West Point is a very unique place and that stands true for strength coaches. All of the cadets who are college athletes at Army need to have their athletic related meetings, practice, train, watch film, etc. all between 3:30 and 6 pm. That means every sport has less than a three hour window to train. So with all of your sports needed to fit in that window, you better had be organized. This was one of the most beneficial experiences I had that made me a better coach.

The only exception to this was the swimming and diving teams, and the wrestling team. Swimmers trained in the morning and I trained the wrestlers during my second year at 11:30 am. every other day. This made it interesting that one week I would have them Monday-Wednesday-Friday and the next week Tuesday-Thursday. In-season we would keep a two times per week program, but each would would alternate. There is a difference when your last training session is 72 hours as opposed to 48 hours from competition.

So, people would ask, "If you don;t have any teams until 3:30, would the hell would you do all day?" The answer: read every training log and Q&A on elitefts.com.

Well, that's not all. We would usually need to be in by 10 am at the latest and were usually done by 7 pm. I would usually help with football after my teams were done in the ODIA weight room. I had Wrestling, Basebell, Softball, Men & Women's Soccer, Golf (never saw them), and Sprint Football.

My weight room was about 6000 square feet. Just about every other team trained in the Michie weightroom, which was about 20,000 square feet.

I was the fourth strength coach in four years there. Not sure what the problem was, but I will blame cost of living. My wife and I had a 600-square foot apartment and payed $1200 a month including utilities. We were in the boonies and an hour from NYC.

I am still tight with a lot of the cadets to this day. Like I said, there aren't too many young men or women I would hold to that esteem. People often asked why athletics at Army sometimes struggle for some sports. I have been on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field during the Arm-Navy game. I swear it was 20 degrees colder for us, as we were getting our asses kicked

Why is it so hard to recruit as Army? I mean, Navy and Air Force are competitive, right? Well, I am not a genius, but "come here and you can fly jets" versus "come here and you can go to Afganistan" rings differently to 18 year olds. Here's a fun fact for the USMA superintendant back in 2005:

80% of USMA Graduates will be in Iraq or Afghanistan within 18 months of graduation.

I was warned about Sprint Football. There were about a million of them, it wasn't an NCAA sport, they had no respect, and they did whatever they felt like. Then I figured out why. No one gave them the time of day. What would you like them to do? They just want to get better and no one was showing them how for the last three years.

After we established trust, structure, and work ethic, they ended up being one of the best teams I've coached. I have a lot of respect for those dudes. Half of them were cutting weight during game week to play (sprint football has a weight limit of 175 pounds).

Football Coaches always say that you should have two hours of preparation for every one hour of practice. We did spend a lot of time at Army preparing every training session with great detail. There wasn't a lot of leeway to fuck things up and those cadets deserved better than a half-ass workout.

I would enter training numbers for every player personally and make individual adjustments. This is why I laugh at the DI coaches who have three sports and claim they are "so busy." I would have an individualized training program by sport, position, and grade and I was still bored half the time.

Then the summer would come.

Have you ever set your alarm seven days per week for 3:45 am? That was every summer due to us training our cadets before their 6:30 am breakfast. It sucked, but was necessary. One thing I did have the time to do was my own training. In my last post I outlined my training split.

Road Trips

Two trips that I would frequently make really took my training to the next level. After a terrible meet in New Jersey where I dumped 540 pounds on my belly, I had to seek out some experts.

I had met John Bott several times and finally reached out to him at the meet in Jersey. He was on the elitefts Q&A and he was incredibly nice to me. He invited me down to train with him in his basement. So, once a month I would make the trip down the Pallasdes and exit right before the GW bridge and trained in his basement. Great crew and an outstanding learning experience every time.

The other location I went a few times was at Nazareth Barbell in PA. Mike Miller had a great gym there and I remember after one training session with Bobby Fields, I went from not being able to touch 540 on the bench to touching with 315 and chains. It is people like John Bott, Mike Miller, and Bobby Fields that make a world of difference and help other lifter simply because somebody did it for them and it is in their blood.

