Category Archives: Strength & Conditioning

Functional Range Release & Developing Your Own System

This weekend I had the pleasure of once again learning from Dr. Andreo Spina at the Functional Range Conditioning Course. The course was assisted by Dewey Nielsen and Hunter Cook. For those who have never taken one of Dr. Spina’s courses, they are a great blend of science and applied work. This course was entirely focused on movement and developing joint range of motion and control throughout the variety of activities that an individual may encounter depending on whatever it is they are trying to do (play sport, workout, live life, etc).

Instead of just reviewing the course I figured I’d blend in some of my ideas of how I go about trying to take new things I learn and putting them into my own system. A lot of times, when people take a course they immediately gravitate towards some of the ideas but then show up to work on Monday and fall into what they’ve always done. They borrow a few exercises or “drills” that they were taught over the weekend, however they never really operationalize what they have learned in order to see how it truly integrates into THEIR OWN system. In fact, some people have never even sat down to write out their own system in the first place (for interested readers, I wrote an entire article about developing your own system a little over a year ago. CLICK HERE).

Functional Range Conditioning

First, Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) IS NOT:

  • “Mobility Drills” that you just add to your warm up
  • PNF
  • Fancy gymnastic type exercises

FRC is not “mobility drills” that you just add to your warm up for 5min. The goal of the system is to identify joints that have limited function and work to improve them before loading them. A lot of people end up attending courses like FRC and walk away thinking, “Oh, this will be a good hip stretch to give to my clients and this drill will be a good t-spine mobility exercise to prescribe to my patients.”. Chance are, if you are thinking like this, you are missing the point. The system is set up to help you identify limitations and plan a training program that is specific to the needs of the client.

While some of the exercises in FRC utilize isometrics or eccentrics and may resemble PNF, FRC is not PNF. Dr. Spina discusses the scientific literature extensively and is adamant about the fact that he did not invent any of this stuff. Rather, we are listening to his interpretation of what the science says and how he has taken that science and created his own approach to movement and exercise. Thus, if you say that some of this looks like PNF, he would say, “Sure, of course it does. But, what we are doing goes beyond what PNF is because the other components of my system come from other realms of science.”

Fancy gymnastic exercises are currently all the rage on social media and, while there are those who do FRC that can do some incredibly crazy movements, the goal of the system is not to get you to be a gymnast. Rather, the goal of the system is to conduct a needs analysis of your client, determine the prerequisite movement competencies they require for their task/sport and then test them to ensure they poses these prerequisite competencies. If they do not have these competencies then you at least know where to begin your training program. A good example would be a strength coach who wants their athletes to squat yet several of the athletes lack prerequisites of ankle dorsiflexion, healthy knee/tibial rotation, or hip internal rotation. The strength coach puts these athletes under load and then may wonder why the athletes report back, hip, or knee pain 6 weeks later (or it could be shoulder or neck pain or maybe elbow pain or…well, it could be whatever! The point is that if you lack prerequisite competencies to meet your movement demands then load will be taken up somewhere in the body and wherever load begins to exceed capacity we end up with an injury). The aim isn’t to turn everyone into Gumby. A football player probably doesn’t need to be able to do the full splits or do any sort of crazy movement exercise but they do need health joint ROM and then control and strength through that ROM to satisfy their needs and demands on the field in order to mitigate the risk of injury.

What Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) is:

  • Functional Range Conditioning is a movement based system that applies scientific approaches to developing (or re-developing) joint mobility, joint integrity, strength, and connective tissue resilience.

These goals are met through a progressive system consisting of:

  • Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs)
  • Progressive Angular Isometric Loadings (PAILs) and Regressive Angular Isometric Loadings (RAILs)
  • Progressive Angular Loadings (PALs) and Regressive Angular Loadings (RALs)
  • Full Range Control

CARs can serve as both a warm (E.g., a daily routine) as well as an assessment of each joint. When a limitation is found, PAILs and RAILs are the initial starting point to help the individual re-develop normal joint function (NOTE: Don’t expect this to happen overnight). When an improvement has been made in joint function the soft tissue structures can begin to be loaded in order to develop end range control and strength, finally progressing to full range control. This approach is useful for both rehabilitation and strength and conditioning.

The concepts are simple. Assess joint ranges of motion and if the client lacks specific ranges of motion then work to improve those limitations through targeted strategies. I highlight targeted strategies because this is a critical component to the FRC system. Don’t just do “stuff”. Rather, assess for limitations and program targeted interventions that are specific to the individual’s needs. These targeted interventions should lead to a desired outcome/improvement and this should be tested to ensure that improvements are being made. Progress these interventions to train the individual with lots of variability through a wide range of motion. As Dr. Spina says, “You always end up regretting the position or range of motion you didn’t train in.” Why? Because the second you are thrust into that range of motion during a game (or at some point in life) and your tissue doesn’t have the capacity to control that range of motion, you end up getting injured.

“But how am I supposed to get my other lifting/training in?”

During the course, someone asked Dr. Spina, “So where would I fit this in with my normal training.” To which Dr. Spina replied, “You have a hip and an ankle with extremely limited mobility yet you want to squat in your training program and you are worried about where to fit FRC in? I’d look back at you and ask, “Where the heck are you going to fit your squat training into your FRC training training because it seems like this is what you need to do first!”".

The reply is brilliant and addresses the first point above about what FRC is not. FRC is not just about learning mobility exercises. If you want to use FRC and be effective in rehabilitation or training you need to think about programming this stuff just like you would any other exercise.

