As I move into my second decade of collegiate coaching, I find that I have in my tool-belt, almost more training ideas and scenarios than I know what to do with.
It’s far better to be extremely adept at a few key tools that can be adapted to different types of athletes than moderate to mediocre at a huge range of tools that aren’t able to be adapted optimally, let alone to a variety of athletic types.
Over my career, I’ve had ups and downs, I’ve had athletes win at the national level and beyond, but I’ve also had individuals slip through the cracks, or fail to get good results. I’ve had athletes achieve outstanding results, sometimes beyond even what I expected, and others gain much less than what I was hoping for.
The successes and failures of my young career have been an impetus for continually formulating better plans, as well as providing my intuition more information for using my feelings to guide athletes to their best success.
When it comes down to it, there are a lot of ways to get results. For this article, I just wanted to provide some general reflections on some things I’ve found work well, some things that can work OK (or perhaps well in the right context… or I’m still deciding), and things that I know definitely do not work.
This list isn’t completely exhaustive, but reflects a good deal of my findings over time as to what worked and what didn’t. Quantifying “what worked” often comes down to seeing a result, and then dissecting what in the program was helpful or not (much of which comes down to feelings associated to particular exercises as a result of having done them yourself), as well as the composite whole of the program. Unless you are running a system akin to Bondarchuk, it is fairly difficult to pinpoint what will elicit a transfer from numbers alone, so there is an element of feel (and thus some fallibility) to what is below.
So what works?
Some Things That Worked Well (As of 2017)
- Alternating strength and power weeks, and modes biweekly, in a 2-week training cycle, rather than 1-week cycle that repeats.
- Having 2 week loading cycles and 1 week deload, rather than 3-1 all year.
- Doing tempo running for “non-cats” (not pure sprinter types, or based on response) , but this must be done with others and at appropriate speeds, and not-ridiculous volumes for best results.
- Tempo running over hurdles when you have to do tempo alone (for psychological benefit), as well as shorter repeats of 60-100m over hurdles with limited rest to achieve a “tempo result”. Tempo runs in nature (such as trails with an uneven surface) can also help to achieve this.
- Including a good volume of dynamic lunges early in a speed program for muscle length and “specific eccentric” benefits and delayed training effects.
- Hill sprints.
- Triphasic Training processes.
- Easy Strength training processes.
- Single-set training processes, especially for early season work or novice to intermediate athletes.
- French Contrast and Potentiation Clusters.
- 1+ minute team ISO holds to finish a workout. The psychological benefit is a huge factor here.
- Single, superslow sets with maximal intent of activating correct muscles and holding proper positions.
- Specific jumps with various approach lengths, of mostly high-submaximal height or distance to be achieved, especially in high jumping.
- Dunks done at the end of pickup basketball sessions (one of the best jump training methods in existence)
- High tension breakdance moves for upper body. (How to turtle – Breakdance tutorial tips) This work made my triceps huge and hooked up my bench press seriously. I don’t utilize it on my athletes for obvious safety reasons.
- 1-2×20 half squats at 50-55% 1RM for recovery or transitionary purposes.
- Competitive short sprints from different starting positions.
- Pistol squats for double leg jumping.
- Olympic lifts with split and athletic catches in early training periods, but probably not late periods.
- The Bigger-Faster-Stronger jump progression (deadlift > clean > snatch).
- Doing depth jumps every day in an appropriate volume for a short period of time, along with factorization/micro-dosing, etc. (Podcast 38: Chris Korfist/ Dan Fichter).
- Occasional to consistent auto-regulation for a single workout component, much of this coming down to a coach’s intuition.
- Starting the training year off with an emphasis on positional and isometric work.
- Playing a jumping sport if you are a track and field jumper.
- Running hurdles if you are a track and field jumper.
- Highly emphasizing fast contact time (Short SSC) on plyometrics, especially in early training periods https://www.just-fly-sports.com/podcast-21-curtis-taylor/.
- Doing heavy lifting in season, often with smaller ROM, bilaterally, and lower total coordination requirement.
- Having an occasional (or frequent) element of play, fun or competitions to either start or finish a workout.
- Doing explosive isometrics (such as a TB Pin Pull) for novice athletes in place of Olympic lifts.
- Visualization, meditation, self-hypnosis and other mental preparation methods
Has Worked “OK” or Still Deciding
This grouping of things, I either have had what I believe to be an association between the training and performance (but not a total standout), or things that I am still deciding on. It doesn’t mean that I don’t use them, it’s just that my jury is still out.
- Putting more of an emphasis on Olympic lifts in early training periods rather than in late or specific periods (although I’ve often used low volume Olympic work for peaking athletes who responded well to it).
- Using single leg cleans for single leg vertical jumping improvement
- EMOM work with a power element to it for power capacity and some transfer to speed.
- Total training auto-regulation and movement away from a system of delayed training effects (I think this can work well in the right hands, but I still aim for delayed effects in most of my programs).
- Maximal pin pulls and isometrics for athletic power development (this might jump up to the above category soon, just because I haven’t been able to test it long, but so far it is promising).
- The use of bounding and plyometrics for top-end speed and speed endurance.
- Using a portion of “core” training for “cosmetic” purposes, or having athletes “feel” more athletic (what is in the body is in the mind… is in the body).
Some Things That Have NOT Worked
- Overly monitoring training, and trying to put numbers on too many training movements (helpingthebesttogetbetter.com)
- Coaching every single movement and position an athlete gets into.
- Doing heavy strength work (or any strength work) absent of training the speed specific to your result.
- Single leg cleans/snatches for anything else aside from single leg vertical jumping or a single leg clean/snatch competition (Humbly speaking, I do not see the transfer in these for speed, as there is poor tensional overload and the angles of push aren’t right).
- Doing powerlifting lift ranges, and set-rep schemes for athleticism for a sustained period of time (It can work for some, but isn’t optimal).
- Heavy band (high band resistance) resisted squats for athletic performance (disconnect is in the feet; good for max strength displayed against a barbell though).
- Doing fall prep for 400m sprinters in a true long to short method, i.e. 2×800, descending to 2×450 through the fall, lots of tempo, etc.
- Excluding all long sprint or plyo-endurance work from a jump program.
- Not doing work in the “An-2” bracket of Inno-sport in a program, some athletes need this more than others (Andy Eggerth Interview).
- Excluding all higher rep strength work from a jump/sprint program.
- Doing only specific full approach jumps for practice.
- Doing specific jump practice in high volumes or utilizing excessive willpower.
- Doing high volume true plyometrics and CNS intensive eccentric work (It’s very easy to go past the optimal dose here, or discount how long it might take to rebound from it).
- Going strictly from long contact plyos and strength work to short contact plyos. Purely going from heavy to fast over a season is like the true “long to short” system that Charlie Francis talked against.
- Doing all lifts through the heels, and ignoring the role of the foot in lifting (Podcast 62: Dr Emily Splichal).
- Last, and perhaps most importantly, is not understanding the emotional aspect of the chosen exercise or workout, in terms of motivating an athlete, and harnessing their buy-in on your system.
Although this list isn’t exhaustive, it does tie together many of the performance concepts that I’ve considered in the last several years. In a nutshell, I’ve found many roads lead towards the basic tools we are familiar with, lifting weights in proper context, respecting the ability of the human body to solve movement puzzles with little to no coaching, watching dosages, knowing exactly what you are overloading, and being observant on who responds to what.
If you have questions or comments on any point, feel free to leave feedback below.
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