A strength coach can’t just assign sets and reps to his or her athletes. The coach should also mandate the load as well. Anyone who has coached knows that a good coach can get his or her athletes to overpeform. When left to their own accord athletes might not get that extra push. Everything should be based off of a 1 rep. max and then the coach should assign a percentage of that max. The core exercises can be 1 rep max tested but for the ancillary exercise you can estimate using charts like this.
For the sake of this article let’s say that we are training a High School football team starting in the off-season. You would try to create different workouts based on positions but in a High School that is often tough to do. Players can switch positions quite often and many times their bodies are not developed enough to elicit much change in workouts types. Because you will be spending a lot of time on instruction in a High School setting it might be better off to create a uniform workout with the exception of the upper class-men who are more advanced in their training and have a clear position on the field.
On day number one I would test all my athletes in the squat, bench press, deadlift, and power clean. Of course this all depends on previous experience. If I felt a kid was not properly trained to perform these lifts then other precautions would have to be used. However, for athletic performance let’s assume that the athletes have experience and can safely perform the exercises given. If a kid is underdeveloped but has the lifting background then you could use a 3 rep. max to ensure safety. For example, in a High School setting before an off season program you 1 rep max test the Juniors and Seniors. However the freshman and Sophomores might not be able to handle the heavy loads and they could potentially injure themselves. For the younger kids you would have to separate them into trained and untrained. The untrained kids need to be taught biomechanics while the trained kids can proceed to testing.
The ancillary exercises that I had mentioned might be things like a bent over row or triceps extensions. These exercises don’t need to be tested and can be assigned a number of sets and reps with instructions of when to progress and when to back off. Remembering that not all training is linear. Sometimes a recovery workout is the best workout. If you continually increase the volume from week to week eventually gains will be compromised.
The further out from the season that lighter your 1 Rep max percentage can be. For example if you are in a 8 week macro-cycle and this is week 1 you might start at 60% of that 1 rep max. The athletes should do 10-15 reps with no more than 30 seconds recovery. Building up muscular endurance early on in the off-season will help the athletes to not burn out too quickly. In weeks 3-5 you can increase towards more of a strength workout. In a strength workout you would assign maybe 80-90% of the 1-rep. max. During this phase the athletes might do 6-8 reps for multiple sets with full recovery in between sets. In weeks 5-7 the athlete should adopt a power component to include lower reps. They might do 3-5 reps at 70-80% of the 1 rep. max with again full recovery in between sets. In the last week leading up to the season would be a good week to begin those recovery workouts that I previously mentioned. In this week the athletes would begin to perform their maintenance workouts. The intensity would decrease in order to prepare for the increased time spent with skill work in their respective coaches. This would also be a good time to add plenty of foam rolling and flexibility work to help the body recover fully.
As you can see that 1 rep max determined the loads of the exercises which determined the volume for each athlete. It is a vital factor to improve performance leading up to the season.
There are a lot of options out there for people who want to bring their fitness to the next level. There are personal trainers, strength coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, and even speed coaches. One of the things about all of these options that a lot of people don’t know is there are literally hundreds of certifications that will give these coaches their license to train you. Most of these certifications require you to do nothing more than pay a fee and they will send you a take home test with the text book. Once you pass the easiest test in the world you are a certified personal trainer. I would say that most personal trainers at one time had a certification. However, most of them are not current. They expire from year to year so if a trainer doesn’t want renew by taking continuing education credits then the certification will expire. Why does that matter to you? Well the fitness industry is always changing. There is new science and research all the time which should change the way a trainer approaches his or her clients. If a trainer is not staying current with their certification then they are probably using out of date procedures and potentially putting your health at risk. Or at the very least putting your progress at risk.
The first thing you should do when you sign up with a trainer is to ask the gym do they require their trainers to be certified. A little known dirty little secret in the fitness world is most “trainers” have no such type of current certification. A gym who employs trainers should pay for their continuing education credits or at the very least check annually. It is kind of don’t ask don’t tell because the gym owners don’t want to pay the extra money and neither do a lot of trainers. The general public has no idea what the “good” personal trainer certifications are versus the “bad” ones. So in most trainers’ eyes why should they be certified. I wouldn’t even take the trainer’s word for it. I would actually ask to see the sheet of paper that says they are certified. If you are paying good money you want every reassurance that your money is being spent on a quality professional who is dedicated to the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and the exercise sciences.
Now that you know about the dirty little secret that is rampant in the fitness industry you should be aware of which certifications to look for. These certifications are strenuous in nature and the exams are taken across the country at independent sites without the use of any study aids. Some of them have a prerequisite of a Bachelor or Science in a health science related field. Basically you need four years of undergraduate education to even take the test.
