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Off-the-charts: lifting scripts with an emphasis on effort.

Strength training scripts are usually designed in a meticulous fashion with attention paid to the details of sets, reps, targeted areas, compound vs. single joint movements, equipment modes, and the order of exercise. Documenting the results of each set--or, at least the ones that you feel are important to track--is standard operating procedure for most programs.

All of this is vitally important in structuring, administering, and noting progress over time. Failure to keep accurate records of workout results leads to sketchy progress and motivational detours.

Notwithstanding the deserved priority of documentation, we suggest that you allow for some flexibility on occasion and insert a "no card" workout. The no card approach affords you some latitude regarding exercise selection, exercise order, rep/set schemes, workout tempo, and inserting some unorthodox movements for a change of pace.

Most athletes enjoy new challenges and the element of surprise, and both are woven into the no card workout. As a coach, you can be assured that the workout is productive because you designed it with all of the physical and mental attributes firmly in place.



Make no mistake: Just because you're taking the road less traveled with this approach, a very definitive plan must still be put into place. Actually, these workouts demand just as much planning as any of your prescripted, status quo formats.

We make sure that our entire staff has input in the workout design and is well-schooled in the organization and administration of the installed protocol.

When brainstorming a plan, we suggest that you ask yourself the following questions:

Are there specific movements and/of areas of the body you would like to emphasize? This is an opportune time to induct some movements from the functional training (FT) schematic--a framework we've addressed in the past two columns. Another recommendation is to examine your charted scripts from the recent training period and try to identify some areas that may not have received adequate attention. Adding those to this arrangement will help you cover all of the training bases.

Will you split the group into smaller sup-groups for a station-type format, or do you prefer everyone staying together and executing the plan in the determined sequence? This is an important variable due to the fact that initial strength capabilities will be compromised as the athletes progress through a rotation of various stations. Granted, there are circumstances where you may want to provide such a metabolic stimulus, which we will discuss below. At other times, your preference may be to have them at their strongest for what has been earmarked as the "primary" movements. If the latter is your choice, then be sure to insert those movements as the lead-in phase of the workout.

What type of pace and tempo are you seeking from the workout? Once you've decided on the order of exercise and the group set-up for the athletes, your next consideration is the recovery interval between sets. As stated earlier, there will be occasions when you are seeking a heart rate response from the session in addition to the strength benefits. In those cases, you might consider keeping the recovery time between sets to around 60-90 seconds. This is obviously a more difficult protocol from a metabolic standpoint, and in the initial sessions you will notice a slight decrease in the weight loads being handled. However, just as with all types of training protocols, the athletes will make adaptations to this specific format if it is used on at least an intermittent basis. Some coaches prefer a recovery period of 2-3 minutes--which is more of a standard, traditional protocol--in order to keep the weight loads consistent with recently charted workouts. Both systems can be used effectively, and we tend to mix and match them for variety as much as any physiological reason.

How frequently do you plan on using this arrangement? Many coaches like a "circuit" approach the day after a game, and this format can be amended to be a nice fit in that situation. Another option is to insert it when you are in pinch for time for one reason or another, and your base script isn't manageable for that day. And, of course, you can simply make it a weekly tradition, as we have chosen to do every Friday of the off-season period with the entire football team-and with our freshmen every Friday who do not play during the in-season period. Dubbed 'The Spartan Challenge," this tradition has taken on a life of its own. The Spartan Challenge has some components that are put into effect in our indoor facility, and we will address those in a future Powerline. This time out, we will stay in the weight room.


With some background information and implementation suggestions behind us, let's look at a couple of sample routines. Obviously, there is a literal cascade of different routines and exercise choices/sequences you can arrange to fit your specific philosophy.

Note: All workouts begin with a general warm-up/dynamic flexibility period, and then progress to specific warm-up sets with the designated movements as needed. All listed sets below are work sets.


This workout strings together (or, "piggybacks") several exercises that target key lower body musculature. These are basic movements that are placed in a sequence alternating primary activation of the anterior leg muscles and the posterior compartments of the legs and hips.

The first four exercises are performed with a relatively high tempo, and are followed with a brief respite prior to the execution of the next four movements. The second cycle of four exercises is again done at a good clip before a longer recovery is allotted. Finally, a third sequence of movements is inserted with the same tempo format to complete the workout.


It looks like this:

* Log Bar Front Squat--10 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Hex Bar Dead Lift--10 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Glute/Ham Raises--10 reps.

* Leg Press--10 reps.

* End of first sequence--take a 3 minute recovery period, then proceed with:

* Kettlebell Squat Press--8 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Kettlebell Dead Lift--8 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Romanian Dead Lift (RDL's with a slight knee bend)--8 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Leg Press--8 reps.

