Tony DeMeo

Strength & Conditioning – Start up focus

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion over the last few years on what type of Strength & Conditioning program is best. This discussion will continue for some time to come; there is a constant, often changing evolving education process that that comes along with working in the Strength and Conditioning field. Your goal; as a Strength & Conditioning coach should be to create the most effective and efficient training program(s) possible. This can be hampered by your amount of equipment, the range of athletes that you are training at any one time, etc. What we can not allow as Strength & Conditioning coaches is for our learning process to become stale. Experiment with new ideas, exercises that are not your normal program, borrow from someone else, but don’t fall into the mentality of “this is the only way to do it”. That said, here are some tips (I have developed, and borrowed over the years) to keep in mind as you are putting together your program(s).

FRONT SQUATS ARE GREAT

No other single exercise demands more from the human body. Look at the muscle requirements to do this exercise; wrist, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle flexibility, lower back strength and core stability, balance, and the very obvious strength and power demands on the entirety of the lower body.

Front squats are a “butt kicker” of an exercise that can force an athlete to expend a lot of energy and increase hormonal responses that can improve strength; this can and will benefit every athlete’s strength training program. The weight’s position makes this exercise much more difficult than a traditional back squat; therefore, you don’t have to have as much weight on the bar to elicit the same type of strength gaining response from the athlete’s body. One more thing here to remember, the placement of the bar reduces the vertical stress you place on the spine, which over time will improve the health and longevity of your athlete’s.

SINGLE LIMB EXERCISES

Most exercises involve using both limbs in unison. Bench Press, squats, dead lifts, even the power clean all do this; we call the bilateral training. The majority of training programs focus on these types of training patterns which can result in the dominant limb having to negotiate more of the work load than you may think. Look at it this way; you have an athlete that can bench press 300 lbs. with ease, but he cannot mirror that lift with 150 dumbbells in each hand. Two reasons for this, (1) each limb is now required to work independently (something that may not be the norm) and (2) there is obviously a greater level of instability that is not present when training with a straight bar.

Unilateral (one limb isolation) training allows for the detection of existing weaknesses and imbalances. This will give you a opportunity to address that in your athlete’s workouts. The athlete will be able to gain strength which in turn will enable them to show improvement in bilateral lifts. Some examples of unilateral exercises are dumbbell push press, one are lat-pull downs, and single leg good mornings.

DO NOT FORGET THE HIPS

A large number of strength programs overly emphasize knee dominant exercises like squats, dead lifts, lunges, etc. and more often than not exercises like leg curls or leg extensions are used to “round out the program”. While each one of these exercises that are mentioned are great, they really don’t do anything for an athlete’s hamstring and gluteal function of hip extension. Making sure that you are addressing the hip area will also pay off in strengthening of the lower back too. Exercises like Romanian dead lifts (a personal favorite), good mornings, and back extensions will aide in addressing this area.

PUSH-PULL

Make sure that your program is doing as much of one as the other. Most programs tend to have more “Pushing” in them than “Pulling”. By investing time to even this out you assure that your athletes will have a better balance of muscle in size, and strength. This will also help you avoid injuries that are often associated with muscle imbalance of agonist’s (working muscle) and antagonists (muscle opposite of the working muscle).

Make sure that you are pushing & pulling in both planes of function. Horizontal plane exercises are for example, the bench press, and bent-over rows. Vertical plane exercises are for example, push press, pull ups, chin ups. Additionally, make sure that you are training your shoulders in all three planes of function too.

GET OFF THE GROUND

Core training doesn’t mean you have to be on the ground for hours. Core training major objective is to stabilize your torso. This stabilization occurs while you are standing, twisting, lifting, bending, etc. Doesn’t it make sense to spend time working on your core while in those positions then? Make sure that you are training your core rotationally and on many planes. This will do wonders for your core strength and your athlete’s stability. Make frequent use of weighted medicine balls in training your core.

COMBO LIFTS ARE AWESOME

Combination lifts are awesome. They involve combining two or more exercises in a pattern. You can gain some benefits like increased training volume, decreased training time, and better use of space and equipment. Combination lifts are also a great tool for metabolic training. A example of a combo lift is an Hang clean to a front squat.

CHANGE IT UP

Add variety to your program. Try some of the “Strongman” exercises like, the Farmer’s walk, car pushing/pulling, tire flipping, and sled drags are absolutely great. This type of variety can do a great job of helping to develop work capacity which in turn will yield results in the weight room. These exercises tend to require “total body” effort, thus it will increase the work capacity of you athlete’s. Try some of these exercises and see if your strength & stamina increases.

Well, there you have it. These are only tips, you may already do these things and that’s great. But if you are finding it hard to “make some gains” or struggling to put together “the right program” keep these tips in mind. You will see positive results if you do.

This article is by Michael Weeks, the Defensive Line Strength & Conditioning Coordinator of the University of Charleston