Friday, March 4, 2011

Clyde Emrich - Paul E. Young

The following interview excerpt is a small sample of the many, many informative articles available in the book
"Iron Nation, Passion for Hard Training"
edited by Bob Whelan and Drew Israel


In the relatively few years that I have been involved in the strength-training profession, I have had the good fortune to visit with some of the top people in the field. At one time or another, they have all mentioned the name of Clyde Emrich as someone who has had a profound influence on them, not only professionally but personally.

As a weightlifter, Clyde's career extended from 1948 to 1967. During those years, Clyde competed nationally and internationally. He won numerous state and regional titles, set national and world records, competed in the Olympics, placed 2nd and 3rd at the World Championships, and was one of our country's top weightlifters in his day.

Clyde's coaching career is no less impressive. He has been with the Chicago Bears for 23 years. He was one of the first strength coaches in the NFL. He is regarded as the elder statesman in the strength coaching profession. His advice and counsel are continually sought by his peers.

I've called on Clyde as a high-school strength and conditioning coach, at the college level, and now for 11 years at the professional level and found his advice and his knowledge and wisdom to be equally valuable to me at all levels. Clyde has been in this from the very beginning, yet he's still a student. His knowledge is still growing. Clyde Emrich is not only a pioneer, he is still a leader in our profession, and one that I am proud to call my teacher --
Johnny Parker, strength and conditioning coach, New England Patriots.

Paul Young: How did you get started lifting weights?

Clyde Emrich : My first exposure was when I was 10 or 11 years old, watching some kids lift in a basement. I thought it was quite interesting. When I was 15 or so, I bought some stretch cables and started making my own weights out of weighted cans of sand and cement. I started performing the exercises that I saw in Strength & Health and other magazines at the time.

PY: Did you have a coach who helped you with your training at the time?

CE: No, never had a coach.

PY: What about later in your lifting career?

CE: No. I was always self-coached. I knew that if I wanted to develop certain muscles, I had better understand how they worked, so I would go to the library and read and study books on kinesiology and anatomy. I knew that if I wanted to make my muscles stronger and bigger that diet was important so I read and studied everything I could on nutrition. I taught myself how to lift by trying to copy the pictures in the magazines. Sometimes I would wonder how they could get into such positions. Later I would see a photograph sequence of the exercise, which would then answer my questions.

I trained in my basement, performing snatches, clean & jerks, presses, and squats. Even right up to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, my training was done in my basement. Also, all my training was done with an exercise bar, not an Olympic bar with revolving sleeves. I feel this actually helped my pulling power, as I had to have greater strength to elevate this stiff, non-revolving exercise bar as opposed to a springier Olympic bar. I also never used lifting straps or a hook grip. I remember one time performing jerks off a rack in my basement with health shoes hanging on the ends of the bar for added weight. Since the largest plates I had were 25 pounds, I had to place bricks or boards under the weights to get the bar to approximately the right height to perform my lifting.

I have always loved lifting weights. I think that I enjoyed training just as much or maybe more than competing. On days that I was up to train, I remember waking up in the morning and thinking to myself, "All right! I get to train today."

PY: Did you have any lifters you looked up to or tried to emulate?

CE: John Davis, of course. I really admired his lifting ability. Pete George was outstanding. Great technique. I was impressed with Pete because he was so strong for not being excessively muscular. Stan "The Flash" Stanczyk had incredible pressing power and great technique. Tommy Kono was an outstanding lifter and a good friend.

John Davis was a real hero. I remember a lifting contest I was at in New York -- in the training hall were all the great lifters of the day. John Davis walked over to me and said, "You're Clyde Emrich, aren't you?" and we visited briefly. What a treat. Here was the great John Davis coming over to talk to me, Clyde Emrich. That made a lasting impression on me; what a great person.

PY: Did you participate in any other sports, or were you strictly a weightlifter?

CE: Just a weightlifter. I was always quick and played neighborhood games, but I only competed in weightlifting. I have a son who has run 100 yards in 9.3, so I think there is some speed and quickness in the family. When I started out lifting I didn't start out to be a weightlifter. I didn't know the difference between bodybuilding and weightlifting. I performed the snatch for the same reason as someone else would perform arm curls; it was an exercise I used to get stronger.

