The goal of an athletes weightlifting program is not to lift the most weight possible. Rather, it is to build transferable strength for improved performance on the field while limiting potential for injury. This statement is the foundation for everything we do when it comes to programming strength training for on field and court performance.
I’d like to take a few minutes to outline the key factors that dictate how we program strength training programs for the athletes who come train with us. While programming here at our facility is tailored specifically to the athlete, the templates below are a very good look at what goes on here.
What I’d like you to keep in mind, is that athletes compete on the field and the court, not in the squat rack or on the platform. Again, athletes compete on the field and the court, not in the squat rack or on the platform. Squatting 500 lbs is super cool, but for a field athlete, leading your team to the championship and scoring 4 goals there is way cooler.
Before we get to the templates, let’s discuss a few things we take into consideration when designing strength training programs for athletic performance.
Balance Across Movement Patterns
What you’ll see when you look at the programs below is balance across all of the major movement patterns that we have decided are most important for sports performance. For every push there is a pull, for every horizontal movement there is a vertical movement, for every squat there is a hinge, etc. It is extremely important to maintain balance across joints and movements to ensure that the athleticism we build can be maintained through a full season of competitive play with as much resistance to injury as possible. So what are the patterns we feel are most important? Squat, Hinge, Lunge, Bridge/Curl, Vertical Push, Vertical Pull, Horizontal Push, Horizontal Pull.
Balance Between Unilateral and Bilateral Exercise Options
What you’ll see in our templates below is that for every movement pattern included, there is both a unilateral and bilateral component to be trained. I do appreciate when coaches have strong beliefs in their systems but I cannot seem to find a reason to need to choose between training bilaterally or unilaterally. Of course some athletes may need to remove bilateral options because of back pain and some other athletes may need to remove unilateral lunge patterns because of hip pain. Limitations in mobility, stability, body types, sport and injury history, etc will all play a role in exercise selection. Regardless, it is my opinion that the template should include both and then be modified from there based on needs. To me, it just makes sense for an athlete to want to be strong on both limbs as well as on one limb. Your athletes and the context of your situation may lead you to need/want to use either one as the primary training method, and that is perfectly reasonable.
Keep It Safe, Keep It Effective
When choosing exercises to fill our movement categories, we we look for movements that give us the most positive upside in terms of strength development, and the smallest downside in terms of potential harm. For example, I do not dislike back squatting. However, I feel that for most athletes, the goblet squat does the trick just fine to develop strength in the bilateral squatting pattern, while limiting potential damage to the shoulders and lower back. The same point stands for Straight Bar Deadlifting vs Kettlebell(KB) Hip Hinging, as well as Barbell Overhead Pressing vs Half-Kneeling KB Pressing. What we are looking for here is the smallest stress on the athletes body possible that still elicits a positive response in strength gains. In other words, what is the safest possible exercise that will still get the athlete strong and improve performance on the field. To stick on a similar wavelength, you’ll see that we choose grips for the same reason. We use chin-ups rather than pull-ups and take a neutral grip on all pressing and rowing variations to protect the shoulders.
Make It Functional, Not A Circus
The debate between coaches on this topic is becoming a favorite of mine. One side says that if you are not using a barbell to build strength then you are wasting the athletes time and getting nothing out of it (they probably reference Russian Training Manuals that they have never actually read as well), while the other side has athletes balancing on a wobble board tossing a medicine ball at a trampoline thinking the athlete is improving functional strength. Why is there no middle ground?
I take the stance that the exercises chosen should be functional, while making sure that the stress applied is one that requires the athletes’ body to adapt by gaining strength and increasing in size. While we may believe that the 2 KB Rack Squat allows athletes to achieve better, safer positions than a barbell back squat, it doesn’t mean we don’t load it up and go to work. Throw two 32kg KB’s up on your shoulders and do four sets of six squats. Don’t think you are building strength?
Further, rather than doing barbell bent over rows which I feel can put unnecessary strain on the lower back, why can’t we do TRX Rows? TRX Rows are typically programmed with such minimal intensity that people tend to think they are wimpy. There are several ways to progress them for even the highest level athletes. Try them with feet up on a box and a 40lb weight vest on. I will argue until I am blue in the face that both those options develop just as much strength as their barbell counterparts, are safer, and more functional because of the way the body is forced to stabilize and maintain positions through movement. Keep in mind we are talking about strength training for field athletes. Athletes who compete in strength sports clearly need to be using a barbell.
