The Most Common Areas of Concern with First year College Athletes

When an athlete enters their first year of college, there are usually some major areas of concern with these young men and women. Most of these college freshmen have substandard strength, flexibility, and knowledge when it comes to training. Specifically, there are 3 major areas that must be addressed in programming to properly prepare these athletes for collegiate athletics. They are Mechanics, Exercise Technique and Muscular Imbalances.


Speed Mechanics
Young people do not how to run, specifically sprint, correctly. The bigger problem is there is very little that can be done to change this. By the time, athletes are in college, they have some either bad or good habits they have developed and have been reinforced for years. Once the athlete has hit and gone past puberty, the window of opportunity where the neurological system is still developing has passed. This is why strength training and competitive speed drills trump mechanics and "form" running any day.

It is, however, important that sprint mechanics are addressed with athletes. Understand that sprint mechanics are only a small part of speed enhancement training. But, this is an area that needs to be taught and reinforced.

Have a basic linear speed mechanic progression instituted in your training. There are three basic areas to address: Posture, Arm Action and Leg Action.

Posture is simply addressed by having the athlete execute a forward lean without breaking posture, especially at the hips. With arm action, athletes to keep the elbow locked and move at the shoulder joint by pushing the elbows back. This is often an area of concern. Finally, leg action is divided into front-side mechanics and back-side mechanics. An integral part of each is triple flexion and triple extension in the hip, knee, and ankle joints respectively. Proper mechanics need to be addressed as a separate training entity and also during every drill.

Change of Direction Mechanics
Improper change of direction mechanics and specifically deceleration mechanics can lead to poor performance on the field or court and can also lead to injuries. Almost all of non-contact lower extremity injuries on the field or court happen during the deceleration or eccentric phase of changing direction. Acute injuries to ligaments, tendons, and muscles almost always happen when an athlete is stopping, planting or landing. These injuries rarely happen when an athlete is “pushing off” during the concentric phase of the movement.

Along with improper mechanics, another issue that can inhibit performance and increase the chance of injury is lack of lower body and torso strength. There is an estimated 2-8 times an athlete’s bodyweight which is applied when changing direction at full speed. This is why overall relative strength is vitally important even for non-contact sports. It is imperative that the athlete not only possesses enough yielding strength to stop their momentum while maintaining good posture, but also the inter-muscular coordination to recruit the proper motor units in the correct sequences. In other words it is important to have proper glute & hamsting to quad & hip flexor strength ratio when changing direction. Muscular imbalances can be as detrimental to COD mechanics as lack of overall strength.

Changing direction is a teachable skill that should be addressed. Include lateral and linear deceleration along with landing mechanic drills in your speed and agility training. Coupled with strength training, this can assist the athlete in changing direction more efficiently.


Squat Technique Discrepancies
A good portion of the first-year athletes at the college level cannot execute a proper parallel squat. If an athlete has trouble squatting to parallel, it is the strength coach's job to make sure the athlete 1.) knows what a parallel squat is and 2.) what it feels like to execute it properly.

An athlete’s ability to perform a parallel bodyweight squat may be the most telling task he/she can perform. A parallel squat is not only the most effective exercise to develop lower body power; it can also be the most efficient way to identify weak or tight muscle groups as an assessment tool.

Regardless of the specific type of squat you institute, all variations should be performed slightly below parallel if you are a college athlete. There are 5 distinct benefits for having athletes squat parallel:


- The Glutes and Hamstrings are not fully engaged until the athlete attains a parallel position.
- The Glutes play a significant role in hip extension during running and jumping.
- Not squatting parallel can place overemphasis on the quads and de-emphasize the role of the hamstrings

- Squatting parallel develops the stabilizing muscles of the knee more efficiently
- Squatting parallel enhances strength at a greater range of motion
- Squatting parallel helps minimize the gap between quad to hamstring strength ratio

- Squatting to parallel means a greater range of motion, thus increasing the:
–Motor units and muscles fibers being recruited
–Time under tension, which increases total work done within the same rep
–Joint Angle, which enhances the stretch reflex and connective tissue strength

- Squatting to parallel can increase the athlete’s functional flexibility
- Squatting to parallel helps the athletes become more “comfortable” and confident when bending his/her knees in sport
- Squatting to parallel addresses some problems of “playing low” and enables the athlete to change direction more efficiently

- Squatting with a limited range of motion will increase the weight lifted by the athlete.
–This in turn, will greatly increase the axial load on the spine
–This will also place much more stress on the knee due to the limited degree of flexion

Something I added when I was a S&C Coach:
Athletes unable to squat parallel because of postural alignment or lack of experience will be labeled as a PUTS athlete. PUTS stands for Physically Unable To Squat. These athletes will be given alternative exercises additional commitments and extended teaching progressions to address these technique and postural discrepancies.

The Squat as an assessment tool
The overhead squat in particular is one of the most important assessment tools we institute for incoming athletes. The overhead squat can allow the coach to identify weak and tight muscle groups by examining such discrepancies such as foot pronation, knee valgus & internal rotation, core instability, anterior pelvic tilt, instability in the posterior shoulder girdle, pectoral tightness, etc.

Some athletes that do don’t know how to perform a proper bodyweight squat when they arrive at the college level. Out of the ones that do know how to perform the squat, they may not be able to perform the movement correctly due to postural alignment, tight muscle groups or weak muscle groups as identified previously. It is the strength coach's job to

  1. Educate the athlete on proper technique and
  2. Identify how to improve squat form by addressing weakness and lack of mobility.

Buffalo Bar Bench Press

  • 300 x5
  • 280 x5
  • 260 x5

Band Circuit

  • Seated On-Arm Pull-Downs w/ Average Band x15
  • Straight Arm Pull-Downs w/ Light Band x 15
  • Face Pulls w/ Light Band x15

 Elitefts™ Erect-a-Rack™

Elitefts Short Light Pro Bands

Croc-Lock Collar

Hi-Temp Bumper Plate