High School Athlete Training Notes

This one goes out to the shot put/discus girls I work with (and their parents + other sports coaches) but can easily be adjusted and applied to any athlete.

First things first, although track & field is a Spring sport, if you participate in another sport that you consider your “main” sport, we build your training calendar around that. I’ll show you how easy that is to do at the end of this post, but for now, we’ll base your program on the idea that T&F is your primary focus.

I divide the year into 4 main phases, each with a specific point of emphasis:

  • Post-Season – General Physical Preparedness (GPP)
  • Off-Season – Maximal Strength Development
  • Pre-Season – Power Development (and sport/event/position specific conditioning)
  • In-Season – Competitive Phases/Special Strength Training (SST)

In the case of high school track in Michigan, the competitive season covers approximately 12 weeks or so for athletes who make it all the way to the state finals. We begin our post-season/GPP training the week immediately following the state finals. This gives us 4 consecutive weeks before MHSAA rules require a NO coaching/NO contact week. This works well with our program, because it builds in a week for recovery which provides a nice transition from GPP-I to GPP-2.

Practices nearly every day throughout track season. 1 to 3 meets most weeks. Sometimes it rains…or snows… or we’re baking in the heat of an unpredictable “Pure Michigan” Springtime. You have homework. Prom. Driving school. Final exams. Maybe you have a job, too. The Spring track season can be a time that carries a LOT of stress. I get it. This is why the first 4 weeks of post-season training start slowly. It is summer break, after all. You might’ve developed some aches and pains throughout the season. Because of all of this, training volume and intensity are both intentionally light in week 1 – and over the course of 4 weeks, we progressively add volume (but not so much in intensity just yet).

The goal of GPP-I is to be sure you’re moving well before you move MORE OFTEN or with MORE LOAD. If this was your first season with the team, this slow-and-steady approach is an opportunity for you to learn the “language” we use in the weight room. How to perform exercises while respecting our PROM DATE* guidelines. How to support your teammates by spotting them safely and effectively.

Workouts in week one typically take all of 20-ish minutes from start to finish. By the 4th week, you might train for 45 minutes or so. Getting in the weight room 2x/week is good. 3 might be better. 4 might be too much. Remember, the goal isn’t to HURT from your training. The goal is to (re)build solid movement qualities and create the base for the next training phase.

(*Painless Range Of Motion Demonstrating Acceptable TEchnique)

We’ve just had our MHSAA mandated off-week. Now we begin the 2nd part of post-season training. GPP-II. More specifically, we follow a program of “undulating periodization”. In simple terms, this means we rotate through 2 workouts (named A and B) while simultaneously rotating through 3 different relative volume and rest schemes (called 1, 2 and 3) for the remainder of summer (about 7 or 8 weeks). One workout will be high reps/light weight, one will be low reps/relatively heavy weight and one will be moderate volume and load.

Having just two workouts means you don’t need to expend energy learning (or needing to remember) “too much”. Rather, you’ll have plenty of time to master a handful of basic movements (only 4 per workout, plus your warm-ups). You’ll get variety from the way we structure volume and recovery (but PLEASE don’t ever refer to anything we do as “muscle confusion”!)

We start with a base program “template” and I often make minor adjustments to individual athlete’s workouts, so we’ll cover this in more detail when the time comes. But for now, just get used to cycling through the As & Bs and 1s, 2s and 3s so your workouts look something like this.

A1 – B2 – A3 – B1 – A2 – B3 (this pattern will repeat for the rest of summer)

In this training phase, we also introduce the “Rule of 2-and-2” (aka: The Chuck Woolery Rule. Your parents might understand the reference!) No more than 2 consecutive days training without taking a day off. No more than 2 consecutive days off without having a day on. This gives you a range of 3-5 workouts/week depending on your schedule, your level of commitment, etc. Important thing is to try to be consistent with your efforts. 5 workouts in week 1 followed by 2 weeks off then sporadic workouts the rest of the year won’t do much for you. You’d be far better off committing to 3x/week and finding a way to make that happen for the next 2 months.

