Category Archives: Strength & Conditioning

Acute:Chronic Workload & Our Research

Some research that myself and a few colleagues have worked on for the past year (and discussed for far longer than that) regarding our critiques of the acute-chronic workload model for sports injury have been recently published.

It was a pleasure to collaborate with this group of researchers and I learned a lot throughout the process and hopefully others will learn a lot when they read our work.

Below are the papers that I’ve been a part of:

  1. Bornn L, Ward P, Norman D. (2019). Training schedule confounds the relationship between Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio and Injury. A causal analysis in professional soccer and American football. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Paper.
  2. Impellizzeri F, Woodcock S, McCall A, Ward P, Coutts AJ. (2020). The acute-crhonic workload ratio-injury figure and its ‘sweet spot’ are flawed. SportRxiv Preprints.
  3. Impellizzeri FM, Ward P, Coutts AJ, Bornn L, McCall A. (2020). Training Load and Injury Part 1: The devil is in the detail – Challenges to applying the current research in the training load and injury field. Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 50(10): 577-584.
  4. Impellizzeri FM, Ward P, Coutts AJ, Bornn L, McCall A. (2020). Training Load and Injury Part 2: Questionable research practices hijack the truth and mislead well-intentioned clinicians. Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 50(10): 577-584.
  5. Impellizzeri FM, McCall A, Ward P, Bornn L, Coutts AC. (2020). Training load and its role in injury prevention, Part 2: Conceptual and Methodologic Pitfalls. Journal of Athletic Training, 55(9). 893-901.

Many will argue and say, “Who cares? What’s the big deal if there are issues with this research? People are using it and it is making them think about training load and it is increasing the conversations about training load within sports teams.”

I understand this argument to a point. Having been in pro sport for 7 years now, I can say that anything which increase conversation about training loads, how players are (or are not) adapting, and the potential role this all plays in non-contact injury and game day performance is incredibly useful. That being said, to make decisions we need to have good/accurate measures. Simply doing something for the sake of increasing the potential for conversation is silly to me. It is the same argument that gets made for wellness questionnaires (which I have also found little utility for in the practical environment).

When we measure something it means we are assigning a level of value to it. There is some amount of weighting we apply to that measurement within our decision making process. Even if we are under the belief that collecting the metric is solely for the purpose of increasing the opportunity to have a conversation with a player or coach. In the back of our minds we are still thinking, “Jeez, but his acute-chronic workload ratio was 2.2 today” or “Gosh, I don’t know. He did put an 8 down (out of 10) for soreness this morning”.

Of course challenging these ideas doesn’t mean we sit on our hands and do nothing. Taking simple training load measures (GPS, Accelerometers, Heart Rate, etc.) and applying basic logic about reasonably safe training load increases from week-to-week, doing some basic analysis to understand injury risks and rates within your sport (how they differ by position, age, etc), and identifying players that might be at higher risk of injury to begin with (IE, higher than the baseline risk) and having a more conservative approach with their progression in training can go a long way. Doing something simple like that, doing well, and creating an easy way to report said information to the coach and player can help increase the chance for more meaningful conversation without using measures that might otherwise give a flawed sense of certainty around injury risk.

Regardless of our work, people will use what they want to use and what they are (or have been) most comfortable with in practice. However, that shouldn’t deter us from challenging our processes, critiquing methodologies, and trying to better understand sport, training, physiology, and athlete health and wellness.

Concurrent Training – The Effect of Intensity Distribution

Periodization and planning of training is a topic that fascinates me as I enjoy studying how good coaches structure training and develop athletes. Lots of thoughts exist regarding the best periodization strategy to use (e.g., Linear, Block, Conjugate, Vertical Integration, Undulating, Daily Undulating, Fluid, etc.).

