By Neal Prokop, Sport Performance Specialist
Part 1: Designing
When it comes to creating a well-balanced strength and conditioning program for athletes, one of its most impactful determinants of success are the exercises you select. We have hundreds of exercises to select from, and although they’re all used from time to time, many of the exercises can be grouped into what we call the ‘ten fundamental strength movements’.
When we design a full body program, in particular a full body workout, there’s a good chance athletes will complete each of these fundamental movements at least once, and in many cases, we’ll select exercises that incorporate multiple movements.
The Ten Fundamental Movements
Movement #1: Upperbody Horizontal Press
This category of exercises involves moving a weight straight out in front of you, away from the torso. It consists of movements in the shoulder pain and/or transverse plane with elbow extension. It targets muscles on the anterior (front) side of the body such as your pecs and anterior deltoids (shoulders). The pushing component also targets the triceps.
A few examples include push ups, the bench press or a floor press.
Movement #2: Upperbody Horizontal Pull
This category of exercises involves moving a weight towards the torso. It consists of movements in the sagittal, and/or transverse plane, with elbow flexion. It targets the muscles on the posterior (back) side of the body such as your trapezius, latissimus dorsi, teres minor, teres major, and your posterior deltoids (shoulders).
A few examples include a seated row, a TRX row, or a single arm cable row.
Movement #3: Upperbody Vertical Push
This category of exercises include all exercises that move the load/weight vertically in relation to the torso, or at least in that direction. It consists of movements in the sagittal plane, or frontal planes, and will also create shoulder abduction with flexion and extension of the elbow.
A few examples include a landmine press and overhead shoulder press.
Movement #4: Upperbody Vertical Pull
This category of exercises include all exercises that move a load or weight vertically, in relation towards the torso. It typically consists of movements in the sagittal and frontal planes and target similar back muscles to those in the horizontal pull.
A few examples include pull ups or a lat pulldown.
Movement #5: Lowerbody Push (Knee Dominant)
This category of exercises include exercises where the knee is the dominant lever during the motion. The quadriceps are the main muscles targeted during these movements (front side of the thigh).
A few examples include single leg squats, a lunge, split squat, and a bilateral squat (although it also could be considered a hip dominant exercise).
Movement #6: Lowerbody Pull (Hip Dominant/Hinge)
This includes all exercises in which the hip joint plays the primary role. These exercises target the glute muscles and will call upon stabilizing muscles when single sided.
A few examples include a romanian deadlift, kettlebell swing, glute bridge, or high box step ups.
Movement #7 – Anti-Flexion/Extension
In sport, we’re required to brace and stabilize. Not only do we need to be able to generate force through our mid-section, we also need to be able to absorb forces, and rather than generate force through spine flexion and extension, we can engage and train our core muscles by resisting forces that can cause our spin to flex and extend. It’s a lot safer to train in the long run, especially as we become fatigued at the end of the set.
A few examples of exercises include a plank, trx fallout, or body saw. Remember to brace and stabilize through your mid-section.
Movement #8 – Anti-Lateral Flexion
Just like our spine wants to flex or extend forwards and backwards during times of load, our body needs to resist weight or force that is trying to ‘break alignment’ laterally. Anytime you’re picking up a heavy a suitcase, your core is engaged to keep you from falling over sideways.
A few examples of exercises include a side plank or suitcase carry.
Movement #9 – Anti-Rotation
In sport, forces come in all directions and at any time. Anytime we are trying to prevent rotation, such as deceler checking your swing in baseball or resisting contact from a component, we have an anti-rotation focus. Anti-rotation exercises are designed to challenge the lumbo-pelvic complex to prevent rotation in the transverse plane. There are anti-rotational focused exercises, but anytime you are doing a single arm exercise or have more weight on one side, your body is resisting rotation in order to complete the movement.
A few example exercises include the pallof-press or supine holds on a glute ham bench (with an overhead reach).
Movement #10 – Rotation/Diagonal
In sport, we also need to be able to generate force while rotating. A slap shot in hockey or a powerful tennis swing to the side incorporate rotation.
A few examples include cable rotations or wood chops.
These categories are a simple way to categorize athletes based on the biomechanical demands of an athlete’s sport. It makes it easier for strength and conditioning coaches to group or pair exercises during a workout to elicit the intended effect and provides an important framework for identifying movements required in the athlete’s sport of choice.
As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of exercises (ex mini-band monsterwalks, hamstring isometric holds etc) that do not clearly fit into any of these categories. Typically, we call these accessory exercises. Often times, they only focus or incorporate a single joint, and while they certainly still have a place in all strength and conditioning programs, the ‘ten fundamental strength movements’ mentioned earlier are a staple in all of our athlete’s training programs.
