Strength Trumps All Health Markers With No Inflection Point

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Dr. Jonathon Sullivan responding to a query concerning possible negative outcomes from strength training:

Where is your peer-reviewed, properly controlled data to indicate that progressively increasing one’s strength with heavy training causes an inflection point to the negative in either performance or “health” in populations? And what is the consensus of the data as to exactly where this inflection point will occur for any individual or population?

Well, it won’t be found here:

In a study lasting nearly two decades involving 8,762 men aged 20-80 it was found that, “Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders… Muscular strength was independently associated with risk of death from all causes and cancer in men. These findings are valid for men of normal weight, those who are overweight, and younger or older men, and are valid even after adjusting for several potential confounders, including cardiorespiratory fitness.”

TL;DR: Increased muscular strength trumped all other indicators of health and was the single best predictor of reduced mortality in a 18.9 year study involving 8,762 test subjects and categorizing them into low, middle, and upper strength groups. The stronger people proved harder to kill and no inflection point was found.

Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453303/

Associations of Muscle Mass and Strength with All-Cause Mortality among US Older Adults
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28991040

Weightlifting is good for your heart and it doesn’t take much
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181113115430.htm

Research indicates strength training may be more effective for heart health and overall health than cardio, especially for older people.
https://knowridge.com/2018/11/for-older-people-weight-training-is-more-important-than-cardio-exercise/
https://nypost.com/2018/11/19/lifting-weights-is-better-for-your-heart-than-cardio-study/

If we imagine some yet-to-be-found inflection point of negative health from increased strength does exist, the number of humans taking up barbell training that manage to reach that unicorn is too low to consider.

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Conditioning: Soccer

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The best prescription for fitness is to follow a strength and conditioning protocol that emphasizes a solid but simple strength base (preferably programmed with primary, compound barbell lifts) combined with appropriate conditioning. “Appropriate conditioning” depends on the task and needs to address those particulars. The problem is people either fail to learn the particulars or just ignore what they find.

Association Football (Soccer) are particularly guilty of this.

http://www.active.com/soccer/articles/how-far-do-you-run-during-a-soccer-game-872900

First, you have to videotape a game with a camera that doesn’t follow the ball. Then play it back while you focus on one player, recording every movement they make while estimating the pace and distance they run. Then rewind and do it all over again for the next player. Labor and time intensive is an understatement for these projects.

The first time-motion study over a full season was done on Everton FC (Liverpool, England) in the mid-1970s and the estimated distance covered was just under 8,800 meters per game.

Movement speeds were walking, jogging, cruising (‘running with manifest purpose and effort’), sprinting, and backing. About 2/3 of the distance was covered at the low intensities of walking and jogging and around 800 meters sprinting in numerous short 10-40 meter bursts. A player was in control of the ball for an average of 200 meters for a whopping total of 90 seconds (that means you spend 88.5 minutes trying to get or keep someone from getting the ball).

Recording every change of speed and direction showed that there was some change in activity every 5-6 seconds. Subsequent work and maturation of the game has pushed this total distance up to around 10,000 meters for a men’s professional European game with the South American game being contested at a little less total running distance.

Midfielders run the most, central strikers and defenders the least. Don’t brag too much about the running volume–10,000 meters (six miles) in 90 minutes is four miles per hour, something a good power walker can do.

The physiological intensity of the game can be estimated one of those heart monitors you see joggers and cyclists wearing. The average heart rate for the full 90 minutes ranges between 150-170 beats per minute with very high values while sprinting and more moderate values when less involved in the game.

One interesting observation that doesn’t take an “A” license to figure out: the most physically intense part of the game is while in control of the ball.

Your pulse rate goes up and lactic acid production (that heavy feeling in your legs you perceive after sprinting) increases. This is a primary reason why coaches sets up lots of small sided games that force players to be ‘on the ball’ far more often than during 11 v 11.

Generally, the women’s game is a little less running and at a slower pace (about 75 percent of the women’s game is at a walk/jog), but when conditions demand it, the women can cover just as much distance as the men.

