By Zach Cunningham
Strength & Conditioning Coordinator
Winnetonka High School
Kansas City, Mo.
The entire goal of strength and conditioning is to prepare student-athletes to perform to the best of their abilities. I have never had a group of student-athletes who all have the same abilities to begin with, nor do they have the same goals.
Yet, as strength coaches, too many times we use a “one size fits all” training model for every student-athlete. We need to train our kids individually based on where they are at in their development. Why are linemen doing the same workouts as receivers?
Here at Winnetonka High School, I have begun to implement a “Tiered System” that categorizes student-athletes into sub-groups that fit their biggest level of need. Each cycle begins with every student-athlete in the beginning phase, or Tier 1. After a few weeks, kids will either repeat this phase, move up into Tier 2, or begin in a specialized group. After a few more weeks, kids will either repeat the phase or move into the next Tier.
Every workout begins with all groups doing the same main lift to start (i.e. Squat, Bench, Clean). After that, the specialization of the tiered groups begins.
We use Rack Performance for our workouts. That makes everything easy. We have multiple TVs in the weight room with each one showing a different workout. All TVs are synced up, so everybody is lifting and rotating in unison. Once your student-athletes understand that you are trying to take care of them and strengthen any weaknesses that they have, they will FULLY buy-in to this process.
Tier 1 is where every student-athlete begins every cycle. This phase is spent focusing on hip and shoulder mobility, the primary locations for “weak spots” or injuries in young athletes. We will always spend the first week doing a GPP (General Physical Prep) to reinforce proper movements and also help heal any lingering injuries from a sports season. The workouts are on a Push-Pull split with higher reps.
Student-athletes will be moved into Tier 2 if they can demonstrate proper technique, flexibility and movement patterns in Tier 1. It is common for kids to have to repeat Tier 1, especially younger or newer lifters. Tier 2 is focused on absolute strength where we are just trying to get our kids as strong as possible. The split is moved to Upper Body-Lower Body with medium to lower reps.
Tier 3 is focused on performance training and is a very limited group meant for only our most advanced lifters and highest performers. Currently, less than 10% of our population qualifies for this training. Tier 3 follows a French Contrast training method, which I believe is the epitome of performance training. Here, we will do a muscle group circuit and movement circuit each workout. We do NOT want anybody in Tier 3 longer than one four-week cycle.
There are also a few other “special groups” that certain student-athletes will fall into. One of our special groups is our “Muscle Factory”, or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (size) group. These kids are naturally thinner and have a difficult time putting on weight and muscle. This group will do an entire cycle of higher reps for every exercise.
Our “Sweat Machine” group is for athletes who are too big for their abilities, and therefore follow a cardio-muscular workout. Not every large athlete automatically gets placed here to lose weight, only the ones who cannot move effectively and explosively at their current weights. We are still focused on getting stronger just like everybody else, however we will supplement movements instead of the auxiliary lifts to burn more calories (i.e. complementing bench press with battle ropes).