Bare Bones Approach to Getting Stronger

October 27, 2012 | Kasey Esser

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As a young athlete, you require a few things in life:

  • Food: good nutrition is essential to growing bigger and stronger
  • Sleep: rest for growth and development
  • Strength: for sports and everyday activities

Trust me, I know that list is not original. But that's the point: to become a better athlete, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. You just have to get the wheel spinning more efficiently. However, I'm not going to talk about eating or sleeping. If you aren't doing those things, start doing them. I want to use this article to discuss the oft-misunderstood notion of strength.

I'm going to bet that the program you're currently on involves massive amounts of lifting and high-level plyometrics. On the surface, those Quarter Squats and High Box Jumps may signal strength and power to your buddies, but they're actually setting you up for disappointment and possible injury down the road. Why? Because in most cases, there is no foundation of strength to support that type of training; and without a foundation, technique tends to take a back seat, leading to plateaus and unnecessary injuries.

If you're serious about getting stronger, I challenge you to take the plates off and put the boxes away for awhile and re-build your foundation of strength. The following workout doesn't sound like much, but it will ensure you can handle future loads with skill, not just brute force. Remember, you are an athlete, not a weightlifter. As I mentioned, it's a foundation, so make sure it has no cracks. For the next two weeks, perform the following every day:

Plank

The goal is to hold for one minute without letting your lower back go into hyperextension (i.e. arching of the lower back). Practice until you can accomplish this. Always engage your glutes and mid-section as much as possible. (Read more on the STACK Plank page.)

Overhead Squat

Learn how to squat properly before you start piling weight on the bar. (See Overhead Squat How-To.)

Sets/Reps: 5-8x50

If your technique is spectacular after one week, increase the overall reps to 75-100. Go old school. Take a PVC pipe or a broomstick and hold it straight over your head while you squat. Sit back on your heels and maintain an upright torso. Don't let the pipe dip in front of your head. Depth-wise, I would like you to squat until the tops of your thighs are below parallel.

If you have trouble maintaining good posture, perform the squats in front of a wall. You won't be able to hit the depth right away, but keep practicing and you will get there.

Deadlift

Mastering this movement will have an immediate transfer to how you perform on the field. Squats tend to dominate most high school weight rooms, but for maximum strength development, you need to prioritize the Deadlift. A stronger posterior chain means a stronger athlete. (See How to Perform the Deadlift.)

Sets/Reps: 5-8x50

  • If you have never deadlifted before, find a power rack
  • Set the pins just below your knees and set unloaded barbell on pins
  • Bend from the waist, pushing hips and butt back
  • Grasp barbell with mixed grip (one hand overhand, one hand underhand)
  • Pull shoulders down and back, so chest naturally opens up
  • Pull bar up, driving hips through at the top
  • As you become more comfortable, gradually move the pins lower until you are deadlifting off the floor

Push-Ups

Sets/Reps: 1x20.

Attempt one all-out set per day, followed by one or two sub-max sets of no more than 6 to 8 reps.

Before you get ready to press weight on the Bench Press, you should be able to knock out 20 perfect push-ups. (Perform Perfect Push-Ups.) However, this only applies if you can complete a one-minute plank.

You will probably struggle to hit 20 perfect reps on day one, but you don't have to succeed overnight.

Kasey Esser
- Kasey Esser, CSCS, CPT, is a trainer based in Beverly Hills, Calif. He formerly worked as an assistant strength coach at the University of Evansville.
Kasey Esser
- Kasey Esser, CSCS, CPT, is a trainer based in Beverly Hills, Calif. He formerly worked as an assistant strength coach at the University of Evansville.
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