November 29, 2014 • Strength & Conditioning

Powerline: Tackling 2014’s biggest strength training questions

I’ve always enjoyed the ongoing interaction with Coach & Athletic Director readers over the past 15 years; it’s proved to be a great forum for the exchange of information. The opportunity to share ideas in this field — and to learn so many things from the readers — has really been a wonderful, worthwhile experience for me.

Every so often, I like to share a few of the most asked questions from the past year, as there are a wealth of issues, concerns and grey areas that are shared by more coaches than you might think.

In looking back at my notes, there were three distinct topics and questions that stood out in 2014. In this edition of Powerline, I will try to shed a little light on each of them.

Q: We have had more than our fair share of hamstring strains across a wide range of male and female sports in our high school. Is there anything we can be doing in the weight room to reduce their incidence and severity?

As with all injuries, there is no short list of absolute answers to addressing hamstring strains. However, as our staff has researched this particular issue, we have compiled what we feel is some workable, practical information and a comprehensive approach to addressing it. From strictly an anecdotal standpoint, we feel that we have made worthwhile strides in doing so.

Here are some of the procedures we implement during the course of a training week to address the hamstring group:

Hamstring Swing StartWarm-ups. A comprehensive warm-up/dynamics routine that involves raising the core temperature through the combination of leg swings against a wall, hurdle step over/under drills, a variety of high knee kicks/skips and walking lunges forward/laterally. This is followed by a dynamic stretch-band routine, in that we employ movement with the band that is wrapped around the foot, as opposed to merely holding a static stretch only. For example, the athlete will perform 10 to 12 leg swings with the band before extending it into a straight leg hamstring static stretch. After a 10-second static hold, 10 to 12 more leg swings are performed. It is basically a dynamic-static-dynamic protocol.


The two photos to the right illustrate the stretch-band leg swing.

Single-joint movements. We also employ what we feel are extremely important single-joint movements that result in engagement — both directly and indirectly — of the adjacent leg and hip compartments.

In no particular order, these include hamstring curls, hip adduction (i.e., compartments that draw the leg toward the midline of the body), hip abduction (i.e., compartments that draw the leg away from the midline of the body) and hip extension.

Nordic hamstring exercise. This is another excellent movement that requires no equipment, displayed by the two photos below on the left.

Nordic Ham StartA spotter holds the ankles firmly in place while the trainee performs a bent-knee, flat-back, controlled lowering phase for as far as he or she can perform without freefalling. At that point, the arms and hands can be straightened to a push-up position as the trainee eases to the floor.

The trainee then attempts to engage the hamstrings and hips and execute a positive leg curl motion back to the starting position. If a little push from the floor is required, that is fine, as long as the body posture remains intact. Over time, and with experience and increased strengthening, the athletes are able to perform the entire movement with very little push from the floor.
Nordic Ham Mid Range

Glute-ham raise. Finally, the full-range glute-ham raise, which is very close in technique and biomechanical execution to the nordic hamstring exercise, with the exception that it enables deeper torso flexion at mid-range, and thus the added dimension of a fuller-range hamstring stretch at the end of the eccentric (lowering) phase.

The aforementioned exercises — along with dedicated, incremental and properly administered jump/landing training — can be factors in abating ACL injuries. The hamstring group is instrumental in the stabilization of the knee joint, acting in concert as a joint compressor and restraint to anterior tibia motion, which are two vital components in reducing anterior shear forces and offering protection to the ACL.

Q: We have tried just about every lifting protocol available, yet we still have difficulty putting good, solid muscle weight on our prep football players. Can you help us fill in the blanks on what we might be missing?

High school athletes are notorious for being “hard gainers,” which is a common term used in this field to describe individuals who gain muscle weight at a snail’s pace. There are some very real age-related, physical reasons for this occurrence. In some cases, their interrelated skeletal, neuromuscular and hormonal systems are simply not ready for a high level or rate of growth and development.

That being said, there are definitely some guidelines that should assist in this process from both training and dietary perspectives.

Here are some baseline suggestions from a strength training standpoint. Regardless of your standard protocol/philosophy, try using a “high-tension” format once per week.

It looks like this:

• Choose primarily multi-joint exercises, or those that engage more than one joint and recruit the larger, more size-receptive musculature. Examples include the dead lift, front/back squats, leg press, lunges, bench/incline/military presses, lat pulldowns/rows, chin-ups and parallel dips.

• Using either an estimated or one rep max value, determine a percentage (approximately 75 to 85 percent) — or simply proceed through trial and error — for a weight that allows for six to 10 reps.

