One of the biggest obstacles when training athletes - especially at the professional level - is dealing with the false pride of those who think they don’t need help with their strength and conditioning. Sometimes it seems, no matter how many certifications or how much experience I have, some athletes would rather take advice from a Youtube video or from what their grandpa told them to do back in 95’. I am not here to say I know it all, because I don’t. Any strength coach that says they DO know it all has stopped evolving and is already behind the times. On the flip side, for the last ten years, I have dedicated my career to athletic performance and have gained quite a bit of knowledge along the way. I constantly try to better myself as both a coach and as an athlete. For this reason, I always try to learn from other coaches and have them help me with my own training, even after almost 10 years of training athletes myself. The point is, sometimes as athletes and coaches, we all need to swallow our pride, chain up those egos and open our minds to getting help from qualified coaches who know what they are doing. It boils down to this simple fact: “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
About five years ago, I was a Strength and Conditioning Coach for a professional lacrosse team and had a conversation with a veteran player. It was obvious that he wasn’t doing the strength program I had prescribed (he did not live in town, so I would send him programs believing he would do it on his own). His performance was waning on the field and he lacked durability. When I asked him if he had been doing our strength and speed program, he said, “I have been doing the same routine at the gym for the last eight years and I don’t want to stray from that.” My natural sarcastic response was, “How’s that working out for you?” Although he was visibly upset at first, I think a light bulb went off he thought to himself, “maybe what I’m doing isn’t working?” He asked for my help a week later, continues to have a successful professional lacrosse career and hasn’t sustained a non-contact injury since.
Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine if what and how you are training is beneficial to you. (Or perhaps you'll find that it's time to switch it up)
1. Why are you training and what are your goals?
This is an obvious one, but is often overlooked and too easily generalized. Be as specific as possible with your reasoning and your goals. “I want to get better”, is way too vague and needs to be broken down into specific measurable goals. If you can’t measure your goals, how will you ever know if you achieve them? A better goal might be , “I want to improve my 40 yard dash by .2 seconds.” The general goal is to improve speed, but this has a specific test and number to quantify the goal.
2. Do you have a plan when you walk into the weight room or onto the field to train?
A goal without a plan is a wish. To make that goal a reality, you must have a plan of attack. You can save yourself an abundance of time and effort by writing down or printing off your workout before going to the weight room or field. Even if you have a plan in your head, I highly recommend writing it down. You are much more likely to adhere to the program if it is in print in front of you. It is way too easy to omit or casually forget a few sets or reps when you are tired and there is nothing to keep you honest. Coming in with a plan helps eliminate what I like to call “bro time”. “Bro time” is where you do a set of bicep curls, check yourself out in the mirror, and then chat with your buddies for 5 minutes about where they got their tank top, all the while doing nothing to improve yourself as an athlete. I have been in many high school weight rooms and “Bro time” is an epidemic and can be communicable if proper precautions are not in place. "Bro time" can be eliminated with 3 simple steps: 1) find a training partner(s) with a common goal 2) have a plan to achieve that goal and 3) train hard.
3. Does your plan help you take strides towards your goals?
Any plan/program is better than no plan. With that being said, most goals are time sensitive, so it is important to be as efficient as possible with your training. Make sure what you are doing is beneficial to your goals and to your sport. Bicep curls might make you look better in that tank top, but they are not going to do much to help you on the lacrosse field. For most goals pertaining to lacrosse, it is important to focus on multi joint strength and explosive movements in the weight room. Multi-joint movements are strength training exercises that involve multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. These include the Olympic lifts (clean and snatch), squat variations, deadlift variations, press variations (bench press, shoulder press, etc), lunge variations, rows, among others. When technically proficient, the olympic lifts combine many different movements and muscle groups while training explosively. These are are going to be the most transferable to the field and give you the most bang for your buck. If you are having trouble coming up with a plan of attack for your goals, refer to question 4.
4. Do you have a coach helping you out?
This is where swallowing your pride comes into play. There is an abundance of information on strength training on the old interweb, and not all of it is good. It can be very confusing deciphering between what is good info and what is just a gimmick. Many times the most attractive programs or the “quick fixes” are NOT the answer. Even if you have a great program that focuses on multi-joint movements and explosiveness, it won’t translate to the field if executed poorly. Technique and proficiency in the multi-joint movements is the number one key to attaining the desired training response. After 15+ years of training experience with these movements, I still seek out technical help and advice. This can be done by video or in person with a coach. Taking periodic video of your multi-joint movements allow you to assess your technique and determine flaws that you were unaware of while performing the movement. Seeking out a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist is the best way to make sure you are on the right track and making the best use of your time. If you are an internally motivated individual that is able to bring intensity without the help of coaches motivation, it is still good to get a technique check every now and then. There are many qualified coaches out there, you just need to find the right one for you. Once that technique is dialed in, the name of the game is consistency and intensity. Add up those things and you will get guaranteed results. Remember, it’s ok to ask for help, you will come out stronger and a better player in the long run!
5. Do you have a balanced plan?
The number one benefit of strength training for a lacrosse player is resiliency/injury prevention. A sure fire way to get injured is to have muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances can be created by lack of training or it can be caused by training without a balanced attack. By far the most popular strength exercise for male athletes is the bench press. I have never been to a weight room without hearing the question, “how much do you bench?” Although not the most important exercise for lacrosse, there is nothing wrong with bench pressing. The problem lies when athletes bench press often and do not train the antagonist muscle group (the upper back). Everyone has seen the guy at the gym with huge pecs but poor posture (shoulders rounded forward). When we created these imbalances we are predisposing ourselves to injury. The same thing can hold true with playing an abundance of games and not adding in training. Often times a lacrosse player will shoot or pass primarily on their dominant side which can create an imbalance in their core and back. Below is a list of exercises to incorporate to create a balanced attack through your training plan. These can be split up into different days based on your frequency of training but they key is balance.
Any athlete that consistently brings effort and intensity to a balanced strength and conditioning plan is on the right path to performance gains. Write down your goals, have a plan, ask for help and put in work!