APA Philosophy 7- Sets x reps

So now that you have a basic idea of the exercise selection and what order I would work the different components we need to have a look at the typical recommended Training Load for these different exercises.  I am going to jump straight in with some guidelines from the ACSM.


Suggested Repetition Ranges


Population Rep Range
Healthy participants under age 50-60  
Pubescent children
Pre-pubescent children  
Individuals older than age 50-60 or frail persons  
Individuals primarily interested in muscular endurance
Cardiac patients with physician’s approval 10-12
Pregnant women without contraindications who have previously participated in weight training 12-15


ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Edition


ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 3rd Edition


Now, with all the coaches at APA I have used the 6-15 repetition range as a guideline for the muscle conditioning or accessory exercises for Level 3 onwards where you are working against some load.  This fits pretty well with the ACSM guidelines of 8-15 repetitions.  Obviously at Level 1 and 2 where it is all body weight for the most part you can exceed that repetition number and where the ACSM stop at 15 I will often go a bit further and get my youngest athletes doing up to 20 repetitions on certain exercises.   These guidelines apply to weights lifted continuously, which we know as ‘weight training.’  


Remember, we will also have our children doing Olympic weightlifting and Power lifting so the recommendations that I give for these type of exercises are a little different.  The children may be in a learning phase and we will want to get them doing a lot of repetitions but not necessarily one after the other continuously.  So for these types of lifts the reps will always be less even when they are learning because we want them to get used to applying total focus to every repetition.  Again, I must thank Jamie Smith for doing a great job of neatly describing the repetition ranges for the various categorisations.  I put the terms in parenthesis as they relate to APA terminology so it is clear.  In a typical session we will work from Left to Right starting with the Power >> Strength >> Muscle Conditioning >> Energy System development.



Maximal Effort 


Dynamic Effort


Sub-maximal Effort

(Muscle conditioning)

Repeated Effort

Metabolic Effort

Training Load

1-5 Reps (Depending on training level) 90% +                    5-8 Sets

*I personally go in with 4-8 reps initially at 80-90% 1RM with Level 4 then progress to 1-5 at Level 5/6

1-5 Reps (Depending on training level  and Movement)        40-70%                   5-10 Sets

4-10 Reps (Depending on training level) 80-90%             3-5 Sets

*I personally go 6-15 reps Level 3 with 8-12 being typical at 65-80% 1RM moving to 6-10 at 75-85% 1RM

10 + Reps (Depending on training objective)              < 75%                        2-4 Sets

Rep/ set scheme will vary on the different energy system methods, circuits, complexes, timed sets, density training, medley conditioning, and countdowns

Training Effect

Development of maximal strength

Development of explosive strength and the ability to produce force in the shortest amount of time

Development of muscular hypertrophy

Development of strength endurance and restoration

Development of general and specific work capacity

Exercise Classification

Primary and Secondary Movements

Explosive and Primary Movements

Primary, Secondary, and Assistive Movements

Secondary, Assistive, and Auxiliary Movements

Secondary, Assistive, Auxiliary, Energy System  Movements


I can’t really argue with the numbers from Jamie.  As discussed above and if you read my previous post on Stages of development you will see I went in at 6-15 repetitions for our Level 3 Anatomical Adaptation / Hypertrophy phase and yes I would typically work around the higher 8-12 repetition range with beginner athletes and I like to move into the lower 6-10 repetition range for intermediate athletes.   We call this part of the session our muscle conditioning. This represents the biggest part of a novice athlete’s training (overload) in the gym.


For Strength I would say that I initially like to work around the 4-8 range to bridge the gap between hypertrophy and pure Maximal Strength.  This is our Strength part.  For our level 4 athletes and above this represents a significant part of the training effect.  For our novice athletes they are learning technique.


I like 5 x 5 programmes and 8-6-4 programmes.  Once we have got a few cycles in the 4-8 range we can come back to Maximal Strength and hit the big numbers at lower reps, around the 1-5 mark.  This is advanced training.  Having said all of that any work involving the barbell such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and even chin ups I like to focus on doing no more than 8 reps or so in a row even with technique training as I want the athlete to focus on doing each rep with perfect technique.  This means that our beginner athletes will still be doing 4-8 repetitions at this section in the session even though the weight is light.


The final point to make is that with the Velocity Dependant lifts such as the Olympic lifts (which is the Power section) I will generally get the athlete to do no more than 3 repetitions in a row and only if it is part of a combination where you are breaking down the lift into sections.   Even if it is technique work and we want to do 10 cleans, or 20 snatches every rep needs to be completed with a pause between each one where they release contact with the bar.  So the Power section is always done for quality.  With advanced athletes you can get them to rep out cleans etc for a conditioning effect both in preparatory and pre-competitive training cycles but then it fits into a different section, with a different purpose!!


Varying Workloads: What does the Research say?


I just wanted to throw a curve ball out there because so far I have only presented my way which is to train concurrently by targetting all the parameters in every session.  Below is some research on how you can alter workload from session to session.


Making workload alterations (8RM, 6RM, 4RM) every workout was more effective in eliciting strength gains than doing so every 4 weeks.


Rhea MR, Ball SD, Phillips WT, Burkett LN (2002). A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. 16(2):250-5.


Hunter et. al. compared variable resistant training (once-weekly training at 80%, 65%, and 50% 1RM) versus training 3 times a week at 80% 1RM in men and women over the age of 60. After 6 months both groups made similar strength and lean body mass gains. However the variable resistant training group reported lower perceived exertion during a carrying task.


Hunter GR, Wetzstein CJ, McLafferty CL Jr, Zuckerman PA, Landers KA, Bamman MM (2001). High-resistance versus variable-resistance training in older adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 33(10):1759-64.


I am open minded and want to make sure that just because I like to do something a certain way doesn’t mean that I think it is the only way.  For me there is no question that Variation is an important training variable to consider.  I believe my programmes have in built variation in every session because I work on Power, Maximal Strength and Muscle conditioning in EVERY session.  I vary my training load from week to week by manipulating the volume load (sets x reps) on a weekly basis in Strength exercises and vary exercise selection every cycle in the muscle conditioning exercises.  I don’t like to have the type of variation in my strength parameters described above because I personally want to hit every part of the Force-Velocity curve every session,  but clearly evidence supports it works!!  Something for you to ponder in your own programme design!!


Well that about sums up the basics of the Training Load parameters for now.  I’ll be back with a post on Training Frequency / Density and a few more golden nuggets from my Coaching Mandate and that will wrap up the big 10 APA Philosophy Posts!!!


APA Philosophy 6- Stage of Development

So the previous Post, APA Philosophy 5 on Exercise Selection started to build up a framework for an hour in the Gym with a young athlete, but it didn’t go into any detail on how this session might be manipulated to suit the stage of development of the athlete, their goals and the phase of the programme, as well as how that hour in the gym might change if it is the ONLY hour they get with me per week versus it being one of several sessions in the week!  Remember, the posts so far have focused on Gym time but we also need to talk about SKILL and SPEED development so we will get to that shortly.  Firstly, in this post I want to rap up Strength Exercise Parameters!!


