Part of being a good strength and conditioning coach is knowing where an athlete is at in their life cycle, and applying the correct program to help them progress. Give them too much, and they will crash and burn; give them too little and you elicit a detraining effect. Having all your athletes at the same point in their training journey allows you to put everyone on the same program. But what about training two groups of athletes at different points in their journey at the same time? It can be a little overwhelming; I know because I have been running athletes through the Power Athlete system for almost 8 years. I am going to give you the tips and tricks I have picked up along the way so you can spend less time managing and more time coaching.
Bedrock is where all of our athletes start in order to establish a Base Level of Strength, the foundation that is needed to unlock their athletic potential. Knowing this, start by putting all your current athletes on Bedrock; ride it out until they reach stagnation. BOOM! You’ve got a crop of strong, fast, resilient Power Athletes who know how to operate in the gym and dominate on the field. These athletes will move onto Field Strong because they’ve established the Base Level of Strength.
Next season or semester starts and a bunch of new, untrained athletes show up, creating a dilemma: how do you properly run two different programs simultaneously for novice and seasoned athletes while still creating the camaraderie needed for a successful team?
To show you how, I am going to timestamp this article from start to finish as if it were a 45 minute class. While this is not ideal, we find this is what a lot of coaches have. If you’ve got more time, you’ve got more options.
Lean on your veterans
You now have a group of athletes that have been under your coaching for 6 months or more; they have a higher training IQ and know the ropes. Leverage this and lean on them to help show the new athletes the way; this gives you the effect of having other coaches on the floor. This also begins to inherently lay the building blocks of camaraderie, communication, and leadership the sport coach often has difficulty building. Finally, since they have the experience in the weight room, they shouldn’t need the same attention the newer athletes require. This doesn’t mean you ignore them, but since they are more self-sufficient, you can devote more attention to developing the new athletes.
Athlete Perspective: Set your expectations from the beginning that your athletes need to look at the programming the night before, so they come ready with an idea of what the training day will look like and what numbers they are aiming to hit. Don’t let your pre-training breakdown be the first time they are hearing and processing the day; knowing this information will eliminate wasted mental energy needed to attack the day’s training. This can be especially useful if you use a platform like TrainHeroic where they can see videos and read descriptions of each day’s movements. When the athletes know what to do and how to do it before they start, you save a lot of time.
Coach Perspective: Create a rough timeline of the day; make sure the gym is set up for an efficient and safe flow of training. Are you going to need any special equipment, cones, racks, benches, etc set up? Take the time before the class to get that set up. Trying to do this during class or have the athletes do it will only complicate an already tight timeline.
Pre-Training Breakdown: 0:00 - 2:00
This is your chance to set the intent and expectations of the day. Communicate to them the most important parts of the session. Start with a brief review of the days training. Since they read through this night before it won’t be new information. Address the class as a whole, providing specific instructions to each group when necessary. Make it clear what you are looking for from them. Deliver this message with a sense of urgency and purpose to set the tone for the pace of the training session. Being complete, clear, and concise will get everyone on the same page.
Warm Up: 2:00 - 7:00
Set expectations of the warm up. The warm up is a powerful tool if properly used; it’s where we perform our assessments, break down movements, establish posture and position, and gain competency in our primal movement patterns through all planes of motion. However, to do this, each group will need to be properly stressed to progress. Have at least two variations of each movement, one for beginners and one for your more advanced athletes. For example: Homebase Dead Bug for the beginners and 4-Way Dead Bug for the vets.
Strength: 7:00 - 33:00
Circle back to the strength portion and re-establish the intent and expectations for each group.
Your Bedrock group is performing Back Squat and a Press for 3x5 while your Field Strong group is doing Back Squat 5x5 and a Press 3RM. Obviously, two more sets on the Back Squat is going to take time. What do you do? Here is where things can get tricky for coaches.
First, make time management easier by having a clock that is set up on intervals. For this example, let's set it off every 2:30; this is going to help keep everyone on task. For your athletes on Bedrock, let them know intervals 1 and 2 will be warm ups, and intervals 3, 4, and 5 will be their working sets for Back Squats. Repeat the same format for their Press, where intervals 6 and 7 will be warm ups and 8, 9, 10 will be working sets.
For your athletes on Field Strong you can give them a little more leeway because of their experience. Let them know they have from interval 1 - 6 to get in their Back Squat work, and interval 7-10 to get in their Press work.
Keeping your Bedrock athletes on a clock and giving your Field Strong athletes more freedom to operate is going to allow you to manage two strength programs that don’t perfectly align but have similar intent for the day.
In a tight timeline such as this, it is unlikely that either group will finish a strength piece before the other. If you happen to have 60-90 minutes and you are able to spread out the strength potion, you may run into this scenario. During your pre-planning you should identify places you expect this to happen. For those spots, have extra work planned for the group that finishes early. This doesn't mean extra sets or reps. Instead, think of this as an additional opportunity to attack limiting factors. For example have the group grab Physio Boards, and work on static holds.
Conditioning/Sprint/COD: 33:00 - 41:00
Bring the whole group together in a huddle to start the conditioning work. Whether it’s conditioning, sprint, or change of direction work, you want your athletes attacking this together. This is another place to drive home the idea that shared suffering builds camaraderie, along with good, healthy competition between teammates to push each other. For sprinting and change of direction there is nothing different you will need to do for the two levels. Just set up the foot races.
During the conditioning portion, keep it practical and prudent (meaning straightforward and safe) to achieve our purpose of preparing athletes for the demands of sport. When time is short you can even choose to skip the conditioning as needed; most of our high school and college athletes are getting all the conditioning they need at practice and during games.
Cooldown: 41:00 - 45:00
Just because you have a shortened timeline doesn’t mean that you get to skip your cooldown. Make sure you are taking this into account. The cool down should be non-negotiable, a mandatory piece regardless of how packed your timeline is. The purpose of the cool down is to accelerate recovery, making it equally as important as everything else you’ve done, allowing your athletes to train harder the next time they are in the gym.
Don't Forget your Foundation
Keep in mind this was only an example and what I have found works best for me to get the work done in pre-established timeline. Your situation is different, so by all means do what is best for your athletes. The important thing to remember is to keep the class flowing, and to not get too hung up in one area.
Despite your best efforts, there will be days you have to prioritize between what one group needs compared to the other. When that happens, you want to the direct most attention is towards those athletes developing their Base Level of Strength. This goes against what most coaches like or want to do, since they often want to spend their time working with their best or more advanced athletes, while neglecting their new athletes or freshmen.
But remember, these new athletes are the future of the program and need to establish a solid Base Level of Strength in order to develop into those more advanced athletes. If we neglect them now, we are robbing them individually of a solid athletic foundation and robbing the program as a whole of its potential. Today’s freshman are tomorrow’s starters on varsity. Investing in them during this point in their training life cycle will pay huge dividends when they move onto their next phase of training.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.