A Complete Routine Within 13½ Square Feet Of Space
By Dr. Ken Leistner
As a former high school coach who depended upon the basics for our offense, defense, and what was one of the first organized strength training programs in our area, I am often nonplussed, invoking the “real” or original meaning of the word before semantic drift turned it on its ear, by what I see on the field. Perplexed is in fact the best way to describe my response. Sitting with business partners and professional colleagues Frank Savino and Ken Cobb we watch, analyze, discuss, and comment on some of the local high school or college games we observe. Both Frank and Ken are trainees of mine, dating back to their own playing days, Frank as a collegiate All American and member of the World League Of American Football which became NFL Europe, and Ken with the CFL. Both have been exceptionally successful in previous endeavors with Frank a former college administrator and Ken still directing the operations of his computer related business. With a love of training, both also operate their own training facilities and like me, both can be described as “old school” or old fashioned. With Frank having eels swimming in his bathtub in preparation for a traditional Christmas Eve dinner, he would obviously qualify as “old school!”
The three of us lament the loss of fundamentals, the insistence on subjugating correct, safe, and appropriate blocking and tackling technique to the latest offensive fads. We watch talented high school players who have what are obviously little practice and/or real football skills, looking to the sidelines to see which large photographic posters are being held up to signal an exotic series of pass routes. The front seven of defenses jump in and out of position while linebackers and safeties run up to the line to “show blitz” then immediately retreat only to place themselves in a position that guarantees their inability to complete a suitable and effective play. Our usual conversations often deteriorate to “They can’t block, they can’t tackle, they lost by four scores but the coaches seemed pleased that they ran seventy mostly ineffective plays.” High school football players need to first learn how to play football; practice how to play football, enhance their expression of blocking and tackling safely and effectively, condition properly and then play football, none of which demands a great deal past the basic fundamentals of the game. This has become a lost concept and approach to the game as it is not hip, trendy, nor readily acceptable. The summary is reminiscent of one of my favorite quotes, this one from William Penn:
Simply put, the basic necessities for football success have been lost.
Extending the conversation to the strength training methodologies seen in too many high school weight rooms, the three of us have had numerous animated conversations on the mimicking of the latest collegiate or professional fads and trends, obviously reflecting what is seen on the field. While the typical high school weight training facility has improved year to year, and certainly the “higher end” districts’ facilities have become similar to those seen on college campuses, the necessities of preparing high school football players for the sport have been lost. Like on-the-field requirements for winning, few coaches ask, “What must be done?” instead invoking the query, “What can I do and how does it compare to what State U is doing?” Similar to playing “good football,” properly preparing high school athletes for football does not and should not be a complicated affair, cluttered by computer tear sheets, exotic exercises that require so much skill or “thinking during performance” that time is lost to actually becoming stronger, or the need for one-of-a-kind equipment.
Simply put and most obviously, the lower extremities must be strengthened. Power production is generated through the hips and thighs and this must be a first consideration. To dissipate contact forces, the musculature of the neck and upper back must be developed to “transport” these forces through the body and towards the ground, invoking the basic language of physics. The so-called “core” or abdominals and low back of course must maintain body stability but will be well trained supporting heavy weights or weights comparatively heavy relative to the athlete’s existing strength levels. Allow me please to indicate that as a trainee at Alvin Roy’s Oklahoma Street gym in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the 1960s, I know, understand, and respect his contributions to the area of weight training for football. I am also eternally indebted to Alvin for allowing me to sleep in the weight storage shed adjacent to the outside training area behind the gym and my first published article, one in Strength And Health Magazine in 1969 was in fact about Alvin. However, Alvin was a “strength consultant” rather than a full time strength coach, tending to his health club business and lending his expertise and blocks of time to the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and New Orleans Saints as well as numerous collegiate programs. In late 1974 with an official start in early ’75, Kim Wood was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals as the NFL’s first full-time strength coach and decades ago, he made a lasting comment about the simplicity of effective and proper strength training for football. Paraphrasing, Wood stated that:
If a high school coach inherited a program that had experienced little recent success and was not well prepared, the first order of business would be to teach the fundamentals. “Would you install the Cowboys Flex Defense” and an exotic offensive playbook overflowing with a ton of plays? Obviously not, one would run perhaps a dozen basic plays, possibly out of one or two formations until the players mastered them, as well as the fundamentals of blocking and tackling.
Made decades ago, this comment carried a lot of common sense and when applied to the strength program, the approach was the same. Does the team utilize a few basic multi-joint movements that give effective work to the major muscular structures of the body or instead load up on the new, exotic, complicated, a-ton-of-skill-needed-to-perform exercises? Frank, Ken, and I have often commented that if we were given an entire team to prepare and did so with barbell squats, overhead press, deadlifts, shrugs, bench press, and curls, we would not need much if anything more than those few movements to stimulate significant increases in muscular size and strength. Static strength, explosive strength, intermediate phase strength, or your mama’s strength are nifty buzz words that still mean one has to get a hell of a lot stronger and then apply that strength to the skills of one’s sport.
The few basic and necessary exercises, taught, supervised, coached, and practiced like the basic plays of an effective and mastered offense or defense, can all be done with a power rack. Especially when space and finances are limited, the power rack and its provided 13.5 square feet gives the typical high school program everything they need for squats, press, deadlift, shrug, bench press, and curl. With an attached chin bar, a significant increase in upper back biceps, and forearm work is provided, also allowing for some variety, needed or not. The fact that effective strength training is NOT rocket science has been lost as it seems that every high school football and/or S&C coach wants it to be! A focus on the basic movements that provide effective work and stimulation to the major muscular structures, just like having one’s players focus upon and master a limited number of run and pass plays truly is all that is needed for a very effective strength enhancement program.
As Ken, Frank, and I have frequently noted, especially when watching a local game and then looking back on my first strength training programs that were completed in our “limited weight room” that consisted of equipment I had made in my father’s iron shop and augmented by the high school’s vocational department, “If we took some of these kids and had a bunch of them squatting and deadlifting 400, pressing 150-200 strictly, bench pressing 300, and doing shrugs to protect their cervical areas as much as possible, we couldn’t physically match up? Would we really have to do more?” That all of these movements which would make for a very effective and complete program can be done within the confines of a power rack, also boosting the safety aspect of one’s program is a bonus.
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