So Below I have included a couple of important Tables which identify 6 Stages of Development that I see in a young athlete’s career.  Now before you shoot me down let me say that the ages are just guidelines, and each child may progress through the levels at different rates.


Girls Boys
Fundamentals Level 1 6-8 years old 5-9 years old
Learn to Train Level 2 8-10 years old 9-12 years old
Train to Train Level 3 10-12 years old 12-14 years old
Train to Train Level 4 12-14 years old 14-16 years old
Train to Compete Level 5 14-16 years old 16-18 years old
Train to Win Level 6 17 years old+ 19 years old+



The key points I want to make are that when a child comes into the programme the first thing we can start to do is get an indication of where they might be on their athletic journey based on their physical maturity and training history.  Are they pre- during or post-puberty?  Have they ever trained in S&C before and what skills have they acquired?  Level 3 is Puberty.  Everything before Level 3 is pre-puberty; everything after Level 3 is post-puberty.


I am going to describe the progressions through the levels assuming that the athlete has come into our programme as a 5 year old and has stayed with us until their leave High School at 18 years old.  Of course this is the ideal scenario but very often we ‘inherit’ athletes along the way and have to try and figure out what gaps need to be plugged!!!


Please refer to my previous post on Exercise Selection where I described my sessions as having a Power, Strength, Muscle Conditioning, and Energy System component.  These will always be present but the focus will be different for different ages of children and at different times in the year.  Keep going back to that word, ‘Focus.’  Just because we focus on something doesn’t mean other things aren’t being done!!


Strength Focus
 Level 1 Bodyweight Play (Animals/pair work/gymnastics)
 Level 2 Teach  Anatomical Adaptation> SOFT RESISTANCE (0.7BM 10RM) 10-20 r 40-60%1RM
 Level 3 Train Hypertrophy 6-15 r (1.0 BM 5RM) 60-80% 1RM
 Level 4 Train  Strength 3-8 r (1.5BM 5RM) 75-85% 1RM
 Level 5 Train Maximal Strength/Power 1-5r (1.75 BM 3RM) 85% 1RM
 Level 6 Train Maximal Strength/Power 1-5r (>2.0 BM 1RM) 85% 1RM


Level 1:  Fundamentals


At 5 years old the child is at Ground Level, Level 1.  Istvan Balyi describes this as the ‘Fundamentals’ stage.  Now there is a growing trend to move away from strict LTAD principles and LTAD ‘Windows of Opportunity.’  I will give my own opinions on this in another Blog but for now I just want to say that I like the categorisations as they relate to changes in physical maturity.  It is important at the very least to reflect as a coach how you will modify (if at all) your programmes as the child matures.


A 5 year old will FOCUS on HAVING FUN and do his/her strength training implicitly using fun imitation games such as pretending to be an animal that squats, and crawls and lunges around!! They also get to do fun partner games and do some basic gymnastic skills.  This doesn’t mean we don’t start teaching the children how to use broomsticks (which is the next level)- it’s just not the focus!  I guess thought that there isn’t a strict plan of exercises that the children follow for a number of weeks but yes I will put my frog jumps and hop scotch in first to tick the Power element.  Then I will do my gorilla walks and crawls for my strength development and there won’t be much direct muscle conditioning in the traditional sense but a good old fashioned Tug O War can tick that box if you want to be anal about it!!!


Level 2:  Learning to Train


So when Level 2 comes around the child can be identified as someone who is now ready to receive specific instruction on the technical cues of weight training and we can start running through the basic squat variations as well as introducing the Olympic Weightlifting exercises using a broomstick to take the place of a barbell.  Because we start just using broomsticks then I have no problem starting a child earlier if they are ready to receive my instruction and are aware enough to act on the feedback.


Once they have demonstrated good competency on the basic movement patterns then they can start to work against a little more load.  I want to get this ‘soft resistance’ phase in early to start preparing the tendons and ligaments so that when puberty does come knocking the body is all primed ready to handle a bit more load.  Here we are using light body bars, Swiss balls, medicine balls and most importantly body weight resistance.  I can develop a press up and chin all day long and you should look to too!!


We would typically progress beyond the ‘soft resistance’, working up to barbells in training using about 50% of their body mass for repetitions of up to about 15, with a target in testing of 10RM of 70% of body mass.


Level 3:  Training to Train


This Training to Train phase lasts for a significant chunk of the young athlete’s development.


Think of this as focusing on the muscle conditioning element while all the time we are developing the techniques of the Power lifts and Olympic Lifts ready for down the line when they become the focus.


Here we go into a more traditional Anatomical Adaptation phase, which is associated with Hypertrophy training.  I like to stay here for as long as possible for the reasons already mentioned (get the ligaments ready to handle the force of the muscles).  I will start in the higher repetition end of the range, typically your classic Hypertrophy range of 8-12 repetitions at around 65-75% 1RM.   Then later on I will progress to  the lower end of the range typically 6-10 repetitions at 70-80% 1RM.


These loads would probably be around 70%-80% of their body mass for 6-10 reps, with a target in testing of 5RM of around 100% of body mass.  In preparation for Level 4 we may introduce maximal strength training sets and reps schemes, using 5×5 starting with about 80% of their body mass but still using slightly reduced rest periods because the load is still not truly challenging.


Think of this stage as a really hard core version of muscle conditioning but this time using loads up to around 100% of our body mass.


Level 4-6:  Puberty and Post Puberty


When a child reaches Puberty (we determine this as onset of the menstrual cycle in girls and Peak Height Velocity in boys) we  typically stay in the hypertrophy range for about 6-9 months before thinking about going onto our first Maximal Strength phase.  Basically here we just increasingly focus more and more on maximal strength and power.  In Level 4 once PHV has passed I like to work in the range of 4-8 reps around 75-85% 1RM using 5 x 5 programmes as a basic introduce with variations around this.  This would be following a few initial phases early in the year of muscle conditioning after which we will then really chase some load in this rep range.


Later in the athlete’s development the next time we come back to chasing some load we crank it up again and build up to heavy weights in the 1-5 rep range.   It’s around Level 5 and 6 that the Olympic Lifts have developed nicely and on the later stages of our training blocks we will back off the volume of the Strength exercises and really push some big numbers on the Olympic Lifts or whatever power exercise the athlete is competent at!!!!  It’s also here where we are at loads greater than 85% 1RM that it is well worth splitting your workouts up into Lower body and Upper body sessions and maybe doing your power work and Strength work on different days.


Well that about raps up the introduction to Stages of Development.  We will have a closer look at sets x reps prescription in the next post!


