In my previous blog I discussed the importance of building the initial foundation and raising GPP during the prep phase. In this blog I will address enhancing the current foundation for athletes who have already built their initial base. I will also discuss ME and DE work in more detail and dive into the practical implementation of those methods.
It’s fairly easy to develop a base for an untrained trainee. Everything is new to them and anything works at first. So how do you simultaneously raise a well-trained athlete’s base while increasing their strength/speed capabilities for performance?
Although there are many exercises and methods that I will go over in future blogs in regards to constantly raising the base of an athlete, one specific method in particular jumps out to me and deserves some undivided attention. Potentiation warmups are easy to integrate and often overlooked. They have become a mainstay at OPP. We utilize them with ALL of our athletes regardless of training age, gender or sport. It is important to understand that potentiation does not mean to completely exhaust a muscle group. Rather, to influence the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions that will happen following the warmup. We have 2 goals when doing our potentiation warmups.
- Strengthen weaknesses.
- Potentiate tissues that we WANT taking priority during the ‘main work’ for that day.
How do we do it? Simple really.
For our advanced-elite athletes we are usually 2-4 sets of 25 reps with an intensity kept at a 4 on the RPE scale. Our rest periods are minimal with 30s – 1 min in-between sets. The volume is really dependent on the individual. For our novice trainees, we are keeping the volume a little lower. They usually handle 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps at a 4 on the RPE scale to start. We always avoid compression and promote traction. So we never do these warm ups under a barbell.
Coaching Tip: If you work with a bunch of meat heads like me, then it can be hard to make sure they do not overshoot themselves on a daily basis. Regardless if it’s the warmup or the main lift for that day. I utilize an RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) scale that has helped both our in-house and remote trainees avoid overtraining and mitigate the odds of running themselves into the ground too early in their warmup.
For exercise selection I like to make sure we are targeting weaknesses. So again, completely dependent on the individual. For coaches who work with large groups where all the athletes do the same exercises, I recommend prioritizing where the population as a whole is usually weak and then choose your exercises based off what your main work is for that day. The speed of the potentiation warmup is extremely important. These reps are not done slow. We want to get this volume in quickly and be done in under 15 minutes. Our athletes are done training in roughly 45 minutes time. Our guys know they need to be done with their warmup in 10-15 min tops and on to their main work. Regardless if it’s high intensity plyometrics, ME or DE work, we are trying to get right to the point. Nothing is worse than the athlete who coasts through a 10 min foam rolling session followed by a 25 min dynamic warm up and then gets under the bar to warmup AGAIN prior to his working sets. That’s a waste of time. If you need to warmup after your warmup, then your warmup sucks. We must remember, optimal training is the least amount of work put forth for the highest amount of sports return. So all of our sets are working sets. Get in, get out and get to your sport!
Below I wrote a general example for coaches who work in groups and do not structure their training on an individual basis. Also, I didn’t list any lower body warmups in the example below. This does not mean mixing in lower body warmups when the main work for that day is upper body (or vice versa) is a bad thing. I often mix upper and lower warmups/accessories in depending on what the athlete needs.
Example for group warmup
Population: Baseball Players
Main Lift: Max Effort Upper. Low incline DB Press.
Upper Weaknesses: This population usually has weak posterior shoulder muscles and poor scapula rotation capabilities.
Lower Weaknesses: This population usually has poor single stability with extremely weak glutes and hamstrings.
Movement Prep: Hips up bear crawl 2x20yds | Serratus Jab 2×5/side | Ab-wheel roll out 2×12 | Wall slides 3×5.
Time for movement prep: 7 min
Potentiation Warmup: Banded face pulls 3×25 | Flat DB bench press 3×20.
RPE for potentiation warmup: 4
Time for potentiation warmup: 7 min
Obviously for those who work in a more individual setting, the details that go into your exercise selection will be much more methodically planned. For the coaches who are big on priming the central nervous system (CNS), you can title potentiation warmups as your “CNS Primer” but keep in mind… Your athletes probably do not care about any of that. Writing it on the whiteboard may look good for social media posts but it’s less intriguing to your athletes. When they ask questions in the heat of the moment during their training, “what’s a potentiation warm up?” It’s pretty easy to answer and even easier for them to understand. Explaining how the CNS works to an athlete who really doesn’t care is a different story.
Let’s move on.
If I want the athlete to prioritize raising their base, I will simply change the template their program is designed on. I will re-title the wave as GPP and not mention ME or DE work on the template. The main lift for that day will not have an RPE above 9.0 with rep schemes usually anywhere from 2-8 and is completely dependent upon the individual. So, they will still achieve maximal strength carry over, and can still do speed work, however they are less likely to overshoot their RPE simply because the title for that day doesn’t read Max-Effort or Dynamic Effort. Coaches who work in groups and have to delegate programs on a massive white board can easily do this as well. Later in this blog series I will discuss specific exercises and methods you can use during your ME and DE work that constantly brings the base up as well.
When it comes to programming, always work from general to specific. Meaning, you are not immediately doing a million plyometrics and sprints following a track and field season. I recommend to start “over” in a sense of how you organize training, however the athlete’s volume accumulation SHOULD raise every year and start higher the following year. Their threshold for intensity and volume should continue to raise every year. In short, if the athlete isn’t getting stronger, faster, more powerful or able to handle more volume the following year. You’re doing something wrong coach.