And, realize that women have a smaller capacity, so when they cover the same distance as men playing the same game on the same field for the same time as men, they are working harder.

Now that we know some details about the game, the focus of training begins to become clearer. The other pieces in the training puzzle are game tactics.

Except, as is commonly the problem, people fail to do something useful with the info. Soccer players continue the same failed path as the military, with an overemphasis on long, slow cardio and little else.

Consider that formal game analysis revealed that midfielders – the players that run the most – manage about six miles in 90 minutes, which is a walking pace. Any modestly-fit person won’t find this a problem. A better emphasis would be to continue practicing skills, scrimmaging with your team while getting generally strong and adding in some intervals either at the end of practice or spaced throughout the week.

More important than this, soccer is statistically among the most dangerous sports based on the number of injuries per hundred participant hours. This makes strength training a needed injury preventative. FIFA released their FIFA 11+ Injury Prevention protocol and had some successful results with it:

http://www.yrsa.ca/pdf/Fifa11/english.pdf

The problem is, the light calisthenics used in this warmup only had a positive effect because soccer players as a population are weak enough for this to provide any benefit. Much as the U.S. Army’s physical therapy-based fitness program in FM 7-22, such “prehab” exercises only help a target population lacking a general but thorough strength base.

Here’s an example of a better approach.


Strength Training Makes You a Better Soccer Player

https://chicagosc.com/strength-training-makes-better-soccer-player/

Soccer is Dangerous

Soccer players are hurt quite often. The injury rate is 62 per 1000 hours. Powerlifting, interestingly, has an injury rate of 0.008 per 1000 hours. Knee injuries are common, especially for women. One review found the rate for female soccer players in college sports to be 0.31 ACL injuries per 1000 athlete exposures. To give you some perspective, the rate of ACL injury for college football players ranges from 0.124 to 0.173 injuries per 1000 athlete exposures. Soccer players are about twice as likely to injure their anterior cruciate ligaments as football players.

Stronger is Safer

More training of the muscle equals more protection. Think about the structure of the knee. It is a loose, mobile joint protected by ligaments, but also protected by the quadriceps and hamstrings. The quadriceps pulls the tibia by means of the patellar tendon, in which is the kneecap. When the knee is flexed, such as at the bottom of a properly done squat, the patella applies pressure to the joint capsule, acting as a built-in knee wrap. The hamstring muscles pull the tibia to the rear, counteracting the pull of the quadriceps and helping to keep the knee stable. In addition, there is a stretch reflex when a muscle is quickly stretched. The muscle contracts to protect the joint. If I grab your arm and jerk it, you will quickly contract to resist my pull. More muscle, more resistance. Now imagine the situation on the soccer field when you make a quick plant of the foot and turn, or when you collide with another player: there will be very sharp tugs on your leg musculature. Wouldn’t you want to be strong in order to resist damage to your knee?

In fact, studies have shown that greater strength helps prevent injuries. Why don’t they just lift weights? It’s actually rather infuriating to read these journal articles and find that no one recommends a simple strength program. If being stronger keeps you from getting injured, why not just get stronger? We know that Olympic weightlifters, who squat deep every day, have very strong knees, very few knee injuries, and healthier and thicker connective tissue in the joint. Coaches might fear that their athletes will get slower, there might be lack of time to institute a proper strength training routine, or more likely there might be a lack of understanding of the general adaptation syndrome and how to use it to get stronger.

http://www.sportsscience.co/sport/resistance-training-weight-lifting-for-soccer-players/

Sixth World Congress on Science and Football Proceedings: Effects of hypertrophy and a maximal strength training programme on speed, force and power of soccer players. g. BogdANiS, A. PAPASPyRou, A. SougliS, A. TheoS,A. SoTiRoPouloS ANd m. mARidAKi
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284020316_Effects_of_a_Hypertrophy_and_a_maximal_strength_training_programme_on_speed_force_and_power_of_soccer_players

Isokinetic strength of quadriceps-hamstring muscle in soccer players playing in different leagues. Zekiye Nisa Özberk, Özlem Öner-Coskun, Sabire Akın and Feza Korkusuz
http://www.jssm.org/vol11/n3/8/v11n3-8text.php

Army Combat Fitness Test commentary

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https://warontherocks.com/2018/10/dumb-and-dumber-the-armys-new-pt-test/

A couple of staff writers from a blog that have never taken the Army Combat Fitness Test saw fit to spew their opinions about it.