APA Philosophy 5- Exercise Selection- Master the Basics

If you have followed my previous posts about the different Philosophies of Training that are out there, I think I was pretty clear in making the point that APA doesn’t subscribe to one particular method of training to the exclusion of others.  Rather we borrow from all of the different methods that are out there.  I don’t believe in cookie cutter programmes and since most of our work is with individuals or small groups I feel we can be more individualised with our approach.  Having said that I do feel that we can borrow a lot from the sports of Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting.  The key is choosing big bang for your buck exercises that will develop an Overload.  There are many ways to produce an Overload.  The first step is to determine the training methods or Exercise Selection.


So, begs the question, what do we do at APA and what would a typical session look like? Well, for me good quality training in the gym is about Mastering the Basics.  What separates an expert from an amateur? Experts are masters of the basics.  Focus your time on improving your lifting technique in the Olympic Lifts.  Focus your time on improving and perfecting your squat, deadlift, overhead press and chin up.  Over the course of a young athlete’s career they will get to a point where they are ready to get brutally strong and powerful at each movement and become a technician in regards to their execution.  

ape to man


Dan Johns about the basic patterns of movement: Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull, Loaded Carry.   Paul Chek calls these Squat, Bend, Push, Pull, Lunge, Twist, Gait.


These are the movements that we did every day in the primal ages, before we got lazy and stopped being active!


By performing a range of movements using the whole body  you can mimic almost all of the positions you can expect to find yourself in during sport and daily living!  The squat, deadlift and overhead press take care of the squat, bend and push respectively.  The Olympic Lifts take care of the pull as well as a good dose of chin ups!  One criticism of following a strict power lifting or Olympic weightlifting programme is the lack of direct single leg work and core work.  So by working uni laterally and getting in a bit more direct core work we can tick off the Lunge and twist category.  Obviously we can also do a bit of energy system work at the end if appropriate to target the running gait.


At the bottom of this post is a table that was created by a coach from the USA called Jamie Smith .     I think it is a pretty good summary of how I would go about setting up an hour in the gym with a young athlete.   To be honest there is a lot of different exercises listed  and I might be more tempted to just focus on a few selected lifts in the first year (like my previous post on the Olympic weightlifter’s programme).  Pay attention to the Athlete Column.  Notice that there are different exercises to achieve different purposes.


I tend to use Plyometrics (jumps/throws) along with Olympic Lifts for Power development; the Power lifts for Strength Development; and a selection of movements in different planes (vertical push/pull; horizontal push/pull; and single leg exercises) to get some good ‘muscle conditioning’ into the small accessory muscles so that they can cope with increasingly larger volumes of work.


The muscle conditioning / energy system development is sometimes known as ‘work capacity’ training. By focusing on this initially you will allow your body to handle doing MORE WORK later at the HIGHER LEVEL without over stressing your system.


There’s nothing worse than an athlete who hasn’t build up any work capacity and can only do a few sprints before being totally gassed out!


Remember, less is more.  By focusing on a few exercises but adding volume (by adding more sets/reps per exercises at the same intensity) you take advantage of the fact that your Nervous System is primed to make that movement.  Additionally you are mentally more accustomed to making that movement and you can focus on improving your technique and lifter bigger weights instead of continually adjusting to a new exercise.


Exercise Selection

Average Joe / Jane

Athlete – Team Sport

Power Lifting

Olympic Lifting

Explosive Movement


Basic Jump and Throw Variations

Jump (Box, Hurdle, and Depth Jumps) and Throw (Overhead, Push, and Rotational) Variations

Clean, Jerk, and Snatch

Dependant on Individual

Dependant on Individual

Primary Movement


Foundational Exercises-             Squat, OH Press, and DL Variations

Foundational Exercises-             Squat, Bench Press, DL, and OH Press Variations

Competition Lift-

Squat, Bench Press, and DL

Competition Lift-

Clean, Jerk, and Snatch

Secondary Movement

Horizontal Pull- DB, BB, C/S Row Variations           Vertical Pull-        Chin-ups and Pull-ups

Posterior Chain Dominant- GHR, Hip Lifts, 45-degree Hyperextension, and Pull-through

Horizontal Pull- DB, BB. C/S Row Variations           Vertical Pull–           Chin-ups and Pull-ups

Hip Posterior Chain DominantGHR, Hip Lifts, 45-degree Hyperextension, Pull-through, and Swing Variations

Supplement Movements:

Bench- Board Press, Floor Press, Reverse Band Press,           Squat-

Dead-Squat, Good-Morning Variations

DL- Block Pulls and Deficit Pulls

Supplemental Movements:

Clean- Hang Clean, Clean from Blocks, High Pulls, Squat

Jerk- Push Press

Snatch- Hang Snatch, Snatch from Blocks, DL Variations

Assistive Movement

Horizontal/ Vertical Push:

 Push-up, Dip, and DB Press Variations

Horizontal/ Vertical Pull:

Blast Strap Row and Pull-down Variations

Single Leg Movement- Split-squat, Lunge, Step-up, and Single Leg DL

Horizontal/ Vertical Push:

Push-up, Dip, and DB Press Variations

Horizontal/ Vertical Pull:

Blast Strap Row,        Face-pull and Pull-down Variations

Single Leg MovementSplit-squat, Lunge, Step-up, and Single Leg DL

Horizontal Pull- DB, BB, C/S Row Variations

Vertical Pull-

Chin-ups, Pull-ups, and Lat Pull-down Variations

Posterior Chain Dominant-                      GHR, 45-degree Hyperextension, Reverse Hyperextension, and Pull-through

Elbow Extension-

Band Push-down, DB Extension Variations, Dips

Horizontal Pull:

DB, BB, and C/S Row Variations

Vertical Pull:

Chin-ups and Pull-ups

Posterior Chain Dominant:

GHR and 45-degree Hyperextensions

Single Leg Movements:

Split-squat, Lunge, and Step-up Variations

Auxiliary           Movement

Torso Movement:


 (Planks and Roll-outs)


(Side Planks and Belly Press)


(Chop and Lift Variations)


(SLSU’s and Reverse Crunch)

Corrective Exercises:

Glute Activation

Psoas Activation

Lower Trap Activation

RC Activation

Torso Movement:


 (Planks and Roll-outs)


(Side Planks and Belly Press)


(Chop and Lift Variations)


(SLSU’s and Reverse Crunch)

Corrective Exercises:

Glute Activation

Psoas Activation

Lower Trap Activation

RC Activation

Torso Movement:


 (Planks and Roll-outs)


(Side Planks and Belly Press)


(Chop and Lift Variations)


(SLSU’s and Reverse Crunch)

Corrective Exercises:

Glute Activation

Psoas Activation

Lower Trap Activation

RC Activation

Torso Movement:


(Planks and Roll-outs)


(Side Planks and Belly Press)


(Chop and Lift Variations)


(SLSU’s and Reverse Crunch)

Corrective Exercises:

Glute Activation

Psoas Activation

Lower Trap Activation

RC Activation


Energy System Movement

(Energy System will be dependant on the individual goal)              Sled                   (March, Sprint, or Drag)

Sprints (Flat or Hill)


Sledge Hammer

(Energy System will be dependant on the individual but will be more specific to the sport and position)

    Sled                   (March, Sprint, or Drag)

Sprints (Flat or Hill)


Sledge Hammer

Jumps and Throws



Dependant on the Individual

Dependant on the Individual












































APA Philosophy 4- Programme Design

What is APA all about?


