Jan 29, 2015
Summer Sets

No matter where your athletes are living for the summer, you want them to be making strength gains. Here’s how to ensure they are following through on their programs.

By Abigail Funk

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. She can be reached at: [email protected]

Each spring heralds the close of another school year. If you’re fortunate, your athletes have been giving 100-percent effort in practices, strength-training sessions, and competitions. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Unless you’re on a campus where teams stick around to work out together, with the last final exam of the spring, these athletes will head off for summer break. And you’ll be left with a quiet weightroom and lots of questions. What kind of shape will they be in when they come back? Will they keep up with their lifting and conditioning programs? And can you expect them to successfully do so on their own, without your guidance?

The most comforting answers would be yes, yes, and yes. But college athletes living off campus for the summer likely have their own priorities and your strength and conditioning program may not top their lists. “I find summer to be a double-edged sword,” says Bill Klika, CSCS, SSC, USAW, Fitness and Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Fairleigh Dickinson University-College at Florham. “In theory, the athletes have more time to train, but they’re not supervised, they have summer jobs, and there are a lot of distractions. For many athletes, it’s harder to train during the summer than during the school year.”

Though your athletes may be far from campus, there are still ways you can help them maintain, and even improve, the strength and conditioning levels they developed during the school year. By supplying your athletes with a well thought-out plan, making sure they have a place to work out, and following up from time to time, you can tilt the odds toward successful summer training.


The best way to build a successful summer program is to start on the very first day a team walks into the weightroom in the fall. If you wait until April to get your athletes ready for summer, it’s probably going to be too late. But if you lay an early foundation of motivation and education, they’ll be ready to improve on their own come June.

“The key is to have set up the base for a summer program throughout the school year,” says Ray Lauenstein, author of The Making of a Student Athlete and Director of AthletesAdvisor.com. “There’s often the assumption that college athletes are fairly self-motivated. And that’s true for most of them, but not for all. Motivation from coaches during the year will carry over during their individual summer workouts.”

Also important is educating athletes about the importance of strength training throughout the year. “Explain to the athletes that strength is a tool for improving their sport performance,” says Drew Peterson, MA, CSCS, USAW, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Humboldt State University. “Teach them that strength is the base of everything they do—running, conditioning, speed, and resilience to injury.”

“Every time we work together, I tell them why what we’re doing is important and how the exercise is going to help them in their sport,” says Sarah Testo, CSCS, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Keene State College. “I hope that later on they say to themselves, ‘Okay, I need to lift because it’s going to help me not get pushed off the ball.’ ‘This is going to help keep my knee healthy.'”


Once you give your athletes the knowledge and training they need to work out properly on their own, you can confidently develop a summer strength and conditioning program they can easily follow. Testo starts by meeting with the sport coaches to understand what they want each specific player to improve on over the summer. “I basically work for the coaches,” she explains. “I ask them what they want out of their kids, and design programs based on that information.”

Some sport coaches simply want all of their athletes to be active over the long break, so you can send home one set of exercises for an entire team. Other coaches are much more specific and will tell you what they’d like the program centered around, so as to meet team and individual goals. And others won’t give you any guidance at all, in which case you can develop programs based on your own knowledge of the individual athlete and the demands of their sport.

Most strength coaches agree that no matter what type of program you’re designing, the more specific, the better. “The detail of the program should encompass everything from what to do for a warmup to recommended post-workout stretches,” says Scott Burgess, ATC, CSCS, President of CompleteAthlete, a sports performance and rehabilitation clinic in Derry, N.H. “I am very detailed in communicating the number of sets and reps that are expected and how quickly each lift should be completed.”

Lauenstein agrees, saying that most athletes respond well to having a firm structure to follow. “Any time you give someone options they’re more inclined to do whatever seems like more fun,” he says. “They’re not trained in the science of conditioning so you want to tell them exactly what to do.”

Testo, though, has experimented with giving some teams a menu of options. “I’ve done a little of both,” she says. “Some teams prefer the freedom of getting a list of all the different exercises, then picking from each area—an Olympic lift, a chest exercise, a hamstring, etc. Some teams would rather that I just write out their exact workout day-by-day. I do whichever each team prefers.”

After developing programs for each team, Testo meets with athletes to make individual modifications. “I like to physically go over their programs with them,” she says. “It’s especially important when an athlete is recovering from an injury. If I know they have a weakness in a certain area of the body, I can give them specific exercises to help improve that weakness. They should really concentrate on improving their individual needs over the summer so when they come together as a team in the fall, they are ready to work on the team goals.”

Klika makes an effort to keep his summer workouts consistent with what the athletes do during the year. “During the school year their workouts are extremely detailed,” he says. “Therefore, so is what I send home. Workouts are also updated weekly during the school year, so I do the same with their summer routines.”

Sometimes, it may be necessary to simplify the summer program since you won’t be able to provide direct supervision. “I include less-complex exercises in the summer to increase the likelihood that the athlete performs them safely and correctly,” says Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS, Coach Practitioner and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the United States Air Force Academy. “For example, I’ll have an athlete perform a push press rather than a jerk.”

Testo also tries to keep her programs simple. “To make it easier, I include pictures for every exercise,” she says. “I want each athlete to understand how to do them without me being there to tell them.”


Even if you don’t have a palatial weightroom at your school, you are at least familiar with the facility and can develop your programs around it. Come summertime, though, you may be dealing with as many facilities as you are athletes.

