Feb 24, 2017
Making Progress
George Greene

Last month, in an article titled Gaining An Edge, I discussed what it takes for high school athletes to be successful at the next level. As a follow-up, I wanted to go into more depth about what exercises should make up the majority of training and how to properly progress young athletes through each exercise.

My philosophy on this topic stems from world renown strength coach Dan John and achieving mastery in five basic movement patterns/categories. Below is a look at the first two of the five exercises. Next week, I’ll detail the remaining ones.

But before I go into details, two notes:

  1. All athletes progress at different rates. Do not be afraid to keep someone at an exercise for a longer period of time.
  2. Be prepared to regress athletes throughout the course of the year. During periods of training layoffs or injuries, be prepared to take a step back to reset each pattern.

Category 1:

Squat: The squat is known as the king of all exercises for a reason. It gives you the most bang for your buck. While the back squat is the most popular version, it is a mistake to think a high school athlete is prepared to start with it from square one. This pattern is extremely important to get right the first time in order to put athletes in the best and safest position. It will also create good habits and avoid injuries that usually result from poor technique. Below is 12-week progression for the Squat.

Weeks 1-3:

Goblet Squat: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height. Emphasis is on depth, which is critical to set your foundation.

Weeks: 4-6:

Kettle Bell Front Squat: Hold the kettlebells in the front rack position. Emphasis should be on keeping the chest up. This exercise challenges the core more than the goblet squat so athletes tend to want to lean forward.

Weeks: 7-9:

Front squat: This exercise could be done using 2-3 fingers or weight lifting straps with the bar set just above the clavicle. What I like best about this exercise is it keeps athletes honest. If they lean forward the bar will fall out of their hands. (With the back squat, an athlete will compensate with a rounded back.)

Weeks 10-12:

Back squat: After the athlete demonstrates mastery of the above three patterns, he or can perform the back squat. I teach and recommend the high bar variation with feet set just outside of shoulder width. The high bar variation calls for the bar to rest up on the traps and helps emphasize a better upright posture than the low bar variation (often used by powerlifters). A spotter should be used at all times and taught from day one.

Category 2:

Hinge: The hinge pattern is a posterior chain dominant movement that is extremely important for both performance and injury prevention. Hamstring strength has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the likelihood of injury, including ACL tears. Similar to the squat, if poor technique is used during the hinge an athlete could be at risk for injury. So it is important to emphasize proper movement from day one. Below is a 12-week progression for the hinge.

Weeks 1-3:

Dumbbell or Kettlebell RDL to Box (just below knee): The box decreases the range of motion and allows the athlete to work on keeping their chest up and shooting their hips back. Athletes should feel this in their hamstrings and it is important to watch their knees and coach them to hinge instead of squat.

Weeks 4-6:

Dumbbell or Kettlebell RDL to mid shin: For the second variation, remove the box and let the athlete get a bit more range of motion. Continue to coach the athlete on maintaining a flat back and squeezing their glutes at the top of the movement.

Weeks 7-9:

Barbell RDL: The barbell allows you to add a bit more resistance to the movement. Maintain the same cues as the dumbbell variation. The bar should maintain contact with the body at all times. The further it comes away, the more pressure there is on the lower back.

Weeks 10-12:

Clean Grip Deadlift: This variation will have the athlete start with the barbell on the ground. Due to the increased range of motion the athlete’s knees will be bent slightly more than the RDL at the start. I coach and emphasize the clean grip variation to maintain structural balance and avoid the mixed grip for athletes.

Next week I’ll detail categories 3-5, which include Vertical and Horizontal Push, Vertical and Horizontal Pull, and Loaded Carries.

George Greene, CSCS, is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletic Performance at Stony Brook University. Previously, he has served as Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Mary Washington, as a Tactical Strength and Conditioning Specialist for the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, and as Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Massachusetts. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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