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6 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Strength and Conditioning Program

Written on March 24, 2014 at 4:35 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Planning the training of an athlete is mainly a question of considering variables. The success of a strength and conditioning program is largely the result of how well a coach can manage these variables, as well as the implementation of the training program.

In order to effectively begin the planning process, a coach must ask himself six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Many coaches instinctively weigh the answers to these questions in order to develop the training as a whole. I am no different. That being said, I recently watched a presentation from James Smith in which he organized common consideration into the familiar WWWWWH format. His acknowledgment of these considerations was the inspiration for this article, so thank you, James.

Who?

The first consideration must be the athlete with whom you’ll be working. Each athlete is different, and thus each athlete will need an individualized approach to his or her preparation. We are quick to label a program or exercise “sport specific,” but in reality, a good programs are exercise selection are “athlete specific.”

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Are you planning the training of a male or female? What is the athlete’s age?

The sex of the athlete may call for different training parameters. The same is true of the athlete’s age, as well as the interaction of the two factors.

Furthermore, what are their movement or orthopedic limitations, and injury history? This is a huge question in both the terms of exercise selection and workload. This consideration will also affect the answer of subsequent questions. Not to jump ahead, but the “why” you are training an athlete can be greatly influenced by their limitations.

Lastly, who is the athlete from a preparation level? This question can lend itself to the “when” as well as the “how.” However, an athlete’s “identity” is largely a product of their preparation to date. What is their level of skill or sport mastery, general and specific work capacity, limit strength, explosive strength, and exercise technique?

What?

The main question here is, “what is the athlete’s sport?“

The training plan must aid an athlete in attaining a high level of sport mastery. Do you as the coach understand the parameters and demands of the athlete’s sport?

How do the improvements of different categories translate to the improvement of the athlete in their sport? The special work capacity of the soccer player differs greatly from that of the sprinter. Limit strength, for example, may hold a higher priority to the football player than the baseball player.

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Also of consideration for some sports is the position or primary event of the athlete. Offensive lineman are a lot different than quarterbacks, and goalies have markedly different demands than midfielders. Obviously, this consideration weighs more heavily in some sports than others.   

When?

Asking “when?” leads us to series of questions based on time.

When is the athlete’s competitive season, and when is the off-season? The answer to this question helps us to form an idea of the length of any training stages.

For example, a Major League Baseball season consists of spring training, plus 26 weeks and 162 regular season games, plus a possible 20 additional post-season games. In other words, a MLB player spends more time in the competitive season than he does in the off-season. Factor in a block for restoration from the competitive season, and you have very little time to actually prepare the athlete for the following season. Now, ask yourself the difference in the length of the competitive season for a minor league player, college player, and high school player? Each offers different lengths of time for the coach to prepare the athlete. Therefore, while each athlete’s training should be geared toward producing the best possible result on the field, each athlete will be able to spend different amounts of time on improving certain abilities.

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Football, on the other hand, has a pre-season, plus a 17-week competitive season, and a possible additional 3-4 post-season games. The football player has considerably more time to prepare in the off-season.

Lastly, when will you be working with this athlete?

Will you have them for a few weeks, a single off-season, the next four years, or the next eight years? Furthermore, when will you be monitoring their training, and when will they be carrying out the training plan without your guidance?

These final answers MUST be taken into account when developing the strength and conditioning program of an athlete. A coach must train for the future, and knowing that you will influence an athlete for multiple years rather than multiple weeks greatly changes the approach.

Where?

Where are you receiving this athlete in their preparation and skill development timetable? While a coach may receive an athlete who has developed a high level of skill, they will not necessarily have a high level of physical preparation. The two are not linked.

Is this the first time ever dedicating any time to physical preparation as opposed to skill development?

Has the athlete acquired a high level of physical preparation, and lacks the skill development to move forward?

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The answers to these questions will help you as the coach better determine the means, and minimal effective dose, for this athlete to make improvements to their game.

To back track, you must also ask yourself where the athlete is in relation to their competitive season. If you receive an athlete one week after the close of business, as opposed to one month before the start of business, the training focus must be in line with the plan, regardless of what you see them lacking in on a global scale.

One month before the competitive season is not the time to makes gain on maximal strength, even if that is a weak link. Moreover, one week after the competitive season is not the time to place a majority focus on skill development, regardless of the fact that an athlete may be greatly lacking in this quality.

 

Why?

This may be the single best question you can ask yourself as a coach. Why are you working with this athlete?

The answer to that question is the sum of all the questions you have asked yourself up to this point. On a general level, the answer is the same: to improve the athlete’s sport outcome.

The real question you are asking is on a far more specific level.

You are not working with a professional athlete for the same reason you are working with a freshman in high school. Additionally, you may not be working with professional athlete A for the same reasons you are working with professional athlete B.

Each athlete will produce different answers to the questions of Who, What, When, and Where. Therefore, the “why” is different in each athlete’s case, and the training must be tailored to that individual’s needs.

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How?

How is the final question, and one that has many different answers. This is not an article on training philosophies, and so the answer to this question is different for each of you. That said, once you get to this final question, all pre-requisite variables have been established.

From here, you as the coach must form the training plan. How will you sequence the training, and what means, methods, amounts of volume, intensity, and frequency will you use?

In ending, qualified coaches will ask themselves these six questions before ever entering a single digit or exercise name into their template. Not doing so is to completely ignore the preparation process as a whole. Consider the training process on a much larger scale than just a single workout, or four-week phase. Instead, investigate where an athlete falls in the scheme of physical preparation and skill mastery on a career-long basis. Use the information gathered to enter the athlete into the proper phase of preparation and to focus the training to the needs of each athlete on an individual basis.

Looking for a program that helps you with individualization and takes the guesswork out of self-programming?  Check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market.

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  • Dan Pratt

    I really like this article! I can tell it has a lot of James smith influence, which I appreciate because James is a very intelligent physical preparation coach. He understands a lot of the eastern bloc and Russian methodology and applies it very well. Great article!

  • vince moya

    In doing a strength training program it calls to change up the routine every 4 weeks. Would you do a different workout each time the athlete comes in? Or would you do the same workout progressing each time? In example if the athlete comes twice a week, there is an “A” workout and “B”. Would I keep those same two workouts just progressing for the 4 weeks?

  • Keith

    Definitely a much need post, Coach Cressey. The questions posed in this article should form the backbone of any program, which in and of itself, is not easy.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Vince,

    Not quite sure I understand your question, but yes, we’d have different training sessions each time the athlete comes in.  The A/B split is common on 2x/week programs, for sure.

  • http://teamspeedco.com Edward O’Connor

    This article helped me narrow the focus of mindsets associated with beginning a program. Thanks for the valuable information. I am having issues with finding the optimal volume, intensity, and frequency of training for some of the younger baseball players I train (ages 12-14). Your video of managing the overhead athlete helped tremendously. I have been focusing on improving overall athleticism and mobility because of their age. If you have any other information regarding training this age group in regards to pre-season and in-season training that would be great. Thanks again.


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