Training

Athlete Development: Having A Plan


Written by

by Eric Hammer

What drives me nuts as a strength and conditioning coach is when I see other strength and conditioning coaches not planning out their workouts. I’m not talking about specific sets and reps, or exercises (going up to the white board and just “shooting from the hip” is another topic for another article). I’m talking about the bigger picture – macro cycle, annual plan, or however long of a time frame you have to train your athletes. It may seem snobbish, or egotistical, but it drives me insane seeing professionals not plan training out other than think of what fancy exercise or crazy rep scheme they are going to use today or this week. In this article I want to illustrate a 4-part model in developing an athlete that has proven itself over the past 5-years. No matter how long or short of a time period you have with them you should be planning everything out. I also want to discuss how important the in-season planning process is with regards to a seamless integration with your sport coaches.

This model has taken time to develop over the past 4-5 years. I can say that with a few minor tweaks and changes it can be used with any sport as long as you can answer the following question – How strong is strong enough? . . . Or how fast is fast enough? . . . Or how fit is fit enough with your athletes? Having a working definition in your head with whatever population you are training is a key to progressing from phase to phase in the training process.

Stage 1- Assess and Correct. If you are familiar with Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey you have heard this saying before. I took their product and turned it into my first phase of my new annual plan. This is a shorter 2-3-week phase where I do a simple screen (Functional Movement Screen) and then put a general and individual corrective program into implementation within their workouts. When this step is done with precision it becomes the foundation upon which the athlete is built for the remainder of the off-season. Most athletes are beat to hell from the rigors of the countless hours of practices and games they just completed with this type of training – less intensity – more movement pattern integration provides a solid foundation to build upon. It also allows the athletes to get back into the weightroom and train because it provides a different adaptation to training. It’s important to clarify that performance and prevention are not mutually exclusive training goals involving or requiring separate methods. Rather, they are seamlessly integrated sharing the same common denominator – movement. So, improving movement (quality and control) should not only reduce the risk of injury, but provide a foundation for increased performance capacity. For this reason, assessing and correcting movement (patterns) is central to everything we do.

Stage 2–Base. Once solid movement patterns have been established and any deficiencies or asymmetries corrected, the next step is building work capacity. The role of a strength and conditioning program is not just to improve strength or conditioning, but to increase an athletes’ potential to produce energy. This increased capacity to produce energy provides the foundation for athletes to perform skills with greater force and velocity over time. How is capacity developed? Simply by gradually increasing volume over the course of the phase(s).  I am still building our workouts around multi-joint and multi-plane movements, but I am increasing the density of training by doing more work per unit of time.  This is accomplished through complexes and circuits where exercises are performed continuously with limited rest.  Manipulating time under tension (tempo) is another tactic used to increase work, and mixing in different modalities each workout. It is during this time that I also introduce the first phase of our speed development system. Movement 101 focuses on teaching basic linear and lateral movement mechanics. I’m always amazed at how many athletes do not know how to run!  Literally. They just run however their body decided felt best as they were growing upwhich most of the time it looks  horrible. During this phase we teach basic body positioning, leg action and arm action.  I also spend considerable time teaching deceleration and landing mechanics, since this is where most injuries occur.  I always focus on stopping and landing before we worry about starting and jumping. Finally, non-specific conditioning (energy systems training) is also done during this phase to develop each athletes’ aerobic capacity – no matter what sport they play!

Stage 3- Development. By the time I get to the development phase where the emphasis shifts to maximum strength and speed development, it’s important to note that the athletes’ have already gotten stronger, gained some weight and developed correct movement patterns with load. During this time they’ve established a solid foundation of movement quality and work capacity, and they’ve typically added a few pounds of lean mass.  They are ready to start pushing weight! Development is characterized by 3-4 days per week of heavier loading with a max strength emphasis. Within these workouts I place a secondary emphasis on speed-strength (or power). Since training is based around a conjugated method of periodization- I always trying to develop these qualities during this phase(s). Speed training during this time begins to focus on starting speed (0-10 yards) and acceleration speed (10-30 or even up to 60-yards).  Typically dedicate 30-45 minutes one day per week to linear speed, and a second day to lateral speed.  Within these workouts increase plyo volume and shift toward an emphasis of power output with plyo exercises. Finally, conditioning (ESD) during this time also shifts toward an anaerobic capacity emphasis, and is limited to 1 or 2 days per week at the end of workouts.  Having a plan is great, but also have a backup plan when you notice that your athletes are getting crushed by the intensity, and duration of this phase(s).In other words keep planning even when you are done planning.

