Gabe Harrington has a Masters degree from Michigan State University. He has coached at MSU, the United States Military Academy and most recently was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Colgate University Patriot League Football Champions. Gabe explains, there really is no off-season it is about manageing transition.
Whether you coach high school or college football this is the time of year for transition. If you are at the high school level, your athletes are going from lifting and conditioning to playing another sport such as baseball or track. Perhaps they have been playing a winter sport such as wrestling or basketball and are getting into their off season training program. If you are at the college level, you are coming off of winter conditioning and getting into spring football. As a strength coach, or the football coach in charge of strength and conditioning, you are responsible to not only prepare the athlete for the coming task; but also to meet the current demands the athlete faces. In other words, you have to manage transition. Assuming that you have done a good job in preparation, the team is healthy, as big and strong as ever and ready for spring ball… what now? The key of course, is to ride the fine line of introducing enough stress to illicit improvement without over doing it. Know which variables you can control and which ones you can’t. And when transitioning from winter to spring training remember that the transition in and of itself, is a stressor. Here are a few guidelines worth considering when transitioning from winter to spring training: 1) understand stress, 2) lower the volume of lifting, 3) lower the intensity of exercise and/or change the exercises used, 4) try to get more bang for your buck with conditioning, 5) have great communication between staff and between staff and players, and 6) continue to emphasize nutrition.
Pendulum 3 Way Row
Before we get too deep into what to do, let’s examine how the human body responds to stress. Stress is a necessary component to living well and improving. After all, without added stress (adding weight to the bar) you can’t get stronger. And if you don’t study hard, you won’t get any smarter. However, even though stress can be good, too much is extremely detrimental and can lead to a multitude of issues ranging from poor performance to disease and death. A good way to look at this is to imagine that you (or rather, each and every one of your players) are a bathtub. Filling the bathtub are many faucets – we’re not just talking hot and cold here. We’re talking about life: lifting weights, conditioning, school, homework, football practice, meetings/film, girlfriend(s), parents, social life, transition… the list goes on and on. Like all bathtubs, we can only hold so much water before it begins to spill over the top (poor performance). When the water fills up the room the tub is in and begins flooding the floors below we are in trouble (disease and death). We tell our players all the time to eliminate distractions, because distractions are added stress – one more thing to deal with. We know this from experience. But too often we don’t take our own advice, and we as coaches create an overly stressful environment.
When it comes to lowering the volume of lifting, I think of it in terms of both time spent in the weight room as well as the number of work sets performed. Time spent in the weight room is important because most strength coaches don’t have control over what time of day the team comes in. You may have to get them after practice, you may have to get them early in the morning. Either way, you have to work around the academic schedule (which is normal), and you now have a couple more faucets filling the bathtub (practice and meetings). Shoot for 30-40 minutes from the time they walk in to the time you break them down and two days per week, for a total of 60-80 minutes in the weight room weekly. As far as the number of work sets performed, this will be dependent somewhat on your training philosophy but here’s my general thought:
Front/Back Neck: 1x8 each
Choose a Shrug variation: 2x8 (light to heavy)
Choose a Press: 2x8 or 3x5 (at a percentage or light to heavy)
Choose a Pull: 2x8 or 3x5 (light to heavy)
Choose a Hip: 2x8 or 3x5 (at a percentage or light to heavy)
Core: 1-2 sets
In this example, you’re looking at 11-21 sets. Which is correct? They are actually about the same in terms of volume… 3x5 equals 15 reps, 2x8 equals 16 reps. In the above example, you’re looking at 93-96 total reps. Going light to heavy, you’re looking at only 40-50 reps at the work load. If you use percentages on the press and hip (bench/squat) then you’re at 60-70 reps. The main differences are how long the lift takes (three sets takes longer than two sets due to the rest interval between sets), and the next variable - intensity.
