Constructing a Yearly Strength Plan

Written by: Kevin Cann

We live in a world of instant gratification, which can make seeing the bigger picture more difficult. Anyone taking up a strength sport wants to hit PRs and bigger numbers more quickly. However, if we want to be at the top of this sport, just like any other sport, we need to put in our time and peak at the correct times.

This is no different as it is for field sports. All teams want to be peaking just in time for a playoff push. This means that in the NFL, games in December are far more important than games in September. I have a talk with all of my strength athletes to determine their long term goals in the sport.

Some just want to compete a couple times a year and improve upon their total, some want to chase an elite total, and others want to compete on the national stage. Once we know the goals, we need to look at the competition schedule.

I have a couple athletes that qualified for the national championships before the start of this calendar year. Their goals are to put their best efforts forward at those national championships in October of this year. That is the meet that we want to peak for.

Both of these athletes compete frequently. One of these athletes competed in January and the other competed in February. These were the least important meets of their training year. Both of these athletes are very strong, but have some technique issues that they need to improve upon.

The way that we improve upon our technique is with appropriate variations and accessory work to strengthen weak positions and weak muscle groups. This is done during the off season of training. If we compete frequently, we can miss out on a long enough off-season to fix these weaknesses.

The period of time we work on these weaknesses is called a prep cycle. In this period of our training cycle we program roughly 60% of the lifts as competition lift variations, 20% competition lifts, and GPP work makes up the remaining 20%.

As a meet gets closer, these numbers change. 2 to 3 months out from competition, the competition lift variations decrease and the competition lifts themselves become the primary focus of the training block. GPP work will decrease some, but enough needs to be left in to maintain the newly developed muscle mass since the volume of the lifts will decrease as intensity increases.

If we took the 2 to 3 months before every meet and performed a peaking cycle, we would not get enough time to work on our weaknesses. We also could run the risk of failing to have enough variability in our program, which can lead to a staleness in improving technique as well as overuse injuries.

Before the meets in January and February, we performed a very short peaking cycle. Within these peaking cycles we still performed variations of the lifts. We tested 3 weeks out and tapered just like we would before any meet, but we truly did not peak.

This means that they will not have their best performance here. The goal of these meets was just to gain experience competing. This can be difficult within the current world of Instagram and Facebook when we want to tell everyone how much better we did. This can be difficult to see at the time. This is why communication between the coach and athlete is very important.

The next competition is in June. We will have a longer peaking cycle before this meet. This will let us see where we are currently at in both strength and weaknesses. This meet will hopefully allow us to establish new training maxes as well.

After this meet we will have 19 weeks to truly peak. This gives us enough time to work on some weaknesses and to have a full peaking cycle before we test and taper. This will allow us to hit our biggest numbers possible in October.

If we had performed a full peaking cycle before each meet, that literally would be almost the entire training year. 2-3 months peaking plus 4 weeks of competition cycle before each of the 3 meets. This would not be enough time to fix weaknesses and allow us to lift the most weight at the end of the year.

After completion of the national championships we will have a longer prep cycle to continue working on weaknesses and to continue getting stronger while taking a break from the continuous stretch we just had of performing competition lifts. From here, the cycle will continue. This lays the groundwork for continued success, as well as keeping the athlete healthy.

As a coach and an athlete, we need to look at the bigger picture. When determining our program for the year, we want to make sure that we are peaking at the correct times. Some competitions are going to be more important than others. We want to make sure that we prepare ourselves to compete at the highest level at those important competitions.

This may be difficult at times as we always want to do better and hit bigger numbers sooner than later. However, understanding that in order to hit the biggest numbers possible at the biggest competitions, there are sacrifices that must happen along the way. Enjoy the journey and embrace the process.

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