Patrick Basil is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Basil formerly worked as an assistant strength coach at both Bryant University and SUNY Maritime College. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and is also certified through USA Weightlifting.
Freelap USA: Time is often a major limiter for training in a team setting. What is your overall programming strategy when strapped for time?
Patrick Basil: I’ve always hated wasting time on pointless activities, especially when someone else wastes my time. I fully believe in the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Principle. This states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. This can even be as high as 90/10. That said, I apply this concept to our entire program. See also Parkinson’s Law: a project will take as long as the time given. If you’re given less time, you’ll find a more efficient way to do it.
I choose exercises and variations that can be executed well by the group I’m working with, provide the largest return on the time spent, and flow well in our space. We strive to choose the largest bang for our buck timewise. We program almost exclusively in four-week blocks with minimal changes in exercises. This allows the athletes to simply get better at executing the movements, which leads to greater mastery of each exercise, which then leads to them being able to do more reps, with more weight, with better form.
It also builds confidence, as they’re able to continue to execute better each time. As Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, “Do less, but better.” Occam’s Razor also applies in that the simplest approach is usually the most effective.
Doing fewer things better also creates autonomy. Just knowing what to do will make the session run smoothly and more efficiently. After some time in your program, your upperclassmen can act as peer-coaches who can teach a dumbbell row as well as anyone. Encourage them to coach each other, especially the underclassmen. This adds tremendous value in our 9 a.m.–4 p.m. float block. It’s a great opportunity for leadership and camaraderie.
Logistics, time, equipment, space, and flow will dictate 90% of your programming or more. Our weight room is not very big, and I jammed as much usable equipment in there as I could. We have our racks on one side of the room and dumbbell racks on the other, with a narrow open space in between. We also have neck machines and glute ham raise/reverse hypers against a back wall.Logistics, time, equipment, space, and flow will dictate 90% of your programming or more, says @pbasilstrength. Click To Tweet
We try to use each area of the room to keep traffic moving. Something on the rack, something in the DB area, and something that can be done on a machine or in open space. Supersets, tri-sets, and even quad-sets for our assistance work and even warm-ups are common for us.
I try to apply the stimulus I want in the most efficient loading scheme possible or the fewest total sets. For our main lifts, we rarely do more than three work sets on heavy loading days. On dynamic effort days we do more sets, but those are on a short rest between sets, and timing is similar. This is especially the case with assistance work. Why spend more time applying the same stimulus? If you can build tissue doing 2×12 for 24 reps, why do 4×6 for 24 reps for twice as much time?
Eighty percent of results comes from 20% of efforts, so why not just do the 20% of the work that matters and move on? Do 6-8 total exercises, usually in supersets, tri-sets, or a similar structure, to keep flow going. This also builds work capacity.
- It’s “bare bones,” but really, bare bones is all you need.
- Do less but better. Greater mastery = greater skill = better results. Win-win-win.
- We all say it, but I don’t think very many actually practice it: do simple better.
- We also have long breaks. Our athletes don’t return to campus until late August, so for a very large portion of the year they are training on their own at home. They must be prepared for this from both a safety and continued progress standpoint.
Freelap USA: It is often difficult to be effective with a short amount of time in the training session, especially when a coach wants to teach something new. What are some strategies to set up the flow of the room to maximize both efficiency and effectiveness?
Patrick Basil: It is a common belief—one I had myself—that it’s difficult to build strength and make progress in limited time per session.
It’s not true.
It takes much less time and volume to build lean mass, strength, and power than most coaches think. For example, our softball team is one of our absolute best in the weight room, with several girls who can box squat well into the mid-200s and rep out chin-ups. They also have the uncanny ability to finish any lift in exactly 37 minutes. They lift three times per week for 37 minutes; some even finish a few minutes early.It takes much less time and volume to build lean mass, strength, and power than most coaches think, says @pbasilstrength. Click To Tweet
We have other teams that only train twice per week and make great progress. Across all of our 29 sports, most teams train 2-3 times per week for about 35-45 minutes. It can be done. Remember Parkinson’s Law.
