A Review: Strength Programme Influence


Assuming you have the job of writing S&C programmes for athletes; who influences what you put in the strength programme? Primarily the programme will be dictated by the demands of the sport or event, but ultimately you are developing both strength and power in the same way(s) regardless of the activity; the big rocks, Squat, Deadlift, Bench, Overhead Press will always take care of the Strength side, whereas the Olympic Lift variations, Jump Squats, Medicine Ball Throws, and alike, should cover you when developing Power. After that, various elements of the programme will most likely reflect some specificity to the task, whether it be developing a particular aspect of strength, e.g. reactive/elastic, focussing on unilateral exercises, a series of core based movements or various combinations of push-pull exercises.

Below is a summary of six of the most common approaches to strength training design; four of which I frequently use in my current programmes (but will attempt to use all methods at various times of the year); although some not exactly as prescribed, but I take the core elements without changing it too much and implement in my own setting; which I think is generally a solid approach for good coaching. (I do also use some Velocity Based Training in our setting, but generally only as a heat-check for my athletes to keep them honest as we just don’t have the means to make it time effective).

1. The Tier System


The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook, courtesy of Joe ‘House’ Kenn, has a big influence on my programming due to the nature of the Tier System Methodology. I started to utilise the Tier System to a greater extent, see image below, after spending some time talking to Mladen Jovanovic about it, and then implementing it through Mladen’s StrengthCardBuilder v3.0  (see video for v4.0). Without going into all the ins & outs of the Tier system, the simplicity lies in the fact that is places emphasis on the most important focus of the session, the Priority Lift – Tier 1, and then moves through to Tier 5, exercises of less importance than Tier 1. Kenn has also designed a loading schedule where throughout the session, and/or week, the movements rotate between either Total (T), Lower (L), or Upper (U) body exercises depending on how many Tiers are written into the program. The Tier System provides structure to the programme but also allow the coach flexibility to determine the priority for the athlete, along with establishing the sets & reps scheme for each Tier.

strength card

2. 5/3/1


Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 programme is the system I almost exclusively use through the GPP, when I’m trying to build a solid strength foundation and it is the time furthest away from competition. I effectively combine the methodology which Kenn describes in his book, and use the loading influence of Wendler to determine the percentage 1RM. Again like the Tier system, the brilliance is in the simplicity of the programme and the adaptations which occurs if you strictly follow the loading schemes (which I do). Many critics of the system complain about the relatively light Week 1 loading and too few set numbers and then there is a deload in the fourth week, but in a team sport setting, rather than powerlifting, I see this as one of the major advantages. Although it may not appear as sexy as DUP, with a 3 week linear periodisation and 1 week deload, but the programme pushes the limits by having a max effort on the third set of each exercise, regardless of the week, forcing the athlete to push for new maxes giving a brutal metabolic and hormonal hit.

3. Westside Barbell


Louis Simmons, of Westside Barbell infamy, developed his own system aimed at developing some of the strongest humans on the planet; which he achieved – himself being one of them. Although I don’t follow this system exclusively, as I do at various times of the year with 5/3/1, I do believe in the core tenets which encompass the system (aside from needing to complete 2 x Upper and 2 x Lower /week). Through Simmons research of the Russian, Bulgarian and Eastern Bloc countries, he developed a weekly loading scheme based around three foci; Maximal Effort, Dynamic Effort and Repetition Effort. Which in my setting I interpret as Strength, Power, Hypertrophy/Supplemental Exercises. It’s clear that the intent of his movements is based around Lifting heavy weights as if they are light AND lifting light weights as if they are heavy. The programme is great as it provides structure but also variation in exercise selection based around the big rock exercises as mentioned earlier. At the team sport level, there probably would be some scope to follow the program more closely, and provide variation in exercise (e.g. bar, grip, bands/chains), but in essence you are still having a weekly dynamic stimulus leading to improved outputs across the F-V curve.

