Tier System

September 28, 2017

With only so much time in the weight room, most coaches try to get in as much lifting as possible. Some strength and conditioning professionals do this by splitting up the body throughout the week, having athletes train the lower body on one day and the upper on another.

Joe Kenn, the Carolina Panthers Head Strength Coach, disagrees with this philosophy. Instead, he came up with a program called the Tier System Strength Training methodology. With this approach, athletes work on their whole body each day.

According to an article for Van Dyke Strength by Brett Bueker, SCCC, MEd, the Tier System is made up of three “tiers”—total, lower, and upper movements. “Total” body movements are ones that use large groups of muscles to perform the lift, such as the deadlift, power clean, and hang clean. “Lower” body movements focus on knee and hip extension, and can be single or double leg movements such as squat, split squat, or single leg squats. “Upper” focuses on movements of the upper body such as bench press, standing press variations, and dips.

These tiers are arranged in a specific order—total, lower, and upper—and are to be used three times a week. Coaches can then decide how many tiers to implement depending on their athletes’ needs. They can also start with any tier on any given day, as long as it follows the same pattern. Here is an example of a three-day tier given by Bueker:
 
 

Monday

  • Total Body
  • Lower Body
  • Upper Body

Wednesday

  • Lower Body
  • Upper Body
  • Total Body

Friday

  • Upper Body
  • Total Body
  • Lower Body

Coaches can also add tiers, while following the same pattern. For example, they could have five or seven tiers, with the pattern repeating itself after being finished.

Kenn also applies specific movements to each tier—foundation movements, supplemental movements, and assistance movements. As Bueker explains, foundation movements are multi-joint barbell movements that will most help  athletes improve their overall performance on game day, and are placed in the first tier of the workout. They can include back squat, front squat, power clean, hang clean, dead lift, bench press, incline press, overhead press, and pull ups.

Supplemental movements can be found in both tier one and tier two, and should target the same muscle group as the foundation movement, but in a different way. They are also multi-joint barbell movements, and they help athletes avoid plateauing in the weight room as they activate different motor units.

Assistance movements are the third type and can be used for multiple purposes. They can be implemented to target and strengthen the same muscle groups as the first two movements, although they should activate those muscle groups in a different way. Assistance movements can also be used to help balance out muscle groups that are being used in the foundation and supplemental movements.

“For example, if an athlete’s foundation movement for the day is bench press, an assistance movement can be a pull of some sort such as a barbell bent row to balance out the chest and back,” writes Bueker. “By doing this, it’s actually doing your athletes a favor so they do not develop muscle imbalances that can lead to injury.”

When implementing this method, Bueker explains that coaches should train athletes at the same intensity, rest intervals, and tempos as they would encounter in practice or a game. To do this, effort, intensity, and repetitions should constantly be cycled to avoid plateauing. Bueker describes three intensities that coaches can choose from, Max Effort (ME), Dynamic Effort, (DE), and Repeat or Sub-Max Effort (RE or SME).

“Max Effort is using heavy weights (>80% of the 1 Rep Max) for a low amount of reps (1-5) using maximum effort to complete each repetition,” writes Bueker. “Dynamic Effort is using relatively light weight (40-60% of the 1 Rep Max) for a low amount of reps (1-3) moving the weight with as much force and speed possible on each repetition. Repeat Effort (Sub-Max Effort) is using moderate intensity (60-80% of the 1 Rep Max) for a various amount of reps (1-10) working proper technique each repetition.”

Coaches can then choose to vary the placement of these intensities based on what their athletes need to most improve upon. Here is an example from Bueker with athletes working to improve speed, power, and explosiveness:

Monday

  • DE-Total Body
  • ME-Lower Body
  • RE- Upper Body

Wednesday

  • DE-Lower Body
  • ME-Upper Body
  • RE-Total Body

Friday

  • DE-Upper Body
  • ME-Total Body
  • RE-Lower Body

In this example, Bueker placed DE with the first tier, because it requires maximum power and speed of the bar and athletes need to be rested to gain the most benefit. The same thinking applies to placement of the other intensities. If emphasizing maximum strength for the week, coaches will want to use ME in their first tier. If hypertrophy, volume, and size are the main goals for your athletes, RE should be placed in the first tier.

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