I work with athletes of all ages and hear all sorts of myths and misconceptions about workouts and exercise. Like most coaches, I’m a former athlete myself and surely had misunderstandings of my own, which were only cleared up when I became educated in strength and conditioning.
As a strength coach, it is important to know where an athlete’s mind is and what mistaken beliefs they may have about lifting. An educated athlete is a better athlete. So here are five incorrect ideas that many athletes have about training, which we can clear up starting today.
“If I’m not sore, I didn’t work hard enough”
Probably the most challenging concept for athletes to understand is that they don’t need to be carried out of the gym on a stretcher to have a good workout. The truth is that athletes should leave the gym feeling like they’ve worked, but not crushed. In fact, a proper workout can leave an athlete feeling refreshed.
The goal of any good strength and conditioning program should be to improve movement quality and movement efficiency. That doesn’t square up with a “no pain, no gain” line of thinking—one that, unfortunately, many athletes still ascribe to.
As an athlete, it’s important to understand that movement and performance supersede any extra gains you think you may be getting by training yourself into temporary paralysis. You should work hard in the gym, but lifting until you can’t move does far more harm than good.
“Just get strong”
The “just get strong” thought process is not entirely flawed, but it’s often applied incorrectly. The idea behind it is that individuals who lack stability and have other dysfunctions can resolve their issues simply by increasing their overall strength. This has some merit in younger/prepubescent athletes, but it doesn’t make sense for most developed/mature athletes.
Gray Cook, co-founder of Functional Movement Systems, says, “If you have a dysfunctional movement pattern, adding weight to that movement pattern will make the dysfunction worse.”
“I shouldn’t lift the day after a game”
Depending on their sport, athletes may experience moderate soreness the day after a game. But in most cases, this should not keep them out of the weight room. Exercise may actually help alleviate post-game soreness. Just as a heat pack can help loosen up your muscles and reduce the effects of delayed-onset muscles soreness, so can training. As muscles contract and relax, they heat up, and this promotes blood flow that helps to reduce soreness and restore range of motion in joints that may be tight from the game.
There are varying philosophies about what level of intensity athletes should use during a post-gameday lift. The case for an easy bout of light lifts is that it’ll help restore your movement patterns. The case for going heavy is that you’ll place the greatest taxing event on your central nervous system the farthest from your next game. But what’s really important is that you don’t skip it. Whether you use it as an opportunity to get some stretching and foam rolling in, or you make like Derrick Henry and squat heavy, spending the day after a game in the gym will help speed up your recovery.
“I don’t need to stretch”
I’m not sure if this is a misconception or just plain laziness. Playing sports and lifting without doing any stretching and mobility work is just silly. You’re literally asking for pulled muscles. In my opinion, athletes should always begin their workouts with a dynamic warm-up, followed by individualized mobility drills; and they should finish with additional mobility, stretching, and some soft tissue work like foam rolling.
“We lift to get big”
In today’s world, athletes see people who look like Greek Gods lifting weights on social media and think that’s what will happen to them on a strength and conditioning program. Could they look like that? Sure, but that’s not the primary goal of a sport-specific program. Do you want to be a bodybuilder, or a powerful athlete?
Strong muscles aren’t necessarily big muscles, and vice versa. Lots of bodybuilders who have huge muscles achieved that look by doing many sets and reps at a lighter weight. Meanwhile, a guy like trainer Eric Cressey may not look imposing—he weighs 165 pounds—but can Deadlift 650 pounds.
This is not to say that you can’t or won’t put on muscle mass when you train. You can and should. However,when it comes to sport-specific training, movement quality and efficiency are king.