Pendulum 5 Way Neck Shrugs
If you tap a stick of dynamite lightly 50 times, chances are it won’t blow up. Whack it once real hard and BOOM! This is intensity. The more intense the activity, the less of it you can do. So, using our workout template above, performing all the reps at 85% could be insane to do during spring practice. But performing the same volume of work at 60% is simply not enough to get you strong (more on this later). Using our above example, 3x5 @ 75% for full range of motion bench press and 65% for full range of motion squat are great starting points. From here you can progress slowly throughout spring practices. This allows for acclimatization to the new stress of playing football. Another option is to change the exercise selection and perhaps keep the weight a bit higher because the movement is easier, or more ergonomic:
Front/Back Neck: 1x8 each
Pendulum Seated Shrug: 2x8 (light to heavy)
Pendulum Vertical Chest Press: 2x8 (light to heavy) or Close grip 3-board Press: 3x5 @ 80-85%
Pendulum 3-way Row: 2x8 or 3x5 (light to heavy)
Pendulum Hip Press: 2x8 (light to heavy) or High box squat: 3x5 @ 70-75%
Core: 1-2 sets
In this example, your players get to handle a bit heavier weight with the barbell movements. With a machine alternative you also get to alter range of motion within a set track and ergonomic design.
As far as conditioning goes, get more bang for your buck. In other words, try to incorporate conditioning into practice. Some football coaches prefer to practice at a high tempo to accomplish this, some like to run gassers or other variations at the end of practice, still others prefer to have the strength coach come out and spend 10 minutes at the end (or even prior to team periods) to run the team. It can all work, but what doesn’t work is to try to add conditioning as another session throughout the week. Too many faucets going into the tub!
Pendulum 5 Way Neck
This next piece is crucial. Communication. If you know what the week looks like as far as intensity on the field, you can manage intensity in the weight room. An easy week on the field can provide opportunity for a harder lift on one day. A very challenging week should be paired with a get the blood pumping and work the kinks out kind of lift (remember that 60% discussed earlier). Obviously the football staff will meet and go over a multitude of factors relating to practice, etc. If you as the strength coach have the opportunity to go to these meetings it can be very beneficial. If you don’t, then you absolutely have to make a point to get with your head coach and get a feel for what practice will look like in the coming days so that you can plan accordingly. The last thing you want is to give the players a hard lift thinking that practice is going to be a walk thru and then it’s filled with hard hitting and three periods of goal line. That is a recipe for injury. Along those lines, communicate with your athletic training staff as well. Get a feel for injury trends, and use that to re-tool your current plan or to plan ahead for the next phase of training. Most importantly, talk to your players. Specifically, talk to your guys that will give you honest feedback. Not the meat head who wants to max bench every day. Not the guy who is always trying to get out of things. Talk to the guys who consistently work hard and who have a good feel for the big picture. These guys know they should be sore and what kind of sore is a good sore; they know if they (and the team) can handle more or need rest. This relationship is absolutely vital.
Pendulum Hip Press
The final piece and the one that goes hand in hand with stress is nutrition. Good nutrition (and rest) equals recovery. And recovery is the all important factor. Optimal performance is less a function of how much you can endure, but rather what you can recover from. At the same token, you are not what you eat. You are what you digest. Not everyone can digest pizza, pasta, potatoes, milk, etc. - keep food allergies in mind. Most of us have no idea what we are allergic to unless it just about kills us. The real issue is with things that don’t elicit a huge response right away. Dairy and gluten can fall into this category. Keep an eye on players’ bodyweights to make sure there are no abnormal fluctuations. Constantly address hydration. By the way, hydration does not mean downing sports drinks 24/7. Keep sports drinks where they belong – during and immediately following practice. Rather, players should drink at least 50% of their bodyweight in ounces of water every day (a 200lb player would need 100oz of water daily). This is on top of any other beverages, like sports drinks. Avoid sugar, processed foods, and bad fats. Does a player have a hard time gaining or losing weight? If so, think hydration first. If he’s hydrated and getting enough calories, think food allergies and seek help of a nutritional professional.
At the end of the day, the main theme is to maintain a balanced stress level, communicate, and eat well. Don’t be afraid to adjust your lift calendar or exercise selection to accommodate the needs of your players. Then once spring gives way to summer, you get to transition them again and ramp it back up in preparation for two-a-day camp. Always working hard, because THERE IS NO OFF SEASON.
