Review of the 2008 MotorCity Strength & Conditioning Clinic

Review of the 2008 MotorCity Strength & Conditioning Clinic
Saturday June 7, 2008
University of Detroit Mercy
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
Sportivny Press©

This clinic featured strength and conditioning professionals from the major universities in the area: Michigan State University, The University of Michigan, and the Detroit Lions Football team. These gentlemen were the ”heavyweights” of the clinic. They represented major, local programs. Our focus will be on their presentations because, presumably, they are at the top of their profession and they would have the most up to date, sophisticated information to share.

Each speaker was given approximately 50 minutes. A raised stage with PA, computer, and presentation projector with a screen were provided. With modern computers, sophisticated presentation software, and digital video, an array of tools are available to convey concepts regardless of their complexity, but virtually none of these tools were accessed fully by the speakers.

Each clinic attendee was provided a binder which included a biography of each presenter and individual power point slides for their presentations.

The first heavyweight.

The first speaker from Michigan State focused primarily on a general outline of his duties. But his approach is clearly of that of the angry “get after it type” which was reflected by some of the exercises and loading schemes used.

For instance, the emphasis is clearly on bodybuilding types of movements for 8 – 20 repetitions and even one set to failure. Hence the “get after it”, get all of the proscribed repetitions approach which is common to bodybuilding and powerlifting.

Since this coach’s athletes were basketball players at a major university, it was rather surprising to hear that their program would include this type of muscle building loading with some of the exercises clearly inconsistent with this type of sport. Basketball is a dynamic sport of high level skill, and with elements of explosive strength; it is inconsistent with powerlifting and bodybuilding activities.

Although a detailed explanation of all exercises and proscriptions was not provided, one is shocked to hear the coach mention that they occasionally would do wall squats with heavy sand bags stacked on the athlete’s thighs. It is hard conceive anyone, with any reasonable experience in the training of athletes, let alone high class athletes from a major university, would ever even consider such silliness.

If the reader is unfamiliar with this senseless “torture,” it entails the athlete propping his/her back against a wall such that the shin and thigh form an angle of approximately 90°. Resistance in the form of sand bags weighing up to 40 pounds (about 18 kilos) each are placed across the thighs. The athlete is to hold this position for a proscribed amount of time to develop lord knows what. This “static torture” is neither sport specific nor of any intrinsic value in the training of athletes in dynamic sports.

It is all the more surprising that this exercise is not that uncommon; surprisingly, it is proscribed by people who are professional coaches with, ostensibly, an extensive education, specific to their profession. Worse yet, it is practiced at institutions of higher learning.

The second heavyweight.

The next presenter from the University of Michigan provided no power point slides, so he basically spoke without an organized agenda. Although this coach professed to try many different approaches with football players, including Olympic lifting exercises, all that was demonstrated were Swiss ball exercises. Unfortunately, loud pontifications were unable to mask a profound lack of substance.

It is very easy to make non sequiturs with this approach. For instance, after demonstrating several of the Swiss ball exercises and balancing movements, the coach declared that “you would not believe how many elite athletes who come to him cannot do some of these Swiss ball exercises.”

What does that mean?

Are they not good athletes because they cannot sit on a ball? But they are elite athletes. That means they are very good at what they do. They got that way through hard work practicing their sport, obviously not by sitting on balls. Without question there are many activities elite athletes cannot do well, which do not happen to fall within the parameters of their sport specialization; however, this does not mean they are not elite athletes.

Does the coach mean that since they are elite athletes and cannot do the ball exercises, he will improve their level of sport mastery if they sit on and or otherwise roll about on his Swiss balls?

The coach also blurted out that one of his athletes in the past had cleaned 445 lb six times. Sorry, but this is a bit of a stretch; a video of this feat is really needed. By the way, was his name Reza Zadeh? Did this feat proceed, or come after ball training?

The fundamental premise of the effectiveness of ball training, core training or for that matter the whole notion of “functional training” is that there are muscles in the human body which standard multi joint exercises cannot activate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is: “each muscle force causes reactive forces throughout the body” (Zajac 2001), i.e., affecting all other muscles.

The degree to which any given muscle or muscle group is developed depends on the exercise or activity. There is no such thing as flaccid or unused “core” muscles which necessitate the athlete perform some therapy room exercises to activate. Everything is connected through the central nervous system; all muscles react to the forces of all other muscles in the body.

An athlete does not need to roll around on a ball to develop the muscles of the trunk. There are enumerable standard exercises which will not only do just fine, and they are more effective.

Our review of some of the misinformation surrounding functional training can be found in our reviews of the two books on this subject at

This presentation was neither organized nor well thought out. Consequently, with this approach, the presenter did not sound like a professional, but he did sound like a carnival barker.

For instance, when asked about shoulder problems, he launched into messianic recitation of the rotator cuff muscles; then he proceeded to show another ball exercise. There is a bit more to developing the shoulder girdle than rolling around on a Swiss ball.
All in all, this presentation was, to say the least, profoundly unenlightening.

The super heavyweight.