Concurrent training is one approach to structuring a training program where multiple qualities are trained within the same session. Of course, this may present problems where one quality (e.g., strength) may interfere with another quality (e.g., aerobic training) that you are looking to also develop in that session. For more on this issue, referred to as the interference phenomenon, see THIS blog post I wrote about 4 years ago.

A new study by Varela-Sanz and colleagues evaluated the effect of concurrent training between two programs that had equivalent external loads (volume x intensity) but differed in training intensity distribution. This evaluation may provide practitioners with a better understanding of the optimal dose and intensity needed to minimize the interference phenomenon. In team sport athletes, this may be essential as training and developing multiple qualities needed for sport is crucial and the shortened offseason periods can make program planning a challenge.

Study Overview

Subjects: 35 sport science students (30 men / 5 women)
Duration: 8 weeks
Independent Variable: External training load
Dependent Variables:

  • Counter Movement Jump
  • Bench Press (7 – 10 RM was performed and used to estimate 1 RM)
  • Half Squat (7 – 10 RM was performed and used to estimate 1 RM)
  • Max Aerobic Speed (Université de Montréal Track Test)
  • Body Composition (body weight & skinfold measurements)
  • HRV
  • RPE
  • Feeling Scale
  • Training Impulse (TRIMP)

Training Groups

  • Traditional Training Group
    • N = 12
    • This group followed the exercise guidelines recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which suggests that moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise is performed on most days of the week.
  • Polarized Training Group
    • N =12
    • This group followed a polarized training program. Polarized training programs have been recommended for endurance athletes as a method of distributing training intensity. Despite this polarized approach, external load was matched to the Traditional Training Group.
  • Control Group
    • N = 11

Training Program

  • Training Frequency: 3x/week (Mon, Wed, Fri)
    • Monday & Friday sessions were ~120min
    • Wednesday’s session was ~60min
  • Training Set Up
    • Monday/Friday Training
      • Cardiovascular Training
      • Resistance Training
    • Wednesday Training
      • Cardiovascular Training

      Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.41.03 PM

Results

  • No differences for total workload, RPE, TRIMP, or Feeling Score were found between groups over the 8-week period.
  • The traditional training group was the only group to see a decrease in resting HR (both supine and standing) following the training program. No changes in HRV were seen for any group.
  • Both training groups saw improvements in 1RM for the bench press, half squat, and Max Aerobic Speed.
  • The polarized group saw an increase in body weight (without a change in body fat) following the 8-week training program and was still able to maintain their vertical jump abilities.

Practical Applications

I don’t know that this study moves us any closer to understanding the optimal distribution of training intensity when performing a concurrent training program. The polarized group performed easier cardiovascular training on days where they performed resistance training (Monday & Friday) and on Wednesday’s they performed easy cardiovascular training followed by high intensity interval training. The traditional group performed the same training session each day, with the same intensities for the duration of the 8-week program. Despite the differences in intensity distribution, both groups appeared to make improvements so it is really difficult to tell which method may be more beneficial (or perhaps, they are really just the same).

There are a number of things to consider when reading this study:

  • The subjects are not high-level athletes and it is possible that any form of training is going to provide a positive training effect.
  • Resistance training volume was low (they only used two exercises – Bench Press and Half Squat) so we don’t know what would happen if there were more resistance training in the program.
  • The polar training group trained opposite qualities during their training sessions, which is interesting given that a commonly held belief amongst coaches is to try and group similar qualities together in one session rather than mix them (IE, sprinting + heavy strength training or aerobic training + lower intensity resistance training).

Probably the most important thing that I think about with papers like this is that we need to begin to dig down into understanding individual differences. Comparing group means doesn’t really tell us how the individual’s responded and then allow us to make better inference to our own athletes about what sort of outcome we might expect to get when we write a training program. Training is a very individualized process and how someone responds to the program we apply to them is dependent on a number of factors – some that we might be able to measure and quantify and others which we might not be able to measure and quantify (and a few others that we might not even be aware of yet). In the process of evaluating individual differences we may find that some athletes in each group got better, a few stayed the same, and some may have gotten worse. Without understanding these individual differences and then attempting to unpack the deeper question of “why” it will be hard to plan individualized training programs in the future. If we can get to the bottom of how people respond to training and we can start to go down the road of figuring out the factors that influence that response we will start to have a better idea of the impact our training program will have for that athlete, allowing us to make individual adjustments that may lead to more favorable outcomes.

