Scientific research has confirmed that the following
principles, when utilized synergistically, will stimulate one’s ability to
achieve peak athletic performance.
The load or amount of weight lifted for each exercise is the
most fundamental component of a strength and power training program. The
application of the load has a crucial impact on the specific development of
certain neuromuscular qualities. When muscles are stressed to a level beyond
their normal training capacity overload occurs. This overload causes the active
muscles to fatigue to a point of breakdown or catabolism. The body then
responds, with the aid of proper nutrition and rest, by building up (anabolism)
the affected muscles. It is this building up or anabolic phase that develops new
strength, power, size and/or endurance within the muscles.
Intensity and volume are the key factors we manipulate to
progressively control the overload of the neuromuscular system. By increasing
the load we increase intensity, and by increasing repetitions we increase
volume. Each of these methods brings about specific adaptations. Lifting heavy
loads for low repetitions develops muscular strength; lifting varied loads
explosively develops power; and lifting lighter loads for high repetitions
develops muscular endurance.
- Periodization Application
Strength and power will eventually plateau and even
diminish if the same combination of sets and repetitions are followed. The way
we avoid this is by applying periodization or cycling to our training plans.
Cycling uses different combinations of volume and intensity, or phases, each
translating into different responses by the body. Traditionally, we begin a
cycle with a base phase then progress to a strength phase and finish with a
Whether we prescribe a two, three or four days per week
workout, we implement a split routine. A split routine simply means
alternating the type of exercises performed and/or body parts trained on
alternate days. An example being perform explosive lifts on Mondays and
Thursdays and slower strength lifts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Another example
of a split routine would be to train chest, shoulders and triceps on Mondays
and Thursdays, and legs, back and biceps on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The benefits of utilizing a split routine are that it
allows for greater recovery between workouts, and allows for greater
specialization or specificity.
We make more progress over longer periods of time if we do
not work at maximum loads during each workout. The heavy-lighter system
eliminates overtraining and mental burnout. With it, there is only one maximum
workout per week for each type of lifting and/or body part. The second day is
a lighter workout, in which either the volume and/or intensity are reduced.
With only one heavy workout a week for the explosive exercises and one for the
strength exercises, we will be ready both physically and mentally, as the
loads become greater. Generally the first workout(s) of the week are the heavy
days (the body is less fatigued after a weekend of rest), and the last
workouts are the lighter.
- Specific Energy System Training
The primary objective of conditioning is to improve the
energy capacity of an athlete to improve performance. For effective
conditioning, training must occur at the same intensity and duration as the
athlete competes in order to develop the proper energy system predominately
used (training specificity).
ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the immediate energy
source for all muscle contractions. It comes from the breakdown of the food we
eat. It is supplied by the interaction of three types of energy systems. The
first system is the ATP-PC system. High intensity, short duration activities
such as the 40-yard dash or push press are performed using energy from this
system. Energy is supplied immediately, and the amount of force
generated from the muscle contraction is high, but the amount of energy
readily available is limited and ATP is depleted within approximately six to
The second energy system is the lactic acid system (glycolysis).
The amount of force generated by this system is less than from the ATP-PC
system. This system has two phases. During the first phase ATP is produced
from the breakdown of glycogen in the absence of oxygen and a metabolic
byproduct called lactic acid is produced. The highest accumulation of lactic
acid is reached during activities that last from one to three minutes. Too
much lactic acid builds up when the energy system is depleted. This causes
pain which results in a loss of coordination and force production like often
happens at the end of a 400 or 800 meter run.
The third system is the aerobic system. This system is more
specific to the slow twitch muscle fibers used during activities requiring
endurance over a long duration at a low intensity. After about three minutes
of low intensity exercise, ATP is almost completely supplied from the aerobic
As you can see, which system ATP is supplied from depends
upon the intensity and duration of the exercise. The first step we use in
setting up a conditioning program is to determine the energy system used by
the activity according to the intensity and duration of it. Then a similar
type of activity is used for conditioning. That way the proper energy system
will be trained.
In order to optimally develop athleticism our strength and
conditioning programs are based on exercises and drills involving multiple
joint actions. Sport skills such as jumping, running, or taking on an opponent
require multiple joint actions timed in the proper neuromuscular recruitment
An example of this multiple joint action is the execution
of the hang clean. It requires joint actions at the hips, knees, ankles,
shoulders, elbows and wrists to work together as a unit generating explosive
force. Isolating a single joint action might work for body building to target
a single muscle, but athletes need to concentrate on activities involving
multiple joint actions to improve functional strength and performance.
The majority of sport skills are initiated by applying
force with your feet against the ground. When possible we select lifting
exercises and conditioning drills that apply force with the feet against the
ground such as squats, lunges, hang cleans, push presses or plyometrics. The
more force our athletes can apply against the ground, the faster they will
run, the higher they will jump and the more effective they will be in sport
Strength gains are not only determined by the size of the
muscles, many times an athlete will get stronger because of an improved
ability of the nervous system to recruit motor units. A motor unit is a motor
nerve and all the muscle fibers that it innervates. The more fibers a motor
unit consists of, the more force it can generate. Through both heavy training
(=>80% of max) and explosive training the body learns to recruit more motor
units so that more force can be generated.
The amount of force required for a given activity is
regulated by the use of two different types of motor units found in the body,
fast twitch and slow twitch, which vary greatly in their ability to generate
force. The number of fibers a fast twitch motor unit innervates is greater
than that of a slow twitch, and the contractile mechanism of fast twitch
muscle fiber is much larger. These factors combined mean a fast twitch fiber
generates a force four times greater than a slow twitch fiber. Training
explosively and/or heavy allows more fast twitch muscle fibers to be recruited
and in return improves an athlete’s performance potential.
Sport skills involve movements in the three planes of space
simultaneously: forward-backward, up-down, and side to side. Our strength and
conditioning program improves functional strength and power with exercises and
drills approximating these 3-dimensional skills.
In strength and power training, only free weights allow
movement in three dimensions simultaneously. This makes the transfer of
strength and power easier to merge with the development of sport skills.
Machines limit the development of sport skills. For example, when you use free
weights, the muscles regulate and coordinate the movement pattern of the
resistance, while machines use lever arms, guide rods, and pulleys to dictate
the path of the movement. An additional benefit from using free weights is
their ability to help prevent major joint injuries. The smaller synergistic
muscle groups involved in free weight exercises develop joint integrity better
than machines do due to the balancing action required with free weights. For
example, squatting using free weights requires the back and abdominal muscles
to stabilize the torso isometrically. This allows the legs and hips to work
with the back and abdominals as a unit to perform the lift. Whereas the
adjustable seat back on the hip sled or leg press substitutes as the back and
abdominal stabilizers restricting movement and isolating muscle contractions
to the hips and legs.
When we develop a running program, explosive footwork and
agility drills, similar to specific sport movements are used. It is important
for our athletes to be quick and to possess breakaway speed, but they must be
able to control their bodies and execute change of direction quickly on the
field or court to be effective.
Our conditioning programs are based on interval training principles.
Interval training is work or exercise followed by a prescribed rest interval.
Our programs meet the specific conditions for each sport. With interval
training we stress not only the work phase but also the recovery phase between
work intervals. If the rest period is too short, the amount of energy is not
sufficient to meet the demands of the next maximum intensity effort, and force
output will be reduced. The higher the exercise intensity the longer the
recovery phase should be in relation to work time.
Ideas borrowed from:
University of Nebraska, Husker Power Performance Principles, 1997.
Hatfield, Frederick C. 1997. Powerlifting and Speed-Strength Training.
NSCA, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 1994.