Jan 29, 2015A Yellow Jacket’s First Summer
By Jason Benguche, MS, CSCS, PES
An athlete’s arrival to campus can simultaneously be the most exciting and terrifying time of their life. As their strength coach, we add to this stress but with the hopes of developing and assisting them through their career in college athletics. Here is how we welcome our incoming freshmen to Georgia Tech football.
Starting in late June, our incoming athletes begin their first summer program. Regardless of their training age and experience, they are separated from our returning players for many reasons. Conditioning levels and ability are secondary compared to them training as a group and building chemistry. These individuals are in a very special class as they are the future to building our program and very high on our priority list.
Over the next 4-5 years these individuals will become teammates, friends, and even enemies at some point in time. They will win and lose together, and it all starts in their first summer of training.
Initial Testing and Evaluation
Sports medicine is the first department to see our incoming athletes. Their first task is to complete their Pre-Participation Examination (PPE). Athletes are given paperwork to sign waivers and then they complete a self-reported medical history. From there our staff completes basic vitals (e.g., height, weight, blood pressure).
Our team of physicians then conduct thorough physical, orthopedic, and cardiology exams. An athlete is only cleared when blood work reports return and all medical personnel have signed off for them to be able to participate with no restrictions. Although the process is tedious when dealing with up to 20-25 new athletes, it is critical in determining whether an athlete is in good enough health to begin training and participating in our summer program.
Summer Training Plan
Week 1- Late June
Eyes Wide Open–Our freshmen begin training at 5:45 a.m. five days a week, three in the weightroom and two or three on the field based on the week. This schedule continues through the entire summer and is necessary for a few reasons. Early workouts allow us to conduct training first thing without any distractions from class conflicts and scheduling. This can be a big help when an athlete is just getting to know campus. He can concern himself with class matters without worrying about when to get back for workouts. The schedule instills discipline in our athletes to become accustomed to a schedule and realize that this is nothing to take lightly. Our training sessions always start on time and anyone who is not present for the start of the session is dealt with accordingly to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Goals–The program’s initial goals are to allow our athletes to become used to our tempo and the way that we conduct workouts. With only four weeks to work before preseason camp, we hit the ground running. Our exercise menu includes very basic progressions of our base exercises. Olympic lifts (hang clean, hang snatch) are taught with a top down progression. And back squat, front squat, RDL, bench press, and pull-ups are all introduced as if the athlete has never done them before. This ensures that they learn our technique and are corrected on any possible bad habits learned from previous training.
Field work and conditioning are also conducted at introductory levels. Basic movement/agility drills in addition to linear conditioning are prescribed to develop the necessary work capacity needed for preseason camp. The volume and intensity of all exercises and conditioning is very low. The focus is on teaching and helping athletes retain our method.
Consistency–Athletes have experienced their first week and all the rigors involved. Some soreness is felt by some and this has to be expected. The combination of strength training and conditioning has most athletes learning new movement patterns and utilizing muscle groups in ways they never have before. However, we look to push athletes to learn how to train through slight soreness and understand that it is a part of training as a beginner. We help them with recovery strategies along the way, which includes: hydrotherapy, additional flexibility work, foam rolling, and other methods of myofascial release. Goals–Exercise selection is very similar to week one with emphasis being on teaching with slight increases in intensity along the way. We emphasize to them our philosophy that technique and movement quality go a long way at this level and no one can help the team by training in an unsafe manner and becoming injured.
Base strength and retention–This is the week that we look to progress the athlete not only with intensity but also with our exercise selection. Athletes are challenged by a small variety of uni-lateral upper body pushing exercises (e.g., alternate dumbbell shoulder press) and uni-lateral lower body work (e.g., split squat progression to a forward or backward lunge). We also like to include some type of bodyweight challenge (e.g., push up, pull up, bar hang) twice a week to add a small aspect of competition for the remainder of the summer.
Goals–Exercises such as hang clean, back squat, front squat, and bench press will all remain staples in the program. These exercises are the cornerstones of our program and the summer program allows us to increase the retention of technique with these particular exercises. Moderate intensity and low volume in the weightroom allows us to continually evaluate the athlete’s technique along with the necessary stress for development. Conditioning also progresses during this phase by including additional volume with agility and linear conditioning to further develop work capacity.
Evaluation–After three solid weeks of training our athletes are ready for a base evaluation in the areas of strength and performance. Performance testing includes flexibility, vertical jump, standing long jump, pro agility, and L-drill. Strength testing is limited to bench press (1RM). The week is planned for testing but is designed so that some training can be conducted on days that don’t interfere with testing.
Goals–We feel that the tests conducted can give us a baseline of data to use as bench marks in the future. Additional exercises such as power clean and squat are evaluated on a daily session basis but are not tested due to technique and safety concerns. Estimations in strength levels (1RM) for these exercises are determined from actual training numbers. These numbers are carried into the preseason and developmental squad programs.
Just the Beginning
Development of all our student-athletes is our primary concern. The freshmen, however, are starting “fresh.” This means setting the tone not only academically but with all the responsibilities included as an athlete.
With completion of the summer program, our goals are to quickly develop work ethic, discipline, and the positive attitude that it takes to be successful not only in their first preseason camp but their college career and beyond. Teaching and educating them on the system that we have in place for their development is our main focus. From training to nutrition, the learning never stops, and it all begins in the weightroom.
Jason Benguche, MS, CSCS, PES, is Assistant Director of Player Development for Football at Georgia Tech.