By Joe Eisenmann, PhD
This blog serves as a follow-up to a recent tweet, and allows for the opportunity to expand a bit on each key tenet or basic principle of strength and conditioning.
Summer offers a two-month window to focus on training and conditioning for many high school coaches & athletes. Of course, summer is the preparatory period for high school football and other fall sports, but many high school athletes are encouraged not to waste the entire summer at the pool or playing video games in the basements and instead hit the gym to enhance body composition, strength, power and metabolic conditioning.
5 things to remember for summer workouts:
1. Technique before load
Strength training, along with running and conditioning, is usually a major part of the summer training program. It is important to note that the athletes coming into the weight room may or may not have experience with strength training. With that said, it is also important to consider that chronological age or year in school does not equal training age – that is, the experience of the athlete with strength and conditioning. In any case – beginner, novice, intermediate or advanced, it is vital to focus on technique or proper biomechanics of each strength training exercise.
For beginners or novice lifters (<2-3 months of training experience), introducing them to the proper technique of an exercise can be accomplished with body weight (i.e., squat, lunge) and progressing to a PVC or a broomstick and finally to an unloaded barbell. Light dumbbells or resistance cords can also be used during this process.
The above exercise progression can also be useful to refine technique in experienced athletes as well. These athletes can also serve as peer-mentors or coaches to less experienced athletes.
Again, in any case it is important for health and safety reasons to focus on technique no matter the experience of the athlete. I have unloaded or decreased loads in athletes who show poor or altered technique. Of course, in adolescent boys this can be a challenging conversation but it needs to be clear that strict technique is important for injury prevention and performance.
A final note on this point is that it also relates to dynamic warm-up, speed and agility. Teach and coach all movement!
2. Progressive Overload
This point is related to the first point above. I have known many cases when inexperienced or untrained high schools athletes are subjected to high volumes and high intensities from day 1. In some cases, this may also be deliberate – the “let’s show them what summer training is all about” mentality. In other cases (or both cases), it is because the coach does not have a solid understanding of the basic concept of progressive overload. The well-publicized cases of rhabdomyolysis are a good reminder (just Google rhabdo and strength and conditioning).
In order to initiate changes in strength or any functional capacity or conditioning level, an adequate stress or stimulus (i.e., exercise) must be applied. Repeated exposure to the stress causes a biological system to adapt to a state where it can accommodate the stress more effectively. The term stress is often referred to as an “overload,” which means that the system has to work harder than it is accustomed to working. The athlete needs to overload the system in a progressive manner to initiate continual change in functional capacity, hence the term “progressive overload.”
Progression to an increased workload should be gradual, reducing the chance of injury and allowing adequate recovery time. This last statement is important as a common training error is to ramp up the training program too quickly as noted earlier in this section.
Here is a simple example showing progressive overload:
- Week 1: 2 sets x 12 reps; body weight or light load
- Week 2 and 3: 3 sets x 10 reps; light to moderate load
- Week 4-6: 3 sets x 8 reps; moderately heavy load that increases 5-10% per week as the athlete gets stronger
Another consideration related to progressive overload is periodization, which was discussed briefly in a previous blog on planning (Do you have an athlete development roadmap?). The programs for Fall athletes may not be the same as those who are not competing until the Winter season.
3. Develop the energy systems
As mentioned above, summer training usually means strength training plus conditioning or speed and agility. Often times, coaches will assign Monday, Wednesday and Friday as strength training days and Tuesday and Thursday as speed and agility/conditioning days or split days such that Monday morning is speed training followed by strength training and Wednesday morning is agility training followed by strength training or something to this affect.
The one thing that is important to consider is the development of the proper energy systems. I still hear stories of explosive-based team sport athletes running 2-3 miles continuously which develops the aerobic energy system. An extensive explanation of training the energy systems is beyond the scope of this blog but here are a few key points:
- Understand the energy systems. Energy production in the body occurs via three ways: immediate (<6-10 seconds = sprint), short-term / lactic acid system (15-90 seconds) and long-term / aerobic (>2min continuous). However, energy systems are not light systems – they are dimmer knobs!
- Understand energetic & movement demands of the sport (specificity)
- Apply basic training principles (progressive overload, variation)
- Economical training. Incorporate conditioning into practice or game-like conditions.
4. Don’t forget about skill and tactical development
Sometimes coaches and athletes forget why they are training. That is, they are engaging in a strength and conditioning to enhance performance. If well-programmed and consistently performed, the strength and conditioning activities should improve the physical attributes such as strength, power, speed, etc. but game performance is moreso related to one’s ability to execute the sport skills within a dynamic, chaotic environment that relies on the athlete to make tactical decisions. Thus, practicing sport skills and learning the tactics of the game also needs to be considered as part of the overall athletic development plan.
In some cases, athletes may already possess good athleticism but lack technical and tactical skills. Perhaps there should be consideration for the re-allocation of time spent on strength and conditioning vs sport-specific skill and sport IQ.
5. Recovery = nutrition and sleep
I tell high school athlete’s all the time – “all this hard work and sweat may go to naught or not be fully realized unless you fuel your body with good nutrients and allow it to proper rest and recover”. Indeed, nutrition and sleep are the cornerstones of recovery.
In terms of nutrition, it’s all about putting the right types of foods in your body, in the right amounts, and at the right time. Highlighting each of these is beyond the scope of this blog. Instead, I’ll refer you to an excellent video series that is freely available at spartanperf.com
However, I will add a few quick points. The concept of timing of intake, particularly those who are engaged in heavy training or several activities (AAU basketball, private skills coach, strength and conditioning), is vital especially following training sessions (within first 15-20 min preferably). And I’d be remiss not to mention the importance of adequate hydration during the hot summer months. Use the p-chart (light like lemonade) to check hydration status.
As for sleep, it is recommended that high school-aged athletes get 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Compared to the school year, this may not be as much of a challenge for some but it still warrants education and monitoring.
Here are a few strategies to improve sleep:
- Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends
- Create a regular, relaxing 15-30 min bedtime routine like a hot shower or listening to soothing music
- Create a sleep-conducive bedroom that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Turn off gadgets at bedtime — avoid watching TV, using a computer or cell phone (texting)
- Avoid caffeine close to bedtime and monitor caffeine intake during the day
…and you may want to re-consider those early AM workouts. A recent study showed that athletes were more likely to have sleep problems if they had wake times before 6AM (5.5x increased risk) or 6-7AM (3x increased risk) or early morning practice 4-7x/wk (2x increased risk). Of course, bedtime also plays a factor.
Summer training schedule
I hesitate to provide a sample summer training schedule just because of the busy lives of adolescents, which may include competing on an AAU basketball team, other private coaches, etc. Thus, this is only an example and should be modified to fit the needs of each athlete.
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