Note: Jeremy Frisch is the performance director at the Competitive Athlete Training Zone in Acton, Massachusetts, where he works with athletes from age six to college level.
50 Training Tips for Serious Athletes!
1. Wanna get faster for your sport? You need to sprint. Work on your acceleration first with short sprints of 5-25 yards. Later on, extend those distances to 40-60 yards or more.
The old school mentality of doing long distance work first to "get in shape," then lower your distances and sprint later, is flawed.
To get fast we need to sprint, and to get to top speed we first need to accelerate. Working on acceleration speed and mechanics should be the first thing an athlete does to get faster.
2. In sprinting, ground force production is the name of the game. Speed is a direct result of strength, which is why athletes need to get strong in order to produce enough force to run fast and be athletic.
Basic multi-joint lifts such as back squats, front squats, overhead squats, trap bar deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, and Olympic lift variations will help build the type of strength needed to improve speed.
The trap bar deadlift
3. As an added bonus, each of the lifts mentioned above will also add slabs of functional muscle to your body. These lifts are especially effective at adding strength and size in some of the body's most important areas including the glutes, hamstrings, erectors, and traps. When focusing on sprinting and jumping, these muscles are responsible for propelling the body forward and upward.
4. Technique is first and foremost in the weightroom. Don't just dismiss a lift or technique because it's difficult or tedious. You should learn proper form on the major lifts such as cleans and back squats regardless of your feelings about them. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more complete of an athlete you'll become.
5. Add emphasis to the lifts you like the least. Switching your focus to those lifts you often leave out can be beneficial. Few people really enjoy squatting, but we all know how crucial squats are to athletes. Learn how to do them, master them, get strong at them, and see what happens.
6. If you're looking for a great way to work speed, leg strength, technique, and conditioning all in one workout, look no further than hill sprints.
Hill sprints can be done anytime and anywhere there's a big scary hill. For early off-season workouts there really is no better way to build a base in each of the aspects listed above. Find a 40-60 yard hill and rip it!
7. Jump! Implementing jumps in your workout is a must. Don't go crazy, but a few strategically placed sets of broad jumps or squat jumps before sprint sessions or lifts will not only help your body develop explosive strength, but also help with deceleration. As a bonus, they'll also prime the nervous system for the workout that follows.
8. Progress your jump work gradually. Don't simply throw in depth jumps from your roof on a whim. Plan them and progress them intelligently.
An example of a progression would be starting with box jumps (jump onto box) for a few weeks, then vertical jumps, followed by broad jumps and finishing with low box depth jumps. From there you can progress even further, but make sure you establish a base to start. Use them correctly and wisely and jumps can be a real asset in your training regimen.
9. If your goal is to look stronger and bigger, then you best be doing your squats and deadlifts with heavy weight. Somewhere in the 4-6 rep range will be ideal for this desired outcome.
For real athletes and anyone serious about training, the size you desire accompanies the strength attached to it. I always say to my athletes, "You'll look like you can squat 450 pounds when you can squat 450 pounds." Size and appearance really mean nothing if you can't back it up with actual strength and power.
10. Want big guns? Don't even talk to me about getting you arms bigger until you can do chin-ups with 30-plus pounds for 6 reps. Similar to my point above, you'll have big arms when your arms can move serious weight.
11. Many sports require grip strength. Football, baseball, tennis, field hockey, and wrestling are just a few of them. However, grip strength is often forgotten or under-utilized in a training program.
Grip strength is important and it needs to be worked along with all other strength points in the body. Build your hand strength through farmer's walks, chin-up holds, thick bar usage, wrist rollers, reverse curls, and plate pinches.
12. Utilize unilateral work. Single-leg squats are one of the best exercises an athlete can use for injury prevention, strength for sprinting, and balance. Work up to 100 pounds of external load in the single-leg squat, then watch your back squat poundages go up.
Use dumbbells for upper body unilateral work as well: one-arm presses, one-arm push presses, one-arm bench presses, one-arm dumbbell rows without supporting your body against anything, etc.
13. Want scary looking traps? Then learn how to do cleans, snatches, and high pulls. These exercises will literally transform your upper back musculature. Oh yeah, they've also been known to increase power, vertical jumping ability, and speed... just in case those things matter to any athletes out there.
The high pull
14. A great exercise for the lower body that nobody uses: snatch grip deadlift! This gem of an exercise works the posterior chain from traps to Achilles as well as the grip.
15. In between your main training sessions, use smaller sessions to help your body recover or promote growth.
I love doing dynamic stretching on my off days, prepping my body like I'm going to workout, and then backing off. This really helps my recovery. You could swim to unload the body, or do a few extra sets of an exercise to bring up a lagging body part.
