Considerations in Athletic Performance Enhancement Training: Athlete Weight Room Preparation

Considerations in Athletic Performance Enhancement Training: Athlete Weight Room Preparation

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York

During my 30+ career as a Physical Therapist (PT), Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach, I have been involved in both the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Enhancement Training of athletes and have had many valued experiences throughout my years of practice in these two related professions. When confronted with an athlete who presents with a pathology that occurred during the course of S&C or personal training participation, my observations of the athlete, the review of the athlete’s injury and medical history, and my experiences in the sports rehabilitation of athletes, often reveals that the injury is not directly due to a specific exercise performance, but to one of two other training considerations. The first possible cause is the implementation of a poor program design, i.e. inappropriately prescribed exercise weight intensities and exercise performance volumes, which is beyond the subject matter of this dialog, and the second, is the athlete was not properly physically prepared prior to their participation into the formal training program design. Often times, the athlete enters the weight room to initiate their physical training and regardless of their physical condition and/or training experience, they are expected and instructed, along with their peers, to participate in the first day of the identically prescribed formal training program design. This is especially true of the high school athlete. The question then arises, how does the S&C Professional know the athlete will be able to correctly perform and physically tolerate the prescribed program design when implementing this manner of training?

My good friend and one of my mentors, Hall of Fame S&C Coach Al Vermeil has established and imparted upon me his hierarchy of athletic development. This system is utilized as a well-organized progression to assist the S&C Professional in the optimal athletic development of the athlete (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Vermeil’s Heirarchy of Athletic Development

Figure 1. Vermeil’s Hierarchy of Athletic Development

Coach Vermeil’s system is fostered upon a continuum of the physical qualities necessary for optimal athletic performance. A review of this hierarchy will reveal that strength is the physical quality, the foundation, from where all other physical qualities evolve. Each physical quality is dependent upon the optimal development of the preceding physical quality so that the ideal development of each successive physical quality in the hierarchy may transpire. One should note that although several physical qualities may be trained simultaneously, the emphasis of training is placed upon one specific physical quality until the time where the next ascending physical quality in the pyramid is determined to be developed.

Prior to the initiation of training, a review of Coach Vermeil’s hierarchy will exhibit the necessity for the physical evaluation of the athlete, as well as the development of the athlete’s work capacity, or as some coaches may call this level of the pyramid “general physical preparation (GPP)”. Work capacity or GPP is necessary for the preparation of the athlete for their eventual safe participation in the formal weight training program design.

During my time studying at the Soviet Institute for Physical Culture and Sport in Moscow, prior to the break up of the USSR, the topic of the system of athletic development that ensued at the thousands of Soviet Sports Schools across the USSR was discussed. Included in this lesson was the necessity for the preparation of the young Soviet athlete prior to the progression of applied higher stresses,over time, that would occur during their specific athletic development (specialization). A modification of this concept is presented in figure 2.

Figure 2. The General Physical Preparation and Specialization of the Young Athlete

Figure 2. The General Physical Preparation and Specialization of the Young Athlete

The successful Soviet structure of training acknowledges the importance and incorporation of a systematic process of general physical preparation prior to the athete’s eventual participation in 100% specialization of training, therefore, shouldn’t we as S&C professionals also heed from this lesson of athletic development?

Javorek’s Exercise Complexes

One method utilized over the years to prepare our athlete’s for the participation into the formal training program design is to incorporate Javorek’s exercise complex system into the training process. These exercise complexes were developed by S&C Coach Istvan “Steve” Javorek as part of the training system utilized with his athletes. These exercise complexes require the athlete to perform a series of specific exercises, employing either barbells or dumbells, with one exercise performance immediately followed by another until an “exercise cycle” or “set” is completed. The athlete then performs the prescribed number of exercise cycles/sets to complete their prescribed daily workout. An example of a Javorek’s exercise complex is as follows:

Barbell Upright Row X 6 Reps
Barbell Snatch High Pull X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Squat Push Press X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Good Morning X 6 Reps
Barbell Bent Over Row X 6 Reps

In this example the athlete will have performed a total of 30 successive exercise repetitions while incorporating the entire body during the training in the exercise cycle/set. Exercise weight intensities are initiated with 10% to 15% of the athlete’s body weight and are progressed over time until the athlete is able to perform the exercise complex with 30% – 35% of their body weight. The workouts are performed three days per week and depending upon the individual athlete, may begin with three exercise cycles/sets in their initial workout and progressed over time until the athlete demonstrates the performance of 5-6 cycles/sets at 30% to 35% of their body weight per daily workout.

