any strength and conditioning coaches will claim that training an athlete is more art than science. While there is some truth to this, having a sound rationale for the contents of a training program can not be undervalued. Knowledge of the research and practical experience need to work hand in hand in order to provide the best results for an athlete.
An unfortunate but not uncommon response by strength coaches when the topic of research is brought up is "I coach on/in the field/weightroom not in a lab". What they are forgetting is that practical advancements have come as the result of laboratory based research whether they know it or not. For example it is common place for coaches to use programs that involve 3 sets of a given exercise. Where did 3 come from, why not just 1, or 5, isn't more better? The truth is that a study was done to determine the optimal number of sets for strength training. The results showed that comparing 1 set to 2 sets the subjects that performed 2 sets showed a 50% high improvement in strength, and when comparing 2 sets to 3 sets the subjects performing 3 sets showed a 33% higher improvement in strength. They continued to compare higher numbers of sets but it was clear that after 3 sets the results started to show diminishing returns.
With that being said the reverse is just as dangerous. Coaches must also avoid falling into the trap of taking what they read at face value. If a study sounds too good to be true it probably is, one publication does not constitute evidence. Research of a topic must be replicated and verified before it can be considered valid. Only when there is an accumulation of evidence on a topic should it be incorporated into a training program.
To sum up, a coach is responsible for every aspect of their athlete’s training program. They need to have sound rationale for the contents of a training program, which should be based on a large body of scientific evidence.
Strength training is often viewed as a single thing both in sports performance training as well as in general fitness training. People say things like " I do strength training once a week." or "Can strength training benefit me?" this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what strength training is and how it is applied.
The NSCA breaks down strength training into several different "goals" which are as follows.
Block style training matches up well with this type of breakdown of training goals. In this style of programming your training cycle is broken up in to sever different blocks that consist of multiple weeks of training. Each block has a specific goal and physiological adaptation that it is trying to accomplish. Take for example an athlete who needs to increase muscle mass and build size in the off-season. Hypertrophy would be a large focus of their overall training program. Their first off-season training block would be with the goal of hypertrophy. As stated earlier, this goal will determine all factors that go into training, length of the block, which exercises, number of exercises reps, sets, rest intervals, etc.
The main advantage of this style of training is focus. Each block improves on physiological trait before moving on to another. Often times strength training programs can try and do multiple things at a time and fail to be productive as a whole. For the athlete example above, the first block is hypertrophy so once progress in that area is achieved then they can move on to the next block which may be something like strength, in which case the goal of building strength will dictate the training variables.
Having a focus allows the maximum amount of progress to be made by allowing the appropriate amount of time for development before variation is added to the program. This should be demonstrated by tangible progress within each individual training block.
Coaches at almost every level eventually get hit with the numbers problem. One coach may be responsible for numerous teams or extremely large teams. I know several college coaches that handle 20+ teams as the only coach. I also know other coaches who work with football programs that need to handle groups as large as 50 at a time.
One thing that I don't think gets stressed enough to new coaches is the value of simplicity. They are bombarded with information and are eager to implement what they know. The problem comes when their program is not doable given the numbers of athletes/teams. In this situation the coach needs to look at these situations the same way a doctor looks at an emergency room. The most important thing become triage, what is most important and how can I get the most progress out of the most athletes without risk of injury.
The most effective approach to running individual workouts is to know how you are going to organize the athletes. This is mostly done through stations, grouping, and timing. Keep the exercise selection simple to minimize the amount of teaching or corrections that will be needed. One of the best ways to manage a room that often gets left out is having a pre-workout meeting. Before they start, get the entire group together, explain how they are going to be split up, how and when they are going to move from exercise to exercise, thoroughly but briefly explain the entire workout, and quickly demo each exercise. This type of meeting will solve most issues that would arise and prevent problems before they happen. It also give the athletes a chance to get any questions answered ahead of time.
Doing these simple things can make a world of difference in the effectiveness of strength and conditioning training sessions. Just remember the best strength coaches are the most organized ones.
Based on the title it probably sounds like I'm about to write about the pitfalls of blaming yourself for failures and how it can be detrimental to your development as an athlete. I am not. In fact I plan on outlying how blaming yourself can be both beneficial and empowering.
