January 10, 2018 • Strength & Conditioning

Powerline: Reminders for the winter strength training program

January marks the beginning of the offseason training program for many fall sports, thus prompting me to offer some suggestions for planning it in this Powerline installment.

Depending upon postseason play, many programs start their winter training programs either directly after the holiday break, or soon thereafter. By late January or early February, just about every program is up and running. The November/December edition of Coach & Athletic Director offered suggestions for safely and judiciously reintroducing athletes to training after an extended layoff.

At Michigan State, our first order of business following the Christmas break is to crank-up the lifting sessions. The bowl situation plays a role in how soon we start, so in the case of a late December or January game, we start our programming later.

Usually, we afford athletes an additional week or so after the first day of classes to get their academic schedules in order. We also must be in-line with the NCAA-mandated discretionary period.

Here are the points of emphasis needing to be addressed at this juncture.


Several options are available, with none having a distinct advantage over the other. Some coaches prefer total body workouts performed on non-consecutive days for recovery purposes, or allowing the option to use non-lifting days for other aspects of the program — conditioning, speed mechanics, agility training or skill-specific work.

Others prefer a split arrangement, where upper and lower (core) segments are separated and executed in a four-day-a-week schematic with one day set aside as a rest and rejuvenation day.

Another tactic calls for a combination of both approaches, which may look like this: Total body on Monday, Tuesday off, Wednesday upper body, Thursday lower body and Friday off.

As the running elevates later in the program, you may have to make adjustments in the lifting frequency or scheduled days to accommodate recovery. 

Volume and duration

Since one usually dictates the other, I typically combine them for discussion. Once the frequency and format are established, you can then plug-in the exercise and set scripts.

Two athletes working in tandem on a 15- to 20-set lifting script should be able to complete the workout in approximately 60 to 70 minutes. The two major determinants are set duration and respites between sets.

Experienced, well-conditioned athletes with an aggressive mindset and focused training approach tend to take less recovery between sets and exercises. Coaches must understand that it takes some time before your athletes reach that level, especially in this early phase. Longer respites between set/exercise are required in the early lifting phase (two to three minutes), and they should be afforded.

Repetition targets and ranges can vary, with the higher rep/lower weight protocols implemented at the onset of the program (e.g., in the eight to 10 range). As the program progresses, a periodization or cycling format calls for gradually reducing reps and increasing weight. Two to three weeks at a set rep target or range is usually standard for adaptation before making a change. However, keep in mind that not all athletes progress at the same rate or to the same level, so an individual approach should be in effect.


The choices here are predicated on personal philosophy, background and preferences. In previous Powerline installments, we’ve discussed a wide array of exercise prescriptions, equipment considerations, and the advantages of implementing both multi- and single-joint movements to build a strong, comprehensive training package.

Coaches should realize that it’s their duty and ultimate responsibility to train their athletes with the utmost care and diligence. At the very least, attention must be given to every safety aspect of the chosen lifting protocol with the inclusion of a comprehensive risk/benefit analysis.

I do not subscribe to any specific lift or composite of lifts as “superior” in athletic development. While I’m a firm believer in a high-percentage multi-joint movement approach, it’s my opinion that single-joint movements have their place. This is especially true for the major compartments of the neck, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.


We have patterned the equipment selection in the Michigan State weight room after many of the NFL facilities we’ve visited. Most NFL weight rooms are extremely diverse from an equipment standpoint. There are three major reasons for this:

  • The need to accommodate player preferences.
  • To offer enough variety to keep training sessions fresh.
  • To meet the special needs of injured players.

I suggest that you keep an open mind to equipment choices. If any one type of equipment had been determined by consensus to be the “end-all be-all,” no other type of equipment would be worthy of existence. Equipment should be safe, functional, result-producing, durable and accommodating to all who use your facility. Anything less does a disservice to your athletes. You should consider it a blessing that there are a lot of excellent equipment choices on the market that meet those criteria.

It’s important to be discerning, ask questions, get all claims verified and expect the company to stand behind those claims in writing. But you must be willing to listen.

