February 20, 2017 • Strength & Conditioning

Strength evaluation and assessment for the new year

The first steps into 2017 have been taken, and with them come time for assessment, reaffirmation and renewed commitment to achieving goals.

The day-to-day operation of a strength and conditioning program presents challenges and the need for troubleshooting strategies. Evaluation of the entire process is ongoing, and it requires more than just a passing glance every now and then. For these reasons alone, it should be included in the annual resolution rite, and I have some suggestions.

1. Collecting unwavering support.

Continue to secure acceptance and support from administration, coaches, parents and athletes. Maintaining open lines of communication with them is crucial, as they can be your allies in providing the type of support your program needs. Being as proactive as possible with regularly scheduled meetings, newsletters, emails, social media or blogs can galvanize school and community support.

Providing updates on the intricacies of your program is deeply appreciated by parents, not to mention prospective financial contributors. Some of these donors may not fully understand the importance of your work in this area, but with a little education, they may help you obtain some of that new equipment.

All of the administrators and coaches in your school should have a lucid appreciation for your efforts. It’s important to develop a common ground agenda for multisport athletes so that they are afforded the opportunity to benefit from strength training activities year-round — not only when participating in a sport with a coach who is in favor of the program. It has to be a universal endeavor.

Male and female athletes from all sports benefit from the infused power, increased flexibility, heightened muscular endurance, and the possible abatement of serious injuries. Also, as discussed in January’s Coach & Athletic Director, female athletes must be encouraged and afforded the same facility usage and expert instruction as male athletes.

Since the inception of Powerline, neck strengthening has been the most prominently addressed topic. With the decades that have ensued, more data on its importance has emerged, not only in deterring catastrophic cervical injuries, but also in providing protection against concussions.

Every sport where the head and neck region is at risk for collision or impact should have a year-round program of head and neck strengthening protocols in place.

2. Play to your strengths.

High school coaches constantly ask me what they should do in the strength program. My reply: “What do you know best?”

Some have an affinity for the Olympic-style lifts, or their close relatives, and will adamantly profess their virtues. Others are powerlifting enthusiasts, and they will expound their firm convictions on the big three — the bench press, back squat and dead lift.

Another faction leans toward the functional training wave, activities that are more specific to athletic movements. And, of course, there is the never-ending argument on equipment superiority (i.e., free weights, machines, functional implements).

Coaches eventually develop their own training approaches and make personal determinations on lifting priorities. My recommendations to any particular camp have always been:

  • Learn every aspect of your chosen design, and work diligently to teach the accompanying techniques with detail and precision. Too often I see strength programs haphazardly implemented with minimal instruction and lacking the constant feedback crucial to safe and effective training.
  • Make sure that your program is comprehensive and developed for achieving balance in developing the entire musculature.
  • In the name of those safety and productive outcome goals, it’s imperative that your staff approach and coach the strength training program with the same attention to detail and enthusiasm that is paid to the sport itself.

3. Train muscles and movements through multiple planes.

I’m sure you’ve heard squabbling over what should be emphasized in the training environment — muscles or movements. In my opinion, they are connected at the hip. Since muscles initiate movement, and movement requires this concert of muscle and bone action, they are interdependent.

As simple as that may sound, it rings true. And all of this is put into action in one of three basic movement planes:

  • Sagittal. Runs vertically through the body, dividing it into right and left segments.
  • Frontal. Runs vertically through the body, dividing it into anterior and posterior segments.
  • Transverse. Runs horizontally through the body, dividing it into superior (upper) and inferior (lower) segments.

» RELATED: Tips from the Trenches

Here is an easy template to follow to be assured of movement plane multiplicity:

  • Upper body. Choose at least two to three exercises each from the following movements: chest press, upper back pulls, high pulls and shoulder press. Vary the movement angles with vertical above the head, incline, horizontal, and vertical below the head (as with parallel dips). Two to three sets each of internal and external shoulder rotations for the rotator cuff should also be included.
  • Lower body. The key movements here are hip flexion and extension, using both multi- and single-joint exercises. Some staples are front/back squats, lunges (front, back and side), leg presses, glute/ham raises, abduction and adduction for the outer/inner thigh compartments, thigh flexion and extension, and ankle dorsi/plantar flexion, and rotation for the ankles.
  • Core. Provide work that engages the abdominal and low-back area. This should include the anterior, posterior and lateral compartments. Keep in mind that many of the multi-joint lower body movements mentioned above give at least indirect work to these areas through stabilization.

4. Allow for independently trained speed, agility and sport-specific sessions.

For the best results in any type of field work, the recommendation is to perform the activity as fresh as possible. Reducing the effects of neuromuscular fatigue prior to speed, agility or sport-specific drills enhances response and reaction times to various verbal or visual cues. Speed, agility and skill work are all separate entities within themselves, and each requires detailed precision in execution.

Quality is far more important than quantity, and — at least in the early stages of each — fatigue should not be the rate-limiting factor. Especially in speed training, the major premise is that it’s not a conditioning session but rather a focus on stance, start, body mechanics, stride length/frequency and top-speed repeats with full recovery.

Agility sessions normally begin very general in nature and progress to sport-specific or position skills. The drills that are specific are the ones that translate to practice and competition, so it’s imperative that a formatted plan is in place to reach that point. General change of direction activities (e.g., cone drills, line drills, wave drills) are great for teaching body posture, foot placement on cuts, transfer of power and acceleration/deceleration variables. They’re also great conditioners when performed in intervals.

There will come a time when the emphasis must shift to the body posture, footwork, cue responses, use of the sport’s implements, and other skills that prepare athletes for their sport or position.

5. Maintain clear safety procedures and guidelines.

Through information gathered and disseminated by staff, administrators, coaches, and a legal expert who has a background in sports law and litigation, a handbook on policies and procedures should be created. Within the handbook should be detailed requirements for the day-to-day operations of the facility with regard to the safety of those using it.

A safety orientation program should be mandatory for all newcomers, and a yearly review should be required for the veterans. Constant updates and reinforcement, both verbally and through signage, should be evident. Everyone using the facility — athletes, teachers, coaches, support staff — should be availed this instruction.

Many programs require a signed waiver from all participants indicating that they have been informed of all safety regulations, understand them, and are cognizant of the potential dangers and injury consequences if they fail to comply. I highly recommend such a waiver to offer a degree of protection to the participants, and to you and your school system in litigation circumstances. There is always an “assumption of risk” associated with the training environment, and while waivers do not always provide complete protection in injury/negligence cases, they solidify your attention to detail in safety matters and strengthen your defense.

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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