 

 

Daily Undulating Periodization & Performance Improvements in Powerlifters

Dr. Mike Zourdos and colleagues just published a new paper on Daily Undulating Periodization (Zourdos MC, et al. Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than a Traditional Configuration in Powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res 2015. Published Ahead of Print). Being a fan of the Daily Undulating Periodization approach to training structure I thought I would summarize the paper and share some of my thoughts.

Subjects

  • 18 Male, college-aged powerlifters
  • Subjects were assigned to one of two groups: Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power (HSP) or Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength (HPS)
  • The groups were balanced to ensure that relative and absolute strength were similar

Training Programs

  • Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of strength, and day 3 had an emphasis of power.
  • Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of power, and day 3 had an emphasis of strength.
  • The rationale for testing the outcome between these two weekly training schemes is that in the former, which is a common weekly set up for Daily Undulating Periodization in research, the strength session takes place ~48 hours following the hypertrophy session, which is the higher volume training session of the three. This may create an issue with the subject’s ability to perform their strength session due to the lack of recovery from the high volume hypertrophy session.
  • The variables for each of the training days are described in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 2.52.09 PM

Summary of Strength Results

The strength change results from both of the 6-week training programs are summarized as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.14.57 PM

  • No statistical difference in the squat and deadlift were found between groups; however a statistical improvement was seen in the bench press for the HPS group compared to the HSP group.
  • No statistical difference was found between groups for powerlifting total.
  • Effect sizes greater than 0.5 were noted for the squat, bench press, and powerlifting total in favor of HPS, which may suggest a practically significant improvement in HPS versus HSP when developing training programs for powerlifters.

Comments & Thought

This was an interesting study and I like the approach of trying to find an optimal scheme within the training week. Perhaps someday we may find that the optimal scheme for the Daily Undulating Periodization Model (or any training model!) is one where the emphasis of training on a given day is dictated based on how the athlete reports and what they are able to tolerate? This very fluid approach to programming – where we are attempting to strike a balance between training variety, to prevent monotony, and a concentrated dose of training, to increase fitness in a certain capacity – has been suggested by John Kiely’s work on periodization. In the paper by Zourdos and colleagues, they used an autoregulation approach on the hypertrophy day to dictate the training load/intensity for that session (an approach discussed by Mel Siff in Supertraining and researched by Bryan Mann, as referenced above). Perhaps, in a practical setting, we could extend this a bit further and utilize a linear position transducer or some other form of velocity based approach (the folks at PUSH have come up with an affordable and easy to use solution) to dictate the load/intensity on the power and strength training days. If the athlete is sluggish and moving the bar slowly, then lower the load to stay within a desired range of bar velocity. Additionally, because training takes place on non-consecutive days in this type of frame work (E.g., 3 sessions over 7 days) it may be possible to utilize monitoring strategies (bar velocity, daily wellness, RPE training loads, HRV, etc) to make the suggestion that the athlete take a rest day, instead of performing the scheduled training session, and see how their body is the following day and if it is prepared to tolerate the load.

The use of effect sizes in this paper allows us to get a better understanding of whether or not the average difference between groups is of practical significance. One of the things that I find  critical when looking at research on training interventions is the understanding of inter-individual differences. It is very possible that some athletes in this study responded favorably to either of the training approaches while others had no result or a poor result.  The paper also look at things like changes in total volume and some hormonal measures. When it comes to understanding responders and non-responders in training, it isn’t good enough to just say, “Some people get better and others don’t”. At some point, we need to figure out who doesn’t respond and why they don’t respond. Perhaps there is something to additionally look at in this paper with the hormonal changes and the individual’s ability to increase training volume or get stagnant during certain periods of the training program.

