5 Reasons Why Your Training Sucks.

Like many who came before me, the first time I stepped into the weight room, I got bit by the iron bug – hard. Unlike many who came before me, it took much longer to realize that training was a marathon and not a sprint, as well as a revolving door where change is the only constant.

I made the most gains early on in high school, which should not be a surprise, I was in a good place hormonally, (puberty is one helluva performance-enhancer). Later on in high school and even into college, my gains stagnated and in some cases, regressed. You can imagine how frustrating this was for me as a student athlete who loved every bit of the process, even more so than the game itself I would say – but that’s what makes me good at what I do now. Why the plateau? I made these 5 mistakes time and time again, hopefully I save you the headache and a couple years locked in a stalemate with progress.

Reason #1: You lack variety.

This was the biggest mistake I made, and I made it more times than I can count. If you present the same stimulus to the organism for a prolonged period of time, the organism will not only exhibit no further progress, but a decline as well. This is known as the Law of Accommodation, and it will punish you if you do not respect it.

The human body runs in 3-4 week adaptation waves. I have found that extroverts require massive amounts of stimulus, making it prudent to prescribe a new template every 21 days or so. Introverts, on the other hand, rarely require any change in their program, (see Jim Wendler and his book, 5/3/1).

In my experience, I have found that my lower body is much dumber than my upper body, meaning I am able to apply a given stimulus to my lower body for 3-4 weeks before adaptation occurs. Whereas when training my upper body, by the end of week 2, I am pulling my hair out from boredom and lack of progress.

Take home message? Change. Look at it this way, when a little boy or girl finally learns how to spell their name, they are never going to be able to spell it any better, they can only mess it up – same with training. To adapt is to never truly adapt.

Reason #2: You lack speed.

I have gone on record several times exclaiming how influential Dr. Bryan Mann and his work on all things Velocity Based Training (VBT) has been in not only my training, but more importantly, the training of my athletes. See Mike Robertson’s Physical Preparation Podcast for more on said reason.

Fret Hatfield aka “Dr. Squat” coined the term, compensatory acceleration, in which the athlete accelerates the bar as leverage improves throughout the movement.

Vladimir Zatsiorsky wrote about the dynamic effort method, in which the athlete is lifting submaximal weights at high velocities to improve his rate of force development and explosive strength.

If these three giants in the industry put an emphasis on speed, I find it necessary that you do as well. One can not lift a heavy weight slowly. If the speed of the bar dips beneath .3 m/s, more times than not, failure will follow. If you slow down, you go down.

Lifting with speed also has tremendous restoration benefits. Dr. Mann says, “velocity recovers everything” lifting at high speeds promotes substantial blood flow to the muscle(s), providing ample oxygen and nutrients needed for rejuvenation.

Reason #3: You lack periodization.

Unless you are a sponsored crossfitter and have made a living doing so, throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks is not planning, it is planning to fail. I truly believe the best way to program is by simultaneously raising all aspects of athleticism. This is known as the conjugate or concurrent method.

Dedicating a block to each element of performance is old, outdated, and antiquated. As you “progress” from one block to the next, you are losing all the gains you worked your ass off to obtain in the previous block. Now, the naysayers will proclaim that in a well-structured program, they are not losing the benefits from the previous block as they are programmed into the current. If that is the case, they too are using a concurrent style of training.

A good, well-rounded program will consist of: maximal (or submaximal) effort method, to build intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. Dynamic effort to improve one’s rate of force development. And the repeated effort method used to build up lagging muscle groups and address weak links in the kinetic chain.

Reason #4: You lack urgency.

If each lifting session takes you approximately 3 hours to complete, you are an idiot. Don’t fret, I use to be in the gym for an entire afternoon and I would wonder why I would feel drained and stall out. This cycle continued for several years in my youth, each time I would expect a different result, I believe that is the definition of insanity.

Physiologically, any lifting session lasting longer than 60-75 minutes is going to have a negative effect on the production of serum testosterone. Sessions running longer than said time will produce more cortisol (stress) than necessary, which will inhibit recovery and progress.

