Home Blog Strength and Conditioning Programs: Efficiency May Be All Wrong…

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Efficiency May Be All Wrong…

Written on October 21, 2009 at 6:08 am, by Eric Cressey

In my strength and conditioning writing, I throw the term “efficient” around quite a bit; in fact, it’s even in the title of our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set.  I’m sure that some people have taken this to mean that we’re always looking for efficiency in our movement.  And, certainly, when it comes to getting from point A to point B in the context of sporting challenges, the most efficient way is generally the best.

And, just think about strength training programs where lifters simply squat, bench press, and deadlift to improve powerlifting performance.  The goal is to get as efficient in those three movements as possible.

And, you can look at NFL combine preparation programs as another example.  Guys will spend months practicing picture-perfect technique for the 40-yard dash.  They might not even get faster in the context of applicable game speed, but they get super efficient at the test.


However, the most “efficient” way is not always the right way.

In everyday life, efficiency for someone with poor posture means picking up a heavy box with a rounded back, as it’s the pattern to which they’re accustomed, and therefore less “energy expensive.”  This would simply prove to be an efficient way to get injured!  I’d rather lift things safely and inefficiently.


And, take those who run long distances in hopes of losing fat as another example.  The research has actually shown that runners burn fewer calories for the same given distance after years of running improves their efficiency.  While this improvement is relatively small, it absolutely stands to reason that folks would be smart to get as inefficient as possible in their training to achieve faster fat loss.  In other words, change modalities, intensities, durations, and other acute programming variables.

Training exclusively for efficiency on a few lifts might make you better at those lifts, but it’s also going to markedly increase your risk of overuse injuries.  I can say without wavering that we’d see a lot fewer knee and lower back injuries in powerlifters if more of them would just mix in some inefficient single-leg training into their strength training programs.  And, shoulders would get a lot healthier if these specialists would include more inefficient rowing variations and rotator cuff strength exercises.

In the world of training for athletic performance, it’s important to remember that many (but not all) athletes perform in unpredictable environments – so simply training them to be efficient on a few lifts fails to fully prepare them for what they’re actually face in competition.  A strength and conditioning program complete with exercise variety and different ranges-of-motion,  speeds of motion, and magnitudes of loading provides athletes with a richer proprioceptive environment.

In other words, inefficiency in strength and conditioning programs can actually facilitate better performance and a reduced risk of injury.

Taken all together, it’s safe to say that we want inefficiency in our training, but efficiency in our performance – provided that this efficiency doesn’t involve potentially injurous movement patterns.

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9 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: Efficiency May Be All Wrong…”

  1. Mike T Nelson Says:

    I love this quote related to this topic

    “When you practice something ‘wrong’ you get really really good at the ‘wrong’ thing.

    The longer you practice failure, the harder it becomes to recognize success.

    Be careful what you practice, you may get really good at the wrong thing!”

    –Tony Blauer

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  2. Clay Says:

    (Known as a man of few words)
    Bravo Eric!

  3. Richard Says:

    Eric In terms of picking things up wrong. You should see my trash men picking up my garbage. I didn’t believe it until one day I went out to show them the proper way, they laughed at me and said “we’ve been doing this for 20 yrs and it would take us forever to get the job done that way” true story.

  4. Tim Skwiat Says:

    Great stuff as always, EC! I want you to know that I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to share your thoughts and knowledge with us.

    I really like today’s post. A couple things come to mind. I like how you talk about “tweaking” inefficiencies into an athlete’s training program. To best prepare them for their unpredictable environments, you have to tweak some training variables like you mentioned, E — things like ROM, speed of movement, loading parameters, etc. Even tweaking stance position in a basic exercise like a squat (i.e., staggered stance, toes in, wide stance, narrow stance, etc.) will be a tweak that can drastically chance the load in the body.

    It’s an interesting commentary when one starts talking about picking things up the “right way.” You know, back flat, bend your knees, yada yada…if you were to actually watch factory workers — people that pick things up, lift things, etc. — for a job/living, they’ll actually be really “inefficient” at what they do. By that I mean, they’ll take many different approaches to lifting things — different stances, different grips, etc. Otherwise, it could obviously quickly become a problem of extreme pattern overload.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Great stuff, E. Hope you’re doing great, brother.


  5. Ann Wendel Says:

    Great thoughts! Switching things up + safe technique = improved performance!

  6. Ken Zelez Says:

    Great article Eric. I usually work with high school aged athletes. I have recently begun to work with University athletes. I noticed that your article did not mention certain age groups or training ages. I have always questioned my “want” to improve efficiency through form vs natural ability. This article has helped me sort out my thoughts.

  7. Jared Says:


    Great post, variety within basic skill sets develops the most well, rounded, efficient athletes! Too often I see athletes, at all levels, training the same movements and getting so “efficient” at those movements that progress ceases. Then a simple unloaded task causes injury. Unfortunate…so keep educating!

  8. Jini Cicero Says:

    Great article Eric. It just goes to show that always being steadfast, rigid, even dogmatic in your approach, sometimes does more harm than good.

    Love Richard’s garbage collector story.

  9. Darron Says:

    Awesome piece. Makes perfect sense to moi!

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