This is a guest post from Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS. Jim has been a collegiate strength coach, featured speaker at clinics, author of four book and produced four training DVDs. You can find more of his work at http://ultimatestrengthandconditioning.com.
Strength training program design can get very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. The bottom line is that you need to develop a well-rounded, comprehensive program that encourages hard work and progressive overload of the musculature. If those components are in place, you are well on your way to helping your athletes reap the benefits of a strength training program.ComprehensiveA strength training program should address every major muscle group in the body: chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, neck (for collision sports), abdominals, lower back, hips & glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Certain sports will focus more on a particular body part or require specialized work on smaller muscle groups (i.e. baseball pitchers will train the rotator cuff extensively), but all major muscle groups should be addressed. In general, an equal amount of work should be done on each side of a joint.Deficiencies can be overcome through strength training, but it generally takes specialized assessment to determine which muscles are deficient.Progressive
In order for any program to be effective, there must be a systematic and progressive overload of the musculature. In other words, athletes should systematically attempt to perform more work on a given exercise. For example, an athlete who can perform a maximum of 10 push-ups today should attempt to perform 11 repetitions at some point. When 11 can be performed, 12 should be attempted and so on.
Progress can be made through any of the following: increasing the number of repetitions, increasing the amount of weight, increasing the number of sets, increasing the number of training days per week, decreasing the amount of rest time between sets, or a combination of any of these.
One of the easiest approaches is called “double progression.” To use this method, start by determining a range of repetitions you are going to use, for example 6-10 reps. If the athlete is unable to perform at least 6 reps, the weight is too heavy. If more than 10 reps can be performed, the weight is too light. During each workout, one more rep should be attempted until the top of the range (10 reps in this case) can be performed. When the top of the range is achieved, the weight will be increased at the next workout by the smallest amount possible.
Other systems of progression include multiple sets of an exercises using different set & rep schemes. For example, the 10-8-6 method is where you use the same weight for sets of 10, 8 and 6 reps. When all three sets can be performed, you move the weight up. The same can be done with 3 x 8, 4 x 6, etc.
Other systems are based on percentages of a 1RM and appear to be very complicated to a novice lifter. These systems should be simplified so that any lifter can easily understand what he/she is supposed to do.
As long as you have a system of progressively challenging the athlete, his/her strength will increase.
How many sets?
The number of sets used on an exercise or within a complete workout can vary greatly, but the following guidelines can be used. In most cases, 1-3 sets will be performed for each exercise and 15-20 sets will be performed in the entire workout.
If fewer sets are used, each set should be performed with maximum intensity. In other words, the set should be taken to the point of momentary muscular fatigue, or no more reps can be performed. If the athletes are unable to perform with maximal intensity, it is generally a good idea to complete multiple sets of an exercise. There are certainly cases where more sets will be completed, but most of these programs will include several “easy” sets. The 15-20 set guideline refers to the number of “working,” or difficult sets.
How many reps?
While there is great debate of the number of repetitions that should be used in a set, it really should not be confusing. In general, it is recommended that 6-20 reps be performed on each set. While this is a large range, it offers a guideline in which to create smaller rep ranges from. It is best to choose ranges of 4-6 reps, such as 5-10, 8-12, 10-15, or 15-20.
As long as your program continually challenges the athlete to perform a greater amount of work, strength gains will be made. Any rep range will work. There are, however, some subtle differences between the benefits of each rep range.
Lower rep ranges (i.e. under 6 reps) will stimulate the nervous system to a greater extent, but actual tissue changes may be limited. Very heavy weight (relative to the athlete’s strength) must be used which can be potentially dangerous because athlete may have a tendency to use improper technique to lift the weight.
In general, it is unnecessary for most high school athletes to use weights that cannot be lifted at least 5 times with good form on a consistent basis. Prepubescent athletes should generally use weights that allow for at least 10 reps. Most programs that utilize very heavy weights are more geared toward powerlifting where strength demonstration is the goal. Some athletes need more of this, while some need less.
