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Mailbag: Prioritizing Your Time With Your Athletes

Had a great question sent in this week from a young coach in Ohio.  I wanted to share it with all of you because I think we can generate some great discussion points.

I work with a high school football team in their off-season.  It is something I really enjoy doing, and this site has given me a lot of direction in how I approach each day.  However, I feel sometimes I try to do too much.  I have hard time trying to consolidate my work because I want to accomplish too many things at once.  I feel like there are so many important things I want to accomplish with my kids that sometimes our workouts last 2 hours or more.  I want to learn how to better structure our time.  What’s the most important part of your workout each day and how do you set your priorities?  – Mark A. in Cleveland, Ohio.

That’s a great question Mark, and glad to have you on board the USC team.  One of the most common mistakes I see from coaches, athletes and weekend warriors alike is cluttered workouts with too much variety.  However, I want to be clear, I don’t feel there is any one thing that is the MOST important.  Instead, I think a balanced approach focusing on a few key areas is the key to true progress and growth in novice athletes.

If you look at any of the training plans I have posted before, it may seem like a lot of work, but when you break it down there are a clear 3-5 goals I am trying to address each day.  I find time to incorporate the things we do because I believe they are all important.   Each aspect deserves a certain degree of focus and effort, because I believe the benefits outweigh the time commitment.

Without getting too particular (because I have posted some pretty specific plans in the past) below is an overview of a typical workout and a justification for each element.   I want you to keep in mind that, my focus is on the physical preparation of athletes training for sports performance.  If your goals are different, your focuses should reflect that.

Staff shirt

#1. Warm up – 10 minutes – address flexibility/mobility issues, prepare the body for higher volumes and intensities of work.  Also, in the group setting, the warm up gives a great platform to learn, teach, practice the strength exercises we will perform that day.  One off days, warm up work is perfect for stimulating recovery by serving as low level fitness work and mobility work.

#2. Movement Training – 10-15 minutes.  Movement training for me is any type of body athletic training.  So sprinting mechanics, plyometric work, shuffling, backpedaling, hopping, jumping, and bounding.   Again, this needs to be a progressive approach.  First we teach proper techniques.  As we become more and more proficient at the drills, the intensity level goes up.  Movement training occurs immediately after the warm up when we are freshest.  This drills should be performed explosively, and we do not want fatigue to effect technique.

#3. Strength Training – 20-30 minutes.  This is where your question was really directed.  Most people try to do too much volume (too many exercises, too many movements, too many reps) during their strength training.  If we are doing high quality, high intensity movement training, our strength training does not need to be a marathon of weights.  I typically assign 2-4 primary exercises to be completed with the addition of 3-5 secondary/complimentary exercises to follow.

For example, early in the week, on a day we did some max effort short sprints we may follow up in the weight room with

Primary

  • Back Squat – 3-4 sets of 5 reps
  •  RDL (or other hip/hamstring dominate exercise) – 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps
  •  Bench Press – 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps
  •  Pull Ups (or other heavy pulling work) – 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps

 Supplementary work

  • DB Step Back Lunge – 2 sets of 8 reps each
  •  Lateral Hip work (AB/ADD, lateral lunging, band work) – 2 sets of 10-20 reps
  •  Band Pull Aparts (or other upper back dominate work) 2 sets of 10-20 reps.

 Again, these are just quick examples, but I think the picture is clear.  Pick fewer exercises and focus on quality.  All together I am aiming for 12-16 sets of high quality work, training in multiple planes, and maintaining speed of movement with our big lifts.  If we try to do much more than this, the after effects will negatively effect skill practice on the following days, which means I am not putting my athletes in the best position to succeed at their sport.

Football conditioning

#4.  Work Capacity – 10-15 Minutes.  This is our fitness work.  It may be short shuttles, it may be pushing sleds, it may be body weight conditioning circuits, or weight room based work.  Do not skimp on your work capacity work.  Raising your body’s ability to handle high volumes and intensities of work allows for us to handle perform higher quality skill work for longer periods of time as well as improves our bodies ability to recover.

 This is also a great time to make your training competitive and to truly challenge your athletes physically and mentally.  There are lots of ways to accomplish this but some easy ones are doing relay races where losers of each race pay a penalty (pushups/burpees).   Making your training competitive also keeps your athletes engaged and makes those tough training days more enjoyable.  I will have more on this in a future post soon.

#5. Recovery – 5 Minutes.  Recovery work is an equally important part of the training process.  We want to make sure we are taking time at the end of the work out to actively focus on relaxing, lowering the heart rate, and easing out of sympathetic drive.  The sooner we can hit that physiological off switch from stress to relax, the sooner our systems start to repair themselves.   This is also a time for stretching and flexibility work.

 That’s a brief overview of how I structure each day.  Using the lower range of times, that work can all be accomplished in an hour.  Obviously some days we go beyond that, depending on what our goals for the day are, but there is virtually no reason ever for a novice or intermediate athlete to be training for longer than 90 minutes.  Leave some fuel in the tank and live to train another day.  Training and adaptation are long term processes, each day is a stimulus, but no one day trumps them all.

 I hope this helps you out.  Keep the questions coming guys.

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