5 Key Elements of Designing a Strength Program
As a coach, you understand the importance of strength training for your athletes. However, designing strength programs can be difficult, especially when faced with numerous teams with dozens of athletes each. We work with some of the best teams in the nation to create customized, sport-specific training plans for peak performance. Here are 5 key components that elite strength programs should have: periodization, progressions, sport customization, individualization, and tracking.
Sports periodization is the planning of athletic training using a progressively cyclic format with the goal of timing peak performance during the athlete’s major competitive events. Not only does this systematic approach keep the coach and athletes organized, but it also has a physiological basis known as general adaptation syndrome: 1) initial shock to the body with a new stimulus, 2) learned adaptation to the stimulus, and 3) exhaustion stage. Periodized training aims to keep athletes in the second stage without ever reaching exhaustion. Athletes will experience a new stimulus, develop muscular strength as they adapt to the stimulus, and then move to a new cycle before overtraining sets in. Athletes commonly cycle through a preseason, mid-season, and championship season with several smaller cycles or phases of training within each of these periods. For example, a strength phase may last for 4 weeks before the athletes move into a power and speed phase to become more explosive with their strength program.
Coaches often ask us how to introduce their athletes to a strength program. Use progressions—that is, begin with basics and progressively add resistance and complexity to the strength training as the athlete adapts to each new exercise. This stepladder approach to training enables athletes to learn new movement patterns, harness their strength at a particular level, and continue to build strength by challenging themselves with more difficult exercises. All athletes begin with a different strength baseline, so it's important to assess each athlete’s movement patterns individually and start the team off with bodyweight-only exercises. This ensures athletes master the technique first before progressing on to more complex exercises. The preseason hypertrophy phase will also establish general strength and stability prior to whole body movements that demand greater coordination.
Customization by Sport
While some exercises may overlap between sports, strength training should be highly sport-specific. A football player should not be strength training the same way as a swimmer because their sports demand different dimensions of strength, muscle mass, speed, and power. BridgeAthletic takes this into account by tailoring the workouts to the movement patterns required in each sport. Coaches can select from thousands of exercises that fit with their training plan. For example, lacrosse players may want to focus on rotational core strength to power up their shot whereas swimmers and water polo players may focus on shoulder stability to protect the joint when it experiences a high degree of rotation in the water.
Individualization by Athlete
Within a single sport, each athlete will have different strength goals depending on their position or event. Strength training should be designed for each athlete's individual needs. For example, in time-based sports, sprinters will focus more heavily on power lifting whereas distance athletes will conduct lower resistance and higher repetition exercises to mimic their endurance focus. Players with different positions will have different movement patterns they regularly undertake, such as goalies needing strength exercises that are distinct from offensive players. The best coaches we work with recognize these details and use them to create truly effective strength programs for their athletes.
Tracking goes hand in hand with progression. Progress should always be tracked and quantified so that athletes and coaches can see the development being made. In a program, without tracked progress, there is no way to tell when the athlete is ready to advance to the next level. The basic form of this is Test Week, but that doesn't tell the whole story of how an athlete achieved (or underachieved) the weight and reps completed. By examining a complete history of every set and rep performed by each athlete, coaches can visualize which parts of the training program are most effective and which parts under- or overload their athletes. These insights can then be used to adapt the training for next season, leading to improved training plans and better athletic development.
Use these 5 elements as the foundation for your elite strength program. Coaches can visit BridgeAthletic for more tips on getting their strength program up and running. If you liked this post, be sure to check out other articles on software programming and coaching away the athlete's inner critic.
About the Author
At Bridge, we are all athletes and coaches first. As athletes, our team has experienced everything from riding the pine on JV, to winning NCAA championships, to competing in the Olympic Games. As coaches, we have helped countless athletes reach their full potential, winning everything from age group section championships to Olympic Gold Medals.