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  • Writer's pictureSteve Cronshaw

The perfect S&C programme for an athlete?

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

So how do you put together the perfect S&C programme for an athlete?

Well, there is no such thing as “perfect”, just suitable. This is suitable for the athlete and suitable for the specific sport discipline.

So it is crucial to match up

the event needs analysis and integrate it with the athlete analysis.

The internet is an excellent source of information and advice for athletes who are trying to put together their own S&C programme. The problem is there is too much information out there. The danger as I see it is that the discussion and debate centres mainly around on the number of sets and reps, along with exercise selection. However, this is just the output, the sexy bit. Don’t get me wrong this is a significant part but I believe most competent S&C coaches would agree this is just the tip of the iceberg. The central part of the work to put together a suitable, targeted S&C programme for an athlete comes before the sets and reps and exercise selection and this is the part not always seen or carried out.

The important "bits" are what you don’t see... they lie below the water line.

In terms of the hierarchy of S&C training prescription, the main element that needs to be evaluated first is the athlete Functional Movement Assessment which drives the training prescription selection, or output. A competent coaching eye is essential to look for mobility and movement quality issues in the athlete and this in turn will drive the decisions around sets and reps as well as exercise selection.

You cannot build strength on dysfunctional movement - that is why movement quality needs to sit firmly at the base of the iceberg, an essential aspect of the hierarchy of S&C training prescription.

Also, a holistic, total body improvement approach is vital for any athlete's training prescription. It is cruicial to look at conditioning the whole body to a S&C programme must providesome of the body’s basic needs. These include push/pulls in vertical and horizontal planes, squats, lunges and carries, all of which are fundamental movement patterns. Obviously, this is where every athlete is different in terms of how much strength and movement quality they have. Consequently, a decision needs to be made as to how much they actually need for their specific event. For example, the best S&C for an experienced track sprint cyclist is all about maximum strength but if the necessary groundwork and mobility are not carried out first, there is a risk that the athlete will get injured or be at risk of repeated injuries when pushing hard. Alternatively, the athlete will never attain the maximum strength potential he or she is capable off.

Not getting injured and managing consistency of sessions, week in and week out is another critical ingredient for success. For someone who is just starting in the gym or is new to S&C, the goals and objectives are different from the experienced athlete and the athlete analysis becomes even more critical.

Movement quality and technique of the primary lifts, along with appropriate mobility, is at the core of any good S&C programme. This is critically important for the mature masters athlete because with age compromised recovery becomes an issue. However for the masters athlete this does not mean they have to compromise strength, this is still achievable to high level. I believe and have proven that even with older athletes high strength levels can be attained, you just need to apply proper processes, structure and science into the S&C programme. With masters athletes, the minimum effective dose strategy becomes extremely important and very beneficial for their performance.

The problem as I see it is there are a lot of athletes who do not know what good looks like in the gym. I have seen athletes with such poor squatting and hip hinging techniques that they are a danger to themselves. Additionally, they are severely limiting their own progression by not getting the maximum benefit from the time invested - not getting maximum bang for their buck. Some athletes are purely focused on the kg, the weight they are lifting, when they really need to get competent technique guidance. That help would involve taking off the weight and focusing on basic fundamental movement patterns. Without this bottom-up approach, the athlete will never be the best they can be.

©Steve Cronshaw April 2020


Navalta, J.W., Hoover, D.L., Salatto, R., Stone, W.J. and Lyons PhD, S., 2020. Guidelines for Reviewers: Topics in Exercise Science and Kinesiology. Scholarship in Kinesiology, 1(2), p.1.

Bennett, H., Arnold, J., Martin, M., Norton, K. and Davison, K., 2019. A randomised controlled trial of movement quality-focused exercise versus traditional resistance exercise for improving movement quality and physical performance in trained adults. Journal of sports sciences, 37(24), pp.2806-2817.

“It’s Not About Sets and Reps”: 87 lessons learnt from the trenches on all things athletic development, coaching and success Kindle Edition by Brendan Chaplin MSc (Author) Format: Kindle Edition

Taylor, J., 1995. A conceptual model for integrating athletes’ needs and sport demands in the development of competitive mental preparation strategies. The Sport Psychologist, 9(3), pp.339-357.

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