Stewart Athletic Development

Handsome muscular weightlifter at gym doing squats

Strength and Conditioning – A systematic approach or random WOD’s?

Last week’s article covered some S&C considerations for specific populations. There were some broad considerations across pretty much all sports, and some that are more specific to certain athlete’s / sports. The article also highlighted how these were only some of the considerations. There is a WHOLE lot more to each cohort mentioned.

By this stage if you previously knew anything about S&C, or have followed me for a while you will have heard me banging on about individualisation. Basically, a programme should be as individual as possible for an athlete, relative to their sport and needs. But how does a Strength and Conditioning coach do this? Do they have a specific method to go about this? Or do they just throw random exercises together, throw in a few fancy buzz words and try and baffle their athlete with bullshit?

Well, both happen unfortunately, however the latter should definitely be avoided. From the experience I have gained, and also from my own as a coach, the best tend to have a systematic approach on how to begin working with a new athlete. There may some small individual differences on how they achieve this, but the end result is always a needs analysis of some description.

What is a needs analysis?

In its simplest explanation, a needs analysis is what is used to identify the needs of 1) the sport or activity & 2) the needs of the athlete. But the term needs analysis is an overarching term for a whole lot more going on. I will take you through an explanation of my process when taking on an athlete and when I carry out a needs analysis for their activity.

Physiological demands of the sport / activity

This is where an understanding of 1) the physiological energy systems 2) how to identify what predominant systems inactivity are & 3) how to train them is paramount. If you wish to learn more about the energy systems and how they relate to performance, the link can be found here (

It is not enough to say they need to be “fit and fast” and send them out for arbitrary runs with no real thought to the desired adaptation. Yes, something is better than nothing most of the time, but smart training > nonsensical training ALL of the time.

By determining what the physiological needs of the sport are, you can then start investigating where within these needs the athlete needs to work on. By determining this, their training can then be tailored specifically to them. Targeting the energy systems that are predominantly utilised within the athlete’s sport ensures that

Biomechanical demands of the sport / activity

Biomechanics is the study of human movement. For this, the coach will look at the joint actions and musculature which are most important / play a role within the sport or activity. For a lot of sports, they will involve most of the joints / muscles however it is still important to understand which are most frequently used, as they may also be at higher risk of injury (Discussed later). The forces / force orientation that occur within the sport will also be looked at. If you have an athlete e.g a long jumper where force orientation is largely horizontal, and you spend the entire time having them doing vertically orientated exercises then they are unlikely to get the most out of the programme. Most sports however are multi planar (Covering all 3 planes of motion) in nature, so training in all planes is important for both performance and injury prevention.

By understanding how athlete’s are exposed to force, and the orientation(s) in which force application is most relatable to their sport, the S&C coach can design their programme more efficiently. Allowing for a far better transfer to the athlete’s performance. Win win

Common injuries within the sport

An unfortunate element of sport is injuries. Injuries can be broadly categorised as contact (Injury occurs from a contact situation e.g. a broken cheekbone from a kick) or non-contact (Injury occurs without contact e.g. a hamstring tear). Contact injuries are harder to prevent, as there is an unpredictable nature of the opponent which is the causality. The best thing that can be done is to make the athlete more generally robust, through training. However, if something is gonna break from contact, its gonna break.

A little more can be done to prevent non-contact injuries, however non-contact is quite a broad term. These injuries can range from repetitive strain injuries (RSI), stress fractures, tendonitis and to tears / ruptures in ligaments, tendons and muscles. Understanding which type of injuries occur frequently in their new athlete’s sport, can help to dictate the programme design. For example, endurance runners cover a lot of miles in training and are subject to repeated striking of the ground. This can result in both RSI injuries and also stress fractures in the lower limbs. These type of injuries are typically from a mismanagement of volume / volume load within training, and can be avoided.

By understanding the common injuries within the sport, the coach can then implement a programme that is more specific to counteracting these injuries. Injury prevention is a large part of Strength and Conditioning, but you cannot prevent what you don’t understand or are unaware of. That’s not to say that injuries will be completely prevented, that is impossible (Although it would be fantastic) but you can decrease the likelihood of an injury occurring with the implementation of a structured programme.

Previous injuries the athlete has sustained

Not only is it important to know the risk factors associated with the sport, but understanding the athletes own injury history is important.  Previous injuries may limit certain exercises / modalities implemented within a programme. For example, athlete’s with shoulder issues may find the very bottom position of a bench press uncomfortable. So swapping out a bench press for 1) a football bar with neutral palms or 2) exercises such as floor / pin press where the range of motion is limited may be beneficial. Becoming married to specific exercises or training modalities is a bad idea from an strength and conditioning practitioner standpoint. As there are many ways and exercises which can lead to the same adaptation. The path of less resistance in this situation is definitely prudent.

Requirements of the athletes

Unsurprisingly, the type of athlete you are working with will determine what they require from the programme. For athlete’s who’s sport is primarily driven by physiological and simple biomechanical considerations (Such as endurance competitors). Athlete’s who are part of a team may have slightly more information input at this section. For example, looking at rugby union, the physiological demands section would cover general demands (the team) and individual demands. This section would cover what is actually required of the player within the game. For example, the demands of a full back are vastly different to that of a blindside flanker. Understanding what the player does from a performance perspective, aids the coach when designing their programme.

