When it comes to training athletes there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of opinions and methods on how one should go about designing a sound strength training program. Do a simple Google search of “Football Strength Training Program” and you will get 50+ pages of results showing everything from Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 for Football to BodyBuilding for Football Players. One of the biggest problems Strength Coaches face when designing a sound training program is: What method do I use? There is no correct answer to this question. You should use the one you:
- Know how to teach and implement
- Have the equipment to implement efficiently and safely
In my 6+ years on the weight room floor as a Coach I have made numerous errors in programming, exercise selection, and teaching with my athletes. I will proudly admit that because making these mistakes has made me a better strength coach and also made me realize not everything you read in a book or see online has practicality in your own training program.
About a year and a half ago I spoke at the NSCA Ohio clinic which was when this Brick Training Method really started to develop. I refer to it as the “Brick Method” for one simple reason: When building a well built house, a strong foundation is key to keeping the house upright and functioning correctly. A foundation built out of well placed bricks is extremely strong and sturdy. Everyone has seen a house with a bad foundation. It usually is unstable, leans, and has a wide array of other issues. Building your own body is much like building a sound and sturdy house. Start with a strong foundation of strength and you eliminate many potential problems down the road. Blow through the foundation work and the future will likely be ridden with problems. In the case of sports performance, these problems will come in the form of injuries. In today’s athletic environment, the top reason for athletes calling it a day on their career is because of injuries. So why not do all we can to improve the health of athletes, while extend their careers?
As a college athlete I was exposed to a handful of different training methods. I was exposed to the Football training mentality during my years on the Iowa State Football team and transitioned into a track and field training mentality as I finished out my collegiate athletic career as a record setting hammer and weight thrower. This experience, combined with multiple stops while climbing the ladder in the Strength and Conditioning field has helped me gain a wide array of unique knowledge and experience. My goal with this blog post is to share a training program that I have created based on the things I have seen, experienced, and learned as both an athlete and a Strength Coach.
There are numerous people that have had a heavy influence on this training program. One of the most influential people on the Brick Training Method is Joe Kenn, who I was fortunate enough to intern under during his time at University of Louisville. I cannot thank Coach Kenn and his staff enough for the knowledge I was able to gain by simply being in the same room as House, Bryan Dermody, Adam Feit, and Joe Connolly. All of these guys have gone on to have prolific careers in the Strength & Conditioning business and I was lucky enough to be at the same place as all of them. Another person with heavy influence on the Brick Training Method is Iowa State Football Strength Coach Yancy McKnight. Coach McKnight is not only one of the smartest Coaches in the field, he is also one of the best motivators and on the floor Coaches I have ever been around. I was fortunate to spend 2 years as a Graduate Assistant under Coach McKnight at Iowa State. John Dagata has also had a heavy influence on the Brick Training Method. Coach Dagata was my throws Coach during the latter half of my carrer at Iowa State and uses numerous non-traditional and non-American training methods adapted from such track legends as Dan Pfaff and Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuck to take average athletes and make them elite. Lastly, I have to thank Sonny Sano, who is the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Ohio University. Coach Sano does a great job pushing us as a staff to stay up to date with current knowledge of injury prevention, performance training methods, and gives us great freedom in programming workouts for our teams. Coach Sano is also a former competitive Olympic weightlifter and is a human library when it comes to Olympic weightlifting knowledge.
I have used some form of the Brick Training System throughout my tenure as a Division I Strength Coach. I have used it with both males and females in a wide array of sports including Football, Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Hockey, and Track and Field. Its adaptability to demands of a specific sport is what makes the Brick System so unique. It utilizes a general layout that will not leave any muscle group or joint action neglected. It quickly irons out strength deficiencies, while pushing athletes to gain power, speed, and endurance as required in competitive sport. Teams that have trained with this method continue to clear our strength, speed, and jump records, on top of increased performances on the field as reported by their sport coaches. Also, injury rates across these sports are at an all time low, which is often the biggest battle in the game of sports performance.
Keep in mind, this is not a power lifting or body building program. It is a program designed to decrease the likelihood of injury, and improve the strength and overall athleticism of competitive athletes. One of the biggest mistakes a Strength Coach can make is using a Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, or Bodybuilding only type training method to train an athlete. An athlete will naturally possess some qualities of the above type athletes, but never in their collegiate athletic career will they bring out a bench press, Olympic weight lifting platform, or posing trunks to determine who wins the game. When training athletes for maximal performance keep in mind the 5 S’s:
The Brick Training Method:
The general philosophy behind the brick training method is simple: Protect and Produce. That is a simple saying I heard Joe Kenn say and thought it could not be more spot on when it comes down to what I am trying to do with the athletes I train. Protect the athlete from injury, while getting the athlete to Produce in the areas of athletic performance.
