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Training Multi-Sport Athletes: Part II

In the last article about handling multi-sport athletes in high school, we discussed our reasons behind the holistic training approach as opposed to sport-specific training. For one, it makes administrative and logistics tasks for coaches far easier – saving time and maximizing results. On top of this, high school athletes are NOT specialists, and thus have a very broad physical requirement for competitive success.

Frankly, we would argue that training any athlete is a more universal task than “sport-specific” training can accomplish. Either way, though, building an efficient training program for competitive multi-sport athletes must take into account a wide array of needs. We must build a universal approach that benefits all athletes, no matter their field of competition. Here at PLT4M, we break these demands down into 4 basic pillars of training.

Power

There is not an athlete in the world that could not benefit from increased power. Power is the ability to combine strength and speed into “explosiveness”. We are not simply talking about mass-building at the expense of movement (think body builder), we are talking about the generation of force against resistance (think olympic swimmer).

The way we tackle power development is through classic strength work (linear periodization of basic weightlifting movements like the squat or press), coupled with dynamic plyometric movements (box jumps, burpees, jump rope, etc). We also incorporate a good deal of olympic barbell work intended to generate high power output (cleans, snatches, etc).

Throughout it all, we blend speed, agility, & conditioning progressions to ensure that with every ounce of strength gained, it can still be exerted with control and speed, over and over. In the end, what we get is an athlete that has dramatically increased his or her ability to physically exert their will on an opponent or the field itself.

Mobility

Easily one of our most important philosophies, the idea that athletes must move well governs all that we do. As a coach, you can spot an athlete by the way he or she moves – coordination, proprioception, and economy of movement are all hallmarks of a good athlete. Luckily, this is something we can actively develop in the gym!

We opt to work on this by introducing awkward and challenging movements like the overhead squat, barbell snatch, double under jump rope, or toe-to-bar. Forcing athletes out of their comfort zone helps grow that athletic awareness of one’s body in space and the ability to control it with precision. Combine this with progressive plyometrics, agility drills, etc, and you have an athlete that can not only control his or her body with precision, but can do it with strength and power as well.

Stability

Any athlete’s greatest asset is his or her health. No one can enjoy their sport, or find success on the field of competition if they can’t play due to injury. Because of this, at PLT4M we spend a concerted effort in our training to “take care of the little things”.

Beyond our extensive mobility work, which obviously plays a significant role in injury prevention, we also spend time working specific injury prevention exercises. In order to reinforce the integrity of the vulnerable shoulder joint, for example, we employ a number of body-weight and band movements that focus on the surrounding musculature such as resistance band pull-aparts and scap push ups.

Essentially we want to prepare for the worst. Athletes make great demands upon their bodies, specifically their joints. Our goal is to make sure that these joints can withstand large ranges of motion (through mobility and proper movement drills) with strength and stability (through intentional injury prevention work). Hopefully, we can keep athletes on the field and out of the training room!

Motor & Mind

Arguably the most important aspect of training an athlete is that one that deals with an athlete’s physical and mental motor – their willingness and ability to compete. As coaches, we know that “heart” and mental toughness often eclipse ability.

We achieve this melding of mental and physical toughness through a number of strategies, most notably the utilization of MetCon workouts. MetCons force athletes into conditioning the 3 metabolic energy pathways through body-weight (or lightweight) strength movements as opposed to traditional “cardio.” Total strength, power, size, or even mobility is great, but if an athlete cannot repeat dynamic, athletic movements with the same discipline over and over at high heart rate and general fatigue, their value on the field of competition diminishes as the game wears on.

Beyond physical toughness, one of the least touched upon parts of an athlete’s ability to compete is their mental toughness. Most young athletes are afraid of “the wall.” MetCon workouts are designed to push athletes to the point where they would normally quit. But, having teammates that rely on them, having the motivation of winning a workout, or the fear of losing one – this forces them to bear down and fight through the pain. Thus, we train that winning, “4th Quarter” mentality. Frankly, MetCons can help teach kids what it takes to win.

Conclusion

In the end, our hope is that we can spend our kids’ time in the gym wisely, developing the most dynamic and yet well-balanced athletes possible. Our athletes will be more powerful, more mobile, less susceptible to injury, and more willing to outwork the competition. We train with the idea of winning in mind!

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The Power of Unload Weeks

Easily one of the least understood and utilized tools within high school athletic training programs, the “Unload” or “Deload” week is one we fully ascribe to here at PLT4M. Often, coaches and athletes feel like that if they aren’t pushing forward, they’re falling backward. In performance training, this isn’t completely accurate.

Why?

The human body is an incredible machine – when pushed, it adapts and becomes a better version of itself. This is why exercise works, why pushing yourself to the limit in the gym results in a more physically competitive you. It’s important to understand exactly how this works, though, because we aren’t really machines. Our very muscles are being torn apart, connective tissue stretched to the limit, cells pushed to failure. We are physically traumatizing our bodies, which in turn sparks it to grow back better. We can adapt to almost any physical stress, but it isn’t immediate, it requires time.

Think about it – if you cut your finger, you know it will take at least few days to heal. If you continue to use the finger, it will prolong the healing process. The same principle applies to physiological adaptation to exercise. Your body needs a chance to fully recover and adapt to the stress placed upon it. You don’t get stronger from the act of lifting weights, you get stronger from the act of recovering from lifting weights. We often talk about post workout recovery (stretching, mobility, nutrition, sleep, etc), to improve results, but it’s bigger than that. Once in awhile, we need to give your body a chance to fully recover and adapt to everything you’ve asked of it.

What & How?

The unload week is a extremely simple concept that plays a big role in successful training regiments. In its most basic form, it is a strategy that says every 4-6 weeks or so of intense training, you take a week to pull back. We’re not talking about taking the week off completely, but rather actively recovering by still moving while placing less overall demand on your body.

There’s not one single way to institute the unload week concept within a program. Here at PLT4M we employ several different strategies depending on where in the program it is located. Some weeks, we keep intensity high with heavy load strength work while cutting overall workout volume way down by eliminating auxiliary work entirely. Other times we do the opposite – we do a little of everything, but nothing at load or extreme individual volume. We also use some weeks for pure technique or mobility work with light aerobic conditioning as well. Every unload is programmed specifically depending on where it is in the schedule and what is coming next. As long as the physical demand, though, is lighter than your normal training, the athletes will benefit.

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Teaching & Scaling the Pull Up

While a staple of many fitness routines, the pull up can be a tricky movement to use with young or inexperienced students and athletes. It is one of the more daunting movements for some students and athletes, as it is extremely difficult to perform even 1 rep without first practicing and developing the requisite strength and body control. Often, kids will avoid the movement altogether.

As teachers and coaches, we cannot expect athletes to simply hop up on the bar and get better through failed attempts. Instead, we should develop a pulling progression that puts athletes on the path to getting their first strict pull up. This progression is built on movement variations of increasing difficulty that continually reinforce proper mechanics.

We begin by introducing good pulling technique through the inverted row (using rings, TRX bands, or a barbell). After sound technique is learned, and once an athlete can complete 3 or sets of 5 strict ring rows, he or she can slide the feet forward to increase difficulty. After fully mastering the inverted row, we can transition the athlete to the bar with the assistance of a band. With enough practice, this in turn will get the athlete to the point of pull up success!