Perhaps the basic responsibility of the strength coach is to sift through his sources of strength-training information and develop a day-to-day program of the exercises that best fit his athletes.
The proliferation of professional organizations, the continual influx of new equipment designs, and the superfluous debates on methods and modes complicate the decision-making process and force us to assimilate the information and convert it into a well-organized and administered practice plan.We have compiled a priority list for our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly scripts and would like to share some of the finer points that can be used as a template.
Identifying Program Goals
Many coaches will admit that their strength-training goals are simple: Make the kids as big, fast, and strong as their potential permits. As long as the athletes are making progressive gains in weight loads, as indicated by the intermittent testing procedures and/or periodically assigned weight increments, the program goals are being met.
For a multitude of reasons, we have to go a little deeper to (1) dissect the process, (2) expose some of the pitfalls facing the athletes, and (3) offer some hard-earned perspectives.
Some of your athletes, much to everyone’s dismay, will not be genetically predisposed to making the size and strength gains at the same rate or to the same level as their peers. These physical deficiencies will tend to manifest themselves during testing procedures and weigh-ins.
Even with these inherited roadblocks, myriad physical benefits are taking place (via strength training) that are not as easily discernible through any type of max testing, the scale, or even the naked eye.
Following is a short list of the physical benefits of an organized, properly administered strength-training program:
- The entire musculo-tendon complex is strengthened, thus serving as an injury deterrent and providing a foundation that will assist the healing process in the event an injury takes place.
- Strength training programs that emphasize exercises with biomechanically sound, safe, and functional ranges of motion will improve flexibility as well as strength. The marriage of strength and flexibility in conjunction with quality skill practice is vital to the power output.
- Through improved body composition (i.e., lean weight/fat ratio), muscular endurance can be elevated, producing a more functional athlete over the long haul. Since body fat may be lost concurrently with muscle gain, the result might be masked in the weigh-in.
- Strength training kick-starts the body’s metabolism, producing a much more efficient, calorie-burning machine. This has significant implications in overall body composition, as the thermoregulatory system becomes fine-tuned even when the body is at rest.
- There is some evidence of improved blood lipid/cholesterol profiles, which can help check a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
It is important for your athletes and their parents to become aware of these advantages for encouragement and motivational purposes. These points can also put more muscle into your discussions with the school administration when the time comes for facility and equipment upgrades.
Exercise Selection and Placement
Your next step is to decide what exercises you want to implement. Following is a list of troubleshooting questions that must be answered, along with some thoughts on dealing with the rough edges.
- What type of equipment do you have at your disposal (i.e., free weights, machines, racks, benches, and other auxiliary items such as medicine balls, sandbags, etc.)?
- What are your top choices for both lower and upper body exercises? Once you’ve made those selections, a decision must be made on their placement within the workout. Suggestion: Place what you feel are the most important movements at the front end of the script so that fatigue will become less of a determining factor as the workout wears on.
Recommendations: Choose exercises that you are comfortable teaching and monitoring. Focus on multi-joint movements for both upper and lower body segments, but allow for the flexibility of incorporating single-joint movements to address weak links and special needs situations.
While there are certainly exercises, primarily multi-joint, that yield greater returns on our investment, no one or two movements will provide all of the strength and power benefits we are seeking. As much musculature as any single or limited list of exercises might engage, there will always be adjacent and important areas that either are not receiving adequate stimulation or are not being worked through their entire range of anatomical function.
Keep an open mind about the exercises and equipment and you will find a wealth of possibilities that will prove their worth over time.
- How do you plan to teach the execution of the chosen exercises? For example, if you’ve chosen to institute primarily Olympic-style lifts or Powerlifts, do you feel comfortable with your expertise level in those areas?
Or, will you prefer to turn the reins over to someone on your staff? Also, are you prepared to teach and supervise the other exercises and the proper use of the equipment that you’ve earmarked as essential for the program?
As the coach in charge of daily operations, you must understand that a standard checklist of priorities governs all training philosophies, even though they may be occasionally tweaked to fill targeted needs. Regardless of your chosen path, you have to formulate a clear, decisive plan, put it into action, and constantly monitor it.