Coaching and supervision

Everyone involved in the day-to-day operation of the program should be thoroughly knowledgeable in every aspect of its implementation. Far too often, we see 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’s being taught

I’ve discussed the importance of certification, and I adamantly encourage everyone at the high school level to seek and hire at least one individual who has the proper credentials to run the strength and conditioning program. This involves an accredited certification in the specific discipline of strength and conditioning. In due time, it’s my hope that each state’s high school athletic association requires such a credentials, just as we do at the collegiate level.

In the case of a sport’s head coach — or the person designated as coordinator of the offseason program — it is your duty to take time to coach the staff on the finer details of every movement to be performed. Doing this assures confidence in their ability to run the program seamlessly in your absence.  

Discuss the Xs/Os of your program design with the staff, and do not be satisfied with their retention until they can teach the program to you, complete with the rationale supporting the perceived benefits of every single activity. Before I feel confident in turning the teaching reins of an activity or movement over to one of our interns or graduate assistants, they must teach it to me and convince me of its worth.

Never leave the weight room, or any organized workout session, unattended for a single minute. Failure to supervise a workout session in its entirety puts the athletes in harm’s way and could place you, as the primary supervisor, in a litigious situation should someone sustain a serious injury.

Final rep

The modern training landscape has forged a double-edged sword for coaches regarding methodologies and equipment. We owe it to the young people entrusted to us by their parents to offer the safest, most efficient and productive training approach available.

This process requires a little homework on your part, but it’s time well-spent. It’s our duty to calculate and evaluate every segment of the program on a consistent basis.

In the seemingly unending quest to find new and improved avenues for increasing size, strength, speed and power in athletes, there is a tendency to fall prey to the noise and abandon the basics. My suggestion is to question everything for the sake of your athletes. If you don’t, who will?

Ken Mannie is the head strength/conditioning coach at Michigan State University. To contact him about this topic or anything else you’ve read in Powerline, send him an email at [email protected].


TIP FROM THE TRENCHES: Reaffirming your offseason culture

The offseason is for more than just physical development; it’s a prime time to make a statement on the expectations for the team’s culture. This includes striving for academic excellence, relationships with team members and coaches, off-the-field behavior, leadership development, and adhering to team standards.

It’s all about clarity; clearly defining each of these areas so there are no grey areas. And that clarity must be evident in the following areas:

  • Capabilities. Athletes must believe that they have the skills to get the job done. These are not just restricted to physical skills, but also mental and psychological skills. Coaches should meet with each player individually and highlight the strengths each has, and how important it is to bring those strengths to bear for the team. Some may not have great physical skills, but they are mentally tough and have leadership qualities that can be invaluable. Encourage them to use these talents in a positive manner. Talk about the areas needing improvement, but do so in a positive, educating manner.
  • Expectations. The team needs to establish expectations, write down goals and assess those goals consistently. As a coach, be very clear on what you expect from them in every facet of the program. Talk about the expected outcomes of the offseason program, the summer months and the upcoming season itself. More importantly, lay out the strategies for achieving those outcomes.
  • Accountability. Discuss how the team is held to high standards. Make it clear that accountability is a mainstay in the program, and that everyone is held to the fire to conduct themselves accordingly. Nothing destroys a team more than a rulebook that is not applied to everyone. Playing favorites, or allowing certain players to slide when a standard is violated, is transparent and acidic to the team culture.
  • Feedback. Open and honest feedback is critical. Discussions on how things can be made even better should be ongoing. Open communication from player to player, and player to coach, are paramount components in developing a sturdy and trusting culture. This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get their way when a suggestion is made, but knowing that everyone is welcome to troubleshoot problems and offer suggestions nurtures a sense of ownership in the program.
  • Consequences. This does not just apply to negative situations, but also in rewarding those who excel. Conversely, for those who find it difficult to uphold the team culture and standards on a repetitive basis, a point of no return must be established. Failure to do so undermines the entire foundation of the team. It’s imperative that all team members, and their parents, fully understand the policies, procedures and established standards. And there must be no mistake about the possible consequences of violating them.

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