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From the Trainer’s Room: Choosing the best strength training plan for you


Summer is here, and focus should be shifting to preparing for the next season, addressing any aches and pains, shoring up weaknesses, and bolstering strengths.

A big part of that process includes a proper strength training program.

There are many different theories on strength training, but one key is knowing why you are lifting weights. “To get stronger” seems to be the commonsense answer, but in what way? Is your goal to lift more weight? Gain body weight? Increase power? Improve speed? Prevent injuries?

Your goal may be a mixture of all of the above.

Step one in any program should be to establish your goals. Once you have your goals written out, it’s time to get to work.

Here are five steps that can help you put together the best strength program for you:

  1. Find the right strength coach
    Working with the right professional can make all the difference. But how do you know who is “right” for you? First, ask what their credentials are. An athletic trainer (ATC), a certified strength coach (CSCS), or a comparable credential is a great starting point. After that, ask what their experience is like: what sports they work with, what level athletes they typically coach, and who is on their staff (if they have one). Ask about their programs, their knowledge of injury prevention, their objective measures, and any other questions you may have.
  2. Phase your program
    A well-rounded program changes throughout the year, changing from off-season to pre-season to in-season. It should take into account travel schedules and try-outs and off-season camps. The same concept is applied to the off-season, and should be broken down into different phases, which allows you to tailor the program to meet your goals while building base athleticism.
  3. Include unilateral exercises
    If you look at most sports, the athletes are spending most of the time on one leg. Training single leg strength, then, is crucial to not only improve performance, but to injury prevention. Bilateral exercises should certainly have a place, as well, but don’t neglect the single leg work!
  4. Keep it simple
    If strength coaches posted on social media what they do day-in and day-out, it would get much fewer likes than posting the latest and the trendiest lift that is often over-complicated, inefficient, or sometimes downright dangerous. Why is that? Because doing the same, simple, tried-and-true exercises over and over again will get you results. Does that mean you can’t vary your lifts to keep it interesting? Of course not. Does that mean strength coaches don’t incorporate new techniques, new exercises, and different progressions? Of course they do. But before trying something new that you saw on TikTok, ask yourself why you are doing so and what it is going to help you accomplish.
  5. Measure your progress
    How will you know when you have reached your goal if you aren’t measuring your progress? Find objective measures that correlate with your goals and track them as you go. This is where a competent sports performance professional can come in handy and administer the appropriate tests. Subjective measures can be useful, as well. How are you feeling on the field? Are you recovering better? Is your performance improving?

When it comes to finding a strength program, an important part is knowing what will meet your needs the best to improve performance while reducing injuries. Utilizing a professional who has experience in your sport to develop a proper program is another key. Look for progress in your strength training program. Ask yourself these questions: Are you lifting more weight than before? Are you obtaining your goals of running or skating faster? Do you feel better when you play?

A proper program will leave you answering these questions with a solid “Yes!”

Chris Phillips is an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist with over 30 years’ experience in professional hockey, football, soccer and the Winter Olympics. Chris is the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Orange County, Calif., and can be reached through Compete’s website.

(May 18, 2023)

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