Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Every year, we see old bad ideas repackaged as new ideas, and new ideas that just are not true. Strength and conditioning is a big market for education, and many promote borderline ideas (with good intensions) that just don’t pass the test of time. A number of good ideas look great on paper because they are linked to science, but they are not backed by science. Several ideas and concepts in sports training are worth pursuing, but putting too much effort into the minor details is beyond foolish—it’s just not productive.
In this article, I cover few concepts that are good to know, but not worth your time to worry about. Training principles are about steady rules that help athletes develop, not ways to glamorize training sessions to the point that they’re more hype than substance. Again, I believe that all the methods below have value and I use them in DRS training, but if we are making 1-3% improvements a year, what can be said for the value from minor components of those training elements?
How I Chose the List of Hyped Theories
These topics are not areas that I don’t like; in fact, I address each training theory and believe that these areas have important value. My main problem is that the topics have reached rock star status in training without really delivering much more than a secondary benefit. A fear of mine is that you will see this as a list of myths, rather than a list of very small variables that have an overinflated importance in performance training or rehabilitation.
This is not a Top 10 list either—it’s just a group of ideas that seem to linger too long in social media debates and get way too much attention in coaching education. All of the topics are important to read more about and actually use in training and rehabilitation, but not get too crazy or excited about. Again, I believe in the details and value of the concepts below; I just don’t want the expectations to be so high that when they fail to be magic, coaches no longer value the methodologies.
My suggestion is to read my take on the topics and be honest with yourself: Do you like the theories because they fit your own biases or agendas, or do they deliver a massive advantage or result? Other ideas and concepts could be on this list—like suspension training, animal flow routines, and whatever the flavor of the month is with stretching—but here are my few concepts for now.
I am amazed at the number of coaches who poke fun at corrective exercises but still do them, just with different naming conventions, and who have spent years promoting them as part of their screening solutions. Exercises or training programs are the points of connection for change. What we saw more than a decade ago was regurgitating physical therapy exercises from rehabilitation into a prevention option or a “fix” for problems that may not have existed in the first place.
Most of the corrections consisted of getting a muscle to work better, teaching a motion that was a “movement impairment,” or acting in a way to restore posture. So far, most of the exercises simply wasted time and turned rugged athletes that were fine into mentally frail patients. Now the new normal is to use conventional training in a clever way so it’s a corrective process.
The primary issues with corrective exercises is that they are low in load, low in usefulness, and based on a faulty interpretation of the evaluation of athlete movement. Dysfunctional patterns are easy to find if they are new movements to an athlete, but give an athlete a few tries to learn a body motion and the “faults” will likely change. It’s not that the athlete was dysfunctional to begin with; it’s most likely the screening was just a foreign or odd movement they hadn’t rehearsed before and it looked awkward.
I was duped years ago into believing that wall slides were an insurance policy for shoulder health. The exercise was great in theory, but it was just a strict bodybuilding movement without loading.
Core Training and Stabilization Training
I wrote one article on core training to save everyone a lot of money and time. I have spent 5 lakh since the 2000 year on training education, and the core was one of the biggest wastes of money and still haunts me. If I could do it over, I would spend most of the education money I wasted on core to simply go on vacation and visit coaches. Still, today we see massive amounts of videos and manuals on how to train the core, and the sad truth is that the market is still ripe for the taking. I am not saying don’t invest in core training, I just want to make sure your expectations aren’t out of control.
The biggest issue I have with core training is not the increase of core exercises, as variety is the spice of life—it’s that it over promises to reduce injuries and increase performance. If the experts simply said that they were sharing a refinement to address some of the needs of training, I would be fine, but they are just changing the notes to the same song.
Today, breathing is the new core training, and we see countless athletes blowing up balloons yet still blowing out their ACLs. Conversely, not working on the diaphragm if it’s truly dysfunctional is negligent as well. Bashing respiration education without evaluating an athlete is just as bad as making breathing training look like it’s a panacea.
I was convinced that the core was sacred and the center of priorities, but the truth is that our body was designed well. Direct work may just be excessively redundant due to the fact great training usually recruits the core without having to apply more training. My word of advice is to have a few routines that develop core qualities, use options that maintain the athlete’s improvement, add in a few exercises for variety, and leave the hype alone.
Exotic Conditioning Principles
Ten years ago, a focus on energy system development morphed into a near-mystical realm of voodoo physiology. Soon coaches believed they were seeing adaptations to the mitochondria, capillaries, and even the heart wall. I believe the science because the textbooks said the adaptations occurred, but the issue is that the workouts were not hard or long enough to elicit those changes.
Coaches presented four weeks of conditioning and these “blocks” were labeled “Cardiac Development Phase” and other wonderful names, but 8-10 sessions of running can’t turn a high school kid into an aerobic machine. During the same time, the awareness and popularity of heart rate variability started to grow, and soon everyone was overdosing on aerobic conditioning and expecting to build monsters. The results were not there, and we are back to doing junk circuits, fatigue repeat sprints, or long trail runs that are supposed to be spiritual.
Today, we still have issues with conditioning being a little bit raw and confusing, but the good news is that the “energy system” myths are being squashed, thanks to great resources like researcher blogs and other . While I love distance events and road cycling, coaches are more interested in supporting power with conditioning than following guidelines for endurance sports. Simple field testing, basic running programs, and solid practice design for team sports are the name of the game. Don’t be lured into thinking someone is doing something special when they are likely just slightly more experienced and skilled.