Hopefully this group continues to do more research on the topic of Daily Undulating Periodization because I find it to be a practical method of programming training and they have done some good work thus far that they can certainly follow up on. While Mike Zourdos tends to aim his approach at Powerlifters (I believe because he is competitive lifter himself) there are concepts within this framework that can easily be extended to training team sport athletes as well as concepts that could be used for sport coaches when establishing the weekly practice structure.

The Ebb & Flow of a Strength & Conditioning Program

I’ve talked a lot about training stress and adaptation in the blog over the years. As simple as it sounds, training really comes down to two things:

  • Stress the body
  • Recover and adapt

That’s it!

How you stress the body is one of the key components. Are you doing the appropriate training to obtain the physiological changes you seek? This has been discussed many times over on this site.

The other key component is the frequency of stress. Today’s article comes from a conversation I had regarding this topic, last week, with Walter Norton. For those that don’t know, Walter owns Institute of Performance & Fitness in Andover, MA. Walter has worked as a strength coach for over 20 years. He has worked for three professional sports teams in three different sports (NBA, MLS, and NHL), has served as a strength coach for a number of collegiate programs, works with a number of high school athletes everyday, and still makes time to train groups of general population folks who are trying look better, feel better, and move better. Aside from all this experience, Walter is one of the best coaches I have ever seen. When it comes to taking a group of athletes, setting up a training program to meet the needs of those athletes, and then coaching the hell out of everything – Warm Up, Speed & Agility, Lifting, Recovery/Mobility –  Walter Norton can deliver.

This past week we were discussing training and the ebb and flow of the week when writing training programs. Walter was sharing some ideas for training his groups of general population clients. His ideas match with my thought process and approach to training – the ideas are good for anyone (general public or athlete).

It is always a tough sell when training people because no one likes to hear that the intensity of some of their training sessions needs to be regulated. Walter was explaining that the most difficult day of the week for his clients is Tuesday because they have a hard training session on Monday and a hard training session on Wednesday, which means Tuesday needs to be a lighter training day. Most of the clients at the gym dislike this session. When I used to have my gym people didn’t love those days either. I think Walter phrased it best when he said, “We try and educate the clients to understand that we go easier on Tuesday to set you up for success on Wednesday.”

Let’s face it, it is easy to sell hardcore workouts that make people feel sick to the stomach or leave them lying on the floor in a puddle of sweat. People love the sense of accomplishment and like to feel that they worked hard. (Side NOTE: Training should be hard and we need to push ourselves to achieve results. The flip side is doing too little that we don’t get enough training stimulus! Good programming should walk the line between the two – doing too much and doing too little.) The problem is that there is always a cost of doing business and at some point you are going to have to pay that cost. People can usually string together a number of really hard training sessions or even several weeks of very hard training, but eventually something gives – they either start to feel bad (joints ache, muscles hurt, etc), they start to feel fatigued, tired, and irritable, or their progress begins to stall.

Most coaches don’t understand this concept. They want the clients/athletes to always feel like they got after it. The problem is that we aren’t really making the person better when we do this, we are just making them tired. Training is a process. It is not defined by one single “hard” workout. You need to educate your clients/athletes about this process and show them that there is a way to achieve their goals without foolishly applying a training session. While this may be difficult for some clients to hear (heck, you might even turn some people a way), at the end of the day you have a goal, as the coach, to help your client/athlete achieve success with their training program. Your job is not to be a drill sergeant and beat people down in every session. Your job is to educate them on what it means to be healthy. Part of that education process means teaching them what it means to regulate their training appropriately so that they can see continued results/improvement. Mark McLaughlin once said something like, “True discipline is the athlete that can do 60min of aerobic work with their HR at 100-110bpm and not push the pace because they want to “feel like they are working hard”. That is an athlete who understands what they have to do and understands the process.”

