Before you can develop a program for an athlete or group of athletes as was mentioned in the previous blog, you need to first assess their specific needs by completing a needs analysis. Once you finish the needs assessment, you must determine the best exercises to meet those needs based on the equipment available to you. The following questions must be answered if you are working in a large group/team setting: 1) is there a sufficient amount of space available to safely train the number of athletes, 2) how much and what equipment is available, and 3) are there enough qualified coaches to teach technique so that your athletes can train safely and effectively? This is what I call the logistics of programming.

In my opinion, the priority of sequencing the major exercises of your program is an important factor in the success of the program. If you’re training an athlete one-on-one or in a small group setting (three or four athletes), you will likely be able to sequence the exercises as you desire. If you are working in a large group/team setting, being able to optimally sequence the exercises in the order you want will for sure be more difficult, and it’s probable that it won’t be possible. In this case you may want to use a variation of Joe Kenn’s tier system discussed in his book, The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook, where major lifts are rotated every workout. A simplistic example would be that this enables each group to start each day’s workouts with a primary exercise. For example, on Monday Group 1 begins with major total body (PC), Group 2 begins with major lower body (SQ) and Group 3 begins with major upper body (BP). On Wednesday Group 1 starts with major lower body (SQ), Group 2 with major upper body (BP) and Group 3 with major total body (PC) and so on.

The above is a brief simplified description of Coach Kenn’s tier system. If you haven’t read Coach Kenn’s book The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook, I would HIGHLY suggest you do. It’s an easy read and I found that once I started reading it, I was so into it that I pretty much finished it in a couple of days. It has been a significant reference for me since I first read it close to 15 years ago.

During football season at my previous school, I was training approximately 160 athletes in one session (athletic period). Unlike many coaches, I was blessed to have a nicely equipped 9,600 sq. ft. facility in which to train. Our room was set up in “fives”; we had five bench presses with each having a loaded dumbbell rack from 10 lbs. to 100 lbs., five incline presses with the same DB set up, five squat racks, five glute-ham machines, five Hammer Jammers (which I primarily used for chin-ups/pull-ups), and ten platforms with Oly bars and complete sets of bumper plates. I also had access to a large parking lot on one side of the building and practice fields on the other side, which I used to push and pull weighted sleds and flip tractor tires, etc.

This amount of space and equipment, although not enough to sequence exactly as I would like, allowed me the freedom to modify a tier-type system and accomplish an exercise sequence that was quite efficient. I had two separate workouts running for approximately 10-12 groups of 12-15 athletes each day. Groups 1-6 were doing Workout A and Groups 7-12 were performing Workout B on Day 1. On Day 2 they flipped workouts.

Unlike the tier system, I didn’t rotate starting points daily but was able to do so when I felt the need. I also mixed some mobility/stability in the rotation with my two major exercises for each workout, which acted as an CNS/muscle activator/pre-hab exercise and avoided pre-exhausting the kids prior to, say, performing heavy squats or cleans when those lifts were programmed later in their workout.

One thing that is important to understand is that, unless you are training athletes in the one-on-one or small group setting in a fully equipped facility, there is no such thing as “the perfect world.” There will be obstacles: too many kids for the space allotted, not enough of certain pieces of equipment, not enough qualified coaches to teach a large number of athletes as effectively as possible, etc. It is in these situations where you learn to think outside the box and, through repeated tweaks to the program over time, develop a quality and effective program. To paraphrase Dr. Don Chu in his book Jumping into Plyometrics, developing a quality strength and conditioning program is as much an art as it is a science. Based on your philosophy, the needs of your athletes and your available facility space/equipment, put your program thoughts down on paper and go to work “putting the puzzle together.” Evaluate, adjust and modify as you go. The program I use today is based on the same concepts and premises as it was 15-20 years ago but has been constantly evaluated, tweaked and improved every step of the way.

In our next installment, we will begin “Putting the Puzzle Together” and getting the program moving forward from conception to action.