by Shelby Turcotte
“The one thing that is consistent with high school athletes is inconsistency.”
I can’t tell you the number of times that my perfectly constructed training programs have been derailed by kids missing workouts. Here is a short list of some of the reasons my athletes have missed sessions last minute or had to adjust an entire session: broken tibia at football practice; keys locked in car; stayed late for a test; mom had to drop off brother; practice went over; recruiting visit; I have to pick out my Halloween costume because there’s a dance tomorrow. Yes, a Halloween costume…I’m not kidding, needless to say I was less than impressed. There are literally thousands of reasons an athlete may not be able to complete your training program as prescribed.
It’s time to periodize for the next generation of athletes
I am aware of all of the research that supports undulating periodization and I do use it in certain instances. However, after seeing hundreds of athletes come through, I am more than convinced that the best form of periodization is less of a structured plan and more of a system with guidelines. In reality it is conjugate periodization-ish, but even with less science and more art. You see, the two biggest issues that I have with most periodization programs is that 1) They don’t adjust or adapt very well for missed session(s) or partial sessions; and 2) they don’t factor in for good days and bad days. You see, kids being kids, nothing about them or their life is all that predictable.
A typical day may consist of getting up at 6am after about 5-6 hours of restless sleep. Head to school where they will quickly finish their homework that is due during the next period (perhaps getting some “assistance” from the back section of their book, odd answers are still in there I believe). By the time 9am arrives they’ve realized they didn’t eat breakfast, so a bagel or cereal bar should do the trick. Their day continues in this fashion until they go to bed. Throw in a practice for a couple hours, some studying, homework, food, and possibly a shower (if they have time) before doing it all over again. If I’m lucky enough to see kids somewhere in that busy day, it may not be for long, and who knows what kind of a day they’re having—might be a great one, might be a tough one.
There is no way to have an exact plan for training an athlete or athletes in a situation like this. Don’t waste your time finding percentages based on max effort lifts; things change too frequently to know what a given kid will perform like in the weight room on any given day. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place for more structured periodization, but what I am saying is that for about 95% of the high school population they will be much better off with a loose set of guidelines which you will manipulate as the coach.
Next Generation Periodization Guidelines:
- Work in 3 week blocks. Forget 4 week blocks—and don’t structure a week for deloading. Why 3 weeks? Well, 4 weeks will often make kids bored, and 2 weeks isn’t enough time to get any growth and development. I’m not saying you can’t push a given movement for longer than 3 weeks, but you have to do it strategically.
- Don’t build in deload weeks. If someone needs a deload week you will know it. Typically the athletes will deload themselves. There are a few names they use for deloading: homework, vacation, games, and laziness. All are used and used often. You will know as a coach when you need to add in a deload week because kids start to look “messy.” If you’re a coach you know what I’m talking about.
- Follow the simple linear format of a volume phase followed by an intensification phase for your resistance training. Both should last in 6 week blocks (as stated above). Change the sets and reps according to your phases (volume or intensification). Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be. Get your athletes to put more weight on the bar and lift it more times.
- Push a given movement for 6 weeks at a time. After 6 weeks (2 3-week cycles), either switch the movement up or simply switch stance, grip, etc. The only exception to this is if you someone is really lacking in a given area and is still making progress. Other than that switch it up, kids get bored easily.
- If it’s important do it everyday. I got this one from Dan John’s book Never Let Go. I can’t make this point enough. We will do each of the following movements everyday in some capacity: vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull, knee dominant, hip dominant, total body explosive, anterior core, rotational (anti-rotational) core. There is something to be said for practicing a skill everyday—lifting and movements are no different.
- Always work different rep ranges. As stated above we will work all movements everyday in one way or another. This is also how I consider this structure a variation of conjugate periodization. An example of this would be warming up with a squatting variation for higher reps (12+), doing some reactive work for nervous system activation, and in the resistance portion of the workout working in the 5-8 rep range.
- Always do lower body movements first in the workout. Forget the science behind more motor units, hormone release, blah blah blah. You do lower body first because kids hate it and will always skip it if they have the opportunity. Put it this way: if you just finished a two hour basketball practice would you rather squat heavy or bench? This includes doing legs first…even on bench press Monday’s!
- Forget the whole “maintain” strength while in season. Move weight and get stronger. Sometimes I use the same terminology to explain that kids won’t make as much progress as the off-season, but let’s be honest—is there really an off-season anymore? Also, kids continually get stronger. If you push the weights in season you’ll be amazed at how strong they can get.
- Don’t change your rep schemes in season. Lift heavy. You don’t need tons of volume in season, especially on movements that kids will get in practices (i.e. if it’s basketball don’t program 20 minutes of plyo’s in the weight room.) They just got done doing 120 minutes of plyometric movements in practice…
- Kids recover amazingly fast. I am always astonished that you can push a kid hard in the weight room and the next day he’s in practice having the best practice of his life. That doesn’t mean bury a kid in the weight room, but it also doesn’t mean that you should plan to go “light.” If a kid isn’t recovering, you will know it (see above).
- Lift the day before games. I hear a bunch of bologna from parents and coaches alike about not lifting before games. Here’s the deal: you don’t tell your kids to not practice the day before a game because you are worried about their legs right? As long as the athletes have been in the weight room a couple of days a week they will be fine. It’s better to lift the day before a game than it is to miss a lift.
Shelby Turcotte (MS, PES, YCS) is southern Maine based high school strength & conditioning coach and the owner of Finer Points. For more information please visit his website: www.finer-points.com or visit his blog: www.shelbytrained.com.