So I am going to carry on with a few more APA Coaching Philosophy bullet points from my Coaching Mandate. Basically this is a document I can give any new coach to bring them up to speed on where I stand with pretty much everything related to Strength & Conditioning.


In the first Post  we discussed what the Overall Goal of any S&C programme should be and also what qualities I am looking for in any prospective coach.  In this post we discuss programme design which builds on the previous blog on planning and periodisation.


Programme Design


No philosophy would be complete without some sort of position on programme design.   We already discussed in the previous blog the need to create a training adaptation and ways we could organise training to achieve this.  There are different ways to organise your training but as we know now APA coaches use concurrent training models.


The other key point I make in my coaching mandate is that:


There is no single best method for achieving overload that is used to the exclusion of others in the APA Philosophy


The following bullet points build on this idea that there are many methods available to us and we should examine the benefits of all of them.  The most important thing is that you have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve:


 >It’s about the plan not the exercise, or the exercise craze


There is always a new exercise that comes along usually using a piece of equipment.  I am very open minded and I have found that adding in Swiss balls, BOSU balls and such like can add variety to the programme.  I find that anything can be used as long as you are clear on how that exercise fits into the plan.  Did your original exercise do a better job of creating the adaptations you wanted and are you just subscribing to a fad?


Below are some notes I took when listening to Mike Boyle present on the topic of Programme Design: What he highlights really well is that as well as being drawn in by gimmics and fads we also see coaches who are only open to one mode of training.   Of course this is fine if you are training to become a Powerlifter or Strongman but if you are a regular athlete then I think you can take elements of all of these methods.  Remember the Bruce Lee quote:


“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”


Mike Boyle Programme Design: Schools of Thought


Everyone wants to belong to a group


Instead of developing a philosophy they adopt one


‘In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.’  Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.


Mike believes that in the majority of quality S&C programmes the coaches are doing things that are very similar.


Current philosophies


Just Do It


Lowest form of training- no assessment just do it and work em out!, run around, work hard and get sweaty


The Scientist


Multi-plane instability king


Usually has alphabet soup after his name CSCS, NSCA-PT, CES, CPT, BWLA ……….


He will paralyse you with his assessment and analysis


Likes bodyweight and dumbbells because it is more ‘functional’


No one ever gets hurt because they don’t lift heavy weights and never get strong


Like the just do it but with loads of certifications!




Famous for the split routine


The Strongman


Like the just do it but with really heavy weights


THE PHILOSOPHY should achieve the basic goals I have already outlined of reducing risk of injuries and improving sporting performance.


I am not a cross fit guy, a boot camp guy or any other mode type of guy.  I am a coach who wants to develop efficient, strong, explosive and durable athletes and I will borrow from all of the different methods to get the job done in a fun way for the athlete.


So…….back to a few more of my Philosophy Bullet points on Programme Design……..


> One workout cannot make an athlete but one workout can break an athlete


> No one method or physical quality becomes an end unto itself


> Incorporate a full spectrum of training methods (soft tissue work, mobility, flexibility, resistance training, medicine ball and jumping, SAQ training)


> Train all fitness components all of the time but in different proportions


> Variation without constant change


> Planned variation in intensity is important to prevent neural fatigue


> Stagnancy is often confused with stability- some things are not meant to change


Relating to the  bullet points about variation, the important point to remember with concurrent training is that all of the different biomotor qualities will be developed in a given training session/week but the highest training load will be assigned to that day’s/phase’s  main objective.   So you are building in variation in intensity to your programme just by prioritising different exercises each session or phase.


Don’t be frightened to keep the ‘stables’ of your programme in the programme for long periods.  Having stability in some aspects of your programme is NOT the same as stagnancy.  Yes by all means vary the supplementary exercises every 3-4 weeks but the big lifts can be always there just maybe you cycle through different types on different sessions such as Back squat Monday, Overhead Wednesday and Front squat Friday.


> Good training programmes make you adaptable not adapted to one form of stress


> Keep the knife sharp but not to a razors edge


> It is during recovery when training adaptation takes place


I will get into more detail about the manipulation of Load (volume x intensity) but that’s enough for Programme Design for now!!


APA Philosophy 3- Vertical Integration- it's all in the Blend

No philosophy would be complete without some sort of position on planning.  I use this term rather than Periodisation as this immediately associates itself with complex terminology and Eastern European practices not relevant to most trainers needs.  Trust me I have read these documents and they can take you too far away from the basic concepts you really need to be familiar with.


I have to admit, it took me a LONG time to get my head around this one so I hope it turns on a few light bulbs and new coaches don’t have to go through the same process as I did.  Basically I went to University in the day when Tudor Bompa was the messiah and Linear Periodisation was the main form of periodisation taught.


I am not going to get into the theory of Training Adaptation as there are a number of voluminous textbooks out there to help but visit the Philosophy page for more detail:

  As a quick summary, The Science and Practice of Strength Training (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer) states that Overload, Accommodation,  Specificity and Individualization are the basic concepts of physical training.  To obtain your short and long term goals you must follow these basic principles of programme design.


For the purpose of this blog I will not go into great detail about the different models of periodisation used to achieve these adaptations. There are many different ways to plan a programme. In short, there are two major schemes, Concurrent and Sequential (or Linear).   

Below is an example of a classic linear periodisation model:


Linear periodisation- Nick Grantham workshop

Linear periodisation- Nick Grantham workshop


So in the case of strength for example,  Strength endurance > Anatomical Adaptation > Hypertrophy > Max Strength> Speed-Strength might represent 5 mesocyles for sake of argument.   Here you would do no power work (speed-strength) until after several phases of progressive strength development.  Yes you could argue that you need a strength platform to benefit from power training but I could argue equally strongly that you need the technique of how to clean first so when you do ‘Focus’ on power you actually have the techniques to get the benefit of the exercise!!  This linear periodisation approach is represented diagrammatically as horizontal integration.


In fact when I was first taught to develop Biomotor Abilities in a  linear manner I was taught that the focus needed to change something like this:


Endurance >> Strength >> Speed


On one level this is still what I do (in a fashion) but I was taught a very literal interpretation of this where you ONLY do endurance for a period of time, or at least it was the case that you did say 5-6 sessions of it and say only 1-2 strength sessions and NO speed work.  My first experience that led me to question this approach was when I started working with someone who to this day is a colleague of mine, Sergio Cuesta Gomez.  He is the physiotherapist/ tennis coach at the Tennis Academy where I spend most of my time.  When I told him that I was only going to do 1-2 strength sessions with a tennis player we were working with at the beginning of a training block he nearly chocked on his food!


