The best program that any coach can put together is one that they can adjust at any given moment, so it’s no surprise that the quote I have heard a lot of coaches speak about lately references that the best ability is adaptability. This statement rings even truer during this time when most coaches are out of their comfort zones and trying to find a path to designing effective programs with little to no equipment. When we finally do get back to a state of “normalcy,” coaches will likely go back to the basics and adjust programs based on what was lost during the time they spent away from their athletes.The best program that any coach can put together is one that they can adjust at any given moment, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
In this article, I cover areas of adjustments that we, as coaches, need to make on a weekly and/or daily basis in order to design an optimal program to keep our athletes fresh and continue to drive adaptation.
1. Training Goal – Weekly
For my program specifically, I run an undulated block model, so each 2- to 3-week block needs to have a specific goal to facilitate adaptation. I have found this method to be the most effective, since we are forcing the body to adapt to only one specific stimulus (absolute strength, speed strength, etc.), as opposed to pulling it in a million different directions in a single workout. With this type of approach, you must be cognizant of residuals so that you continue to maintain qualities that were previously trained.
We are misguided in thinking every athlete can benefit from the same type of training program since there are so many factors that go into the correct sports performance prescription (training age, playing time, body weight/strength ratio, speed, DSI, etc.). Not only is it important to be able to prescribe the proper training goal to continue to improve performance, but also to be able to scale back when you notice a decline in performance (which could be an indication of overtraining and potentially lead to injury).
I have built sprint training into part of our testing protocol that we do 2-3 times per week. To me, sprinting should be the base upon which all programs are built, so testing a category that has relevance to all sports is a good place to start. I get either 5/10- or 10/20-yard splits, depending on the sport.
After evaluating sprinting numbers, I look at two types of jumps: squat jump and countermovement jump. Using these numbers, I find the athlete’s eccentric utilization ratio (EUR). These two numbers also paint a good picture of what the athlete needs to work on—strength, power, speed, or some combination of them—for their lifting and jumping. This allows me to constantly change the program and help the athlete continue to adapt to the new stimulus being presented.
2. Volume – Weekly
Your program is only as good as the player’s performance in their specific sport. Volume is a huge factor in whether your players are going to feel fresh and ready on game day or overworked and unprepared. Manipulating volume is an art form that coaches must understand early in their career if they want to achieve the goal of improving sports performance.
I preach minimum effective dose and finding the absolute minimum they should do in order to elicit a change. I believe weekly testing allows us to see whether the dose we prescribe is effective in producing change. When you are in-season, manipulating volume is crucial in order to get to peak performance for each competition.
The best approach for manipulating volume so that you find the balance of feeling fresh and addressing the proper stimulus is to develop a base in your off-season and preseason—nothing beats consistent training all year round. Also have weekly testing measures built into place (jumps, sprints, etc.) to be able to see how athletes’ bodies respond to the training. If athletes continue to improve, you are on the right track and have found the correct dose. If athletes start to have decrements in performance over a two-week period, it is time to manipulate volume.
Sometimes the best tool we have as coaches is rest. Another big factor to look at for volume is the number of competitions per week. The volume for the week will change when players have only one competition versus 2-3 competitions in one week. As long as you manipulate volume the proper way, you can maintain the same lift schedule whether they play one or multiple competitions in the same week.
My general rule of thumb is that I have a set number of sets and reps I know they need to hit in order to attack a stimulus. If we are far out, we will hit either the medium or low end of the volume scale. On the day before a game, always hit the low end of the necessary volume and never be afraid to knock down the volume as long as the effort is high. You can even manipulate volume with VBT by having a cut-off point for each athlete once the speed moves below a certain threshold. This tailors the program specifically to each athlete, without getting crazy with exercise selection.
3. Exercise Prescription – Weekly
Your exercise prescription must match the training goal for the specific block. When my goal is to develop absolute strength, I look to do my squatting movements through a full range of motion. In that same block of absolute strength, I like to do all my weightlifting movements from the ground, as you are working more of the force end on the force-velocity curve. As we get to more power- and speed-based movements, depending on training age, I transition my athletes to more partial range of motion squats (either half or quarter squats) to work joint angles that are more similar to actions completed in their sport. I also begin to transition my Olympic movements to below the knee and power positions with a lighter load, working more on the velocity end of the force-velocity curve and increasing the RFD.
4. Exercise Selection – Daily
It doesn’t matter what your exercise selection is for a given day—you must be ready to change the exercise based on a few factors: practice volume, games, injuries, autoregulation measures, etc. I believe as a coach you have two ways to go with changing the exercise selection:
- Stick with it no matter what (except in the case of injuries).
- Give players options for exercises that will have similar outcomes.
To me, the best plan is one that can be changed at any given moment. For example, my first tier of exercises for Day 1 is a back squat (most of the time). I know if it isn’t an option for the day, we can switch to a front squat, deadlift, trap bar deadlift, safety bar squat, etc. All of those exercises give me a similar outcome to what I am looking for with my first tier.Have your training day outlined with movements rather than specific exercises. Movements give you multiple options that you can deviate from at any given moment, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
For the most part, I like to stick with the first option because in the collegiate environment, I think it’s easy for the athletes to get confused with what they actually need versus what they actually want to do. I would give the second option to a more experienced group of players and professionals who have a better idea of how their bodies react to different training stimulus.
Have your training day outlined with movements rather than specific exercises. Movements give you multiple options that you can deviate from at any given moment.
