Over the last two weeks, the New York Times and the Washington Post published two “must-read” articles around intelligent strength training.


Dan Riley, the long-time strength and conditioning coach of the Washington Redskins (winning multiple Super Bowls with head coach Joe Gibbs) and later the strength coach for the Houston Texans, has had the single greatest influence on how professional and high-level college football players strength train. In fact, Dan’s influence is largely responsible for the intelligent strength training that took place across the NFL in the 1980’s and 1990’s (Important side note: The strength training performed in professional and college football has regressed significantly over the last decade). 

Classic Movie Scene and How Learning to Surf is Like Strength Training

In one of my all time favorite scenes from one of the modern classic rom-coms, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Paul Rudd’s character attempts to teach the heartbroken Peter (played by Jason Segal) how to surf.  You can watch this 1:30 scene here:

New Research: It's not the amount of weight that matters

New research published this month in the Journal of Applied Physiology challenges what strength training pundits have taught for years: In order to grow bigger muscles, you need to lift heavy weights.  A team of researchers led by Stuart Philips at McMaster University in Canada separated subjects into two groups: one group did "heavy" weights for fewer reps (8-12 reps) and the other group lifted a lighter weight and performed more reps (20-25 reps).  Subjects in both groups were "trained" meaning they had a minimum of 2 years of strength training experience (studies with "trained" subjects are often viewed as more credible because applying any type of strength training intervention produces positive results with subjects who are new to strength training).  The researchers required both groups to train to momentary muscle failure.  The result?  After 12 weeks, both groups experienced the same improvements in muscle strength and muscle size.  The researchers concluded, "We provide novel evidence of lifting markedly different (lighter versus heavier) loads (mass per repetition) during whole body resistance training on the development of muscle strength and hypertrophy in previously trained persons. Using a large sample size (n=49), and contradicting dogma, we report that the relative load lifted per repetition does not determine skeletal muscle hypertrophy nor, for the most part, strength development."

The Process for Sustained Results

Business and self-improvement authority, Brian Tracy asserts that long-term thinking and decision-making is the hallmark and commonality among all successful people.  Certainly, this mindset lends itself to effective exercise.  The commitment to "sustainable" or long-term resistance exercise is the cornerstone of an intelligent fitness prescription.  Performed properly, resistance exercise mitigates chronic disease risk factors, reverses aging, and stimulates fitness improvements while minimizing injury risk.  If you take a long-term approach to resistance exercise, I think the process should look like this:
  • Determination of goals and objectives. What do you want to accomplish in your training?
  • Intelligent workout "programming" or design.  The design of the workout should support your goals.
  • Supervision and Instruction. For best results, resistance exercise should be supervised.  This theme emerges in research with 20-year old athletes and 60-year old Type 2 Diabetics: We produce far better results when our strength training is supervised.
  • Analyze the experience.  As the trainee, you need to make an assessment on how you are responding to the training stimulus.  Questions to consider include: Do I feel recovered between workouts? Am I experiencing any joint pain? Should I be increasing or decreasing my workout frequency? Am I getting stronger?
  • Assess progress.  Is your workout-to-workout form, technique, movement speed improving?  Is your intensity of effort improving? Are you getting stronger during your most recent workouts?  Are you making progress over the long haul? Is your body composition changing (most effectively assessed via Bod Pod)? Regularly consulting your data around these questions provides tangible answers.
  • Modify the plan.  The workout design and execution should be modified based on the above assessments.  Regular, intelligent modification to the workout programming ensures an engaging training experience, a continual challenge, and persistent health and fitness results.  The process should then continue to repeat itself.

Most importantly, the above process only works when it is built upon a foundation of evidence-based exercise.  That is, the exercise prescription should be a representation of the preponderance of scientific research.  This is the only way to guarantee safe and result-producing exercise If you aren't using an evidence-based approach, you are just making it up as you go.  

A New Perspective on Exercise for Overweight and Obese Kids

Authors of a editorial published in the journal "Psychology and Health" argue that parents, educators, and healthcare professionals should consider taking a different approach to the ever growing issue of childhood obesity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to our Friday Fit Tips!

Recent Posts


see all