Limestone College located in Gaffney, South Carolina added football as the department's 25th sport. The Saints started competition this past Fall. Curt Lamb, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Performance, hired Eric Schwager to develop a comprehensive program that would prepare a young group of athletes to compete at the highest level upon entering the Southern Atlantic Conference.
One drill that Eric developed is used to emphasize, strengthen and stress the importance of the "fundamental football position". Depending on the position the athlete plays, when they are fatigued, after a workout, or a particular lift they are instructed to quickly get into their basic football position. Below is an example of an offensive lineman.
In the photo the green resistance band is around the athletes shoulders and back. The red resistance band around the arms which must be thrust firmly backward with the goal of contracting the scapula muscles at all times and remain posture perfect - knees bent, back straight, head up, arms and body pushed against the bands. The goal is 30-90 seconds holding perfect form in opposition to the applied resistance. A minimum of 30 seconds is the least acceptable amount of time to Get Strong.
At this years Strongest Man in Michigan Contest they rolled out the 190 pound Mammoth thick handled dumbbell for the one arm press.
Mammoth Dumbbell Clean and Press
Rolling out the Mammoth Dumbbell for Competition
Training on the Pendulum Power Rack System
A stopwatch is needed for this full speed drill. The athlete starts the drill on the goal line. The Cougar Drive Sled is set on the 50 yard line facing the player.
The athlete runs to the Drive Sled at the 50 and pushes it as fast as possible 10 yards and sprints returning to the goal line touching it with his hand. Without stopping the player immediately returns to the sled at the 40 yd line and pushes the sled 10 more yards sprinting back to touch the goal line. From the goal line the athlete races to the 30 and pushes the sled 10 yards returning to the starting line. Running to the 20 the participant pushes the Cougar Drive Sled to the 10 touches the goal line and returns to the sled and driving it home across the goal line.
The total time is recorded. Anytime a new personal record time is accomplished 10 pounds is added to the sled. A great drill to Get Strong.
Some other ways to use the Cougar Drive Sled.....
Hockey Dryland Training: 300 yard shuttle
Jim Plocki was the University of Michigan Hockey Strength and Conditioning Coach from 1990 to 2013, in that time they won 2 National Championships, 11 Conference Titles, and 9 Tournament Conference Championships. Jim shares with us an off ice test that insures your athletes remain in shape in the off season.
-On a football field place a cone at the goal line and a cone at the 25 yard line.
-The athlete starts standing with his feet behind the goal line and sprints to the 25 yard line. Touching the 25 yard line with one foot he returns to the goal line and touches it.
-The drill is repeated 5 more times for a total of 300 yards or 6 reps.
-The test should look like this:
-Run shuttle #1 (record time)
-Rest 2:00 minutes
-Run shuttle#2 (record time)
-Rest 2:00 Minutes
-Run shuttle #3 (record time)
Now add all three times together and divide by 3 to get the average time.
Goals for this test:
If the athlete weighs under 210 the average time should be under 60.99 seconds.
If the athlete weighs over 210 the average time should be under 62.99 seconds.
The Pendulum Lock-n-Load Hooks for Olympic Bars and Thick Bars
8 Minutes Of Team Strengthening
Test all your athletes for the maximum number of push-ups they can perform in one attempt. Once accomplished double each athlete's test score (volume) and divide each result by 8 and round up.
Test Result Volume Goal
100 reps = 200 divided by 8 = 25
50 reps = 100 divided by 8 = 13
40 reps = 80 divided by 8 = 10
30 reps = 60 divided by 8 = 8
20 reps = 40 divided by 8 = 5
10 reps = 20 divided by 8 = 3
At the end of each team run begin the 8 minute team push-up program. All push-ups must be completed with excellent form. The rep goal for each athlete is based upon their individual test score. The team will do 8 sets with 50 seconds rest. All athletes begin in unison and once the athlete completes their goal they quickly stand. If an athlete cannot achieve the designated number of reps on any set, with the greatest of effort, they must immediately also stand (e.g. an athlete's goal is 13 and they achieve 11 they are done and must quickly stand up). The clock begins the 50 second rest period when all athletes are on their feet. At 45 seconds the coach commands 'down', and all athletes immediately assume the 'up' push-up position -4- 3- 2 - and the coach announces begin! 8 sets are performed.