Some heavy or high volume programs offer the benefit of additional practice on each lift, making the athlete more skilled at the lift. This can greatly enhance many young athletes ability to lift heavier weight. There is certainly a place of this type of program in athletics as long as it is properly monitored so the weights don’t get too heavy too quickly.
Medium rep ranges (i.e. 6-10, 8-12, 10-15) offer the benefits of increasing strength, eliciting positive tissue changes, and allow for greater safety that very heavy weights. These rep ranges are recommended for most sets on most exercises.
Higher rep ranges (i.e. 15-20) offer the greatest results when muscular endurance is the goal. Endurance athletes may want to consider higher rep ranges. Young athletes or beginners may also consider higher rep ranges because it offers the offers the opportunity to practice good technique. Strength will still be gained with higher rep ranges.
How much weight?
Once a rep range is determined (for example 8-12 reps) selecting a weight is fairly easy. Have the athlete perform a set of as many reps as possible. If the athlete cannot perform at least 8 reps, the weight is too heavy and should be decreased at the next workout. If the athlete can perform more than 12 reps, the weight is too light and should be increased at the next workout.
Within 2-4 workouts, the optimal weight will be selected. This selection process gives the athletes the opportunity to practice technique and experiment with different resistances.
If you are using a percentage based program, it is easy to calculate a predicted max based of a maximum effort set of less than 10 reps. From there, future weights can be calculated with decent accuracy, but you can always deviate if necessary. Never forget that you are a coach, not a calculator.
How often should you train?
Selecting the number of training sessions per week is dependent upon many outside factors such as practice time, game schedule, outside activities, facility availability, etc. Generally, there will be more time available for strength training during the off-season than during a competitive season.
The following are some guidelines for the number of training days per week during different phases of the competitive cycle, with routine ideas in parenthesis:
Off-season: 2-4 days/week (2 or 3 total-body workouts per week T & Th, 2 upper & 2 lower body workouts/week M-T-Th-F or 3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines M-W-F)
Pre-season: 2-3 days/week (2 or 3 total-body workouts per week, or 3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines M-W-F)
In-season: 1-3 days/week (1- 3 total-body workouts per week, or 2-3 days/week alternating upper & lower body routines)
How long should the workout take?
Each strength training session should last 20-60 minutes. There is no reason for any high school strength workout to last more than 60 minutes on a regular basis.
Rest between sets should last about 1-2 minutes. This allows time for a partner to complete his/her set and the next exercise to be set up.
Work large muscles first
In general, the order of exercises should begin with the largest muscle groups and move to smaller muscle groups.
Large muscle groups include the chest, upper back, and hips & quads. Smaller muscle groups include the shoulders, arms, hamstrings, calves and abdominals.
An example of a total body routine would be:
- Hips & Quads
- Upper back
Any complex or explosive lifting should generally be done at the beginning of the workout when the athletes are fresh and able to fully concentrate on technique.
A workout routine should be changed at least every 4-12 weeks to offer new stressors to the body. This is a huge window because there is a high degree of variability between athletes. A change can be very small such as changing the rep range, changing the number of sets per exercise, adding a new exercise or two, or changing the order of exercises. Change can also consist of a completely new routine. Small changes are all the body needs to continually make progress so don’t feel that it is necessary to create brand new programs.
The process of changing the workout routine is called periodization. This can get very complicated, and there are entire books written on the subject. To get started on a strength training program, it is not necessary to understand the intricacies of periodization. For now, all that is important is to modify the workout at least every 4-12 weeks.
Changing the routine too often does not allow the muscular tissue time to gradually adapt to the stress. If the routine is changed too quickly, it is difficult to determine whether or not the routine is working. Building strength requires a great deal of patience and persistence, so encourage athletes to be diligent.
Variety, however, can often keep athletes engaged, so it is encouraged to offer something slightly different every couple of weeks. All this means is that every 2-3 weeks, you change one or two things about the program for that day. You can increase or decrease the number of reps on an exercise, add additional sets of an exercise, add 1-2 exercises, or give an unexpected day off. Anything to make the workout a little different for the day in an effort to keep the athletes engaged.
