Lay the groundwork for a high school program with one of the most respected high school strength coaches in the country. In this week’s Friday Five, Scott Meier, a strength coach with experience in both physical education and sports performance, reviews what it takes to run a thriving high school strength and conditioning program from the inside out.
There’s nothing like a well-oiled machine. When things run smoothly and the bumps are low, it seems like a more successful day. When you deal with clients, especially in a group setting, you’ll find that there are a number of questions that get asked repeatedly. After you answer the same question for the fifth time in 20 minutes, the light bulb should go off and the solution to that problem should be the next thing on your agenda. Imagine saving 10 minutes a day for the next 20 years because you solved that one little hiccup.
There are plenty of ways coaches try to save time and get more work done, but I’m not sure all of them make sense. Yes, of course you could pair your bench press with three other movements and save a few minutes, but what are you sacrificing by doing that? I can assure you that pairing a squat or deadlift with chin-ups and core drills will definitely save you some time, but it will also save you the hassle of becoming stronger. You can’t expect a great effort on a compound lift like a squat if you spend your rest period fatiguing the back and core muscles that will keep you rigid and locked in during the next squat set.
Instead of the conveyer belt quad sets that don’t help anyone, spend some time creating more efficient processes and use some life hacks to help you and your clients shave off a few minutes of nonsense every time they are in the gym. In this article, I will outline a few ways we at Exceed Sports Performance & Fitness try to combat the monotony of repetitive “hiccups.” Many of the concepts might not apply to you directly, but I would imagine the solutions could give you some ideas on how to disrupt your own problems in a similar way.
Save Yourself Hours with a Strip of Colored Tape
We have over 20 different types of bars in our facility, and, of course, they all have different weights. With bars ranging from 5 kilograms all the way to 82 pounds, I can fully understand why athletes get confused. Not only do they have trouble remembering how much a particular bar weighs, they often need confirmation on what bar is best suited for each movement.
A few years back, I decided it was time to solve this issue and create a better system. If you have experience with weight lifting, you know that each weight has a color associated with it. I piggybacked on that concept and created a bar tape system that instantly identifies a bar for its weight and function.Use different colors of electrical tape to create a bar tape system that instantly identifies a bar for its weight and function, advises @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
We bought a cheap pack of assorted electrical tape and added a small strip of colored tape to each barbell. Along with this, we created a small chart that we posted where the barbells are kept at different points across the gym that identifies the weight in kilograms and pounds and also gives the primary and secondary function of the bar. “Blue tape,” for example, lets the athlete know that the bar weighs 20 kilograms (44 pounds) and is primarily used for Olympic-style weightlifting and platform movements.
It’s not an easy task to describe or explain the different bars to people during a busy time of the day, but telling a client to “grab a blue-taped bar” is quick and rarely gets screwed up. If you have bars or other types of equipment with similar functions and appearance, do yourself a favor and make some identifying marks to save yourself a lot of time. This also makes it easier for the athletes or clients to navigate the facility.
Use Standard and Simple ‘Prep Series’
We have used the same general warm-up and field-work prep series for years now, and it has saved us countless amounts of time on a daily basis. Not only does this expedite the warm-up process, but it gives the athletes some skill sets to “own.” When we do our large group warm-ups, we have a specific movement list and order so that no one waits around between drills.
The athletes who have been around long enough could do this process in their sleep and that helps in a number of ways. First, it allows the coaches to talk with parents or prospective athletes who are just looking to see the process. Second, it holds the athletes accountable for the simple things and provides them with a system they can use off-site, at practice, at camps, or when they go off to college or pro teams. Having these systems down gives them confidence that they know how to get themselves prepared for lifts or field training. Lastly, it provides a set standard for movements that allow the athletes to improve and perfect their own patterns.
After our general prep, we use a consistent—though slightly varied at times—set of prep series to begin any field work. For deceleration day, we go through the same few drills before getting to the more advanced movements. Our main objective changes fairly regularly, but the prep drills do not. Doing the remedial work first allows athletes to “get their bearings” and reminds the body where and how to put that foot on the ground so when we start cranking it up, they have a good chance for success.
Similarly, in the weight room, for example, we try to work with the athletes to find an individualized but consistent “warm-up” protocol for their main lifts. Bench press, squat, or clean warm-up sets should be the same each lift for a number of reasons. It helps eliminate the “what do I do next” time lags, and, more importantly, it gives them a comparable “feel it out” to each lift. After enough time under the bar, they’ll use their warm-up sets to gauge where they’re at for the day. That biofeedback disappears when they have a different warm-up every time they’re in the gym.If every time you train you have different flows, different movements, and complicated drills, you’ll waste time trying to explain everything and do a disservice to the athlete’s adaption. Click To Tweet
If every time you train you have different flows, different movements, and complicated drills, you will not only waste a lot of time trying to explain everything, but you’ll be providing a disservice to the athlete’s adaption. It’s hard to improve without consistent practice and repetition.
