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May 3, 2018 • Strength & Conditioning

Powerline: Script variations for total body workouts

When planning offseason strength training days and frequency, some coaches prefer non-consecutive days of total body workouts. The most common reason is the need to consolidate lifting sessions to no more than three days per week for facility reservation and use. Another reason is the need to perform outside-the-weight-room activities for speed improvement, skill work and other forms of conditioning.

Photos courtesy of Ken Mannie.

Here at Michigan State, we’ve incorporated several training formats and weekly frequencies based upon a host of factors. The overriding components in this decision are the time of year and concomitant stresses placed on the athletes via conditioning procedures, practices, games and other physical requirements.

Included in this varying array of frequency templates are:

  • Weekly segmental split rotation. Monday: upper body target; Tuesday: lower body/core target; Wednesday: off (recovery/rejuvenation strategies); Thursday: upper body target; Friday: lower body/core target.
  • Three-days-a-week total body rotation. Monday: total body, upper body and core emphasis; Wednesday: total body, even split in upper/lower volume; Friday: total body, lower body and core emphasis. Tuesday and Thursday are used for other speed, agility, skill and conditioning activities. They also tie-in to recovery and rejuvenation strategies.
  • Combination split. There are ways to incorporate a composite of the two approaches. The following is a popular NFL template, particularly during organized team activities and precamp periods. Monday: total body, even split in upper/lower volume; Tuesday: off (or alternative activity); Wednesday: upper body; Thursday: lower body/core; Friday: off (or alternative activity).

A common stumbling block for high school coaches is that there’s never enough time with regard to training frequency to do all the things on their checklist. If you’re performing a four-days-a-week split, it often adds to the time dilemma. A solid case for switching to a three-days-a-week format is that you’ll have two days to insert the activities on your priority list.

Movements or muscles?

Some practitioners develop training scripts based upon movements (e.g., hip-hinge based, horizontal presses) as opposed to describing targeted muscle groups or body segments (i.e., upper, lower, core).

We’ve discussed the importance of balancing training in the frontal, sagittal and transverse planes in previous Powerline installments. In review, it’s critical for comprehensive development to train anterior, posterior, medial, lateral, superior and inferior compartments on a consistent basis.

The sagittal plane divides the body into right and left symmetrical halves; the descriptive terms medial and lateral correlate to this plane. The frontal plane divides the body into front and back portions; the terms anterior and posterior identify this plane. The transverse plane divides the body into upper and lower segments. The terms superior (upper) and inferior (lower) are attached to this plane.

Coaches can choose the training semantics they prefer depending on what they feel is the right fit for their approach and philosophy. I’ve always felt that the bottom line is to explore all of the available options for a comprehensive training approach — regardless of the verbiage used to describe it — and to incorporate as much variety and innovation as safely possible.

Developing a total body template

In terms of total volume per movement or body segment, it’s true that more can be scripted into a split template. However, the counter to that stance favoring the four-days-split versus the three-days-total-body is that each targeted area receives a growth stimulus three-days per week as opposed to two. Again, we’ve used both templates, and each has its advantages. My recommendation is to incorporate both at intermittent stages as part of your periodization cycle to prevent staleness and to stave off mental monotony.

The following is a sample script base that affords you the opportunity to choose movements that you prefer for each of the three non-consecutive training days. Movements that are not chosen on one day become options for the other two.

Remember, variety in exercise choices enables you to train in the various movement planes previously mentioned. It also assists in abating overtraining issues that commonly surface when too much volume is assigned to limited movement patterns.

For the sake of discussion, only sets are mentioned for each movement. Warm-up sets are not included in the total volume. Repetitions vary over the cycling period and usually start in the eight to 10 range. Every three weeks or so, these reps decrease by approximately two with the weights increasing for gradual, progressive overload. Neck work remains fairly standard — eight to 10 reps for two to three weeks, followed by a judicious increment of 2½ to 5 pounds and a reduction to six to eight reps.

  • Four-way neck machine (forward flexion, side flexion both ways, rear extension) for one to two sets in each direction. Perform on at least two of the three days.
  • Choose one: front squat, back squat, deadlift, split–squat or leg press. Three to four work sets of the chosen movement.
  • High pulls, power pulls or any preferred Olympic-style movement available in your overall plan for three to four work sets. The choice here can be substituted for the above movements on any given day.
  • Choose one: Nordic hamstrings, Romanian deadlifts, glute-ham raises or reverse “hypers” for two to three work sets. These can follow the last set of the compound movement choice above, or they can piggyback each succeeding set.
  • Choose one: supine bench press or incline press for three to four work sets.
  • Chin-ups, lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows or any type of machine row/pull for three to four work sets, which can be performed in succession after the last set of the chosen pressing movement, or in a press/pull, alternating format.
  • Additional core work, as well as any specific grip and ankle work, can be placed at this juncture.

Final rep

The above template encompasses around 23 total work sets on the high end, including vital neck work. If you choose the lower set prescription, the total work set volume is 18 work sets, minus core, grip and ankle work. Additional “finisher” work is up to coaches.

If four-days-a-week splits are depriving you the opportunity to insert other needed skill activities, or are becoming tedious and stale, give the three-days-a-week, total body script a test drive. It might prove to be the remedy you’re looking for.


TIP FROM THE TRENCHES: Movement selection

Here are some tips for choosing movements, which is usually dictated by your equipment or personal preferences and training philosophy. Choose at least one each of the following for most days, or insert it by the end of the training week.

  • A pressing movement that targets the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids and triceps. A classic bench press or incline press fits the bill here, and it can be performed with a multitude of modalities (e.g., barbell, dumbbells, machine chest press).
  • A pulling movement that targets the latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, middle trapezius, rhomboids and biceps.
  • An overhead pressing movement that targets deltoids, upper trapezius and triceps. This can be performed either standing or seated.
  • Direct deltoid and trapezius (i.e., shoulder flexion/extension, lateral abduction/adduction, posterior deltoid raises, shoulder shrugs and internal/external cuff rotations). These should be performed at minimum twice per week.
  • A compound movement for the lower body that simultaneously targets the major muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. Understand that the unique biomechanics of the hip and leg musculature result in the quadriceps producing extension at the knees, while the opposing hamstrings and gluteals produce extension at the hip joint. For these all-important areas, choose back squat, front squat, dumbbell/kettlebell squat, lunges/single leg squat variations or leg press.
  • Direct hamstring work with concurrent hip engagement via Romanian deadlifts, glute-ham raises or the Nordic movement should be evident at least twice per week.
  • Two to three core exercises targeting the rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae or transversospinalis.
  • Dedicated ankle work (inversion/eversion, plantar/dorsi flexion) and grip work should be performed at least once per week.

Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].


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