In the first part (http://dberninger.blogspot.com/2010/08/high-school-happenings.html) of this blog, I described a trip to my old high school. On this trip I observed some of the football team in their training and added my two cents where I thought was appropriate.
In this blog, I plan to take you through my thoughts on what is specifically needed for a solid, complete strength and conditioning program (not just at the HS level, but at all levels). This will include both HOW these should be implemented, and WHY they should be implemented. It should be noted that these are not in order of significance because they are all equally important in building a solid athlete.
THE List of Program Essentials
1) Assessments (Pre and Post)
This is the time when an athlete first comes in, whether for the first time ever or a returning player at the beginning of another season, and you must assess where they stand with various physiological, anatomical, and performance traits. A good idea for most coaches who don't know much about this would be to purchase Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screen items (http://www.functionalmovement.com/SITE/). Andrew Paul also has a great two-part article on his approach to a modified assessment protocol that suits his needs (http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/sports-training/a-strength-coach%E2%80%99s-guide-to-movement-assessment-part-1/) (http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/the-strength-coach%E2%80%99s-guide-to-movement-assessment-part-2/)
The assessment process helps the coach find an athlete's strength and flexibility imbalances, as well as helping to prevent injuries that would occur as a result of these imbalances. After all, if the coach finds these imbalances, he/she can prescribe the appropriate program to fix the problem areas. The performance areas that need to be assessed will depend on the sport for which the athletes are participating and that sport's physiological requirements. An example of a testing battery for football, after an appropriate warm-up, would be as follows:
1-Broad Jump 2-Vertical Jump 3-40 yd dash 4-Pro-agility 5-Power Clean 1-3RM 6-Squat 1RM 7-Bench 1RM 8-Deadlift 1RM
This is a lot for one day and can be broken into two testing days for better results. The same movements for both the Functional Movement Screen and the pre-tests should be done at the end of the season as a post-test as well. They could even be done during the season at some point. This is a good idea if the strength coach wishes to evaluate their program's effectiveness at different stages throughout the entire season. We all know tracking progress is a big part of the game and, in doing so, this allows us to evaluate if any changes need to be made in our programs.
Warming up could possibly be one of the most important components of a program. This includes warm-ups before any activity has begun, and warm-ups for specific lifts. Warm-ups are essential to do exactly as they are aptly named...to warm up your muscles. This makes the muscles that are to be used in activity more pliable and able to withstand repeated high-force contractions. Warming up also allows the joints to move in a greater range of motion once the muscles become more loose. Greater ranges of motion between joints benefit the athletes to be able to move in positions which they could not reach in a cold state. There are two types of warm-ups, general and specific.
General warm-ups are those that are performed before beginning any other activity. These can be done with many different exercises, as the main idea is to just get the blood flowing and the muscles warm (as stated above). It is a good idea to perform movements that involve the muscles and joints targeted for the exercises prescribed on that specific day. For example, a great way to start a training session, and one thing we do frequently at Synergy Sports and Performance, is to perform what we call the hip circuit. This circuit includes hip circles (forward and backward) and hydrants. We also like to do clams and glute bridges. Bret Contreras is well known for his glute activation techniques and I highly recommend reading any articles he has written on the subject. Once you're done with the hip circuit, you can move on to other general movements such as spiders, the world's greatest stretch (reach lunge), sumo squats, butt kickers, etc. The main thing is that the athletes are moving dynamically and all the joints and muscles that are to be used following the warm-up are targeted. The movements I described are types of dynamic stretches. Before activity, dynamic stretching has proven to be more effective than static stretching in research over the years. Static stretching is said to reduce the amount of force that a muscle can produce by way of a reduction of musculotendinous stiffness (Samuel, 2008). Therefore, it isn't a good idea to have athletes statically stretching before activity if force production is required.
Specific warm-ups are those that are performed before getting to the working sets of a lift. It is important that progressions of weight are not rushed too quickly or taken too slowly. If there are too few warm-up reps done before the working sets, the central nervous system may not be ready to perform up to standard (recruitment may be slow to respond). If there are too many warm-up reps done before the working sets, the CNS may be too exhausted, or there may not be enough ATP generation, to complete the working sets. Be smart with warm-up sets. It will take some playing around before you know what is good for you. Everyone is different and even your body can change how many warm-up sets are needed from day to day. Just make sure you listen to your body!