As stated earlier, these types of ideas are not unique to strength and conditioning. More sports coaches would be better off understanding this concept when they run practice. The hardest thing for a sports coach to understand is the role they play in the injury of an athlete because they don’t consider practice intensity. The sports coach who can embrace logical coaching methods and an understanding of how his/her practice impacts the physiological state of the athletes will be a coach who has a team that is always healthy, fresh, and ready to compete.

Bill Starr and the 5×5 Training Template

Two days ago we lost a legend in the Strength & Conditioning World. Bill Starr was one of the first guys to put together a systematic approach to strength training for football. His book, The Strongest Shall Survive, has influenced thousands of strength coaches over the years, including myself.

I thought, to pay respects to the man who influenced so many, it would be great to unpack the program and show how I have built templates around the simple organization of it.

The Original Program

There have been a number of variations of the 5×5 program that have been surfaced over the years but the basic program was centered around 3 lifts – Squat, Bench Press, and Power Clean – and 3 different intensity schemes, over 3 days, using 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise. In a nutshell, it looked like this:

Monday – Heavy Power Clean Squat Bench Notes: Perform 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise and ramp up the weight in each set so that your last set for each exercise is as heavy as you can handle with good form.

Wednesday – Light Power Clean Squat Bench Notes: Perform 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise using approximately 70-75% of your top end weight from Monday for each lift.

Friday – Medium Power Clean Squat Bench Notes: Perform 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise using approximately 80-85% of your top end weight from Monday for each lift.

As you can see, nothing fancy, just stick to the basics and try and increase your max load on Monday’s by 5-10lbs.

Unpacking The Program A little Bit

The set up of the program is brilliant. Looking at it, it is pretty much daily undulating periodization before some researcher coined the phrase. Each day we see an undulation in training intensity. Additionally, looking at the set up of the week, it falls in line with what many would refer to as a “high-low” approach to training. Our three “high” days are on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the days in between would be referred to as “low” days.

The program was truly revolutionary for the time and, in its simplicity and structure, probably better than most of what we see these days at high schools and colleges (and many professional sports teams) all over the country. Teach the athletes to perform 3 simple exercises and slowly develop them over time.

One of the best things about the program is the flexibility that the template offers the coach. We can take something this simple and begin to add other components that address physical needs for a team sport athlete. The program, by itself, is a great strength program; however, for a team sport athlete we also need to run, cut, change direction, etc. Thus, we want to take the original template and morph it into something that can address these needs without getting to far away from Bill Starr’s structure.

Addressing Exercise Selection

I am a big “keep it simple” kind of guy. I believe that you need to pick a few exercises and hammer the heck out of them. The idea that we need to constantly vary things up is crazy given the amount of variation we can apply to the exercises (sets, reps, rep tempo, etc), which will help to force new adaptations.

Other versions of the original Bill Starr program did have a little more variation with regard to exercise selection. For example, Wednesday’s workout might have used Incline Bench Press, Deadlift, and Row (or Chin Up) and Friday’s workout might have substituted the Standing Barbell Press for the Bench Press. These exercises choices are fine but certainly not the only options we have.

Lateralizations and Regressions

Last year, my friend, Charlie Weingroff, released his latest DVD series, Training = Rehab 2. In this DVD set, Charlie discusses the concept of laterilzations and regressions. Basically, taking your best program and either lateralizing the exercises to something that is more logical for an athlete given certain individual limitations or regressing the exercise to something else if the athlete is returning from injury or unable to perform a certain exercise pattern.

