Weight Training- Foundational Phase

When putting together a solid strength and conditioning program, one needs to know the big-picture approach before being able to focus in on details such as exercise selection, sets/reps, load, and so forth.  This write-up on the FOUNDATIONAL phase will be the first of a series of posts describing important phases in a strength and conditioning program.

First, remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.  All too often I see people (sadly, even some strength coaches) put together programs without very much planning- thinking that essentially randomly performing exercises, even if sets/reps are progressed, will yield good results.  Athletes are probably the worst when it comes to understanding this, because they see it as too simplistic, thinking that just “lifting” or “working hard” will get them good results.  Sure, hard work pays off, but smart work yields a competitive edge.  And the athletes who are following a more organized plan and progression will adapt and learn much quicker.  This both sets them up for achieving great form on every exercise, and lowers their risk of injury in the weight room (and arguably outside of the weight room), since they won’t be performing random movements that will invariably lead to poor technique and faulty movement patterns.  Building strength on top of dysfunctional movement is one of the best ways to either get injured, or get less than average results from the program.

Before getting into the details of a FOUNDATIONAL phase, it’s important to first understand a few key terms and definitions:

ME = Max Effort– Compound, big lifts that require practically the entire body, even if using primarily upper or lower (deadlifts, bench, squats, etc.)

DE = Dynamic Effort– In other words, speed effort (which implies light weight).  Can be used through either body weight or lightly loaded plyometrics (e.g. med ball throws), but also can be used with a particular lifting movement pattern (bench, deadlift, etc.).  To keep speed, stick to 40-80% of Total Intensity, and inversely use 1-5 reps (so 40% for 5, 50% for 4…up to 80% for 1).  Bands can be used for DE either to help accelerate the pattern (e.g. speed band rows on the eccentric component) or resist part of it (meaning toward the end of the motion it will be tougher, but the beginning is light/more of a dynamic effort where momentum can be attained).

SE = Submaximal Effort– Compound lifts, but not possible to achieve the maximum effort exerted in ME.  E.g. Chest Supported Rows, Standing Military Press, Walking Lunges, etc..  Remember that exercises are not exclusive to a particular group.  You can have ME exercises that also act as SE depending on the load or reps.

RE = Repetition Effort– An effort where fatigue is not necessarily the goal, or if it is, many repetitions are needed.  Usually accessory/postural/injury prevention exercises (e.g. face pulls, side-lying shoulder external rotations for the rotator cuff, etc.)

Now that the definitions are out of the way, lets get into the nitty-gritty of a FOUNDATIONAL phase- What, When and Why.

What:  This phase is devoted to “laying a foundation” of perfect form & technique of different movements that the athletes will be learning in upcoming phases.  Since repeating and grooving perfect form is the goal here, overload with volume (sets & reps), don’t emphasize weight, and use eccentrics & isometrics at areas where the athletes may have trouble (e.g. isometric holds at the halfway point of a push-up).  Make sure (as always) to hit every main category…upper body pushes, lower body pushes, upper body pulls, and lower body pulls.  Or, more specifically, a push-up pattern, hip hinge pattern, squat/lunge pattern, and scapular retraction pattern (which are most upper body pulls).  This is also a great time to hit functional core work hard.  For example, neutral spine work and other core exercises where the core is working with other muscles to keep form, such as basic planks, side planks, push-up “negatives” and so forth.

– Mainly SE and RE.  No max effort work, and little to no dynamic effort work unless you feel absolutely necessary.

– Anyone that says this stuff is too easy is simply not being creative enough.  Try doing just 5-10 push-ups with a :05 negative on the way down, and a pause at midpoint, and then tell me  that a foundational phase is too easy.

When: This phase is the furthest away from the season, since it is the least relevant to the actual sport (unless your sport requires slow, body weight movements, and requires no power, explosiveness, or strength).  In the college world, be careful about including this phase in the summer, since it’s important to be there as a coach to refine form & technique.

So for example, a spring sport would ideally have their foundational phase in the fall at the start of the school year.  For a fall sport, this would be as soon as the season is concluded.  This would also depend in part on their hours/regulations in collegiate strength and conditioning.  Another reason it’s important to be present as a coach, is because the athletes can easily cheat the movements (nothing against them, it’s the body’s natural response) by following the path of least resistance, not achieving a full range of motion, or going too fast/using momentum.

Why: To get repetition after repetition of perfect form before loading these movements in the subsequent phases.  Again, strength on top of dysfunctional movement does no good.  The more an athlete does something incorrectly, the harder it gets to break that pattern.  This phase focuses on mainly body weight movements, perfect form & technique, with eccentric emphasis or isometric holding at areas where necessary (especially where the athlete has a tendency to cheat, or is biomechanically disadvantaged).

The season is the furthest away at this time of year, so there’s no need to rush into anything.  At this point, it’s worth taking one step back if that means losing a tad of strength (by not lifting heavy) to take two forward later on, especially since the previous season will have just concluded, and the athletes are both beat up and will have some imbalances due to the amount of time that goes into their sport’s movement patterns (for example, swinging on one side over and over again, or kicking with mainly one leg over and over again).

That’s about it for the big overview of the FOUNDATIONAL phase.  In the next post, I’ll discuss developmental phases- when it’s important and necessary to use higher volume lifting, higher load/intensity, and the accompanying exercise selection to go along with it.

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