Young Athlete Programming Modifications
By Wil Fleming
When I first started training I figured out quickly that the best coaches developed
programs ahead of time. They approached each session with a clear picture of their
goals for a young athlete and designed a program that would accomplish those goals.
As I began coaching I knew that is something that I wanted to do as well. I want to
be a coach with a clear vision and purpose, plan for everything, and get results with
In my “eye test” for other coaches, making training sessions up on the spot is one of
the things that leads me to believe that the trainer or coach is not going to make it.
Creating a workout from thin air leads me to believe that my athletes are going to
get better results and dominate their athletes.
Recently though I had an athlete with an unexpected limitation in their program that
took away her ability to do many of things that we normally do in training. After a
surprise surgical procedure she was unable to clean, snatch, squat, etc. (Literally
everything I like to have my athletes do).
Being that she is a track and field athlete, in the middle of her season, just taking
time off from training was not going to cut it. I literally had to come up with a
program on the spot.
I was able to do it, and have her produce the best performance of her career in the
weeks following because I came up with training sessions that fit in with the rest of
her program. Her daily training sessions were extremely modified but were in line
with the goal of this phase of the program.
How was I and the young athlete able to do this?
1) I had a clearly defined goal for training. In this scenario the young athlete was in the
middle of a strength phase for her track and field season. By having this goal laid
out I had a rep range and set range that each exercise could fall into. By having a
goal laid out I was able to select movements that could fall into this rep range.
2) I have a pre-determined programming system. In my program each day
follows the same general order of exercise.
1A—Explosive assistance (Oly lift pull)
2A—Bilateral lower body (Push or Pull)
2B— Core (Anti-Extension)
3A—Upperbody (Push or Pull)
3B—Unilateral Lowerbody (Push or Pull)
3C— Core (Anti Rotation)
There is some variation to that set up based on the athlete and the time of year, but
in general that covers it all. In the case of my injured athlete replacing exercises was only really replacing movements. If a particular exercise was going to cause pain
then I knew that I needed to eliminate it, and replace it.
3) I have exercise progressions and regressions. When it comes to replacing
exercises this is key. All exercises that we program fall into one of the
categories above. Olympic lifts were difficult to perform for my athlete so I
was able to fill the explosive training slot with medicine ball throws. Bilateral
Quad dominant exercise was limited so we substituted heavy sled pushes.
By having a programming system, and with a little thinking on the fly this
athletes training did not miss a beat. After performing her training in a modified
fashion for 3 weeks, this young athlete is back to full strength and has equaled training bests in
lifts she was unable to perform for the past 3 weeks.
Without the 3 keys to programming above we would likely be starting behind
where her training was and would be playing catch up for the rest of her season.
Great post, that is exactly what is missing with many fitness professionals today, a well-designed program template. If the coach has something established and has pro/regressions for all the lifts, modifications for injuries, fatigue, other stresses can be substituted without missing a beat. Something all coaches, especially those working with young athletes, should have established. You set a great standard for youth strength coaches!
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