Stage 4- Peak. By this time in training you should be shifting toward more specific work in all areas- lifting, movement training and conditioning.  Noticeable changes should be felt with this program in all areas. From duration, intensity, exercise selection, and even down to how the weekly micro-cycle is set up. Goals during this phase are specific speed and power that can transfer over to what the sport requires. Explosive and elastic exercises such as plyometrics, medicine balls throws, and dynamic strength movements predominate. Speed and quickness training is mostly game and position-specific with a reactive emphasis, and the conditioning (ESD) priority is anaerobic power and / or capacity. Understand that with this phase no matter what level of athlete you are coaching they are probably revving up their skill development more and more with each week culminating with the first day or official team practice, etc . Like last phase, have a plan, a backup plan, and a backup to your backup in case things start going south on you real quick.

Now that I have discussed the 4-stage model of athlete development I want to briefly go into in-season training. The in-season is the most critical time for strength and conditioning coaches because we play a major role in how a championship season both starts and finishes up.  Whether you are a soccer player or a track and field thrower the weight room can be the saving grace to your season. Unfortunately, many sport coaches still refrain from making a full and consistent commitment to the weight room during the competitive season. Too many times I’ve watched athletes work hard throughout the off-season and pre-season phases only to lose speed, strength and conditioning gains 6-weeks into their respective seasons.  Once this happens athletes are left more vulnerable to injury and overtraining, not to mention less effective on their field of play.

Nobody is arguing in-season priorities.  We all know that every athlete’s top priority in-season is the sport itself.  After all, they were not recruited to be weightlifters!  We’ve all heard that a time or two.  Yet, we all understand that the goal is to have every athlete at their mental, physical and tactical best at the end of the season when the most important games are being played.  This cannot happen without a commitment to consistent and effectively planned in-season training.

To avoid decay in physiological markers- including strength, power and conditioning- the sport performance coach needs to have a solid action plan.  This plan should be developed based on the specific physical and metabolic demands of the sport, and should be designed to compliment the work done on the field or court.  For example, if the sport involves considerable jumping and high-speed movement more of this is not needed in the weight room, but an emphasis on strength is.  If the sport is anaerobic in nature, emphasizing repeated high intensity bouts, then supplemental conditioning should emphasize aerobic work.  Finally, if movements in the sport repeatedly stress particular joints then appropriate stretching and corrective exercises need to be hammered.  A great example is the overhead throwing athlete and the need for emphasizing thoracic extension.

Beyond training details, in-season plans must also include a strategy for maintaining conditioning with non-starters, and optimizing regeneration for those players logging the most minutes.  And, most of all, in-season plans must be flexible.  Lifting days may need to be on weekends, or they may change week-to-week based on game and travel schedules.

In the end, it all comes down to a great working relationship between the sport coach and sports performance coach and continuous communication.  Being on the same page is critical and a willingness to trust and respect each others’ expertise is essential.

Eric Hammer is the Head Performance Coach at Derby City Crossfit in Louisville, Kentucky. He works with a vast range of cliental from competitive athletes at the professional, college, and high school levels to the weekend warriors and anyone in-between. Hammer has over 13 years of collegiate strength and conditioning experience at both the Division I and II levels working with nearly all sports the NCAA offers. Coach Hammer is a former professional strongman athlete with ASC, and has competitive experience as a former powerlifter and weightlifter. For further information regarding programming or on-line training, or other questions in general he can be reached at [email protected].

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