Get in, and get out. You should not feel drained after a workout, but rather invigorated, that is the key to success. Keep your training short, keep it acute, keep it intense.

Reason #5: You lack deloads.

Training is stressful, extremely stressful. Don’t believe me? A training session is more stressful to the organism than that of a broken arm. Why? Training is global, whereas said injury is local. Point being, it may be in your best interest to dial it back every now and then.

I used to deload every 8-12 weeks, now I deload after every third, no questions asked. Why? I do so before I need to, this allows me to stay hungry for training, as well as supercompensate which elicits more gains.

If you neglect the deload, you are asking for trouble. There are three phases to the onset of stress:

  1. Alarm
  2. Resistance
  3. Exhaustion

If you venture too far into number 3, you are going to dig yourself a hole you may be unable to crawl out of – tread lightly. Cal Dietz says constantly applying stress to the human body is the single most important component of any training program, and I happen to agree with him, but there is a limit.

Summary

Training is never going to become easy, especially if you are seasoned and strong. It is harder to get better the better you get. Have a roadmap of where you are going and where you want to be, hardly anyone has a training journal anymore, what the hell?! That is your log, that is how you record progress or lack thereof. Do-Document-Refine, it is that simple.

Best,

HMC

 

Hip Height = Training Considerations

In the sport of American football, there are many varying body types, skill levels, and physiologic differences. As a physical preparation coach, it would be damn near impossible to try and address every single nuance your athletes present. However, there is one distinction that can be programmed for and tailored to – hip height.

To put it simply, the closer the player is to the football, the more strength dominant he is. Conversely, the further away a player is from the football, the more speed dominant he then becomes. Makes sense, right? It should. A center and the nose guard across from him more often than not display the most impressive feats of strength in the weight room, while the cornerback and wide receiver doing battle with him rely on their speed to be successful on the gridiron.

Does this mean that my big guys do not sprint? No. Does this mean that my skill players never walk into the weight room? Absolutely not. Bigs, Big Skill, and Skill all perform acceleration, max velocity, jumps, plyometrics, and they all lift weights. However, the requirements for each group vary. The volume of speed work for an offensive lineman is not the same as a free safety, just as the volume of strength development for a linebacker is not the same as a slot receiver.

Skill Players (WR, RB, DB) 
≤150 yds/session 
Big Skill (LB, TE, QB) 
≤100 yds/session 
Bigs (OL, DL) 
≤60 yds/session 

Olympic sprinters perform ≤300m of acceleration work daily. I do not train Olympic sprinters, so I have adjusted the daily acceleration volume based on hip height of the players in the table shown above. Yes, we perform acceleration daily. Why? The obvious answer is because football is a game of repeated accelerations, the better answer is that when a coach is addressing a skill, it needs to be addressed every single day. Acceleration is a skill, and we address it daily in my program.

The daily flow of a training session for my football players begins with all three groups (Bigs, Big Skill, and Skill) on the field. Once each group has met their appropriate volume of acceleration or max velocity for the day, they will transition to the weight room. The Bigs will be the first off the field, and first into the weight room, followed by Big Skill, and then finally Skill as their amount of speed volume will be the highest.

Once they have transitioned to the weight room, the Bigs are prescribed the most volume as their hip height in game demands it. Big Skill will see a decrease in their volume, and Skill will have the lowest volume of strength development. The benefits of this are two-fold: 1) you are meeting the strength/speed demands of each group. 2) from a more practical standpoint, there will be a better flow in the weight room as they will not all be doing the same thing at the same time.

Now, for those of you concerned with my skill players simply not being strong enough, rest assured, they will get stronger simply by sprinting. Sprinting will drive up weights, weights will not necessarily drive up speed. How? Sprinting is 5x ground reaction forces, and 7x muscle skeletal forces every time a player strikes the ground. In my Skill players’ case, the weight room simply makes sprinting more tolerable to them, as they create 800-1000lbs of force with every stride at max velocity.

Still not convinced my skill players are not spending enough time in the weight room? If you were to ask a football coach how the game is played, he would ramble off a few things such as:

  • We will run the ball to the middle, or the outside
  • We will drop back, our wide receiver will run a route, catch the ball, and run up the field
  • Any great defense will run the to ball

So we can conclude that running is rather important. I rest my case.

