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Periodization Hack: Create Seasons in Training

Zach Kinninger
Dec 22, 2022

A common topic I hear today, and I heard growing up, was whether young kids should play multiple sports. It is a hot topic that strength coaches and sport coaches have strong opinions on. Both parties typically agree that playing multiple sports is the better route because it develops multiple skills and strengths, gives the athletes a break from overuse injuries, and breaks up the monotony to help keep the athlete mentally engaged/fresh from burnout. The one downside is that progression/improvement in the sport will not be accomplished as fast and straightforward. Most strength coaches would agree that multiple sport athletes typically are more well-rounded athletes and have greater potential.

This year’s NSCA TSAC conference helped me reflect on this more. As I sat through Joel Raether and Rob Orr’s briefings, I noticed a common theme that I’ve always heard Cal Dietz talk about; the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) principle. In a lot of strength and conditioning coaches’ programs (I was victim to this when I was younger), we like to keep the same movements in a program (the big three: Squat, Bench, Deadlift, or Oly Lifts). Why? Athletes in general are not strength sport specialized so they need repetitions, practice, and progression in certain movements to build strength and get the required adaptations that we are looking for as coaches. Similar to the one sport vs. multiple sport athlete discussion, are we making these athletes too specialized in becoming good at strength training that we forget to make them better at their sport or the demands of their job?

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When I’ve had this discussion with other strength coaches, they would say ‘it’s not our job as strength coaches to make them better at their sport.’ While I totally agree in theory, we must ask is your training hindering and/or hurting that athlete in being better at their sport or job? I would argue doing the same exercises are going to have the same effect as your one sport athlete; fewer skills developed, overuse injuries, and more likelihood of burnout or less motivation. As I’ve learned through more experienced people like the names listed above, when athletes start to specialize in a certain skill, the body begins to compensate for these specific tasks to become more efficient. This throws off correct firing patterns, aids in overuse injuries, and lessens the abilities of other demands or tasks. When training athletes, especially tactical, we need to incorporate a variety of styles, speeds, planes of motion, and exercises. These individuals need to be good at variety - not specificity. What is the downside to variety? If you add too much variety then that progression begins to get muddy and you as a coach don’t know if the athlete is receiving the correct adaptations you are looking for. My recommendation is to create multiple seasons in the weight room for your athletes, whether sport or tactical. All programs should include Strength development and Power production: jumps/sprints/oly movements, and conditioning development. However, the ratio/volume of those movements should change in each season for the athlete. What does that look like on paper?

 

Program #1

Program #2

Program #3

Priority 1

Strength

Conditioning

Speed/Power

Priority 2

Power/Speed

Strength

Conditioning

Priority 3

Conditioning

Speed/Power

Strength

 

The table above signifies how much time and volume I am putting towards a specific demand. For program 1, we might strength train 3-4 days/week and condition 1-2 days/week. Or a 60-minute session, 40 minutes of strength, and 20 minutes of conditioning. For program 2, conditioning could make up most days trained that week or be prioritized at the front of every workout. To add another layer to this process you can match up specific strengths to specific power/speed movements. In a more simplistic version, program 1 could be towards improving/progressing the big 3: squat, bench, and deadlift while improving max power on jumps, and low-level aerobic development.

In Program 2, you will focus on improving conditioning/work capacity and incorporating big circuits and low-level plyos-hops. Program 3 will feature improvement in sprint times, plyos, Olympic lifts, and repeat bouts of high conditioning.

As you develop a system, such as this, you may find certain exercises fit better in different seasons.   Each season can range from 4-12 weeks. I personally like 12-week seasons that give you as a coach a good amount of time to properly progress/ develop a specific adaptation that you are trying to improve. Any longer than 12, individuals start to forget specific exercise skills and become too specialized. Some individuals may prefer 8 or 6 weeks.

As strength coaches, I believe we get so stuck in certain blocks of training that we forget to scale back and look at the big picture of development from 1-4 years. This will not only break up the monotony for the athlete but also allows opportunities for you as a coach to stay more engaged. When I was just starting out in this field, I heard someone speak and they mentioned how a lot of older strength coaches are broken and/or have hurt themselves. It was due to their biases of training or what they liked to do which became their demise due to either overuse or burnout. As a coach do not let yourself or your athletes become a victim of that. We know there is more than one way to skin a cat. Become more diverse and use all the tools not just a hammer and screwdriver.

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