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For many lifters, appearance will always be king. They want to get big, get lean, and look a certain way to make a certain impression. That's their goal, and more power to them.
But more and more these days, you see athletic training creeping into mainstream training. Why? Part of it may be all of us strength coaches out there quibbling over who's got "go" and who's all "show," but there's an even more fundamental reason.
Explosive, athletic training is really fun.
If you've followed the other three phases of this year-long plan and have built strength, gained size, and gotten lean, then a phase where you focus on pure athleticism is a reward you've earned. If you do it right and follow this plan, you'll reap the benefits of everything else you've done this year. You'll also be better prepared after this phase to get even stronger, more muscular, and leaner. That's the beauty of athletic training.
Here's what you'll focus on in this training cycle to up your level of "go," plus the program to take you to the next level.
1. Elasticity and Reactivity
While simply grinding out quality reps with decent weights and doing conditioning is great, there's one element of athleticism that tends to be overlooked in the majority of programming: elasticity.
Have you ever watched a great basketball, football, or volleyball player effortlessly jump into the air? Sure, they're strong. But they are also incredibly elastic as well. They seem to fly effortlessly over the ground.
As we transition into our athleticism-training block, you're going to put an emphasis on getting that elasticity. We're going to do low-level plyos and "reactive" work, along with various jumps to prime your body for power.
2. Speed Over Short Distances
Another key element of athleticism is the ability to run fast. If you just groaned, trust me on this one! I don't care what your training goals are: muscle, strength, fat loss, or just health. Sprinting can help you get there, and honestly, most people really enjoy adding some sprinting in their training sessions after the initial lung-punch.
But here's the thing: You shouldn't go out and start running 40- or 60-yard dashes on Day 1 unless you want to see how miserable it is to rehab a hamstring strain. When you start sprinting on this program, you'll start with short distances first. Simple 5- and 10-yard sprints may not look or feel too taxing, but they prepare the hamstrings for the intensity of max velocity running down the line.
In fact, as you'll see in the program, I don't even want you to sprint for the first month. Instead, you'll start with low-level plyos first, then move into sprints in the ensuing training blocks. This will ensure that when you get back into longer-distance sprinting in the second and third months, your hamstrings will be up to the task.
3. Conditioning That Is Power-Focused, Not Fatigue-Focused
When it comes to conditioning, most people assume that if you aren't on the floor puking at the end of your session, you're somehow doing it wrong. This is what many of us experienced in our youth, and it's a hard mindset to shake—especially if you just wrapped up a fat-loss cycle.
But in athletics, this couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, most sports—think football, basketball, soccer, and all racquet sports—are what are known as "alactic-aerobic" sports. These activities have periods of high-intensity work, where you rely on your alactic or phosphagen system to produce energy for short periods of time, generally less than 10 seconds. This is interspersed with longer periods of rest, sometimes as long as 60-90 seconds.
Initially, the goal of your conditioning will be all-out speed and power, with full recoveries in between. As the program goes on, you'll slowly start to extend the work periods, while reducing the rest periods to make it more "game-like."
Athletes need multiple physical qualities to be successful. The best of them blend speed, strength, power, and conditioning to dominate their competition on the field, court, or pitch. This program is meant to cover all those bases.
The first section of your workout is power-focused. Here, we address elasticity, upper-body power via medicine-ball throws, and lower-body power via jumps.
In the strength section, the emphasis is on simply getting stronger. This is why the first lift each day is a big-bang, compound exercise.
From there, however, the emphasis shifts to stability, control, and building structural balance throughout the body. Whether it's single-leg/split-stance training, upper-body pressing/pulling, or ab work, the goal is to make you a more efficient athlete.
Last but not least, being fast and explosive while fatigued is a crucial element of athletic development. We'll start with long work:rest ratios this month (so that power and explosiveness are maximized), then tighten these up as the months go on.
Get Athletic: The Workouts
How to Progress the Program
Now that you've got the basic one-week outline of the program, here are some things to help you progress it over the next 2-3 months.
- Make the power work more elastic and/or explosive, and incorporate sprinting. After a few weeks, instead of doing single jumps, make your jumps more repetitive or elastic in nature. You should also start adding in sprints 1-2 times per week, focusing on short distances and full recovery. Over time, move to longer distances, but still recover fully between reps so you maximize speed development.
- Increase the load on the strength training, or choose exercises that are more conducive to loading. As you progress, focus on building your strength on your big lift each session. Or, if you're starting with a lighter progression (such as a two-kettlebell front squat), you can move to a barbell front or back squat, which naturally helps increase the load.
- Start pushing the ends of the conditioning closer together. When you start your conditioning, you're focused on being as fast and explosive as possible. But unfortunately, in sports, you don't always have the luxury of complete rest. You can progress this part of your training by extending the length of your "work" durations to 8, 10, or 15 seconds, potentially while cutting the rest periods to 75, 60, or even 30-45 seconds. Just make it a goal to smooth these transitions as much as possible.
Train, Feel, and Look Like an Athlete
Becoming a stronger, more explosive, and well-conditioned version of yourself is a lofty goal to have.
However, if you follow the template outlined above and work to slowly progress over the next 8-12 weeks, I have no doubt you'll surprise yourself with what you're capable of. Give this program a shot, download the year-long calendar that ties together the other three phases, and make this year your ultimate year!