If we work from the template of Bill Starr’s 5×5 program as our “best” program there are a number of ways one can lateralize or regress the program given specific limitations. Remember, the goal is to improve the limitations while you concurrently develop fitness. Having a good system of monitoring what you are doing and auditing your process will allow you to know whether or not the lateralization is interfering with the athlete’s ability to improve upon their limitation and, thus, may warrant a change in exercise selection. Also, this is not an exhaustive list. This is simply a few ideas to provide examples.

Any of these options will help you move the athlete along, in terms of developing strength, while you work on their limitations or work alongside a rehab professional and/or manual therapist who is helping to improve the limitation.

There are other ways to address exercise selection within the program, since you may have times where you want to change exercises and there isn’t a limitation where the athlete needs to be lateralized or regressed. For example, I generally don’t use Olympic Lifts in my programs (although I do like DB Snatches and Hang Clean Pulls). Thus, we could eliminate that exercise and substitute it with something for the upper back. For example, we could use Chin Ups or Rows and apply the same loading scheme throughout the week.

Maybe you are a person that doesn’t like back squats? How about swapping the back squats out for front squats or trap bar deadlifts?

Don’t like bilateral squats at all? You could simply change out squatting for Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats, Step Back Lunges, or Step Ups

Don’t like Olympic Lifts? You can swap out the power clean for a plyometric activity (box jumps, bounds, hurdle jumps, etc). You could use KB swings or KB snatches. You could use some sort of explosive, full body Medicine Ball Throw (Some of my favorites are – Over-the Back, Squat to Forward Chest Throw, Scoop Throw Straight Up In The Air, Squat to Chest Throw Straight Up In The Air, and Chest Throw into 10yrd Sprint).

What about working with beginners? Of course having total newbies work up to a max 5 on Monday doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe you want to really take some time to educate the person using exercises that apply less load? Here might be an example program:

Monday
Push Ups
Goblet Squat
1-arm Row
Notes: Use eccentric emphasis on your exercises today. Perform 5×5 with a 5 count lowering

Wednesday
DB Bench Press
Hip Hinge Work (RDL or 1-leg RDL patterning)
Chin Up
Notes: Perform 5×5 on each exercise with a comfortable load, leaving 2-4 reps in the tank. For hinge work, perform a 2-3 count iso in the bottom position to ensure that they understand what it feels like to be in the correct position before going into the concentric portion of the lift

Friday
Push Ups
Goblet Squat
TRX Row (or Supine Barbell Row)
Notes: Perform 3 sets x Max Reps for Push Ups and Rows. For Goblet Squat, perform 5×5 using a 3 count iso in the bottom to feel what the bottom position is supposed to feel like.

Pretty simple!

Addressing Other Fitness Qualities Within The Program

Because of the daily undulating model and the high-low nature of the original template, it lends itself to addressing different fitness qualities nicely. In team sports, athletes need lots of physical abilities. They need to have a solid work capacity in order to train and recovery adequately. They need to be fast, strong, and explosive. They also need to be able to move in all different planes of motion and do so effortlessly. All of these things can be addressed within the simple Bill Starr 5×5 program. I’ll briefly go through some of the ways to address these things and then put it all together into a short training program using the Bill Starr 5×5 as the template.

Warm Ups, Tri-Planar Movement, & Carries/Dragging

Tri-planar movement can be addressed in a few different ways within the program. The first, and most logical way of addressing tri-planar movement is with a good warm up. Warm ups should be progressive and move from slow to fast and simple to complex. Start first with general mobility work to prepare the joints and tissues. Move the joints in various ranges of motions in order to address any limitations you may have. Follow this up with various lunging, crawling, skipping, carrying/dragging (IE, farmers carriers, overhead carriers, rack carriers, light sled dragging/marching in different directions) and medicine ball throwing in all different directions. This should be rather extensive and last anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Oftentimes our strength training programs tend to be very sagital plane dominant (and the Bill Starr program is no different). Having the body go through multi-planar movement with lunging, skipping, crawling, and throwing helps prepare the athlete for movements and ranges of motion that they may encounter on the field of play. By starting the warm up with slower and less complex movements and progressing to something that is more dynamic and faster pace, the athlete has time to learn how their body feels and develop strategies to move in and out of all these different ranges of motion.

