Elite athletes don’t have time for BS in their training. Short, off-seasons leave little time for recovery and even less time for training. As a strength coach, you had better know your business or that elite athlete will go find someone who does.
The first step when setting up a training regimen for an elite athlete is to understand his physiological strengths and weaknesses. The second step is to make sure that the methods used in training will trigger sport-specific adaptations. Because some off-seasons are as short as eight weeks, athletes can’t afford to waste time on training that doesn’t directly improve their on-field performance.
Producing results during short, off-season training can be extremely challenging for a coach. The lack of time makes getting the maximum benefit out of every workout critical. Owen Marecic, a fullback with the Cleveland Browns, is a great example of what can happen during short, off-season training. Owen came to me during his 2012 off-season with only twelve weeks to train before he needed to be back in Cleveland. Prior to writing his training program, I tested him on the Omegawave to determine what his strengths and weaknesses were. Judging by his biological indicators on the Omegawave, I carefully selected the training methods I would use to develop his biological power.
A few of his biological indicators after the first evaluation were as follows:
- Resting heart rate: 72 bpm
- Body weight: 255 pounds
- Sympathetic ANS dominance (which isn’t optimal)
- Poor general fitness level
After the initial testing, it was obvious that Owen needed lots of work. As an NFL player with only twelve weeks to train, he not only needed to get in shape quickly, but he also needed to build a level of fitness that would stay with him for the whole season. I decided that based on his numbers and training history, the best way to achieve this goal was through concentrated loading.
I decided to implement this training method by splitting it into three blocks spread across twelve weeks. The first block focused on strength, the second focused on explosive power, and the third focused on developing his reactive speed. These areas of his biology all directly relate to the game time demands on an NFL fullback.
Because the methodology was concentrated loading, during the four-week strength block Owen accumulated close to 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of lifting volume with weights 80 to 95 percent of his 1RM over the course of four weeks. I didn’t have Owen doing any Olympic lifts; only bench and squat movements were utilized for the main loading. Auxiliary exercises were mixed in here and there. During the Wednesday workouts, upper body work was performed but only at sub-maximal intensity. (We never went over 75 percent of his 1RM).
The week was broken down to look something like this:
- Monday: Weights
- Tuesday: Hill sprints (high volume)
- Wednesday: Weights (upper body)
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Weights
- Saturday: Hills (half of Tuesday)
Hill sprints were performed on a medium grade for thirty yards uphill. Owen was instructed to run at full speed for each repetition, and the time it took him to run each rep was recorded. The following graphs demonstrate his increase of speed by a decrease in his 30-yard hill sprint time by six tenths of a second over seven weeks.
The second block was a shift to explosive strength. I used a high volume of jumps, squats, and depth jumps in order to accomplish this. Depth jumps are usually performed by jumping from one box to the ground and then on to a taller box, but with Owen, I changed this. I had him jump from a box to the ground and then straight outward from the box, mimicking a broad jump movement. This was done because the movement is more closely equated to what his body would experience in a football game. Thus, we achieved a sport-specific result without any extra time spent training. On the Wednesday workout, we increased the bench press intensity during block two, working up to 85 percent of his 1RM while keeping the volume relatively low at about fifteen total repetitions. Hill sprint volume was increased a little, with the emphasis still on high volume on Tuesday and lower volume on Saturday.
To top it all off, block three focused on reactivity and power. We added a third lower body day, which meant that days one and three were jump squats and depth jumps and day five was high volume box jumps. Doing all the extra jumping crafted a reactive expression for all the power we had built over the course of eight weeks. Also, the hill sprints were reduced to only Saturday and volume never exceeded twenty repetitions.
Owen has responded extremely well during previous off-seasons to training under concentrated loading. The 2012 off-season wasn’t any exception.
His results at the time of the final evaluation were as follows:
- Resting heart rate: 54 bpm (down from 72)
- Body weight: 242 pounds
- ANS completely shifted, moderate dominance of PSNS
- Excellent level of fitness
Signed, sealed, and delivered
The way that I look at training is purely from a biological adaptation point of view. So, for example, Owen’s first training day was a developmental day for the hormonal system (causing a large spike in hormone levels after the session). Hormones rise for three to four days (e.g., use Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday). During those three days, we still train, but none of the training induces another rise in hormones (so don’t use hormones as an energy source), and we don’t do anything to failure (no hypoxia, etc.). Then on Friday, we stimulate the hormones again so that they rise for two days (Saturday/Sunday). Come Monday, we do another developmental day. This is why the hill sprints or walking lunges we use on those “off” days aren’t high intensity, as you might think. This is because the biological stimulus doesn’t conflict with the hormonal response that we induced on Monday.
- Cardiac: Resting heart rate, standing versus lying down (you will have to Google this one to see how to perform), retain to normal heart rate after intense exercise, heart rate monitor as terms of variability (Polar sells these)
- Anatomic: Only heart rate and skin palpation (sympathetic versus parasympathetic; will have to Google)
- Parasympathetic (over relaxed): Impaired performance, lack of supercompensation, lower heart rate during exercise and suppressed neuromuscular excitability
- Sympathetic: Impaired performance, lack of supercompensation, restlessness and irritability, disturbed sleep, weight loss, increase in resting heart rate, increase in resting blood pressure and slow rate of recovery from exercise
- Metabolic: Empirical test
- Central nervous system: Reaction test, stopwatch (build empirical data for self)
- Cardio/pulmonary: Hard to predict
- Detoxification: Color of eyes/skin, frequency of urination
- Neuromuscular: Standing long jump, sport-specific