Summary

Hip height will determine the training protocol for your athletes. The lower a player’s hips are to the ground, the more strength and stability is required with less of demand for velocity. The higher a player’s hips are in comparison to the ground requires much more devotion to elastic power and max velocity with only a smattering of weights and strength development.

My goal is to increase the work capacity of the best performance of the specific task at hand, and that task will vary position-to-position, or better yet – the height of the player’s hips.

Best,

HMC

 

Agility Training Considerations for American Football

If you are looking for an article with a “how to” model for agility, movements that are chaotic in nature, and sexy cone drills limited only by your imagination, you are going to be disappointed because you are not going to get it. However, if you are willing to have an open mind and look at things from a different perspective, then you will benefit greatly from this article and begin developing freakish athletes.

As a coach, you can improve your athletes’ agility without doing agility training. I am sure this is a hard pill to swallow for some coaches, but trust me, it is not only possible, it is a guarantee. The way this is accomplished is not as difficult as one might think, it is in fact, rather easy. The key focus should be on linear speed and sprinting, not change of direction. Why? Sprinting farther and faster in training allows athletes to reach higher speeds, thus achieving higher ground forces. Simply put, high velocity=high force. This has multiple benefits when it comes to agility:

  • Improved change of direction
  • Improved jumping ability
  • Ability to decelerate quicker
  • Less wear and tear (due to decrease in COD training)

When the athlete is in a state of high velocity and high force (sprinting) he is reaping the rewards of “agility” training without the risk. If we are being honest, it is known that agility and change of direction is hard on the organism, why venture into that realm of risk when it is accomplished by sprinting full speed?

Still not grasping it? When Michael Vick was in his prime, he would achieve maximal speeds at over 20 miles per hour (21.63 mph to be exact). When the organism is achieving 95% or greater of his best times in max velocity speed training, submaximal velocities (agility and COD training) will be that much easier for the organism. This is why I am a proponent of Charlie Francis’ HIGH/LOW Approach, it allows the coach to tap into true max velocity while simultaneously raising several other aspects an athlete may encounter on the field of play. Additionally, when you expose the organism to submaximal velocities more often than necessary, you then run the risk of habituating them to perform at slower and submaximal velocities – no bueno.

Absolute strength is the foundation in the weight room and all other strength qualities (speed strength, strength speed, etc.) are raised through it. As is the case with max velocity or absolute speed. The higher the max velocity the organism is able to achieve, all other velocities will be far less taxing and will be able to be performed for longer durations. This concept is known as the speed reserve. As an example, Formula 1 race cars have top speeds of 250-260 mph, however, their average speed is 130-140 mph. They are able to perform at slower velocities for longer durations because their max velocity is so impressive that it allows them to do so without stalling.

Does this mean I believe cones, hurdles and agility drills are stupid? On the contrary, those are tools, they have value. Just because a hammer is a tool does not make it stupid, a hammer is stupid if you are washing windows. What I am trying to illustrate is that while agility training does have it’s place in the preparation of football players, it certainly does not need a training session or block devoted entirely to it.

Summary

The development of linear speed and max velocity have more benefits other than just improving that one particular bio-motor ability. A study done by Clark and Weyland found that at higher velocities, higher forces are put into the ground. No shit, right?

Remember this, since the organism is able to apply more force into the ground, numerous other benefits are being realized without the wear and tear. As physical preparation coaches, we should be prescribing exercises our athletes get the most out of, not exercises that get the most out of them.

Best,

HMC

PS – Don’t forget to check out my interview with Mike Robertson! Physical Preparation with Hunter Charneski

Squat Is King, But Which One?

Now, before a battle of epic proportions ensues between the box-squat brigade and the ass-to-grass club, I would like to open by saying, “All squats work.” However, nothing works forever. What the hell? Let me explain.