An example of 3x/week training (while also following the 2-and-2 rule) could look something like this:

Monday A1
Wednesday B2
Friday A3
…the following week would begin with workout B1… and so on.

A 4 day/week schedule might look something like this:

Monday A1
Tuesday B2
Thursday A3
Friday B1
Monday A2
Tuesday B3

Making sense yet?

Off-Season: Maximal Strength Development
Some old-timers might still (mistakenly) believe that “lifting weights makes you slow”. The only piece of truth we might find in there is that ONLY lifting slowly might make one slow. But strength is the foundation of what will ultimately become explosive athleticism – so it’s important to get as strong as you can during this phase of training!

In this phase, we follow a 12 week linear periodization model (simpler terms: we progressively add weight each week – and gradually cut the number of repetitions)  much like a competitive powerlifter might do) based on a percentage of your 1 rep maximal effort (1RM). The goal here isn’t to be “freaky strong” each and every workout, but to get “just a little bit stronger” each week until the final week when we re-test your 1RM. Week one, we’ll use about 75% of your 1RM. In week 12, you’ll likely be moving 105% of your initial 1RM or more!

NOTE: We do have some rough benchmarks that we like to achieve before moving on to the POWER phase (e.g. squat 1.5x bodyweight). Some athletes might not hit these targets the first time around… and that’s okay. We just repeat the STRENGTH phase before moving into the competitive season. 

Pre-Season: Power
In the context of Track and Field – a Spring sport – this is our Winter training program. To address power development, we’ll use a technique called “supersetting” – but not the bodybuilding-style lift-until-you-can’t-supersets you might see other athletes doing. Instead, we’ll start with a basic “strength-type movement” (let’s say the squat) with approx 70% of your new-and-improved 1RM for 8-12 reps. We’ll immediately follow that with an explosive movement (box jump variations, broad jump, etc) that uses the same basic movement pattern for 3-8 HIGH-QUALITY repetitions. Emphasis will be on producing force QUICKLY. On demand. And also RELAXING equally fast.

Think about sprinting. You can’t run fast with your muscles constantly “flexed”. There’s a pattern of explosive contractions followed by quick relaxations that go into producing SPEED. Same goes for throwing the shot/disc or virtually any other sport/event.

The Power training phase is done 2-3x/week for about 4 weeks before it joins up with pre-season conditioning.

Pre-Season Conditioning:
I typically like to begin pre-season conditioning about 8 weeks out from the first official practice. Type and frequency depend on the athlete and his/her sport/events. For example, a thrower in the ring does about 2 seconds-worth of actual work at a time in competition. A sprinter is going to run from 10-ish seconds in the 100m to around a minute in the 400m. Different events. Different physical demands. Different amount of time between attempts/races. But (and I know throwers never like to hear this), throwers can benefit from endurance work – and distance runners can benefit from explosive/speed training, so we progressively work through a range of “cardio” activities. 8 weeks is generally enough time to get the metabolic pathways tuned up so an athlete can focus on sport/event-specific skills and strategies at the first practice instead of being completely gassed until the middle of the season.

In-Season: Competitive Phases and SST
Finally… track season is here! Of course, in Michigan, the track and throwing areas are often covered in snow for the first week or two, so we might spend a bit of time doing drills in the school hallway more than we’d really like to, but newcomers to the program (read: freshman and/or first time trackletes) might not even know we follow a year-round training program. So we do what we can to get ’em up to speed quickly… this is really more about helping them understand our unique “language” than forcing them to get strong/explosive in just a few days. (If it really was that easy to improve athleticism, why would we have a year round training program, amirite?)

