Design Your Lifting Program

"Everyday to Prepare"

One day I was in a clinic listening to a highly respected Romanian strength and conditioning specialist who said with his thick Eastern-European accent, “You cannot be fast if you are not strong.” I agree wholeheartedly. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, everything is connected. Speed can be increased by other physical activities; we’ve previously discussed conditioning and running programs. Lifting weights is yet another connection essential to increasing our speed and being fast.


Strength and speed are inseparable. Strength combined with speed increases power output. Increased muscle mass from strength training produces a metabolic benefit. It can help in decreasing the severity of injuries and even stimulate recovery.

Strength provides so many athletic benefits that it is inexcusable for an athlete, a coach or a parent to ignore it. So this is why a strength program is valuable in non-contact sports as much as contact sports. Of course, in contact sports, it obviously is advantageous to have the ability to dominate your opponent physically. However, being a better squatter will help you be faster. It will help you be a better jumper.

There are many sports where upper body strength is necessary to deliver the skills specific to the sport. Like we touch on often, it also helps mitigate the risk of injuries when moving faster because there is better structural integrity when the muscles have been developed.

An underrated element of strength training is it enables your athletes a safe environment to push your physical boundaries and develop mental strength. Connected to this is the morale boost youth athletes get from setting personal records, aka PRs. The ego is a very real variable when dealing with athletes of all ages. Learn to nurture it.

To be clear, strength training does not mean bodybuilding. I hear this misconception often. While there is some overlap because an off-season can have a hypertrophy phase, athletes need more than just aesthetics. Besides, bodybuilders don’t do speed training because that is not what they are training for. Remember, you get what you train for.


Adequate strength gains may take months followed by a maintenance program. Incredibly, strength gains can be maintained with a modest program two days a week. Soreness is NOT a strength training goal but may occur early on. What all this means is that if you start a strength training program from scratch, and you are sore for a few days, you will adapt and gradually increase in strength followed by improved performance.

As a reminder, the body needs to absorb the training. Don’t underestimate rest.

In phases where you want to gain strength, your goal with lifts is to match a resistance to your strength. That weight can only be so much at a time, therefore, you gradually add weight as you are able to move the previous load. After activation but before excessive fatigue, each subsequent set can go heavier. This is the basic principle of progressive overload.

There are also lifts where muscular endurance will be the goal. This is how long you can continue to move a given load. Typically, this is accomplished by using higher rep schemes with submaximal weight. This could also be where the sport influences the program. Some sports are more fit for having a focus on muscular endurance.

I often get asked, “What equipment do I need?” Some coaches or parents might not think they need to use barbells or free weights and may prefer bodyweight movements or balls or bands. This is often seen in the discussion between training male athletes and female athletes.

Everything has its own limitations. In the context of progressive resistance, bodyweight is fixed. Bands and balls have their place, but they still cannot achieve what metal can. If you have access to barbells, use them with both your male athletes and female athletes. Load them and lift them. Learn how to teach the basics of the power lifts and teach your athletes to safely do them.

If your next best option is dumbbells or kettlebells, then all the same. Go heavy and reap the benefits.

This leads to another debate about compound lifts versus isolation movements. Said another way, multi-joint versus single-joint exercises. Here again, each has pros and cons, but I suggest there is a place for the use of both in a good program design.

One of the most important things to remember is to alternate stressors. When designing a lift program, make sure you are alternating push and pull. This also can look like alternating top to bottom. Make every day a leg day, because every day should include the upper body and lower body. Again, bodybuilding should not be the dominant theme if you’re training for sports.

Lastly and carefully, what about all the cool and creative stuff on social media and infomercials? The flag of “functional training” flies high. I am all for it, but I also believe that strength obtained through a well-designed progressive resistance program is highly functional. My best advice is to keep it simple. Some of the stuff you see might seem functional, but it isn’t practical. Also, some of the trainers you see might be all smoke and mirrors. But hey, fake it til you make it, right?

In conclusion, whatever your natural gifts are, be willing to put in the work in the weight room. When you compete against somebody equally gifted, the time, energy, and effort spent in the weight room will be a deciding factor. Strength training is a must if you expect to be in the game for the long haul.



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