program for those individuals.
Now before you read this and ask yourself if I have ever coached back squats or power cleans before? The answer is yes- plenty. However I have seen plenty of people who back squatted or cleaned properly have to go under the knife as well. As a coach, you have to ask yourself if the perceived advantage of an exercise is worth the injury potential.