These individual demands may appear like small details, but they can make a big difference towards performance. One thing that is important to understand, is that your S&C coach does not have to be a competitor within that sport or activity. They just need to understand the demands of it.

Training history, current training and typical schedule

Understanding the athlete’s training history and current training helps the coach to plan out how to begin working with them. This information is incredibly important. Can you imagine if you were completely new to resistance training and the first thing you have programmed is a snatch complex?! You would never set foot in a gym again!

Understanding what they are currently doing, as well as their stage of the competitive season can help with programme design. The last thing you want to do as a coach, is go in unaware and programme them high volume sessions when they are slap bang in the middle of their season, or have a big competition ahead. Depending on their sport, it is also a good idea to find out what their competitive schedule is. If they are athlete’s who only compete a few times per year, S&C coaches should find out when these competitions are. If they are team sport athlete’s, the coach should find out when the big games are, and also what weeks they have double fixtures. This can ensure training is adjusted accordingly around competition, and if necessary, a proper peak & taper can be done.

Finally, you need to find out what their typical schedule / lifestyle is. What they do for a living can be a huge factor. Someone who is an office worker is going to be using less energy, and deal with far less physical stress during the day. Theoretically, their training can be a bit harder. If you have someone who’s job involves a lot of manual labour and heavy lifting for work, they are already going to be pretty taxed. If you are looking at their nutrition, you also need to be aware of more physical jobs burning through more calories & will require more energy.

Shift patterns can also be a big factor. If you have someone who works regular hours, it is easier to plan. If your athlete alternates shifts (day shift, night shift, back shift) then extra planning may be required. That’s not to say shift workers cannot make progress, far from it. It just requires a little bit more thinking and awareness on the coaches behalf.

Goals of the athlete

Many athlete’s may also have some goals they wish to accomplish within their programme. Some coaches can be incredibly narrow minded, and think they should be focused on the sport. However I personally think its great when athlete’s have their own goals within a programme. Goals allow them to have something objective to work toward. Often the work of an S&C coach is not directly obvious in an athlete other than physical appearance of being in good shape. So when an athlete has objective goals they want to work towards, it helps to keep them engaged with the programme.

It should also  be communicated with the athlete, that depending on the goal itself, it may take longer to achieve. For example, if an athlete was wanting to gain muscle, then it is going to take them slightly longer to achieve this than your average person, assuming that the average person was training toward the same goal. Athlete’s don’t have the luxury of being able to focus on just 1 or 2 physical qualities, but often have to focus on several. This means that adaptation does take longer, due to interference effects (Discussed in a later article) and the ability to recover. Athletes not only have to recover from S&C sessions, but also from skills sessions and competition / games.

Smaller / misc details

There are also some other factors which need to be considered. They are smaller in the overall picture; but it helps to develop the coach / athlete relationship.

Check in protocols and communication – How does your coach want you to check in with you? Will it be after every session? Once every few days? Weekly etc. For the coach athlete relationship (And any form of relationship) there needs to be effort coming from both sides. The coach needs to work with you, and be flexible around you and your needs. However, if you have any issues, concerns you need to communicate them. Your coach is not a mind reader, and cannot tell what is going on with you unless you tell them.

Check in / feedback method – Determining how your coach want’s you to feedback to them / how you prefer to receive feedback is also important. It is common for athlete’s to send their coaches videos / pictures of specific exercises to receive feedback. This feedback may be provided in a variety of ways, however determining the method in how this occurs is for the coach (and perhaps to an extent the athlete) to decide. By getting this determined early doors, it ensures that things run far more smoothly.

Lifestyle factors – Some lifestyle choices / beliefs may also play a part. If you have an athlete who follows a specific diet (E.g vegan, low carb or whatever) then bingo aware of this can be a factor, particularly if something like recovery or performance is being affected. Religion may also be a factor. Devout Christians may be unwilling to train on a Sunday, Ramadan involves fasting etc etc. It’s not necessarily that they will be factors, but being aware of them is important.

Professional boundaries – This is a big one, and can occasionally become tricky. It will partly be related to the type of athlete you are working with. For example, the rules of working with a youth athlete in terms of boundaries are far different to working with adults. Specific populations may take their own considerations into it. It is good to have your own professional boundaries and moral / ethical code made clear to begin with, or easy to find (e.g. on a website, social media etc). This can prevent any confusion, and help to ensure that the coach / athlete relationship remains professional. If an athlete does cross any boundaries, you as a coach should tell them immediately, in a polite and constructive manner. It is also your responsibility as a coach, to not cross them yourselves. Basically, don’t be a dick.

I hope this article has helped you understand the process, or similar processes, that a Strength and Conditioning coach will go through when taking on a new athlete. As mentioned earlier, there may be some slight differences in approach, but this covers the vast majority of the information the coach would require.

If you have any further questions, or would be interested in working with me, then feel free to get in touch

Until next time, and as always, stay strong


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