Coach G: Back to the Basics

TAGS: Wendler's 5/3/1, complicated programs, college athletes, training athletes, Coach G, strength training


First, let’s recap where we are in our quest to be more organized and efficient strength coaches. We've learned how to act as interns, we've covered how to compose our own personalized program philosophy, and we've started on our strength training philosophy.

I was going to start on the conditioning phase of your program, but I've been sidetracked the last couple days. Our yearly crop of freshmen has rolled on to campus and, as usual, I'm completely amazed at how clueless these kids are in terms of lifting, running, and agility drills. They pretty much fall into two categories—those who have done nothing except sit around playing video games and those whose parents shelled out good money to some of these so-called trainers.

These "trainers" teach the kids to foam roll and do abs on a stability ball, stating that they're working their cores and will be in better shape than everyone else. They tell the kids that this is the toughest workout they'll ever do and on and on and on. I don’t know how they can quantify their claims when the players aren't taught any specific lifting movements and don't have any fields to run on. Once the players get to us, they puke after a dynamic warm-up session. Maybe they can hold a plank longer than anyone else? I really don’t know. I just know that those kids piss me off more than the video game players, probably because it takes longer for them to unlearn the incorrect way of doing things than it would take for me to teach them something from scratch!

That's the true value of freshmen—they force you to get back to the basics. They really make you look at what you're doing in terms of programming, not only for them but for your upperclassmen as well. If your team isn't firing on all cylinders after a few weeks, your program is probably too complex for them to understand. They're probably thinking too hard. It's amazing the gains they can make in a four-week, simple, basic program. They learn how to do things and then they just get better at doing them. They get better, faster, and stronger at a faster pace because they know what you want and how you want it done. It becomes habit. It also teaches them your standards.

I've always been a big believer in keeping things simple no matter what we're coaching. I will even go as far as to rename some things if it helps the players learn and remember. It really comes down to not what we know but how they absorb what we teach them. As strength coaches, we need to be careful about all the available information out there. It can be good or bad depending where and how we use it. That's true anywhere in this business.

One of our players showed me the list of rules and regulations that his “gym” had him sign. It was a mile long and just covered gym etiquette! When I started lifting at the local YMCA, I learned gym etiquette quickly. I once walked in front of a guy who was doing curls in front of the mirror. I was five feet, nine inches and 160 pounds. He was six feet, four inches and 290 pounds. All I heard was the curl bar hit the ground. Then I felt his hands on my shoulders. He proceeded to squeeze hard to get my undivided attention, looked me dead in the eyes, and said, “Don’t ever walk in between a person working and the fucking mirror.” That was 25 years ago. To this day, I don’t ever walk in between a person working and the fucking mirror.

After leaving the YMCA, I moved up to a real powerlifting gym owned by Ken Fantano, one of the smartest men I've ever known. He taught me just about everything there is to know involving strength training and programming. He also kept things simple, and he made his points as subtle as a herd of bulls in a china shop. On my first day at his gym, it was squat day. I was so pumped that I skipped school and listened to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest all day to get myself ready to enter Valhalla. I was now up to 165 pounds, and I took all the knowledge I had gained from my experience at the YMCA with me. I was ready for the big time!

I walked in and introduced myself to the five foot, eleven inch, 320-pound Kenny. He told me to start warming up and that we'd go from there. Naturally, I put 135 pounds on the bar, wrapped my knees in ace bandages, put on my little bodybuilding belt, and was ready to roll. On my second rep, I felt something push me toward the rack. The weight flew off my back as I landed face first on the ground. As I turned over, not really sure what was going on, I was kicked in the stomach. Kenny then proceeded to pick me up by the belt and throw me against the counter. He came over and tore my belt off and then ripped at the ace bandages on my knees. He punched me in the stomach and said, “If you ever wear equipment in here before I tell you to wear equipment, I’ll kill you.” I reached into my sock, threw $173.00 on the counter because that was all the money I had in the world, and said “I’m yours.” We went on from there.

Guess whose teams don’t wear equipment in training unless they're testing? Basic instructions and lifelong lessons. I truly feel that is why Wendler's 5/3/1 is so successful. It's just hard, basic work. It's easy to understand and follow. There aren't any frills. You just work the big stuff and then attack your weaknesses. Period.

When I was a younger strength coach, I thought I had to do everything. Players weren't making gains as quickly, drills were too complex, and runs were complicated. You name it and I messed it up. I felt that if I did what this guy was doing and what that guru was doing, my workouts would be unreal and all my players would be in the NFL! With all that knowledge and the fingers of all the great strength coaches all over my workouts, we couldn't fail. I did everything and that got me nowhere.

I came from a powerlifting background where simple lifting programs equaled strength gains, so I put those in. Then I looked at my team, figured out what they really needed to get better in terms of agility and running, and did just that. I made it simple and easy to understand and boy did things change. The players' confidence shot up, they got bigger, stronger, and faster, and I spent way less time teaching and more time “coaching.” It's a balance that I have kept to this day. If you or your teams aren't making the gains you feel they should be making, you may be doing too much. Don’t make the same mistakes that we've all made in the past. Have confidence in your abilities, program, ideas, and gut feelings. They will take you and your team further than you ever thought you could go. Keep it simple, work hard, and work smart. Rule the world.

 

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