Strong(her) Coaching (Part 2): Principles and Philosophy

TAGS: strength & conditioning, Strong(her), sports performance, elitefts.com, Elitefts Info Pages

Collegiate strength and conditioning is undoubtedly one of the most competitive job markets for any young professional. The number of aspiring strength coaches compared to the job availability is grossly one-sided. Add the fact that the field is male-dominated and you will start to see some of the obstacles a female strength and conditioning coach must go through.

In this four-part series, we will get to know these women and gain some valuable insight on how they got started in the profession, their training philosophy, their challenges, and their advice to other strength coaches in the field.

In part one of this series, we looked at the competitive athletic background of these coaches and how it effected their career paths. In part two, these outstanding coaches will talk about their general methodology and the principles that guide their training of athletes.

Keep it simple and be patient. Use proven exercises with great technique and progressively overload.  For athletes, do not overlook the value of spending time training on the field. You get a ton of return from a solid dynamic warm-up that addresses flexibility, mobility, corrective exercises and speed work. Make sure athletes jump and sprint year-round. Every athlete should be able to do full range of motion pushups, pull-ups, and squats in the weight room. Nothing athletic performance coaches prescribe is beneficial unless we are addressing the importance of performance nutrition, sleep, and sports psychology within our programs.

In the most general terms my training philosophy has two major priorities; health and safety of the student-athlete and performance enhancement. Basically all the finer details of training, mental toughness, program design, etc., fall under these two umbrellas. Health and safety have to be the first priority because without that your performance enhancement will be limited or insignificant. A major pillar in this foundation is teaching proper technique first and making the appropriate progressions when necessary. I need to get my athletes to move and be strong in a good, healthy position first, then increase load or progress to a more challenging exercise. Also teaching athletes to work outside of their comfort zone and getting them to realize that they are capable of doing more than they realize is so important. It is a huge confidence booster for them when they realize they can do more reps or weight than they thought; or get through a conditioning session they didn’t think they were capable of doing. The performance enhancement part will take care of itself; as athletes work hard and progress in their training, the performance enhancement qualities come together along with their specific skill acquisition in their sport practice and competition.

My general training philosophy is to work with the sport coach to maximize the team’s athletic potential specific to their sport, while minimizing injury. My strength and conditioning programs are designed to complement the energy system demands the athlete utilizes for their sport and that are used on a daily basis during team practice. I believe it is important to have a well-organized and scientific based training plan, but be able to adapt and alter the plan when sudden situations arise.

 

Movement is directly proportionate to strength and strength is directly proportionate to movement.  If I am not relatively strong enough to get into position and to hold that position, I will not be able to move and will not realize my true potential for that movement. Furthermore, if I cannot get into optimal position, I will not express or generate the most force in order to move optimally.  Additionally, if I cannot get into position, then initiate movement, how can I expect to be strong enough to stop and re-initiate movement or change direction. Therefore, everything permeates from some level or some type of strength. I also believe training cannot be discussed without recovery, and recovery cannot be discussed without nutrition, and nutrition cannot be discussed without mentality/psychology. I believe all of these components are connected, and if one is off – they are all off. A few principles I believe in are relative strength before other types (i.e. dynamic, max effort, etc.), nutrient timing, myofascial release, GPP, Olympic lifting, multi-planar 3 dimensional movement, compound/multi-joint movements, and of course – pull-ups.

The biggest thing I learned from House when I worked for him at ASU was that “lifting is lifting and playing is playing”. Too many coaches forget that lifting is only one piece of an athletes plan. Until there is a bench off at half time to determine the game winner, who gives a F**k how much an athlete benches. Squats, cleans, benches, etc., are a huge part of my programming, but its about the overall picture. Can the athlete run, can they change direction, are they explosive, are they strong and mobile, are they healthy; or do they have imbalances that need to be corrected or past injuries that need reconditioning? Long term planning for an athletes career is way more important than one great day in the weight room. I use many tools in my tool box to train athletes (Olympic lifting, powerlifting, strongman, metabolic conditioning, speed training from Martin Rooney). I still use the tier system, because it is well rounded for training athletes (remember that is who you are training). I also am a big believer in periodizing athletes programs (conjugate and traditional-depending on the level of athlete). Randomly pulling a workout of the day out of your ass or copying it from some bs internet site is crap.  I take what works and throw away what doesn’t. I don’t get caught up in the latest and greatest fads, and I always try a program first before administering it to an athlete.

Consistency, commitment and regardless of whether your lift is a heavy or light day the same intensity, passion and drive must be given. Your body will do anything your mind tells it. If it’s day 3 of your lift week and it falls on a holiday the lift must be done; your muscles don’t know it’s a holiday, it’s day 3 and your body is expecting a lift.