Once 8 sets are completed the athletes quickly total the number of reps they need to make-up if they did not match their targets in each of 8 sets.
Example: An athlete tested 30 reps, their volume is 60 and their target is 8 reps each set. On set 7 they achieved 7 reps and on set 8 they achieved 6 reps. The athlete is therefore 3 reps down from their target volume of 60 total reps.
After the 8th set all athletes are on their feet, in 45 seconds the coach announces 'make-up reps'. All athletes that have failed to complete their target volume immediately get into the push-up position and at the 50 second mark begin make-up. When they complete their volume they immediately jump to their feet and join the standing team.
All athletes who complete the exact designated repetitions for each of 8 sets add 1 push-up to their goal in each set the next workout.
A great way to Get your team Strong.
The Pendulum Hip Press
Gabriel Harrington was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Colgate University. In his final season as a coach the Raiders became the Patriot League Champions. Gabe retired after the season from Colgate to pursue other endeavors. Gabe shares with us his progression that he used in teaching athletes the barbell squat.
Gabe explains ....The post season is the perfect time to take a couple of weeks to revisit your squat technique. Ironing out bad habits and reinforcing fundamentals will pay back tenfold. This is the teaching progression I used with my players.
PROGRESSION #1: STANCE BASICS
• Begin with feet slightly wider than shoulder width – toes pointed slightly out
• “Spread the Floor” with your feet: if you were on ice, you would do the splits – this helps to keep your knees from buckling in during the movement
• Push through the heels, falling forward can put unnecessary strain on your spine – keeping your weight back keeps your center of gravity from falling forward and helps keep your knees behind your toes (more on this later)… try lifting your big toes slightly just before performing the movement
PROGRESSION #2: BREATHING
• Always breath into your belly, not your chest – this helps promote internal stability around the spine
• Breath in at the top – now hold your breath on the way down and in the bottom position for a split second (unless you have high blood pressure)
• Once upward movement is initiated breath out as you stand up
PROGRESSION #3: WALL SQUAT (BOX)
• This series will help you learn to sit back rather than down when you squat as well as to keep your knees behind your toes
• Begin by setting an adjustable platform or low box near a wall – make sure it is sturdy enough to support your bodyweight!
• Set the platform such that as you sit on it the tops of your thighs are parallel with the floor
• From the seated position place your toes against the wall and assume your squat stance
• Take a breath into the belly, Spread the floor, lift your big toes and stand
• Try to sit back onto the platform without “plopping” down onto it and return to the standing position once again
• Once you can repeat this 2-3 times in a row without “plopping” down you are ready to move onto the next progression
PROGRESSION #4: WALL SQUAT (PARTNER)
• This time begin standing with your toes against the wall in your squat stance
• Breath into the belly, spread the floor, lift the big toes, push your hips back and maintain a good arch in your spine
• You will notice that at ¾ of the way down you will have to use your hip flexor muscles to pull you down
• This is where it gets tough! Your partner will have to spot you from behind and keep you from falling backwards – your partner’s job is to push you forward enough so that you can pull yourself down to parallel… you want to get used to your hip flexors working hard here!
PROGRESSION #5: WALL SQUAT (SOLO)
• Once you feel comfortable enough, try this without your partner
• Note that this is the exact form you will use with the bar on your back – you must master this exercise before moving on!
• You may pick this up right away, or you may have to practice 2 sets of 3 reps on this each day for as long as a couple of weeks to master it – either way, stay with it because it will pay you back down the road!
PROGRESSION #6: MODIFIED FRONT SQUAT
• Once you have mastered the wall squat place an empty barbell across your shoulders and extend your arms out straight with your thumbs up to the ceiling and at eye level
• Now squat like you’ve been practicing against the wall: breath into the belly, spread the floor, lift the toes, push the hips back and maintain a great spinal arch
• The purpose of the bar here is to give you some feedback as to whether you are falling forward or not – if the bar rolls off your shoulders you are falling forward – check your weight distribution and keep working on it!
• Once you can do this for a set of 2-3 reps in a row you are ready to back squat!