The Brick Training Method utilizes a 3 day a week training split, consisting of total body workouts with an initial movement emphasis on either Upper Body, Lower Body, or Total Body type movements. It also places specific emphasis on types of effort; Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, and Repetition effort methods depending on the specific exercise and its location in the workout script. This is adapted from Joe Kenn’s Tier System Training method with slight modification based on my own personal experience with the needs of my athletes. Workouts typically revolve around 6 training areas or “Bricks” of emphasis, which will be described below in the “template” section. The Brick Method workout is designed to be no-longer in duration than 60 minutes and is to be done in a highly organized-high intensity fashion with the Strength Coach calling out the start of each set, and being in command of rest times throughout the workout.
The Warm up: The warm up leading up to a workout may be one of the most important parts of the entire workout. The Brick Training System utilizes an efficient layout so the warm up not only gets the heart rate up, it also primes the body for the movement demands of the training session. It utilizes movements that:
- Activate the nervous system
- Require general as well as specific mobility
- Activate musculature necessary for the movement demands of the day
The warm up has a structured layout, but is adaptable to what you as a coach, feel your athlete’s need. It’s general layout is as follows:
|Warm Up Exercise Outline|
|Lower Body CNS|
|Upper Body CNS|
|Hip/ Ankle Mobility|
|Shoulder/ T-Spine Mobility|
Sample Warm up exercises for each category are as follows:
|Lower Body CNS||Upper Body CNS||Hip/ Ankle Mobility|
|Platform Quick Step||Alternate Wrist Tap||Stick Overhead Squat|
|Ali-Shuffle||Forward/Backward Hand Walks||High Knee Hug to Lunge w/ Reach|
|Wide-Outs||Right/Left Hand Walks||Prisoner Squat|
|Shoulder/ T-Spine Mobility||Glute/Erector Activation||Core Activation/Stabilization|
|Stick Dislocate||Cook Hip Lift||Middle Bridge|
|I-Y-A Raise||Hip Bridge March||Side Bridge|
|Upper Body Clam Shells||Hip Bridge w/ Walkout||Iso Sit Up Hold|
The rep schemes and times for the warm up exercises are up to you as a strength coach to determine. I utilize :12s-:15s for the CNS activities and reps anywhere from 5-15 on the other exercises. I utilize specific tempo’s as well as isometric work for many of these exercises.
|Training Day 1|
|QUICK STEP: X15S|
|ALTERNATE WRIST TAP: X15S|
|STICK OVERHEAD SQUAT: X12|
|STICK SHOULDER DISLOCATE: X12|
|COOK HIP LIFT: X6EA|
|MIDDLE BRIDGE: X 1MIN|
The template for the Brick Training System is very basic and simple. This is why it makes the Brick System such an effective training program for athletes across a wide array of sports. It demands different types of strength, intensity, and effort from different musculature and joint action throughout the entire workout. During competitive sport, athlete’s are exposed to a wide array of physiological, psychological, and physical demands and utilizing a training system that trains to these demands has shown to be effective in preparing an athlete for sport competition. The template can be adapted based on specific needs of the sport or specific times of the year, but when dealing with an athlete with a lower level of training maturity (<5 years) I have had great success with the following template:
|DAY 1||DAY 2||DAY 3|
|Brick 1||Lower Body||Upper Body||Total Body|
|Type of Effort: (Sub)Maximum||Back Squat, Front Squat, Box Squat||Bench Press, Incline Press, Overhead Press||Olympic Lift, Deadlift|
|Brick 2||Speed Upper Body||Speed Total Body||Speed Lower Body|
|Type of Effort: Dynamic||Med Ball Throw, Clap Pushup, Speed Bench||Olympic Variation, Speed Deadlift, Med Ball Throws||Box Jumps, Lunge Jumps, Speed Squat|
|Brick 3||High Rep Total Body||High Rep Lower Body||High Rep Upper Body|
|Type of Effort: Repetitive||Olympic Variation, Med Ball Throws, Hybrid Movements||Olympic Squats, Goblet Squat, Leg Press||Dumbbell/Barbell Presses, Pushups|
|Brick 4||Single Leg: Linear||Single Leg: Lateral||Single Leg: Vertical|
|Type of Effort: Repetitive||Linear Lunge Variation, Split Squat||Lateral Lunge, Lateral Squat, X-Over Lunge||Bowler Squat, Pistol Squat, Bulgarian Squat|
|Brick 5||Upper Body: Vertical Pull||Upper Body: Horizontal Pull||Upper Body: Combo Pull|
|Type of Effort: Repetitive||Pull Ups, Lat Pull Down||Inverted Row, Barbell/Dumbbell Row||Row/ Pull Up Combo, Hybrid Movements|
|Brick 6||Posterior Chain: Hamstring Dominant||Posterior Chain: Glute Dominant||Posterior Chain: Erector Dominant|
|Type of Effort: Repetitive||Leg Curl, RDL, Glute Ham Raise||Hip Lift Variants, Back Extension, Reverse Hyper||Back Extension, Good Morning, RDL|
As you can see in the above diagram, The Brick Training System utilizes 3 types of effort in each workout: Maximum (Sub-Max), Dynamic (Speed), and Repetitive (Hypertrophy-Endurance). Certain movements tend to naturally lean towards certain training paradigms based on muscle make up and the muscle action demanded. Could you go max-effort on some of the repetition categorized exercises? Absolutely. This comes down to risk/reward and when our top priority is injury prevention I will live in the low risk category for most of these movements.
