Every athlete is looking to gain a competitive edge in the pursuit of their athletic endeavours.  Training to reach new personal heights is a process that requires an individual and dynamic plan.  To create a plan tailored to your needs, answer the following questions:

  • What is my goal? – Think big (long term), Start small (what is step one?), Build up (get to work!)
  • Where will I start today? Assess your limiting factors – e.g. you want to get stronger, but lack core strength and motor control – hint: don’t start with heavy squats on day 1.
  • How long should each ‘mini goal’ take to achieve  (periodize – e.g.  set specific short term goals that will contribute to your overall success)

Throughout the rest of this article I am going to elaborate on the second question “where will I start today?”, assess your limiting factors.  Starting with an effective assessment will shed light on your current physiology and the weak links holding you back.

Strength and Conditioning – Overview

When an athlete comes to TPH training centre with a specific goal, we will take them through a variety of assessments.  We always start by assessing mobility – if you lack a decent range of motion, your progress will be stunted as you will be unable to hit “positions” (or “movements”) outside of the range you currently possess. Next, we assess the athlete’s stability – if you lack stability, this often results in “deviated movements” (or  “falling out of position”) and inefficient energy expenditure. A lack of stability may also reduce an athletes active range of motion – e.g. squat depth.  Finally, athletes are assessed on their strength:power through a variety of jump testing.

A few notes on the video below: Before – Poor balance, knees collapse, weight shifts to side,  poor range of motion (above 90 degrees).  After, full depth, upright torso, improved lower body alignment.

Level one athlete 

Characteristics of level one: An athlete who lacks range of motion, stability, presents pain or has clear postural misalignments will be classified as level one.

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In the photo above we can see clear discrepancies in muscular tension from left to right side.  This is a very common imbalance we see in hockey players.

What stands out?

  1. Red line – you can see that on the left his spine does not follow the straight red line
  2. Purple line – you can see the purple line from left shoulder to neck is shorter than from right shoulder to neck indicating that his head is not sitting in the centre of his body.
  3. Yellow line – you can see the erector spinae does not follow a straight line.  There are a variety of muscles that will contribute to this.  In knowing that he shoots left I start by assessing the muscles that contribute to rotation.  Sure enough muscles that contribute to rotation to the left were carrying more tension than muscles that contribute to rotation right.  We did 30 minutes of stretching to address this and you can see a substantial difference from the left to right photo.  Stretch with a purpose.

If this athlete begins a weight training program (with the static posture demonstrated in the left photo) he will reinforce poor posture and faulty movement patterns.  Through our initial assessment we can create a training protocol to address discrepancies in muscular tension.  This crucial step will set an athlete up for long term safe and effective training.

Progressive focus: Improve core strength, symmetry in muscular tension, neuromuscular coordination.  Develop an understanding of plank (front/side), lunge, hip hinge, squat, push-up, and supine row movement patterns.

*Level one athletes must focus solely on movement and stability; these qualities are pre-requisites for weight training, speed, agility and plyometrics.

Level two athlete 

Characteristics of level two: Understands and performs fundamental movement patterns with ease (no external resistance).  This includes lunge, hip hinge, squat, plank, push-up, supine-row.

Progressive focus: To increase general strength through the addition of more difficult bodyweight exercises and traditional strength training techniques.  General strength serves as a pre-requisite for higher velocity exercise and more advanced training techniques.

*Speed and agility work and low intensity plyometrics can begin here.  A ‘level one’ athlete who is unable to express the general strength necessary to control their bodyweight through the fundamental movement patterns will put excessive stress on their joints and fail to make substantial progress.  ‘Level two’ athletes will begin with small doses of speed, agility and plyometrics drills executed with a strong focus on quality movement.  The most common mistake at this stage of development is excessive plyometrics volume.  To be clear – a level one athlete can still run around and have fun, I am suggesting they stay clear of true speed and agility/plyometric training.

Level three athlete

Characteristics of level three: The athlete has developed a solid strength base and understands a variety of more complex movement patterns.  Level three athletes are ready to learn more advanced lifting techniques and exercises – e.g. clean, jerk, snatch, depth jump.

Progressive focus: Establish balance between strength and power ratio translating to sport and position specific progress.  Incorporate more complex movements and speed agility drills.

*Plyometrics require muscles to exert maximal levels of force in a minimal amount of time.  Plyometrics are an effective way to improve speed and power when an athlete possesses the strength necessary to safely perform them.  We recommend athletes are able to back squat a minimum of bodyweight for 5 controlled repetitions through a full range of motion before performing more intense forms of plyometrics – e.g. depth jumps.  Furthermore, athletes should complete at least one four week structural balance phase prior to implementing plyometrics in the off-season.  Throughout a structural balance phase the goal is to reduce/eliminate bi-lateral length tension and strength discrepancies (each side of the body should be equally flexible and strong).  This will ensure that muscles have the balance, strength and capacity to undergo the high rate forces induced throughout the stretch shortening cycle.

Video note: Improved body awareness and general strength has allowed him to pick up a variety of new movement patterns quickly.

Bottom line:

Take the right steps to maximize your long term progress, don’t waste your time!

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