Special Strength Training (SST) – While not a completely accurate term, the simplest way to explain our in-season training might just be to call it “sports specific”. If you want to become a better sprinter, you have to sprint…throwers have to throw. Basketball players have to play basketball… BUT – if you want to become a better ATHLETE (which actually helps you become a better sprinter/thrower/basketball player/etc), it helps to 1) follow a program that incorporates the ‘puzzle pieces’ we’ve already assembled above and 2) include exercises that reinforce the types of movements you do in your sport/event/position during the competitive season. Other coaches’ training models may take a different form, but moving well, being strong and being able to produce/reduce forces quickly are all part of being an ATHLETE and this is the way I put it all together.

Since I specifically coach the throws – and competition is usually 3 to 6 throws in each event (each attempt taking around 2 seconds from initiation of the throw until release of the implement),  in-season training often movements that involve rotation (and ANTI-rotation), explosive back and hip extension and powerful pressing movements done in short bursts.

JV or Varsity Conference
State Finals

If there’s one thing my athletes hear me say on a near daily basis (probably to the point where they get sick of hearing it!), it is to PEAK WHEN IT MATTERS. There are track meets… and then there are TRACK MEETS. The BIG ones listed above are really the ones that matter most. Of course, you’ll want to be competitive at dual meets/invitationals earlier in the season – especially against conference rivals. But whether you’re starting the season as one of the top throwers or still working to figure things out at the “development” end of the spectrum, coaches always notice who’s improving their PRs (personal records). Sometimes your PRs go up by a fraction of an inch at a time. Sometimes you slip backwards a bit before you make forward progress. Occasionally, you’ll blow away your PRs by many FEET. Any way that you improve, better is better. If we do things right, your best throws will happen at the end of the season.

…and then the cycle can begin again.


***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Volleyball, football, cross-country, swimming, basketball, etc… These are all non-Spring sports here in Michigan. Once the athlete identifies his/her PRIMARY sport, we can simply re-calibrate the training calendar. So a basketball player (Winter sport) would begin post-season GPP in the Spring. A football player (Fall) would begin GPP in the Winter. A baseball player (Spring) could theoretically train alongside a track & field athlete with virtually the same program.

Also important to note: you don’t have to wait until the end of your main sport’s season to begin training. This model is really more about identifying one’s training priorities at ANY time of year relative to the main sport/activity. It may take a little bit of effort and planning, but even a 3 sport athlete can follow this basic ‘formula’ – with the caveat that just ONE sport can be considered the MAIN one.



Stop Talking So Much!

Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t quite “get” the interwebz, but within my own understanding of the world of social media and “digital footprints”, there is but one simple rule I try to apply:


Variations of this rule include:

  • Say where you’ve been, not where you’re going.
  • Airing of personal grievances is meant to be done in the home as part of the traditional Dec. 23rd Festivus celebrations, not publicly on Facebook/Twitter.
  • It’s okay to share YOUR story – but not everyone else’s.

Am I paranoid? I’d like to think not.
But do I value my privacy? Of course. There are people who have ‘selective hearing’… and there are those of us who choose to speak/write a bit more selectively, too.

Now excuse me while I run to the kitchen to re-line my tin foil hat. Oooops! Looks like I just broke my own rule by saying where I’m going and not where I’ve been. I digress…

Case study #1: As the saying goes, empty cans always make the most noise, metaphorically, literally and virtually. Without naming-names, I’m sure you can think of a politician (or all-of-them) who tweet, talk or otherwise communicate too damned much. Quality communications > quantity. (Hopefully my 4 year break from this blog brings a return to the quality of writing I’m working to achieve.)

Case study #2: In the fit-biz (as I’m sure there are in all industries) there are well known marketing ‘gurus’ who use details of their personal/family-lives to create “personality in copy”. Over the years, I’ve watched one in particular share everything from his children’s full names/birthdays/school activities, his wife’s/mother’s maiden names, etc… Soooo much information, in fact, that if one really wanted to hijack his identity (or any of those close to him, for that matter), I don’t think it would be all that difficult for even a weekend criminal-hobbyist to piece together enough of the puzzle to get the job done. I realize that family relationships are part of everyone’s life (for better or worse), but do you want people to know your family’s personality… or your own?