Do the Math for Them
Unfortunately, the Imperial system of units makes understanding kilograms impossible for some clients. It just doesn’t click. We use pounds for everything except our weightlifting platforms, so that can be confusing as well. Although converting kilograms to pounds is a waste of time if you will be using kilograms the following week, and in the programs to come, it is still a priority for a large majority of athletes to convert the numbers. If you’ve used kilograms enough, you start to understand the conversion. Even memorizing your main weights can be helpful, but we wanted to make it a little easier for everyone.
I created a kilogram conversion chart equipped with color-coded diagrams. If you have “a red and a blue plate” (110 kg) on a men’s bar, you can simply find that picture on the poster and it will tell you the weight in both kilograms and pounds. We have a women’s side and a men’s side (color-coded yellow and blue, respectively) to take it one step further, and I recently added a section that labels the “change plates” as well.
Posters and wall graphics can be incredible teaching tools and time savers. Some clients don’t care about learning a thing; they just want mindless training. However, the vast majority like to see the why and how of what goes on, and something as simple as a 16” x 20” poster full of colored boxes can really make a difference for both the coach and client.
Keep Athletes Honest and Free Yourself Up with Interval Clocks
We use two clocks that run constantly. One runs concurrent with the actual time so that kids can use it to keep themselves on pace to finish their programs if they have to catch a ride home. It doesn’t feature an hour mark, just the minutes and seconds. This makes it perfect for rest periods, as well as timing certain drills like long isometric work, tendon training, or maybe their energy system work to finish.
The second clock we have been using more recently is a programmable interval clock by Swimnerd. It has a few features that make it a perfect addition to many school/team programs or facilities like ours. Of course, the most important part of an interval clock is the ability to program work and rest periods. It runs on a mobile app and can be set up to “practice” in a variety of different ways.
Besides its mobile app, the Swimnerd clock has a unique waterproof feature that allows you to bring it outside even in poor weather, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
Something we use a lot of are 10-second/20-second intervals for many of our athletes in early phases of their program. The clock makes it easy to implement these, and the coach can focus on the movement or coaching rather than staring at the clock. The numbers are big and bright green and loud enough for everyone to see and hear from a good distance. Most athletes are good about putting in the effort to finish each rep on time, but the audible beep is an added incentive as well as a real indicator of pass or fail performances.
Besides the functionality of the mobile app, what sets the clock apart from most of Swimnerd’s competitors are the unique “swim features” it brings to the table. The fact that it was intended for swimming pools means it has a unique waterproof feature that allows you to bring it outside even in poor weather, which we get a lot of in the Northeast. You can literally hose this thing down and it’ll run without an issue.
On top of that, an electrical cord laid across a pool deck would cause some concern, as you might imagine. The Swimnerd clock can run on a rechargeable battery so that you can take it outside or far from any outlets. We have an exterior turf at our facility, and, in certain months, the athletes do much of their interval and conditioning work outside. This clock is a game changer and saves us the hassle of making the kids grab their phones or stopwatches.
Replace the Belt for Group Sprint Training
We have experimented with countless tools and equipment types in regard to resisted running. For more advanced clients and some of our higher-level athletes, we are fortunate enough to have a Vertimax Raptor on the wall, but for the majority of high school and college athletes, we use chains attached to belts by a long strap. It has always been a tricky thing to choose the right belt. The type and function of the belt are hard enough to get right, but it can be a nightmare to share belts between large groups of athletes, logistically speaking. Different sized athletes have trouble sharing the belts, and if you’ve ever tried to run with a loose belt, you know how annoying it can be. We usually have 3–5 different belts of varying sizes set up, but they don’t always match up to our clientele.
Every problem needs a solution, so we recently began experimenting with some alternative methods and ditched the belt. We began replacing the belt with the strap looped through itself to create a noose-like knot that can tighten and loosen quickly, and it fits everyone. Now when athlete 1 finishes their sprint, they can just open the loop and drop the belt, and athlete 2 can simply step in, cinch it up around their waist, and go. It has not only saved time messing with buckles and sizing complications, it also seems to be a more comfortable and “tight” feeling fit for many of the athletes. You luck out when your time-saving solutions double as better options.
Choose and Implement Your Technology Astutely
Using technology can be a blessing and a curse. If you’re lucky enough to have any, it can really make a world of difference in your programming and testing processes. We have three “tech-based” jump tools that have been invaluable to our facility. However, it’s not always easy to implement these tools in larger group settings. The Hawkin Dynamics force plates and Ergotest contact grid are two amazing pieces of equipment, and we’d have trouble replacing either at this point. We use our force plates with dozens of athletes per day, and the contact grid is a staple in all of our rehab and elite training protocols.