In future blogs I will discuss rotation of exercises including potentiation warmups, so stay tuned for that!
Do not let the term “Maximal-Effort” shape your outlook on training athletes.
Although not training for maximal strength will subsequently affect power which subsequently affects speed. This doesn’t mean that a PR on ME day is the holy grail of athletic development. Training in the weight room for an athlete is different than that of a powerlifter. When an athlete comes to me in hopes of becoming better at their respective sport, my first goal for the athlete isn’t to grind out 1RMs so they can reach a massive total under the barbell. I could care less about that.
According to Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion, it makes perfect sense to train using ME work for athletes who are involved in strength related sports. F=MA, improving an athlete’s relationship between force and motion is obviously important. Increasing lean muscle mass to a point, relative to the athlete’s needs, sport, goals, etc… is also important. Being able to overcome the weight on the bar and gravity demonstrates the athlete’s acceleration capabilities. It shows how much effort and energy it takes for them to overcome inertia. Teaching the athlete how to overcome inertia and leverage his body in order to lift a maximal load is not something that should be frowned upon. These are athletes we are talking about, not glass dolls. Coaches, it shouldn’t be the exercise or the method itself that is the deterring factor in ME work. HOW the athletes are accomplishing ME and what their intention is behind it is far more important.
This is low volume, high intensity training followed by special exercises and accessories. Remember GPP? That base you developed actually preps the athlete to handle the strain of ME work and recover from that quickly enough to handle the stress of the DE training session later in the week. The lower their base, the harder it is to recover from. It is extremely important to note one thing. An athlete should NEVER strain past technical failure. When technique fails it’s over. They should know this going into the lift. It should be engrained into the athletes mind as the coach preps them during GPP. Just like playing any sport at a high level, lifting at a high level is a highly technical skill. Grinding out reps is not important for an athlete. Being a meat head is cool. Being a smart meathead is better.
Although true ME is a 1RM done at 100% (or more) intensity, our athletes’ strain on ME Day anywhere from a 1-5RM. This is only for athletes who have built the capacity to handle this type of stress. For exercise selection, this really comes down to the individual. For an athlete, they do not need to only partake in the big 3 during ME work. Squat, Deadlift, and Bench press are great exercises. For a majority of athletes, they work fine. However, variations of these exercises should be implemented often as the athlete progresses. Unilateral work is important as well. Maxing out on a bilateral movement every week isn’t ideal. Some athletes will need the single leg strength prioritized. If that’s the case, I recommend always implementing unilateral ME work with DBs and KBs first. Unilateral movements are highly skilled and require tons of practice. Free weights first, barbells second.
When it comes to Max Effort work, only 20% of the athlete’s total work should be done on the barbell. On the RPE scale, these numbers would be anywhere from 8.5 – 10.
We will discuss rotation and exercise selection in future blogs.
Speed work takes place here. Its purpose is to improve a faster rate of force development and explosive strength. I always recommend accommodating resistance of some kind when doing traditional lifts like the squat, deadlift or bench press. With limited bar deceleration the athlete can continue to accelerate through the full ROM. I would advise to refrain from Olympic lifts for athletes.
For an experienced trainee the goal is to improve their strength or speed abilities for their sport, so investing a large amount of time on improving technique at specific lifts isn’t at the tip of the pyramid. If you’re a competitive lifter, prioritizing skill at specific lifts to a point would obviously yield a greater return on investment than that for the athlete.
When I first started using the DE method for my athletes, we would hover around 50-60% plus 25% band tension. Over the last few years I have seen tremendous improvements in explosive strength and power by hovering around 30-60%. I hardly ever go under 30% and over 60% with a barbell. Loaded jumps, and both upper/lower plyometrics with free weights or medicine balls could be done under 30%. If accommodating resistance on the barbell is high then the weight loaded will drop so that the bar overall will equate to roughly 60% of an individual’s max. The more advanced an athlete is, the farther apart on the Force Velocity Curve they can train. So when I program using the RPE scale I plug these exercises around 5-7. Don’t worry about banging your head against the wall trying to measure band tension for every athlete. At the end of the day, athletes usually don’t care how much band tension is on the bar, they just need the benefits of accommodating resistance.
You can get pretty creative here with your programming. If you have a tendo unit or something to measure bar velocity, even better. I program specific M/S (meters per second) for my athletes plus the percentage and RPE rating. For M/S programming I never have my athletes train above 1.1 M/S. In all honesty, if they needed to move that fast they would be better just going and playing their sport rather than waste that time on a barbell. Most athletes hover between .8m/s and 1.1m/s. Keep in mind, with newbies I would stay closer to the middle of curve around .8m/s for a majority of their speed work before moving toward the end of the curve at 1.1m/s.
So if the percentage for that day is moving too slow compared to the prescribed bar velocity then they change it. If they feel like complete crap then they change it (that’s the beauty of RPE). This not only improves body awareness, but it lets the athlete be involved in their training. They get to choose the weight based on their strengths and weaknesses. The guidelines are set, but they need to figure it out. I love that.
As we move into part 3 of this series next week, I want to thank you for indulging in my content. Today we reviewed GPP and the basics of ME and DE methods, however there still is much to be discussed about exercise selection, rotation and scheduling concerning these methods. In part 3 of this series Conjugate4athletes, I will be covering the Repeated Effort Method, and the implementation of Special Exercises & Accessories.