My general philosophy is to prepare athletes for all demands of competition while minimizing their risk for injury. By using a comprehensive training approach that incorporates carefully planned strength, speed, flexibility, agility, balance, injury prevention, and mental toughness development, each athlete is provided the best opportunity to maximize their genetic potential. I include many ground based-free weight exercises, to teach athletes proprioception and force application that can then be transferred to their sport. Education about recovery including nutrition, sleep, rest, myofascial release, cryotherapy, and hydration is key in any training program. If an athlete does not take care of their body in these ways they will not get the most out of my training program.

I break it down in four main areas:

  1. They are athletes, not lifters.
  2. Less is more, meaning most athletes will benefit from doing a few lifts and mastering them rather than a bunch of lifts and being mediocre at them.
  3. Get strong. Most athletes need strength. Plain and simple.
  4. Find dysfunctional movement patterns and fix them.

To provide athletes with a strength and conditioning program that gives them the ability to train as hard, efficiently, and intensely as possible for their sport. Due to the positive benefits of a well-balanced strength and conditioning program, athletes will be better suited to mentally handle pressure situations, and overcome undesirable physical situations in which injury occurs. The programs will be physiologically sound and orthopedically safe.

Athlete centered, performance focused, assessment and evidence based, coach and technology driven.  Goal- maximize transfer to sport. Priority principles- ground-based, multi-joint, multi-plane, periodized (usually conjugated). Seamlessly addressing performance and prevention.

I would say my general philosophy could be explained as creating pyramidal perpetual evolution of the athlete towards adaptive successes. With athletes I believe in: (1)reducing injury by putting a huge emphasis on rehabilitation programs (2)creating desired adaptations in training through minimal yet optimal stressors (3)creating an understanding of the program and its intentions with the athletes that translates to learned knowledge (4)auto-regulation (5)creating an environment of progressive positive success.

Like any other coach would say on a job interview, my coaching philosophy is to increase athletic performance by maximizing the athletes’ individual potential, while decreasing the risk of injury. This is all true… I want my athletes to be successful, but I want my athletes to win and if that means pushing them and making them hit a breaking point, I will do it. Granted you have to be smart about training, but I think you make athletes better by having them fail at some point. When training athletes you are not only training them physically, but you are training their mind as well. By employing dynamic warm ups, ground-based multi-joint movements, and prehabililitation routines within workouts, I aim to create an environment in which athletes can prosper while fostering leadership and competitive drive. Even though it is not scientific, I have found that by getting to know your athletes and what makes them “tick” allows you to use a variety of different scientific-based training methods to individualize programs to better suit the athletes creating a better chance of success.

The training implemented should be sport-specific and comprehensive for enhancing all aspects of athleticism. This would include what happens in the head, heart, court/field, and weight room.

Focus Area: Mental/Emotional

  1. Teach the student-athletes to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  2. Teach them how their self-talk and taking every thought captive can enable them to push beyond their perceived limitations.
  3. Empower leadership skills in each individual based on their personal giftedness. Not everyone is the out-front, take-charge leader. Take the time to recognize their skills and use it to enhance the program.

Focus Area: Resistance-Based Work

  1. ENHANCE the sport-skills the student-athlete possesses.
  2. NEUTRALIZE any imbalances in strength, power, & flexibility.
  3. SYNCHRONIZE movements so they can relate the movements to the skills in their sport. Not everything implemented is “sport-specific” but it does affect their athleticism. I always tell the student-athletes that I may not make you a better (soccer, basketball, or volleyball) player, but I can help you perform more athletically so that the task adaptation at practice is easier and less frustrating and also ensure that fatigue is not a factor.

Focus Area: Court/Field-Based Work

The demands of most of the sports I train typically include multi-directional movement patterns, are acyclic, and anaerobically based.

  1. Anaerobic Work Capacity (AWC) is developed utilizing predominantly typical sport-specific distances and movements utilizing the Lactate and ATP-PC systems.
  2. Focus on correct and efficient change of direction mechanics, landing mechanics and deceleration. Over the years I have observed more and more athletes unable to “control their muscle slack” which may be leading to the knee issues in all sports.
  3. All physical attributes are trained throughout the year for optimal levels of performance. The attributes are prioritized within 4 different phases (General Preparation, Pre-competition, Competition, and Post-Competition). These attributes would include strength, power/explosiveness, muscular endurance, speed, agility, acceleration, reactivity, and anaerobic recovery.

HARD WORK is my philosophy. Nothing in life comes easy and nothing worth achieving comes without work. I follow the general rules of periodization, depending on the sport I work with, but basically all of my athletes need to get stronger in their core and want to be more powerful & faster. I utilize a combination of Olympic lifts, core strength lifts (squat, bench, etc.), strongman lifts (farmer walk, tire flips, etc.), functional exercises (balance, single arm/leg) and cross-training (ropes, medicine balls).  Athletes are never in a perfect, stagnant, unbalanced state, they are always unbalanced and moving, so we must train in that state, always challenging their body and mind to do a little bit more and focus on the environment and/or exercise.

Background images of lifters' hands courtesy of Kenneth Richardson.

 

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