May 3, 2018
Transferable Skills

When athletes are working out in the weight room, everything they do should apply to their position or sport. In an article for Athletes Acceleration, Strength Coach Joel Smith, MS, CSCS, offers some tips on getting more dynamic transfer from the weight room to the field.

The first is to focus on building explosiveness through the ground. Smith explains that many athletes do too much heavy squatting to full depth while pushing through the heels. This puts them into heavy dorsiflexion under load and causes the feet to disconnect from the hips and any power to be lost.

“How to fix this?” writes Smith. “Easy: do more barefoot work, high rep single leg training focusing on centering pressure and steering force to the big toe, and use deep squats in a ‘minimal effective dose’ format.”

According to Smith, sticking to the “minimum effective dose” is the second step to transferring weight room work to the field. This means not training too little, but also not doing too much. Instead, Smith has found that single set lifting programs create the same strength gains as multi-set powerlifting programs. The difference, however, is that the single set lifting programs better improve jumping and explosive sprint ability in athletes. This, as Smith explains, is because athletes who only do one or two sets perform them with a higher intensity.

“In other words, in the weightroom, start with how little is effective, moreso than how much your athletes can tolerate,” writes Smith. “Personally, I won’t do more than 2 sets of any squat with the majority of my collegiate athletes, and I’ve even scaled back to 2 sets with some teams, but am finding that we still get great strength results, and are fresher for practice and explosive gains on the field of play.”

The third tip is to change athletes’ squat technique to better resemble athletic movement. This means moving away from vertical shins, as athletes don’t move well on the field of play when they have to keep their shins this way. Instead, Smith recommends coaching forward translation of the shin so that the angle of the torso is similar to that of the shin. Doing this allows the athlete to keep tension in the glutes and place their spinal erectors into the proper length, among other benefits.

Next, is to end a lifting session with speed or explosive work such as plyometrics. During the session, Smith also says to use high rep, rhythmic, and explosive work to better train for speed and power. Organizing practices in this way can help athletes recover better and enter the next weight room session with more energy. Here are a few strategies that Smith has used to implement this tip:

  • Finishing the workout with 5x80m sprint strides on the grass
  • Finishing a workout with 2×15 jump squats with barbell weights only, and 2x20m barbell skips with 45-95Ibs
  • Infuse sled pushes in with your explosive pulls (deadlifts, cleans, high pulls, etc.) and do so in a dense, “every minute on the minute” training package to improve neural efficiency.

Last, Smith stresses the importance of teaching athletes to breathe and relax. When in the weightroom, he says that coaches should use three questions as athletic assessment: Does the athlete breathe through their chest or belly while lifting? What is the tension in their neck like while lifting? And what is the tension in their jaw and face like? According to Smith, jaw and neck driven movement is associated with the forebrain, which doesn’t transfer well to the world of sport.

“To really ramp up the effectiveness of the weight room, I recommend teaching the ‘belly breath-glute squeeze’ pair, where athletes learn to tense their glutes while breathing through their belly simultaneously,” writes Smith. “This sequence can and should be integrated into the daily workout, particularly those movements where the athlete is heavily loaded.”

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