Brandon Reyes is an assistant football strength and conditioning coach at Army West Point who works primarily with skill players. Prior to arriving at West Point, Brandon was a graduate assistant under Kent Morgan, gaining experience with a number of teams including the Division II national championship football program.
Freelap USA: Plyometric training is an important piece of the power development puzzle for the college football athlete. What is your approach to using plyometrics in a team setting with football athletes? Is there a different approach with different positions/body types?
Brandon Reyes: A well-designed plyometric program should align with the goals of each individual session and the program from a broad perspective. In short, we should aim to check all of the following requirements.
- Can athletes execute it and get the most out of the drill?
- Is it specific to their position’s needs?
- Will it enhance the accompanying speed or COD work?
When designing a plyometric program, you must consider all the same variables you do when it comes to strength training: overload, specificity, volume, intensity, and frequency. Once you understand that, you can start to visualize a long-term plan for how these drills will progress.
First, whatever drill you choose, the athletes must have the ability to perform it. That doesn’t mean they will be technicians on day one, but they should have some level of competency when asked to do whatever drill you choose. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ask a 300-pound tackle to do a standing triple jump when he has never done a single-leg broad jump before. Understand the complexity of each jump and its progressions/regressions before you begin programming.
Second, will it enhance the capabilities of the group I am prescribing it to? The power demands of a running back and a defensive lineman are different. From a physics standpoint, I guess they aren’t because they both need to express power, but how that power is expressed is dramatically different between the two. A skill player will require more complex plyometrics—more single leg emphasis, with a mixture of acceleration-focused drills, as well as reactive drills. Understand the needs of each group you are programming for before you begin assigning drills.
Last, will this drill prime what the main emphasis of the day is? If it is an acceleration-based day on the field, we should probably have some horizontal, accelerative jumps in our program prior to sprinting. When programming for a whole team, it’s easiest to start with your more dynamic players and work backward.
Example for an acceleration focus:
- Skill – standing triple jump
- Combo – continuous broad jump
- Bigs – band-resisted broad jump
If we can start off basic with our selection and have it suit the needs and abilities of each group, we give ourselves a great framework to progress and overload throughout the cycle. Whether you increase intensity through heights and loads or increase volume through total contacts, there needs to be progression. Variation and complexity are another way we progress through a cycle. Combining vertical and horizontal or changing tempos and contact times are some examples of how we challenge the athlete’s coordination.
Freelap USA: It is often said that the best way to improve speed is to sprint. After the sprint bucket has been filled, what ways do you improve speed ability in the weight room?
Brandon Reyes: First off, I think we simplify sprinting too much. Yes, the best way to get faster is to run fast, but if that is all we do, we miss out on a lot of potential development. I’m not saying sprinting doesn’t yield a ton of adaptation, but just like anything we do, there needs to be a plan for progression. Your plyo work, resisted acceleration work, and drill selection all play a key role in MAXIMIZING sprint ability, not just training it.Once the sprint bucket is filled, you can go in several directions, and it really depends on where the athlete is weak in their sprinting ability, says @CoachBReyes. Click To Tweet
Once that bucket is filled, you can go in several directions, and it really depends on where the athlete is weak in their sprinting ability. In general, we select exercises that target starting strength and RFD, train hamstrings twice a week, and really load up single leg work. Regardless of what your selection is, if your speed program is adequate, everything else is icing on the cake.
Freelap USA: Expressing power can be difficult to do without a baseline of strength. What are some low-skill requisite strategies to improve power production while the young athlete is developing strength at the same time?
Brandon Reyes: A baseline of strength is important early on in an athlete’s development. Your ability to produce power significantly improves especially early in your training experience. It can be tricky to continue to develop power as you chase general strength, but I think you summed it up in your previous question. If they are sprinting, jumping, and throwing appropriately based on their skill level, they are getting sufficient power development.
Teaching the clean is a great example in the weight room itself. We take a long time to advance through our clean progression. Obviously, at first, we are not developing a ton of power because the loads are light, and we are reinforcing excellent technique. However, we can add in clean pulls and loaded or unloaded jumps after the technique work is completed. In this way you preserve both qualities: laying the technical foundation and developing power. All qualities must be trained at all times, only the percentage at which they are trained changes.
Freelap USA: Loaded sprints can be a useful tool in power production. What is a guideline for loading sprints? What different adaptations do different loading strategies stimulate?
Brandon Reyes: Loaded sprints are useful for so many reasons outside of force production. They are a useful tool for manufacturing intent and also provide tactile feedback to reinforce technique. As far as loading parameters go, we stay between 10% and 30% of body weight, which is standard. The question is how do you do that in a large team setting?
It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to have an exact load for each athlete. At the end of the day, if it is in the ballpark, it will get the job done. For example, most of our skill athletes are between 185 and 215 pounds. An example cycle may be two weeks at roughly 30% and two at 10%. To accomplish that with 60 athletes in a timely manner, all the loads are the same: two chains for weeks 1 and 2 (roughly 40 pounds) and one chain for weeks 3 and 4 (20 pounds). Whether your athlete is 185 or 215, the difference is a few percentages of body weight. Don’t get caught up in the weeds. Look at the bigger picture.
Freelap USA: Team setting training makes individualization difficult. What are some strategies in training to get as close to individualization as possible in the weight room and during field/movement/speed training?
Brandon Reyes: In order to truly individualize an athlete’s program, they need to have a sufficient foundation of movement. It makes your life significantly harder if you are trying to assess and write programs for 150+ athletes on a team when they haven’t been taught fundamental movements.In order to truly individualize an athlete’s program, they need to have a sufficient foundation of movement, says @CoachBReyes. Click To Tweet
At Army, our athletes spend the first six to nine months on a Block Zero and Bravo program that is designed to slowly progress through the squat, press, hinge, and clean. I say six to nine months because there is room for us to take more time to teach if necessary. Once they have graduated to the barbell and have spent some time establishing competency with the major lifts, they move on to the rest of the program, where we can break them down by position, training age, and needs.
Understand, before individualization can begin, there must be a common ground of training to relate to. Simply having a kid trap bar deadlift for their whole career because they weren’t taught how to squat in high school is a disservice to their development. Not that every kid is a great squatter, but immediately resorting to doing an “easier” exercise limits your ceiling for growth. Individualization for us starts from a macro perspective and moves to a micro one.
Breaking into bigs, combo, and skill is step one. Addressing the major qualities of those groups specifically. At this level, there is little difference between the major exercises.
Training age: At Army the majority of our sophomores and juniors are put into our Alpha program. Based on strength levels and training age, we begin focusing on more dynamic work, lower-volume max strength work, and more complex exercises.
True individualization: Our seniors and some of our juniors begin the Elite phase, where we truly individualize each athlete. At this point, we want to continue to train their strengths and what makes them a great player. Exercise selection depends on injury history and what will keep them ready to compete. These are priority guys who have the necessary physical qualities, and you need to keep them healthy and performing at their best.Especially in a team setting, having slight variations of a single block for different groups allows you to train a number of groups differently at once, says @CoachBReyes. Click To Tweet
In short, start with a broad view and narrow your focus. Each athlete doesn’t need their own program. Especially in a team setting, having slight variations of a single block for different groups allows you to train a number of groups differently at once. We may have four different groups doing different squat variations in a workout, and that allows us to train them based on their needs and development while also being able to manage the room. Individualization only goes as far as you can effectively implement it. It will always come down to execution.
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