Lifting Heavy Weights Make Athletes Slow and Bulky? Absolutely Not!

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Lifting Heavy Weights Make Athletes Slow and Bulky? Absolutely Not!

During my years as a strength and conditioning coach, I was told by 70% of the parents that they didn’t want the young athlete to lift heavy weights. They were afraid that their child would get slow and bulky. Normally they were talking about a 5’10” string bean that weighed 130lb. Inside I was thinking, “Don’t worry! There is no chance that your child will ever be bulky.” However, I always kept the thought to myself.

Early on in my career, I would try to talk common sense to the parents, but it never seemed to penetrate their thick skulls. Then I decided to just tell the parents whatever they wanted to hear. Then I would proceed to make their kids better athletes. When their athletic abilities improved, the parents stopped giving advice and just trusted.

Here’s the thing. When you lift weights, there is a lengthening process and a shortening process of the muscles. As long the athlete completes all the reps using a full range of motion, the muscles will remain the proper length. Actually according to a study performed at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, weight training will increase flexibility better than stretching if performed using a full range of motion.

You can perform your own study by visiting any Olympic weightlifting program in America. All of the great weightlifters are going to have excellent mobility. Their hips, ankles, thoracic spines, and shoulder have to be perfect to perform the movements. I have multiple teenage athletes that squat over 500lb and clean & jerk over 400lb, and they all have close to perfect movement patterns.


This past weekend, I watched the Wake Forest University Football scrimmage. Two of the athletes are Mash Elite Performance athletes Cade Carney and Grant Dawson. Both of these athletes performed thousands of reps in the back squat, clean, bench, and other exercises. Both are battling for starting roles as a Demon Deacon. Cade and Grant have cleaned over 360lb, and both squat around that 500lb mark. Cade plays tailback, and Grant plays linebacker.

Both of those positions are highly skilled, and both of those athletes play the position well. Cade left high school a semester early to get a jump on college and practicing with the big boys in the ACC. Cade led the team in rushing during their first scrimmage. I am telling you all of this not to brag, but simply to dispel a myth. It is 2016. Can we get passed this once and for all?

Let’s look back at two amazing athletes. First let’s look at Barry Sanders. Barry is arguably the best running back in NFL history. He could move side to side faster and with more grace than anyone before of after him. He could also Back Squat over 600lb. Obviously it didn’t make him slow.


Michael Johnson set records in the 200m and 400m back in the 1996 Olympics. He still holds the 400m record. He back squatted over 500lb weighing under 200lb. So much for back squats making an athlete slow. Strength training in both of these examples aided the athletes with increases in speed.

The keys:

• Use full range of motion. If you are doing half reps, this could cause the muscles to shorten. Full range of motion is better than stretching for flexibility.
• Mobility and flexibility should be a part of your training along with the strength training.

I could go on and on giving examples of athletes that are strong, muscular and fast. However, it probably won’t help. People are going to believe what they believe. However, I challenge you to look at the very athletes that you are cheering for. Do they look like your son or daughter? Or are they quite a bit more muscular?

The next time that you watch football on Sundays try to pick out a lanky football player that isn’t a kicker. I don’t think that you will be able to do it. How did these athletes get so big, strong, and mobile? Well first they have great genetics, but second is in the weight room.

When you hear something, I challenge you to apply common sense to the statement first. For example, if someone tells you that big muscles will make an athlete slow, I want you to take a few minutes to think about the statement. Then you should think about Bo Sanders, Cam Newton, or Clay Matthews. Do they have muscles? The answer is absolutely. Use your brain man!

Some people might give the argument that bodybuilders seem bulky and immobile. Some of them are, but it is because of the way they train. A lot of bodybuilders simply stick with hypertrophy work (high reps) year round. The same bodybuilders will use partial range of motion movements, and they will perform zero stretching. This is a recipe for disaster.

However, my favorite bodybuilder of all-time, Flex Wheeler, could perform full splits on stage. He was a martial artist as well as a professional bodybuilder. He performed full range of motion exercises, and he worked on his mobility outside of the weight room. It is all about how one trains the body.

I want to leave you with this. If your son is 5’10” and weighs 145lb, the last thing that you have to worry about is him getting slow and bulky. If he plays football, you have to worry about him getting killed. If you want your child to play college sports, I challenge you to look at the athletes from major Division I schools. Match your child up to them, and that alone will tell you to get them in weight room. Also go to a Division I program and watch the athletes work with the strength and conditioning coach. I promise that they will be lifting weights.

I hope that I didn’t come across too mean. I just wanted to crush this myth once and for all. It’s off my chest now, and I am over it. If you want to restrict your child from the weight room after reading this, go right ahead. He or she will do a great job cheering in the stand for athletes that did lift weights. I simply encourage you to apply some common sense, and make wise decisions.

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