PY: How did you get into strength coaching:

CE: In the early 1960's when isometrics were coming into use, I was training at the Irving YMCA. Six to eight of the Chicago Bears players worked out there, and they asked me if I could help them. Word got back to the Bears staff and George Halas got ahold of me and asked me if I could set up a training program for the team. George Halas was always looking for an edge. I set up a training program for the team, and coincidentally the Bears won the championship that year. Now, what role that played I don't know, but it's fun to speculate.

PY: How would you describe your strength coaching philosophy?

CE: Athletes should train how they are asked to perform on the field. The multi-joint and explosive lifts are the best to achieve this. I believe in what I call the body core exercises. The areas of the body that we need to train are the legs, back, and shoulders. Something that I think is very important is that you should do as many exercises as you can while standing on your feet. I don't know of a sport where you push up while lying on your back.

It is important to remember that you cannot substitute strength for skill. Your good athletes have a genetic gift for performing movement skills. You cannot spend more time getting stronger in the hopes that it will automatically improve your performance on the field. You have to have the athletic talent first.

PY: How would you describe the difference between weightlifting and strength training?

CE: You use the weightlifting exercises or their variations to increase an athlete's strength, to prevent injuries and improve their performance on the field. You do not peak strength as you would with weightlifting. Technique may not be as sharp as a weightlifter's.

PY: What are your feelings regarding free weights and machines?

CE: Free weights are the best. But I like to think of exercises, barbells, dumbbells, and machines as tools of the trade. Just like a carpenter has a different tool for a specific job. Machines allow you to isolate a certain muscle or movement, which you may need to do to work around an injury, to rehabilitate an area, or to correct a specific weakness.

Ideally, I think you can do the best job in strengthening an athlete with free weights, but in reality when a player has had four or five knee operations and other injuries over the years, you need to be flexible in your strenght training program. It has been interesting in my years with the Bears to watch the evolution of a player's strength training program. He may start his career with primarily free weight exercises, and by the end of his career his program may be primarily exercise machines.

I like to make the comparison of multi-joint free weight exercises to a football team. They are both a collective and coordinated effort. For both of them to be successful, all those involved must function as a unit. One can't do it without the help of others.

As a general rule of thumb, I use one to five repetitions on barbell exercises, five to 10 repetitions on dumbbell exercises, and 10 to 20 repetitions on machines.

PY: How do you feel about the so-called "training secrets" that some people purport?

CE: I haven't seen anybody do anything that I hadn't seen John Grimek do. The super sets, giant sets and master blaster routines are nothing more than variations on multiple set training. The biggest change that I have seen has probably been the use of steroids. I feel that some of the weight training cycles and periodization used in strength training today have their roots in steroid cycling. I cannot and will not ever condone the use of steroids.

If you want to know the secret to training, it is this --- get strong, you have to lift heavy weights. You must work the legs, back and shoulders. All the strong men like Doug Hepburn, Paul Anderson, Charles Rigoulot, Hermann Goerner and others used basic movements and trained heavily in order to get strong.

PY: Are there any trends that are disturbing to you as a strength coach?

CE: I feel that there is too much bodybuilding in strength training. Bodybuilding is fine for bodybuilding. But if you are going to perform on the field you had better train in a manner that compliments this. This is why your multi-joint movements and explosive lifts are the best. Bodybuilding has some application for rehabilitation, but your multi-joint athletic lifts should be your foundation.

If bodybuilding was the correct way to train for sports, you would see a lot of bodybuilders out there on the fields and courts. And you don't see that. This is not to knock bodybuilding, but if you are going to be asked to perform as an athlete, you had better train as an athlete.

PY: If you could design the ideal training program for an athlete (whose sport requires speed, quickness, agility, strength, and power), what would it look like?

CE: Again, getting back to the core exercises I mentioned earlier, you must strengthen the legs, back, and shoulders. Power cleans and snatches, overhead pressing, squatting, bentover rowing, bench pressing, basic plyometrics, and running. I would use dumbbells as much as possible. The dumbbell power clean is a particularly great exercise for football players. I try to use the push/pull method in my programs. Something we as strength coaches have gotten away from, but what I think we need to work more on, is direct pressing ovehead. We have incline, decline, and flat benches that we work on, but I really believe that we need to do more overhead pressing.

