Powerline: Strength and conditioning checklist for success
Just as with all areas of your athletic program, there are high-priority targets in the strength and conditioning program that are considered to be staples. To some degree, they project the brand of your sport and the school you represent.
Refurbish the learning curve
Let’s begin with the highest priority; the competence and knowledge of the coaches who are organizing and administrating the program. Continuing education is a must for all coaches who are entrusted with the safety, welfare and progress of the athletes under their watch. There is simply too much going on in the physical training arena, both good and bad, to sit back and assume that you have a handle on everything. As coaches, it is our responsibility to provide athletes with the best possible information available on a host of variables that constitute a year-round strength and conditioning program.
Whenever possible, take your entire staff to at least one strength and conditioning seminar each year that provides expert commentary and analysis on all of the associated topics, including the following: sports nutrition, energy system/sport-specific conditioning, strength training methodologies and modalities, speed and agility development, motivational techniques and leadership development, and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Certification is another area that should be strongly encouraged. I adamantly recommend that at least one coach on each high school staff who is working directly with student-athletes in the training environment obtains certification with an accredited organization.
Beginning in August, accredited certification for collegiate strength and conditioning coaches will be mandated. In my opinion, we are not far from the day when at least one member of every high school coaching staff — preferably the individual who is most entrenched in the organization and administration of the strength and conditioning program — will be required by their respective state’s governing high school athletic association to be certified in this discipline.
In the best interest of the involved student-athletes, it should be a day that is welcomed and embraced by all.
Emphasize coaching, motivation
Closely related to the suggestions above, attentive coaching and motivation will do as much, if not more, for the success of your program as anything else you can imagine. These key ingredients serve as a segue to consistent gains and are requisites from a liability standpoint. Even after several years of teaching and indoctrination, a coach should never assume that all of the athletes have mastered the training procedures and possess the desire to attack them with commitment and dedication.
Additionally, it is our duty as coaches to direct all weight room operations with a keen eye focused on safety considerations and to ensure the right mental make-up of the participants. There is a huge difference between coaching and supervising. Everyone who is involved in the daily operation of the program should possess an in-depth knowledge of every aspect of its implementation.
In far too many instances, there is one person calling the shots with a large group of athletes, while a few assistants try to coach on the run with little or no fundamental background in what is being presented. This approach is a recipe for disaster, and it destroys the credibility of your program. Most significantly, it endangers the athletes under your watch and care.
To avoid this potentially hazardous situation, discuss the Xs and Os of the program design with your staff, and do not be satisfied with their retention level until they can teach the program to you, complete with the rationale that supports the benefits of every single activity. In our system, the graduate assistants and interns must teach/coach their delegated responsibilities to the full-time staff before they are permitted to do so with our athletes.
Here are some vital cues we stress to our staff and to each athlete to address this point:
• ‘Coach’ each athlete for the duration of every drill and set. It is the coach’s/training partner’s responsibility to make sure that all of the techniques and important safety guidelines are constantly emphasized. Don’t’ get caught in the trap of letting your guard down with the attitude that “they know what to do.” Communication must be a mainstay over the entire course of all workouts — lifting and running.
• Use the right motivational buttons. Every athlete responds differently to motivational strategies. Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It may take a while, but you must eventually unearth the approaches that get each athlete’s motor running in high gear.
• When spotting, provide appropriate assistance but do not perform unnecessary work. Allow the lifter to do the brunt of the task at hand and only offer as much physical help as is needed to safely complete the set. This applies to movements where spotter assistance is both applicable and practical (e.g., bench/incline press, back/front squats, various dumbbell movements and machine modalities, etc.).
• Don’t invade the lifter’s space unless necessary. For the most part, a training partner can keep a comfortable distance from the lifter, especially in-between sets. When it is time to step in and assist, do so with focus and positive reinforcement. Upon the completion of each set, instruction, technique corrections and other relevant feedback should be evident.
Competent coaching and motivational methods cultivate enthusiasm and heighten the concentration and intensity put forth in the workout. Even highly motivated, self-starter types benefit from coaches and teammates who exhibit a genuine interest in the betterment of everyone in the room or on the field.
If every single athlete trains with passion and purpose — and brings those qualities to his or her partner when spotting — an infrastructure of trust, unity and credibility is quickly built within the team.
Control the controllable factors
There are certainly enough factors in the physical improvement process that are out of our control (e.g., genetically-based road blocks), but there are enough controllable components for us to corral and use to our benefit.
Here is a short list of those manageable criteria:
• Train in a comprehensive fashion. In the weight room, all of the major muscle compartments (i.e., the neck region, legs/hips/low back, complete torso and arms) should be addressed during the course of a specified training period. Whether you choose to perform total body workouts, or have an affinity for split, upper/lower scripts, a blueprint must be established for training all of the aforementioned areas, even if the time frame for doing so expands to a week or two. Paying attention to this axiom will avert the onset of muscle compartment imbalances, which can prove to be detrimental over time.
The specific movements and modalities implemented to accomplish this goal are a personal preference, and this brings us to our next point.
• Make room for variety. Undoubtedly, you will have some preeminent tools, protocols and exercises that you feel are the cornerstones of your program. If this is the case, and you have research-based rationale in support, then by all means, stick with them. After all, it’s your ship, and you are ultimately responsible for the results accrued.
However, try to avoid looking through a straw when mapping out the training calendar and scripts within. Occasionally changing the movements, modalities, sets/reps, and exercise order keeps both coaches and athletes fresh and motivated.
• Have a progression plan. Progressive overload is the lifeblood of a training program, and it must be approached with a definitive plan and a good dose of common sense. See the Powerline column in the April 2015 edition of Coach and Athletic Director for some guidance in constructing your progression design.
• Expect a commitment to consistent training habits and a healthy lifestyle. Living “right” is as close to being the zenith of successful training requirements as you will find. Athletes cannot train with the required intensity and progressive work increments and achieve the desired results while concomitantly engaging in activities that are detrimental to them (e.g., alcohol and illicit drug abuse, poor nutritional habits, lack of consistent, quality sleep, etc.). Ongoing education with continual follow-up on these and other off-the-field issues should be woven into your program.
Remember, behavior dictates your team’s culture and chemistry. To nurture a positive, productive, unified, result-oriented culture that everyone involved can be truly proud of, the behavior of the student-athletes must be reflective of the values that lead to that end.
Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.