3) Balanced Training Program
As I've said, I believe many high school programs in this country are sorely lacking a good program. Though, not only are they lacking a "good" program, but some may not have a set program at all. I know my school did not. How can you have the athletes just coming in and doing whatever they want and expect to do well, or even prevent injuries from occurring? Having a balanced training program is dire to being successful in sport. This idea will encompass some of the individual ideas that follow in this article because this is the 'big picture' topic. This idea of a balanced training program means that all the ducks are lined up. The program involves all areas of performance and recovery. Following is a list of components that a balanced training program should have and WHY it is important to include these components.
Assessments - Mentioned above
Warm-ups and movement preparation - Mentioned above
Speed & Agility - It is important to include these components to ready the athlete for competition and develop these skills necessary to perform at a high level. These skills may include cutting, jumping, backpedaling, cone drills, sprinting of various types, etc. These are the types of movements many athletes become injured by performing. If we can have them performing these in a controlled environment, at first, and then progress to an open environment, we reduce the risk of injury. This is because their movement patterns to perform these specific movements become second nature. The point is that they are performing these movements regularly and not just lifting weights all of the time. Lifting is just one component to the overall scheme.
Lifting - This is obviously one of the most important components of the program. Without this component, athletes would not be able to develop the appropriate levels of strength and power necessary to perform at higher levels of competition. Whatever program template is used (Smolov, 5/3/1, Conjugate, German Volume, Sheiko, etc.), you must make sure that every muscle group is worked. This is not saying that muscle groups should be trained like bodybuilders, because I do not believe in that type of training for athletes. I believe movements have to be trained but, while training movements, each muscle group should be worked to an extent. I like to call this the 'No Muscle Left Behind' method of training. I'm not sure if anyone has coined that title yet, but I find it to be a good fit.
Agonists and antagonists (opposite muscle groups) should be trained equally. An example would be training the quadriceps and hamstrings groups equally, so a strength imbalance does not come about. Again, this is where injuries become more prevalent. Problem areas (areas that often are injured) of specific sports should be targeted. Again, the hamstrings can be used as an example. We often see hamstrings problems in many sports, usually because of a strength or flexibility issue. Erik Minor wrote a great article on hamstrings training (http://www.elitefts.com/documents/extreme_hamstrings.htm). Another problem area is the back. Obviously this is an area of the body that cannot be taken for granted. Eric Cressey wrote a great two-part article on T-Nation titled "Low Back Savers" (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_repair/lower_back_savers) & (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_repair/more_lower_back_savers). Also, any work done by Dr. Stuart McGill is a must read because of his expertise on this subject.
With lifting comes the ultimate possibility of volume, mixing sets and reps. How many sets and reps of this exercise, you may ask. It all depends on the sport and time of year. Are you in-season? Pre-season? Off season? I've seen a lot of times where coaches have their athletes performing what would normally be an off season program during the season. This isn't a good idea because in-season work should be devoted for more skill sessions and less lifting/training sessions. In other words, more time should be devoted to skill development during the season, and less time spent on strength/power development. The in-season is more of a maintenance phase in this regard. I believe more sport coaches need to understand this aspect of training. I also think it necessary to mention the weightlifting movements of the Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and their variations. These are explosive lifts that, if performed properly, can develop very powerful athletes. Many coaches do not use these lifts because they claim they take too long to teach, but I can assure you that if you have a qualified, knowledgeable coach come in and help out, it won't take more than 20-30 minutes to teach the basics. I urge you all to at least contemplate using some of these lifts in your program. You won't regret it! In the September 2009 issue of MILO, former Olympic team weightlifting coach, Jim Schmitz, wrote a great article titled "Twenty Reasons for Doing Olympic-style Weightlifting". It's a great read and very informative. Check it out if you're still skeptical on using the lifts in your program. I shouldn't have to mention the powerlifting movements, as these are what most coaches use in their programs. These movements should definitely be used as the base of the program, especially if used during a strength cycle.
Technique - This cannot be overlooked. Technique is a huge part of how athletes become better. We can call this movement efficiency. Basically, this is where an athlete's muscle physiology becomes more adept at performing. The same movements can be made with less effort and less energy expenditure, saving energy for other movements. Dr. Michael Yessis provides a further explanation of movement efficiency in his blog (http://www.dryessis.com/wp/?p=328#more-328). Not only will improved technique help performance, but it will also help prevent injury. By being in the correct position, the athlete shifts the stresses of the weight to the correct areas of the body that can handle said stresses, limiting potential injury. Another point worth mentioning is the quality of a repetition. Yes, I'm talking about each rep in the program. I talk about this later, but EVERY rep should be treated as it's own set. This way concentration and technique are high, and risk of injury is low.
