[ NEW CYCLE ] The ‘Why’ Behind our Programming

This training cycle we have four rather unique focus lifts we are using for our High School athletes that participate in our FORCE training program. The FORCE program is just one of the categories that our athletes fall into based on their specific needs, goals, or the demands of their position. Typical FORCE athletes are Offensive and Defensive lineman, linebackers, baseball athletes, or anyone else who is looking to increase their absolute strength and power. 

The lifts we are going to use are the Block Clean, the Front Loaded Box Squat, Close Grip Bench Press, and the Trap Bar Dead Lift. 

If you have read any of my previous articles related to what strength qualities I believe high school athletes should focus on, then you already know that I believe every athlete should have the ability to: 

  • Pull from the floor with perfect form
  • Front squat with a flat back, to the proper depth, and while maintaining their bracing 
  • Express anterior power through the bench press

With this phase, as with every other phase we design, the thought process originated in two areas. First, we looked at what the end goal of our program is and what abilities we want our athletes to have on August 1. Second, we considered what we saw in the last phase and what areas we need to be improved upon to accomplish our goals. 

Over the past two training phases, we have been implementing the front rack position for the Front Squat as well as the first pull of the Power Clean. With our program being built around the Power Clean and the Front Squat, it is vital for us to install the basic fundamentals that will allow us to be successful in these primary movements. In addition, the top areas of dysfunction in either of the lifts lies in the simple execution of rudimentary aspects of the movements.  

Now, as we enter this phase (which started 1/13 and goes through 2/7), the focus will still be on building athletes who can perform our movements with safely and amazing technical proficiency. It is important to remember that we still have 7 months left in the off-season and just like a coach would install a playbook, we will do the same with our strength program. 

Let dive into each of the 4 focus lifts for this phase and go into a little more detail about the ‘why and how’ for each one. 

1: Block Clean

  • Cycle Goal: Get the athletes more comfortable with the Power Clean Movement and teach them how to forcefully extend their hips and catch in a power position.
  • Why the Block Clean: This lift is great because its primary focus is teaching the athletes how to engage their hips. Once an athlete learns how to use their hips the execution of a Clean variation becomes much simpler and more effective. This is also a great opportunity to work on the catch of the Clean. 
  • Execution: Address the bar with your feet in your pulling position and the steel of the bar touching your shins. From there get into your starting position and pull the slack out of the bar in order to create tension through your posterior chain. Then, forcefully pull the bar off the blocks and extend your hips. At the top of the pull, drop your hips and sink under the bar. As you catch the bar on your shoulders you want to punch your elbows up and loosen your grasp on the bar. From there just stand up, pause for a second, and drop the bar. 

2: Front Loaded Box Squat

  • Cycle Goal: Continue to work on the athlete’s ability to maintain their position and bracing while performing the Front Squat. 
  • Why the Front Loaded Box Squat: The Front Squat is a foundational movement for our program and we want to make sure the lift is mastered. This variation is great to teach the athlete how to truly perform this lift in a segmented and controlled manner.  In addition, this plays a role in our Olympic lifting technique goals because the Front Squat is a great teaching tool for the Power Clean.
  • Execution: Get a box that is just a little below your knee height so that this squat is a little lower than your traditional back squat.  From there, place the box behind you and get into your Front Squat position. Taking 2-3 seconds lower yourself to the box focusing on your posture and squatting perfectly. Once you reach the box, do not unload any weight. We want to stay 100% braced the entire time. After a 1 second pause, drive off the box without losing your tension in your mid-back and without your elbows dipping. 

3: Close Grip Bench Press

  • Cycle Goal: Change the grip of the Bench Press in order to attack common weak points most young athletes suffer with. 
  • Why the Close Grip Bench Press: This movement forces the triceps and shoulder to be the prime mover of the lift which in turn strengthens the conventional bench press. In addition, football is played with your hands in tight. The hand position, in my opinion, allows for a greater transfer from the weight room to the football field. 
  • Execution: Set up for the bench press as you normally would (eyes under the bar, heels tucked and pushing into the ground, glutes engaged). Then grab the bar with your index finger at the end of the knurling on the bar. This grip allows for the Close Grip Bench Press to be executed properly without a major impact on the shoulder. Then lift the bar off and bring it to your starting position. Under control and with your brace maintained, lower the bar to your chest and press it back up. Do not bounce it off your ribs.  

4: Trap Bar Dead Lift

  • Cycle Goal: Build the athletes posterior chain (low back, hips, hamstrings) with a setup position that is different from a conventional deadlift or power clean.
  • Why the Trap Bar Dead Lift: The trap bar allows the athlete to be in a more athletic position than a traditional barbell deadlift. This allows a large group to have more success and be able to execute it with a higher level of precision.
  • Execution: Step into the trap bar with your feet in your power clean position. From there squat down and grab the bar. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and make sure you have a flat back. Pull the slack out of the bar and then, under control, pull the weight off the floor. Pause at the top of the movement and then slowly lower the bar back to the ground while maintaining your bracing.  

Those 4 movements comprise our focus for these next few weeks. Again, these are just building blocks to accomplish our program goals. As with anything, this process is a constant assessment and will be used as we continue to strive for building a complete athlete this off-season. 

Stay hungry and remember Champions Do Extra!

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