5. Load – Daily
You must manipulate load on a daily basis because body readiness changes on a daily basis. I heard Bryan Mann reference a study where the 1RM of an athlete fluctuated anywhere from 30 kilograms above to 22 kilograms below on any given day. Travis Mash reiterated this same point when he said that your max can fluctuate 17-18% on any given day.
I think the days of just working off of percentages alone are outdated. VBT is the future, and without it, you will never be able to autoregulate efficiently. There are so many affordable options for VBT out there that it should be a priority for strength coaches at all levels. Companies like Vmaxpro do a great job of offering a reasonably priced product for coaches that provides a ton of feedback and valuable information. This lightens the load of inputting numbers and making graphs/charts by yourself and allows you to focus on things that actually help your athletes.
I have found that the most effective strategy for manipulating load is to prescribe percentages to your athletes based on their 1 rep max for that particular exercise and manipulate the load based on the VBT. This requires getting a pre-test measure of 1RM; with the right VBT choice, I can develop load-velocity profiles and look at different ranges the athletes should fit into. It really is simple from there: If the athlete is moving the bar faster than the pre-test measures, increase the load for that day, and if the speed is down for the day, decrease the load. This increases the efficiency and effectiveness of your program.
6. Set Number – Daily
Once again, I think the belief that all athletes need the same exact set numbers for a given exercise in order to drive a particular adaptation is outdated. Athletes are unique individuals, and we must treat them as such. This is where VBT has a huge impact, once again.
By using VBT and working with percent velocity drop-off, you can determine how many sets an athlete can effectively do without overworking them. For some athletes, 3×1 at 85% load might be enough to develop the stimulus for the given day, but if I see the bar moving fast and the quality is still high, we do “bonus” sets to hit the higher end of the threshold and adapt the program specifically to the athlete. Like I said, it is important to have a plan for what your ideal sets and reps range is. Once you have that in writing, you can start to manipulate both ends of the spectrum.
7. Sprint Prescription – Daily
If sprinting is a big part of your program, timing sprints should be too. Timing sprints allows you to make an effective sprint prescription for your athletes daily.
I set the upper limit on my athletes’ sprinting at three reps, as I have found that to be the minimum effective dose necessary to continue to develop speed. However, if I see a significant drop-off from their best on that day, I know that athletes may not be in the optimal state to do the upper limit of speed work.Timing sprints allows me to see, on any given day, how the nervous system of the athlete is responding, and whether or not we can work up to three reps for that day, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Timing sprints allows me to see, on any given day, how the nervous system of the athlete is responding, and whether or not we can work up to three reps for that day. I usually compare their first two reps to their all-time best. If I see times that are significantly slower (roughly two-tenths), I know that it may not be the right day to test their limits. So, while it may not be ideal, we still get two reps of high-speed, high-intensity reps.
Timing sprints also allows you to manipulate load if you choose to do resisted sprints. I’ve heard coaches discuss what the ideal drop-off time is when doing resisted sprints, and I have found the sweet spot to be 125-150% of an athlete’s best time. So, for an athlete with a 20-yard sprint time of 3.0 seconds, the ideal resisted sprint time window is 3.75-4.5 seconds.
I always err on the safe side and aim for the lower end of the range, but at least this gives you a formula to work off of when looking to add or decrease load for resisted sprint work.
8. Plyo Prescription – Daily
This goes along the same lines as the sprint prescription: If jumping is a big part of your program, measuring jumps should be too. When you measure qualities that are part of your everyday program, it creates more value for your athletes. I believe that a system that measures jumps should be one of the staples of any sports performance program. I just bought the MuscleLab Contact Grid, and it might be one of the greatest things I have ever purchased in my career. The amount of information that I can use to help my athletes immediately is beyond anything I could have ever imagined.I believe that a system that measures jumps should be one of the staples of any sports performance program, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Use the same strategy here that you used for the sprints. If you have jumps scheduled as part of the plan, you need to measure each set to see how the athlete’s body is responding for that day. If the athlete’s numbers are significantly lower than what is expected, you should scale back on the volume of jumps. If the numbers are on par or higher, you can go with the planned volume. The default number for me when workouts are spread out over 24-48 hours is three sets of jumps. If athletes don’t have the numbers they usually do, we scale back to 1-2 sets.
The same goes for weighted jumps when looking at prescribing the appropriate load. Let’s look at an example of how I prescribe load for looking at jumps:
Player A vertical jump height: 20 inches
Goal of the day: maximum strength @ 90% load
Goal for vertical jump: 20 x .9 = 18 inches
20 inches – 18 inches = 2 inches
When performing a weighted jump exercise for this particular goal, I want my athletes in the range of 2 inches. If the athlete picks a load and jumps higher than 2 inches, they need to increase the load. If the athlete jumps lower than 2 inches, they need to decrease the load. Once again, you must do a pre-testing measure on the jump in order to be able to make this correction in prescribing the appropriate load for jumping.
Effective Programs Need to Be Adjustable
The most effective program is one that you can change at any given moment depending on how your athlete comes into a training session. There are things we need to change from week to week, and there are factors that change daily. Your ability as a coach to manipulate factors will ultimately be the biggest determinant of how effective your sports performance program design is.Your ability as a coach to manipulate factors will ultimately be the biggest determinant of how effective your sports performance program design is, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Never lock yourself into a given workout or exercise selection, as athletes are fluid beings who experience changes in their readiness daily. Finding tests that are easy to perform at the beginning of your workout is key to being able to manipulate your program for that specific day. Having equipment that can be used seamlessly in your workout is another big factor in improving the effectiveness of your program.
Never be afraid to go away from the plan and adapt your program when you feel it is necessary. You can still stay with your core beliefs as long as adaptation and results are your main objectives.
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