Complete strength & conditioning program for athletes including speed, agility, plyos, strength and fitness
I can’t tell you how often I hear people tell me that what they’re doing just isn’t working. The best way for me to figure out what isn’t working is to ask questions. When asked about their training goals, most people – even many competitive athletes – admit that looking good is the root of their motivation to work hard. Athletes also need to move well, but be honest with yourself – would you spend all that time working out if it didn’t change your appearance? Sure, you may enjoy putting up big numbers and being in good shape, but the truth is you probably want to look good.
Of course, if you’re a competitive strength athlete and really don’t care how you look or move, feel free to stop reading. I respect you and you’re sport. Strength-based competitions are grueling and require tremendous focus and dedication. I’ve also learned that most strength athletes don’t want to look and move like complete slobs. The days of the fat-ass strongman are gone. Even heavyweight powerlifters like to look decent these days. Just look at Pudzianowski or Kroc.
It’s why most people train, why we eat well and why we constantly read and talk about training strategies. So, where do we go for that information? Again, be honest with yourself. Most people either turn to the internet or ask the biggest guy at the gym.
I thought we were well past turning to the “big guy” for advice, but apparently we’re not. It happens all the time, even though we know full-well that the biggest guys in the gym are often that way despite the way they’re training. God blesses some people with “big” genetics; these guys grow just looking at weights. Others are blessed with “fast” genes, “coordinated” genes, “endurance” genes, “ripped” genes, etc. but people listen to “the big guy” so often that one of my trainers thought about taking steroids just so more people would listen to him. While it sounds ridiculous, you know it’s kind of true….sad….but true.
The internet contains a tremendous amount of information, and it’s the first place most people turn when they want answers. Sites like T-Nation offer information-hungry lifters more knowledge than we would have dreamed possible 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it is also a haven for charlatans and snake oil salesmen because there is no one there to check them; the truth is optional on the internet. People can pretty much say whatever they want, so the truth can be skewed quite a bit. Depending on who you turn to, you’ll either get a golden nugget of information or a handful of turds.
You also have to learn how to ask the right questions. This is true both on the internet and in real life. I’ve found that the best way to get to the bottom of a situation, or glean the most valuable information, is through asking the right questions, especially follow-up questions. Information can often be mis-leading when you don’t ask the right questions of the right people.
So, I like to ask people questions when they tell me they aren’t getting the results they’d really like. Here is an example of one of those conversations:
Me: What is your goal?
Client: I want to look and move like an athlete. I guess I want to get stronger, but I really want to look like Vernon Davis, AJ Hawk, Dwight Howard or any competitive gymnast (for the record, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they want to look like an offensive lineman or fat-ass heavyweight powerlifter – no offense guys).
Me: OK, so what have you been doing?
Client: I’m doing (insert popular powerlifting program or steroid influenced routine found in a magazine).
Me: What’s your diet like?
Client: I’m in my bulking phase and eating 4000 Kcals and 300 grams of protein each day.
Me: Are you doing any kind of conditioning work or athletic activity?
Client: I usually warm up on a bike for 10 minutes before I lift.
Me: And, what was your goal again?
Client: I want to look and move like a jacked-up athlete.
Me: I think I can help.
Let’s be clear about this – If you want to move or look like an athlete, you need to train like an athlete. I’m not talking about a strength athlete. I’m talking about more traditional, movement-based sports like football, basketball, or hockey players. And, I don’t know any athletes that train like strength athletes. It’s just not what they do. They may use little bits here and there, but you’re not going to find the guys mentioned above training like a strength athlete. It’s just totally different.
Again, if you’re a competitive strength athlete, God bless you. These are difficult sports that require a tremendous amount of time, energy and dedication. But, if you want to look and move like an athlete, and aren’t going to enter any strength competitions, then why are you training like you are?
I’ve been training competitive athletes full-time for nearly 20 years, and not one of them has ever been concerned with their powerlifting numbers. Most of them wouldn’t even know what a “raw” deadlift is or even give a rat’s ass. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t know a single NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB strength coach who worries about powerlifting numbers. Sure, developing strength is always the goal, and powerlifting techniques are employed, but the training is very different.
Over the past few years, powerlifting routines and programs have gained popularity online. Plenty of powerlifting coaches have created online programs for lifting heavy weights. These programs are great for putting up big numbers; that’s what they’re designed to do, and they work. But, like I said before, this is not how most athletes train, and if you want to look like an athlete, you need to train like one. Sure, athletes lift heavy weights, but that’s a very small part of what they do. Not everyone wants to be a powerlifter, and that’s OK. You don’t have to. In fact, most people aren’t ever going to enter a meet, yet they continue to train like it. Take the burden off your shoulders – you don’t HAVE to powerlift.
Unfortunately, not nearly as many strength & conditioning coaches (I mean coaches who actually train competitive athletes every day) write articles and sell programs online. So, it makes sense that people find the powerlifting information and follow the routines.