Before sending them out on their own, Klika meets with each of his athletes to learn where they will be working out. “At least half of them say they’re going back to their high school gym, which is great,” he says. “Another 25 percent tell me they’re going to join their local gym.

“Then the other 25 percent say, ‘Coach, I live in the middle of nowhere. My high school gym stinks. What can I do?'” Klika continues. “For those kids, I get on the phone and start using my networking skills. Nine out of 10 college strength coaches let athletes from other schools work out at their facility, and we do it too.”

Peterson also taps into his network to find places for his athletes to work out. “I’ll call a kid’s high school, a junior college, or another college in the area to see if there’s any way we can get them working out in those facilities,” he says. “We don’t ask each other to make up programs for our athletes, just allow them access to a weightroom.”

Peterson’s programs typically incorporate a fair amount of Olympic lifts and some gyms don’t accommodate that type of training. “So we decided to modify a lot of the Olympic lifts into dumbbell lifts,” he says. “Dumbbells are the one standard in everybody’s weightroom. And I tell athletes it’s better to do what they can rather than nothing at all.”

But what should you do when an athlete has exhausted all options and access weight equipment? You may have to modify the program you send home with them. “We perform manual resistance training or partner-resisted exercises at certain points during the school year,” Hedrick says. “Athletes have those exercises to fall back on when they don’t have access to a weightroom.” (See “Access Denied”.)


Even though you won’t see most of your athletes during the summer, out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind. Give athletes your contact information and encourage them to call or e-mail if they have questions. “We don’t want them to be unsure of any portion of their program,” Hedrick says. “Confusion or uncertainty can lead to injury or decreased training results.”

And don’t forget that communication is a two-way street. “Under NCAA rules, strength coaches are allowed to contact athletes over the summer,” Lauenstein says. “Checking in can only help. For one, it shows the athletes that we as coaches really want to know how they’re doing. Two, it keeps the athletes honest. And three, it helps ward off any problems. An athlete has the opportunity to tell you, ‘The knee I injured last year hurts on the outside when I do this exercise.’ And you can help by saying, ‘Okay, let’s try a different exercise’ or ‘let’s talk about your form.'”

You can also require your athletes to be proactive by sending you their results. Hedrick and Klika have their athletes chart their own progress, while Peterson and Burgess ask them to e-mail results back to campus. “A goal-response sheet gets turned in every two weeks,” Burgess says. “A strength coach can catalog that material, and although you can’t report it back to the coach during the summer, when the season starts, you can review with the coach what the athlete needs to work on.”

Air Force Academy athletes are tested prior to leaving for the summer and again when they return. Hedrick says knowing a test is looming is enough to keep them on track. Burgess does the same with his athletes. “If there is no improvement by the time they get back to campus, there are two reasons for it,” he says. “One, they were ill, or two, they just didn’t do the work.”

So other than the threat of a test, how can you keep the less-driven athletes motivated? Lauenstein suggests telling them to find a workout partner. “I see a lot of kids working out in groups, whether it’s with old teammates or high school rivals,” he says. “It’s so much easier to keep an appointment when someone’s counting on you. People generally work better and harder in a group environment because they push each other.”

And in the Darwinian world of athletics, those who don’t want to work will usually weed themselves out. “It’s not really an option for most college athletes to not do an off-season strength program,” Lauenstein says. “They either do it and play, or they don’t do it and they don’t play because someone out-performs them come preseason.”


When designing summer workouts, don’t forget that this time of year is a break time for athletes. While it’s important that they work hard, they also need to take time to regenerate both physically and emotionally.

“If your athletes don’t show up fresh because they were pushed too hard all summer, they’re in a bad position to start the season,” says Ray Lauenstein, author of The Making of a Student Athleteand Director of AthletesAdvisor.com. “If it could have been prevented by taking a couple of mental health days during the summer, what’s the harm? Rest days or days where they do something different like biking or swimming are important.”

When Sarah Testo, CSCS, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Keene State College, checks in with her athletes during the summer and hears they have a family vacation coming up, she tells them to take the whole week off. “Or if it’s halfway through the summer and I find out they haven’t taken a break yet, I tell them to take a week off,” she says. “An unloading week with light activity is important.”

Klika takes advantage of the calendar by plotting workouts so the week of July 4 is used for active rest and recovery. “I want to be realistic,” he says. “I don’t want to set up a program to fail. That’s why there are days of more and less intensity and volume built into the program. We also cycle exercises every two or three weeks so they always have something different to do.”

After all, it is summer. “Everyone needs a couple of days to do nothing, eat what they want, and hang out with friends,” Lauenstein says. “The health benefit of a day away from the grind is far more beneficial than any gains from one extra day of lifting.”


What should you do about athletes who will simply have no access to a weightroom during the summer? Sarah Testo, CSCS, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Keene State College, hands them these bodyweight workouts:

Workout One Workout Two
Pushups: 3×12


  • 2×20 sec. to the front
  • 2×20 sec. to each side
  • 2×20 sec. to the back

Split Squats: 3×15 each side

Diamond Pushups: 3×10

Pull-Ups: 3×8

Flat-Footed Crunches: 2×15

Half-Moon Pushups: 3×10

Staggered Pushups: 3×8 each side

Lateral Squats: 3×15 each side

Abs Circuit:

  • Elevated Crunches 3×15
  • Leg Lowers 3×15
  • Hip Crossovers 3×10 each side

Feet-Elevated Pushups: 3×10

Three-Way Lunge: 3x each side

Inverted Row with Partner: 3×8

Pushups with Rotation: 2×8 each side

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