- Have you made determinations on frequency, duration, and intensity of the workouts across the board for both off-season and in-season periods?
This is a vitally important consideration, due to the fact that there are heightened stresses on your athletes at certain times of the year that will require alterations in the training protocol.
Whether these alterations affect sets per exercise, total sets in the workout, the overall intensity or effort expended with each set, total training days per week, or variables of all of the above, the fact remains that periodic changes are inevitable.
For example, you will probably be facing some overtraining issues if the in-season strength-training volume mirrors the off-season. For this reason alone, it is specious to believe that you can plug into one format of sets, reps, frequency, and workout duration for the entire calendar year.
Have you decided to go with total body workouts on alternate days, or do you prefer some type of upper/lower split approach, which will encompass some back-to-back training days?
Usually, this determination is based upon the other training activities (e.g., running, agility, speed training, etc.) being emphasized at a specific time of the year.
There is really no right or wrong approach (in my opinion) but I’d suggest that you temper the strength-training volume and frequency during heavy running and/or practice periods.
We normally cut the total volume per workout to around 75-80% of the status quo, and reduce the weekly frequency by at least one training day whenever the calendar calls for heightened conditioning, skill work, or full-scale practices.
Tracking workout results is a critical aspect of the training regimen. It’s difficult to check progress and move forward when you are not quite sure where you have been.
The athletes can chart their workouts manually on card stock handouts, or you may choose to incorporate a software program that automatically adjusts sets, weights, and reps according to your pre-set training system.
Either way, a minimum of the following information should be clearly indicated on each training chart:
1. Athlete’s name.
2. Workout date.
3. Exercise name and mode (e.g., barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, machine name, etc.).
4. Current weight for each assigned set.
5. Rep assignment and reps completed for each set.
6. If a machine is used, the seat and/or shoulder pad (on certain leg press units) adjustment is important to note, as inconsistent settings disrupt the built-in leverage and range of motion mechanisms, thus detracting from set-to-set reliability.
7. A “coach’s comments” box for suggestions, remarks, teaching cues, etc.
The coaching staff must continually examine, evaluate, update, and troubleshoot both the off-season and in-season training scripts in order to determine whether the goals and objectives of the program are being met.
I’ve always recommended that coaches should put the same type of emphasis and focus into the organization and administration of their training programs as they devote to practice and game preparation.
After all, most of the year is spent in the trench known as the weight room.
They are just ordinary days, but they prepare your team for the special days of the season!
Tip From The Trenches
Account for special needs situations with alternative work scripts.
It is near impossible to go through an entire year of training without facing any of several different special-needs situations. Usually, these are injury circumstances that either restrict the range of motion or completely contraindicate any type of movement at or around the injury site.
To address these inevitable situations, it is wise to keep several alternative workout scripts on hand that will keep the injured athlete as physically strong as the injury allows.
The continued activity will also assist the athlete in maintaining a positive frame of mind through the sense of accomplishment garnered from good, hard strength training workouts.
Here are the three most prominent injury situations you must be ready to face:
- Several “no-hands” workouts should be available for athletes with injured fingers, hands, or wrists. These might include the use of stretch bands, machines, medicine balls, dumbbells, and a variety of manual resistance exercises. The injured side might be able to handle lighter implements for higher reps, while the uninjured side can work at full capacity.
- Sprained ankles are common and it is important to continue strength training for the knee and hip on the injured side. Manual resistance, machines, and stretch bands are very useful in this situation. The opposite side should be worked at full capacity with the best available modes.
- Unilateral scripts for those with a totally incapacitated arm or leg should also be on hand. Again, the opposite limb should continue to be worked (with permission from the medical and sports medicine staffs) in order to advance strength gains on that side. There are many machines available that serve this purpose well.
As we have mentioned before, there will also be some indirect “cross-transfer” strength gains to the injured limb when the uninjured side is aggressively trained. – Ken Mannie
About the Author
Ken Mannie is the head strength/conditioning coach at Michigan State University. ([email protected])