I ended up PRing at IPA Nationals in 2005 in the squat and bench press. I couldn't have done any of it without help.

Key lessons from training athletes at West Point that stayed with me

There were a couple of adaptations I had to make due to scheduling and facilities. For example, we had to separate the running and lifting sessions for all teams.

So here are four program modifications I made (didn't invent) because of the situation at Army.

The Tier System for Wrestling

Some of my colleagues were using an undulating periodization scheme that looked similar to Joe Kenn's system. If they had a three day system, they may bench press all three days that week with lower volume each of those days.

For example:

  • Monday – Barbell Bench Press 3x6-8
  • Wednesday – Machine Bench Press 3x8-10
  • Friday – Dumbbell Bench Press 3x10-12

Basically this was waving the rep scheme based on equipment used.

I really like the tier system for sports that were not doing speed work. Here's the general idea. We would perform a double leg push three days per week, but one day may be box jumps, one day may be squat with chains, and another may be leg press for a drop set of 20. All three days share a basic movement pattern but the method is different.

You don't have to do Olympic lifts

I didn't have the facility to do it. I had no bumpers, no platforms, and no space. We ended up doing some alternatives. Football was one of the few sports doing cleans at the time and it was because Bobby Ross said they were doing cleans and that was that.

One of my main responsibilities was to teach all freshman football players our clean progressions. I could have eventually progressed into a hang clean from the rack, I just didn't get there yet.

Here are some of the hybrids/alternatives we did:

  • Dumbbell Swing (didn't have KBs)
  • Med ball throws
  • DB high Pulls
  • 1 Arm DB snatch
  • Barbell Shrug Pulls (RDL from Rack)
  • Barbell High Pulls
  • Band Squats
  • DB Squat Press
  • Barbell Push Press

Four day cycle for a three day week

Originally got this from Kevin Yoxall when he was at Auburn. This worked great for a lot of sports. It was basically two upper and two lower days. It would be similar to 5/3/1 in terms of the breakdown.

Squat, Bench, Deadlift, OHP

Week 1: Squat, Bench, Dead
Week 2: OHP, Sqaut, Bench
Week 3: Dead, OHP, Sqaut
Week 4: Bench, Dead, OHP

Basically the advantage was you would repeat the same workout every 9-10 days so every day was a max-effort day. Also, not every Monday was a squat day, etc. It kept the athletes engaged and not complacent.

Descending Rep System

I didn't have time to flat load the athlete. I had to make sure every rep and every set had meaning and would dictate the next set. The one thing I can't stand still to this day is when someone programs 5x5. What does that even mean? or better yet 3,3,3,3,3 or some shit.

I needed our athletes to work up to a rep max every time they were in the weight room. If you can do five reps with the same weight on your fifth set as you did the first four...you wasted four sets. Just my opinion. If you have a long term plan and have the time for a ton of work sets, then I guess that works. I just was never in that situation. I will detail this concept in a later post.

Dynamic Effort Method 5-Set System

  1. Warm-Up Set 75-90% of Target Weight
  2. Target Reps with Target Weight
  3. Work Set Variation
  4. Work Set Variation
  5. Same weight with same reps (increase in bar speed)

Sub-Maximal Effort Method 3-Set System

  1. Warm-Up Set 75-90% of Target Weight
  2. Rep-Max with Target Weight
  3. Work Set Variation

Same weight with descending reps (2 rep drop-off).
Less weight for same repetitions (5% weight drop-off).
Less weight for more repetitions (10% weight drop-off).

Repetition Method 2-Set System

  1. Rep-Max with Target Weight
  2. Work Set Variation

Same weight with descending reps (2 rep drop-off).

Next time I will go into more detail about the descending set systems and adapting WSBB method in an athletic setting.