Once you’ve completed a needs assessment for the athlete(s) and a facility/equipment/logistics assessment, you’re ready to begin putting pencil to paper and outlining your program ideas. Many young athletes participate in team sports in an interscholastic setting, so that will be the example I will use for this blog.
The major team sports played in an interscholastic setting are what I refer to as “power sports.” These include sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, track and field, baseball/softball and soccer. Although each sport has its own special needs, they all require the athlete to run, jump and quickly change directions. Since those same base requirements are present in each of these sports, and in many cases the same athletes participate in two or more of these sports, it makes sense that the same program concepts and exercises be present in base-level programming for those young athletes.
The following are the goals I desire to accomplish with any strength program I develop:
- To build well-rounded athletes
- To develop strength, power, speed and muscular balance
- To develop confidence within the athlete
- To develop a strong work ethic and increase discipline and character in the athlete
- To decrease the risk of injury and, in the case of injury, decrease the athlete’s recovery time
Simply said, my goal is to develop a complete athlete. From a physical standpoint, I will use a variety of tools to achieve these goals.
An often-overlooked piece of this development is the athlete’s mobility. Many times, a coach has a limited amount of time to get everything in the workout complete within the scheduled time frame. Coaches are often forced to prioritize which exercises they use in the workout and the emphasis they place on each. Warm-ups, mobility and flexibility often get cut short or completely excluded because they are ignorantly listed at the bottom of the priority list. I say ignorantly because this low priority is primarily due to a lack of knowledge of these movements’ importance in the health and development of the athlete. In the past, I have been guilty of doing this very thing because I didn’t think those movements gave me as much “bang for my buck” as other strength training exercises. As I’ve continued to grow in knowledge and experience over the years, mobility, stability and flexibility have increased significantly and continue to grow in their presence in my programs.
Even if you do not have much time, adding as much hip, shoulder and T-spine mobility as you can will reap outstanding benefits, especially in male athletes who tend to get more “front loaded” by overtraining the so-called “show muscles” and neglecting the “go muscles” as well as any flexibility/mobility whatsoever. Also, as I discussed in my first blog “What is Your Training Philosophy?” today’s young athletes don’t get outside and play like kids did 25 years ago. That loss of organic movement and activity, coupled with the fact that in our current educational system we have all but eliminated recess and P.E. and make kids sit in a desk for eight or nine hours per day with almost no movement, means overall body posture is extremely poor and out of whack.
Continuing to train the athlete in a manner that focuses primarily on developing the “show muscles” on the anterior side of the body will further exasperate the issue of poor posture and decreased mobility within the hips and shoulders. I attended the NSCA Texas State Clinic recently, and one of the presenters, Christie Powell PT, the owner of Champion Physical Therapy, made an extremely interesting point. As I mentioned previously, in today’s educational system where we require kids to sit in desks for extended periods of time with little to no physical movement, their hip flexors are in a shortened state and over time cause pelvic rotation, which leads to low back issues. Then we as strength coaches (and they as athletes) want to improve core strength and get “six packs,” so we go to work with a bunch of spinal flexion movements such as crunches, sit-ups, etc., where we get minimal abdominal work but majorly add to the shortening of the hip flexors, compounding an already bad situation.
Ms. Powell pointed out that we get core work from a variety of isometric contractions (bracing) when performing different heavy weight exercises through a workout and can add direct movements that will benefit while also “opening up” the hip flexors. Movements she gave as examples, such as hip bridges with holds and planks with hip extension holds, accomplish both goals.
To help make healthier, more mobile athletes, I like to begin each workout with a dynamic warm-up to increase core temperature and get joints mobile prior to getting into more intense strength training exercises. However, sometimes due to time constraints, part of the warm-up process is performing sets of the prescribed exercise with no weight or low intensity. I also like to mix a couple of different mobility movements into a complex in order to get multiple movements completed in a brief period.
In the next section of this discussion, I will continue to add pieces to the puzzle that is my program. We will discuss topics such as working to correct mobility issues, training for muscular balance, and certain “must haves” within my programming.