Some of the advantages for incorporating Javorek’s exercise complexes include but are not limited to:

  1. Establish the proficiency of exercise technical performance
  2. Preparation of the neuro-muscular and musculo-tendonous systems of the body for the eventual application of high volume, high weight intensity exercise performance
  3. Enhance joint mobility and soft tissue compliance
  4. Enhance strength and power output
  5. Increase work capacity

Depending upon the specific needs, presentation, and medical history of the athlete, exercises may be substituted and/or modified for the athlete as part of their prescribed exercise performance.

Javorek’s exercise complex systems work well to assist in the preparation of the athlete for the ensuing intergration of the formal training program design. A program design that will include the application of higher exercise volumes and weight intensity performance. We have also implemented Javorek exercise complexes during the “end stage” of the athletes sports rehabilitation prior to their discharge from the clinic and eventual particpation in a formal off-season S&C program.

The preparation of the athlete prior to their initiation into the formal training program design is an important aspect of training that is often overlooked. A properly prepared athlete will not only perform superiorly in the weight room, but likely reduce the incidence of training injuries as well.

7 Comments

  • Eric says:

    Great article Robert, what are your thoughts on a movement continuum and dynamic movement proficiency prior to weight room experience.

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Eric,

    Thank you for the kind words. I don’t mean to be vague but I am of the opinion that it is dependent upon the individual that is presented to you. In my experiences many deficits found at the time of the athlete’s evaluation are often resolved with good training instruction and performance. For instance Greg Myer just published a paper on the back squat movement pattern, a fundamental movement pattern in sport performance, and its use as a screening tool. I have been an advocate of the philosophy that good instruction and the athlete’s ability to demonstrate proper exercise technical performance will eliminate many deficits found in an evaluation as “form follows function”, so to speak. Evaluate your athlete, put them through a Javorek exercise complex preparation program and then re-evaluate them. You will likely find that many of the deficits found at the time of your evaluation are now resolved.

    I am also of the opinion that the enhancement of the physical qualities that occurs during training results in an improvement of the athlete’s “athleticism” vs. their “skill” level, as there is a difference between the two. Movement occurs at the skill level to enhance the athlete’s ability to perform optimally during their particular sport of participation i.e. a pitching coach teaches how to pitch, a sprint coach teaches how to sprint, a hitting coach teaches how to hit, etc… We can improve a basketball player’s vertical jump (athleticism) with the enhancement of the physical qualities that occurs during training, but the ability to improve the athlete’s jump shooting percentage (skill) occurs by teaching and practicing jump shooting.

    The training of the physical qualities of athletic performance and skill/movement instruction can occur concurrently, as an example, this transpires with the practice of the sport in conjunction with in-season training.

    Just my opinion

    Rob Panariello

  • Josh says:

    Rob,

    I really enjoyed your take on this. I was particularly drawn to your part about the assessment and movement. There are so many assessments (PRI / DNS / FMS etc.) or table assessments to see what the person does without coaching. I guess a specific example off bat is someone doing a lunge for the first time, typically they will use their quad alot, they have not been taught HOW to lunge so what do you expect! So many people will assume their posterior chain is weak (which they are most likely correct in that instance) but you can’t jump to conclusions.

    I’am sure after doing some work capacity stuff and also being COACHED, most people will be able to nail that lunge. We can’t impart our “expertise” for watching someone do something for the first time, especially if it’s a general population person who never worked out before.

    Or another example if the straight leg raise. Many times when you que the individual to push their lower back into the table (engaging their core) their ASLR score improves. That just tells me they need to be conscious about their movement and training vs. poor alignment or tight hamstrings and weak core.

    That goes back to the whole modeling of learning that I will butcher but the whole: Conscious vs. sub-conscious and i believe there were two more quadrants…

    Nice Rob!

  • Will Vatcher says:

    Great article Rob, very well written

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Josh and Will,

    Gentlemen thank you for the kind words. Have a great day.

  • Brilliant as always Rob.

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