STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

“It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it” 

Strength and conditioning across the ages from youth to elite athletes is ultimately the reason we exist at ACE Performance. It is our unending passion to ensure a professional and sustainable culture at all levels, to provide a platform for not only athletes, but also coaches to succeed on.

Developing an athlete can take on many forms, including preparing an athlete for future success once selected in a team, preparing an athlete to succeed four years later at world or Olympic level or providing an athlete with the tools to better apply themselves that weekend on the sporting field.

We look at athletes through a multidimensional lens at ACE and always consider the following factors before applying our coaching philosophy:

  • Age / training age
  • Sporting requirements
  • Genetics
  • Development level
  • Goals
  • Sustainability (short term v long term)
  • Training history 

Once our coaches have ‘modelled’ the athlete we look even deeper into:

  • Movement signature
  • Adaptability
  • Loading profile
  • Strengths v Weaknesses
  • Injury history

We’d love you to join us on a short journey through strength and conditioning, or ‘athlete development’ as we explain why and how we use our training methodology to extract results and introduce athletes to success once in our program.

This by no means is the only way to plan for an athlete, there are many more options available to coaches and athletes, however through repeated success over 18+ years this model has come to be the bedrock of ACE Performance. We want to arm you with the knowledge to create your own strength and conditioning programs and provide specific insight into training considerations.

PREPARATION PHASE (PREPARING THE ATHLETE)

Preparing yourself as an athlete to withstand the requirements of your sport can be a daunting task. There is so much information available to athletes these days and determining what is beneficial to you can be a nightmare. Popularized training methods seen on social media and the rise of Cross fit are two concerns that have led to the creation and need for this E-Book. It is beyond the scope of this E-Book to provide information for specific sports, but we will endeavour to provide you with a sound overview of where to start and what to ensure is part of your strength and conditioning program.

All holistic strength and conditioning programs contain a variety of the following and are programmed to best fit the athletes needs at that time:

  • Dynamic Warm-Up
  • Mobility / Flexibility
  • Movement Fundamentals
  • Power Expression
  • Injury Prevention
  • Strength Training
  • Recovery

We’ll spend time exploring each section and what they really mean for you as the athlete. I find it beneficial to relate my thoughts back to my sport and past experiences as an athlete. Some items to consider are:

  • How do these methods pertain to my training?
  • Am I doing something similar?
  • How much emphasis do I put on each section based upon my sporting requirements?

With the ever-increasing duration of sport seasons, athletes are finding themselves continually developing year round with little to no off-season to take time away from game.

Traditionally, strength and conditioning has been centred on three distinct phases throughout the year:

  • Off – Season (Time away from the club with no formal training)
  • Pre – Season (Time spent training with the club prior to first round)
  • In – Season (Round robin and finals)

Throughout this module, you will need to relate the training principles back to these three phases and where they fit within a strength and conditioning program. It is important to recognize the need for individualization when planning your own training. What may work for a friend, brother of sister may not necessarily work for you. All athletes respond differently to training interventions, so finding the correct intervention for you is of paramount importance.

STRENGTH PREPARATION PHASE

Strength training is a fundamental and all-encompassing phase of your strength and conditioning development. The physical quality of strength is the underpinning of all movement skills and requires development throughout adolescence and into maturity in conjunction with sports skill development.Strength training is coordination training with appropriate resistance to handle body weight, project an implement, move or resist movement, resist gravity and optimism ground contact. The development of strength qualities are initially created by mastering body weight before applying external resistance.

It is important to learn the foundations first, can you perform a squat with the correct technique, speed and control utilizing your own body weight? Have you learn how to push and pull an object whilst bracing your trunk? Can you accelerate and decelerate your mass safely and effectively?

The aim of strength training is simple develop strength an athlete can use within their sporting context safely and effectively.Strength training is not just for sports athletes, adolescence or people looking to improve their performance. There are numerous other populations that can use strength training to their advantage, such as the elderly population, pregnant ladies and people recovering from certain surgery.We’re now going to explore six primary strength training areas and their application to sports and sports performance.

SQUAT:

Sitting down on a chair, picking up an object from the ground or climbing in to the drivers seat of a car are all variations of a squat. It is part of our daily movement repertoire and a skill that can be learned and refined.

As a baby we can hold a near perfect squat position without even thinking about it. It comes naturally though the developmental phase of human movement. However, as we grow older we lose this ability and find ways to compensate for this lack of ability, such as bending over and picking up objects using our back.

We can introduce athletes to the squat pattern by initially providing them with support during the movement. A swiss (exercise) ball placed on a wall provides an opportunity for the athlete to brace against the ball whilst performing a squat. From there the movement can be progressed via bodyweight, tempo, reps and external load. We use dumbbells before barbells and slow tempo before fast tempo.

An athlete that can complete a technically proficient dumbbell squat variation should then be progressed onto a barbell variation. The squat must be technically correct before this progression. Ensure you have taken your athlete through different tempo’s, reps and depth ranges prior to this progression.

The barbell squat is one of the most fundamental strength exercises for the lower body. It incorporates multiple muscles across multiple joints and encourages full body coordination throughout the movement. The supporting muscles of the shoulders, spine and hips must contract to provide a strong and stable ‘pillar’ in which we can load the bar on.

We refer to the squat as an ‘essential lower body’ strength exercise rather than an exercise that ‘strengthens quadriceps / strengthens gluteus maximus’ as it can lead to explicit learning or ‘paralysis by analysis’ during the exercise. We prefer for all athletes to focus on the technique and tempo of the lift rather than feeling certain muscles working or conversely not working.

As a general rule of thumb, ALL athletes completing a structured strength and conditioning program should squat year round unless they have special considerations such as injury, range of motion dysfunction or other underlying structural problems.

