Jun 1, 2018
Common Philosophies Examined
P.J. Gardner

Last week, I wrote about the importance of developing a philosophy as a strength coach. This week, I’d like to continue the conversation by looking at a few different types of philosophies.

There are many ways to design weight training programs. Let’s examine a few and consider the reasons coaches use them. Circuit training is a fairly common approach, and some coaches believe that circuit training is the most effective way to train high school athletes. It is time efficient, and there is little time for creating individualized programs for most high school athletes because there are usually many athletes in the weight room and not enough coaches for individual supervision. Circuit training is one approach that addresses this concern. Still, it may or may not be the best way to train young athletes.

In some programs, weight training workouts are broken down into cycles — specifically macrocycles (usually an entire year), mesocycles (several weeks to months), and microcycles (one to four weeks). A linear periodization program is the favorite mode of training for some coaches because of its straight-line increase in intensity and concomitant decrease in volume. These coaches feel that continuing to add intensity week in week out is most likely to increase muscular growth throughout a calendar year. A non-linear periodized program is also favored by some coaches because it allows variations in volume and intensity and overall is a more flexible program around competitive schedules throughout the year.

It is my opinion that periodization is one of the more efficient ways to design a weight training program, because it allows for different phases of training including: off-season training, hypertrophy or base training, pre-season peaking, and in-season maintenance. Periodization also allows for active rest between phases for recovery, which is very beneficial mentally and physically for athletes. Our coaching staff believes periodization is a better approach for the young athlete and its efficacy is research-based. However, this philosophy may also have its critics. No one philosophy seems to fit every coach or every program, and this one is no different.

Other coaches like to use percentages of max lifts to design various workouts throughout the implemented program. A potential challenge with this philosophy is that the true max for any athlete will likely change from day to day and the numbers (percentage) may have to be calculated or estimated for each lift and workout. Most high school coaches and athletes I work with are not willing to do this on a regular basis because it can be very time consuming. It is a good philosophy in theory, and it keeps athletes working at a set intensity. Many collegiate and professional strength coaches use max percentages in designing their programs.

High Intensity Training (HIT) was a method used by Author Jones, the inventor of Nautilus, who promoted one set of a specific exercise to muscular failure. Some loyal followers of this method believe that “less is more.” The goal is to show an increase in strength in each and every workout. This philosophy is not backed by research and not used in any collegiate or professional programs that I know of today. Again, my opinion is that performing one set of any given lifts to failure is a somewhat outdated approach and that there are several more efficient means of strength training.

One of the more popular and up and coming philosophies is Mike Boyle’s functional training, which has come into vogue the last few years in conjunction with his books on functional training as well as his functional strength coach certification. In my opinion, his strength and conditioning clinic (MBSC), programs, and certification seem to be at the forefront of weight training principles today.

Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive review of all the philosophies used around the country in high schools, colleges, and professional sports. There are other philosophies used by strength coaches as well and too many exist to mention them all. These are just a few of the philosophies used today, and it is important to understand that strength coaches tend to blend various philosophies together to come up with their own unique one.

Coaches can choose from different variations in philosophies of weight training, such as putting an emphasis on Olympic lifts, more functional training movements, periodization, super sets, circuit training, using max percentages, ascending/descending pyramids, and others. For example, one college in Texas promotes a general philosophy of “a year round program” on its web site. The strength coaching staff believes that promoting year round training will have the best chance of increasing strength for any in-season program. The program is founded on sound principles and practical applications and designed to improve performance and prevent injury. It integrates with the school’s specific sports program philosophy and places interaction with the athlete at the heart of the program.

Another example is found on WordPress.com weblog, where a university in North Carolina states that their strength and conditioning philosophy includes: focusing training on the core, training with ground-based lifts, training for power, use multi-joint movements, and training for intensity. A third example is on Mike Boyle’s Strength & Conditioning web site (MBSC), where the philosophy is comprehensive functional training with a “results-driven approach” to achieve sports performance goals.

Moving on to the commercial setting, the Next Level strength and conditioning philosophy includes quality coaching buy in, promoting function first, injury prevention, a comprehensive approach, and purposeful programming. Also included is any outside sport-training facility that promotes their philosophy of training because of their commercial identity. Philosophies of weight training are a selling point for any sport-training business. It is their way of promoting their total program for physical development.

These are just a few of the philosophies that universities and organizations use. Their philosophies consist of the concepts and values they want to promote in their respective programs.

Read Part I of this article here.

P.J. Gardner, MS, ATC, CSCS, CES, PES, is Athletic Trainer at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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