The Law of Accommodation is as follows, “If athletes employ the same exercise with the same training load over a long period of time, performance improvement decreases.” to make this idiot-proof, if nothing changes, nothing changes. I know what you are going to say, “But Coach, my athletes don’t use the same training load every single time! The weight changes each session!” That is one way to avoid accommodation, it is called a quantitative modification – the training loads change from session to session. There is a better way to avoid accommodation, and it is through qualitative modification – replacing the exercise. Why is said modification superior to quantitative? Firstly, our bodies are much smarter than us, it will do everything in it’s power to remain the same, it is hell-bent on getting back to homeostasis, so you need to kick it in the pants and force your body to adapt, and adapt, and adapt by incorporating new or special exercises. Second is the force-posture curve, different body positions (safety-bar squat vs. bow bar squat) affects the maximal force the athlete can display against an external load. When you constantly are changing squat variations, your athletes will conversely continue to display varying amounts of maximal force, which will then cause the organism to adapt, overcome and thrive. To adapt to training is never to truly adapt – change is the only constant.

If you pay attention to Louie Simmons and his crew at Westside Barbell, you know they are a fan of box-squats. They rarely perform a regular, straight bar, old fashion free squat. Why? Is it because they are just a bunch of juiced meatheads? No, it actually is a beautiful thing called physics. Newton’s First Law on Inertia: An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion in a straight line at a constant speed. Let me ask you, is this not what box-squatting is? The athlete is having to overcome inertia with a relaxed-overcome-by-dynamic contraction each time he ascends from the box. How does this transfer to sport? Well, what happens each time an athlete is sprinting? Is he not performing a relaxed-overcome-by-dynamic contraction with each running cycle? My friend Derek Hansen says, “Relax. Flow like the cheetah.”

On the other hand, Charles Poliquin is a fan of the ass-to-grass variations.  There seems to be some misinterpretation of what “ass-to-grass” means. Let me put it this way, if you don’t leave a stain in the carpet in the bottom position, you are not low enough. If you are unable to squat to depth, you are missing full hip and ankle range of motion – this is a problem. This is the mechanism causing hip impingement, plantar fasciitis, torn Achilles, pulled calves, among others.

Don’t worry front-squatters, I have not forgotten about you. Why would I incorporate front squats into my program? Think of it this way, is an athlete able to cheat a front squat? I have yet to see it done. The front rack position also mirrors the universal “athletic position” as my friend Joe Kenn says (he’s a fan of front squats too). Sounds a lot like Dynamic Correspondence, for more information of said principle, read The Training Tool Nobody Talks About!. Just like back squats, there are numerous variations for front squatting: goblet squats, double kettlebell front squats, straight bar front squats, safety bar front squats (my personal favorite), etc.

Summary

Whether you train at Westside (I’m jealous), you train athletes, or you just have an affinity for the iron, your current program has a short life. The human body has natural adaptation waves lasting 3-4 weeks. Simply put, the best program is the one you are not on! There cannot be one perfect training program, the body constantly needs new stimuli in order for performance to improve.

Squats have been deemed “King” with good reason – they work! Want a bigger bench? Squat. Want to build your deadlift? Squat. Aspirations to jump higher, run faster? Squat. Know the desired outcome, assess, prescribe, and before your athlete adapts, change! All squats work, but no squat works forever.

Best,

HMC

 

 

The Training Tool Nobody Talks About!

I simply cannot hold it in any longer, so I apologize for the rant about to ensue. I have to do this because there are so many gadgets, gimmicks and gurus out there doing nothing but wasting numerous athletes’ time and money. It seems as though they have forgotten about the most important training tool an athlete has – the ground!

On my way home from the Faktory yesterday, I saw I had been mailed an issue of Perform Better and their 2017 catalog. Within the first couple of pages, all I saw were Bosu Balls, Terra-Core platforms, and Core Boards. You have got to be kidding me! And folks wonder why I look much older than 26?

But it did not stop there, I open Twitter to catch up on a few of those I follow in this industry, and a video was up of several NFL draft prospects “speed training” in sand. I thought I was going to blow a proverbial gasket.

