By: Adam Nelson, SPARC Director

Key Take-Aways:

  • Train for minimum thresholds of strength.
  • Focus more and more on power as you age to maintain performance.
  • Hypertrophy / Movement KB Workout.

One of the great things about competing in the 3-Olympic Games, 6 World Championships and hundreds of competitions around the world is the opportunity to meet and discuss application of training theory.  These conversations have helped me evolve as an athlete and as a coach.  Now, many fitness marketing professionals love review research to find a marketable phrase or conclusion.  Perhaps the most successful program of all time introduced the term “muscle confusion” that surely was based on the principles of adaptation.  I didn’t get this from research.  I got my message today straight from the horses mouth.

Ekkert Arbeit


Ekkart Arbeit played a significant role in the East German sports programs.  He’s admitted to administering and overseeing drug-based training programs until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  He, also, happens to be an amazing wealth of sports science knowledge and I had the opportunity to speak with him (or rather listen to him) in hotel lobby in Berlin in 2000.  Dr. Arbeit was discussing his work with throwers in the 70’s and 80’s and was asked if you could it all over again what would change?  His answer was simple, “we simply got our athletes too strong.”  I asked for an example and he responded with a 300kg overhead press for a shot putter.  The conversation continued for at least another hour during which he discussed minimum thresholds of strength.

Too strong?  I was reeling from his answer.  How could anyone be too strong?  And then it hit me that there is only correlation between maximum strength and power.  The less your sport resembles a weight room exercise the less you need to focus on maximum strength.  It seems to me that understanding this little nugget is key to maintaining a high level of performance well into your middle ages.  There is science to support this.  You only need to look at the research on “specificity” of training.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Strength is important and maximum strength is very critical to athletic development, but strength does not produce great athletic results.  Power does.  Your ability to move your body or an object quickly or stop quickly is a lot more important than your ability to handle heavy weight.  And there’s science that shows what strength levels you need to do this for almost every action possible.  So when someone says you can add 50lbs to your bench press by following this program, you should get excited.  BUT you should also see how much that 50lbs really helped your athletic performance.

This becomes more important as we age, because I can comfortably say that the pursuit of maximum strength for me is very dangerous and doesn’t offer a lot of athletic return.  Pound for pound there are only a few athletes in the world capable of outlifting me at my best and those athletes are most likely professional lifters.  Injuries and serious injuries occur when you push for maximum strength and the risk-reward ratio doesn’t work in your favor.  Instead focus on power development and corrective exercises covering full ranges of movement.  You can still put some heavy weights up, but don’t let the weight room act like the mythical Sirens drawing you in from the safe deep waters only to smash you into the rocks hidden below the surface.

So here’s my workout for the day.  I haven’t done mine yet, so I’ll enter my projected numbers for the day as well:  

Warm Up – Track Style Warm Up

40 to 50 Full Turn Drills with A Stick (Did I mention I’m going to break the world record for 40 year olds…sorry Big O)

A1.  Double KB OH Reverse Lunges 3 x6 each

This exercise opens up my hips and really works the stabilizers. It’s real grinder of an exercise, so you don’t have to do a lot of reps.  I probably won’t go heavier than 20kgs for this exercise.

B1.  KB Rotational Clean 5 x 5e

B2.  KB Rotational Clean to Bent Press 5 x 5e

The rotational clean a newer exercise for me and I’ve added it into my programs after seeing great results with several professional baseball pitchers.  Adding a bent press movement makes this a challenging complex for anyone, but it’s a fantastic way for me improve my functional range of motion.

C1.  Figure 8 to Hold   3 x 8e

This is more of an non-conventional lift that works shoulder mobility, hips and grip.

C2.  Upper cuts            3 x 5e

A simple kettlebell hip throw.

I may adjust the volume a little bit as I go.  I tend to overwrite programs for myself and, then, pull it back a little once I work through them the first time.  One of the reasons I really like this type of programs is it really activates almost every muscle in my body without overly fatiguing anything (except maybe my grip).  I can come back from this workout tomorrow and have a great practice.

Also, if you want to learn a little more about this style of workouts, I’d recommend visiting the Onnit website.