Overzealous Barefoot Training
I use minimalist shoes and do barefoot warm-downs, but this is extremely limited in dose and duration. There have been fractures, overuse syndromes, and a general lack of performance changes since all the books and experts pontificated the wrong message. Yes, we are born barefoot and our ancestors likely went barefoot, but walking around outside in the wild is far different than doing plyometrics and sprints with oversized NBA players now.
Besides barefoot running and other locomotive activities, just walking around barefoot and doing exercises in the gym as some sort of passive corrective osmosis were also promoted. The same people who wanted us to do wall slides also wanted us to walk around barefoot, and some teams who didn’t do their due diligence on cleaning the locker rooms and facilities discovered that staph infections can ruin seasons and careers. Barefoot activities in the woods may be a different story, but in a congested area, it was simply an accident waiting to happen.
The truth is that the barefoot training hype was unable to live up to the promises made, and now everyone seems to have moved on to whatever the top apparel companies are selling. Injuries are possible with barefoot training, so do it with caution as it’s not something you should jump into.
Activation of Gluteal Muscles
The best example of poor scientific understanding was the decade of glute activation, starting in the early 2005s when firing muscles was all the rage. What happened was simple: Coaches looked at some research and simply couldn’t connect the findings properly into training. They ended up doing isometric bridging to the glutes to solve problems that were just a function of bad training, rather than the absence of magical exercises. True, the development of gluteal muscles is harder to accomplish than, say, the quadriceps, but if you are going to solve problems, a focus on heavy training is much better than fluffy “correctives.”
Activation exercises, and specifically the glute bridge, were some of the biggest wild goose chases in sports training. You can make the argument that it was the gateway drug to barbell posterior chain training, but for years, coaches kept putting the same recipe in, and expecting the same dish every time.
Activation was probably the result of coaches reading the wrong article and thinking that aligning a single round double leg bridge would “neurologically charge” the glutes for the duration of the training session, similar to drinking caffeine. However, the effects were local to one muscle group. Like potentiation, the expectations were that the athlete had to “turn on” the muscle group and that lifestyle factors would turn the muscles off, like sitting in a car.
There are many options in training the glutes and other posterior chain muscles, but the idea of a quick fix faded. I am not sure if activation is dead or if it’s been reinvented, but the concept is a failed solution to a problem that may never have existed, except in the weak and untrained.
I believe isometric training has value, but not to the point that it triggers massive gains in strength and size uniquely. Isometric contraction exercises, known as “tension training,” were huge during the 1940s. As barbells and other solutions grew in popularity, the interest in isometrics shrank to just planks and other abdominal training.
In the early 2005s, isometrics made a comeback due to several popular coaches promoting near-impossible results, and after a few years of YouTube and seminar tours, the influx of isometric exercises became the hot way to train. For years, split lunges for super long hold times became the fashionable exercise, and we even saw dangerous bench press methods proliferate as well.
The addiction to extreme isometrics is a classic case of an old idea resurfacing with a twist—usually a more demanding component with a few tweaks for marketing and sizzle. Isometric training is a valuable tool, but like any modality its contribution is a small percentage of the entire program, not the backbone of a system.
Isometrics, along with DRS, is now gaining ground. It is important to know that the right education ensures it’s not an overdose, but the right amount of time under tension. Isometrics is again growing in interest because of triphasic training, but instead of being a focal point, it’s a part of the process.
Flexibility and mobility training are parts of preparing for sport, but since the mid-2000s we have seen a rise in self-mobility that goes beyond addressing a need and into promoting a falsehood. Mobility is about restoring the range of motion in a joint with care and intelligence; it’s not something you do arbitrarily because you see drills or movements on a YouTube channel. For the record, I do think a therapist should sometimes assign self-care, but this can’t be scaled effectively or done without the presence of a coach.
From what I have experienced, we are now seeing a rise in “Mobility Gone Wild,” with joints that are inflamed and permanently damaged due to excessive joint manipulation and aggressive self-treatment. It’s not that joint mobility is a massive risk or not worth doing—it’s just that the wrong information placed at the wrong time is not terribly effective.
Hip labrums, upper spines, elbows, and ankles are all areas that therapists are seeing more and more complaints about from athletes doing too much self-care. Most of the issue is that athletes equate pain with a lack of mobility, when the reality is that sometimes most of the referred pain is just overuse syndrome and inflammation creating discomfort, and overreacting makes the problem worse. When athletes let fear and emotion drive their self-diagnosis, contraindicated movements that actually cause real damage to joint surfaces become the bane and not the antidote.
Nearly every time an athlete felt tight, we looked at the training load and decided that a few days of pool workouts and easy training would restore their range of motion. Anatomy is the prime driver of the way a joint moves, not the inclusion of endless drills that resemble a corrective exercise. My suggestion is for you to work with a PT that is local and has expertise, rather than do everything on your own or prescribe too much therapeutic movement as a coach. If you are a sports medicine professional, hand out mobility exercises like you’re dispensing medication, as joint work isn’t the same as wellness activities like walking and recreational strength training.
Do Your Own Homework
Decide for yourself what you believe in, based on experience and evidence. Most of the concepts listed here are popular ideas that simply became a trend because of agendas. Some ideas are well-intentioned, but influencers took them too far with alleged importance and validity. Some ideas and concepts are viable options, but they are so minor in their impact that they are not worth the spotlight they are given. On the other hand, dismissing something entirely because there is not enough evidence in the research may just be the fault of science failing to understand the mechanisms to create a proper study on it.
In general, this list of topics is a great example that trends and hype don’t just occur in fashion, but in all professions and areas of our culture. Doing what is right for your athletes or your own training will sometimes seem rebellious because it’s easier to join the masses and follow the leader, but blind faith in the wrong direction is a lousy idea. Do what works and know how it works, and leave the trends for the fashion industry.