There is a primary rule within the field of fault analysis that can be summarized as "Never assign blame to a part of a system that you don't have any control of". Assigning blame to something you have no control over will not promote any change that could lead to a different outcome next time. Take for example a soccer player who slips on a muddy section of grass causing them to miss a shot and lose a game. Some people may simply say "it's not your fault" or "it's just bad luck", but if you do that next time you are in a similar situation you are going to get the same bad outcome. A more productive line of thinking would be to say I missed because I was not aware of the environmental factors, which will lead you to account for this next time and hopefully create a better outcome.
Do not take this the wrong way and believe that you need to berate yourself for every mistake of instance of bad luck, but simply figure out what you could have done better in that situation and resolve to do better next time. There is ALWAYS some thing you could have done better. In this way blame can become a positive call to action.
By taking on this way of thinking it empowers the athlete and gives them a feeling of control over their success or failure. "I make things happen" rather than "Things happen to me". The primary rule is that there are NO excuses. Other players are not an excuse, officials are not an excuse, not even trying your best is an excuse. There is always something you could have done better, something you could have though of, some preparation that you failed to do. Taking ownership forces you to take action and improve yourself rather than deny blame and remain the same.
Hopefully knowing this will allow you to take control and ownership of both your athletic career and all other aspects of your life leading to better outcomes.
Many people have heard or even repeat the phrase "speed kills" when it comes to sports. This is true, but often it is being said to demonstrate that speed training is more important to strength training when it comes to sports performance. Speed and strength are certainly linked, but it is absolutely not a zero-sum contest between the two.
Running speed ultimately comes down to two variables, stride length and stride frequency. Increasing one or both will produce an increase in speed. Stride frequency is determined by how fast your muscles can activate and cycle through the running motion while stride frequency is determined by, first limb length, but also how much force can be put into the ground to propel the body forward as far as possible before the next step. These two factors are where muscular speed and strength meet.
Knowing how running works the next question is how do we improve it. First muscle firing speed is largely determined by muscle fiber type distribution, which unfortunately is largely genetic, but can be altered in a limited capacity by consistent high velocity training. Next we can improve the coordination of muscle firing when running. This is where running technique comes into play. Learning proper running mechanics allows the athlete to move at optimal efficiency to move as fast as possible. When muscles fire in a highly coordinated fashion the body is able to maximize the resultant speed. Last comes strength, which is the primary point of this post. Several studies examining how to improve running speed have determined that increases in speed can be improved most by increases in strength. By increasing the force put into the ground when running increases the force with which the athlete can propel their body forward. Strength as a physiological characteristic is also highly trainable so athletes are able to make strength improvements that result in speed improvements as well for most of their athletic career before they start to plateau, while on the other hand maximum muscle firing speed is reached much earlier in an athlete's career.
During the early days of strength training in sports coaches noticed that people with a lot of muscle mass were slow, inflexible, and poorly conditioned. They came to the conclusion that large amounts of muscle mass was the cause. This could not have been further from the truth and this myth has been toxic ever since. The true reason was that most of the people observed to have large amounts of muscle mass at the time were body builders that did not train for speed, flexibility, or conditioning. Fortunately we have seen the competition results and the truth is obvious. Look at the fastest people in the world (100m sprinters), nearly all are built like body builders.
To close out, the belief that improvements in strength create improvements in speed is well supporting in both the research and practical cases of competitive athletes. When done along with proper running mechanics improvements in strength will directly produce improvements in speed. And like the title says strength = speed!
One of the fundamental pillars of spots performance training is sport specificity. Training is most effective when the training most closely mimics the sport you are training for. This is why sport specificity is a core value at PSP when working with our athletes. Having said that, one thing that is forgotten is that specificity exists on a continuum and like all things it must be utilized properly and with moderation.
When putting together a training program several factors determine what level of specificity is needed. On a long-term scale younger athletes need less specificity than older athletes. Youth athletes are constantly in the process of building motor patterns and acquiring physical coordination therefore having them do a variety of movements will produce the most well-rounded athlete as they get older. Additionally, having a high level of coordination and physical competency makes them highly resistant to injuries of all kinds. If an athlete only trains very specific movement patterns any deviation will likely result in injury. This is the reason single sport athletes often burn out at a young age or are frequently injured.
Training periods closest to competition should involve the highest level of sport specificity while further out from competition should involve more generalized physical training. For the same reason as youth v. advanced athletes, further out from training you are looking to make large improvements in physiological factors (e.g. speed, strength, power) and as you get closer you will apply those qualities to your sport specific movements. This concept of “build then apply” is critical and often overlooked when training athletes.