*This is part #1 in a 3 part series on how I see the current state of “performance” or “strength and conditioning facilities”. Check back for part 2.
A week ago, I received an email from a parent interested in bringing his son to train at my facility, OA Athletics. He had a lot of questions on the methods I used, and what I do for my athletes. After communicating over a couple of emails, I realized that sadly, he knew more than about 80% of the strength coaches out there and is my inspiration for writing this article.
Before we begin, let’s get a few things out of the way. First, what is the definition of performance?
a : the execution of an action
a : the execution or accomplishment of work, acts, feats, etc.
Performance is execution or accomplishment. We know that. However, let’s dig deeper in that definition for a strength/conditioning/performance coach. What performance are we trying to increase?
Strength, speed, and power work in the weight room are a means to an end.
We lift weights, sprint, jump, bound, stretch, etc to become better football/basketball/hockey/wrestling/baseball athletes. If what you do at your “performance facility” isn’t actively making your a better athlete, then you are wasting your time and money.
There are a lot of ways to increase performance. In Part #1 we’ll go over all of those ways and expound upon them in the upcoming articles.
Increasing strength is incredibly important. The ability to sprint fast, jump high, and change direction fast are all built on a base of strength. While it is certainly a limiting factor, being strong does not mean that you will be fast and powerful! It is simply part of the equation (more on this in part #2).
There have been many studies that show that leg strength correlates to faster sprinting and jumping (1,2,3). If building a strong base of strength is not something you’re focusing on, then you will not reach the levels of athleticism that you would like.
Speed Kills! I can’t think of a single thing more important than speed in sports. If you are too slow, it doesn’t matter how strong or big you are. As stated before, building a base of strength is essential to being fast and explosive.
Speed gives a wide receiver the ability to create distance from a cornerback, a hockey forward to breakaway on a game winning goal, and a wrestler to shoot a double leg before his opponent knows what hit him. There is a reason the 40 yard dash is the most talked about test at the NFL Combine. If you want to be a successful athlete, you must develop speed.
Power is defined as Force (Strength) X Velocity (Speed). In essence, it’s the ability to move a load fast. This is often the biggest defining factor I see in older athletes who first start to work with me. It is very common to see a new athlete who can lift a lot of weight, but remains slow. This is something that must be avoided at all costs when it comes to sport.
This is a broad term, but something that affects all sport. I have seen countless athletes who do not know how to properly sprint, change direction, or even jump! These movements must be taught, and it is best for that to happen at an earlier age. If you cannot perform multi-directional movement with ease and smoothness, you will be lacking.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. The fastest, strongest, and best athlete would be nothing if he/she can’t last the whole game or match. This is an integral part of every sport and something that must be addressed.
Technical skills come with sport practice. A double leg, 3-point shot, or a pass block are all dependent on technique. If your technical skills are not improving or being practiced consistently, then all the athleticism in the world will be for nothing because you will not be a good player.
I define tactical skills as slightly different then technical skills. A tactical skill would be a basketball player purposefully drawing fouls from the opposing teams best player. It could be a wrestler knowing his opponent doesn’t having great conditioning and taking advantage of that fact by tiring him out and then going for the kill in the 3rd period. It could be Peyton Manning changing the play at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of the opposing teams’ defensive scheme. It is simply using tactics during a game/match to give yourself the advantage.
Strength and Conditioning Scenarios
Scenario 1: Focusing too much on Strength but not Speed and Power
A football player starts training at his high school for a combine coming up that will expose him to many Division 1 Colleges. He deadlifts, squats, or bench presses everyday day. His coach is always yelling him to put on more and more weight. He thinks this is the ticket to a faster 40 and higher jump. Since he’s been taught that more is better, he adds more and more weight until his squat range of motion goes from below parallel to a quarter squat. When he gets to his combine he improves his numbers, but not by much. He’s disappointed and wonders why.
As discussed before, strength is a crucial part of the solution. However, making that the only emphasis is a problem because 1) This does not always make for a better athlete, and 2) Many times the emphasis on higher numbers leads to poor form and the possibility of injury. This happens at many performance facilities, but I find the worst culprits are high school coaches who attempt to coach the strength and conditioning program. Since they don’t have the knowledge of how to structure a program, the only way they have to measure success is by weight lifted. This is WRONG and generally makes for slower, more injury prone athletes.
Scenario 2: Increasing Technical/Tactical Skills but not Athleticism
A basketball player starts training at a performance facility. He runs a lot, does tons of burpees and circuits, but rarely lifts heavy weight, sprints, or jumps. 6 months go by and his field goal percentage is up 15%, he averages six layups per game compared to two just six months ago, and his points per game have increased by 10. His parents, coaches, and teammates are thrilled, but when he finally retests his 40 yd dash and vertical jump, they have both decreased by 10%…he got slower and less powerful! What happened?
The basketball player has been spending hours after practice and on his own working on his shot. He’s been doing everything he can to increase the efficiency and speed of his crossover dribble and his ball handling in general. You see, he may have become less athletic, but due to his better shot and ball handling skills, he still got better on the court. This is all too common in our industry. As a S&C coach, we must measure the variables we have control over to make sure we are helping our athletes improve.
Scenario 3: Increasing all aspects
A wrestler walks into a performance facility. They measure his deadlift, squat, broad jump, pull-up strength, 10 yd dash, vertical jump, and grip strength. They write out a program for him to increase those variables as well as his conditioning level. They track and measure his progress to make sure he is increasing those variable. He continues to practice and better himself in the wrestling room as well at his school and club team. 6 months go by and…he wins the first state championship in school history.