One of my mentors once told me designing a successful training plan is sort of like making a stew, in that as long as all of the ingredients get into the pot the result will be pretty delicious. However while this is true, any master chef knows that the order in which you insert and cook the ingredients can really make the difference when creating the delicious meal. Making a training plan is sort of like making a training stew. The amount, order, and type of ingredients that you choose to put into your training plan will have a great impact on the specific adaptation that the plan is trying to achieve. The amounts, types, and specifics of the training plan are part of the art of the coaching process much like a master chef can take the same ingredients and put something together that is far more delicious than the average person, an experienced strength and conditioning coach has a way to put training variables together and help their athletes achieve things they never thought possible. With this in mind lets go over some of the important variables for a complete training program.
Tissue Quality Work
Commonly referred to as Myofascial Release tissue quality training typically includes: Foam Rolling, Massage, Lacrosse Ball and many other tricks and tools out on the market these days. The mechanism by which this type of work helps is under some debate these days. The bottom line here is that if there are built up adhesions or “knots” in the muscles than they will have decreased performance or limited range of motion. For some people this type of work makes them feel better before training, for others it does not. This is the only piece of the training plan that I feel is optional.
Warm-Up / Mobility / Corrective Exercise… Whatever you want to call it
There is a lot of debate these days about corrective exercises, warm-ups, mobility exercises and a million other names for these types of drills. The bottom line is your preparatory period of you work out should consist of some exercises / drills that will help the athlete perform the upcoming session more efficiently and better.
That is to say that if you have a heavy squat session coming up, you may want to be performing some targeted squat prep drills such as a yogaplex series, wall squatting, or even some overhead squat movements. Similarly if you are going to be doing some upper body movements than you had better activate the upper body maybe this calls for some t-spine work, push-up drills, or rotator cuff movements. Whatever the case may be have the preparatory period of your session prepare the athlete for the upcoming session.
For a look at how this all may be implemented check out my article on the RAMP Warmup.
The debate about bilateral vs. Unilateral training may never be won by either side. Both of these methods can get someone stronger. The important thing here is that you better be doing something to get your athletes stronger. Whether you want to load up heavy split squats or deadlifts the end result better be an athlete that is more robust and can stand up to the rigors of their chosen discipline.
Including too many fixings never makes for a good training stew, you always need more meat and potatoes. In this case your main strength movements are your meat and potatoes of the training plan and should be prioritized throughout the training process. Adaptations made over a longer period of time help to create an injury resilient athlete that is better able to produce power, and utilize their strength on the field, court, or rink. These movements should be progressed through a range of different goals from increasing muscle size, increasing strength, and increasing power development. The specifics of how you progress these movements could warrant an entire university degree with advanced periodization lectures and physiology classes. The important thing here is that these movements are progressed systematically to get you closer to the goal of increased performance.
I will personally employ both unilateral and bilateral movements for my athletes depending on the time of year, their personal preferences, injury history, etc. This is the art of the training process selecting the appropriate exercises for the given client.
Accessory Work in all Planes of Movement / and body positions
It is not enough to have athletes only squat / bench / deadlift. Not that these exercises are bad, however they do not address other planes of movement. Generally after the athlete has performed their main movements for the day it is a good idea to begin to include more accessory type movements. These movements refer to any exercises that are not tracked for progress but are used to strengthen key planes of movement, joint actions, or muscles that are important in the performance of the sport.
Examples of this may include rotator and thoracic spine work for athletes who have high demands of throwing in their sport. Hip work for athletes who perform their sport on skates. There are many options, and these movements perhaps offer the best option for the coach to become creative in their training process.
Optional: Speed Work, Conditioning, Technical Work
Finally depending on the time of year and the training goals a coach may opt to add some specific technical work, speed work, or conditioning type work. All of these types of work can be used at different times of the year to increase the athlete’s physical readiness for their sport.
A general rule of thumb for all of these types of work is that they should be progressed from less specific to more specific as the athlete moves closer to their competition periods. Athletes do not need to spend the entire year working on specific drills for their sport , instead they should separate specific skills that are needed into smaller fundamental parts and develop each of these parts individually early in the off-season.
This is also a great opportunity to add challenges, races, obstacle courses, or other activities that can enhance the fun of the program.
When designing the training process plan out which of these ingredients and in which order and quantities you would like to include. The complex relationship between all of these variables over a long period of time; is what drives the adaptation process that athletes need to go through in order to increase their performance. Through experience, intuition, and education strength and conditioning coaches can learn to develop masterful plans for their athletes that will help them perform when the time comes. Of course no program will be able to be completed from start to finish without complications, but utilizing these ingredients to draw up an underpinning frame work will help to keep the athletes headed in the right direction through adversity.