Why No Olympic Lifts?
I love the Olympic lifts. I spent last year at the USAW Nationals in Salt Lake coaching one of my athletes in the 53kg weight class. This year she’ll be in the A Group vying for a medal and is contending for a world team spot(Update, she won Nationals and earned a World Team spot!). When she started training with me, we started with an empty bar, and she had zero experience with the lifts. I’ve competed in ten weightlifting meets myself over the past couple years(full disclosure, I am not very good). Back when I was playing in college, I loved hang clean test day. Getting up on the strength and conditioning record wall for having the heaviest hang clean in team history for all lacrosse players at my position was one of my proudest accomplishments. I say that not to brag(because in reality, who cares), but only to make sure you know that I LOVE WEIGHTLIFTING. With that being said, 3Sixty BASE does not include the olympic lifts. Rather, athletes learn to squat, hinge, lunge, bridge, and push and pull in the vertical and horizontal planes. They learn to do these things on one limb and on two limbs. Their power development work is done through the use of jumping drills and medicine ball throws. Variations of the Olympic lifts are potentially added in during later phases if the athlete has developed the requisite mobility, stability, and motor control needed.
No percentages? Rest Invervals? Tempo’s? What kind of pseudo-science program is this?
For beginners I believe it is absolutely ridiculous to use percentages. Percentage of what? They don’t even know how to do the movements yet. I certainly hope you aren’t testing one rep-maxes on things they don’t even know how to do. Instead, use the heaviest load possible that allows you to maintain form that maybe isn’t flawless, but it gives us the response we are looking for from the exercise. Mike Boyle says, “if it looks like shit, its probably shit.” So if it looks like shit, make it lighter, coach them up, or remove the exercise and regress to something that allows them to perform the movement correctly.
Rest intervals are dependent upon your situation. Are you training groups? Pairs? Individuals? A full team? Do you have one hour? Two hours? A general suggestion of 60-90 seconds will do the trick just fine.
As far as tempo goes, I think it is completely reasonable to use a one to two second controlled eccentric, a concentric that is as fast as possible, and a one second pause on each end. Basically maintain full control of the movement but nothing more.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Add weight when you can. They will get stronger. Anything more complicated is doing calculus when addition can answer the problem just fine.
Where Is The Warm Up? Speed Work? Power Development? Conditioning and Energy Systems?
Everything matters, and those are all important pieces to the overall puzzle. However, those things extend beyond the scope of this article. This will just be a snap shot of our strength work. If you’d like, ou can check out our thoughts on warming up here: The New Way To Warm Up.
Exercise Classification And Selection
We break down our upper and lower body movements into 4 movement patters each, with every pattern having both a bilateral and unilateral option. As you can see, when choosing exercises we try and err on the side of safety, emphasize core engagement and stability elsewhere in the body, while still making sure the load used can elicit gains in strength. These are the type of strength training movements that I believe will transfer most to the field. Safe. Effective. Transferable.
Sample 6 Week 3Sixty BASE Strength Program
2 Day/Week Option
3 Day/Week Option
4 Day/Week Option
I included sample templates for 2 days/week, 3 days/week, and 4 days/week and tried to use exercises that do not require any fancy or expensive equipment. Depending on the context of your situation, hopefully one of these options will be suitable for you, your clients, and your team.
Wrapping Things Up
Hopefully you’ve been able to take away some actionable thoughts for designing strength training programs for sports performance. I’ve been fortunate to play and train under some great strength coaches, learn from some great professors, and be mentored by some great minds that have allowed me to come up with our system.
It has been used, modified, used, and modified again for years with athletes who perform at the highest levels of their sport. This program will build transferable strength for improved performance on the field while limiting potential for injury. I feel strongly that this statement should be the foundation for everything you do when it comes to training for performance.
Shoot me an email or get in touch via social media with any questions. If you thought it was a good read, a share would be awesome.