This week marks the kick-off of the 2015 college lacrosse season across the country, including my boys in blue. As America’s true pastime, lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and with 350 NCAA teams, more and more kids are presented with an opportunity to play at the next level.
I’ve witnessed Praxis in its purest form countless times from athletes who couldn’t tell their ass from their elbow in the weight room, but once they had a stick in their hand, get out of way. The amazing display of athletic creativity in every face-off, possession, and shot on goal needs to be at the forefront when building a strength and conditioning program for lacrosse.
While more football players are finding the sport, lacrosse still lacks football’s weight training emphasis. However, like football, lacrosse coaches without strength and conditioning programs apply practices they were exposed to during their college years. Unfortunately, this fallacy will lead to sub-optimal results and potentially stunt a player’s athletic development.
While the training demands of lacrosse may appear to be endurance, agility, and footwork; demands that win games are being neglected. This article will present key lacrosse-specific components to strength and conditioning for athletes to develop size, gain a step, and hone the X-factor.
Disclaimer: I was no All-American, and like any other d-middie, I was hidden on every stat sheet of every game. I have more career knock-outs than goals. But I’ve traveled the world meeting and working with the best strength minds in the world, and with every lesson learned my first thought was always how I could apply the tools to the game I love.
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You Gotta Build Armor
While finesse is crucial, the physicality of the game is often underestimated- your body takes a beating over the season. Dan John said it best on a recent Power Athlete Radio, “you gotta build armor.” Building armor is not only adding strength and size, but also realigning and educating bodies to reduce the forces of the game.
Going into college, I was one of few athletes on the team with any lifting experience. Since then, not much has changed – to say the lacrosse weight training scene is lacking would be a severe understatement.
Solution: CrossFit Football’s Amateur Program. This linear progression is unmatched for taking high school and college athletes to new heights in size, strength, and power. The program focuses on accelerated adaptation while allowing athletes to train or practice the next day, all the while developing individual Swagger. More on that below.
While bulking up protects an athlete from contact injury, there are other dangers on the field. The athletic creativity and increased speed of the game from recent shot clock and box changes has raised the risk of injury as well. These demands must be addressed in comprehensive off-season, pre-season, and in-season training programs. Building power ankles, steel hips, and preventing ACL injuries (see our recent ACL Injury Prevention series) are key to keeping laxers on the field. Combined with the Amateur Program, you have yourself one solid strength and conditioning program.
Calculate To Dominate – Force Application
While peak strength, power, and speed is the difference between all-conference and all-American, an athlete will not need to display these every time the ball is in their stick or they line up against an opponent. An athlete must make calculated, instinctive decisions for the amount of force per task on the field. Not every shot needs to be max effort. Not every drive on a player’s hip needs to be executed like a 1RM power clean. How can an athlete practice applying ranges of force? Force Application Training.
This component to training lacrosse players was first introduced in our Pre-Practice Protocols. This is not blind justification for non-stop, sub-maximal training. Athletes must still push their strength, power and speed thresholds. However, used wisely, Force Application Training helps them practice task-specific force. I have found it most effective to include these during every warm up before practice, before plyos (intramuscular coordination) or volume runs (lactic acid primer).
Speed Kills – Train The Top End
At best, long distance running is sub-optimal preparation for the demands of the current state of Lacrosse, as it takes away from the speed of the game. Playing lacrosse prepares players for lacrosse, as not much else can truly prepare athletes for the game changing moments, bursts of quickness, and speed of transitions. Thus, turn that pavement time into expansion-of-speed-time by implementing top end change of direction and linear speed into training.
Speed improvement occurs within a much narrower intensity range than strength and endurance. Maximal strength improvements occur within the 80-100% intensity range. By contrast, speed improvement only occurs at intensities over 95% of objective performance, not perceived effort. Therefore, to maintain true intensity and drive a speed adaptation, there must be a full recovery between runs.
Replicating speed is essential to success in lacrosse, but without raising the top end bar, the replicated speed will not be optimal for performance. The body’s ability to tolerate sprinting at the necessary intensity to drive a speed adaptation is very limited, so a balance of intensity runs, volume training and practice is required. Linear sprint distances will be position specific, but max-effort short COD is all-inclusive.
Training top end speed also aids in injury prevention through stretching the hips and hamstrings in a manner impossible to replicate at lower intensities or during cool down stretches. If a player gets into an all-out sprint situation in on the field without having trained full ROM at true intensity for their hamstrings, the results could be drastic.
Empower Your Performance – Swagger
I believe Swagger and the culture of a team is cast in the weight room. Even with a despised head sport coach or off-field conflicts, a team can still come together and build the ‘win’ mentality in training. If done correctly, a strength coach can leverage Swagger to position a team to become an athlete-led, mutually accountable unit.
From freshman to senior year, the team dynamic and human development are extremely intricate and unique in each locker room. Despite this, the weight room becomes the common place to fail, suffer, and fortify not only individual confidence, but confidence in the man fighting next to him.
Individual Swagger is developed during the CFFB Amateur’s steady gains, corresponding lessons, and self-discovery. This program prepares for the countless reps and concept of perfection every lacrosse coach demands from their athlete, regardless of position. After awhile, the barbell fights back. Whether an athlete is feeling their best or like a bag of mashed up assholes, they must still execute – just like on the field. Swagger is built on the days an athlete feels the most beat up – mentally, physically, or both. Getting them under the bar puts them at a mental toughness crossroads at which they decide how it will be. Will the bar win, or will they adapt, overcome, and execute just as they’ll need to on Game Day?
Most coaches put athletes in a shared-suffering, grinding conditioning situation, which undoubtedly brings a team closer together, but that very grind takes away from strength, power, and game-changing speed development. Fuck that. Be a performance whore. There are better ways to build leadership and camaraderie.
How can one create shared suffering with torpedoing performance? Isometric holds and lactic acid tolerance training. No athlete can hide from active iso-holds like Dead bugs, pillars, and inchworm walk out holds. See who leads, who quits, and who disappears up their own ass under stress. Lactic acid tolerance training will not dtract from speed expansion. For details, check out this article, Lactic Tolerance.
Instilling a law of mutual accountability in the weight room allows an athlete to support and push during teammate’s big lifts, while quickly executing their own, just like they’ll have to on the field. Have athletes spot each other for every rep, even if it is the bar. Encourage chatter in the weight room that is positive and energetic, just as their coach will expect on the sidelines during games. Use other tools like manual resistance and force application exercises. They’re in close contact and one’s effort depends on the others…just like Game Day.
Iron Sharpens Iron
Stop making your lacrosse players run long, slow distances through the neighborhood hills on roads that aren’t even fit for cars. Practice is conditioning. If you fear your athletes will gas out during the first game, make your practices more intense. Nothing will prepare them for the metabolic demands of that first game, so spend more time building armor, expanding speed, and forging a team in the weight room.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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