3 Keys to Efficient Team Training

My (awesome) job here at Volt Athletics requires a lot of travel to weight rooms in different parts of the country. Like, a ton of travel. There have been months where I have spent more time in other weight rooms than I have at Volt HQ. Because of this travel, I have had the unique opportunity to meet a variety of strength coaches, observe their training sessions, and “talk shop.” Through these experiences and conversations, I’ve noticed a number of similarities from coach to coach. Sure, everyone has their own preferences and perspectives, but good strength coaches utilize some common strategies that enable them to get the most out of their athletes in whatever time frame they have. Efficiency is the name of the game in strength and conditioningif we waste time or effort, we’re doing our athletes (and ourselves) a disservice. So, here are three common strategies strength coaches use to ensure their training sessions are efficient and effective.

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1. Organize the Room

Ever notice the intensity with which elite strength coaches maintain order in their weight rooms? Don’t get me wrong, part of this intensity is inherent to the personality type that is drawn to a life of barbells and concrete wallsbut there’s more to it than that. The set-up of the weight room is actually really, really important. Ever tried to get anything done in a poorly organized weight room? Think of pretty much any “big box” gym (in which I have had to train from time to time), or the average high school weight room. It takes ages to find the right equipment and the right space to safely execute an athletic movement. Maybe one or two athletes could get something done in an environment like that, but a whole team? Forget about it. The equation changes drastically when you are managing a training session for a team of 20-30 athletes. Hence, the organization.

So how should a weight room be set up for maximal efficiency? Well, most strength coaches will start by lining their squat racks and platforms (attached or separated) along a long wall and leave a long strip of space for mobility down the middle (or along another edge). The vast majority of the work gets done in the rack or on the platform. Modern racks are designed to enable a multitude of different movements within an isolated space so athletes don’t need to frequently traverse the weight room. Keeping athletes in one area (i.e., within a rack) keeps them from getting in each other’s way and enables the strength coach to have clear line of sight to all of the athletes. This line of sight point is no jokein order to keep athletes safe, a strength coach needs to be able to glance around the weight room and see what any athlete is doing at any time. One of the clearest indication that I’m standing in a weight room manned by a strength and conditioning professional is the clear line of sight. Safety first!        

2. Plan Ahead

An efficient training session is meticulously planned and executed. Strength coaches aren’t sitting around choosing workouts of the day. They’re building training sessions that seamlessly fit within a comprehensive program dedicated to the long-term goal of athletic development. Because it’s more than just one good workout we’re looking for, right? We’re looking for the right workout for a given athlete at a given time to enable that long-term progress. The best strength coachesand arguably the best anything coachesshow up to each training session with a specific plan of what they want to get done that day.

Here at Volt, our strength coaches are constantly working to optimize the efficiency of each training session in an effort to get the most out of it without wasting athlete time and effort. But this is always bit of a challenge because we don’t want athletes training longer, sacrificing rest, or rushing through their workouts. So, planning is crucial. One of the strategies we use is to organize the training day in order of movement priority, so if for some reason a team/athlete runs out of time and has to cut the workout short, we know they have accomplished the major movements for that day. Consequently, the ground-based, multi-joint power and strength movements come first in the training session. This also enables the athletes to perform the most technical and metabolically-taxing movements when they are fresh and at their most capable, giving them the best opportunity to safely execute the lifts.

Another programmatic strategy we use to build an efficient training session is to pair movements together that don’t require similar equipment or space. In my personal opinion, this is an underrated strategy that has served us well. For instance, we won’t pair a dumbbell lunges with dumbbell rows. Why? Because then everyone in the weight room is fighting over the same dumbbells. We also rarely pair two movements together that both require the use of the squat rack (or any other piece of structural equipment). An example of an efficient pairing for us here at Volt HQ is a barbell back squat (barbell, inside the rack) paired with a dumbbell row (dumbbell, outside the rack). With these strategies in mind, we feel confident that our workouts are enabling athletes to get the most out of each training session.      

3. Active Rest

When athletes are not actively lifting, they better be actively doing something. Different coaches have different strategies to achieve this, but good strength coaches always demand something from their athletes while they are restingeven if it is just their strict attention. Overall, the key to a successful training session is athlete engagement. You can put together the best workouts in the history of workouts, but if your athletes aren’t engaged, you won’t see the expected results. But if you can engage your athletes, you—and theywin.

One of the engagement strategies that I personally like involves utilizing the natural structure of the training session to keep athletes busy. Let’s take that same squat/row pairing example we used above. Say we’ve programmed the pairing with 90 seconds rest between each movement. An athlete will execute a set of squats, rest 90 seconds, then a set of rows, rest 90 seconds, then back to squats and so on, until they have completed all of the prescribed sets. Then they’ll move on to the next group of movements. Sure, these lifts could be performed one after the other, but by pairing them, we not only create efficiency in space, we create efficiency in time as well. With a lift group of 4 athletes, we can have one athlete squatting, one athlete resting after their squats (and setting up for rows), one athlete rowing, and one athlete resting after their rows (and setting up for squats). We can also teach the athletes to spot each other while they’re resting whenever a strength coach isn’t available. The point here is that each athlete is actively engaged in the training and is doing something productive.

When it comes to training athleteswhether you’re working with professionals or high school kidsefficiency is paramount. With an efficient training session, you won’t waste their sweat or anyone’s time.

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Dan Giuliani is a regular contributor to the Volt blog. He is CSCS-certified, a co-founder of Volt Athletics and an adjunct professor of Sports Performance at the University of Washington.
Learn more about Dan and read his other posts