Four Components of a Dominant Lacrosse Strength Program
Thursday October 29th, 2015 12:03am
Better results in the gym mean better results on the field. Lacrosse-specific training programs designed for each player’s position, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the team’s competition calendar are paying off big time on the field, and in the results column. Coaches can see the difference in terms of wins and losses. They are also seeing a reduction in injuries, and an ability of their players to go hard all season long.
That hasn’t always been the case. A decade ago strength and conditioning began and ended with football. In the college setting, the big money sport got all the attention, including a staff of dedicated football strength coaches. That’s begun to change, as teams hired a new generation of strength and conditioning coaches who place a greater emphasis on studying the fundamentals of non-football, sport-specific training so athletes can perform their best and do so free from injury.
Leading the revolution: Duke Lacrosse strength and conditioning coach, Carl Christensen. We’re proud to partner with Carl to provide this four step guide on how to build a lacrosse-specific strength and conditioning program staring now:
Step 1. Let’s start with the calendar.
Long before the first game begins, LAX players should be training. In the off season we believe athletes should start slowly, building their foundation of flexibility and mobility. Start by doing a large number of movements, with minimal loading. Exercises should concentrate on technical mastery, increasing range of motion and working in multiple planes of the body.
As the athlete builds a base, we move into a strength phase where we decrease the number of exercises and increase external loads. Volume of repetition comes down and weight comes up. At this stage it is important for coaches to test, calibrate and prepare the athletes for preseason. A coach should also refine the preseason training program. One focus of the preseason should be on increased conditioning to improve cardiovascular output. That means finding the right balance of weight room and field drills. Go too high with volume in the weight room and that means training on the field will suffer. LAX coaches need to balance the demands of the field with the demands of the weight room to continue to make improvements in both areas.
In preseason, coaches should move into LAX-specific work on the field. This means position specific drills which requires splitting the team into positons and assigning exercises calibrated to meet their unique needs. In the weight room that means attackers are doing more upper body work and more change of direction work. Midfielders should be doing hip work and linear speed work to improve their transition game. Meanwhile, defenders are doing solid leg base work and upper body strength work so they can check harder and push the offensive players down the lane. In the weight room, work has to supplement what you do on the field with skills and drills. An increase in volume on the field means less intensity in the weight room.
Once the season begins, its all about maintenance. Maintenance doesn’t mean shutting down. It means keeping the athlete sharp, fresh and ready for every game. Consequently volume in the weight room decreases while coaches work on specific exercises for each position, individualized for each athlete. This means exercises prescribed by your athlete’s body type. Be sure your fast twitch players get exercises right for them, and not for your big diesels.
Additionally, competition calendar really counts. Strength coaches looks to balance games you can train through or games where you need to peak. For example, if a coach knows that games 3 and 8 can be powered through, and games 4 and 9 require their team to be fresh and playing at their peak, they may assign a difficult workout before games 3 and 8 and then taper the workout before games 4 and 9. Playing multiple games in a week or even in two or three days require modification to the training schedule and a focus in other areas of training such as recovery and regeneration.
Step 2: It's all about output
The key to designing a solid strength and conditioning program for lacrosse means taking into account functional output. Your athletes’ position and role they play on the team may require different needs for speed, power and endurance. That means they need workout programs tailor made for them.
The Attack will work on fast feet, change of direction and a good leg base for fast and accurate shooting. Bridge prescribes workouts to develop symmetry so both sides of the body are worked to help with playing with both hands. Thoracic rotation and thoracic extension exercises are a mainstay in shooting preparation to develop the ability to get your hands back, shoot overhand and finish falling towards the goal. Work is also included for the ability to take the punishment the defenders give out.
Midfielders are the energizer bunnies of LAX. They need the skills to play offense and defense, the speed and endurance to make transition runs up and down the field continuously, the flexibility to scoop ground balls with two hands, and lower body work specifically targeting their ankle flexibility.
Defenders tend to be bigger athletes and demand workouts that develop solid leg strength along with big platform upper body work so they can stand their ground. Because they’ll be checking, pressing and pushing players away from the goal they require strong shoulders and arms to move and deal out punishment to the offense.
Goalies are in a category of their own. They aren’t covering as much ground as soccer goalies, but they will live or die by their ability to react to hair trigger stimuli. At Bridge we prescribe lots of reaction drills to work on timing. Two simple drills that can be completed with a partner and a tennis ball or two. Have a partner stand behind the goalie, while the goalie faces a wall. The partner throws a tennis ball at the wall and the goalie must catch it in one hand. Or a partner can hold two tennis balls in one hand and drop one while the goalie must catch the ball in mid-air with one hand. Reaction and body awareness are stressed with the goalies.
Step 3: Individualization: building your strength program one athlete at a time
The starting point of any individual strength and conditioning program begins with assessment and diagnosis. Since all flexibility, mobility, stability and strength work together, the exercise programs are designed to work to build on strengths and obliterate weaknesses. In lacrosse that means, for example, understanding if an attacker’s hips are locked, or examining their thoracic rotation. We’ll look at range of motion in a defender’s hamstrings and ankle flexibility for midfielders.
LAX coaches must also consider designing workouts by “training age.” For example, a 20-year old with three years’ experience has less training age than an eighteen-year-old who has been playing since they were 12. That means savvy coaches need to make up in a hurry for their athletes’ lack of sport-specific skills and drills. Because biological age is not the same as training age, experience counts, and will help determine where you start with your LAX workouts.
Step 4: The design of a good workout day
Coaches must also consider specificity of workout design in terms of personalizing warm up, preparation, main sets and recovery.
To get the most from athletes in the limited time they spend in the gym, we get straight to the point with warm ups that raise the core body temperature. We’ll work on movements flagged by the initial assessment as well as ones that prepare athletes for the day’s workout to come.
With the body warmed up and relaxed, we work on dynamic movements in multiple planes, using as many limbs as possible. Bear crawl and inchworm exercises are particularly well-suited to LAX specific workouts.
Now we address the core of the workout with exercises designed to build strength, speed, or power. The volume of work, as well as specific player’s positions, and where you are in the season will dictate the main sets.
The right exercises can accelerate the recovery process and help prevent injury. Based on the day’s workout and coach’s assessment of their athlete’s condition, lacrosse-specific recovery exercises can speed the ability of your players to bounce back and start the next day fresh.
That means for defensemen doing a big leg day, recovery exercises that work the hamstrings are going to be prescribed.
About Bridge: BridgeAthletic is dedicated to bringing elite level, personalized strength training to every athlete. As athletes and coaches, we know the difference access to great coaching can make. Now BridgeAthletic is bringing that competitive advantage to everyone, everywhere. Launched in 2013, San Francisco-based BridgeAthletic works with Duke’s Carl Christensen to build lacrosse-specific personalized workout programs delivered via a smart phone or tablet to competitive athletes and the coaches who train them.
Sport-Specific BridgeAthletic Strength programs for individual athletes include Swimming, Triathlon, Running, Cycling, Water Polo, Lacrosse, Soccer, Football, Baseball, Volleyball, Basketball and others. BridgeAthletic was co-founded by Michael Sharf, a UC Berkeley D1 water polo player and Nick Folker, Olympian and former UC Berkeley Strength and Conditioning Coach.