Exercises are classified based on the movement direction of the exercise, the primary joint lever, or by the joint deemed to experience the largest ‘relative’ force. When designing your workouts and choosing the exercises to put in them, try to ensure a well-balanced program, incorporating all of the ten types of exercises mentioned above. The next part will talk about refining the program, how you can adjust sets, reps, and tempo to influence the adaptations in your program, and how you can refine the exercises to progress or regress athletes as needed.
Part 2: Refining Your Strength and Conditioning Program
You’ve got your movements and exercises for your program selected. Great! Now, how do you get the intended result? For starters, you’ll need to adjust the main variables associated with strength and conditioning training, sets, reps, frequency, tempo, and rest.
If you were to target a particular exercise and complete two sets of 20 reps at a 2-1-1 tempo, five sets of three reps at a 4-0-2 tempo, or three sets of six reps at a 2-1-x tempo, you’re targeting and try to facilitate particular adaptations in the body.
There are many different types of programs, ideas and models you can incorporate into your training, but to start, we’ll introduce a simple off-season models that consists of 4 different training blocks, a stabilization block, a hypertrophy block, a strength block, and a power block.
Block 1 – Stabilization and Endurance
Muscular endurance and stabilization is the ability to sustain stability and train for ‘continuous’ muscular contractions. Many sports, particularly endurance-based sports such as rowing and cycling will target this block significantly, however it has a place in everyone’s program. Before we can begin targeting strength and increasing the volume, we need to ensure that the body has a strong base and solid foundation. Stabilization and endurance is common at the start of an off-season program, or when first returning back from an injury. Here is how you would adjust variables to target stabilization and muscular endurance.
INTENSITY: 20-50% of Maximum Strength (1RM)
TEMPO: Concentric Phase – 1 to 2 seconds, Eccentric Phase – 2 to 3 seconds
RECOVERY BETWEEN SETS: 30 seconds to 2 minutes
TRAINING SESSIONS PER WEEK: 2 to 4
KEYWORDS TO REMEMBER: Many Reps, Low Intensity
Block 2 – Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy is defined as the enlargement of muscle tissue, which is the muscle growth that many athletes aim to achieve. The important thing to remember is that muscle size comes from growth and adaptation to pre-existing cells and tissue. Our body doesn’t create ‘new muscle cells.’ The key when targeting hypertrophy is to increase the volume and keep time under tension. Furthermore, hypertrophy involves extending the eccentric phase, which is the portion of the exercise that causes muscles to lengthen under tension. During this phase, the muscle is lengthening under tension. There is higher neural stimulation, tendon tension, and more ‘ripping’ or ‘micro-damage’ to the muscle cells under tension as they lengthen. It facilitates an anabolic response, and the body adapts by increasing the size of the muscle cells to help withstand these loads more effectively in the future. As a result, muscle grows in the areas of the body targeted.
INTENSITY: 60-80% of Maximum Strength (1RM)
SETS: 3 to 6
REPETITIONS: 6 to 15
TEMPO: Concentric Phase – 2 to 3 seconds, Eccentric Phase – 3 to 4 seconds
RECOVERY BETWEEN SETS: 2 to 3 min
TRAINING SESSIONS PER WEEK: 2 to 3
KEYWORDS: Variety, Volume and Loading Time
Block 3 – Strength
Strength is defined as the highest level of tension generated by a muscle during a maximum contraction. It logically comes after the hypertrophy or muscle growth phase of the program. The goal here is to optimize the neuromuscular recruitment of muscles to achieve unwavering tension and strength during a movement. Here’s how to adjust the program to increase your muscular strength and achieve new highs.
INTENSITY: 85-100% of Maximum Strength (1RM)
SETS: 5 to 12
REPETITIONS: 1 to 5
TEMPO: Concentric Phase – 2 to 5 seconds, Eccentric Phase – 4 to 5 seconds
TRAINING SESSIONS PER WEEK: 2 to 3
RECOVERY BETWEEN SETS: 3 to 5 min
KEYWORDS: High Loads, Lower Volume, Good Recovery
Block 4 – Power
Power is defined as the ability to generate the greatest amount of force in the least amount of time. As you’d expect, the speed of a movement is typically going to slow down as the magnitude of the force, or load, increases. As a result, power is more of a general range, where athletes seek to find the ideal combination of maximum force and maximum shortening velocity of the movement. Some coaches will break power down into two components, the strength-speed phase (where force is favored), or the speed-strength phase (where velocity is favored). Here’s how to adjust the variables to target power, keeping in mind that the range can shift for each athlete.
INTENSITY: 30-40% of Maximum Strength (1RM) to Start | 60-80% of Maximum Strength (1RM) for Explosiveness
SETS: 3 to 10
REPETITIONS: 3 to 6
TEMPO: Concentric Phase – <1 second, Eccentric Phase – 2 to 4 seconds
TRAINING SESSIONS PER WEEK: 2 to 5
RECOVERY BETWEEN SETS: 3 to 8 min
KEYWORDS: Acceleration, Low Volume, Complete Recovery
We hope this article assists with your training! Enjoy!