I recently finished reading Bruce Dickinson’s autobiography, “What Does This Button Do” -and it was unlike any other “tell-all” rock star memoir I’ve ever read. Sure, it had plenty of personal experiences and anecdotes of Bruce’s life in Iron Maiden… and as a pilot… and his fight with cancer… to keep me hooked (admittedly, it doesn’t take much to keep me interested in anything Iron Maiden-related), but as Bruce explains in the Afterword, “I made a personal executive decision when I started to write. No births, marriages or divorces, of me or anybody else.” Unlike so-called reality TV which depends on drama (real or fabricated), nobody was thrown under the proverbial bus just to create media buzz so he could sell more books.


Or as Neal Page (Steve Martin) says to Dell Griffith (John Candy) in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”, “When you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea… HAVE A POINT!

It really does make it so much more interesting – and meaningful – for the listener reader.


I Like You, But You’re Crazy.

I needed to make room in my garage for a snow-blower so after many years of faithful service, I listed my big ol’ training tire (which I fondly knew as “Exhibit A”) on craigslist this morning as a “free, but YOU need to haul it away” deal. Several people responded within the first 90 mins.

Tonight, the first-to-call (a guy in his early 20s, if I had to guess) came over to pick it up with a li’l 2-door Toyota hatchback thinking it’d fit in the back if he simply flipped the seats down. Once he realized that wouldn’t happen, he suggested putting it on the roof of the car. I did my best to talk him out of it and recommended he find a friend with a pickup truck – but he insisted that he’d be comfortable driving 2 miles to his home on side streets with a giant tire on the roof. Being the kind of guy who lifts heavy things for fun, I was more than happy to help him maneuver the tire atop his sports car.

I then asked him if he had any tie-down straps so he could secure the load. He pulled a bunji cord from under the front seat and attempted to ‘secure’ the tire to his car (it might as well have been dental floss). I grabbed a ratcheting tie-down strap from the garage so, at the very least, the tire would look secure if he gets pulled over.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I kept imagining this as an interesting remake of the scene from Old School where Frank (Will Ferrell) accidentally shoots himself in the jugular vein with “the most powerful tranq-gun on the market”.

Peppers (Seann Williams Scott) tells Frank, “You got a f’kin dart in your neck, man.

Frank looks at him and replies, “You’re… you’re crazy, man. I like you, but you’re crazy.”

Craigslist guy, you got a f’kin tire ON THE ROOF OF YOUR CAR.. and you ARE crazy, but I like you.

Now I can only hope you enjoy training with Exhibit A as much as I did.

2013-09-18 14.24.19 2013-09-18 14.24.26 2013-09-18 14.24.37 2013-09-18 14.24.48

CARdio: A Simple Analogy

One of the questions I’m asked most often has to do with “cardio” (which I always have to put in finger quotes when speaking, even on the phone.)

It seems people use the term “cardio” to refer to one of two things:

1) ones’ cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and blood vessels)
2) the specific energy system(s) (metabolic pathways) one intends to target through training

If you’re alive and reading this, I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume your heart, lungs and blood vessels are doing their job at least somewhat effectively, so this analogy will focus on #2.

Imagine 3 cars, all the same make/model…

Car A (ATP/PCr) can only drive in 1st gear.
Car B (Glycolytic pathway) can only drive in 3rd gear.
Car C (Oxidative Phosphorylation) can only drive in 5th gear.

ALL THREE are “cardio”. If they all begin at the same starting line, which one will win a race?

Short answer: it depends on the length of the race.

In short-distances, Car A will smoke the other 2 out of the gate. Quick acceleration is this car’s specialty.

Car B really comes into its own in mid-distance races. It takes a li’l bit longer to get rolling, but once the gears mesh, it’ll zip right past Car A right around the time it’s starting to burn out.

Car C takes more time to take from a relative standstill to highway speed, but once it’s up and running, it’ll go like it’s got the cruise-control set at 55mph on a Kansas highway with a full tank of gas. Cars A & B are still running, but the longer the race, the more dominant Car C becomes. (In a sprint, even though Car A will obviously win, Car C is still chugging along trying to get the engine and transmission to make the full power-transfer connection.)

