4 min read

Risk vs Reward

Risk & Reward

The risk vs reward balance is how I govern all of my training programs. I’ve had many the argument actually based on context and actively encourage all trainers to consider context when they program for their clientele.

I see too many boasting the virtues of this style of lifting, that exercise or this programming structure, without the consideration of context.

If you’re presently the client of a trainer, beware absolute thinking.

For example, look at this statement:

“Olympic Lifting is the best exercise for developing explosive power.”

Now I love Olympic Lifting, I wish I was better at it. I’m pretty good at coaching it (to non-olympic athletes) too, but despite what you heard in your crossfit class when you signed up, it’s not for everybody.

I often end up with severe shoulder pain doing anything other than a clean-grip snatch or narrow grip jerks, this doesn’t mean I think they are useless either, it just means they need to be modified and used in context.

Not all shoulders are created equal, nor are they all as mobile (or even capable of being so) as they need to be in order to olympic lift effectively.

An alternative might be a dumbbell snatch or a dumbbell clean and jerk, which is significantly easier on most people’s shoulders.

However, not everybody should lift overhead, and if you don’t have the shoulder mobility to get your arm in a straight line with your ears, without changing your spinal position in order to get into that position, then you probably should lift stuff overhead, period.

At age 14 and a height of 6 feet tall I could dunk a basketball with two hands, jumping off two feet.

I vertically jumped 39″ in my best test, all before I ever knew how to do a clean or a snatch.

Admittedly explosive power generation is a strong point for me but I’ll tell you exactly how I did it:

I jumped a lot.

I practiced it daily, I can remember being in grade 3 and setting a standing long-jump record for Southern Ontario — a rather meaningless feat, as grade 3 is the last age one could do standing long-jump in track and field — of about 2 meters at the time, though I’m sure if it’s been broken since then, I couldn’t find any info on it anywhere.

I crushed the closest competitor by at least a foot — not bad for an 8-year old… — mostly because I set up a tape in my parents living room every day and did standing long-jump every day.

I would try to beat every jump for months, my dad even built me a sand-pit in our backyard when I started getting into triple jump the next year.

The lesson? Repetitive deliberate practice yields positive outcomes.

But also…that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Jump training is a viable alternative to olympic lifting that carries less risk for some people.

Explosive Power is really about Speed x Force, you can increase them separately by working on jumping (speed) and lifting heavy things like squats or deadlifts (force), without ever having to do an Olympic Lift in your life.

Olympic lifts are a good way to do it, if you can, but they are a highly technical sport all on their own, which leaves less time for jumping and squatting.

There’s also is a shorter learning curve for the latter.

Olympic Lifts pose a much greater training risk because of the high level of complexity, and should only be attempting by people who have mastered the deadlift, the front squat, the overhead squat and the overhead press, pain-free.

Therefore for most people — say the 35 year old who is just getting back into working out — I would generally say that Olympic lifting is probably something they should avoid for the time being, the risk to reward is just too high.

Risk Reality

More commonly, there is the older individual who has experienced a pretty good loss of strength and mobility over years of being fairly inactive or at least not looking after their body by being proactive — I see this very frequently with people who only cycle, run, ski or play one exclusive sports, and don’t do any training to balance out the sport.

One of my biggest coaching obstacles is people who want to hit the ground running having not done much, in the way of actual training, for years. The last thing I want is for them to wind up hurt, but that’s what can happen when you do too much, too soon.

Sometimes severely, sometimes it’s just constant nagging little issues that seriously prevent them from losing any weight, or working on any particular process leading to a desired outcome.

Be real with yourself and where you are.

It’s O.K. not to be ready to squat your body weight out of the gate, even if the strength chart you read says that you should.

It’s O.K. not to be able to get your heart rate to 160, even if your heart rate chart says you should at your age.

You can always work up to it. Meet yourself where you’re at. Trainers, meet your clients where they’re at!

Do the Math

If someone tells you that such and such is the best or only way to lose weight — or gain weight, or get fast, or get strong, etc…etc… — be skeptical, there are probably a dozen different ways to get to where you want to be, that could be entirely less risky.

Sure starving yourself will help you lose some weight, but the risk of being malnourished is just to high to make it a worthwhile endeavour.

There are hundreds of ways to lose weight, provided you can reach an energy deficit. They all work if you’re committed enough, but they should all be catered to your needs.

Sure exercising two hours a day will increase your caloric expenditure greater, but you also risk over-training and experiencing fatigue, poor performance and injury by doing too much.

It’s easy to assume just do more or be more extreme in your method when not seeing results.

Instead start small, pick one thing to work on, master it, then work something new.

If the risk outweighs the reward, try something else.