He showed me a new way of thinking where every week you’re going to do at least 15-20 units of training but the distribution of training will be fairly evenly spread across all the different biomotor abilities. This type of periodisation is known as concurrent periodisation.  It is just the Training Load (Intensity versus Volume) that is manipulated to create a focus for a certain type of training.  This is represented diagrammatically as Vertical Integration.


Now it looks more like this where in this example strength is the main focus but we are still working on all the other biomotors:












Now, the clever bit is knowing where the athlete is on their athletic journey based on their stage of development, assessment results and the current Goals they are aiming to achieve from a performance point of view.  You use this to make decisions on which Biomotors you will spend more time teaching, which ones will be trained and which ones will be sustained!!!!  The diagram below shows how this might look diagrammatically:


concurrent periodisation


APA athletes train Concurrently.


This means my athletes train vertically across several different biomotor abilities during the same session, week and month!


Below is perhaps the most succinct explanation of the principle of concurrent periodisation I have ever seen written as it relates to the concurrent development of strength and power.  It is written by Dr Lon Kilgore, PhD based on experiences  from  his time at the USA Weightlifting Regional Development Center


Beginners should do LOTS of the competitive lifts with moderate weights. To us, moderate means as heavy as can be done with consistently good technique and a low percentage of misses, whether it is 75% or 95% of max. Most workouts are started with snatch and clean and jerk, and in most workouts beginners do at least 20 snatches and 10 clean and jerks. We aren’t afraid to try new maxes whenever they seem possible, but try to do it within a framework of lots of lifts, few ugly lifts, and fewer misses.


We believe in doing all 3 squat variations normally done by weightlifters (front squat, back squat, and overhead squat), most weeks doing at least one workout of each style. We focus on the back squat for strength building, and concentrate on good position in front squatting and overhead squatting. We also do ‘unusual’ strength exercises, exercises designed not only to strengthen, but to condition and toughen. Exercises like dumbbell and barbell clean and press (each rep includes a clean and a press), walking lunges, kettlebell work, and strongman type training. We believe the training of beginners is a three-fold process, learning efficient technique on the competitive lifts, increasing strength, and conditioning the body to handle the increased training that will be required as a more advanced lifter.


Our training programs for beginners are simple. A sample weekly workout for a first year, 12-13 year old lifter could look like this:




>20 snatches


>10 clean and jerks


> 3 sets of 3 front squats


> 2 sets of 10 dumbbell clean & press




> Snatch to roughly 95%


> Clean and jerk to roughly 95%


> 5 sets of 5 squats


> Walking lunges, 2 sets of 40 yards each




> 20 hang snatches


> 20 hang clean and jerk (could alternate jerk and power jerk)


> 3 sets of 5 overhead squat


> 3 sets of 10 bent press with kettlebell


We try to end each workout with some low-back and abdominal work, and some jumping exercises. For this we use a glute-ham bench, a reverse hypermachine, lots of bands and medicine balls, and Plyo Boxes.


We don’t believe in a lot of ‘formal’ periodization for beginners. The strength, technique, conditioning, and abilities of beginners are changing at a rate that makes planning difficult. We have found the best way to periodize a beginner is to simply shift focus over time from one part of training to the next (This holds true for intermediate and advanced lifters).


Immediately after one competition and looking forward to another in say, 3 months, one of our lifters may spend the first month focusing on conditioning exercises (aka accessory exercises). The snatches and clean and jerks and squats will still be done, but the majority of the energy of the workout might go to the walking lunges, the kettlebell exercises, the clean and presses, and the various glute-ham raises, reverse hyperextensions, and ab work that ends the workout.


The next 4-6 weeks may be spent with the emphasis on squatting. Like the previous month, the workouts still start with snatches and clean and jerks, and heavy weights are lifted in these exercises when possible, but the emphasis of the workouts is pushing the different squat variations to new maxes. Workouts end with lowered volumes and intensities of general strength work like clean and press, and lowered volumes of lower back and ab work.


The last 2-4 weeks before a meet, the emphasis shifts to the competitive lifts. Squatting and other strength work is decreased, so that the lifter comes into each workout fresh and ready to do their absolute best on the competitive lifts.


It is important to note that the workouts throughout this time would look pretty much the same on paper. The sample workout shown above could show a week 3 months prior to competition, or a week’s workouts only 2 weeks out.


We don’t stop doing any strength exercises before a competition, and we don’t stop doing the competitive lifts in the ‘off season’. we just shift where we really ‘push’ and focus our energy.


So there it is. A simple program that pushes the kids continuously, is simple to understand and follow, and not only builds the total, but prepares the body for more frequent, more intense later training.


APA Philosophy 2- Strengthen the strengths

I am hoping to share my philosophy over the coming weeks and months and it seems apt to give a little background first on my coaching experience and influences to date.  The biography on the website pretty much sums up my actual coaching experience but what it won’t tell you are all the countless coaches that I have learnt from over the years.  While I haven’t had the fortune of meeting all of them I have always taken something from their experiences and things they have had to say.


I think Vern Gambetta summed it up when he said nothing is new; I believe in standing on the shoulders of giants so I make no apologies if I seem I am constantly quoting others.  Once I take all the bits I like from different people and put them together it has become MY PHILOSOPHY.


“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”


Bruce Lee


So to start this process, I thought it would be interesting to share the thoughts of Bill Sweetenham, who is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005.  At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007).


In describing his experience level as a coach he discussed FOUR periods in a coach’s life:


1.  FIRST 5-7 years coaching: one solution to every problem


2.  SECOND 5-7 years coaching: for every one problem you have 7-8 solutions


3.  THIRD 5-7 years coaching: you don’t have any problems, you see them coming


4.  FOURTH 5-7 years coaching:you create problems to teach lessons.  You make it hard for the athlete to get through, but you do help them get through.


Well, I took on my first coaching role in 1999 helping coach football to some local primary school aged children under the guidance of Butch Fazal.   So I guess 13 years later I’m sitting at the end of my Second period of coaching development in my life!!!


Bill said a lot of things that have stuck with me but I want to speak more to those comments he made relevant to my coaching philosophy and relevant to working with children in this Post.


> ”An athlete will always WIN because of their STRENGTHS. But they will ALWAYS fall short of their goals because of their WEAKNESS.”  


”The area of weakness is the area of greatest improvement; the area where you can make the biggest difference.”  Basically Bill is saying prioritise your coaching to improve their weaknesses.


I personally would start my introduction to my OWN philosophy by saying I believe in an approach a bit more along the lines of the great Frank Dick (From 1979 to 1994 Frank was the British Athletics Federation’s Director of Coaching).


1  Prioritise strengths

  People achieve because of what they are good at, not what they are bad at. So that is your development (and motivational) platform.


I agree with Frank that it is important to find out what the athlete you are working with is actually best at and train that to be a weapon.   It is also wise (from personal experience) TO START OFF giving the athlete more opportunity to do the things they are good at or like doing to build some motivation and get them on board.  Obviously as they begin to trust you more you can start to talk about spending some additional time working on things they need to get better at.


