THE RISK-TO-REWARD RATIO – PART 2
In part one we talked about how the risk-to-reward ratio can be different depending on a number of factors. For most athletes a training program that has low risk and high rewards is the most suitable. So how can you tell if you are following the right program?
Do the rewards outweigh the risks?
For some exercises the rewards can certainly outweigh the risks, but there are many exercises and training styles where the rewards for the weekend warrior are just not worth the risk. My aim is to share some ideas that will hopefully help you decide how to train the smart way.
How strong do you really need to be?
To back squat between 1 – 1.5 times your body weight is a great level of strength to have, to be able to deadlift 1.5 – 2 times body weight is also another solid goal. Strict pull-up 1.3 – 1.5 times your bodyweight is significant, along with being able to bench press your bodyweight. Do you really need to be any stronger than this, and why? What are the risks associated to higher levels of strength?
Many athletes who strive to improve their squat number beyond this can significantly increase the chances of knee, hip and back injuries. If your sport demands high levels of lower body strength the reward may outweigh this risk, but if you’re training for health and longevity is it worth the risk? This also applies to all other strength-based movement, there is an optimal level for health and fitness and any increased levels of strength will only come with an increased risk. Strict movements should always be mastered and athletes should be able to show a high level of strength before any momentum (kipping) is added.
Don’t believe me? That’s fine. Find an athlete who has squatted over 2 times their body weight who does not have broken knees or a sore back in later life. Are you willing to risk it?
How explosive do you need to be?
Olympic lifting can be an essential part of building an explosive high level athlete, but lets be honest its also the most technical form of resistance training known to man. The skill component far surpasses the strength and the power components of the lifts, and it can take a long time to master these skills. If there is not significant weight on the bar, you are not getting stronger, you are not getting more powerful and you’re not mastering the skill of Olympic lifting, would it not make more sense for the health and fitness athlete to dedicate more time to other “bang-for-your-buck” exercises (squats, deadlifts, pulls and presses)? The rewards for these exercises are much higher for general health and they also have a much lower risk of injury.
The more time an athlete spends on their squat and deadlift the better their base level of strength will be to improve their Olympic lifts. Technique practice with an empty bar, lightweights and partial movement – hang power clean – is by far the best and safest way to learn the Olympic lifts correctly. Everyone can benefit from practicing the Olympic lifts in a controlled and safe environment with low repetitions and significant amounts of rest between sets.
Performing high repetition Olympic lifts in a CrossFit style workout should be left to the athletes who are training for CrossFit competitions. No other athlete in any other sport will get rewards from doing this. Athletes training for health and fitness will get far greater rewards by performing other exercises that come with a lot lower risk of injury in these style of workouts.
How plyometric do you need to be?
Plyometric training is downright dangerous for most athletes. These exercises come at a high risk and typically with low reward for most. High-level athletes can benefit remarkably for some plyometric exercises, but not all.
Here’s the deal. Plyometric exercises place large amounts of forces onto the joints, ligaments and muscles. These forces can quickly cause horrific injuries and due to this high levels of risk, the rewards are simple not worth it for most of us. Even high-level athletes are taking risks by performing plyometric exercises due to the demands on the central nervous system (CNS), the stretch shortening cycle and the impact forces being in the range of 3-6 times their bodyweight. Yes you read it correctly, a 70kg athlete performing plyometric jumps will be placing between 210-420kg of force on their body.
Can you back squat 3-6 times your body weight? Should you be doing box jumps?
Can you do pull-ups with 3-6 times your body weight? Should you really be doing kipping pull-ups and kipping muscle-ups? Kipping pull-ups will never make you stronger and they are far inferior to the low risk strict pull-ups. Don’t even get me started with the CrossFit boxes that allow members to use bands for dips or pull-ups (this is a post for another time, but if you train at a facility like this, I recommend you cancel your membership now before you destroy your shoulders for good)
Can you perform strict handstand press-ups? Should you be doing kipping handstand press-ups? Would you walk into the gym, load up a barbell with your bodyweight and then drop it on your head? Our cervical spine is the weakest part of the spine and uncontrolled compression forces can cause serious injury to the cervical spine. This is certainly something you should not be gambling with.
If your coaches are smart and if they care about your health and longevity they will inform you of the risks associated to plyometric training. A smart alternative for box jumps is box jump step-downs (due to the low levels of impact when jumping on the box, and high levels of impact jumping off the box) or step-up and down.
All plyometric exercises come with a very high risk of injury and with minimal reward. Be smart about your training and stop and think before you break yourself. Is this exercise at this weight going to have a high level of risk with minimal reward. Who cares if you squat 2 times your bodyweight if you wreak you knees and have back pain for the rest of your life? Who cares if you win the WOD that has kipping pull-ups in it if you dislocate your shoulders and can not scratch yourself without pain.
Some may argue that members like to do these exercises because they are fun and performing strict movement is not as “fun.” A wise man once told me “it does not need to be fun, to be fun.” It’s not much fun being a cripple for life.