16. Regeneration is important for an athlete, making off day work very critical. For this reason, I always carry my small foam roller (or a tennis ball) and a Jump Stretch band with me to do some soft tissue work and static stretching when I feel the need. An athlete who tends to feel constantly tight should try to roll and static stretch a couple of days a week.
17. Ever do hip mobility work? This is underappreciated by many athletes. I love it so much I actually bought my own set of track hurdles. Step-overs, step-unders, lateral movements, and leg kicks in whatever combination you see fit will work range of motion in the hips, which is necessary for proper running technique.
18. Adding another variation, if you don't have hurdles you can use the power rack for the same purpose. By setting up a couple of barbells across the safety pins you can do the step-overs and step-unders and get the same hip mobility.
19. Use medicine balls. Whether you're performing low intensity abdominal work or power development through multi-throws/heaves, the use of med balls can step your workout up a level. All athletes should have a few of these around their gym.
20. Don't like the Olympic lifts but seek power development? Then utilize the dynamic method popularized by the Westside Barbell Club. Take 50-60% of your one rep max and move this weight as fast as possible for a couple of reps per set. This emphasizes bar speed, not weight, and is great for developing explosive power.
21. Are you a young developing athlete? Than go out and compete for your school's track & field team. You get to sprint, jump, and throw heavy objects. These are the exact skills and drills that young athletes should be doing to develop all around speed, strength, and coordination.
22. The overhead squat is by far one of the most humbling exercises an athlete can do. Initially, even with the lightest of weights, you'll twist, turn, and wince from discomfort. But when performed correctly, they're great for mobility in the hip and shoulder complex and can build unbelievable supporting strength throughout the entire back and legs. Learn them, love them, live them.
The overhead squat
23. Don't be afraid to put down the barbell and pick up some dumbbells. They're a great substitute in almost any lift. Try doing dumbbell sumo deadlifts or dumbbell squats with two heavy dumbbells. These will challenge the body in a way far different than a barbell.
24. Use dumbbells for Olympic-style lifts as well: cleans, one and two-arm snatches, split snatches, high pulls, alternating high pulls, alternating push presses, one-arm clean and jerks, split jerks, alternating split jerks, and so on. The list is endless.
Using these later in the workout is especially important. For athletes, being explosive late in a game (or workout) is crucial and doing the dumbbell Olympic lifts in such a way will be highly beneficial.
25. The best machine you can use for strength training is your car. Try pushing an automobile for 60 yards at a slight incline.
26. Get yourself a pulling sled. You can do sprints with light weights or you can drag heavier weights walking forward, backward, and laterally, working on specific sprint strength. You can also push the sled from a low driving position. This one is great for football lineman and throwers.
27. Chest tightness connected to scapular weakness/looseness is a common problem amongst athletes. A healthy shoulder girdle is a goal every athlete should strive for.
Many athletes tend to have tight and strong pectorals and anterior deltoids, and weak and lengthened scapular retractors. Do extra work to strengthen your scapula retractors such as band external rotations, body rows, and Cuban presses, and make sure to statically stretch those pecs!
28. Another problem area is the hip flexor. Tight hip flexors can cause a whole number of problems, including low back pain, tight hamstrings, and glute dysfunction, which all mess up sprinting form and lead to injury. Aggressively stretch your hip flexors everyday, before and after training, and twice on the weekend!
29. Don't be afraid to add a big finish to some of your workouts, especially if you work out with a large group of athletes. This really promotes competitive drive and causes many athletes to push harder to excel.
One of my favorite exercises is the isometric squat hold for three minutes. You have all the athletes face each other and hold the squat and push each other to hold it out. We'll also do relays where we sprint in teams with heavy medicine balls, bags, dumbbells, and tractor tires.
And like I said before, pushing your car or truck is a great way to end any workout with high school or college athletes. Don't worry, you won't overtrain – just rip it up and have fun!
30. You want time under tension? Use Olympic hybrid lifts. The first is a dumbbell squat for 5 reps, dumbbell high pull for 5 reps, and dumbbell push press for 5 reps. Repeat three times continuously to complete one set, then repeat the complete set for five rounds. The number of total reps (225!) will put you to the floor.
Another killer is the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to clean to squat to press complex. Do this motion 5-8 reps per set for 4-6 sets.
31. Doing sprints in chest-deep water is a great low-impact conditioning workout.
32. If your goal is to stay lean or get leaner, you definitely want to work your aerobic energy system. I don't mean hop on a treadmill or stair climber, but extensive tempo running on off days.
This will not only help conditioning, but promote better recovery and regeneration of lean muscle mass. One example of this type of training is "sprinting" (at about 65-75%) the straight-aways of a track and walk/jogging the corners for 8-12 laps.
33. Linemen and throwers: stay away from jogging long distances for your conditioning work. Any coach who makes 250-pound athletes jog has no clue!
