Individualization of training provides multiple opportunities to maximize the benefits each athlete gets from a given workout. No two people come to a workout with the same training background, nor do they have exactly the same needs to improve their athletic performance.
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Add different positions, body types, skill levels, ages and injuries, and it is clear that writing the same workout plan for every athlete has limitations. From high school to Division I athletics, strength and conditioning sessions are often done in a group setting. While this poses a definite challenge to making training specific for each person, it is possible regardless of staffing and resources.
It takes more time to individualize training. However, if done using one or more of the following strategies, it can be accomplished much faster and easier than one might expect.
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- Strategy One: Assess the various needs within the group, then place athletes into small groups for the latter part of the workout. Most athletes in a team have many of the same training needs. The general needs of the group become the foundation for the training program. For example, everyone on the team may do a Hang Clean as their first exercise and a Front Squat as their second. After these exercises are completed, the athletes can split into their smaller groups and perform exercises that are specific to them.
- Strategy Two: Athletes are grouped based on their needs from the beginning of the workout. Each group can be assigned to a designated area for training, such as a certain weightlifting rack or a portion of the field. Similar to starting a workout as a group, this keeps training organized and easy to coach. If more than one coach is working with the group or there is an experienced intern available, the differences in training groups can be even greater.
- Strategy Three: Create a coach’s sheet with modifications to the main workout. This is an effective method for minor changes to a workout and a great place for temporary changes due to injury. It provides an organized space for a coach to keep track of individual differences rather than the alternative of giving each athlete an individualized card and trying to remember who has what. A modifications sheet is time-effective and creates opportunities for dialogue between the coach and the athletes. Making each athlete aware of what is different about his or her program before the workout begins allows for a seamless flow once training begins.
- Strategy Four: Each athlete has an individualized workout sheet that is specific only to them. This method is best reserved for athletes whose needs truly necessitate an individualized sheet, unless of course you have the resources to do this effectively. Examples include an athlete who is at a higher level physically than the rest of the group or an athlete who has an injury that could modify a large portion of their training for an extended period of time.
Each of these strategies can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. They can also be applied to the warm-up or cool-down to implement corrective exercises as needed. Start by implementing them one at a time and see what works within a given setting. The first three strategies lead nicely to the fourth.
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Overall, making training specific and individualized helps each athlete get the most out of his or her training. Taking the extra time planning also helps athletes buy into both the coach and the training, increasing effort and motivation.