Back on April 24th I put out an article called ‘Rebuilding our Athletes’. In that article, we discussed the importance of taking into consideration the great amount of deconditioning we are going to see when our athletes are able to rejoin their team in a structured training setting. The primary topic was the importance of a General Preparation Phase (GPP) which is a short training block designed to get athletes back to the rigours of strength training, rebuild their joint stability and allow their bodies to restore proper movement patterns.
For us, at Outlaw, we have a set GPP protocol that requires athletes to limit their external load (barbells, kettlebells, etc.) to be kept at a minimum during the first week and only after that do we begin to implement any weight. Then in the second week, we introduce barbells but keep the weight relatively light while forcing the athletes to maintain a very high movement quality. Finally, in the third week, do we let them begin to ramp up the weight, but, that is only if the athlete has a very high level of movement quality.
This is strength and conditioning 101. You give the athletes a responsible amount of load, teach them how to properly lift, and slowly progress them.
Now, here is the tricky thing…
Athletes HATE the GPP phase and as coaches its tough because our natural instinct is to get our athletes as strong as possible as fast as possible. But, in the role we are in, we need to consider the long term effects of what we are giving our athletes.
So, with teams getting the green light to begin training again there are a few things I think need to be mandatory with all teams as they begin to recondition their athletes. Remember, athletes as a whole have never been this deconditioned, and this must be taken into consideration…
- There should be a minimum of one week where weights are almost entirely removed from the program. Bodyweight movements, isometric holds, and circuits should be the primary areas of focus.
- The volume of sprint work should be kept limited with the area of focus dialled in on movement mechanics. Remember, most of these athletes have not done very much in terms of max velocity sprinting and there are very few things as demanding on the body as repeat sprint training.
- In the weight room, athletes should be slowly progressed towards barbell training and not thrown to the wolves on day 1. This means following a set progression which allows them to move correctly before given an external load.
Now, when we talk about how to progress an athletes over the course of a GPP phase, what exactly does that look like?
Here is an example of what we would do. For this example we will use the squat pattern.
- Week 1: Bodyweight Squat and Possibly a light Goblet Squat if the athlete moves well. In addition some form of unilateral bodyweight movement (split squat, lunge, etc.) and finish with an isometric hold.
- Week 2: The great majority of athletes would remain on a Goblet Squat however some more advanced athletes would be progressed to a Front Squat. Those give a Front Squat would be kept to very lightweight and given a relatively low rep scheme (4-6 reps/set). Then we would continue with unilateral movements and isometric holds.
- Week 3: The athletes who were on Goblet Squats in week 2 would be slowly moved into Front Squats if their movement quality was high and those on front squats will be progressed in weight only if their technique is on-point. We would progress our unilateral strength training to have more of an external load and our isometric work would increase in duration.
- Week 4: The goal is to have all athletes on a front squat, however, if their Goblet Squats are not perfect we will not move them up. From there weight will be increased as needed and we will continue to crush unilateral lifts.
What we 100% will not do is give an athlete a back squat on day 1 without making sure their movement quality is high. That is irresponsible and as coaches we can do better. Now, do we want to progress to a back squat? Yeah, absolutely. But, we are not in a rush. Remember, we are dealing with 15-18 year old’s and their foundation is much more important than their 1 rep max.
There is a simple audit you can do to check if you did too much, too fast. After your first few days, ask your athlete how their soreness level is. If they respond “a little sore but not too bad” you are on the right track. However, if they respond, “I’m so sore I can’t walk” then you did too much.
Soreness and fatigue is not the goal…healthy athletes and winning games is.