1. NSCA The National Strength and Conditioning Association has two distinctions. CSCS for training athletes and the NSCA – CPT for training the general population.
2. ACE American Council on Exercise.
3. ACSM. American Academy of Sports Medicine.
4. NASM. National Academy of Sports Medicine.
5. CI Cooper Institute.
Keep in mind even if your trainer says that they are certified in one of these categories, don’t hesitate to ask them to see the certification card. While it is impressive that they at one point passed these test and became certified they still should be staying up to date with their research.
Major League baseball recently mandated that all of their minor league strength coaches be certified CSCS and RSCC. No doubt this is to attempt to eliminate some of the shady characters who lurked around their clubhouses during the “steroid era.” Most of the Universities have full time strength and conditioning coaches for their athletic programs. The CSCS distinction is one of the largest governing bodies to certify these coaches. If a coach has two years working with and designing programs for athletic teams then he or she can earn the distinction of RSCC. There are also separate distinctions for ten years of staying current in that distinction and twenty. The trickle down effect has brought strength and conditioning to the High School level. During these years it is probably even more important to have a quality certified trainer working with these kids. Unfortunately, many High Schools just have a weight room supervisor or a member of the coaching staff supervising. If you suspect this is the case then you might be better off finding a facility near you that specializes in athletic performance. These facilities have popped up all throughout the country. Just make sure you ask to see that certification before signing up.
The dead-lift is the ultimate exercise for total body development. For years I avoided the dead-lift like it was the plague. I would do legs maybe once a week if I was in the mood. When I did lift my legs it was usually leg extensions, curls, calf raises, and if I was feeling crazy I would occasionally do squats. I think most people who lift weights on a regular basis probably feel the same way. In fact, a lot of my clients when asked to perform dead-lifts would rather go for a nice easy 8 mile run. The complete newbies who have never seen a dead-lift before think to themselves, “will this hurt my back.”
I recently began coming back to the dead-lift because I had a change in my mindset. I had always thought of the dead-lift as a knee dominant exercise that targeted the quads. As soon as I mentally made the switch and figured out that it was a hip dominant exercise that focused on the glutes I was hooked. The basis of all athletic movement is the glutes. Your glutes have to fire to push off while sprinting or to drive a golf ball 250 yards. The gutes are part of the “core” that everyone talks about. The core is not just your abs but your entire midsection, front and backside. All of the muscles that act on the spine to provide a basis for movement. When I was dead-lifting years ago I wasn’t doing them incorrectly. I just didn’t quite know how to complete the exercise. On the top of a well executed dead-lift you should squeeze your gutes. This is one of the keys that helps protect the lower back.
Another thing I have been doing recently is wearing my vibram five finger shoes on my leg days. The barefoot feel really gives the dead-lift an added dimension. Instead of your sneakers you can really feel your feet pushing into the ground evenly and forcefully. This recruits more muscle fibers and allows you to strengthen all of the muscles along your entire backside. The dead-lift doesn’t just work your glutes. It incorporates your fascia throughout your lower back which helps your entire back side feel like one unit. When you are in the top position you even use your scapula to pull down and engage the rotator cuff muscles and the lats.
Pound for pound there is no exercise that incorporates as many muscle fibers as the dead-lift. The more muscle fibers that are recruited to work the more energy your body will need. The dead-lift is great for people who want to add muscle and lose body fat. All athletes need to incorporate the dead-lift into their routine. However, it is not just an exercise for athletes. Any person who is interested in physical fitness and their appearance could greatly benefit from dead-lifting more frequently.
The single best athletic activity that athletes can do is yoga. Athletes put their bodies through grueling tough stress on a daily basis. Often they are doing the same movements over and over again. Imagine a baseball player who swings from the right hand side. He can develop an imbalance in his obliques, hip flexors, and lateral rotators of the hip. The largest and most often used of these is gluteus maximus. Sticking with the baseball theme, have you ever noticed that baseball players only run in one direction? Tightness in the hips can lead to not being able to change directions as quickly. A tight hipped athlete is a slow athlete. When you study any sport you will find areas where overuse injuries hinder athletic performance.
Yoga can also be used as part of a strength program. Especially for the older athlete who has spent many years developing their base with lifting weights. There is only so many times you can keep increasing the weights before something has to give. Take a look at my last post, “Mr. Universe doesn’t have a Jump shot”, to find out how I feel about single joint exercises and athletic performance. Anyone who has held a warrior 1 or a chair pose for a minute can tell you how tough yoga can be on your legs for muscular endurance and strength. One of the NBA greats Kareem Abdul Jabaar started doing yoga way before it was trendy in the 1970’s. He only played NBA basketball at 7 Feet tall until he was 42 years old. He ended his career as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Another more current NBA player is also a big fan of yoga for his workouts. Baron Davis of the Clippers is also a big fan of yoga. In 2007 Men’s Health magazine voted him as having the best body in professional sports. He has started kind of a trend among other NBA players by bringing in his personal coach Kent Katich to help his teammates understand the benefits.
