This seemingly contracdictory statement is usually met with a blank stare of perplexity mixed with a bit of defiance. This is especially true if directed to a male athlete in a power sport. Even though the statement is purposely provocative, I am dead serious.
I have gain a reputation as the guy whose athletes do not lift weights. Although it is inaccurate, observers are always puzzled at the sight of programs for world class throwers devoid of classic exercises such as power cleans or squats for example. What is however true, is that I do not feel any obligation when it comes to means, only when it comes to results. Sometimes I deem the use of the barbell adequate, sometimes a richer mean exists.
Let us examine strength in sports. The folowing definition is only my opinion. However, I hope we can agree on the fact that strength is the ability to produce high tensions whether a muscle group, an in-vitro fiber or an entire organic system is considered. Force is physical quantity measured in Newtons. Force production is under many constraints in sports. For example, most athletes only have a certain amount of time to produce it. It must be in a certain line, in the right direction for the sport action to be successful etc... Strength is always expressed within a specific context.
Sometimes the barbell is the best tool for the development of those motor qualities, sometimes not. Weightlifting has become almost synonymous of physical preparation in power sports. But the nervous system is only concerned with force production, not the implement against which it produces these forces. Let's not forget that lifting weight is in itself a specialization.
As a gross generalization one can say that the nervous system rearranges neurons and cleans up motor pattern in order to best achieve the demanded task. The hope is that these adaptations will transfer to the specific task. This is hope only, because quite often sports practice improvement severely lag behind weightlifting gains. Sports improvement is about motor qualities development. This is a very important difference with bodybuilding.
'Physical qualities only matter within motor patterns. Progression in an exercise consisting in lifting a heavy weight - thus demonstrating an increase in strength right?- does not garantee increased force production in the specific task. Training means must be selected not on the basis of available tools or tradition but on adaptations they allow and their immediate benefit on the sports move.
What criterias matter when selecting training means ?
Training means must address the needs of the neuromuscular structure as a whole. Some patterns or chains may show local deficiency in terms of tension capability, metabolic capacity or coordination. Knowledge of the use of these patterns in the sports movement should guide the intervention. It should take into account the different attributes of necessary forces (timing and time available for production, line, direction, peak, kinetic chain, basic patterns etc...)
One may think that there is no use for anything else than specific strength straining. I strongly disagree. Only sports practice is specific to itself. Expression of physical qualities has prerequisites in terms of movement ability and basic coordination, real keys to transfer of general physical preparation to specific event.
In my gym we do lift weights. The difference lies in the fact that it is not he only nor first tool for development.