As a coach of young athletes (mainly 5-18 years) my job is to work with the technical coach to determine if those attributes that are creating success at the junior level NOW will stand up at the world class level LATER.  It is also necessary (but even more difficult) to determine whether we think the physical attributes they have now might change as they mature.  Are they winning now because they are more mature than their peers?  What will happen when the others catch up physically?


For example John Hicks and Jim Edgar were asked in ‘Coach Magazine’ to describe qualities of great junior tennis players (8-16 years).  They described two stereotypes in respect of fitness that come through in the Men’s game:


> The player with the SPEED and incredible will power and unshakable consistency- aka Leyton Hewitt


>The player with less natural speed and consistency but HUGE POWER on serve and forehand aka Andy Roddick.


It is easy when looking at the finished product to say how obvious it is that Hewitt and Roddick would end up playing the way they do.  However, consider without the benefit of hindsight whether this was so obvious when they were 13! Perhaps not!


2 Prioritise weakness if it interferes with strengths


So again using the Tennis example,  take for example a player who has a western grip that they naturally want to hold (for the non Tennis coaches out there this basically means you hit the ball quite high in relation to your body so you can’t afford to let the ball drop too low- you can’t afford to be slow around the court!).  But if you believe they are not fast enough to use a short lever you can work on their speed to build up a weakness which would interfere with their strength.  In this case their strength is  the ability to hit a missile with a Big forehand!!!

In summary, this links back to my overall coaching mandate of building a complete athlete who has no limitations (physical or otherwise).  Sure, there are professional athletes out there who we might consider have poor aspects of their game relative to their strengths but they don’t loose because of it- it’s good enough and it’s not a limitation.  

So now you have established the importance of maximising strengths and bringing up weaknesses (so you don’t lose because of them or risk getting injured) Frank says next assess strengths and weaknesses by whatever assessment instruments you have at your disposal.


Then, there is a 7 step process that Frank uses to assess progress once the key areas have been identified:


On the basic platform of full range movement and balanced all round basic strength:


I put this in bold because this part of the process of Athletic Development and ultimately Athletic Performance is sometimes assumed.  This actually represents a very large part of my role as an S&C coach working with Young Athletes!!! But I digress.  Here is what Frank went on to say!!


1 Establish and constantly refine a sound technical model


2 Develop fitness framework which ensures consistently effective technical delivery


3 Develop speed of technical delivery without compromising technical quality


4  Develop capacity to operate in training, competition and lifestyle with consistent quality where optimal approaches maximal, and maximal continues to progress


5 Rehearse extremes and interference to performance environment/conditions


6  Learn to read the game and join up the dots in competition and preparation to leverage competitive advantage


7  Win and win and win . .. . .


I agree with this approach and as I unpack my own philosophy (using the 5 S’s and 6 stages of LTAD) you will see how I too build an athlete on the same foundations of SUPPLENESS > SKILL > STRENGTH > SPEED > STAMINA


Well that sums up the first principle and in the next Post I will talk more about a few of the things I learnt from listening to Bill.


APA Philosophy 1- Winners never quit, and quitter never Win

Before I get into the Training Philosophy that underpins the design of all programmes that APA coaches write I think we need to spend some time talking about the Mindset that is required of a champion athlete.  It’s an old cliche but a bad programme that is followed consistently is probably better than a great programme that never gets done!  The point is that consistency is key to achieving success and so developing the mindset of an athlete is a key priority of all APA coaches.  

Bill Sweetenham  is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005.  At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007).  If you read read my next post on APA Philosophy 2 you’ll see I give Bill a big mention.


Bill had a number of interesting things to  say but relevant to this post was his views on the mindset of winner:  Below are some bullet points on what he had to say:


THE ATHLETE has a job to:


1.  Train and prepare the fitness of the mind to match the fitness of the body.


Bill always gets a feel for athletes he may potentially invite into his programme by asking them,


>’What are you prepared to do/willing to commit?’


>What are you going to bring to the programme? The programme is going to contribute a lot to you.  Are you going to bring a work ethic that is better than the one we have in the programme now?


Bill wants to work with athletes who have a WORK ETHIC in advance of their TALENT level.  You can’t win unless you have this!


>Bill says  ‘T- it’s the difference between CAN and CAN’T.  Negative people never win.  You have to be CAN DO people.  Positive people always win.


They don’t work hard enough……

The key frustration I have experienced in my coaches who work for me is them feeling like there is an incongruence between the aspirations of the athlete and what they are currently willing to put into their training.   Coaches often tell me an athlete needs to work harder; they are ‘supposed’ to be an elite performer.  The key is to meet them where they are at and constantly give the child (if a junior) and the parent/coach HONEST feedback on how closely the behaviours and actions of the athlete are aligned with their GOALS.  If there is a mismatch for a period of time this usually is addressed by a revision of the goals or a shift in attitude of the player.   Something will have to give.



THE COACH has a job to:


1.  Convert involvement and participation into commitment.


Bill describes the image of Bacon and eggs.  He says the Eggs represent Involvement because the chicken is only involved in the process- they lay the eggs for the meal.  But the Bacon represents Commitment because the pig gave up it’s life.  Which one are you?


2.  Keep athletes out of the Twilight Zone


In Swimming Bill describes the twilight zone (I’m sure it exists in all sports).  At one end of the participation level, athletes might do 5 x 1 hour sessions a week.  They’ll never make it but they do it for fun and fitness.  At the other end there are athletes who do 20-25 hours a week including gym and swimming.  These athletes expect a tangible reward for competing.  They’re really hungry for winning and even more hungry for the rewards that go with winning.


In Swimming 80% of swimmers are training BETWEEN this 5 and 20 hour week.  So they are in a Twilight Zone.  They’re doing too much for it to be enjoyable and fun but not enough to get the real benefits from it.  So Bill says try and avoid the Twilight Zone!


My experience of working with athletes in all levels of participation tells me that it isn’t always so black and white.  Sometimes athletes would like to commit more but can’t afford to.  Sometimes parents are unsure whether it is in the interests of their son and daughter to specialise in one sport at such an early age.


Broadly speaking I feel it is important to encourage diversity of activity in children between the ages of 5-12 years


Certainly after this age it is increasing important to narrow the focus towards the sport in which the child wants to excel.

The key point in sports such as Tennis which are highly skill dependant is that the child is given ENOUGH time in the sport at a young age, to acquire fundamental skills of stroke production (serves, ground strokes and speciality shots like volleys and smashes).  Now the more ‘Talented’ the athlete the more quickly they may acquire those skills!


My final point to make is:


Do what makes you happy!


If a child is absolutely in love with one sport and that is what they wake up and go to bed dreaming about doing then I don’t have a problem with that.  I also don’t have a problem if they wake up tomorrow and decide they don’t want to be David Beckham any more.   They want to be Bradley Wiggins!!