The coach from the Detroit Lions football team was decidedly the worst of the lot. Without even so much as a power point outline, he began by wasting some 10 to 12 minutes on a bizarre story which had nothing to do with strength training. He then said he would not offer any specifics of the Lions’ program because none of it would be applicable to any one in attendance.

Following some other aimless remarks, he opened the field to questions. After some time of dodging the question as to what exactly the players do in the weight room someone asked him about strengthening the shoulder muscles after an injury.

After thinking about this question for a few moments the coach essentially said, “You can do a forward raise with a dumbbell for the anterior head of the shoulder, lateral raises for the lateral head,” i.e., a sixth grader who occasionally thumbs through Muscle and Fitness magazine could provide the same information.

What an unbelievable waste of time!

If these remarks seem unduly harsh, they should be taken into the context for whom they are in reference. These three presenters, in the reverse order of their appearance, are arguably, at the top of their profession. And, that being the case, the group assembled paid to hear them speak, ostensibly to share information with them. They did not get their money’s worth. Based on the caliber of information presented by the these three, one is left to wonder: what does it take to get to the top of this profession?

A few remarks on the “Variations of the Squat” presentation

Although this presentation was far more professional, well thought out, and organized than either of the three already discussed, it is necessary to offer an opinion on the techniques and variations discussed.

The techniques of the back squat with a barbell and the other variants demonstrated or discussed can be found in most any strength training manual, university athletic department web site, and other sources, i.e., there are plenty of people out there who believe in these squat techniques.

Box squats.

There is no such thing as box squat technique because no one should do squats to a box or another rigid surface for that matter. The illogic associated with this movement is connected with the fact that its adherents mistakenly believe squats are hard on the knees and back. Therefore, the thinking is that if the knees are flexed less there is less stress on these joints.

This is not true.

In actuality, unless one leans greatly forward, there is more stress on the knees in a half squat or bench squat depth because the resistance arm relative to the knee joint is at or near its greatest length, i.e., the moment on the joint is highest.

Leaning forward is also not a viable option in squatting. The weak link here is the lumbar spine. Like the knee joints with a half squat, leaning forward increases the moment on the lumbar area. Keeping the back as vertical as possible is of course the best technique in squatting, but squatting to a rigid surface places the discs of the spine between “a rock and a hard place.”

This is not a good idea.

One of the principal sources of misinformation in regards to the perceived value of box squats, especially at the present time, comes from the power lifting community in the USA. The reader is referred to the web site of the International Power lifting Federation to peruse the results of the worlds championships for the past ten years. You will note that the American champions are very few and far between, and, apparently, none come from Columbus, Ohio which is a hotbed of box squat activity.


World and Olympic champion CAO Lei (CHN) performing correct front squat technique. Charniga photo

Squat technique. The standard, widely accepted technique cues tend to be contradictory and in some cases oxymoronic.

1. Torso should remain erect. OK so far.
2. Action should be from the hips and knees not the ankles. This contradicts #1. Freezing the ankles shifts stress to the knees and back because the trunk has to tilt forward.
3. Eyes and head looking straight ahead. Not necessary. Looking forward and down is not a problem.
4. Start by flexing the hips and knees. Same contradictions as #2.
5. Don’t lean forward. This is contradicted by #s 2 and 4.
6. Keep knees stable. How? How are they unstable?
7. Keep knees behind toes or near. This assures more stress on knees and back.

There is no technique cue to bend until achieving full flexion of lower extremities. Squatting shallow and not to full flexion places more stress on the knee joint to stop the movement and switch directions.


Here is another form of squatting where the generally accepted technique resembles that of the squat with a vertical shin. It is performed with a large bend in the back leg. It is another artificially restricted amplitude of movement exercise of questionable value. This is a bodybuilding technique designed to develop a “separation of the quadriceps muscles.” A proper lunge exercise for athletes should be performed with as large an amplitude of motion as possible, so that strength and mobility are developed concomitantly.

Physioball wall squats.

These are more humane than the wall squats described earlier in the review, but just as senseless and useless. However, squeezing the knees to keep a ball between one’s legs while squatting may be a little inhumane. To hold an isometric position while sitting against a wall with sand bags on the lap or sitting on a ball does nothing to improve or maintain the mobility of the lower extremities, just the opposite occurs.

The importance of creating and maintaining a large range of movement in the joints of the lower extremities cannot be underestimated. The reader is referred to the old axiom in Biology of use or lose it. This of course means mobility too.

Half or otherwise partial movements and static exercises with artificially determined amplitude of motion, in all probability, serve only to exacerbate one of the most common problems for American athletes at the high school and college level: poor dynamic mobility.

A final comment about squatting. The use of toilet imagery to illustrate the commonality of squatting to those who believe that squatting is bad for the knees is misguided to say the least. The idea is to illustrate that squatting is an everyday occurrence because you have to squat to use the toilet and that, furthermore, this has something in common with proper squatting technique. Since American toilets are 16 or more inches (40.6 cm) from the floor, this is not much of a squat. On the other hand in most of the world a typical toilet is essentially a hole in the floor.

In place of this silly imagery, why not simply refer to a baseball catcher? This is athlete who spends most of his/her time during a game in an actual, full squat position. Furthermore, these athletes are not inundating orthopedic surgeons with ACL problems or other knee injuries.