Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Organizing The Off Season Strength Training Program - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University.

All of this material can be extremely helpful to anyone interested in structuring a high school or college program. The following suggestions on quality control have proved successful with both individual athletes and teams, and have helped us gain acceptance and support for the program from parents, administrators, and other coaches.


You owe it to your athletes to provide the safest training methods available. While every phase of athletics involves a certain amount of risk, we are obligated to avoid needless, inherently dangerous training methods. This may require a little homework on your part, but will be time well spent.


Strength training is important for all athletes, not just a chosen few or those who happen to enjoy it. If for no other reason than the fact that strength protects against injury, such training should become the rule rather than the exception.

When people ask me to name the most critical factor in the success of a program, I answer with one word - compliance.


During my years as a high school coach, I felt that it was vital to sell the importance of the program to our administration, staff, and parents as well as to keep them abreast of our progress.

Once these individuals have a better understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, you can stimulate their enthusiasm and win their much needed support.

This can be accomplished with something as simple as a monthly, one-page newsletter that provides information on the improvements of the athletes, descriptions of the how's and why's of the program, little blobs of research on the benefits of proper training (especially in injury prevention), tips on proper nutrition
(the moms love that one), etc.

Before too long, you will have many of these people asking you what they can do to help your program.

Since your players are the ones being discussed in this newsletter, it also provides another means of motivating them. Recognizing these young people for their efforts heightens their self-esteem and breeds pride in the team and the program.

Administrators and coaches of the other sports will usually appreciate the information, as you may, in fact, make believers out of the skeptics of strength training. Since many high school athletes participate in more than one sport, everyone will benefit from the fact that athletes now have the opportunity to strength-train on a year-round basis.


Your entire coaching staff should be well-versed on the practical application of your program, and should also be capable of providing hands-on assistance in the training sessions.

To accomplish this, you will have to meet with them and discuss the X's and O's of the program. You will have to trouble-shoot your potential problems as a staff before presenting the program to the players.

If you approach the program with the same organization and effort that you approach practice, you will achieve better results and evoke more enthusiasm for your program.

Remember, never leave your athletes unattended in the weight room. A qualified individual (preferably a full-time coach) should be present on the floor at all times.


Research proves that the best results are obtained from a work week consisting of three non-consecutive lifting days.

We suggest total body workouts on these days, utilizing a variety of exercises which stimulate the major muscle groups through the fullest range of motion safely possible.

The workouts should be designed so that they can be completed in an hour or less. If your athletes are truly working with purpose and intensity, they should have no problem achieving this.

When heavy running workouts begin, you may occasionally consider eliminating the lower body work on the middle training day. This is a judgement call on your part, based on how you feel the players are performing, and it can also help prevent overtraining, especially when heavy sprint workouts begin.


Some strength-training programs revolve around three to five core lifts and what are sometimes termed auxiliary exercises. This terminology sends a message to the participants: that core exercises are important and auxiliary exercises "not so important." We do not believe that there is any "Big 3" or "Big 5" workout that can per se adequately prepare an athlete for the rigors of competition.

While this approach may be fine for an individual who competes solely in weigthlifting events, the athletes in other sports need much more balanced development in all of the agonist and antagonist structures in the muscular system. A severe imbalance, or "weak link", can pre dispose the athlete to muscle or connective tissue injury.

As a rule, a workout should account for the following muscle complexes in just about every workout, or at least twice by the end of the training week: neck, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, lower back, calves, chest, shoulders, upper back, biceps, triceps, forearms, and abdominals.

This type of comprehensive approach will assure balanced development and better prepare the athletes for the physical stresses of competition.


We suggest the incorporation of as much variety in the training sessions as time, space, equipment, and imagination will allow. Whether or not you choose to change the exercise, tools, or order of the exercises from workout to workout, you should try to keep things fresh and challenging. Strength training is hard work, but it should never be boring.

In our workouts, we provide choices and variety without deviating from basic principles.


Effective strength training requires progression, and indications of this must be recorded. There are numerous overload systems to choose from and most of them work very well.

Our primary overload plan is known as "double progression." It is a simple but extremely productive concept. We set a rep range for all of our exercises - the lower body ranges are usually 8-1 0 or 10-15 and upper body ranges usually 6-10.

An athlete will initially find a weight that will allow him to work in the lower end of the range and to work to attain the high end of the range. Once the high end of the range is accomplished, the weight for that particular exercise should be increased.

This increment
can be as low as 2.5 lbs. and as high as 10 lbs., depending on the exercise and the muscle groups being worked. Basically, our upper body increments are between 2.5 and 5 lbs., and our lower body increments between 5 and 10 lbs.

This system allows each athlete to progress at his own rate while at the same time challenging him to make steady improvements.


How many sets should I do? Probably no question is asked more often in the weight room. The answer usually ranges between one and five, depending on whom you ask.

We can only offer our suggestions, based on our research and practical experience.

1. Sets should be limited - one to three sets of any exercise performed with the appropriate intensity is enough to stimulate gains in size and strength.

Our sets vary from one to three, and they are not always back to back in exercise order. For the most part, we would rather use two or three different exercises for a particular muscle group than to perform two or three sets of the same exercise.

2. Rather than perform more sets, we emphasize performing more work within the set. In most of our exercises, we have the athletes use the heaviest weight possible for each set and perform the maximum number of reps with proper form.


The above guidelines for program organization merely represent a general overview of considerations for the coach who is planning an off-season strength program. The list is by no means all-inclusive, as each coach has his own personality and philosophy.

Our hope is that we've given you some helpful information to initiate a successful program. Good luck!
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