Training Must Adjust: Exercises

September 28, 2013

The exercises that are used in an athlete’s strength and conditioning program help to determine what kind of gains they will make from their training.  When selecting exercises, it is easy to fall prey to a method of training and to lose track of the need to develop athletes to play their sport.  For example, bodybuilders will focus on changing up their exercises every four to twelve weeks to keep their muscles responding to the training.  Powerlifters will focus on exercises that develop their squat, bench press, and deadlift.  Olympic lifters will focus on their lifts as well as on exercises that train parts of the competition lifts.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches, but when viewing an athlete’s training over their competitive lifetime a broader perspective needs to be taken.

 

Strength training is a general type of training for an athlete.  It provides the physical foundation so that athletes can be successful in their sport.  The weight room is not a good place for sport specificity.

 

Like with the previous two postings (see http://wp.me/p1XfMm-9a and http://wp.me/p1XfMm-9e), this posting will look at adjusting an athlete’s exercises as they progress through their athletic lifetime.

 

High School:

High school athletes need to work on everything.  This means using strength training to develop the athlete’s physical foundation for future athletic success.  This is not the time for a great deal of variety and complexity in terms of the training process.  Coaches should pick a handful of fundamental exercises to develop the athlete’s body and focus on those exercises during the athlete’s high school career.  Some examples are provided in the table below:

Exercise Category Exercises
Olympic lifts Power clean, hang, above the kneePower clean, hang, kneePower clean, hang below the knee

Power clean

Clean pulls, hang, above the knee

Clean pulls, hang, knee

Clean pulls, hang, below the knee

Clean pulls

Push jerk

Split jerk

Multijoint: lower body Back squatsFront squatsLunges

Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts

Good mornings

Multijoint: upper body Bench pressIncline pressDips

Pull-ups

Bent-over rows

Military press

Assistance exercises Biceps exercisesTriceps exercisesFront/side/rear deltoid exercises

The Olympic lifting exercises provide a technical progression for learning the power clean.  The clean and pull exercises are performed from the hang.  Over time the bar is started from a position that is closer and closer to the floor.  The multijoint lifts provide a foundation for strength and hypertrophy and there is enough variety to keep the athletes interested and engaged over time.  Assistance exercises are minimized and represent things that athletes will probably want to do as part of their program.

 

Collegiate:

Collegiate athletes still need a foundation in terms of their physical development.  The difference is that as the athlete proceeds through the year, the exercises can become more focused on developing specific qualities like eccentric strength, power, one-legged strength, etc.  During the off-season, the exercises are selected to teach fundamental techniques (like with the Olympic lifts) and provide the biggest fitness base possible.  As the competition comes closer, the pure strength and power exercises increase at the expense of other exercises.  Finally, due to the lack of time, the in-season has the athlete performing exercises designed to get the most out of the athlete’s training time.  The table blow provides an example of what this would look like.

Exercise Category Off-season exercises Pre-season exercises In-season exercises
Olympic lifts Power clean, hang, above the kneePower clean, hang, kneePower clean, hang below the knee

Power clean

Clean pulls, hang, above the knee

Clean pulls, hang, knee

Clean pulls, hang, below the knee

Clean pulls

Push jerk

Split jerk

Power snatch, hang, above the knee

Snatch pulls, hang, above the knee

Power clean, hang, above the kneePower clean, hang, kneePower clean, hang below the knee

Power clean

Clean pulls, hang, above the knee

Clean pulls, hang, knee

Clean pulls, hang, below the knee

Clean pulls

Push jerk

Split jerk

Power snatch, hang, above the knee

Power snatch, hang, knee

Power snatch, hang, below the knee

Power snatch

Snatch pulls, hang, above the knee

Snatch pulls, hang, knee

Snatch pulls, hang, below the knee

Snatch pulls

Power cleanClean pullsPush jerk

Split jerk

Power snatch

Snatch pulls

Multijoint: lower body Back squatsFront squatsLunges

Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts

Good mornings

Back raises

Reverse hyperextensions

Back squatsFront squatsSplit squats

Pause squats

Eccentric squats

Romanian deadlifts

Good mornings

Back squatsFront squatsSplit squats

Pause squats

Eccentric squats

Romanian deadlifts

Good mornings

Multijoint: upper body Bench press, barbell/dumbbellIncline press, barbell/dumbbellDips

Pull-ups

Bent-over rows, barbell/dumbbell

Military press, barbell/dumbbell

Bench pressIncline pressBent-over rows

Pull-ups

Military press

Bench pressPause bench pressEccentric bench press

Bent-over rows

Pause bent-over rows

Eccentric bent-over rows

Military press

Assistance exercises Biceps exercisesTriceps exercisesFront/side/rear deltoid exercises N/A N/A