The workouts must be tailored to the flow of your room, around your equipment. You can train most movements and muscle groups using barbells, dumbbells, bands, and bodyweight options. For example, you can train the glutes/hip extension with barbell hip thrusts, band pull-throughs, DB single leg RDLs, and lying SL hip bridges. Same muscle group, four different approaches, four different equipment options. Get creative and pick options that flow well in your space and with each other.
On days you introduce new exercises, it is a good idea to limit it to one new thing so there’s less demonstrating. Also use familiar assistance exercises or even drop a set or two to save time to teach the new movement.
- Tailor exercise selection to your equipment layout.
- Understand how long some exercises take. Unilateral work will take twice as much time, so save time elsewhere.
- On new exercise days, use fewer total sets in your assistance work to save time. Also don’t add too many new things. One new main thing, then all familiar assistance work.
- “Idiot proof” exercises.
Freelap USA: In your specific current environment, how do you approach exercise selection where training session time is limited?
Patrick Basil: It goes back to picking options that return the biggest bang for your buck, the greatest ROI on the time spent, and then getting savagely good at them. Inch wide, mile deep. Less, but better.
For us, these include box squats, deadlift variations, lunges, jumps, presses, and pulls as our main movements. These are all great because they can all be used to train different qualities. Box squats can be done for maximal, dynamic, and repetitive effort. Same exact movement, only the load and volume changes. We can dictate a change in the stimulus applied without any new learning curve for a new exercise unless I feel it’s necessary.
- Logistics, equipment, time, and flow dictate 90% or more of exercise selection.
- Biggest bang for buck.
- Tie back to mastery—you’ll continue to get more and more out of the same exercise. This can be confusing because we were all taught that the training stimulus needs to change over time. While true, accommodation takes much longer to set in than your ExSci 103 textbook says it does.
Freelap USA: Some schools and organizations have the luxury of time, space, and staff. Some training can appear to be “filler” exercises to fill the empty space and time. Where do strength coaches miss the mark in programming that can come off as a “waste of time”?
Patrick Basil: Large spaces often come with large groups, so there is some value to keeping bodies moving and occupied.
As long as there’s a return on the activity, I’m not sure any filler work can be fairly labeled as “a waste.” As long as the extra volume doesn’t hinder recovery or have a negative impact on the rest of the training session, it may just provide a small ROI but is not a waste.
Also, there is a point to justifying why such a large staff or space is needed. If an organization or donors are willing to shell out the money, the performance staff needs to put it to use. Maybe mostly for optics, but it’s good for business, and there’s a ton of value in that. Also, sometimes athletes value those minor “corrective” or “specific” drills or exercises, thinking those will be the “secret hack” to the next level of performance.
They may also find these types of exercises fun to do. I’ve lost count of how many kids have asked me if we’re getting a Vertimax or wanted to use the BFR straps at a previous job. If that drives belief in your program and keeps the people who write the checks happy, there’s a ton of value in that. Great customer experience leads to repeat customers. We talk about being in the service industry, but very few seem to actually study customer service.Some filler work may have a great value from a business perspective and not necessarily a training standpoint, but ROI is ROI. It may just come in a different form, says @pbasilstrength. Click To Tweet
Some filler work may have great value from a business perspective and not necessarily a training standpoint, but ROI is ROI. It may just come in a different form than you expect.
Freelap USA: In a free flow training environment, loading strategy is the hardest to manage. How do you guide your athletes on how much to load when training in a high-paced environment?
Patrick Basil: This is a fantastic question. We have a few ways to go about this that we’ve figured out over time.
For Solid Intermediate or Better Groups
Percentages: The easiest way to prescribe load is percentages off 1RM or estimated 1RM. We typically use open range sets or percentages to accommodate for fatigue, poor sleep, or oversized egos. Also, sometimes an athlete can’t miss, so we want to strike while the iron is hot on those days and not limit them. We’ll either allow them to choose the percentage or the reps per set based on how they feel. The written card would look like this:
- Box squat 3×6-8 at 75% or box squat 3×6 at 75%-77%.