A disappointing and ignorant commentary.
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Endurance Race: Safety and Participation

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About 2,500 Boston Marathon runners receive medical treatment

Boston Globe, April 16, 2018
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/04/16/marathon-runners-treated-for-injuries-wellesley/JhQbVspqLwJEy4XFKjvULI/story.html

The food, drinks, coffee, and roaring fire in the building’s front room took on a more serious purpose as more than 50 injured competitors streamed in, many suffering from symptoms of hypothermia.

“It’s just become this impromptu shelter for running refugees,” said associate pastor Ashley Murphy, who lives nearby and had already raided her pantry and linen closet for food, towels, and dry clothes.

More than 2,500 runners, including 25 elite athletes, received medical treatment, race organizers said. Eighty-one runners were taken to the hospital.

Given 29,978 runners registered for the 2018 Boston Marathon (and they had to pre-qualify to be accepted), this is more than a 8.3% casualty rate. Contrast this to the injury rates common at shooting or strength sport events, which are comparatively non-existant.

So why do endurance sports enjoy positive attention? The stats continue to show why non-shooting events receive attention while shooting events do not.
https://firearmusernetwork.com/tag/participation-rates/

29,978 runners registered for the 2018 Boston Marathon, supported by 9,500 volunteers, over 500,000 spectators, and $830,500 in prizes. There were another 10,000 participants at the BAA 5K around the Boston Common held just before.
The 2018 Boston Marathon: By The Numbers by Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Magazine
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2018/04/16/the-boston-marathon-2018-by-the-numbers/#7ccf034b31d6

Contrast this to participation rates at shooting or strength sport events and you’ll have your answer.

Mark Allen on Strength Training

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Are you over 35 years of age? Do you have a limited amount of training time? Do you want to reverse — or at least slow down — as many aspects of the aging process as possible? Are you an endurance athlete looking for an extra edge? Do you want to boost power, reduce fatigue, guard against injury and increase your late-race energy reserves?

Well, who doesn’t? And strength training can be the tool to help you accomplish each of these universally sought-after benefits. In fact, strength, or resistance, training is one of the most commonly overlooked means to improve endurance athletic performance.

All too many triathletes sacrifice strength training in favor of additional swim, bike or run sessions. This is unwise. In fact, a well-executed strength-training program can allow you to carve up to 25 percent out of your swim, bike and run volume while improving performance and enjoying better race-day results.

I fought going to the gym for years until I reached my mid-30s. Suddenly, speed work started to look more like steady-state training, and I could no longer override a lack of power on climbs with desire. My race performances started to suffer. I could see that even with a huge volume of miles out on the roads, my fitness was not what it was in my 20s.

Adding resistance training was the next step, but I had a problem. I had no idea how to design and integrate a strength program into triathlon training. I was also intimidated by the gym because I felt like the scrawny weakling on the beach compared to the hulks pushing around weights that would crush me. So there I was, the Ironman champion, embarrassed to go into the gym.

But my desire to win was even stronger than my embarrassment. I was introduced to a top strength coach, a woman named Diane Buchta. She led me through an entire season of weights, focusing on building overall body strength and, eventually, muscular speed.

The results were dramatic. In the first full season I used [a strength program] I won the Triple Crown of Triathlon: the Nice International Triathlon, the Zofingen duathlon, and the Hawaii IRONMAN.

Running and Shooting Demographics

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Running USA reported on road race participation numbers.
2016 State of the Sport – U.S. Road Race Trends
The second running boom appears to be backing off as runners retreat from non-traditional races.
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Preparation

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A nice quote from Greg Everett. This applies equally to problems in fitness training and tactical training.

“Being prepared for any random task is not the same thing as preparing randomly for any task.”

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