May 4, 2018
Leg Strength

In performance training, great athletes are built from the ground up. For just about every sport, improving leg strength and explosiveness will allow an athlete to excel on the field or court. In the following, we asked Jason Gallucci, MS, SCCC, CSCS, Director of Strength and Conditioning/Head Varsity Strength Coach at Princeton University to answer questions on the topic.

What is your philosophy on training the lower body?

Gallucci: The exercises we use may have changed, and the athletes we get here have certainly changed over the years, but our philosophical approach hasn’t. We focus on injury prevention through sound technique first, and then work on improving performance.

What new trends in lower body strength and conditioning are you seeing?

Gallucci: Trends come and go, but I think the functional movement screen is here to stay. It’s caused a lot people in the profession to go back to basics–especially when training younger athletes–and focus on building fundamental strength through correct movement patterns.

I hope to reap the benefits in the next few years with fewer athletes coming to me with injuries, deficiencies, and functional issues. Too many times, people move too fast when training young athletes–I think we need slow things down and develop better movement patterns.

How has research validated or caused you to re-evaluate your training programs?

Gallucci: As a staff, we meet twice a week to cover some form of research. Each meeting is run by a different person in the department who is responsible for choosing the research article for us to talk about that day. We’ve covered everything from jump training to squat technique. It allows us to sit back and evaluate what we’re doing as a group.

We like to read all of the research to see what’s going on around us, but we take everything with a grain of salt. We know from a practical standpoint what has been working for us.

What lower body deficiencies are you seeing most often in young athletes who enter your program?

Gallucci: Now, more than before, there is a lack of strength in athletes’ glute-ham complexes. We see a very high rate of quad dominance in our young athletes. I don’t know if it’s a result of the glutes and hams being under-trained as much as that they aren’t being trained properly. Our young athletes often come in overly concerned about the amount of weight they’re pushing as opposed to how they’re pushing it. The focus needs to be on how they’re moving the weight, not how heavy it is.

What lower body corrective exercises do you use most often?

Gallucci: We do glute-specific training and also incorporate a lot of core work because the core is often a big part of a glute deficiency. Flexibility is also important, so we try to pinpoint issues there. But really, our corrective work comes down to old fashioned technique work–breaking down and building up their movements in the squat and the lunge and making sure our athletes truly know how to perform them properly.

For example, after a functional warm-up, we’ll have athletes do functional isolation work that targets the glutes, such as a single-leg bridge. We’ll also modify exercises like a squat to focus on building glute strength.

What is your preference for lifting splits when addressing the lower body?

Gallucci: We typically train total body. Still, one day a week our primary focus is on the squat, another day we focus on a single-leg movement like a lunge or a step-up, and then we’ll have another day that’s a complementary leg work day depending on how our athletes’ bodies are reacting to the training. For example, we might do single-leg body weight stuff if they’re a little run down, or if we think they can get aggressive, we might have them do a front squat, deadlift, or tire flip.

If we’re in a four-day routine, I like to have two days that focus more on lower body. We base upper body-lower body splits more on how we can run our room most efficiently. We like to pair a lower body push with an upper body pull. It helps the flow of our room and allows the muscle groups to recover a little between lifts.

Where does flexibility training fit into your program?

Gallucci: It’s everywhere. Flexibility training, unfortunately, has kind of been pushed to the side a little in today’s training landscape, but it shouldn’t be. There has been a big push toward dynamic flexibility, but at the same time you have to have functional flexibility in your training movements.

Image by Karen Blaha

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