Your game activity is built up by many short explosive movements and the last thing you need is sustained, low intensity movements to prepare for it. Lineman and throwers should focus on short sprints of 10-30 yards and explosive jumps up stairs or onto boxes, along with med ball/sandbag throws.
For conditioning, these athletes could do rowing, medicine ball work, sled dragging, and short extensive tempo runs mixed with active stretching.
34. Five sets of five reps (5 x 5) is a time-tested, athlete/strength coach approved approach to getting bigger and stronger. They work great for benches, squats, presses, and deadlifts. Avoid this for Olympic weightlifting, however, and keep those reps in the 1-3 range when focusing on power development.
35. Get some sandbags made. These are great tools to build functional strength. The unstable contraption creates a demand for stabilizing muscles to work harder and forces major muscles to build. And for very young athletes, light sandbags of 5-25 pounds are great stepping stones to weightlifting.
36. Read the book Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik. It's one of the most down to earth, informative books on getting stronger I've ever read.
37. Read everything you can from Louie Simmons and the rest of the crew at Westside.
38. T-Nation has over nine years of free archived articles. Take advantage of it. I learned more from this site than I have in any college class I ever took.
39. Bodybuilders are slow because they train for looks, not speed. Don't train like one if you want to be fast and explosive. Athletic training should focus on moving weights as fast as possible.
40. Learn everything you can about how powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and track & field athletes train. These are some of the most explosive athletes in the world. Learn how they train, and why they do so, and adapt some of their techniques to your own training programs.
41. Kettlebells are great for adding a little variation into your training. Swings and sumo squats are incredible assistance exercises to help build the posterior chain. Utilize one-arm snatches and cleans to build a rock solid core. Take one outside and play with it, come up with your own exercises, and keep us posted on any good ones.
42. Do short sprints from different starting positions: on the ground lying down, facing up, facing backward, off of one foot, eyes closed waiting for a sound, sideways, from a slow jog, backpedaling reverse direction, and anything else chaotic you can think of.
Sports aren't predictable and you never know what position you might find yourself in. Work on acceleration out of awkward positions and become a playmaker.
43. It's imperative that you have a quality diet accompanied by quality supplements: fish oil, CLA, ZMA, and a protein powder using a blend of proteins like Metabolic Drive. Have the latter as a mid-day snack and before bed.
44. Emphasize one training goal a day. Avoid working on speed and conditioning on the same day. Combining both won't produce the same gains in the one you're trying to focus on.
Do speed work one day and then extensive tempo/conditioning work the next day. Extensive tempo/conditioning is low intensity work and can help you recover from the high CNS demands of speed work.
45. Proper rest and recovery is key. Athletes should give the body 48-72 hours rest between high intensity training days. High intensity training is any speed work, heavy weight training, competition, or anything else that places high stress on the central nervous system.
46. Metabolic training is great for specific conditioning for sports. For field-type sports, an athlete would run hard for 5-10 seconds followed by 20-30 seconds of light jogging, walking, or skipping in place, then repeat for desired reps.
Linemen in football could use specific OL/DL drills for 5-10 seconds and then rest for 20-30 seconds and repeat. They could also do medicine ball wall throws as hard and fast as they can for 10-15 seconds then rest for 20-25 seconds. These are great for larger athletes who need conditioning and core strength but get beat up from the wear and tear of any running-type of conditioning.
47. Read everything Dave Tate has ever written here on T-Nation.
48. Ten great books on speed and strength training, in no particular order:
1. Training for Speed, by Charlie Francis
2. Modern Methods of Strength and Power, by Christian Thibaudeau
3. A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting, by A.S Medvedev
4. Functional Training for Sports, by Mike Boyle
5. Science and Practice of Strength Training, by Vladimir Zatiorsky
6. Coaches Strength Training Playbook, by Joe Kenn
7. Facts and Fallacies of Fitness, by Mel Siff
8. East German Text of Athletics (Track and Field), by Gerhardt Schmolinsky
9. Training of the Weightlifter, by R.A. Roman
10. Peak When It Counts, by William Freeman
49. Athletes like football lineman, wrestlers, and MMA guys need great supporting strength or isometric strength. This is the strength used to hold an opponent away from you or keep them from going by you.
On the last rep of the last set of exercises like bench presses, push press, jerks, or overhead-squats, try holding the weight in lockout position for an extra 5-10 seconds. Really focus on contracting all your muscles to hold that weight in position.
50. For team training, play games with your athletes. Games like speed ball, handball, dodgeball, and "wall ball" all involve various aspects of athletic ability. Where else can you demand speed, change of direction, reaction, jumping, throwing, catching, and conditioning in a game-like environment and have fun doing it?
The kids forget they're even training, but their sweat proves they are!