* End of second sequence--take a 3 minute recovery period, then proceed with:

* Glute/Ham Raises--8 reps (90 sec. relief).

* Dumbbell or Weight Vested Lunges-8 reps w/each leg (90 sec. relief).

* Leg Press-8 reps (90 sec. relief).

* Dumbbell or Weight Vested Step-ups (22-24 in. box)-10 reps w/each leg.

That would complete this particular workout.

Coaching Points: The shorter relief periods heighten the intensity of the sequence, thus negating the need for inordinately heavy loads. For the most part, moderate weight loads will suffice and prove to be very effective for this format.


Using a similar approach, we now shift the emphasis to the upper body. Just as with the lower half and core area, the upper body can be addressed in numerous ways.

Several sets of the same exercise can be performed in succession with a variety of repetition schemes and allotted relief periods between sets. The workout would then proceed with several sets of a different exercise-either engaging the same basic area, or targeting the antagonist muscle compartments. We have a host of both carded and no-card workouts that integrate this particular schematic.

In this routine, however, we utilize a "press/pull" sequence of exercises, which by name is self-explanatory. Simply put, we piggyback pressing movements with pulling movements throughout the entirely of the routine. Doing this places an emphasis on balancing anterior compartment work (i.e., pressing movements) with posterior compartment work (i.e., pulling movements).


It would look something like this:

* Bench Press--10 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Horizontal Row--10 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Bench Press--8 reps (60 sec. relief).

* High Row or Lat Pulldown--8 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Bench Press--6 reps (60 sec. relief).

* Low Row or Dumbbell row--6 reps.

* End of first sequence--take a 3 minute recovery period, then proceed with:

* Dumbbell Push-Press or Standing/Seated Military Press--10 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Chin-ups (palms facing you)--as many good reps as possible--i.e., chin over the bar (75 sec. relief).

* Dumbbell Push-Press or Standing/Seated Military Press--8 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Pull-ups (palms facing away from you)--as many good reps as possible (75 sec. relief).

* Dumbbell Push-Press or Standing/Seated Military Press--6 reps (75 sec. relief).

* Neutral-Grip Pull-ups (palms facing each other)--as many good reps as possible.

That would complete this sequence.

Coaching Points: The chin-ups/pull-ups can be very challenging, especially for larger athletes. Gravity, as they say, can be a bear. To assist our big guys--and everyone, for that matter--we have flex bands available at our chin-up stations, which can be placed around their shin area (in a bent-knee position). Essentially, the band will "cut" their body weight to an initially workable level. For a look at this training method, check the Powerline article archive for "Strike-up the Band Training: The Benefits of Variable Resistance" on

For coaches who would like to combine the two workouts into a total body affair, we would suggest more liberal relief periods between sets--up to 2-3 minutes. It might also be a good idea to pare-down the routine by a few total sets, especially with younger, less experienced athletes.


As we have stated here on a consistent basis over the years, set, rep, intensity, and format change-ups are crucial components of a well-rounded and consistently successful strength training program.

Whether you label it as being periodization, cycling, or simply variety, you will find that both the minds and bodies of your athletes will be very receptive to intermittent workout alterations.

The no-card format provides yet another avenue to add diversity to your program.


Book report: An outstanding educational piece on youth fitness--According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (Hedley, A.A., et al, JAMA, 2004), childhood obesity has tripled to a prevalence of greater than 15% in the past few decades. This dilemma is due, in large part, to poor lifestyle choices that include decreased physical activity, an increase in "sedentary entertainment" (i.e., video games and inordinate hours of television viewing) and the ubiquitous fast food market. The exponential result of this "eat more, move less" mentality is that approximately one in seven children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from overweight issues or obesity.

Enter a new text entitled Youth Fitness: An Action Plan for Shaping America's Kids written by two experts (and fathers of young children) with decades of experience and highly-respected acumen in the strength and fitness field, Matt Brzycki and Fred Fornicola. This book is an extremely well-written, easy to follow, and comprehensive training guide earmarked specifically for children and adolescents. The chapters within cover a wide-range of current topics including a well-for-matted explanation of the working musculature, proper flexibility mechanics, aerobic fitness, key strength training principles, the use of non-traditional training implements, developing healthy dietary habits, and designing and administering fitness tests.

I highly recommend this timely youth fitness guide and labor of love to everyone who works with young people in the physical education and sports arenas, as well as to parents who want to foster healthy lifestyle behaviors in their children. You can find it at

Ken Mannie (

By Ken Mannie, Head Strength/Conditioning Coach Michigan State University
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Title Annotation:POWERLINE
Author:Mannie, Ken
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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