As you can see from the table, in the off-season the focus is on teaching the power clean and the jerk.  The power snatch is introduced, but it’s not a strong focus.  This changes as the year progresses.  From off-season to in-season; the use of squat, press, and row variation changes until eventually pause and eccentric variations are included.    Hip extension exercises, which strengthen the hamstrings in a lengthened position, are incorporated year-round.  The exercises listed in this table provide a great deal of variety for potential three- or four-day-a-week strength training.  For example:

Off-season workout Pre-season workout In-season workout
Day One Back squatsRomanian deadliftsBench press

Bent-over rows

Military press

Back squatsRomanian deadliftsBench press

Bent-over rows

Military press

Power clean + front squatsFront squats + split jerkRomanian deadlift + clean pulls

Eccentric bench press

Bent-over rows

Day Two Power clean, hang, above the kneeClean pulls, hang, above the kneePush jerk Power cleanClean pullsSplit jerk
Day Three Front squatsLungesGood mornings

Reverse hyperextensions

Pause squatsGood morningsIncline press

Pull-ups

Military press

Snatch pull, no explosion + power snatchEccentric back squat + vertical jumpBench press + MB throws

Bent-over rows + MB throws

Day Four Incline pressDipsPull-ups

Front/side/rear deltoids

Biceps/triceps

Power snatch, hang, above the kneeSnatch pulls 

Elite/Professional:

When an elite athlete has an extensive training history, it becomes difficult to overload their training for them to keep making gains.  They are closer to their genetic ceiling, so it becomes more difficult and dangerous to continue increasing the weight that they can lift on the fundamental exercises like the back squat and bench press.  Due to the nature of their competitive season (i.e. it’s longer) and the need to focus on special and specific training, the volume of the training cannot be continuously increased either.  This leaves changing the exercises that are being used as the primary exercise variable to change.

 

An elite athlete will use a range of exercises to accomplish their training aims.  These may range from fundamental exercises (like a back squat) to an extremely event specific exercise (like a split squat with a 10-second descent on each repetition).  It needs to be kept in mind that at this level, many exercises develop the same muscles and qualities.  Some example are listed below, contrasting between what a high school athlete might use and what an elite athlete might be able to use. The example below is for a track and field jumper or sprinter.  Note that the Olympic lift example is only looking at variations of the clean and jerk, the snatch has not been included for this example.

Exercise Category High School Elite
Olympic Lifts Power clean, hang, above the kneePower clean, hang, kneePower clean, hang below the knee

Power clean

Clean pulls, hang, above the knee

Clean pulls, hang, knee

Clean pulls, hang, below the knee

Clean pulls

Push jerk

Split jerk

Power clean, hang, above the kneePower clean, hang, kneePower clean, hang below the knee

Power clean

Split clean, hang, above the knee

Split clean, hang, knee

Split clean, hang, below the knee

Split clean

One-legged clean

Dumbbell clean (power, split, or one-legged), hang, above the knee

Dumbbell clean (power, split, or one-legged), hang, knee

Dumbbell clean (power, split, or one-legged), hang, below the knee

Kettlebell clean (power, split, or one-legged)

Clean pulls, hang, above the knee

Clean pulls, hang, knee

Clean pulls, hang, below the knee

Clean pulls

Push jerk with barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebell

Split jerk with barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebell

Multijoint: lower body (just squats in this example) Back squatsFront squats Back squatsFront squatsSplit squats

Overhead squats

Back/front/split/overhead squats with a pause

Back/front/split/overhead eccentric squats

One-legged squats

Back/front/split/overhead/one-legged squats with chains or bands

As you can see from the above example, 12 exercises for the high school athlete have easily been turned into 54 possible exercises for the elite athlete.

 

One of the best ways that I’ve found to approach this is to combine it with the “do one more” idea that I mentioned in the first installment of this series.  To do this, let’s pick an exercise that we’re going to begin with.  In this case it will be the back squat.  We want our athlete to train in the 70-80% range and be able to hit eight to twelve repetitions per set.  To make the math easy, we’ll have our athlete’s 1-RM be 400 pounds.  Our goal is for our athlete to do one more total repetition each week.  So, the table below shows the training for the first several weeks (notation is sets x reps x weight lifted, the number in parenthesis is the total number of repetitions done at our training weight each week):

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Back squats 3x8x280 (24) 3×9,8,8×280 (25) 3×9,9,8×280 (26) 3x8x280 (24) 3×8,8,7×280 (23)

As you can see, in week three our athlete peaked on this exercise and actually began regressing in weeks four and five.  So below shows an example of how we can address this if we see it in an elite athlete’s training:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Back squats 3x8x280 (24) 3×9,8,8×280 (25) 3×9,9,8×280 (26) 1x8x280, 2x5x320 (18)
Pause back squats 3x6x240 (18)

After the first set in week four, it was evident that the athlete was not going to be improving on the back squat.  As a result, the weight was moved up to 80% for the last two sets.  The extra weight provided the overload, but was also fewer repetitions than we’d like to see the athlete doing.  So, beginning in week five the exercise was changed to a pause back squat (which has a lower volume than the regular back squat), and the process of trying to do one more each workout continues.