competing demands

Understanding the Competing Demands of Your Athletes

I'll never forget my first major lesson in programming for athletes. I had been writing training plans for the athletes and general fitness clientele at SAPT for a couple months at this point, when Chris told me to write the next wave for one of our baseball guys. Now, this particular high school senior definitely fell to the right of the athletic bell curve: he was on scholarship to play baseball for a SEC Division I university (which he is currently doing), was right on track to win the region in wrestling (which he did), and carried a general sense of "I'm gonna make you crap the back of your pants if you get in my way" about him when he pushed the prowler.

This being the case, my first thought when Chris told me to write his next wave was, "Sweet! I'm gonna get to have a lot of fun with this guy." I eagerly sat down at my computer, cup of coffee in my left hand, while my right hand performed arts of wizardry (that would be, using the mouse to spray excellence all over the programming template).

For his first lower body day, I gave him some loaded jump squats and med ball work, followed up by multiple sets of heavy squats, then some speed deadlifts, followed by some high volume unilateral work and core stability exercises, with a decent chunk of hip dominant accessory work to bring up the rear. It was the perfect program. "This kid was going to grow like a weed upon finishing this 3-week wave," I intoned to myself at my desk.

Or not.

The next day, Chris and Sarah gently pulled me aside to give me a little lesson of the SAPT dojo:

"Something you need to understand is most of these kids have countless competing demands outside of the SAPT walls. In order to continue to truly develop them as athletes, you need to understand what they're facing throughout the other 23 hours of the day"

As it turns out, this high school senior I was so eager to obliterate was, at the time, throwing multiple days per week, playing at showcases on the weekends, lifting in the afternoons with his high school baseball team, AND lifting every morning during a weight training class. (Yes, you read that correctly, he actually dropped out of one of his core classes to take not one, but two, different weight training classes so he could lift every morning in the block scheduling system). Suffice to say, this guy loved being around the iron, up to the point of it nearly being disadvantageous because of all the abuse his body was receiving.

And I wanted to give him 100+ repetitions of CNS-intensive lower body movements in one single session. Right....

Now, (slightly, but only slightly) to my credit, up until I joined SAPT, the large majority of experience I had training people consisted of working with the Division 1 athletes of Virginia Tech, along with personal training a wide variety of clientele in both the Blacksburg and Northern Va areas. In both of these scenarios, the time I had with the athletes/fitness clients in the weight room was the only resistance training they were getting each day. Not to mention, the VT strength coach was handling the programming, and he was in constant communication with the coaches of the teams we were working with (so he knew what the kids were doing outside of the weight room).

In fact, that's one of the greatest differences between training athletes in the private sector (ex. a place like SAPT) and the public sector (ex. working for a Division I,II, or III university). In the private sector, you often have little control of what the athletes are doing outside your walls from a resistance training standpoint, as local coaches often demand that the players attend team lifts, conditioning sessions, and technique training (which sometimes, unfortunately, means throwing a ball until you're blue in the face).

The point of the story above is this: One of the best things you can offer those training under your watch is to not only understand what they are going through outside of your doors, but also be able to effectively program around this. While there are obviously multiple qualities that chip in to the training effect you're looking for, the body can only handle so much stress and thus you must comprehend how to aptly apply, or reduce, each stressor.

Are the athletes in performing loads of sprints and movement training work with their coaches? Reduce the lower body volume and adjust the exercises accordingly.

Are your overhead athletes in a phase where their throwing/hitting volume is ramped up? Pump the brakes a bit on their upper body training.

Is their central nervous system fried from simply doing too much, too frequently both on and off the field? Maybe they just need a light "bloodflow day" when they come to see you.

And this doesn't just apply to competitive athletes. Many times, your general fitness client may show up after completing a 10-hour work day, fighting traffic in the car for another hour, and having received only five hours of sleep the night prior because they had to take their daughter to a 4 a.m. swim practice. Their body may simply refuse to allow them to work at 90%+ of their 1RM.

The program I wrote for the aforementioned athlete may have been appropriate if he was in some sort of accumulation phase of training, his lifting at SAPT was the ONLY lifting he was receiving, and he made a point to eat and sleep as much as humanly possible while outside the gym walls. But this clearly wasn't the case, and so I had to quickly amend the remainder of his program to give him what he needed. To give him what he wasn't receiving from his high school lifting instructor and baseball coach.

Sometimes just a simple understanding what goes on outside of your doors will go a long way in allowing you to provide your people what they are paying you for with their time and money.