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Squat Of The U

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Spring is filled with practice superstars, ridiculous 40 times, and the overblown weight room numbers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 27 North Carolina at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s spring football season which means it’s time for practice superstars, ridiculously impossible 40 yard dash times, weight gain, body fat percentage loss, and big time weight room numbers. But is there a point when fake 40’s (remember all of those Virginia Tech 4.2 40’s and at the NFL Combine, not so much?) and chasing weight room numbers becomes a detriment to the athlete? Yes, I believe through my research and certification training- there is.

Don Chaney Jr. is a 210 pound ‘second year’ (are we even using classes post COVID?) running back at the University of Miami. After reading research from Dr. Matt Rhea (Alabama), Cal Dietz (Minnesota), Kurt Hester (Louisiana Tech), Mike Boyle (Body By Boyle), Zach Dechant (TCU) and Anatoliy P. Bondarchuk (Soviet Olympics) I believe there is a point of baseline strength, by position, for specific sports (ie. American Football) that constitutes being ‘strong enough.’

From Kurt Hester

Above- You can see the baseline strength required in three lifts by position from Kurt Hester (posted online at some point). In Hester’s book, Rants of a Strength and Conditioning Madman, he says, “The pursuit of max strength is detrimental to an athletes’ speed, explosiveness, and his health at some point (p42).” Hester also added, “I will train my athletes to become better skilled players by position and y’all can train your football players to become really adept at throwing around heavy loads (p42).” That’s the same La Tech team with one four-star who beat Manny Diaz’s Miami Hurricanes who had 30+ four-stars in a bowl game two seasons ago.


Mike Boyle, the author of Functional Training for Sports, discusses the back squat versus the unilateral split squat. Coach Boyle discusses the philosophy of bilateral deficit, unilateral squats vs. bilateral squats, and orthopedic issues from heavy back squats on the podcast Just Fly Sports on episode 65. Regarding ‘tall guys’ having it easier at lifting heavy, Boyle says, “The shorter you are the easier it is, the taller you are the harder it is” to squat.

“Not only is the value of deep squats questionable, but so is the claim that double leg squats are particularly suitable for improving strength in the legs. Strength in the back muscles may be the limiting factor, rather than strength in the legs, and so double leg squats may in fact be a maximal strength exercise for the back muscles”


Above- In the world of Bondarchuk, I would define a max effort bilateral squat, regarding football, being a GPE or General Preparatory Exercise. The non-olympic exercises should be done unilaterally once GPE has been met. If the event is played on one-leg, American Football players need to do more work unilaterally, and again the coefficient of transfer becomes minimal over 1.7x body weight on a back squat.

Do you need to be strong? Hell yeah! And a 357 pound bilateral back squat is a lot of weight. The residual for absolute strength is around 35 days. So once you’ve hit that 357 pounds, you don’t have to come back to absolute strength for over a month.

According to Cal Dietz on many podcasts, his book Triphasic Training, and his coaching courses on CoachTube- the closer to the sports season that an athlete gets the more an athlete needs to be producing speed on the field and in the weight room. The closer to the season, the stress actually needs to drop below 55% of your max effort.

S&C coaches now need to analyze how to get to peak. According to Dietz you want to peak heading into camp, the first game of the season, conference play, and the bowl game or playoff. Dr. Rhea and Coach Ballou came to Alabama from Indiana, before that they were at IMG.

Nick Saban on the ‘Bama duo from a piece on TDA: “He said the tandem of Ballou and Rhea are ‘light years’ in advance of what a lot of people are doing at their programs.” Ballou and Rhea use an individualized approach that focuses on the weaknesses and strengths of the individual athletes. It’s a power and speed focused program, versus a strength and conditioning focused program.

Tony Holler’s #FeedTheCats method asks the question: what else do we do at 10 meters per second besides sprint? Nothing. While the power clean and power snatch have the closest coefficient to speed, it’s still difficult to get close to max effort sprinting.

Above- Dr. Rhea is describing getting to that 1.7x line, and then seeing strength increase due to the focus on speed, rather than increasing strength because that is not going to increase speed.


The wrap

College strength coaches only get so many minutes with athletes both because of actual time and because of the amount of stress one can put on the central nervous system (CNS) in order to see growth as an athlete. If you are to train absolute strength and power at the same time, the body will get confused.

Increasing strength will only increase speed to a point. Bondarchuk, Dietz, Hester, Boyle, Dechant, et al are either wrong in their statements that movement means more than maxes, and that there is a baseline strength necessary for sport and/or position, or they’re right and “how it’s always been done” is wrong.

As Cal Dietz and Matt Van Dyke said in their article “Balance of Power,” “It’s no secret that making athletes stronger is not the key factor in enhancing their performance. It’s about making them more powerful.” From strength comes power, but strength is just a part of the puzzle. Once that 1.7x is hit it’s time to move towards power, speed, and peak.