A lot of times when someone brings up yoga the immediate response is not good. Men overall and athletes tend to think of yoga as not being too manly. Kent Katich has countered this with blaring hip hop music during his yoga sessions with the NBA’s Clippers. He also doesn’t refer to poses as their traditional yoga names such as fish pose and Crow pose. He instead just told the players how to place their bodies in the positions. Bend forward and touch your toes sounds better than swan dive to professional athletes.
Another person I am a big fan of is Mark Vergesten of Core Performance powered by Athletic Performance in Arizona. Mark is the director of player performance for the NFL player’s association. He has helped countless athletes get combine ready at his facility. His website has a section called Movement Prep. If you look at all of the videos you would realize they are all yoga poses. Taking your body through it’s full and natural range of motion will help stretch and lengthen tight tight areas that are in need of a makeover. Movement prep shows your body how it should be able to move. Most often for people who have never done it they quickly realize that their bodies don’t move that way. Competitive athletes should wonder why and try to fix these postural alignments. Once again for whatever reason the word yoga can bring about fear and hatred at the same time. Movement prep sounds more scientific. Athletes don’t have a problem doing movement prep.
A lot of people work out constantly. What makes some of them elite athletes and others just a step slower to react in athletic situations? Posture may be a key factor. Your body was designed a certain way. Throughout our lives this posture breaks down over time. Every day life can lead to a hunched and rounded upper body. It also can lead to a pelvis tilt which can be caused by tight hamstrings and can lead to lower back pain. In the time I have been sitting here typing this article I am hunched forward with my shoulders rounded toward the computer and an unnatural curve in my lower back. Many people spend their lives at desks writing or typing on a computer. Imagine what this does to our bodies. People who drive for a living and spend hours in a car often have short and tight hip flexors. This inhibits the ability of the glutes to fire properly which can stretch the lower back to a point of chronic pain. Athletes break down their bodies even more by their performance but everyday people also have postural issues as well. If you have pain in your lower back or you have limited movement in your shoulders behind your head you need to try yoga. Most elite athletes have their shoulders drawn back and a nice natural S curve in the spine. This represents a balanced athlete whose body is in it’s natural state and ready to perform. Our ancestors were hunters. They needed to run to get food to feed their families. When we bring our bodies back to that of our natural ancestors we can best perform. Yoga is something that every person should try and especially athletes should do on a regular basis.
Ever wonder why bodybuilders are never known for being great athletes? It’s because there is a difference in lifting for maximum definition and training for functional fitness. Sometimes athletes get so obsessed with their bodies looking good in the mirror they forget that rarely in sports and in life do muscles fire singularly. Not only do our muscles often work in groups but there is a thin layer of connective tissue called fascia. If you have ever cut into a piece of chicken just beneath the skin you may have seen this fascia. Until recently most scientists thought it was just another layer of gook that really served no major purpose when it comes to human performance and movement. In fact this connective tissue is interwoven throughout every major muscle in your body. It also helps connect each individual muscle fiber into bundles. It helps connect tendon to bone and bone to muscle. In fact the fascia is made of the same material as your skin and skeleton. It is just a different structure. Think ice to water. A study in 2008 found that the tissue even had conductive properties. When a trainer talks about muscles “firing” this fascia allows that to happen. This stuff almost wraps our bodies into one unit. Thus the reasons our bodies work as a unit instead of as individual muscles designed to flex and extend. Our bodies instead have what trainers refer to as a kinetic chain. For example, when a runner is having IT Band issues weak glutes are often the culprit. The glutes or in many runners cases the prirformis is a muscle running diagonally in the hip to but region. When this gets tight from running it can effect the IT Band and cause pain there. When the IT Band becomes inflamed the knee can start to hurt. So, if our bodies break down and feel pain as an overall unit then shouldn’t we train our bodies as an overall unit? Our bodies don’t recognize muscles, they recognize movement. Find a trainer who specializes in functional training and movement prep. Other than myself of course, I am a big fan of Core Performance. It is a website dedicated to athletic movement. It’s founder Mark Verstegen trains countless professional athletes for their sports and for combines and professional workouts. I would recommend the section called Movement Prep. It is a modern day version of stretching. A type of warmup that is designed to wake up the body’s fascia and release the tensions built up by the sport itself. If you are new to this I would recommend finding a trainer to help you execute these properly.