PROGRESSION #7: HOLDING THE BAR ON YOUR BACK
• For the back squat, we want a “low bar position”
• To achieve this, squeeze your shoulder blades together hard – this will create a natural “shelf” for the bar to sit on... The “shelf” is your trapezius and rear deltoid muscles contracting – the bar ill sit here comfortably without feeling like you are rubbing your spine with the bar
• Grip the bar firmly – experiment with the width of your hands for comfort – try to turn your wrists in… they won’t move very much, but by contracting your wrist muscles your wrists will hurt less from the awkwardness of the position
• Keep your eyes up and push your head back into the bar (like when you try to make your neck look bigger in your team photo)
• Note that this may feel uncomfortable at first… your wrists and upper back may not be strong enough initially to support much weight in this fashion, but STICK WITH IT, your upper back will grow thick with muscle from supporting weight in this manner – not to mention this is the most advantageous way to hold the bar (in time your spine will thank you)
PROGRESSION #8: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
• At this point, having mastered the previous progressions, the back squat should be a breeze
• Perform your practice sets with no more than 2 reps at a time with light weight until you get the hang of it (have a partner watch you!) and add weight slowly – in time you will have a healthy and impressive physique from all of your hard work!
Breath into the belly
Spread the floor
Lift the toes
Drive through the heels... and.... Get Strong
A Series of Pendulum 5-Way Neck Machines in the Colgate Weight Room
Trying to administer a three day per week percentage based bench press program around a student-athletes schedule is daunting. During the academic year, for a variety of reasons, the school week may only be four days or less. There is Labor Day, teachers workshops, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving vacation, the winter holidays, spring break, in Northern America winter snow days, all of which may disrupt a lifting schedule. Athletes also have competition, midterms, finals, religious concerns, special school events and there is often late travel during the competitive season that causes limited rest for the participant and all alter the best-laid plans.
A Bench Press Program that always works regardless of schedule:
Day #1 - Bench Press - 3 sets of 5 reps
Warm up any way you choose, but once you have selected your warm up method the method should never vary. When you can accomplish 3 sets of 5 repetitions add 10 pounds the next Day #1 workout, also add 10 pounds to your warm up weights.
Every Day #1 you must total 15 repetitions. If you achieve 5, 3, 2 repetitions in your sets this means you are down 6 reps from your 15 rep total of 3 sets of 5 repetitions. Continue performing additional sets making up the 6 missed reps.
Day #2 - Bench Press 4 Sets, your goal is 40 reps in 4 sets
Warm up any way you choose, but once you have selected your warm up method the method should never vary.
When you begin this program start the first workout with a weight you can do 15 reps with the greatest effort. Your goal is ultimately to get a total of 40 reps in 4 sets with the chosen weight. When you accomplish this add 10 pounds the next training session.
Every Day #2 you must total 40 repetitions. If you achieve 15, 8, 6, 5 repetitions in your 4 sets this means you are down 6 reps from your 40 rep goal total. Continue performing additional sets making up the 6 missed reps. When you can accomplish 40 reps in 4 sets add 10 pounds.
Day #3 - Bench Press 4 Sets with the Day #2 weight
Warm up exactly how you did on Day #2. Do 4 sets of maximum repetitions with the Day #2 weight. When the 4th set is finished regardless of the total number of repetitions accomplished the Day #3 bench press is completed.
This same program can be used in-season with this adjustment:
Day # 1 - 3 sets of 6 reps for a total of 18 reps
Day #2 - Bench Press 4 Sets, with the goal of 40 reps in 4 sets, always making up the reps that were not accomplished in 4 tries.
Day # 3 - You will only bench press 2 days per week and resume the three day per week program when the season is over.
If you have a short week out of season and can only fit in two days of training choose Day #1 and Day #2.
If you can only fit in one day of training, in or out of season, choose Day #2.
A simple program that will always Get you Strong. The only catch is that it does require EFFORT!
NBC Chicago Link to News Video
Train eight ways on the Pendulum 5-Way Neck Machine to Get the head and neck Strong
Liberty Christian High School is located in Argyle, Texas about 40 miles northwest of Dallas. The team at Rogers Athletic helped design their Pendulum weight room.
Hip Presses and Squat Pro's are an important part of the Liberty strength program.
A great weight room to train in and Get Strong.