Managing Risk-Benefit In The Weight Room

Benefit is looked upon as the fastest fitness return (i.e: higher metabolic expenditure, faster strength development, better movement quality etc.) Risk is looked upon as a measure of the trainee’s ability to get hurt WHILE doing the exercise or as a DIRECT RESULT of the
exercise with NO PRIOR HISTORY OF INJURY. Obviously, different exercises will be of varying risk levels based on the individual. This is a broadly scoped article.

Mike Stuart

High Metabolic Demand Exercises

Low Metabolic Demand Activities

Based on these lists and common sense, if we want training effects in the gym (i.e: bigger, faster,
stronger), then we are going to have to take on some risk. Like many circumstances, we have to give up something to get something in return. Risk of injury is usually the currency. 

With that ideology, the best athletes would be the ones who do the riskiest exercises and somehow don’t get hurt. From experience, this is not the case.

Training is managing risk/benefit. We all have exercises that are more risky for us than others.
Someone with a past ACL reconstruction probably can’t do depth jumps 6 weeks out of surgery. Why don’t we program that in? Because the risk outweighs the potential benefit at that time.

Why not apply this to healthy people?

If Tony can’t do a bodyweight squat without his torso collapsing forward, Tony probably shouldn’t be heavily loading the squat pattern. If Deborah can’t reach overhead without arching her lower back and flaring her ribs to the sky, she probably shouldn’t load up a bar and try to press it overhead.

How are we going to get stronger as fast as possible if we can’t do the riskiest but most beneficial

What if we find exercises that may be slightly less beneficial (or metabolically taxing in this case), but have noticeably less risk? We may be a little slower to the 1 st milestone, but at least we’ll still be around for the 2 nd , 3 rd and 4 th . 

Take Tony’s case, what are ways to make Tony’s lower body stronger at a similar rate to squatting without the risk of spine-loading a pattern that he’s unstable with?

How about a split-squat? Chances are Tony can do a split-squat better than he can do a back squat. Why not load the crap out of the split-squat with dumbbells and get the benefits of heavy-loaded lower body exercise without taking on excess risk?

Risk vs. Benefit.

In Deborah’s case, why not load up a landmine press that challenges her to press overhead, but not so far overhead that she goes beyond her active range of motion? By doing landmine press, she can heavily load her overhead pressing pattern without putting herself at risk in a position that she hasn’t

These are two simple cases, but the idea applies to every exercise that we program for our athletes or for anyone looking to find a good exercise for themselves. Find movements that can be safely done and find exercises that stay within those limits to promote the best training response. The cookie cutter approach of finding the toughest exercises and forcing the body into those positions will end in injury or worse, a defeated athlete who doesn’t want to train anymore.

Risk vs. Benefit!

Thanks for reading. -KG


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