Your rest intervals determine how much fuel each ‘car’ gets before starting the next lap (but I’ll save my ATP analogy for another day.)

With this in mind, cross-training is not as simple as ‘weights one day, treadmill the next’ – especially if the relative intensity of the weight training is low and done as a high-volume circuit with minimal rest. That’s really no different than driving Car 3 with your right foot on the gas one day, your left foot on the gas the next. 

Cross-training done right incorporates aspects of ALL THREE cars in the race, so duration, intensity and rest intervals are all important variables to consider (possibly even more than the actual exercise(s) being used), especially for general fitness/weight loss purposes.

Is your “cardio” system a 1971 Ford Pinto – or a Bugatti Veryon Supersport?

Building The Ultimate Home Gym

If you were in my ‘inner-circle’ way back when, you may remember my original, 14-page Home Gym Guide, circa 2006. It was a short-list of essential training equipment I’d recommend to my in-home personal training clients.

I wrote it for two simple reasons (in no particular order):

1) They’d need equipment to work out on days I didn’t meet with them, so it made sense for ’em to start building their own arsenal of fitness gear, anyway.

2) I got tired of dragging awkward, heavy equipment through people’s dining rooms, hallways, etc. without being allowed to smash any of it into furniture, walls and hyperactive pets.

So novel was my approach to building a cost-effective home gym, the original guide became the foundation of an article in Men’s Fitness magazine (Home Gym 101, Feb 2007)

Or maybe you’ve even read my updated guide from 2008-09ish which I sold as a PDF on my own website for a couple years. The 2nd Edition was over twice the size of the original. I added so much content because I started getting home-fitness questions from all over the place, most of ’em starting with, “How can I save money on….”

Now in 2013, I present to you the 3rd Edition of The ULTIMATE Home Gym Guide – available exclusively in Amazon’s Kindle format. The latest edition has grown by another 50% over the last and includes MORE money-saving strategies, MORE build-it-yourself tips, MORE personal anecdotes, analogies and information that only comes from years of experience helping clients, colleagues and of course, myself, save money on quality training equipment.

In a strange history-repeating-itself sort of way, late in 2012, I was interviewed by Men’s Fitness for another home gym essentials article which will appear in the Feb 2013 issue – due out any day now.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been living among the notoriously “frugal” Dutch community known as west Michigan for the last several years, but not only will I show you how to find the fitness gear you want for your home gym or personal training studio for ‘almost free’, I priced this thing so ridiculously low (under $7 – Amazon Prime members can even borrow it for free), I might have to change my last name to VanderKowski.

The ULTIMATE HOME GYM GUIDE is back with a vengeance!

The ULTIMATE HOME GYM GUIDE is back with a vengeance!

Self-Myofascial Release: A Simple Analogy

If you’ve seen people rolling around on hard foam cylinders or tennis balls grimacing in pain but have never tried it yourself, you’re missing out on the most amazing discomfort known as self-myofascial release (SMR). If you haven’t see (or tried) it, where have you been for the last 5-10 years?!?!?

I’m about to give you my quick interpretation of fascia lines/trigger points and why you absolutely MUST consider some form of myofascial release, so sit back and enjoy the ride on the oversimplified analogy express.

All aboard!

Where the Wild Wind Blows

Where the Wild Wind Blows

Have you ever seen a tree growing along a coastline or the top of a hill that resembles the one above? Because it’s almost constantly subjected to stresses of the prevailing winds, the tree has no choice but to adapt its form. Bend permanently or risk breaking. Nature at its finest.

Sitting in front of your computer all day and cementing your arse in front of the TV for hours on end, and any other lifestyle-non-activities are the human-lifestyle equivalent of prevailing winds. Even though you’re not moving, sitting down is still a stressor (damn you, gravity!) As our bodies are stressed, so will they adapt. Sadly, too many people have become sitting-specialists. Perfect if that’s the ONLY thing you’re ever going to do, but unless your name is Stephen Hawking, you’re probably gonna have to get up and take the trash out at least once a week.