An additional area where tri-planar movement can be addressed within the program is at the end of the big three exercises for that day. In the original program, Bill Starr had often written in things like abdominal work or hyperextensions as accessory exercises. We can choose whatever accessory exercises we want though. Perhaps we would rather do some lateral lunges or rotational lunges with dumbells or maybe some pistol squats or slide board lunges. We could also add in things like chops, lifts, ab wheel, plank variations, carries or dragging exercises for our core work.

Speed & Explosiveness

Following the warm up we can address speed and explosiveness with sprint, bounds, and plyometrics. The volume of work you do here is dependent on where you are in your training phases. If you are focusing on heavy strength work then you are most likely doing less volume of sprinting, bounding, and jumping. If you are doing more sprinting, bounding, and jumping, you would simply lower your lifting volume. Additionally, as your training program progresses and you work closer to the pre-season period it makes sense to progress your sprinting drills into more change of direction work to ensure that the tissues are well prepared to handle the practice load that is about to take place.

Different Methods of Strength

From Zatsiorsky’s work (and later Louie Simmons of Westide Barbell) we learned about things like the Max Effort Method, Dynamic Effort Method, and Repetitive Effort Method. Using these methods within the Bill Starr 5×5 works if you break down each day with a specific goal or training target. One other approach I would throw in there is some sort of Time Under Tension method. That may be in the form of Tempo Squats (2 down-2 Up without pausing), Slow Eccentrics (5-6 count eccentric squats), Isometric Holds (3-5 count hold in the bottom of the lift), or Eccentric-Iso Lifts (3 count lower – 3 Count Iso Hold In the Bottom – Lift).

Overall Fitness & Work Capacity

Overall fitness and general work is best served for post season and/or deep in the offseason. Within the Bill Starr program, this can be addressed using a variety of methods. Here are some of the options that come to mind:

  • Tempo Runs
  • Aerobic-Extensive Intervals
  • General aerobic work (variety of modalities)
  • Extensive Medicine Ball Circuits
  • Body Weight Circuits
  • Super Sets (Upper & Lower Body)

This type of activity can be done on days in between the lifting sessions (“low” days) or on days that are scheduled lifting sessions, depending on the goals of the training phase and how the lifting program is laid out. Putting It Altogether – A Simple Template To Recap, here is the original Bill Starr Program:

Using that as our template, we will set up 3 training phases – (1) General Fitness; (2) Strength; (3) Speed & Power – of 3 weeks each. The program will address the qualities above and provide a framework for building our training sessions.

Notes: In phase 1, we use some basic learning drills for plyos on Mon/Fri, at the end of our warm ups, to help prepare for the next phase of training. The lifting sessions are rather low in intensity and we are leaving 2-3 reps in the tank (meaning that we terminate the set when we know we can get 2-3 more good reps). Friday’s session is lower intensity than Monday’s and uses a 5 count eccentric on the lifts to work on time under tension. In between the lifting days are conditioning sessions, using Tempo Runs. Monday and Wednesday’s lifting sessions are followed by Extensive Medicine Ball Circuits. These typically consist of a variety of different throws or throwing the ball out in a field and then jogging to pick it up before throwing again. The general time frame of a set during these circuits is around 2-4 minutes of movement and then the athlete takes a rest of 2 minutes (or until HR recovers down below 120 bpm). We may do anywhere form 4-10 sets. Also, while I forgot to write it into the template, the warm up or accessory work could have some form of loaded carry or light sled drag in different directions. Additionally, the light sled dragging can work well within the extensive medicine ball circuit.