Why are we still training our athletes in sand and/or on unstable surfaces? If you have read any of Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s work on the Law of Dynamic Correspondence, you know that these methods and means are laughable. The Law of Dynamic Correspondence clearly states, “it must mimic (in part, or in whole) the sporting activity to transfer to the sporting activity.” It is objective, it is science, Dr. Bondarchuk has given us the blueprint, why can’t we follow it?

In almost all team sports, athletes train on either hard, stable surfaces (turf or court) or soft, stable surfaces (grass). On my visit to the Arizona Cardinals practice facility to meet with head physical preparation coach, Buddy Morris, he explained research that has shown training on unstable surfaces diminish force and power outputs and inhibit the development of speed. We all know speed sits alone at the top as thee most important biomotor ability. See Build Speed With 5 SPECIAL Exercises!

These athletes are not beach volleyball players (no offense). Sand and these other gadgets do nothing for force application, why are we still exposing our athletes to these “stimuli”? Every action as an equal and opposite reaction, I believe someone named, “Newton” wrote that. These surfaces destroy the coveted elastic-reactive response in athletes and dissipate forces. These are essential to enhance and develop power, speed, and force outputs. Unless the athlete you train plays in sand, or during an earthquake, the ground should suffice for all his or her training needs.

One thing that Buddy Morris said to me during my time with him that I will never forget is when he used Usain Bolt as his “case study” if you will. He explained to me that Usain Bolt is the fastest man this world has ever seen, and Jamaica is the best sprint program in the world – period. He continued (with the use of a few “F” bombs) that Jamaica is an island in the middle of the ocean with plenty of beaches and plenty of sand. He has never seen a YouTube training video, Instagram, Facebook, etc. of Usain Bolt training in sand. He is always either running on a hill, (soft, stable) or a track (hard, stable).

Summary

The ground is your friend, it is your own personal force-plate, use it. It can make you an extremely strong, powerful and reactive individual. I am sure there will be those who will dispute this with me and claim that training in sand will enhance elastic-reactive responses in power/speed athletes. My only question for them would be, “How can you have an elastic-reactive response when forces dissipate and you get nothing back?” Perhaps the ground is not sexy enough, it is not the latest novelty, it is not cutting edge. I am here to tell you, when things get fancy, fancy gets broken. Don’t take my word for it, Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky said it best, “There are no new exercises.”

Best,

HMC

 

 

My First Combine Season.

Have you ever wondered what a coach in this industry finds most intimidating? No, not overzealous parents believing their child is the next Lebron James. It is in fact, placing a young man, his football career, and (potentially) millions of dollars in his hands.

If you haven’t been there yet, you just might be one day. I’m talking about combine season. While this is a goal many of us in this industry set during the infancy of our careers, it does not make it any less frightening once the opportunity presents itself.

The moment it became official that I would have my first athlete training for a combine, I began reaching out to all my friends in this industry. Andy McCloy, Joe Kenn, Derek Hansen, Dr. Bryan Mann, just to name a few. I was scared shitless, I did not know where to begin. Which bio-motor ability takes precedent, which bio-energetic system should be addressed first, in what order do I need to train each bio-dynamic component of sprint technique? These and several other questions were paying rent inside my head.

Now, how am I handling my first combine season in terms of programming and periodization? Below is my nine week mesocycle for the athlete working with me:

capture-3

 

As you’re analyzing the content above, it should be noted that the athlete I am working with is a 290+ lb defensive tackle and is as strong as an ox. Therefore, I felt it was prudent to develop strength traits other than absolute strength. Now before you have a myocardial infarction, yes I know all strengths are raised through absolute strength. Having been around this athlete during his playing days, as well as having a relationship with his college strength coach, I know he is strong enough. Can we all exhale and move on now?

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge fan of Cal Dietz and his work on all things triphasic training. There are few better ways to develop an explosive and reactive athlete, which is why each phase has it’s own three week block. See Managing Individual Needs in a Group Setting. for more on how I program each phase.

You might be scratching your head as you see a “Lactic” block in week nine of the cycle. The lactic system is not a bioenergetical demand of the sport, don’t you know that?! Yes, I do, the unfortunate state of affairs is that most scouts in the NFL do not. If you have never been to a combine or NFL pro-day, the individual workouts become glycolytic in a hurry. This athlete needs a micro dose of exposure to this energy system because he is going to be exposed to it at the biggest job interview of his life.

