This winter, I started a new opportunity to train a group of high school offensive linemen at my side hustle, The OH Line Academy. I find this experience worth sharing as there are a few constraints I had to navigate while programming which may be of interest.
I originally started The OH Line Academy two years ago to provide skill and technique development, mentoring, and film study during the off-season and scouting opponent film during the season. My intentions were originally to stick within these two lanes until two things happened in 2020: 1) COVID and 2) I started noticing my kids were being held back by strength deficits that, I feel, are left underdeveloped in most high school programs.
When COVID hit, my wife and I decided to ensure we would have a place to train, so we outfitted our pole barn with a ton of equipment from elitefts. Furthermore, as the 2020 football season ended, many schools were forced to vanquish their athletes to what little (if any) home gyms they had to train. At this point, most of my athletes had very little access to equipment to train with, and it was decided that there was an imminent need to step into the strength training lane.
Working Around Constraints
As I mentioned, there were a few constraints when setting up this program. The main constraints are our schedules only permitted two training days (Saturday and Sunday), an upper and a lower. This meant that all of my athletes would be training two or more days a week with their school program once they could return. I would also be using a conjugate template for this training with the framework of ConjugateU in mind. I like this approach as it addresses a lot of the needs of the athlete. It also fills two gaps that many high school programs are likely not—development of speed and maximal strength in the weight room.
The glaring questions were:
- How do you train speed and max effort in an athlete with only two days?
- How do you make sure you are not overtraining the athlete between them playing another sport or training with their school two or more times during the week?
This would take some thought and also a conversation with Nate Harvey to navigate. So we jumped on a phone call and came to the following conclusions:
1. Dynamic effort is performed every week, and max effort is performed every other week.
This would be done for two reasons. The first is that it is difficult to build speed if you are doing dynamic effort too periodically. Therefore, dynamic effort would need to be done weekly; otherwise, it is essentially pointless.
2. When max effort is performed, speed work is cut in half.
This accomplishes the task of keeping dynamic effort in every week while also making sure the athlete has gas in the tank to do max effort. Doing max effort work every other week would also help make sure that the athlete is not getting overtrained and can recover.
Preparing Each Training Lane
I already mentioned my own observations that offensive linemen are under-developed in certain muscle groups in high school. I have found these deficiencies to be in the following areas:
1. Back—ALL OF IT
3. Hip flexion strength and ROM
These would be my focus points when preparing each “lane” within the program.
Soft Tissue Lane
For us, this lane includes Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR) work followed by the athlete hitting any sore or tender spots in their body with a massage gun.
Our warm-up lane consists of seven exercises that are rotated through as a continuous circuit for two to four rounds. These exercises are as follows:
These exercises are done for up to ten reps with lighter weight and selection is based on the athlete’s weak points rather than if it is upper or lower body day. The idea here is to prepare the athlete to move but also to accumulate volume over time where the athlete is weakest. This is something I picked up from Dave Tate a few years ago, and I think it works great. There is also a good amount of spinal distraction and decompression which is also a great way for the athlete to recover.
- Horizontal Jumps
- Medball Throws
- Plyo Push-ups
This is the one lane that needs to be improved. We cannot go outside since it’s winter and equipment is limited to do the exercises I would like to do such as box jumps and medball throws. Box jumps are waved in volume before moving to depth drops, and finally, depth jumps. Medball throws transition from light to heavy throws and are done for reps or time and can be performed standing (static) or dynamic, involving lateral and rotational movement.
As of now, these movements have been moved to our skills and drills practices as those equipment items are accessible in the indoor facility that we practice in.
Dynamic Effort Lane
I chose to stick with the bread and butter exercises in this lane. We gravitate towards wide stance box squats and sumo squats for the lower body as it helps open up the hips and better mimics sport-specific positions for an offensive lineman such as a pass set. I also like the box squats because it helps teach patience and explosiveness in the athlete as they have to pause and then explode up off the box. If an athlete shows difficulty in performing a sumo deadlift to the point where I think the back is unable to maintain stability, I will put them into a conventional stance.
Chains and bands will be cycled in as well depending on the athlete’s capability to stabilize loads.
Max Effort Lane
This is not an exhaustive list of max effort movements, rather the starting point I will choose from. When I purchased my equipment for the home gym, the one thing I did not skimp on was bars. My exercise selection is based on how the athletes are feeling that week, the last max effort exercise we did, and what other exercises are in the program.
I chose not to put good mornings or deadlifts in this list for a few reasons. I am probably the first person to ever have these athletes do a good morning, so expecting the form to hold under a heavy load is not worth the risk. As for deadlifting, this movement is usually harder to recover from, and in my experience, the other coaches this athlete is working with will not be as vigilant in protecting their recoverability, so I need to be doing so as much as I can.
- Good mornings
- Belt Squat
- Close grip bench
- Incline press
- Overhead press
This is a pretty standard supplemental lane. As most schools do not have a GHR and I believe this to be a predictor of strength that leads to success on the field, I try to keep these in our supplemental movements on a frequent basis. In training waves that don’t have a GHR, I often throw a less taxing variation of it in.
- Upper Back (facepulls, shrugs, etc)
Again, pretty basic accessory lane. The biggest challenge here is to try to get the kids to treat these like bodybuilding and focus on contracting the muscles they should be. One thing I think we can all take from young athletes is they are very intent with knocking these accessories out and getting out of the gym. Even if I don’t superset these exercises, my kids ask me if they can “just do them in between.” Get this shit done and go home. Touché youth athletes.
Hip Mobility Circuit
This is our basic hip mobility series that we do following training twice a week. For a video demonstration of this, click here.