We have been back at workouts for the past few weeks, and the plan seems to be working. The one good thing about this COVID-19 is that it has literally given me the chance to look at what other teams, sports, and coaches are doing all over the world. Thanks to Al Gore inventing the internet, I have been able to study New Zealand rugby training, Brazilian soccer, MMA, etc. It has been critical to look at programming at the basic, grassroots level to make sure that we are getting the most bang for our buck.

With COVID regulations in place, space and time have been limited. Due to our limited space in our weight room, we made the decision to move weights, bars benches, and dumbbells outside under the stadium. We could work out more players there and still follow the guidelines. We had to be innovative because we were limited in how many players we could have on campus in a day. Once we addressed this issue, I took a long, hard look at what we did in the spring, as well as what my research and common sense showed me in terms of putting a workout plan together. One of the biggest challenges we face as strength coaches is the ability to prevent strength leakage. In simple terms, strength leakage is the strength lost while going from the weight room to the field. We all have players who excel in the weight room but are not as strong on the field.

I am really looking at why I have come to some conclusions. If you watch games, particularly college football games in the 80s, everyone looked strong. I know they had big pads and all, but so many players just looked the part. They might not have been as big or as fast, but they just looked different. They definitely kept strength leakage to a minimum. How, you ask? There are a few ways. One of the biggest ones is that they did not specialize in one sport or any “sport-specific” weight training in high school. They either played multiple sports or worked. If they lifted, they were not balancing on BOSU balls with bands attached to 12 parts of their bodies. They squatted, deadlifted, benched, inclined benched, and power cleaned. In other words, very basic total body lifts. Put these components together (various sports, work, non-sport specific weight training) and their bodies were what they were—strong all over: muscles, tendons, and nervous system all working together all of the time. Non-science speaking again, their bodies were so used to different stimuli all of the time, that they had no choice but to adapt, get strong, and stay strong.

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What is the difference in today’s athletes, you ask? Just look at the opposite. Most play only one sport; all of us strength coaches try to design workouts to be more “sport-specific;" and hard labor is not in this generation’s wheelhouse. What happens to the body when this occurs? When it gets used to specific movement patterns, it is strong only in those movement patterns! With any motion outside of these movement patterns, muscles, tendons, and the nervous system don’t get as much work in that specific area. What doesn’t get work gets weak or injured, and that is where strength leakage comes in.

You are only as strong as what you repeatedly do. If an athlete has been doing a specific sport and the sport-specific weight training, that’s all it knows. Ask a golfer who has been playing for years to play a game of basketball and you can see what I mean. His body will be torn apart. This was the Russian “secret” when they were dominating the Olympics for all of those years. They trained their kids in all different sports, gymnastics, and calisthenics for years before they even started to specialize in a specific sport. They developed their athletes’ what I call “Tarzan” strength first. Those of you coaching in high schools can attest to this: The players who have the greatest Tarzan strength (pull-ups, push-ups, or any body control movements) are your best athletes, are they not? Their bodies are used to moving in all different planes of movement, so they are strong everywhere.

Now that I have stated my opinion (hopefully it makes sense), the next question is, what can we do to fix it? After experimenting in the spring with some various mixed martial arts (MMA) warm-ups, I decided to go all in to develop Tarzan strength. We would take 45 kids out on the field (yes, we were 12 feet apart) and do MMA/calisthenics for 15 min in place as our warm-up. We started with 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off for 15 min. We did running in place, burpees, the broad jump, bear crawls, ½ circle push-ups, the jump lunge, and on and on. The goal of picking exercises was to make sure that we hit every movement pattern, direction, and muscle group at least two times through the entire 15 minutes.

They were absolutely annihilated and then had to go lift and run! This warm-up was used for two reasons. First, it got the muscles, tendons, and joints, along with the cardio and nervous systems, warmed up to the max. It also served as their conditioning. Doesn’t sound right, but it works wonders. As the weeks progressed, we just manipulated the work/rest ratio. Now, four weeks later, we are working for 45 seconds and off for 15 seconds. My biggest regret is that I wasn’t smart enough to do this earlier in my career. As for the rest of our plan, following this 15-min warm-up, we break up into three groups, then rotate. One goes under the stadium to lift; one does speed mechanics, build-ups, and sprints; and the other group does core/power. Our lifts are two total-body lifts and one accessory/strongman day. This consists of farmer’s walks, tire flips, etc. It is another staple that I feel is needed to really increase overall body (muscle, tendon, joint, ligaments, and nervous system) strength.

When you are training in the abnormal positions that the strongman events put you in, this helps to make the abnormal strong, thus reducing injuries, and it is a perfect complement to our Tarzan warm-up. These are the two biggest factors in stopping strength leakage. This, coupled with sound overall body strength training and speed and agility work, will change your athletes for the better. We started slow and kept adding as we went. After four weeks, I have observed that our recovery level (the goal of conditioning) and our hips with all of the movements involved have really improved. They are in great shape, and their recovery between lifts and speed work has improved tremendously. I hope that we get to see the results and be able to play this fall. Good luck, and stay safe.