Strength and Conditioning for Field Sports
Every strength coach will tell you the same thing. If you are stronger, you are faster. That is a fact. However, there is one part of that equation which is left out. Your body weight. If you are stronger at the same weight then you are faster. For example, if a 200 pound athlete can squat 400 pounds he will be faster than a 200 pound athlete who can only squat 250 pounds. Acceleration is force divided by mass. So how does this change our training programs? Or Does it?
Football has always been ahead of the game when it come to strength and conditioning. They adapted it in the 1980’s under the legendary coach Boyd Eply at the University of Nebraska. Football athletes need to carry mass in order to take the pounding and at the same time they need to be as quick as possible. They need to take a large body and accelerate rapidly in a short amount of time.
While football set the standard other sports have slowly come along as well. It just took them a little longer. Sports like baseball, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, field hockey, ice hockey and many others now have combine type activities to measure levels of fitness in comparison to others in the same league.
So let’s get back to getting stronger. Speed is required for whatever sport you play. I can’t think of a sport where speed is a negative. However, for several sports body mass is a negative. You don’t often see 200 pound soccer players or lacrosse players. These field sports require more endurance and the large body mass will hurt that athlete on the playing field. But we still want them to get stronger. So the question becomes how do we get them stronger without adding mass and how much mass is an acceptable amount.
Now let’s get back to football and how they are ahead of everyone in strength and conditioning because they adopted it much earlier. There are a lot of strength and conditioning coaches that come from either a football background or a powerlifting background. That is why training needs to be sport specific and position specific. That is also why group classes or any gym that tries to to group athlete in large sections are missing the boat. Let’s take hockey for example. A defensemen might be able to carry a little more mass on his frame and does need to be adequately strong to take and dish out some hits. At the same time the forwards want to be as quick as possible and too much mass will count against them.
As a coach I know I can put 8-15 pounds on any athlete in a short amount time who has at least one year of training under their belt. I say one year of training because this program is going to require more advanced lifts such as squats and deadlifts. I have to make sure that the athlete is physically prepared to undertake such a program without risking injury. As long as I feel comfortable with that athlete alternating between high volumes of back squats and the other core lifts such as deadlifts, front squats, bench press, and pull-ups for maximum strength. 6 sets of 2 at about 80-85% seem to do the trick. Using this formula I can easily have an athlete put on that weight in 2 or 3 months.
So what about those previously mentioned field sport athletes who need to get stronger without putting on mass? Well there are two ways to do it in my experience:
The first is you can write long term programs into periodized blocks with an emphasis on an individual skill set for each block. For example if you have 8 months of training. You could do 8 periodized blocks where in two of those blocks you focus strictly on strength building. That leaves you with 6 blocks to dedicate to speed work, injury reduction, agility, power, and all the other qualities that are needed for that athlete. Two months out of an 8 month period will only serve to increase strength while reducing weight gain even if it is muscle gain. Overall mass whether it is muscle or fat will slow down the athlete as previously mentioned. Obviously muscle is the better of the two options. These two month long blocks will also serve as a metabolic boost which will increase the athlete’s testosterone levels and allow for lean tissue gains whereas if you had the athlete in a strength / hypertrophy program like I mentioned above for more than a few weeks you run the risk of slowing down the athlete and decreasing endurance capabilities.
The second way to do this is to get rid of the high volume days and instead focus your strength training on heavy weights as long as the athlete can handle it. Remember I recommend at least one year of training under their belt before attempting to go anywhere near a one rep max. The high volume days will serve as hypertrophy training which is what we don’t want. Remember we are looking for strength without size. So in scenario two we want to focus on speed training, deceleration, agility, injury reduction, power training, and strength all at once. On the strength days we want to be around 80% of a max and above for multiple sets of low reps. A good programs that I like is 6 sets of 2 @ 85% then on the last set do max reps. If you are able to get 5 reps you need to increase the weight.
A lot of times when an athlete goes to the gym by themselves or they just enlist the help of a personal trainer who uses bodybuilding style training methods. That athlete will often neglect speed training and conditioning. Once you develop a tolerance it is easy to just go to the gym and lift weights and do nothing else. However, when that happens you fall into the same trap of putting on mass and thus slowing you down. That is why you need to look for a certified strength and conditioning specialist who can help you create the ideal program for you. Just because a trainer is jacked and looks like a bodybuilder doesn’t mean that their training style is right for you. Think back to the example of a soccer player. Do soccer players need to look like football linebackers. Of course not!
At inception sports performance we create programs based on the individual’s evaluation as well as their sport and their positions within that sport. To find out more go to www.MyOffSeason.org