Flexibility and Mobility - Mentioned below
Conditioning - Mentioned below
Recovery - Mentioned below
Details - Paying attention to the small things is what separates the champions from the rest of the pack, so to speak. From time to time a coach will have a few athletes that are just "not feeling it" on that particular training day. They must allow these athletes to deviate from the scheduled plan a little. This way they can bounce back from whatever is bothering them...physically and psychologically. A few days of rest or lighter work load could mean the difference between the worst and best performance of an athlete's career. This is part of monitoring all of the athletes' day to day conditions, which is a good way to make sure none of them fall into a state of overtraining syndrome, or burnout. These cases are fairly rare, but they can and do happen. Remember, it never hurts to ask how your athletes are feeling on a daily basis. You just have to trust they will be honest with you!
Personal Equipment - It is generally difficult to prescribe programs that utilize more expensive equipment, or equipment bought in bulk, to those schools that can't afford it. However, it is much more affordable to ask that individuals buy their own equipment. This equipment may include knee sleeves/wraps, lifting shoes, wrist wraps, lifting straps, chalk, tape, etc. You get the idea...in the long run, it is much more affordable this way.
4) Proper Progressions
You've all seen this happen, but I'll paint the picture.
Dan, comes in with a friend, Josh, and they are squatting. Dan has never squatted a day in his life, and Josh has been squatting for 2+ years. They immediately put 135lbs on the bar, without any type of warm-up. Now, Josh has no problem with this, but Dan has never worked so hard in his life.
This is what should have happened:
Dan and Josh come in and perform a general warm-up for about 10 minutes, after which they perform a specific warm-up of squats. This is where they deviate because Dan is so far behind Josh. Josh should be teaching Dan how to squat with bodyweight, progressing to a stick, and then to the bar. This is all before adding any weight! Josh would then perform his specific warm-up, squatting with the bar, then adding weight as his warm-ups progress. In the meantime, Dan is still getting the basic movement pattern down with the empty bar.
Big weight will come, but athletes have to realize they must be able to properly perform the movement before they add massive amounts of weight to the bar. Progressing in this nature will not only help motor function, but will also provide another way to stave off injury. Progressions do not always have to be with the same exercise either. Maybe an athlete's goal is to be able to learn the proper flat bench technique, but has never done any kind of bench work. You might use a progression such as push-ups, barbell floor press, barbell bench press. There is really no set progressions that have to be used because every person learns at a different rate and by different methods. Therefore, you can be as creative or simple as you want, as long as the athlete is able to come to their final goal.
5) Specific Conditioning
This is an important topic to discuss because so many coaches these days use conditioning as punishment. Remember that activity depends on what energy system one is primarily utilizing. If all the energy systems are tapped because the team had to run gassers for the first part of practice, how can a coach expect his/her players to perform at their best? I believe other forms of punishment should be used, so as to not affect performance in practice and game situations.
On another note, I say "specific conditioning" because that is what conditioning needs to be...specific. Specific to the sport being played. If a football play lasts an average of 3-5 seconds, why would a coach have his/her players running around the track for long periods of time, at a slow pace none-the-less? I have actually seen, and been a part, of this type of absurd conditioning! This is not specific at all! Those players might as well trade their pads in for some track shorts and run the mile. What I'm getting at is that in order to develop the energy systems used for that specific sport (football = ATP & creatine phosphate), you must have the athletes performing the activities that specifically utilize these systems. Rest is also a key factor in developing these systems. A work:rest of 1:4-5 is generally used for sprinting activities in order to regain the energy substrates needed for the next sprint. In order to improve overall conditioning, the rest can be manipulated (shortened). In this way, the athlete is working harder, but still utilizing the primary energy system the most. Whatever kind of conditioning you choose, make sure it matches the time and speed at which the sport is played. Also, make sure the rest periods are appropriate to what you are trying to accomplish (improved work capacity vs. speed/agility/acceleration).
Recovery is such a HUGE component of a training program it could have it's own week of articles. Recovering from prior training allows the athlete to work harder in the present training session. This leads to greater intensity, enhancing the impact of adaptation for that specific training session. Recovery weeks (deload weeks) should also be scheduled to allow the athlete to recover before beginning new phases of higher intensity training. There are many types of recovery methods known today. Some may work better for person A than person B. As in training, people recover differently as well. Again, this is something the individual must use trial and error with to find what works best for them. Some of these methods include ice baths, water contrast therapy, analgesics, ART, massages, compression clothing, and many more. For more information, consult Bishop et. al., who wrote an interesting review article on recovery from training.