I am building one bio-motor/dynamic block on top of one another (almost in a linear fashion) because as he progresses from one block to the next, his rate of force development will increase, causing a much higher demand on his tissue to apply extreme amounts of force into the ground. My number one goal is to protect, so he is then able to produce. Don’t let your ego progress your athlete too quickly. Low risk, high reward is a win-win every time.

Velocity-Based Training (VBT) has been an invaluable tool for us since implementing it into our program. Dr. Bryan Mann broke down each block for this athlete, giving each strength trait three weeks to develop. This is something I cannot recommend enough, it takes the subjectivity out of the equation. Louie Simmons himself could be watching the bar speed, but even he is not able to determine the exact velocity. VBT is 100% objective and legit.

capture-4

Above is my weekly template for this particular combine season. We utilize a Westside template with a HI/LO approach made popular by the late Charlie Francis.

Acceleration is a skill, and skills need to be addressed daily. We address acceleration in some form (3-point starts, prone starts, push-up starts, etc.) every single day. On LO days, we complete anywhere between 1000-2000m of volume in tempos. This promotes rhythm and relaxation, while also allowing the athlete to become forebrain dominant. Sprinting is a hind-brain activity, meaning there is little-to-no thinking during the event. Tempos allow the athlete to be more analytical during each repetition. In order to change a motor behavior (poor backside leg recovery, for example) you need to get the brain’s attention. In order to get the brain’s attention, you need to slow things down – that’s tempo work.

Submaximal effort (SME) is typically our aim in the weight room on HI days, we have done this for two reasons:

  1. I have already determined the athlete is strong enough.
  2. By shying away from true maximal effort, we are constantly allowing the athlete to super-compensate between training sessions.

If you pay attention to Charlie Francis’ HI/LO approach, the athlete can have a HI CNS component on a LO CNS day as long as it is brief in nature. How have I accomplished this task? I simply moved all our medicine ball throws to the LO days. They’re mainly concentric in nature, and we are able to maintain a HI CNS component each training session.

My primary template for athletes is the Tier System, so why Westside? I chose Westside’s template because what I am preparing my athlete for is so general in nature. I am not training him for a football game, I am training him for a workout. I will worry about dynamic correspondence and specificity after the draft when the athlete needs to prepare for the sport itself.

Summary

Combine season is a special time for football players in the collegiate ranks. It is a time where many young men’s dreams turn into reality. If you are lucky enough to have even one young man put his faith in you, cherish it and give him all you’ve got.

It is my hope that this article has shed some light on combine training for many of the younger trainers in the industry aspiring to do great things. It is also my hope that some of you tear my program to shreds and disagree with it, that’s okay! If you are afraid of criticism, you shouldn’t be in this industry. The only way to not be criticized is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.

Last bit for all the younger trainers out there, you are more powerful than you think, act accordingly.

Best,

HMC

Managing Individual Needs in a Group Setting.

Being in the private sector for a little under a year now, I have made a shit ton of mistakes. From incorporating Westside Barbell’s conjugate method into my program, to prescribing each athlete his own individual workout in a group of 10 or more (kill me now). Let me save you the suspense and agony, blanket templates and individual workouts in a group setting do not work – period.

Cookie cutter programs will make training large groups easy, your athletes will make gains, until they don’t. On the other hand, if you try to address every single problem, nothing gets done. So what is the solution? Well, if you have been in this industry long enough, you know the answer lies somewhere down the middle. Here is my layering process to manage the individual needs of individual athletes.