We can progress the back squat by decreasing reps (increasing weights), speeding up the tempo (encouraging more power) or manipulating squat depth. There are also other variations including front squats, split squats and side squats which provide a similar stimulus to the conventional squat

HIP HINGE:

Developing an athletes body awareness and understanding of how it moves is essential if we are to teach an athlete how to ‘hinge at their hips’. All exercises where a weight or object is picked up from the floor should incorporate some form of hip hinge.

It is vital to develop this movement pattern if we plan to progress through to Olympic lifting, deadlifts and even advanced jumping and landing exercises.

A hip hinge occurs when an athlete can hold a neutral spine position and simultaneously bend at the hips. The hamstring group will lengthen as the pelvis tilts forward with the torso following. An example of a basic hip hinge can be found below:

I strongly believe in the development of the posterior chain (muscles on the back of the body such as hamstrings, gluteals and spinal erectors) through hip hinge exercises due to its strong correlation to performance and injury prevention. As with squats, we should only progress in weights, tempo and reps once technique is proficient in the individual.

It is important to progress from a static to more dynamic hip hinge position during the learning process as can be seen below in the video. This helps developing athletes with timing, body awareness, coordination and control:

 LUNGE

The development of strength does not always occur in a static motion or through the same plane of movement. We need to be dynamic in our strength and have the ability to move and resist movement. We can develop these qualities through loading lunges in multiple planes.

An athlete who can move and also prevent movement effectively will be more likely to hold a better body position or win a contest. The more mobile we are on our feet the easier it is to get our body in to the correct position for the requirements of our sport. This occurs through hopping, bounding, lunging and every other movement you can think of.

We use four different lunge patterns to develop muti-directional strength in our lower body. These are shown below in the video and contain forwards, sideways, backwards and a 45 degree angle variation:

The same rule as above applies with loading lunges, start with bodyweight and once proficient aim to manipulate load and difficulty. Lunges can be progressed by changing where you hold weights e.g. above the head, on your shoulders or out in front. We can add a ‘waling’ variation in which challenges our balance and locomotion skills more.

PUSH

Moving from lower body strength exercises to our upper body, we incorporate both pushing and pulling variations in for athletes. These are the two dominant movement patterns in our upper body and both require a strong trunk (pillar) to leverage off.

The notion of pushing an object, opponent or implement away from us requires us to brace through our trunk and extend our arms forcefully. Multiple muscles across multiple joints are included in this movement with most notably our shoulders as the prime movers.

Pushing variations can either be above our head or in front of our chest, sports examples of these would be a basketball shot (above heard) or a fend off in rugby (in front of our chest).

To develop the ability to express force in a pushing motion we must first look to strengthen the pattern through basic bodyweight exercises such as a push-up. This is a simple and easy to do exercise which can be overloaded by increasing reps and tempo.

Progressing from there we can introduce an athlete to a bench press variation which requires an athlete to lie on their back whilst pushing a weight away from their body. Some variations of this can be seen below

The bench press can be progressed in similar ways to the squat, through weight, tempo, depth or even on to a barbell. Many athletes in heavy contact sports require a lot of upper body strength with the bench press being a prime developer for this.

With youth athletes, and in particular female youth athletes, developing pushing strength should not be seen as a priority. Often this can be a focus point due to a lack of knowledge by either the athlete or their coach in the need for lower body strength and correct movement mechanics. Youth athletes should improve on their movement foundations first and then look to incorporate upper body pushing movements once this focus has been attained.

PULL

The opposite movement to the push pattern is the pull pattern, which requires strong grip strength and the ability to pull against an object, opponent or implement. The pull pattern can be both vertical (freestyle swimming stroke) or horizontal (rowing) with the primer mover also the shoulder joint.

Completing a structured and planned strength and conditioning program that targets all four upper body strength movements (vertical pull / push and horizontal pull / push) will go a long way to improving and maintaining shoulder health. However, we can experience overload through certain joints or muscles due to our sporting requirements, contact issues or programming. It is imperative the you seek professional help to prevent these ongoing problems and improve the shoulder health.

Some examples of pull pattern exercises are seen below:

Developing a strong pull pattern can positively influence many of our lower body strength exercises and improve posture during daily exercise. I would always program a vertical and horizontal pull pattern exercise for developing athletes to help with this.

POSTURAL STRENGTH

Movement occurs throughout our entire system and is linked together by our trunk (core or pillar), with the analogy ‘from tip to toe’ or ‘fingernail to toenail’ providing a great image of what we are talking about.

The trunk acts as a stabiliser, force transmitter, swivel and ultimately an integrated unit to provide movement in the body. It is used to accelerate, decelerate and stabilise the body during movement. The brain does not think in terms of muscles, but rather movement.

If an athlete is required to jump, sprint and land as quickly as possible, the body will organise itself into a posture, angle and position to perform this as efficiently as possible. This is where our trunk comes in to play providing the link between the upper and lower body.

Whilst you may see infomercials and popular celebrities training their trunk in isolation (think sit-ups), this is not applicable or useful for an athlete. We need to integrate both the lower and upper body into trunk stability exercises to replicate the demands of our sports.

There are many exercises we can use to integrate the complete system effectively and to challenge our trunk. Some of these exercises can be seen below:

To effectively train our postural strength, we must target multiple ranges, movement planes and tempos. Exercises like planks can be progressed or regressed based on the individual as seen in the video below:

When it comes to programming for an athlete I always cover off the following questions:

  • What level is my athlete
  • Will this improve their ability to accelerate, decelerate, jump or land
  • How will I progress this exercise when the time comes
  • Has this athlete completed the pre-requisites for the exercise
  • Does the athlete NEED this exercise to improve their performance

With the preparation phase now completed, its time to launch in to the development phase, or as I like to call it ‘tools for continual athletic development’!