Notes: The strength phase takes our jumping from phase 1 and progresses it on Mon/Fri to some box jumps or hurdle jumps to a box (these are written as single leg over the hurdle but could be double leg as well). NOTE: In the template above there is a typo and it says that box jumps are on Mon/Wed, but it should read Mon/Fri. Wednesday’s workout has bounding and we generally start in phase 1 with bounding (forward, anterior-lateral, and lateral) with a stick landing and then progress that in this phase to more continuous type bounds or bounds into a 5yrd burst sprint. Lifting in this phase is more intensive with Mon/Fri being the heaviest days where the individual is working at max (or near max) loads for the main exercises – using loads greater than 90%. Wednesday, instead of being a “light” day in the Bill Starr program is devoted to our explosive work in order to keep that quality in the mix before progressing to the next phase. Additionally, we are doing a low volume of sprinting in this phase before the lifting sessions on Mon/Wed. These are typically short acceleration drills or short drills with change of direction (like 10yrds out and 10yrds back). Generally the volume is low and around 4-6 reps before performing our jumps and then lifting. Conditioning in this phase takes place on Tuesday and Thursday with Saturday being a restorative day. I wrote in sled or hill sprints as they are less stressful than upright running. We typically perform reps of 3-5sec with rest intervals down to 130bpm or 60sec in length. We start the athlete around 20 reps and progress from there. Additionally, the program is not set in stone, so if the athlete is too sore or feels poor on Thursday, we can do a restorative session instead and push the sled or hill runs to Saturday.

Notes: The final phase had the goal of speed and power. In this phase we have the highest volume of sprint work as well as change of direction work, which can be taxing. Because of the neuromuscular strain, the strength work is much lower volume and we have a range (2-3 sets x 2-4 reps) to allow us to keep the volume on the lowest end if need be, depending on how the athlete is doing and how the session is going. Wednesday’s workout is bounding drills, short acceleration work, and some low volume complexes. In between these sessions, conditioning is in the form of more restorative work so that all of the effort can be applied to the main training days.

Some Other Ideas About The Template

Borrowing from the Bill Starr 5×5, I wrote up a simple template using the same daily undulating approach, three days a week, and adding in other components (as well as changing the light day, in the original program, to a power day in later phases). Nothing in the program is set in stone. You can lateralize or regress exercises on an as need basis. Additionally, the idea that these sessions have to take place within 1 week or within a 3 week training block is silly. Some athletes will adapt faster than others. Some athletes may need longer in the first phase (IE, 5-7 weeks). Some athletes may need more recovery time between very intense training sessions. Taking that into consideration, don’t be afraid if your microcycle doesn’t take place in a 7 day cycle. I think we sometimes get very concerned that everything has to happen on this week long microcycle when in reality we should be more open to the fact that the microcycle will take as long as the body needs it to take. Some athletes may only be able to tolerate 2 days a week of lifting. Or, the strength and power phases may have that Wednesday session look very differently, where it is devoted more specifically to jumps and bounding. Alternatively, in that last phase, we have, at times, flipped it and done our complexes on Mon/Fri and a low volume strength session on Wednesday. Finally, the program may look very different depending on the sport. For example, some sports may require a significantly greater amount of metabolic work (harder intervals, max aerobic speed runs, aerobic power work, etc) and this should be reflected in one of the training phases by lowering the volume of something else but increasing the volume of the metabolic running exercises. There aren’t really any rules to this. In the end, create a program that is logical for the individual – don’t try and fit the individual to a program.

Training is a simple process. Have a goal, have a focus, and adjust the program along the way based on how the athlete is tolerating the training. Don’t be afraid to make changes, push workouts out a day or two to allow for more recovery, or make adjustments if the training response is not adequate. Nothing is more simple than the Bill Starr 5×5. If you simply did that and added in jumping, running, and Medicine Ball Throws you can do an incredible job. Hopefully my template approach to structuring training around the Bill Starr 5×5 makes sense and you can see the back drop of the program within what I wrote.

#RIP Bill Starr