As the summer months come upon us I am both excited for the upcoming influx of athletes that we work with and overwhelmed by those that come in with programs from their various strength and conditioning coaches across North America. This is not meant to knock on those programming for these athletes but to consider a few different approaches that may make you think twice about your summer programming. In my experience as a strength and conditioning coach coupled with 20+ years of coaching sport I have come up with some of the issues associated with working with teams and some strategies (mostly through mistakes I have made myself or have observed from others) that I feel have helped the quality of programming for groups and teams. Please keep in mind that when we work with large groups there is no “ideal” way to manage them. There are so many variables to deal with (age, space, maturity, experience etc.) that for the most part the best you can do for your group or team is the best you can do. If there was a magic formula or exercise that fit everyone we would all be awesome. Below are some scenarios, solutions, modifications and considerations that I have adapted over the years.
1.) The best scenario is clearly to work with athletes or clients in a one on one situation so that we can individualize everything. As we all know, what works for one person works for one person and the more people we put into the mix the harder it is to individualize. For the most part, the groups or teams we work with are pretty resilient given their competitive and physiological age (high school and college level), but this doesn’t mean we should assume they can handle whatever we throw their way. I also understand that as coaches sending athletes on their way for the summer puts us in a difficult situation as we cannot supervise them and are assuming they know what they are doing and that they are competent in all the movements you have provided for them.
Triage the hell out of your programs. What I have found to be very effective is to make programs to fit the needs of specific groups. I will use my university rugby team as an example. We had upwards of 80 athletes ranging from 1st to 5th year and ranging from never lifted before to full on meat head. After our testing day I looked at results, all of the videos (we filmed the last two attempts) and I scanned through all of my notes and came up with these categories (this is just for this group and I have more categories but they are dependent on the group you will be working with):
· Development or “movement challenged”-Those new to lifting or the weight room setting. This also included those coming off injury and/or those that showed proficiency in the core lifts but moved poorly or need more practice. In some case, this may also be an older athlete that has gotten away with less than great technique and needs a little re-education.
· Weight Gain-Those that needed specific hypertrophy programs. Since this is a University program that plays in a league with grown men (15 a side is not a university sport although it has varsity status so it is boys against men in most cases) so this is the majority of them.
· Vets-Those that have competency in all of the core lifts and I am comfortable spending the least amount of time with them in a group setting. They need tweaking on technique, but I feel they are fairly self-sufficient.
· Freaks (I don’t call it this as I don’t want egos to come into play)-Those that move well and are exceptionally powerful and strong and may not require the same amount of volume that some of the others may need and may need some more specific individual work to both continue and enhance their power and strength.
As you can see, this seems to be a lot of programming. In actuality it is not as brutal as it seems (it helps that I have no life and my time constraints are few though) considering I used to give position specific programs. I have steered away from position specific programs and just made on the spot modifications or in some cases I will make specific changes to an athlete or group of athletes programs on a need to basis. The way I look at it, I have an expectation for all of my athletes regardless of what sport they play. They must show proficiency in our core lifts, understand how to hip hinge correctly, how to hold tension etc. With these concepts in mind, programming doesn’t become so horrible. The only real changes are within the development group where I may regress some of the core movements until they are able to execute them competently coupled with assistance movements to improve proficiency in said movements. What is different is the load, volume, frequency, intensity and usually a few of the auxiliary exercises. So the core of the program is the same with the exception of change in reps, sets and percentages. In the case of sending out programs for the summer, I may keep the same categories but if I am not confident in the athletes technique, I will give them a few options stemming from the core lift such as: Hang CleanàBox Jump or Medicine Ball Throw, Front SquatàFront Split Squat, DeadliftàTrap Bar Deadlift or Romanian Deadlift (this is either written below the core exercise or in a comment tied to the core exercise). I understand this is not ideal, but either is an athlete spending a summer with terrible technique. I know that I will get them back in the fall and I will be intensive on technique in the first phase of our programming for all groups.
2.) The next best scenario is small group training. I understand when we have a small gym and are responsible for 100’s of athletes this can be near impossible. Having said this, there are times in the day, month or year where we can be more impactful.
· Have an eye for detail by taking advantage of any time you get a situation where you can work within a small group or individuals (i.e. summer time while a large portion of your athletes are back home or with your injury rehab athletes). Although this is not ideal for those that are away for the summer it gives you more time to focus on movement in a somewhat controlled atmosphere as opposed to having 30 people in the gym or on the field at once. Now that I have years of experience with individuals it makes it far easier to point out dysfunctions or technical issues in a group setting which allows us to intervene far quicker than letting things slide because we don’t have the ability to spot some of the smaller details.
· Have interns or an internship program. I understand that the majority of interns we will get are nowhere near qualified to run a group while you take time to work with one athlete or a small group, but once you have a level of confidence in both your athletes and interns, start to separate the athletes that need specific attention. This doesn’t mean you need to give out individualized programs but at the very least it gives you time to make regressions or progressions as needed.
· With the boom in technology, use apps such as: Ubersense or Coaches Eye to film (or have interns or athletes do it). This gives us the ability to either give instant feedback if we were unable to watch someone specific or to review the film, give feedback via the app and email it to the athlete in your downtime. This also gives us the ability to help our athletes when they are home for the summer or away as they can easily film themselves and send it to you immediately.
3.) Use your testing sessions for more than data collection. Our ultimate goal is performance and I am not against testing by any means. Maximal tests are the few times you can assess your athletes under high speeds and loads. I know everyone loves the FMS, but if you are into seeing dysfunction, learn to observe and correct it at high loads and speeds. Testing should be used for so much more than it currently is and should be a huge consideration in your athletes programs.
We test teams to get baselines, comparative data, see results, spark competition and build camaraderie but do we ever use those tests as an assessment of movement? I don’t mean do a movement screen coupled with your strength, power, speed, agility and conditioning testing. I mean watch how the athlete moves in these tests, address it, assess it and correct it. Do we come up with commonalities understanding the sport, specific positions, different body types, experience levels and past injury history so that we can program efficiently for large groups? Do your summer programs consider these factors?
I understand that quite often there are not enough hours in the day to execute our plans to perfection. Having said that, if we actually spent more of our professional development time with other coaches we should be able to come up with some level of a solution that is more than adequate. To me, there is nothing worse than being in a weight room setting and the coaches are nowhere to be found. Programming is a small part of what we do that takes up a large portion of our time, but if sport or position coaches just placed their daily plans on a sheet of paper and gave it to their athletes and said “go do this, I’ll come check on you periodically over the next hour” they would not have a job for very long. If you work with groups or team’s your organizational skills need to be impeccable. This doesn’t just mean you have sweet program packets. It means the setup of the gym, the pairing of specific subgroups, the space and equipment you have available, the skills or lack thereof of your athletes all need to be accounted for when considering your programs. There is no magic solution for group training guys but I hope some of these points help and as always please do not hesitate to contact me with comments or questions.
Yours in Strength,