Off-season vs. Pre-season vs. In-season
The time of the year is going to create more differences in your program design than just about anything else. While this can get very complicated, once again you are encouraged to keep it simple. The major differences between the programs you will design for each “season” are as follows:
Off-season: The off-season is the best time to make strength gains because fewer physical demands are placed on the body at this time. Overall training volume will generally be increased during the off-season. This means that more days per week may be used, more sets of each exercise and more energy overall will be spent on strength than any other time of the year. In general athletes will train 2-4 days per week and use 14-30 total sets per workout.
Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning is generally de-emphasized during the off-season to allow more energy to be spent on gaining strength or the improvement of other deficiencies.
Pre-season: Strength training will continue through the pre-season, but the overall volume will gradually decrease as more time and energy are spend on conditioning or fitness. In general, strength training will consist of 2-3 days per week and 12-20 total sets per workout. The intensity of each set may be increased as the volume of work is decreased.
In-season: It is absolutely imperative that strength training be continued through the competitive season. The total volume of work will be reduced, so the relative intensity can be increased. The workouts will be less frequent and shorter in duration. Athletes should strength train at least one day per week, and no more than three days. Workouts will take 20-40 minutes with a total of 10-20 sets per workout, depending on the volume that was used during the pre-season.
The number of training days per week and volume of each workout will depend upon the competitive schedule and physical demands of the sport.
Decide what time of year it is, think about the facilities available, and consider which exercises you feel are most appropriate for you to teach and for your athletes to perform.
Quads & Hips: Pick 1-4 Exercises
Squat, Deadlift, Leg Press
Lunge Variations, DB/Trap Bar Deadlift, 3-D Lunges
Leg Extension, Glute/Ham Raise, Step Ups
Machine Squat, Airball Squat, Hip Flexion
Hip Extension, Hip Abduction, Hip Adduction
MR Squat, MR Hip Flex/Ext/Ab/Ad/Leg Ext, 1-Leg Squat
Front Squat, Split Squat, Hip Lifts
Hamstrings: Pick 1-2 Exercises
Leg Curl, Airball Leg Curl, RDL/Stiff-leg Deadlift
Glute/Ham Raise, Hyperextension, Nordic Hamstring
Calves: Pick 0-1 Exercise
Standing Calf Raise, Seated Calf Raise, 1-Leg Calf Raise
Machine Calf Raise, Donkey Calf Raise, MR Leg Curl
Chest: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Decline Bench Press
DB Bench Press, Incline DB Bench Press, Decline DB Bench Press
Machine Press, Dips, Push Ups
DB Flys, Machine Flys, Tubing Press/Flys
Upper Back: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Chin Ups, Pull Ups, Pulldown
DB Row Cable/Machine Row, Close Grip Pulldown
DB Pullover, Machine Pullover, Straight-Arm Pulldown
MR Row Shrugs
Shoulders: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Lateral Raise, Bent Over Raise, Military Press, Seated/Standing
DB Military Press, Machine Military Press, Front Raise
MR Lateral Raise/Front Raise/Bent Over Raise, Tube Raises
Internal Rotation, External Rotation, Empty Can/Thumbs Up Raise
Band Pull-A-Part, Curl & Press
Biceps: Pick 0-1 Exercise
Barbell Curl, DB Curl, Hammer Curl
Triceps: Pick 0-1 Exercise
Dips, Close Grip Press,Skullcrushers
Pushdowns, DB Overhead Extensions, MR Tri Extension
Forearms/Hands: Pick 0-2 Exercises
Wrist Curl, Wrist Extension, Reverse Curl
Wrist Roller, Farmers Walk, Pronation/Supination
Towel Chins, Gripper Plate Pinch
Abdominals/Low Back: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Sit Ups/Decline Crunches, Hanging Leg Raise
Twists, Planks, Side Core Hold
Back Extension, Superman Ab Rockers
Neck: Pick 1-3 Exercises
Machine Neck Flexion, Extension or Lateral Flexion
Manual Resistance Flexion, Extension or Lateral Flexion
Shrugs, Kelso Shrugs
Learn more about strength for your athletes at http://ultimatestrengthandconditioning.com.