APA Developing a Philosophy

I started a company


In June 2011 I officially registered as a limited company, hence the birth of ‘Athletic Performance Academy.’  I felt that by operating as a company I could offer my services to a larger sector of the market and expand out of Tennis BUT importantly I wanted retain the credibility and reputation I had earned personally from 13 years coaching.


I wanted to put together a philosophy for the company first because when you start employing other staff to represent your own company you need to be able to convey to other coaches how you want things done. So during the whole of 2010 and a large part of 2011 I was doing two projects:


1.  Reading BLOGS of coaches I respected to get insights into how they run their facilities and organise their programmes- what are their philosophies?


I tend to read Alwyn Cosgrove, Pat Rigsby at the IYCA, Joe DeFranco, Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Nick Grantham, Vern Gambetta, Brendan Chaplin because these guys all have established facilities and/or public profiles.  I don’t read as much as I would like to but I always make sure in my holiday time I have a quick catch up on the last few months of posts to see what they are talking about.


2.  Designing a Player Development Model


Basically this is my interpretation of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Windows of Opportunity. I wanted to articulate to my team what biomotor abilities need to be prioritised at certain stages in an athlete’s development and what kind of drills might be used and progressed to serve this purpose.  I came up with 6 levels  across the big 5 Biomotor Abilities (Suppleness, Skill, Strength, Speed, Stamina).  Each level has a selection of drills that can be used as examples of how to develop that component.


I don’t believe in creating robot coaches who wheel out the same cookie cutter programmes every term.  So to this end I don’t prescribe all the drills I want coaches to do.  I only ask that they cover the relevant abilities and get the right blend appropriate to the athlete in front of them.


Of course, neither of these projects ever stop but I am now at a point where I feel I can give a new coach a great insight into all the different biomotors and where they all fit.   Based on these projects I came up with a Coaching Mandate a list of bullet points that articulates what APA coaching is all about.


Below are a selection from the Document:  These are the Most important ones about the overall role of S&C and the role of the Coach.


 Goal of S&C Training


Priority #1 Keep your athletes healthy so they can train consistently and get better at their sport


Priority #2 Build a ‘complete’ athlete fully capable of competing at their highest level without any limitations


Basically Priority 1 and 2 relates to reducing the risk of Injuries.  Mike Boyle adds:


> Preventing injuries in the actual training process, and 


> Reducing incidence of performance related injuries


Basically, we can’t afford to get anyone injured in the gym.  There is an assumption of risk on the field so if someone gets hurt in a match, ‘well, it’s part of the game.’ But in the weight room then that’s our deal.


There is a difference between putting someone in a situation where you think they could get hurt (Sport) and then deliberately putting them in that situation and calling that training (trying to recreate the stresses of sport in the gym).


Priority #3 Integrate your inventions into an inter-disciplinary framework to serve the Overall Goal of Performance improvement in the Competitive Arena.


The sum of the parts is greater than the whole Aristotle




Suck it up coaches!  Leave your Ego at home and remember that it’s only by all of the experts in the team working together to agree on a SHARED GOAL for the athlete that Performance Improvement will be realised.  Success is an improvement on the sports field!!



The Coach


> It’s not about the recipe it’s about the cook (delivery counts)


> Be a coach, not a trainer- act accordingly. Organise. Teach. Communicate. Inspire


> It’s not about the drill, it’s about the skill


I guess these are my top 3 things I look for in a coach.  The Top two are DELIVERY ability (how do they deliver their knowledge- do they get their messages across) and linked to that specifically is their ability to INSPIRE.  Then a close third is ability to actually TEACH something rather than just doing work!!


Gil Stevenson Workshop: Questions Answered 5-7



5.  How would you deal with a (tennis) coach who believes their player should not be lifting heavy weights.  It will slow them down and could injure their back.




Gil actually answered this question in the context of Football (soccer) because this is a sport where he has experienced this sort of comment.  Don’t be confused by the photo above of an American football player.  This was not the sport Gil was talking about.  But I saw the picture and I thought it was a good stereotypical image of a coach that came to mind and illustrates what we’re up against!!!   One thing I must mention that Gil said (which I did not expect) is that professional footballers are truly exceptional athletes; every young boy aspires to become one but most are just not born of superior genes and end up filtering into other sports.   Given Gil’s association with Rugby it was refreshing honesty-something we must acknowledge about footballers once we look beyond all the drama with diving players and the lack of existence of an S&C culture at the top level!



Gil went on to say that they really are the most robust kind of all athletes when you think that they play 60 games plus each season  and seem to get by with a quick patch up job by the medical team and sub-optimal S&C programmes!



Anyway, back to the question!!!!!   Gil’s reply was succinct.  ‘The bottom line is coaches don’t know what they don’t know.   They are unconsciously incompetent.’



Gil gave an example of a unnamed Team whose medical team were giving the S&C department ear ache for doing too heavy squatting with their players which was causing them (it was alleged) back pain and pain during matches.  The S&C coach asked Gil for advice as this was a very difficult situation.  For the record these were male professional footballers and squatting 65kg!!!!!!  Gil has a 13 year old female overhead squatting half of that!!!!



To me this is unbelievable and if you look at this logically it isn’t a stretch to say that perhaps the reason these pro players are breaking down in matches is because they are so weak they can’t tolerate the impact forces of the contacts/collisions that take place in football.   How awesome might our pro footballers be if they actually delivered somewhere close to their athletic potential in the gym????



6.  What is starting strength and how do you train it?



Well, if you already read Lessons 2 you will have seen the definition from Mel Siff’s Supertraining.  But here it is again,



“starting-strength” refers to the ability of the muscles to develop force at the beginning of the working contraction before external movement occurs and is always produced under conditions of isometric muscle action. This fact alone has important consequences for strength training, because it dispels the opinion that the once-popular method of isometric training should be completely abandoned in modern training. On the contrary, the ability to generate starting strength rapidly can exert a profound effect on the dynamics of an entire movement, not only in terms of the magnitude of the impulse, but also regarding the psychological sensation of “lightness” that it creates during the crucial initial stage of a highly resisted movement.



Gil said that the basis for all acceleration based movements comes from isometric muscle actions and training to develop this would definitely help greatly with acceleration.  I questioned what sort of weight because I have read on more than one occasion that starting strength has been described as the ability to initiate movement quickly using moderate loads which enable you to get the bar moving quickly.  From discussions with Gil he said that I shouldn’t confuse acceleration speed of the bar with acceleration strength.  Yes the bar travels at its fastest during the 2nd pull when RFD is highest (peak RFD) but acceleration strength is initially gathered under isometric conditions which is best done under heavy load– using the principle of an immovable load!



Below is an example of APA coach Fabrizio Gargiulo demonstrating a 5-10sec isometric 1st pull using a load marginally greater than his 1RM Deadlift so that the focus is on starting strength.  (For the record he could do a lot more but he hadn’t done a proper warm-up!!!)  Something to consider is that this type of isometric work could actually be very appropriate for a complete beginner to learn how to gather up their force to ‘feel’ what it is like to properly brace and develop those internal forces that Gil was talking about so important in getting the right POSTURE!!!



