Effect of Finals on Training
Sunday morning I worked with a kid who wants to be the starting middle linebacker for his high school this fall, and also the starting pitcher for his varsity baseball team in the spring. Yes, a very interesting combination of positions for this kid, but it works well. The kid busts his butt, applies what I teach him, and understands what it takes to be strong.
He barely made it to the workout on Sunday because he was so stressed out about studying for finals. We started working out and he looked tired, sluggish, and a little slow. He ends up power-cleaning 40 lbs less than he normal cleans. Any athlete or gym-goer would get pissed with these results, which, of course, he did. As a strength coach you have 2 options:
1.) Make him train just as hard, risk an injury, and ruin him for the rest of the day so he can’t study and he’s thinking about the workout he wasted.
2.) Find the root of the stress, explain to him the role that accumulating stress has on an exercise program (he’s taking a sports medicine class after all), adjust the workout accordingly so he still has fun, makes progress, and leaves tired but ready to take on the day, motivated to crush his finals.
If you think the first choice is the best choice, I shall bite my tongue. The obvious answer should be the second answer. Yes, our job as strength and conditioning coaches is to improve and understand our athletes. Yes, we make them work hard, push their buttons, make them sore, have occasional pukers, and ruin shirts with rust from pushups and inverted rows with chains. But when it comes down to it, we live for our athletes, and without them we don’t have a job. Just last night, I woke up at 4am thinking about how to correct an athlete’s movement pattern.
Managing Stress in You Athletes
The line of stress and performance is very thin. It is our job as a strength coach to tiptoe that line, and improve the performance of the athlete. Louie Simmons says it best, “Don’t train minimally, don’t training maximally, train optimally.” Optimally is always changing. One week, optimally could be at 90% of your 1RM and blasting new 1RM’s. The next week optimally could look like mobility work, technique work, training at 75% of your 1RM, and some low intensity plyos and sprints.
Using Instability to Maintain Intensity and Volume
One lesson I’ve learned recently, is that there is a purpose for instability in a training program. Training with some form of instability will continue to overload your musculoskeletal system, while naturally keeping overall intensity down. In terms of benching, I hit lifetime bests the week after a trip home that involved benching with the tsunami bar and bamboo bar. I was able to maintain overload, while simultaneously improving my bench technique.
In terms of exercise programming, implementing a form of instability while your athletes are in a highly stressed state is a safe way to continue their training effect without significantly increasing the amount of stress within your athlete.
Now, this doesn’t mean go squat on a Bosu ball when you are stressed and still want to train. Instead try these few tips that will allow you to maintain overload, while training with an overall lower training intensity.
Alternative Exercise Options
1. Perform lateral, front, or reverse lunges on a slide board. At 1RM Performance we use furniture movers.
2. Use Bottoms-Up Presses for any sort of overhead pressing, rather than a barbell.
3. Using a Bamboo Bar, Tsunami Bar, or load a traditional barbell with kettlebells.
4. Train your lower body in single leg stance.
5. Perform Pulling Variations with thicker handles, or my current favorite, grenades.
Take Home Message
So for all the coaches, parents, and athletes out there who dealing with finals, don't be afraid to rest and focus on school. Finals week probably isn’t the best time to test your athletes, put them through some ridiculous workout, or slam their schedules with private lessons. Junior high, high school, and college athletes are students first, athletes second.
So athletes, study, study, and study some more. The summer is right around the corner. There will be plenty of time to get faster, jump higher, hit harder, add some mphs on your pitches, move better, and perfect your throwing mechanics.