More and more, athletes are training away from coaches, at gyms and other private training facilities. Some of these gyms offer extraordinary personalized workout plans, but not everyone can afford them.
If you're designing your own personalized workout, where do you start? Here are some pointers.
(Although I do not recommend that anyone train unsupervised, I do realize the barriers associated with seeking professional expertise and want you to have the best possible plan.)
Learn why personalized workouts are so important.
1. Know Your Sport
To be a great athlete, you must be a student of your game. You must study the physical and mental demands associated with performing at a high level. Books and websites can be great resources.
Great basketball players train like basketball players—not football players. Sports that require jumping ability, such as basketball, require ballistic and explosive movements. Throwing sports such as baseball and shot put/discus require high amounts of rotational force and power. Change-of-direction sports, such as lacrosse and soccer, require body awareness and agility. Contact sports, such as football and wrestling, require max strength as well as the necessary body mass to overcome an opponent.
If your goal is to jump higher or throw farther, you must focus your efforts on achieving the necessary strength and movement patterns that will transfer to your field of play.
2. Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The first part is easier than the second. Identifying your strengths in any aspect of sport is fun and easy; pinpointing what you do poorly can be gruesome and humbling. If you're a high school basketball player and you know your Bench Press, compared to your peers, is extremely strong and your Squat is extremely weak, it makes no sense to continue to spend time and effort improving your Bench, all while wondering why you continue to get out-rebounded in games. If you lack the necessary lower-limb development to produce higher vertical forces, your rebounding ability will continue to suffer.
Here is a short list of tests to determine your strengths and weaknesses:
- Vertical Jump Test: lower-body explosive strength (vertical force production)
- Broad Jump: lower-body explosive strength (horizontal force production)
- Maximum Bench Press: Upper-body max strength (pushing movement)
- Maximum Pull-Ups Test: Upper-body max strength (pulling movement)
- Pro Agility: lateral speed and change of direction ability
- Maximum Squat: lower-body max strength
3. Know Which Sets and Reps Produce Which Results
Many athletes come into the gym and perform the same sets and repetitions day in and day out, expecting to get different results. But throughout the training year, your emphasis should be on different parameters of your physical development. Here is a brief explanation of set and repetition schemes and the results they bring:
Hypertrophy (size)/ Strength Endurance: 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps
This set and rep scheme will add overall size to your muscles while providing a foundation for future training. Emphasize the training goal at the beginning of the off-season. Avoid full-power movements such as the Power Clean and Snatch with this scheme. Weight will be lighter, as there are more sets and reps to perform. Emphasize volume and not the overall speed with which you move the barbell.
Max Strength: 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps
This set and rep scheme provides the stimulus for maximum strength for working muscles. Focus on multi-joint movements such as the Back or Front Squat, Bench Press and Power Clean. Use more full-body movements rather than isolated muscle groups. The weighted load will be heavier than in the hypertrophy or strength endurance block, and bar speed should increase slightly. Perform the movement with the intent of building overall strength, not muscle size.
Explosive Strength: 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps
This set and rep scheme will allow you to move the barbell in a more powerful and explosive manner than any of the other blocks. Since the weight will be heavier, the training emphasis is to move the bar as fast as possible.
During this training block, focus only on important movements necessary in your sport, not on adding volume and size to working muscles. You can also incorporate plyometric and ballistic training into this block. This training emphasis puts the other foundational movements into place and helps tie all the pieces together.
Learn more about how many sets and reps you should do.
One final note: Whatever the training emphasis, you should never "fail" or miss a repetition or set. The weight should be light enough to finish all sets and reps, but heavy enough to provide a stimulus for adaptation to occur.
Before attempting any new movements, consult with a certified strength and conditioning coach to ensure correct execution of the selected exercise.
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