I will never forget working with a 15-year-old adolescent boy who desperately wanted to make the Aspen Valley High School football team. The downside was that Paul came to me just four weeks prior to tryouts and had never played football in his life.
I thought about everything I had studied in school--the ACSM and NSCA guidelines for training youth athletes, the strength and linear running assessments offered at tryouts--and devised a training protocol that would surely have Paul ready. But it wasn’t going to be so simple: Paul was 80 pounds overweight, could barely bench press the standard bar 10 times and couldn’t squat 1/4th of his body weight. School had not prepared me for this challenge, but the experience ended up teaching me one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned in regards to training the human body.
I can’t tell you how discouraged I was at Paul’s overall lack of strength and power in the gym and quickly realized that he would flunk all of the assessment tests at tryouts. But one lesson I learned from the school of hard knocks: Always have a Plan B. In this case, Plan B was to critically look at what position Paul would be trying out for and see if I could help him acquire the skills he needed to be successful in that position.
First, I looked at Paul’s build: He was six feet tall and weighed 280 lbs. I knew immediately that he would be on the line. Next, I thought about what a lineman needed: Quick feet, core strength, hip mobility, upper body power and a nasty disposition. I figured I would start with hip mobility and core strength, but I struck out for the second time. Paul had chronically tight hamstrings and hips, and could barely even hold a plank posture. At this point, I was running out of options and honestly thinking of telling Paul to give up on his dream, that is until I stumbled upon an old force pad in my garage. A force pad is a rectangular cushion used for punching and kicking in martial arts. The next workout, I brought the force pad in and told Paul we were no longer training in the gym. We were going to the field.
I had Paul get into a three-point stance, like a lineman, and instructed him to come out of it and drive into the force pad like I had “insulted his mother.” Paul did just that and literally drove me back 10 feet. I learned my first valuable lesson in the industry: Strength assessments don’t necessarily translate onto the field.
For the next four weeks I worked footwork, agility and force pad blocking drills with Paul. I focused on coordination and fluidity of movement and completely abandoned strength training. Paul tried out and as expected, flunked all of the tests. The coach wanted to embarrass him further and proceeded to put him in a blocking drill against a senior, just the chance Paul needed. He locked up with the senior and drove him right into the turf. The coaches were stunned while I was on the sidelines grinning ear-to-ear. Paul made the team as a freshman and was named the starting blind-side tackle.
Of course, I am a fan of strength training and understand its role in conditioning. However, we must never forget that the body is a functional, integrated system that when conditioned properly, creates coordinated movements. When in doubt, train movements prior to training muscles and you will set your clients up for success.
Pete Holman is a TRX CORE member, creator of the TRX Rip Trainer and a US National TaeKwon-Do Champion.