If possible, I’d recommend having duplicates of all of your important tools that get used frequently, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
But during our larger high school groups, we have to rely on our Just Jump mats to handle a lot of the volume. The mats have a few settings we use regularly. However, different athletes are on different programs and use different settings all day long. One way to combat the issue is to buy multiple mats and keep each one for a different setting. Having two or three jump mats will allow droves of athletes to roll through their programs without having to waste time switching back and forth between “jump one time” and “jump four times” over and over.
If you’re lucky enough to have three jump mats or multiple tools in your arsenal, a simple and effective way of providing efficiency is designating each piece for a certain role. This concept applies to most equipment throughout the gym. When at all possible, I’d recommend having duplicates of all your important tools that get used frequently or you’d like to program across a broader spectrum of clientele.
Use Those Walls Wisely
I’ve already listed a couple posters (bar tape and weightlifting conversion charts) that have helped us save some time and answer repetitive questions, but we have taken our poster game to new heights in the past year. We created a massive template to help fill in some gaps, educate some interested clients, and give a clear direction to some of our progressions and systems. I’d imagine that our system won’t work for everyone, but you could create your own template to allow people a little autonomy and freedom to make some “informed” decisions when appropriate.
We have a template with specific programs based on the focus of the day or phase (speed/power, hypertrophy, so on), as well as exercise “plug and play” lists with some progressions and alternatives for problematic or provocative movements for certain people. Another poster has a number of complexes and medleys that are used by our adults or for GPP phases or extra work. We have an energy system poster that breaks down different protocols that focus on more specific energy systems and gives athletes ranges for their work and rest periods, as well as suggestions on how many reps/sets to do. We have a few other posters, such as a specific progression of “shuttles” we created a few years back. Lastly, we have a poster with warm-ups, prep series, mobility/flexibility drills, and core patterns that people can use to fill in the blanks. For more intermediate or advanced clients, I can write “push-up pattern” on the program, and they will be able to select an option from that section of the poster.
One of the times these posters are most useful is when off-site college or pro athlete clients come back for break—maybe only for a day or two—and need something to do. We don’t have time to write out an entire program, but we do have a poster with 40 “workout” options that can be modified to fit the needs of the athlete in seconds. “Do ‘Strength/Power #4’ and do 6×3 for your main lift” is an example of how quick and painless that logjam can be fixed.
Not only does this system help the clients, but it also allows the coaches to spend time creating and fine-tuning their systems. As you write and create, you’ll recognize things that work well or don’t work well, and it can be a good learning experience. It will also provide your assistants or interns with a deeper look into how you program and how you categorize and prioritize movements. Last, but not least, it can spark your memory and remind you of the forgotten drills of yesteryear.
Reward Your Clients with Responsibility
Right from the start, I set up a promotion system with T-shirts (colors) signifying levels of achievement or recognition. It is something I adopted from another gym at which I previously worked, but I changed the criteria to promote effort and achievement rather than how many times an athlete shows up and goes through the motions. It usually takes more than a year or two to reach the second level, Orange (and many more years to get to the third and fourth levels), but in this time the athlete will have had to earn their stripes and prove that they have an understanding of the system and have gained some independence. They’ll need to show proficiency in the basics and intermediate movements, as well as the capability of leading some warm-ups or helping younger and newer clients on occasion.
Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask, “When will I get my orange shirt?” or, even more absurd, “When will I get my black shirt?” We have four total levels, with black being the pinnacle, and we do not give any of our shirts out easily—just ask our clients. With this system, we have many athletes buying in and pursuing something other than just a few pounds on a lift or any other arbitrary milestone. It helps us create an environment where people want to show that they take their training seriously.
In terms of creating a “life hack,” it also denotes a hierarchy that allows us to rely on our promoted athletes to handle some of the remedial tasks, like answering a question about a particular movement or explaining how to turn on the jump mats or how much a bar weighs. (Although the answer to that question, as we all know now, should be, “refer to the poster please.”) These tasks are clearly easy enough for anyone who has spent more than a year in the gym consistently, and when I need to, I ask them to take on those small jobs.
Make It Work for You
Whether or not you use kilogram plates or have enough bars to create an issue of figuring out which one to use, there are many ways you can “hack” your facility to save everybody time and effort. Take a stroll through your facility and carry around a notepad for a day, jotting down the bottlenecks and logjams that pop up. That, to me, is all the incentive you’d need to try and create a solution to the problem.Take a stroll through your facility and jot down the bottlenecks and logjams that pop up. This is all the incentive you should need to try to find a solution to the problem, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
Hopefully, you can pull something useful out of these eight solutions we have found invaluable to our daily life in the trenches. I’m always looking for a better process or solution to even the most menial tasks. This list will evolve and grow larger over time. Feel free to help me out and send over your best life hacks that I may have missed.