Does this mean that if you lack joint mobility in some of your prerequisites that you can no longer train until it improves? Absolutely not!! If you find areas of limitation, program exercises for those limitations into your training as you would any other exercise (IE, squats, bench press, sprints, plyos, etc) and work diligently on them while you also work on your other exercises to address your strength and power. Doing this might require a lateralization or regression of some exercises or a decrease in training volume or intensity, temporarily. This tends to scare people (as if the idea of decreasing lifting volume means they will automatically lose all strength and turn to mush) but if you work on improving your limitations you may find that as these prerequisites improve your strength begins to increase at a faster rate. I’ve discussed the concept of lateralizations and regressions, a concept discussed extensively by Charlie Weingroff, in a previous blog article. The concept basically tells us that we can still load and train while working on improving our limitation by choosing exercises that that don’t load us into that limitation. For example, if the football player lacks proper ankle dorsiflexion, while they are working on improving this limitation, you would lateralize their squat to something that does not require them to load into ankle dorsiflexion, such as a split squat, rear foot elevated split squat with a veritical tibia, trap bar deadlift, deadlift, rack pull, etc.

How Do I Fit This Into My Own System?

My training philosophy consists of three main elements

  1. Movement
  2. Stress Resistance/Stress Tolerance
  3. Fitness

philosophyWithin each of these buckets we have methods of testing and methods of training. What we test and how we train depends on the individual and the sport they are preparing for – this is not a one size fits all. The goal of the system is to increase the athletes Physiological Buffer Zone to make them as robust as possible against the stressors they will face in competition, across a season.

Obviously the FRC system fits into the Movement bucket – Does the athlete posses the necessary joint ranges of motion to satisfy the needs and demands of their sport (or even the specific position they play within that sport)?

Fitting the concepts of the FRC system into my own training methodology is not hard and actually compliments a lot of things I already do, which makes sense given that I’ve known Dr. Spina for a few years and his approaches along with those of Charlie Weingroff have been very influential on me within that Movement bucket. Here are some of the ways I’d take these concepts and begin to apply them:

  1. Deep offseason conditioning should be aimed at developing prerequisite competencies specific to the sport or addressing limitations that the athlete has. Strength training volume is lower during this time of year (we may only perform 2-3 days/week of 3-4 exercises with intensities of 70-75%) so it would not impeded on any of the FRC approaches we are taking to re-develop joint movement (NOTE: The exercises and the intensity of the exercises in the FRC system are absolutely brutal and exhausting because they are very specific and they target things that you are currently very poor at). CARs would be used as a daily routine to help move the joints through their available ranges of motion and exercises targeted at specific limitations (start by selecting just 1-2 limitations) will follow CARs exercises each day. Two to three times per week the individual will do a longer session of full body FRC (what is referred to as a Kinstretch Session). Aside form the strength training discussed above, we would have some form of energy system training, focused on developing general fitness and not highly specific to their sport at this time (E.g., aerobic adaptations, lower intensity conditioning activities, etc).
  2. As you begin to transition into more specific work and get closer to the season, use the Kinstretch sessions 1-2x/week to keep improving joint control. CARs will always be part of the daily routine (this may only take about 10min) and any limitations are noted. Hopefully at this point the athlete has acquired the important prerequisite competencies from the previous phase. Lifting, plyometrics, and sprinting need to begin to take a front seat in the training program in order to prepare for the competitive season. If the athlete is still lacking sport specific or exercise specific perquisite competencies lateralize or regress their strength and power exercises in order to develop those qualities while still working to improve joint integrity and soft tissue resilience in the areas of the limitations.
  3. During the season the 10min daily CARs continue. I see this being essential in-season! In-season, the wear and tear of competition and repetitive loading of tissues can become problematic for athletes and often lead to losses of joint range of motion or painful regions of joint movement (painful arcs or closing angle pain). The in-season daily CARs session serves to keep the joints healthy and maintain ranges of motion, allows the athlete to stay on top of any losses of range of motion or limitations, as well as inform the medical staff about any of these losses of range of motion or painful movements to pro-actively receive treatment and not wait until something breaks. The Kinstretch session may continue 1x/week to help maintain whole body movements during the in-season period.

The FRC system is highly useful and one of the things I appreciate about it is that Dr. Spina does not teach you exercises. He teaches you concepts. You, as the coach or therapist, need to determine which exercises your athletes need. You need to determine which prerequisite competencies are required for your sport. You need to plan the approach and develop the program and even develop your own exercises that target the individual’s needs. Rather than teaching you “stuff”, Dr. Spina teaches you how he thinks. If you have your own system, if you’ve taken the time to sit down and write out what things are important to you and how you test and train/address those things within that system, then it makes it a lot easier for you to operationalize concepts from someone elses system should you feel that those concepts compliment what you do and are important to you as well.

FRC is not about exercises, it is about a thought process. The concepts taught in the course are extremely valuable and useful, whether you train elite athletes, high school athletes, or general population clients of any age or ability. Because FRC is a thought process, you can adapt the concepts to any client as you, the coach/therapist, develop the exercises and interventions. Don’t just do stuff, train with a purpose!


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.


  • 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.starrI 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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 7.16.30 PMAny 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:

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

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

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: Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.30.52 PM 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. Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.56.18 PMNotes: 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. Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 9.18.56 PMNotes: 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. Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 9.14.42 PMNotes: 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