Train Movement Not Muscle

Do you find yourself in the mindset that big lifts and Olympic Lifts are key to becoming stronger, faster and therefore a better athlete? Have you thought of another option which may make more sense?

Train Movements and not Muscles is a terminology that is catching on. As more and more analysis and reporting take place, this allows the Strength & Conditioning Coach in sports such as Athletics to realise there is a better way to get more useful overall strength, therefore winning the key Power to Weight Ratio game.

In every gym there are usually the guys whose weight training programs involve those big lifts, Squat, Bench, Cleans, Snatch, Dead Lift etc. While there is a place for each of these, the evaluation of their usefulness should be the question each athlete asks. If a coach or athlete asks any Strength & Conditioning coach to make their athlete or themselves stronger, I’m sure most can achieve that goal. Will it make them faster? In too many cases the answer may be actually be no and in some cases they actually get slower. Strength and transferable strength to your event are two different things.

When assessing an exercise ask yourself what is the outcome of doing this and how does it translate to the event of the athlete?

Let’s take the 100m sprinter as an example and the key parts of the event:

Phase 1 – The explosive phase from blocks

The aim is to move the weight of your body from a crouched position into a standing position, all be it at an angle and not straight up and down.

Now this is where the squat (see figure 1) may be of use, it has similar outcomes in there is a triple extension at the joints and there is a power movement to get from the squat position to standing. However too many athletes don’t take even this basic exercise to the right levels. Half Squats is what most do and the reason is they can lift bigger and heavier weights. If you want to go from a crouch to a standing position then suing even the basic back squat you need your “ass to grass” as they say. Squat right down.

For a good understanding of the Basic Squat and why to go deep, then read this blog:

While the basic squat (be it back squat or front squat) has its place I’d look at how we “dial it up”. As the sprint start involves not only the power movement from crouch to standing, it also involves going from two feet to one foot.

To dial up to replicate this from the basic squat can be squat with leg drive.

Perform the same squat but with standing drive one leg up into the air. To allow heavier and controlling the weight, add in a box for the leg being driven up to plant onto.

While this is the next step to dial up to, the other area key action (the sprint start) has arms involved. The squat even with leg drive above uses a barbell. The arms are clamped to the bar so therefore not fully replicating the full movement.

To dial up the squat again then remove the barbell and use dumbbells in each arm. Now squat from floor and perform the leg drive and then add in an arm drive. This take a lot of strength and core control to ensure the dumbbells don’t control the athlete. Now you have a closer replication to the sprint start.

Phase 2 – The pickup to top speed

A big shift to pushing the power started from Phase 1 into getting to top speed.

Various exercises can be utilised for this area.

Cleans and Snatch are two which add multiple movements to lift the bar.





You can see from the pictures that both involve multiple movements. Again the body when going through the drive phase has single arm movements. To dial up a clean, again go with some dumbbells, perform the clean from the floor then add in a press at the end to above the head. Now you have a much tougher exercise which involves the arms having to work independently, but still in sync to have the coordination elements.

Snatch with dumbbells is another excellent exercise which is hard. To add the single arm movement like in sprinting, snatch can also be moved into single arm snatch from floor.

Other exercises:

  • Step Ups with barbell or dialed up to with dumbbells
  • Lunges with barbell or dialed up with dumbbells

Phase 3 – The maintain top speed to end

What is happening here is trying to maintain speed while gradually fatiguing. All the power lifts work Phase 1 and 2 but Phase 3 requires a different element.

Here is where adding in weighted skips work.

Basic skip – Barbell Weighted Skips

Barbell held on back and standing tall perform skips on the spot, count of 10 (5 each leg).

To dial this up perform with dumbbells to add the stability from the core to control the single arm shift. This requires a lot more overall body movement. This will become fatiguing therefore replicating the phase 3 of the sprint.


  • Always look to make the exercises appropriate to the event where possible.
  • Add in multiple movements to challenge the body
  • The big main lifts are good and have their place, but be sure what it is you are using them for and do them right