Step 1: The Athletic Assessment

  • For those of you who have known me for some time, you are well aware that I am not a fan of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). But why not? It is a staple in most sects of the industry. As Mark Twain once said, “If I ever find myself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” In my opinion, the FMS focuses far too much on movement optimality, when the focus as physical preparation coaches should be movement variability. We are not symmetrical beings, okay? One high school athlete is not going to walk the same as one of his teammates, much less display the same squatting pattern. When we were infants, who did we see walk, crawl, jump, etc.? Our parents! I would be willing to bet you learned to walk because you were attempting to mimic the gait your father displayed. Each athlete is going to present a different movement pattern, whether it be with a hinge, supine row, push-up, you name it. That is where “the art of coaching” comes into play and we put them in position to thrive, given the pattern(s) they present.
  • I will give you the perfect example. One of my clients is an outside linebacker in the NFL, he weighs 275 lbs. and ran a 4.73 in Indianapolis last year. At max velocity, he looks like absolute shit. So am I going to let my ego get in the way and attempt to change his style so he can then run a 5.00? Hell no! I work with his technique in conjunction the patterns he displays.
  • I wish there was a screen other than the FMS, believe me, it would certainly make my job easier, but I digress. In an attempt to create my own assessment, I have taken bits and pieces from friends such as Joe Kenn’s Block Zero Concept, as well as a smattering of Joe DeFranco’s assessment protocol. Here is what a typical assessment resembles for a new athlete at Freak Faktory:
Training Age Years spent training and following an organized and periodized program.
Sporting Age Years spent playing their sport(s) and their experience participating in multiple sports.
Injury History Injuries the athlete has sustained? Rehab protocols followed? Current training contraindications caused by injuries? Current state of preparedness?
Breathing Mechanics Clavicular breather? Diaphragmatic breather? Goal is to become Conjugal breather.
Bodyweight Squat (box option) Observe ankle, knee, hip, and thoracic mobility sequencing, position, and dynamic motor control through each pattern.
Athletic Position “Snap downs” are performed for several repetitions. Can athlete hammer down? Can vertical jump be achieved from that position? Can a squat be achieved from that position?
Beighton-Laxity Screen Observe athlete’s degree of elbow hyperextension, thumb to forearm, finger extension, knee hyperextension, palms touching the floor with knees fully extended to determine what ROM is appropriate and where stability/dynamic motor control is required.
Relative Strength Observe and record muscular endurance for repetitions for: push-ups, supine rows, chin-up (held for time), hinging, RKC planks (held for time), CHG back extension (held for time).
Flow Observe how the athlete transitions with steady and controlled cadence between structured and unstructured movement patterns and positions.
  • Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it complete? Unlikely, and that is by design. Training by nature, is incomplete. There can not be a perfect program, odds are there will not be a perfect assessment to accompany it. With that said, this does give us a general baseline to puts our athletes on the path to success during their time with us.

Step 2: Owning Each Phase of Movement

  1. Eccentric Phase
    • After the athletic assessment has been completed and the athlete attends his first session, he will follow our group template, but his core lifts (deadlift, squat, bench, etc.) will be performed with a 6-7 second eccentric phase during his first month of training.
    • Other than that sounding like torture, why on Earth do I do that? Every dynamic movement begins with an eccentric muscle contraction. Let that last sentence sink in. When an athlete performs a broad jump, his hips will perform a slight dip, eccentrically lengthening the quads and glutes prior to launch.  Counter movements such as the hip dip in the broad jump are paramount in force production of an athlete.
    • Why else do we spend so much time (4-6 weeks) training the eccentric phase? Other than the fact that they have never been exposed to such a stimulus and have an extraordinary adaptation, they are actually training two physiological processes that contribute to force development. The first is the most powerful human reflex in the body, you might have heard of it – the stretch reflex. The second is dependent on the stretch reflex and is a close second in terms of force production – the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). In short, our overarching goal in training the eccentric phase is to improve the neuromuscular synchronization of the afferent/efferent neural pathway between the muscle spindle, CNS, and muscle while also desensitizing the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), which will allow the athlete to absorb higher levels of force with triggering the over-protective mother that is the GTO.
  2. Isometric Phase
    • As the athlete moves into his second month of training amongst the group, he will enter the isometric phase, or block. His main lifts will no longer have a slow-eccentric component, but he will hold the point at which the eccentric contraction becomes a concentric one.
    • How do we train the isometric phase? We line everyone up along the gym walls and have them hold a chair squat position for several minutes while we walk on their thighs – we have all seen that video. No, we are not assholes. We simply have the athlete perform a 3-5 second isometric contraction at the point we deem will produce the most beneficial adaptation for him or her. A safety on a football team may hold a quarter-to-half squat position, while a nose guard will more likely hold a parallel squat for the allotted time. We tailor it to each position, (our main sport is football).
    • It is imperative that an athlete can forcibly bring the eccentric load to a halt instantly. The athlete who is able to stop the eccentric stretch of a muscle the fastest is going to benefit with an improved stretch reflex. This encapsulates our “why” for training the isometric phase.
  3. Concentric Phase
    • This is the “how much ya bench?” of training, we have all heard that at one point in time. The concentric phase answers just that. This is typically the last block (4-6 weeks) of training before our athletes leave to play their sport. For those who continue to train beyond this block, training residuals come into play which is another article entirely.
    • Why do we train it? Simply, the concentric phase is the measure of the athlete’s rate of force development and it is a great way to develop one’s intra and intermuscular coordination.
    • How do we train it? We often call this the “Reactive” block, to grab the athletes’ attention. All three phases should be performed as quickly as possible, “Display your strength quickly.” is my favorite cue.

