One of the biggest challenges for coaches at the collegiate and high school level is individualizing programming in a large team setting. Coaches who implement some type of needs analysis for their athletes often find that the escape from a cookie-cutter program is more difficult than anticipated. Most likely, this is not due to lack of knowledge or experience (although this can add to the dilemma), but instead to limitations in space, staffing, scheduling, and equipment. More often than not, these four factors subtract from the coach’s ability to put their athletes and teams in an optimal situation for physical development.

The Coach’s Methodology Continuum

Screen-Shot-2014-06-23-at-4.58.31-PM Installing systems where athletes can make individual adjustments based on the time of year, additional stress, and physical readiness while still training in a team environment is essential for productivity and the coach's sanity. Here are three strategies that may enhance your athletes’ training

Adjust the Training Cycle by Season

There are ways coaches can make adjustments of working sets during the different times of the year. Regardless of whether you are using a rep-max system, a percentage-based system, or a combination of both, coaches need to find ways to make adjustments to the work sets their athletes use. There is no best way to do this; there is only the best way that fits your philosophy. Some ways coaches can readjust training maxes to adhere to the transitions of seasons are to modify percentages or to re-test all together. This chart may give you some ideas.

elitefts MArk Watts when to maxOne system that can be incorporated into the training would be to adjust training max percentages based on the season the respective team is in. This can be beneficial in a situation where the coach is not able to re-test certain exercises to adjust maxes. This would be an alternative to an Auto-Regulatory System, or when true maxes are not established during training. This system is also optimal for Olympic lifts or dynamic effort movements.

Screen-Shot-2014-06-24-at-10.52.58-AMIn this example, the off-season percentages appear high based on the rep-maxes. This is due the relative training age of most high school and collegiate athletes. Beginners to intermediate athletes tend not to have the same neurological efficiency to produce maximal force. Therefore, a projected percentage of a one rep max is estimated and the actual training max is significantly lower than what is prescribed.

Adjust the Training Session by Readiness

We all know, as coaches, that an athlete's readiness to train fluctuates daily. Even with advanced recovery methods, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition, athlete preparedness is consistently inconsistent, especially during the season. If you add injuries, CNS fatigue, and the academic stress associated with intercollegiate athletics, there are major fluctuations in rep ranges even for circa-max effort sets.

Auto-regulated training with rep ranges is one of the best ways to elicit the optimal training effect among the widest array of athletes. Regardless of ability, experience, or stress level, using an auto-regulated based systems can benefit each athlete while still promoting competition and a high-effort environment.

elitefts-autoreg-3-5RMThis is just one example of how auto-regulatory sets can be implemented. This particular example is more suited for in-season training due to the lower volume. There are three other examples using static weight, static reps, and descending weight adjustments in this article or in the charts below.

Here are some more examples of auto-regulated sets. These particular examples are more suited for off-season training and have different variables to manipulate.

Auto-Regulatory:  Static Weight with Descending Reps


Auto-Regulatory:  Adjustable Weight with Static Reps


Auto-Regulatory:  Adjustable Weight with Descending Reps


Areas of Concern when using Auto-Regulated Sets

Because of the lower training age, reduced neurological efficiency, and the less-than-optimal inter-muscular coordination of college-aged athletes, a flat loaded system with a two-rep drop off (if the last set was truly maximum RPE) may be better.

Depending on the previous set, the athlete may go up or down in weight for each subsequent set. The advantage of this is the athlete feels empowered to control the next set with each performance. This system can also breed competition among teammates (a much needed entity in team strength training). Also, the adjustments between sets are more user-friendly. Anyone can figure 10% in their head and cut that in half.

There is a chance an athlete could drop weight then add or visa-versa with this system. For the adjustable weight and descending set example, a typical work set protocol could be:  300×6, 315×4, 315×3, 300×4.

There will be more fluctuation in volume between athletes. Athletes being able to perform the higher reps in the range will accumulate much more volume by the end of the work sets. The advantage of this is the athletes able to perform the prescribed reps at the higher end of the range are using a lower percentage of their training maxes and the increase in volume is tolerated. Over four sets, the deviation will be no more than eight total reps.

Adjust the Training Session by Playing Time

Not all of your athletes play the same amount of total plays, total minutes, or total innings. Because of this, it may be beneficial to adjust the total training volume to accommodate. The accumulative stress from playing sports at a high level is stressful enough. Having an inverse relationship between volume of playing time and volume of training is extremely important. Not only do starters take most of the reps in a game, they also take most of the reps at practice. This is why the volume in the weight room should be adjusted as such.

This is a concept I got from John Patrick and Willie Danzer when John was the Head Strength Coach at Youngstown State University. He split his team up into three different groups: Gain, Retain, and Recover (I renamed this our reload group when I was coaching). There is an in-season guide specifically for football provided in this article.

elitefts-IS-group-parameters1The total volume of work could be adjusted based on how much an athlete played the previous game. Olympic lifts and dynamic effort movements could generally stay at the same volume for all athletes regardless of playing time. The main (max effort or circa-max effort) movements of the day would be adjusted.

  • Gain Group Example: Work up to a 3-5 rep max, additional work set with same load, Back-off Set (-10%) for max reps
  • Retain Group Example: Work up to a 3-5 rep max, additional work set with same load
  • Reload Group Example: Work up to a 3-5 rep max

elitefts-IS-group-Protocols Using an auto-regulated system, like the APRE, you can see in the following example of how a typical set and rep progression may happen with a circa-max effort movement using a weight of 300 pounds.  For specific parameters on the auto-regulatory protocol is used or how the cluster sets could be implemented; refer to the chart in the previous “readiness” section.

elitefts-IS-example-setsThere are coaches that use a non-linear prioritization scheme during the season. This conjugated method of training that often utilizes a systematic rotation of exercises can still be implemented with the Gain, Retain, and Reload group protocols. In the example below, variations are used to coincide with the particular groups add stress of their sport participation. Adjustments in volume can be accompanied by variations of exercises to accommodate resistance, limit range of motion, and reduce time-under-tension.

elitefts-IS-Ex-poolAs coaches, it is easy for us to get into a rut when it comes to programming for large groups. This is exacerbated with limited staffing, smaller facility size, and lack or pertinent equipment. Hopefully, one of these three outlooks on training can be implemented in your program to give your athletes the best opportunity to succeed individually and as a team.