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No football coach worth his salt ever asks his players to take unreasonable risks on the field, so why do some strength coaches knowingly do so in the weight room? A “strength coach” is still a football coach, which means certain responsibilities should be implicit with the job. (keep reading)

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Comment by John Mikula, MA, CTRS, CSCS, HFS on April 30, 2014 at 8:08pm

A very good string of diverse comments, that is the beauty of dialogue.  Here's a list of some factors in no certain order that affect risk of injury while weightlifting:

1.  The level of complexity to successfully complete the movement.

2.  The level of expertise the lifter has with the movement.

3.  The level of physical and emotional maturity of the lifter.

4.  The load level and velocity while moving an implement in space.

5.  The level of supervision or lack there of while performing a movement.

6.  The level of perceived outcomes by the lifter (i.e., a particular movement or lift will make one more explosive).

7.  The level of experience and competency of supervision.

8.  Past history of injury of the lifter.

9.  Pre-disposition to injury unknown by the lifter.

10.  Peer-pressure to accomplish a movement, to add weight, or to add velocity.

When making the list, it becomes clear, at least to me, that there are many factors to consider in regards to "risk" when implementing various speed, strength and conditioning modalities.  If I follow the Hippocratic Oath, I would have to first agree that in no way would I knowingly subject the lifter to harm or in this case to movements where precedence has demonstrated increased risk for injury no matter what the perceived reward is. 

Comment by Steven Moorman on April 30, 2014 at 6:18pm

Any lift is going to have some sort of risk for injury. For what i have found that many strength coach especially young coaches( my GA's)  is that you have to learn when the risk out weighs the rewards. Power cleans is a very difficult lift and requires a lot of time and energy. there will be a lot of risk in this lift,but High reward. you can also get the same power effect in doing simple high pulls. it may not have the same reward as a full clean but it can use to develop power. In programming lifts,coaches have to be careful in  choosing when to incorporate a " high risk" lift and when to use the alternative. For me its all in the timing of the lifts and is beneficial in the goal of becoming a better athlete and staying on the field of play throughout the season

Comment by John Wood on April 29, 2014 at 3:34pm

I can't comment on anything other than what was reported in the articles. I agree that there are many other factors to consider but many lifts carry relatively high inherent risks even under the best and most carefully monitored conditions.

Comment by James Jarvis on April 29, 2014 at 3:18pm

Coach Wood,

The Barbell Step-up is a great exercise, and is used for more than just "strengthening the legs" it is used because it most closely resembles the kinetic chain of running.  However, the thing that does need to be examined is the atmosphere in the weight room at the time that the incident took place.  Was it a relaxed atmosphere where maybe someone wasn't paying enough attention?  Was it a real get after it atmosphere, where maybe somebody pushed themselves a little too hard? 

Everything that we do in the weight room is unnatural and therefore has an inherent risk involved with it.  Back squats, Front Squats, Deadlifts, RDLs, Split Squats, Lunges, Bench press, Olympic Lifts; all of these have numerous safety risks involved with them.  The thing that makes these lifts safe is the atmosphere in the weight room about safety and responsibility.  Have a good atmosphere in the weight room where everybody is focused and concentrating on the movement instead of just throwing weight around and the risks go way down.  I have done step-ups with every athlete that runs, and I will continue to do so.

Comment by John Wood on April 29, 2014 at 10:48am

Thanks for the response Coach Mikula.  In my opinion, much of the discussion comes down to plain common sense: the exercise that was highlighted in the examples that I gave carries a very high risk to reward ratio and, quite frankly, should never have been included in the first place. The athletes were doing as they were told, one needlessly missed game time and the ability to contribute to his team on the field, the other will spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair -- and both situations could have been avoided.

  The fact of the matter is, the intended goal (i.e. building greater leg strength, etc) could have been reached with any number of other exercises that are safer, and likely more productive, for that matter. Some coaches don't have any problem with "collateral damage" stemming from their program but strength coaching is not, and should not, be a zero sum game: it certainly is possible to develop athletes to a high degree with little safety risks whatsoever -- which is essentially the "point" of strength coaching in the first place.    

Comment by John Mikula, MA, CTRS, CSCS, HFS on April 29, 2014 at 8:11am

Coach Wood, thanks for sharing.  At some point I would say those external to the field of strength and conditioning (parents, athletes, legislators) will eventually call for clinicians to be licensed to protect those we work with from us.  Sounds foolish, but it is the same reason why other professions, such as physical, occupational, and recreational therapists, are credentialed, certified, and licensed at the state level and that the process and practice is regulated (to protect consumers). 

Here is the definition of the term risk.  How do we competently manage and minimize all aspects of this in the field and still get results? 

risk: the possibility that something bad or unpleasant (such as an injury or a loss) will happen

Questions:

- What modalities that I use in my practice have the highest potential for risk of injury? 

- How can I adapt these movements to lessen the risk for all consumers? 

- If I continue to use movements that have been identified through precedence to have certain level of risk for injury (others have been injured doing the same movements) does this represent malfeasance on my part?

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