The majority of today’s youth and high school athletes play sports year-round, never actually having what we call a “true” off-season. This has to be taken into consideration when designing a “conditioning” program, along with the bioenergetic demands of the sport and the metabolic requirements of practice. While these factors should complement each other, I’ve often observed them to be quite different and actually counterproductive. It’s important to take a holistic approach when addressing an athlete’s energy system development, making certain to fill in the gaps during the preparation process. Too many of the athletes I work with experience an overwhelming amount of lactic-based work in their sport practice. For whatever reason, it seems to be commonplace amongst team sport coaches that running an individual into the ground is the only way to prepare for competition. It is inappropriate and destructive for these coaches to implement traditional “conditioning” drills that leave athletes bent over in the corner puking.
At The U of Strength, we’ve been successful in following a high-low model, consolidating stressors by organizing CNS intensive movements on one day and CNS extensive movements on another day. We place an emphasis on developing the aerobic system via extensive plyos, tempo runs, resisted sled marching, med ball throws and aerobic circuits. If the aerobic component of the athlete’s bioenergetic system is under-developed, then his or her ability to recover will be impaired and he or she will fatigue much faster when required to produce repeated high-intensity bouts of activity. Conversely, We focus on improving the a-lactic power system through sprinting, agility, intensive plyos, loaded jumps and resistance training. We concern ourselves with quality over quantity, and make it a priority to determine the minimal effective dose for each athlete. During the early stages of the developmental process, it’s crucial to ensure novice athletes are receiving the least amount of work to elicit a positive change and the necessary adaptations. Athletes need to be able to express the power component of the energy system and adequately recover between reps, sets and individual training sessions before trying to develop the capacity or the ability to repeat explosive bouts of movements at a certain work level.
When necessary, we do address the capacity component and primarily focus on the a-lactic system, typically spending 3-4 weeks prior to the start of the athlete’s main competitive season. Depending on the athlete and the problem we are trying to solve will determine the drills or activities. There are times when an athlete is required to pass a “conditioning” test, like a 300-yard shuttle run. In that case, we make sure the athlete is prepared and spend part of the time addressing the specific energy system component. If the athlete doesn’t have to prepare for a specific test, then all of our capacity work is completed in a task-orientated and competitive environment. Coaches need to fully understand the bioenergetics demands of the respective sport and manipulate the tasks, time constraints, and rest intervals accordingly. We firmly believe that in order to properly prepare an athlete that it’s essential to include specific sensory information. Instead of performing mindless “conditioning” drills, The purpose is to challenge the athlete’s ability to problem-solve, make effective decisions and complete role specific tasks under fatiguing conditions. This is a great way to evaluate their movement solution tool box and observe what happens when fatigue is present (ie. do they revert to a single strategy? or demonstrate dexterous movement?). Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more 2v2 and 3v3 scenarios. This is meant to expose the athlete to team task situations, exploit the accumulation of fatigue, manipulate the information, and influence the shared affordances. Utilizing an internal constraint to challenge the team members’ ability to control their decisions and actions in a coordinated manner.