In addition to lifting heavy weights, athletes also lift lighter weights. They rarely do single body part routines. They use lots of different equipment. They train at a fairly high pace. They work their entire body. They also do plenty of speed work, plyos and conditioning that keeps their body fat low and keeps them moving like cats. The combination of this work and quality nutrition give athletes the lean look and dynamic movement qualities so many people want.
I’m sure some of you are thinking “my big lift numbers are going to suffer if I do all that extra work.” At some point, you have to prioritize. Do you only want to put up big numbers or do you want to look and feel like a chiseled athlete?
Here’s the thing – unless you’re in a powerlifting meet, nobody really cares what your numbers are. You can post them on your Facebook page or tweet about your most recent PR, but nobody is really impressed unless you’re setting records. When you take your shirt off at the beach, nobody is going to say “That guy looks kind of out of shape, but I bet he can pull a lot of weight off the floor.” You can think it happens, but it doesn’t.
If you want to look great, getting some conditioning in is totally worth the slight dip your powerlifting numbers might take. You need to ask yourself “Would I rather squat 500 pounds and move/look like a superhero or squat 550 and still look out of shape?” If you truly don’t care what you look like, and just want to lift heavy weights, I’m 100% cool with that because you’re probably a legit strength athlete. That’s awesome. But, if you keep coming back to this site, and aren’t going to be entering any strength-based competitions, I have a feeling you care about what you look like.
Below is a typical program that an athlete would follow. I’ve actually used this template for many collegiate and professional athletes. Record your reps & weight, and increase the weight when you can get all of the reps indicated with the same weight. You might not be able to do all of the reps on each exercise, so just try to improve by one rep on one set each workout. For example, on the 5 x 5 bench press day, you may use 250 pounds and get 5, 5, 5, 4, 3. Just record it, and the next time try to get 5, 5, 5, 4, 4. The next time get 5, 5, 5, 5, 4 and continue until you get all five sets of 5. At that point, increase the weight the smallest amount possible and keep moving forward. I didn’t include any warm-up sets, but make sure you’re always prepared for heavy weight.
The speed, agility, plyos and conditioning options are below. How you implement these are ultimately up to you. The sky’s the limit, and we’re offering a general outline or template to follow in order with the lifting.
30 minutes of speed work (Take 1:00 break between sets)
6 x 10 yards – 2 warm-up, 4 all out
4 x 10 – Sled Starts (use 15% of your bodyweight)
4 x 20 yards
20 minutes of Plyometrics (Take 30-60 seconds break between sets)
2 x 10 Ankle Flip Jumps
3 x 10 – 1-leg 6” Box Jumps
3 x 5 – Squat Jumps
3 x 3 – 2-leg Frog Hops
3 x 3 – 1-leg Frog Hops
20 minutes of agility work (Take
4 x 20 yard Pro-Shuttles each way
Zig-Zags and Cone Drills with variations
15-20 Minutes of Anaerobic Conditioning
3 x 300 yard shuttles (3 minutes rest between reps)
2 x Tabata Sets (:20 work, :10 sec rest x 8) on Treadmill, start at 8.0 MPH @ 5% Incline
When you can finish at this pace, increase the speed .5 MPH
The speed, agility, plyos and conditioning work can vary each week, so feel free to change it up to keep things interesting. Just get the work in. Also, be sure to go through a complete warm-up before each workout to prepare your body for what’s about to happen.
You’ll notice that it’s an upper/lower split with Monday & Tuesday being heavier “strength” days and Thursday & Friday higher rep “hypertrophy” or “dummy swole” days. This is a variation of undulating periodization that takes advantage of both heavy and light work each week. You get the benefits of high-tension work and high time-under-tension work that breaks down more protein and forces protein re-synthesis. This also allows for plenty of recovery and will give you the benefits of both increasing your size and strength.
You might not be used to the conditioning and speed work, so it may blow you out the first couple of weeks and make it harder to lift. Don’t worry, you’ll get into shape quickly and love the benefits you’ll see. Decrease the volume of work a little at the beginning if it’s too much for you.
If you’re used to working out 6-7 days a week, just enjoy having a life. Spend some time with your wife or girlfriend. Re-introduce yourself to your children you’ve lost time with because you’ve been at the gym. Enjoy some time with friends or doing something fun.
Each workout takes about 90-120 minutes, so you’re getting plenty of work done. Keep the pace high during the lifting so you’re not wasting time. You’ll see I use a lot of super-sets and giant-sets to keep you moving. Yes, this kind of training is hard, but like I said before, if you want to look like an athlete, you have to train like one.
Make sure you’re also eating like an athlete. Properly fuel your body before a workout, and replenish yourself afterward. Make quality choices and consume the proper number of calories. There is plenty of information available on nutrition, so take advantage of it.
When you’re ready, give this program a try for 2-3 months. You’re going to feel explosive, athletic, strong and jacked up. Don’t quit after the first week, though. Put your time in and start looking and feeling like an athlete.
Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS
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