At Derby City, we train different subsets of athletes in one-on-one training, and today I’ll tell you some general details of how we train four specific ones: pro and semi-pro MMA fighters, adult marathon participants, youth athletes, and golfers. Each has different needs, so each receives a different programming approach. If after reading this article, you’re interested in knowing more specifics, my contact info is below.
When working with fighters, I first consider the amount of MMA practice these athletes are doing outside of our gym before designing a program. My goal isn’t to test their mental toughness with beat-down workouts that leave them exhausted when they practice their sport. The goal is to complement their mat work with strength training that makes them a more well-rounded athlete.
But, I don’t believe it’s important for fighters to find one-rep maxes or work anywhere near potential technical failure. I want them moving weight heavy enough, and quickly enough, to cause adaptation which translates to power and speed on the mat. However, big numbers in the gym don’t mean anything if they don’t have the legs to dip away from an overhand right. So, besides building absolute strength and strength-speed – google Strength-Speed Continuum if these phrases are new to you – we work on building capacity and threshold tolerance. That may involve short, explosive sled pushes with short rest periods, or a run/kettlebell circuit lasting under 60 seconds with two minutes of rest. It could also include air bike sprints with 1:1 rest periods, or upper-body throws with 1:1 rest periods to mimic punch bursts similar to a fight simulation. We also work on their mobility to counteract the fighting stance these athletes tend to adopt, characterized by their hips rotated and shoulders forward. I like to include variations of half-kneeling and split stance drills in their warmup to get them to a more neutral position before training.
There are a couple of different focuses for runners who come to us looking to get stronger. Runners are typically weak in any knee-flexion position, so I like to utilize a lot full range-of-motion box squats, weighted glute bridges and single-leg work to develop stronger hip musculature. Consequently, this work tends to enhance knee stability and eliminate knee pain from running. I also like to focus on foot position – maintaining an arch– and strengthening dorsiflexion to improve the stability of the ankle for runners. Such drills have also been shown to improve plantar fasciitis and shin splints.
Strength-endurance is an important facet. So after spending some weeks working in high-rep ranges to build some muscle hypertrophy, we shift to work with heavy weights for low reps with little rest between sets. If we use these circuits intelligently with 10 to 30 second rest periods, we can repeat repetitions at 80-plus percent of their perceived one rep max for a total of 50-plus reps, which is a great deal of volume for a runner.
Lastly, marathoners tend to be stuck in a kyphotic position due to the amount time they spend on the road in a hunched-over position. For that reason, I like to work on their shoulder position via variations of horizontal rows, vertical pulls, and loaded carries such as suitcase carries, front-rack carries and waiter’s walks. The carries allow us to work shoulder position while simultaneously working core stability. Running places great demands on trunk rotation and carries are fantastic for strengthening the external obliques.
I believe the Block Zero format is ideal for teaching youth athletes, and in keeping with its principles, we have three main goals when programming such athletes: body control, body awareness in space and building a strong foundation. A lot of our work focuses on achieving and maintaining an “athletic position.” It may seem basic, but I believe that this position is not inherent in youth athletes. By drilling the athletic position in everything we do, from warmup to workout, we simultaneously teach a transfer to strength training, running/sprinting, movement mechanics and sports-specific drills. Additionally, we work diligently to train all three planes of movement: sagittal, frontal and transverse. CrossFit is notorious for being a sagittal-plane dominant training method, and I think it’s important to build a better balance in order to build a better foundation for youth athletes.
Specifically, we build upon foundational movements in the following categories: squat pattern, hinge pattern, single-leg work, jumping, vertical press and pull, horizontal push and pull, and weighted carries. Each category has its own set of progressions, and we move youth athletes along when they show understanding and repeatability of each progression.
The vast majority of our youth athletes are coming from a background of inactivity due to a decline of physical education in their elementary and middle-schools, as well as a complete elimination of “free play.” So, we focus on giving these athletes the tools to improve their athletic abilities, while trusting that their sport coaches will give them the specific skills required to achieve success on the court/field.
One of our uniquely rewarding, but probably pointless, training achievements was learning that we added 30 yards to one of our golfer’s drives simply by teaching him how to load his hips for more power. He was amazed that his own hitting coach couldn’t get this extra yardage out of him, but we did so in less than a month.
In general, golfers come to us in a deconditioned state. They’ve been afraid to strength train because they worry about affecting their swing. So, we first work to build a base of absolute strength via old-school powerlifting moves like squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls, carries, pushing and dragging. We complement that foundation by developing speed-strength thru movements like reactive jumps, change of direction, slamball throws and sprints. If they show enough athleticism, we can also introduce Cleans and Snatches here, but the primary goal is creating stability through a full range of motion before enhancing speed. Simultaneously, we’ll work on mobility thru the shoulders and hips, so the power we’re building can be delivered to the golf ball.
Lastly, golf is obviously a rotational sport, and because of the repetitiveness of a swing, golfers who don’t strength train typically develop some asymmetries side-to-side. I don’t like to work too many rotational drills that mimic the golfer’s swing, as I don’t want to risk any overuse injuries, but I do like rotational work on the “opposite” side of their swing to create better balance side-to-side.