Is being active the answer? Bench pressing, playing tennis, swimming or any other activity that puts frequent stresses on your body will ALSO cause an adaptation. Increasing loads/frequency reinforce these adaptations.

When it comes to sports performance, these specialized adaptations are just one part of what makes an athlete “elite”. Your fascia lines will orient themselves according to the demands put upon them most often. But that level of specialization is generally only applicable to that sport/activity. The longer you specialize, the deeper set the dominant patterns (and compensations) become.

What happens when the athlete is between games/practices? What about when he/she retires altogether? What happens when an incredible athlete stops playing basketball and switches to baseball (cough, cough… Michael Jordan… cough)? While ‘athletic ability’ or ‘potential’ may be there, the previous levels of specialization is hard to overturn and convert to another activity.

The wind-swept tree grows EXACTLY how it needs to because it’s not likely someone is going to dig it up, turn it around and expect it to be able to handle years of equally constant/strong winds from the opposite direction.

Over the course of a typical lifetime, most of our physical demands will involve walking. Our stationary demands (read: sitting) involve knee, hip and spine flexion (there’s gravity at work again), therefore most of our movement challenges are going to be sagittal plane dominant, so our fascia lines – or ‘Anatomy Trains‘ as Thomas Myers describes ’em – will tend to structure themselves in such a way to support the demands of what most of us would call “normal” or “natural” movement.

Ever see an infant squirm around trying to get a handle on ‘simple’ movement? Their network of fascia and muscle hasn’t had the exposure to the prevailing winds of gravity, so they move very freely, but in time, we ALL develop the same 12 main patterns as Myers describes in his book. Some patterns get exaggerated, but gravity gets all of us down eventually.

As good ol’ Chuck D (I’m talking about Charles Darwin, of course, NOT the rapper) is often quoted, “it’s not the strongest who survive, but the one that is most adaptable to change.” THIS is why I recommend daily SMR. It preserves your natural ability to adapt to new movement challenges. When you’re able to locate and roll out trigger points/adhesions, you’re basically rebooting your body’s fascia-clock. Not quite to the infant level, of course, but enough that you can move and feel better at whatever movements (or lack thereof) life throws your way.

A massage every week or two may feel good, but for it to effectively offset any ‘prevailing winds’, you need frequency. If you have the time/schedule, budget and interest to get a daily massage, that’s great. For the rest of us, there are plenty of effective do-it-yourself tools to choose from. In fact, earlier this year, I invented an alternative to the old “tennis balls and duct tape” option. You can learn all about ’em at www.BloobAllz.com.

NOT An Entry-Level SMR Tool

Be Warned: Bloob-Allz are NOT An Entry-Level SMR Tool

Is SMR uncomfortable? It sure can be – IF you have significant trigger points. But once you get ’em under control, healthy tissue shouldn’t hurt. You can use a foam roll, tennis ball, PVC pipe (yes, I’ve seen it done), Bloob-Allz or any of the other SMR tools available.

Can’t handle the pain? A physical therapist friend told me about a new myofasical release system developed in Sedona, AZ that doesn’t hurt at all. The tradeoff for brief, direct and potentially uncomfortable pressure (to put it mildly) of the SMR I’m talking about is a long duration manual therapy technique (and you’d have to go to Sedona, AZ to get it done.) Each trigger point can take 3+ minutes to ‘release’. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just hit it hard for 20-30 uncomfortable seconds and move on to the next one. I can manage my own trigger points in roughly 10-15 minutes a day, thank you very much – plus that whole “vortex” thing in Sedona makes me wonder how legit the technique really is.


Hint: 3rd place finisher in the 1953 Mr. Universe competition

Here’s a hint: He finished 3rd in the 1953 Mr. Universe competition

The real shame is that this guy never did anything particularly memorable after his bodybuilding contest. ;-)