“KISS. Keep It Simple & Safe.” – Joe Kenn, Strength Coach, Carolina Panthers
As a strength coach you should ask yourself one simple question; what is the best exercise(s) to SAFELY get the adaptation that you are after? Whatever the answer is, do that.
For many of the athletes I work with it’s very simple and there is always a reason for the things that we do or don’t do. There is a ‘why’ for everything that we do. Our ‘whys’ also change depending on who we are working with. Training an overhead athlete is different from training a hockey player. Additionally, depending on the time of the year and the injury trends and demands that a specific sport we might change what we do. The ‘what’ part of our ‘why’ changes at this point.
“Don’t fit athletes into programs, fit programs to athletes.” – Eric Cressey
We also choose exercise/movements that train the quality we want, trying to get the biggest return on investment as we can without burying an athlete. This is especially true during the in-season period. Charlie Weingroff wrote something along these lines called The Concept of Lowest System Load. Essentially, Charlie advises to pick movements that train the adaptation that you are after while keeping the stress to the system as minimal as possible, if you can.
“The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.” – Gray Cook
A few real world examples of this;
For our volleyball team the majority of our lower body work revolves around a handful of lifts. Without a doubt the Dead Lift is the lower body lift that we will push the most from a strength perspective. Yes, we focus more on the dead lift then we do the squat. For starters, many overhead athletes don’t have the requisite shoulder mobility to place a bar on their back. Second, if you analyze the dead lift what you will see is a bilateral hip hinge. Sport = hip hinging. If you ask an athlete to show you their best vertical or broad jump but stop them in the bottom of the movement before they actually jump, you will see a perfect hip hinge 99% of the time. Another benefit to dead lifting is that it demands the athlete be strong in their upper back and works on grip strength, something that an overhead athlete like a volleyball player will benefit from. Additionally, the Trap Bar has the lower barrier of entry when compared to a bilateral squat or a straight bar dead lift. We train the adaptation we are after, in a simple and safe way.
In the off-season the RFE Split Squat is our biggest lower body lift with women’s hockey. However, once we reach the in-season we slowly get away from the movement as it demands a high degree of hip flexion. Deep hip flexion is something that many hockey players don’t handle well especially in-season when skating has picked up due to FAI issues. Even if RFE Split Squat is something that the athlete can handle during the in-season period, it’s a very demanding lift that can really chew someone up. At this point we will toss the RFESS out and focus more on 1-Leg Squats, Split Squats, Dead Lifting. These exercises the require much less hip flexion to perform properly and as a result are much more user friendly for a hockey player in-season.
The moral of the story is this; remember what is really important and how you can be the biggest asset to your teams/athletes as possible. The number one reason athletes come to the weight room is to develop physically in order to reduce the potential for injuries – and no one should ever get hurt in the weight room.
“Getting hurt training to not get hurt is as stupid as it sounds.” – Mike Boyle
Yes, there are certain qualities that we as strength coaches and sport performance coaches need to develop in our athletes. It is our job to not only help to develop strong athletes that are able to perform well on the field/court/ice, but our job is to build resilient athletes that can withstand the rigors of their sport. Because of this, we need to pick exercises/movements that will not only train the quality that we are trying to develop, but pick exercises/movements that will develop these qualities in the safest manner possible. The best teams at the end of the year are usually teams that have their best players playing.