I think uphill running is a good exercise. I think some overspeed running on a very slight decline is quite good. An exercise that we used in the past that was quite effective was jumping up onto a 32 inch table while holding dumbbells, and then we would gradually increase the height of the table to 42 inches.

PY: Do you cycle your players' workouts?

CE: I have not been one to follow a heavy, medium, light type of training. My feeling toward lifting is to "grab the moment." I can't see using a light weight on a day that I feel strong. I always trained in this fashion as a lifter, and I use the same basic principles with my athletes, but with some modifications. I think you should use as heavy a weight as you can for the prescribed number of repetitions during a workout.

For our strength training purposes, we don't take the weights right to the limit as I would with a weightlifter because our goals are a bit different. If an athlete is feeling strong, we may keep the reps constant and pyramid the weight up to a good hard effort on the last set. If he is not quite up to going this heavy, we will perform what I call a muscle workout, sets and reps with a constant weight, for example. I always talk with my athletes and get their feelings on how they feel before and during a workout. I feel that it is important to get the players involved in their workouts. This gives them some input into their program, and this input gives them ownership, and with ownership comes responsibility.

PY: Is every workout the same?

CE: No. Using the guidelines I mentioned earlier (one to five reps with barbells, etc.) we do a different type of workout each day of the week. For example, over the course of our four-day- per-week lifting routine we might perform a barbell exercise on Monday, a dumbbell exercise on Tuesday, and do some type of machine exercise on Friday for the same body core part. I also try to mix things up a bit by changing exercises, sets and reps. pyramiding weights, constant weights, and so forth. Always with the athlete's input and always flexible.

PY: Do you do any strength testing?

CE: No, not really. We do the NFL bench press test of 225 pounds for reps, for whatever that's worth. We may do some other testing depending on the wishes of the coaches. In 1985, when we won the Super Bowl, we did no testing.

I know if a player is getting stronger by observing him during his workouts. Some absolute number is not going to tell me something that I don't already know. REMEMBER, WE ARE TRAINING STRENGTH ATHLETES, NOT TRAINING WEIGHTLIFTERS. The only time numbers on a board mean anything is at a weightlifting contest. I will never compare athletes as far as how much weight they can lift on an exercise. I don't say, this athlete can only handle 205 on this exercise and another athlete handles 425. The amount of weight an athlete lifts doesn't matter to me at all. If the 205 athlete was handling 200 a week ago I give him a pat on the back and tell him, "Great job, you're getting stronger."

PY: What role does genetics play in the grand scheme of things?

CE: Oh, without question, genetics is the most important factor. Everybody can be made stronger. We all have a special genetic gift, and the athletes that I get to work with are certainly blessed. What makes them good athletes is that they possess the gift of athletic ability.

Something that I feel is important in dealing with athletes is that we need to strengthen their strengths. We should not spend a great deal of time trying to improve their weaknesses. They made it to this level due to some inherent ability. It's like the old saying, "You gotta dance with the one who brought you to the dance."

PY: You deal with athletes who come from varied strength training backgrounds (experience and philosophy). How do you handle this unique challenge?

CE: I never discourage or discredit what somebody else does or what another coach does. I obseve an athlete train and I will give my advice if I feel that they may benefit from a modification in their training. I like to sit down with the athlete and explain to them why I am having them do this or that exercise and why a modification may be of help to them.

Teaching is a very important aspect of coaching.

PY: What do you like best about being a strength coach?

CE: The thing that I like best is seeing an athlete progress and get better.

PY: What would you say to someone who is thinking about going into the strength training profession.

CE: I feel that it is an outstanding profession. Education is very important -- learn as much as you can. You must be flexible in your program design and you must remember that you are strength training athletes and not training weightlifters.

It is my feeling that strength training, more than any other variable, has had the greatest effect on improving athletic performance. This holds true for track and field, basketball, volleyball, and any other sport.

Make the training experience a positive one for your athletes, especially the ones who are not real big on strength training. Always encourage your athletes, never put them down. You need to get along with your athletic trainers and your other coaches. After all, you are all working toward the same goal.

It's not that tough to get along with everyone.

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