4. Triphasic Training


Cal Dietz is the one who coined the term, Triphasic Training (also the name of his text), to explain his methodology to work all three aspects of the muscle action; Concentric, Isometric and Eccentric in a block periodisation model. Dietz’s view is that those athletes who have developed capacities in each of the muscle actions perform better than their counterparts. In reflection, due to my previous influences and the fields I have been involved in, I have largely neglected incorporating standard Isometrics (however he terms Isometrics as the transition between Ecc > Conc – which one could deem the amortization phase of a depth jump/plyometric) into my programme, but have ever more increasingly been using Eccentric focussed exercises for my track athletes. Like the other methodologies mentioned above, the brilliance in the training design, is in the variation and new stimulus it provides to the athlete, along with the specificity which can be exploited by having a distinct focus or tempo to the exercise. Using sprinting as an example, the ability to create, but more importantly absorb and utilise ground reaction forces, initially relies on the body’s ability to decelerate fast moving limbs (eccentric contraction), and then apply a concentric muscle action, force, into the ground. By changing the set-up of a squat, bench press or deadlift, you can isolate the particular muscle action you desire, rather than always having a repetitive tempo for both the eccentric and concentric portion of the lift.

5. Bondarchuk Method


Lately I have been overly interested in gaining more experience utilising the principles and methods developed by one of the world’s most famous track and field coaches (also an Olympic Gold Medallist), Anatoliy Bondarchuk. My interest has probably peaked even more of late due to listening to Martin Bingisser’s podcast, HMMR Media, as he has trained under the man himself and clearly a huge advocate of the system. The backbone to Bondarchuk’s programme is based around the concept of Transfer of Training and his specific exercise classification. Although developed for an individual sport, specifically the Hammer Throw, the principles can easily be adapted to team sports. The exercises are classified into four categories: General Prep Exercises, Specific Prep Exercises, Specific Developmental Exercises and Competitive Exercises. From GPE through to CE; the exercises begin to become more specific and almost mimic the task. There are two things in the programme which really resonate with me; 1. Throughout the phases, the cycles are continually preparing the athlete for the ‘event’, building on all biomotor abilities simultaneously, e.g. Vertical integration – Charlie Francis, and 2. There is constant ‘testing’ along the way to determine which exercises are having the highest impact on performance measures (whatever that may be). The description probably leans itself more to individual sports but I think reflection could occur in a team sports setting specific to the transfer of exercises towards the overall sport performance.

6. Complex Training & French Contrast Method (FCM)

I tend to use this training methodology in waves throughout the training year. I’ve heard it termed as French Contrast Training but then I think I read PJ Vazel say he had never heard of such a thing in France; but most attribute to Cometti (enjoy the old school footage of World Champion Shot Putter, Werner Gunthor, plus an example of the FCM below), . The training methodology is based around doing a heavy compound based movement or exercise, immediately followed up by ballistic or plyometric movements in a specific order (Compound/Plyo/Weighted/Accelerated). In essence it aims to elicit Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP), regardless if the research into this form of training is shaky (but some positives exist). By performing a maximal lift like a heavy box squat, where the neural drive is high and typeIIx fibres are being heavily recruited, then following up with a ballistic movement (similar in nature to the maximal lift) e.g an unloaded box jump or a light load jump squat, the body adapts to use this increased neural drive to improve the efficiency of inter & intra muscular (Rate of Force Development / Rate Coding) coordination in an unloaded environment; firstly in the sub-maximal exercise and then hopefully a transfer into the sport. I’ve found athletes enjoy this type of training cycle as you can get quite creative with how you challenge the athlete in an unloaded setting. Athletes can really go to town on medballs, resistance bands or other light weight implements after pumping themselves up with a heavy lift. If the athletes buy-in to the training, you should be able to get some good adaptations, and like supersets, achieve higher density in your session.

So there you go… a review of 6 heavily utilised strength programme influences… I hope it gives people a reasonable understanding of each influence and how it can be implemented in your setting.

Next up I’ll probably do a post on how you can set up the sets & reps scheme for a session; but I’ll see if my baby lets me get any sleep! This was written in many pieces across a week!








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