Step 3: Optimizing Training for Each Athlete

  • What is optimal? It depends what you are optimizing. You see, we linearly build the phases of athletic movement (eccentric, isometric, concentric), and we concurrently build all aspects of athleticism, (strength, power, speed, etc.). It all depends where each athlete is on any given day in our program.
  • For example, I have had four athletes using the same squat rack, who were all doing the same template we had for the group on that particular day, and all four athletes were following different parameters for their sets. Two were back-squatting, one was performing slow eccentrics while the other was being reactive, one was performing front squats because he back squats at school, (I will touch on this in a moment) and the other was an advanced athlete performing dynamic-effort box squats with accommodating resistance.
  • How do I ensure the training is optimal on each training day? I prescribe what I call the “minimal effective dosage” to trigger an adaptation. How you do this is quite simple: prescribe the minimal amount reps according to Prilepen’s Chart. The following week, prescribe the optimal amount of reps. Lastly, in the third week, prescribe the maximal amount. Through this volume accumulation, you are constantly forcing the athlete to adapt.
  • What if an athlete performs an exercise we prescribe in his high school lifting program? If you read my first article, “Build Speed With 5 SPECIAL Exercises!” therein lies the answer. For example, if my athlete performs the bench press at school, why in the hell would I have him do it again at my facility? Instead, we will build his bench press at school by floor pressing at my facility – special exercises. In another scenario, if an athlete of mine is a shitty back-squatter and I continually choose to have him perform back-squats, what have I done? At best, he will be a really good shitty back-squatter. I prefer special exercises in this case as well; goblet squats, safety-bar squats, belt squats, you name it. As long as he is maintaining a squat pattern, I’m happy.
  • If you take nothing else away from this article, please be sure to highlight this point: connecting with the surrounding high school’s coaches, athletic trainers, and strength staff is one of the most important aspects of being in the private sector. Trust me on this one, I have worked for other facilities who possess the “guru on the mountain” approach, as Buddy Morris would say. First of all, do not be that guy, really. Second, you are only limiting your athletes by not doing so – dick move, bro. This is vital to your athlete’s success because they know you are invested in them and they will develop a level of trust with you that is hard to beat. Not to mention your program will be kick ass.

Summary

The private sector is not for the faint of heart, you will make mistakes, you will eat your fair share of humble pie, but the ceiling is as high as you want it to be. The more I learn, the more I realize I do not know anything. Don’t believe me? Try being friends with Derek Hansen, its not easy. No matter which seminar I attend, it seems as though I am always the dumbest guy in the room, which only means one thing – I am going to learn something today and my athletes will benefit from my dumbass being here! Is my program perfect? Nope. Is it complete? Negative. Does each athlete have his individual needs addressed each and every session? Most definitely.

Best,

HMC

References

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (1995). Science and Practice of Strength Training (2ndnd ed., pp. 39-42).

Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic Training.