Now one point to note is that resisted running is quite popular for a neural overload at the speed end of the continuum.  When asked if you could put athletes in harnesses with resistance from the coach or with a really heavy weighted sled to train the sprint motion isometrically Gil said you could, but he wouldn’t, because you could affect the sprint mechanics. For me personally, I quite like the use of ‘bungees’ to run against for agility work or light sleds for sprinting but if I want to do something really heavy to help develop sprint starts I’ll squat and deadlift!!!!



Once you get over the fact that they are not actually going to lift it then actually the heavier the better!! You might want to inform the parents of the 11 year old girl what you’re doing first though!!


Gil discusses the benefit of isometric pulls


Below is an example of APA coach Fabrizio Gargiulo demonstrating a 5-10sec isometric 1st pull using a load.  This is at a weight that you could normally rep out for 3-5RM but doing singles for 5-10sec isometrics soon adds up!



7.  How do you organise speed, plyometrics and strength/olympic weight lifting into a microcycle?



If truth be told we didn’t get into this in great detail as by the time Gil spoke about the underpinning theory, answered our questions and did some practice at the first pull and 2nd pulls from hangs we were running out of time.  There were a couple of key messages I took about how Gil organises his programmes:



1.   Train the qualities of strength, power and speed concurrently.  Gil has never done a plyometrics session in isolation for example it has always dovetailed with a weights session or even a speed session.  Gil likes to have plyos always present somewhere; in general strength blocks this might be in the warm-ups for proprioception.  In strength blocks these might happen before or after the weights and in the strength/power block they will be more than likely complexed together with the weights!!



A typical progression over several mesocycles might be:



General Strength >  Maximal Strength >  Maximal Strength/Power > Maintenance of Strength > Taper



Gil was suggesting he would take out the plyos and heavy power work in the phase before the taper.  I have seen this before where you actually get a rebound effect as the true neural transfer takes place AFTER you stop doing them!!



2.  Vary the Training Load weekly.   Gil personally favours keeping the sets x reps fairly constant so say 4 x 6 for the whole mesocycle of 4 weeks but varying the percentage between H, MH, VH, M where on the Very High week you push for a greater percentage of the Repetition Maximum determined in the first week microcycle say 105% plus.  I am a bit more traditional and like to keep going heavier over 3 weeks gradually then have a bigger Deload on the 4th week or even 5th or 6th week with my youngest athletes.  But perhaps this is because I am working with younger athletes who have a bigger window for week on week gains.



I also quite like the ideal of changing it up in some cycles so rather than increasing Training Load with increases biased towards the Load end, I like to start with 3 x 6 and build volume at that same weight over 4 weeks such as 3 x 6 > 4 x 6 > 3 x8 > 4 x 8



3. Combinations for conditioning.  Gil talked about using combinations- where you do 3 similar exercises back to back to make one rep.  So this could be derivatives of the Olympic lifts such as a pull from hang into a high pull from hang into the full catch.   Or it could be 3 big movements such as a clean into a front squat into a push press.



Gil has used these successfully both at the initial basic strength block to develop connective tissue adaptations and work capacity as well as at the end in power cycles to really get some anaerobic conditioning work in.  He has used a 3 rep combination for 10 rounds (30 reps) with a goal of 2 minutes or under looking to drive the heart rate up to >200 bpm and then going again once it drops to below 140 bpm.

Gil Stevenson Workshop: Questions Answered 1 to 4



So now that you have hopefully read the Lessons posts 1, 2 and 3 (if you haven’t check out the previous posts!!) I can finally get to giving you Gil’s responses to the group’s questions:



1.  How much weight should a tennis player lift?



Another way of asking this question is how strong is strong enough?  Well, Gil said ‘the real answer is you can never be strong enough.  How strong you become is dependant on how long you spend training it.  Sports which traditionally have long competitive phases (i.e., Tennis) don’t spend long enough training it.  Of course maximal strength doesn’t go away so once you have built it up it sticks around and you don’t need to work as hard to maintain it BUT……at some point you need to put some time aside to build it up in the first place.’



2.  What would you prioritise in a typical 6-8 week training block for a professional player who maybe only has one opportunity a year like this to work on their physical qualities?



Gil would using a concurrent periodisation model and focus on Maximal Strength and Power development.  Obviously the bias of the programme would be based on individual results from assessment but this should be a main goal of a programme bearing in mind this is the only time in the year when there is a significant reduction in playing volume.


3.  How much rotational work would you put into a tennis player’s S&C programme?



The focus of the training is to Control rotation not create it.  The rotation happens naturally as a by product of stroke production.  The job of the S&C coach is to get them strong and powerful and then it is the role of the tennis coach to transfer that force to the skill.  The moment you start trying to replicate every sport specific skill is the moment that you are no longer seeking to develop force and power qualities that will overload the body.   But you can use ‘complexes’ to add that sport specific element.  This is where you pair a heavy barbell exercise with a lightly resisted or unloaded sport specific skill such as a single arm medicine ball chest pass.  But remember, the focus is still on choosing an exercise where you can focus on the initial creation of force and then the subsequent control of that force.  Don’t try and load a movement that is exactly the same as the sport skill.  The ultimate transfer comes through repetitive practice of the actual stroke.  The complex will enable force production using light implements in similar but not the exact same movement pattern.



Gil showed us a good exercise for development of production and control of rotational force should we want one good rotational exercise in our toolkit!  Apologies that the photo is not the best but the Barbell twist can be very effective.  Be cautious and start with a broomstick and gradually build up to an Olympic Bar.  Focus on explosively creating the force to generate the movement and then the control to stop it before you over rotate.  This is a velocity dependant exercise in that you need to develop a certain amount of bar speed to challenge your ability to control it.  However, some of the multi-joint ‘functional type’ exercises you see like Barbell Lunge and Press or Medicine Ball Lunge and Rotate are not velocity dependant so these would serve better as Rotational warm-up exercises.




4.  How important is single leg work to your S&C programme for a tennis player?



This is not an instead of issue, it’s an as well as issue, meaning to say that it is not necessary to look at bilateral or unilateral exercises as being  more or less important.  They are both equally important.  There is no question that you must do Bilateral exercises because this is the most important way to develop the qualities of Maximal Strength and RFD.   They simply allow the most amount of load to be overcome.



Unilateral exercises are important because they address some of the stability issues where there may be potential energy leaks.  Gil gave the example of a very well conditioned triple jumper who was incredibly strong and powerful but was not able to translate that into his jumping perforance due to not being  able to control the pelvis during take off!   They also iron out imbalances between both sides of the body and obviously develop strength in acyclical movements that happen in most sports!



Stand by for answers to questions 5 to 7 and that will wrap up my summary of Gil’s workshop!!!