• Perform the reps in a fashion where the positive (raising) phase is executed with enough force to generate steady movement, but not so rapidly as to lose control. Execute a more controlled (three to four seconds) lowering phase to heighten the intensity and prolong the tension within the target musculature.

Check last month’s Powerline on the benefits of emphasizing negative work.

• If the weight selection is correct, the last few reps should be very difficult to perform without deterioration in technique.

• Fifteen to 20 total work sets can be performed in any arrangement you prefer. Multiple sets of the chosen exercises can be executed, or more exercises with reduced sets per movement are both viable options. For the most part, it all depends on which movements you want to spend the most time executing.

• Over time, a mixture of multiple set and limited set routines can be rotated for variety.

• Recovery periods between sets can range from two to three minutes in the initial stages and gradually reduced to 1 1/2 minutes as the athletes adjust and adapt to the metabolic intensity of the workouts.

Here are some nutritional guidelines that will assist in this process:

• Follow a “grazing pattern,” that includes several quality, nutrient-dense meals and snacks throughout the day, meaning every few hours and not just three times per day. Most athletes burn off way more calories than can be replaced — much less stacked-up for weight gain — with three square meals.

• Focus on a good combination of complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc.) as opposed to sugary, processed foods. Protein sources should be as lean as possible.

• Breakfast every morning of the week is a must. It is not an old wives’ tale; it is the most important meal of the day, if only from the fact that it may have been eight to 10 hours since your last meal.

• You must eat 30 to 60 minutes before a workout or you will not have the readily available energy to complete the workout with any degree of intensity. Something light, in the 250-kcal area, that has approximately 40 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of protein will do nicely. Obviously, it should not be a big meal. We call this the “Power Hour Pre-Workout.”

• We also encourage a “Power Hour Post-Workout,” which is also within 30 to 60 minutes following a training session. Recommended snacks here are in the 500-kcal area, providing a minimum of 75 grams of carbohydrate and 20 grams of protein.

• Drink 2 to 3 cups of fluids approximately four hours prior to hard training sessions. Drink approximately 4 to 8 oz. of cool fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during the actual training session. Electrolyte-laden sports drinks are recommended when training in hot humid conditions. After a training session or practice, drink 3 cups of fluid in a gradual manner for every pound of scale weight lost.

Q: Do you have any specific recommendations for both strength and overall conditioning procedures for younger (i.e., pre-adolescent/adolescent) players?

This is a topic that warrants serious discussion. Every single day, I receive a truckload of requests from coaches all across the country at various levels of play for some type of strength/conditioning material or advice. It is my duty and obligation to temper the information I disseminate with the health and wellbeing of the athletes to be trained at the forefront. Much of what we do at this level — with highly-trained, very athletically inclined, 18 to 22 year-olds — is not age-appropriate for middle school or even certain high school athletes.

It is critical that professionals in my field be aware of the guidelines set forth by pediatric sports medicine physicians. If you are currently in a situation where your training program is creating more injuries than it is preventing, especially at the earlier levels of competition, a comprehensive assessment and a subsequent overhaul are probably in order.

Here are some recommendations for youth strength and conditioning procedures:1

• Proper resistance techniques and inherent precautions should be taught and followed so that strength training programs for preadolescents are properly performed, safe and effective. Beginners should initiate a resistance program with body weight exercises and gradually progress to the use of lighter weight implements and machines.

• Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid heavy power lifting (e.g., one rep max or high load, low rep training) until they reach physical and skeletal maturity. Oftentimes, this doesn’t occur until the later teen years.

• Aerobic, anaerobic and sport-specific skill work should be included in the comprehensive training approach designed for young athletes. Developing a foundation of spatial and kinesthetic awareness (i.e., sensorimotor skills that involve body awareness in space, change of direction and coordinated mobility with responses to various cues and stimuli) is crucial in developing overall athletic skills.

• A general strength training program that addresses all of the major muscle groups through their biomechanical and structurally designed range of motion should be introduced.

• Any signs of illness or injury from strength training activities should be adequately evaluated by sports medicine and medical personnel before allowing resumption of the exercise program.

• Instruction on exercise techniques, progression, training frequency, workout duration and other training criteria should be administered by certified, qualified personnel.

• Athletes must be taught at a very young age the deleterious effects of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). If they are old enough to play sports and train, they are old enough to be educated on these harmful substances.

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


1. Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Pediatrics, 2008; 121: 835-840.

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