Musings on Big Lifts and Sprinting

So like I alluded to in my last post, I’ve been pretty busy and my focus has not been on the blogpost front for quite some time. I was approached by co-worker and strength coach Joe Giandonato, who is also an expert contributor on several sites, namely,, and for starters, so needless to say he knows what he is talking about. Also, he is an active powerlifter, along with being a pretty smart dude. Brains with the brawn, and he wants to contribute to my blog? Perfect timing were my initial thoughts.

So with that, here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do if you want to gain some muscle on your skinny frame before beach season starts.

Guest Post from a Local Strength Coach

My friend and fellow trainer at Penn’s Pottruck Fitness Center, has graciously provided me bandwidth to beacon the masses with a soap box rant on a few recent attention grabbing topics within the fitness and strength and conditioning communities.

Musings on Olympic Lifting and Powerlifting

As a high school strength coach, it should be no secret that I love Olympic lifts and the big three. I do, but the analytical and pragmatic sides of me sometimes question the inclusion of these beloved training methodologies in a number of instances. Many strength coaches and personal trainers, including myself, have fallen guilty of trying to squeeze everyone under the same umbrella during the rainstorm at some point in the careers. Lesser informed or obnoxiously stubborn strength and conditioning and fitness professionals propagate the mantra that including O-lifts or the big three, or both, in every program is the bee’s knees.

Strength coaches should examine the demands of the sport or competition and personal trainers should address their client’s needs and cater to their requests. For example, should the musculoskeletal integrity of a high level athlete be jeopardized by devoting programming to solely improving maximum strength? Similarly, should a newbie fat loss client who would likely notch an anemic FMS score be introduced to full Olympic lifts when they look more athletic parked on the couch than they do walking? Yes, these are extreme examples, but scenarios that coaches or trainers may or already have encountered in their professional careers. Programs require individuality and specificity and should not be lumped together for the sake of including Olympic lifts and powerlifts.

Should You Sprint Year Round?

In the same vein of the appropriateness of Olympic lifting and Powerlifting within one’s program, is the need to sprint throughout the year.

As a preface, sprinting kicks ass. As in, it literally kicks your ass. If you sprint regularly, you’ll develop a nice, powerfully sculpted set of glutes and sinewy hamstrings. Great. But sprinting is extremely taxing on the body and can potentially interfere with gaining muscle.

Although this is hurdling, Michelle Jenneke needed to
make an appearance on this blog someway, somehow.

First, sprinting is neurally draining. With every ground contact and subsequent push off you’re recruiting a swath of high threshold motor units with virtually immeasurable rapidity. Propelling yourself to travel as fast as you can places massive demands on the CNS, which is your body’s “performance headquarters”. Each time you sprint, you’re deploying masses of motor neurons to activate the muscles involved during sprinting. As such, your recovery should properly correlate with your activity. Those muscles are tired and your CNS is usually fried following an intense sprint training session.

Sprinting on flat surfaces falls to the extreme right of the force-velocity curve and solely focusing on sprints within your training won’t make you stronger, especially when you don’t spend time on the left side, collecting strength enabling enhanced rate of force production when you shift back to the right. Athletes not competing year round should work through the entire curve during their training.

Left to right by developing strength, establishing dynamic strength, developing power, performing resisted speed work (i.e. hill sprints), before settling on pure speed work, which marks the pinnacle of your training.

As alluded to earlier, sprinting can possibly interfere with gaining muscle mass. Preliminary research that’s been conducted, including a 2011 study involving male and female subjects, speculates that sprinting may downregulate mTOR, mammalian target of rapamycin, which governs cell growth and proliferation as well as protein synthesis. Hypetrophy geared strength training and sprinting both vie for the same pathway and if the mass seeking individual is spending too much time sprinting, then they won’t maximize their muscle gain. Sprinting also evokes a great oxygen debt and burns a tremendous quantity of calories, which could be better used for helping certain individuals gain muscle mass.

  1. Esbjornsson M, Rundqvist HC, Mascher H, et al. Sprint exercise enhances muscle p70S6k phosphorylation and more so in females that in males. Acta Physiol. 2011
Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, PA.
Giandonato also serves as an adjunct instructor at Philadelphia-area colleges, teaching exercise science and personal fitness classes.


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