July 1, 2019 • Strength & Conditioning

Powerline: Conducting a year-end evaluation

strength training squat
Photo: Ken Mannie

As the regular school year unwinds, and with summer training procedures on the horizon, it’s an opportune time to evaluate your strength and conditioning process. This helps determine if it’s in need of a tune-up, or maybe even a complete overhaul.

I’d like to offer some insights and troubleshooting suggestions to help assure your program is as safe, efficient and productive as possible moving forward. It would benefit you, your athletes, and the overall program to examine each of the following areas thoroughly.

Evaluate safety regulations

I’m a staunch advocate of having at least one strength and conditioning certified member on every high school coaching staff.

Beginning with a policies and procedures handbook, safety is a component that is never overstated and must take center stage. The weight room can be an inherently dangerous environment in the absence of well-stated, verbalized, posted, and reinforced protocols ensuring that all athletes are educated and updated on a regular basis.

All athletes using the facility must have a documented physical screening on file and any contraindications in their training should be duly noted. Preexisting conditions — heart arrhythmias, sickle-cell trait, diabetes, exercise-induced asthma, injuries — should be discussed with the medical staff, with individualized approaches put into place when necessary. An emergency action plan (EAP) should be clearly posted for all to see. This should include all the relative contact information and procedures to follow in the event of an emergency.

Conduct, behavior, and adherence to training principles, exercise/spotting techniques, and progression rules are paramount in maintaining a safe environment. All of these should be put in writing and discussed with the athletes prior to the start of any training sessions. Additionally, follow-up discussions should be scheduled to reinforce these regulations.

I’m a staunch advocate of having at least one strength and conditioning certified member on every high school coaching staff. This should be an accredited certification, one that has been put to the tests of proper content, educational requirements, credibility and reliability.

All staff members working with athletes in strength and conditioning activities should hold current certifications in first aid and CPR/AED administration. Continuing education credits covering a host of emergency situations, such as heat-related stresses and illness, are required by most school districts and must be accrued by all staff members.

Facility scheduling evaluation

An imposing challenge at every level, but especially in high schools, is weight room scheduling. That’s why it’s critical to get ahead of it before it becomes an issue. Early planning and coordination with all involved sports coaches is paramount to keeping things running smoothly.

A couple of options for high school coaches are:

Include weekday morning and Saturday morning workouts, if acceptable with the administration and sports coaches. It’s unlikely that everyone is able to train after school, every single day. A rotation can be designed so that teams and individuals are assigned both morning and afternoon slots throughout the training period, thus no one has the same assignment indefinitely. The morning sessions should not be marathons — 45-to-60 minutes tops.

Combine in-season athletes in assigned lift groups/times, especially when dealing with large groups. It might be beneficial to have separate lift groups/times for offseason athletes. The programming should be fairly similar for each grouping, thus improving flow and efficiency through the room.

Staff competency, coaching evaluation

Walk into most high school weight rooms after school hours and you will normally find the an environment teeming with activity. Sadly, the player-to-coach ratios are less than ideal.

strength training dumbbellsThe aforementioned scheduling suggestions might alleviate some of the chaos, but in the very least, safeguards in on-the-floor coaching must be evident. Every staff member must be fully indoctrinated with a solid knowledge base of the intricacies of the program. These include warm-up procedures, exercise posture/ techniques, spotting, spacing, between-set respites and documentation. This process should include staff-only training sessions where each coach explains how their station will be explained, demonstrated and executed.

Ideally, each coach should have a group of no more than eight to 10 athletes at a specific station. This ensures quality control for both safety purposes and administration of the executed movements.

Consider technique emphasis

Every movement has a detailed, specific pattern progression. It all starts with body posture, including limb positioning and angles, spine stabilization and bracing cues, bar/implement paths, movement speed/tempo, and a host of other critical variables. All of these indices must be fully understood by all involved coaches, and not limited to one specific area. Coaches and movement stations should be interchangeable. This provides a learning experience for them, as well as for the athletes.

Evaluate progressive overload models

Gradual, progressive overload is a key constituent to gains in size, strength, power and the structural integrity of joints. In order to get stronger, neuromuscular adaptations are required, and these are initiated with the application of overload protocols. Basically, it’s important to administrate increased work by one or more of the following methods:

  • Increasing sets.
  • Increasing reps per set.
  • Higher percentages of weight used per set.
  • Increasing the physical effort put into each set (i.e., reps to fatigue).
  • Increasing the time under load (TUL).
  • Greater training frequency.

Focusing on manipulating a limited number of specific variables (e.g., percentage of weight used and reps per set overtime) is known as linear periodization. It’s a fairly stringent approach, with specifically assigned cycles beginning with high-volume/low-intensity, and graduating to high-intensity/low volume work over the calendar year. It has proven to be a successful approach for competitive lifters.

  » ALSO SEE: The ‘Spartan Rotation’ conditioning workout

The non-linear, or undulating, periodization approach allows for much more flexibility throughout a designated training period, with changes made often. For example, on a three-day-per-week plan, the Monday workout script could call for sets of eight to 10 reps. The Wednesday script could then prescribe six to eight reps. The Friday script could then dictate three to five reps of the emphasized lifts.

In my opinion, this approach — which has numerous and varied adaptations — is more suited to the grind, physicality and stresses of competitive sports outside the competitive weightlifting arena. Additionally, the undulating system permits variety in equipment choices, which is a positive across many different fronts, including:

  • Relieving the mental and physical tedium of indefinitely performing the same exercises with the same equipment.
  • Accounting for injuries, and the flexibility to apply more suitable training options.
  • Experience teaches you that one size does not fit all in strength training; you will have to find accommodating exercises and equipment over time.

Achieving program balance

Any effective strength program includes balance as a primary objective. We’re all trying to minimize serious injury risks and improve the physical capabilities of our athletes, making comprehensive develop of all the body’s vital structures job one.

My suggestion is to not get suffocated in the “movements vs. muscles” or “sport-specific” debates. They are inextricably linked in one sense, and a non-issue in another. While there are definite physiological processes at work here, let’s not make it more complicated than it has to be. We are training the raw material of the body to improve strength, power, flexibility, and to increase the structural integrity of the joints. That can be accomplished with a basic, well-planned, properly executed program.

Train specific energy systems

Coaches need to identify the primary energy system of their sport (e.g., phosphogen, glycolytic or oxidative). The phosphogen (also known as ATP-PC) system is the targeted energy system for high-power, short-term, high-intensity movements or activities via the energy-producing molecule, ATP. Phosphocreatine also has a role in that it picks-up where ATP leaves off, with the entire capability of high-output ranging up to around 15 seconds or so.

The glycolytic system kicks-in for moderate power, moderate-duration activities — basically up to around 50 seconds in duration. Dietary carbohydrates supply the blood glucose and stored glycogen that is broken down to create ATP. Hence, the process of glycolysis supplies the energy for this system.

The oxidative system picks things up from this point, using fatty acids and remaining carbohydrates for energy with the help of oxygen. You are now in a lower-power, lower-intensity mode, beyond the 50 to 60 second mark.

Understand that the energy systems work on a continuum, and it’s not as simple as building walls and compartmentalizing each one. There is some interdependency, especially in the renewal of ATP-PC stores. So, while it’s important to put most of your effort into training the specific energy system of your sport, some crossover training can be beneficial.

Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine. 

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