The point of diminishing returns in strength training

partials_imageI had a strength coach in college who first started talking to me about, “a point of diminishing returns.” At the time I heavily disagreed with him. In fact for the most part I still do.

His premise was that after a player could squat 500lbs or so (really talking about Linemen in football), they stopped working the squat hard to emphasize other physical attributes.

My real disagreement wasn’t with the idea, it was that the idea of 500lb squats being strong enough for a 280-300lb college Lineman was the point of diminishing returns. As I’ve grown I realize that balance in training, especially for an athlete (and anybody else really – it’s just emphasis on different things for different needs), is inarguably important.

My view at the time (and probably still now), was skewed for strength. You can never really have enough. However the issue is more complicated than that. I don’t think the problem was/is over-emphasis on the squat (really any reality based heavy lift could go here); it’s an issue of under expectations and under emphasis on the other aspects of training. For most guys a 500lb squat (with exception for very light guys or guys with genetic leverage issues), is achievable. Achievable most of the time without drugs, excessive equipment or excessive volume of training. Certainly for a 280-300lb athletic guy.

If it were taking up a massive amount of time, so much so that you couldn’t do the other training necessary, then it is a real point of diminishing returns in this situation. However, in reality for most, it will only take 1-2 training sessions a week (on that lift), not for excessive volume or time. In fact most will get better results by sticking to that pattern.

So here’s the thing – If you can train exactly the same time, volume and frequency and by simply applying a moderate amount more effort or staying with the training for a longer period (two years instead of one for instance) and lift 100lbs more – Why not?  In fact most other athletic attributes will be helped by the extra strength – Speed, agility, durability, etc.  At some point, speed and technique for most people and sports can be maximized (at least much more acutely than strength) and then the advantage always goes to the stronger athlete.

The real problem here is perception. If you perceive any lift (the 500lb squat for example) as the “max you can get to,” then it will be. The world is however full of examples of great strength and most people (if properly coached) have the potential for much greater strength than they realize with much less training than they think. Certainly not enough to unbalance your training, life or get to a real point of diminishing returns.

The point? Believe and set your goals high. You can get phenomenally strong.  It is possible, just don’t limit your body and potential by limiting your mind.


Materials to help break plateaus and reach new strength levels and abilities – 


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