Strength Performance Network

I often get asked, "what's the BEST strength & conditioning program for a (insert sport) player to follow?" My answer remains the same: It is nearly impossible to create ANY program of quality let alone a “perfect” program for someone (especially someone you've never met).  In order to do such a thing you need to know that person’s individual history: What are the athlete’s physical limitations?  Is he/she hyper-mobile and lacking stability or overly stiff and lacking mobility? (I'm starting to dislike the term 'mobility' but that's for another time and place).  What about muscle imbalances or previous injuries? Surgery?  What training equipment does the athlete have access to and how often does he/she have access to it?  What is the athlete's schedule?  Does he/she train early in the morning, late at night, directly before or after practice? Does the athlete also have a job?  What kind of job?  Is the athlete a visual learner or more of an analytical person? What motivates him/her?  Any previous lifting/training experience?  What about recovery -- soft tissue work/stretching (static & dynamic)/aerobic (or anaerobic) work/specific strengthening -- daily nutritional habits -- quality of sleep, etc...  The list can go on and on and the thing I've always been fascinated with is the interconnectedness of each of these concepts and how they all are a part of one big equation that ultimately affects performance.  Such questions are important to ask as they more than likely will affect a particular athlete’s training needs. And this is just one athlete.  There are plenty of strength coaches out there working with upwards of 200+ athletes! (I was once one of them).  Therefore, in my opinion, it’s not so much the program, but WHY and HOW it’s implemented that matters most.

The first component to address in building a program is the WHY.  Once you understand why you are going to do things a certain way, that then dictates HOW you actually train.  For example, let's just say that athlete A has chronic low back pain to the point where it affects his performance negatively.  After some investigating, you discover that this particular athlete has a severe anterior pelvic tilt. You decide that this could be the reason for the back pain and so the next question to ask would be what is causing his pelvis to tilt forward?  Is it hamstring weakness? Perhaps it's gluteal weakness?  Hip flexor tightness?  Maybe it's quad tightness that is causing hip flexor tightness? Weak lower abdominals?  Perhaps it's some combination of all of those or maybe it's none of those.  Either way, asking those questions helps to determine HOW you might train this athlete.  Yes, I am willing to admit that I'm not perfect and that sometimes there is some trial and error involved and sometimes, I simply guess wrong.  You know that athlete where all signs point towards "x" and you work to improve "x" but "x" doesn't get better until you for some odd reason, whether it be exhausting all other options or pure luck, try "y" and just like that the athlete significantly improves (or perhaps I'm the only one?) If someone were to look at an aspect of your program and ask you “why,” would you be able to explain?  In addition, are the exercises taught and progressed logically and correctly for each particular athlete? Remember, what works for one person may not work for another.

The last piece of this puzzle to think about is athlete motivation.  Do the athletes work hard or do they simply go through the motions? Even if you were to come up with the perfect program, would it be of much value if the athlete did not put any effort into it? (I guess that's what would truly make it perfect -- a program that improves performance regardless of athlete effort or lack thereof) While a misunderstanding of technique is certainly acceptable and expected, (especially initially) there is a distinct difference between an athlete who is trying hard but cannot quite get a lift or movement right and an athlete who is executing incorrectly because of laziness.  Perhaps the more important question is, why are some people intrinsically motivated and others extrinsically motivated and still others seem to not be motivated at all? (Also another topic for another discussion)

In the end, I don’t think it really matters that much if you clean and squat on the same day or whether you choose to do five sets or six, as long as it fits logically and is executed correctly within the context of the overall goal of the program. If the athletes are strong and slow, plyometrics and Olympics might be the way to go. If the athletes need to put on size, address dietary habits and train for hypertrophy. In need of discipline, try military style or martial arts. Remember, while no two sports are exactly the same, each athlete within each sport is exceptionally unique.  Find the weak link, then work to improve it. That to me is perfect programming.

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