- Do six reps, but if you can get to eight, do it. Or, do 3×6 at a percentage of your choice in the range. If it’s easy, add weight.
- In consecutive weeks, I’ll simply just note “add 5 pounds from last week’s weight” and do the same exact thing again, just with 5-10 pounds more. I’ll stick with that for about three weeks.
For this population, the plan is usually linear for the heavy effort days. Typically, a simple accumulation then an intensification block. Off-season teams will then lead into a realization block building up to test at the end of the semester, and teams going into their season will transition to a lesser-volume, in-season program. The more advanced groups will also alternate dynamic effort days on a typical three-week pendulum wave.
How to Determine Training Maxes Without Testing
Reps in reserve (RIR): How many more could you have done? Quality control test. I’ll give them a range of how many more they should have in the tank after a set and adjust their training max up or down accordingly. This helps us dial in an accurate max to work off.
Allow them to pick their own max: I’ve found this to be surprisingly accurate. I do this with our stronger teams coming off summer break, but even a good number of freshmen have an idea of where their maxes are, or at least a ballpark of what their 3-5 rep max is. I know most of them have trained, but I haven’t seen them in months, and I’ve never seen the freshmen, so we don’t test squat maxes immediately. It’s also not necessary. Have them pick their own, then use the RIR guide and adjust if needed.
More novice groups or those coming off long training layoffs won’t have training maxes, or they will progress past their current maxes quickly, so prescribing a max isn’t worth it. For these populations, I don’t really care about the exact load to start. I care way more about them getting comfortable with training and moving well, then applying progressive overload.If you chase load over movement quality, you’ll miss out on both. If you pursue movement quality first, the strength will come automatically. It’s inevitable, says @pbasilstrength. Click To Tweet
If you chase load over movement quality, you’ll miss out on both. If you pursue movement quality first, the strength will come automatically. It’s inevitable. With this method, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
I have two main progression or rep schemes for this population: 5, 6, 7, 8 or 7, 8, 7, 8 loading blocks.
The 5, 6, 7, 8 is just starting with a weight they feel comfortable with for 3-4 work sets of 5. The following week take that same weight for 3-4 sets of 6, then 3-4 sets of 7, then 3-4 sets of 8, in consecutive weeks. That’s a four-week accumulation block. You can reset back down to 5s, add 10 pounds, then do it again. Really, you can do this until it stops working.
Week 1: Four sets of 5 with a weight you’re confident with.
Week 2: Four sets of 6 with the same as Week 1 or up if it feels good.
Week 3: Four sets of 7 with the same as Week 2 or up if it feels good.
Week 4: Four sets of 8 with the same as Week 3 or up if it feels good.
The 7, 8, 7, 8 is more or less the same idea, but we increase volume or weight each week. The first week will be four sets of 7 with their choice of weight—this can even be an empty bar. The following week, we take the same exact weight and add one rep: four sets of 8. The next week go back down to 4×7 and add 5 pounds, then do that again for 4×8 in consecutive weeks. The next four weeks can drop the reps and add weight 6, 7, 6, 7 then 5, 6, 5, 6 then 3, 4, 3, 4. That can be 12-16 weeks of progression across a semester.
These very slow, gradual increases are fantastic for beginners because they allow them to use training loads that they have already done and feel comfortable and confident training with. Also, the continued small wins build tremendous confidence and eliminate the fear of loading heavier weights. This is also scalable for a large group of mixed training levels. Freshmen can use an empty bar and make 5-pound jumps; upperclassmen I can give a rough training max to work off, and they can make larger jumps.
Week 1: Four sets of 7 with a weight you’re confident with.
Week 2: Four sets of 8 with the same weight as Week 1 or up if it feels good.
Week 3: Four sets of 7 but add 5 pounds to the weight you used last week.
Week 4: Four sets of 8 with the same weight as Week 3 or up if it feels good.
Repeat process with sets of 5 and 6 but add weight to start the block.
That’s it, and it really is that easy to build strength in novice populations, even intermediates. I think we, as coaches, get in our own way more often than not with trying to do more with programming and loading schemes. Just do more than last time with great quality reps—it works.
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