7) Concentration & Awareness
This is a big pet-peeve of mine, and should be of most coaches. Here is the scenario...you have an athlete that comes in for training and every five minutes they walk over to check their phone. Really?! Not only is this distracting to their training and progression, but it is distracting to their teammates as well. This activity should not be allowed in any training facility. Cell phones should be checked at the door, so as not to get in the way of valuable time the athletes could be using to adapt to hard training. This is a piece of concentrating on what should be done in the training facility. Next, concentration on EVERY rep of EVERY set. Reminding athletes that every rep counts helps their overall development and technique to execute exercises. If they start to drift off and just go through the motions, their risk of injury vastly increases.
Awareness deals with the athlete's attention to what is happening around them. This is especially important if the training facility has weightlifting platforms where the weightlifting movements (Snatch and Clean and Jerk) are being performed. Many, many times I have seen younger athletes walking right across the side of a platform while another was getting ready to lift, bar-in-hand. This amazes me! What could possibly be going through their mind to think "I could just cut right through here...they won't mind". It's not so much of an etiquette thing (even though it really is), but more of a safety issue. This is extremely dangerous, especially if the bar is loaded heavier and the lifter happens to catch the person walking across the platform while in the middle of the lift. It is dangerous for both parties, and this is something that can definitely be avoided. Safety should always be kept in mind in all facets of training!
I will touch on this briefly. I believe flexibility is important to keep the range of motion appropriate for most athletic movements and to keep muscle imbalances at bay. Many of us know if one muscle is tight, it's antagonist will shut down. The most popular occurrence is that of tight hip flexors causing the glutes to weakly contract. For situations such as this, stretching MUST be done. However, if an athlete does not feel tight anywhere, and does not show signs of tightness in movement screens, I believe full ROM movement and foam rolling can keep flexibility levels relatively stable.
9) Proper Nutrition
This topic is a no-brainer for most of us. To continue to progress performance, the athlete must be consuming the correct foods (and the correct amounts). Too many times I have seen high school athletes eating garbage for their pre-game or pre-training meals. It is not a preference for most of them, but just a habit because most don't know any better. I'm positive if they were more knowledgeable in the subject, they would make a better attempt to consume smarter foods. As coaches, we can sit the team down and educate them on what, and what not, to eat before training and games, as well as after these events. Always, always push water on the athletes! Hydration is also very important to performance. It would be a wise decision to guide athletes in their eating habits for all other times of the day as well. But, if we had to just pick a couple of times during the day, those times around performances would be the most important. There are many great sources to choose from here (http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?cid=136)
I believe support from teammates and coaches is a HUGE part of success in a strength and conditioning program. This support drives competitiveness between players of the entire team and within the same positions. Without that competitive edge, many players would just go through the motions, never getting better. We don't want that, do we? Some things that may help teams struggling to support each other are as follows:
1-Events outside of football (i.e., team dinners, movies, etc.)
2-Fund raisers for the team
3-Raising funds for the community
With this bonding, the coach will start to see attitudes of the players begin to change for the better. This is especially true for players who did not really know each other before joining the team. As they get to know each other, they will become part of the team's 'family', and will behave accordingly. This is when you see players protecting each other on and off the field, as if they are a family. Once this happens, team chemistry is on high and support becomes second nature.
11) Competency of coach
The players will follow what their coaches have to say. If the coach is not willing to educate him/herself enough to better the team, the team will not progress. This is half the battle with many schools that don't have the equipment or other resources (strength coaches) necessary to get better. Some teams can get by with coaches that don't give them enough guidance because they have the equipment available to them to goof around and halfway train. But the teams who have a program in place with a knowledgeable coach will always out-perform the other teams. If you are a coach, do yourself a favor for your team's sake and read up on training every once and awhile. At least enough to put a program in place.
Thanks for reading! Most of you probably already knew most of this, but if I reached even one coach that will use this information, I've done my job. Knowledge is power! Train hard, train smart, get strong!
Bishop, P.A., E. Jones, and A.K. Woods (2008). Recovery from training: A brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), 1015-1024.
Samuel, M.N., W.R. Holcomb, M.A. Guadagnoli, M.D. Rubley, and H. Wallmann (2008). Acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on measures of strength and power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(5), 1422-1428.