Note: It can be common to switch the Dynamic Effort Brick to Brick 1 and the Max Effort Brick to Brick 2 if you are at a time of year where rate of force development and speed are a top priority. I have done this with teams as we approach the in-season and we are backing off Max Effort volume and focusing more on speed-strength.
A great part about the Brick Training System is it’s ability to alter, add, and progress exercises as you find necessary. For example, during our baseball off season workouts I like to add an anti-rotation segment into our workouts since the guys hitting and swinging volume is down significantly at this time. I simply add a 7th brick to the workout template and we are now making anti-rotation training an emphasis. Another example would be for track and field athletes. If a track athlete is doing tons of running and jumping at practice, we do not need to make lower body dynamic effort training an emphasis in the weight room. This thought process comes from training following the speed-strength continuum as described by Eric Cressey here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0ge2TYDllw. We may take this Dynamic effort lower body Brick and turn it into a mobility type emphasis Brick model. I make these adaptations year round based on what the on the field/court demands are of the sport at the current time.
Another thing to think about when writing your bricks is the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). KPI’s are measurements taken in activities outside of the actual sport activity that can indicate an athlete’s ability to perform the sport at a high level. KPI’s are a training tool Coach Pfaff, as well as Coach Dagata rely on heavily throughout their training programs. They will look at a variety of movements from med ball throws to clean and jerk strength and create a correlate from the performance of these movements to performance of the actual sport. For example, Coach Pfaff would use an overhead reverse shot put heave as a predictor of running speed. He would use a forward shot put heave as a predictor of speed out of the blocks. He found that his elite level athlete’s had one thing in common: the further they could heave the med ball or shot the faster they were.
Each sport has a different set of KPI’s. Track and field has done extensive research in this field, but other sports seem to be lagging. Football attempts to do this at the combine, but in my opinion an event such as the 225lb rep test is not a good KPI of one’s ability to block on the field . A more accurate measurement may be a tendo speed readout of a 3 rep 60% body weight bench press or even a med ball chest pass for distance. I plan to design KPI’s for an array of sports in the future, but this is a tedious process that takes time and lots of number tracking of athlete’s performances over an extended period of time.
Another benefit of the Brick Training System is it’s ability to progress movement patterns across multiple training cycles. Utilizing simple movements in the early training blocks allows the athlete to develop the strength levels and motor skills to progress to more advanced variations of the same movement in later training cycles. Example:
|Weeks 1-4||Weeks 5-8||Weeks 9-12||Weeks 13-16|
|Barbell RDL||Dumbbell RDL||Single Leg Barbell RDL||Single Leg Dumbbell RDL|
When it comes to designing training cycles I follow the 4 week model of Base/Load/Load+/Deload. This means the intensity will slowly build and peak in week 3 before giving the athlete a deload week in week 4 of the training block. Another popular version is the Base/Load/Deload/Perform model. I have used both with success, but at times there can be a drop off in performance initially after the deload week. Coach Pfaff notes that the body and its chemistry transition into a different state during this down week and it can take an extended period of time to transition the mind and body back into intense work loads following a deload.
The young athlete who does not have a background in strength training may be the exception to this type of cycle layout. Typically an athlete with a young training age (1-2 years) can benefit from training cycles that are 6-8 weeks in length before needing a deload week.
Volume and Intensities:
Volume and intensities vary as we progress through Max effort, Dynamic Effort, and Repetition Effort training modalities. Each method has different demands in terms of intensity, volume, and recovery.
Volume and intensity are something that you could research for hours on end. There’s the Bulgarian Method, the Westside Method, Linear Periodization, and Non-Linear Periodization to name a few. I have utilized a wide variety of intensity and volume scheme’s over my years of programming and have had my best luck utilizing a modified linear periodization progression. This has best served my athlete’s and has allowed them to gain quality strength without rushing them into heavy weight too fast. Keep in mind what you are training in the max effort segment and your rest time should be long enough to allow recovery. Heavy lifting often requires a longer recovery so using 2:00-5:00 minutes of recovery between max effort exercises is typical. My exercise physiology professor in grad school claimed 3:00 minutes was the sweet spot of recovery for the athletic population after a hard set of lifting so that has been a number I have used and have had success with with my teams during sub max and max effort lifting attempts.
I like the idea of “Slow Cooking” my athlete’s so that the strength they gain during our training sessions is kept over time. Many Strength Coaches love to ramp guys up to 90%+ right away mainly because they want to see heavy weight on the bar. I have found this is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it overload athletes to extreme levels very fast, it often does not allow for the athlete to fully grasp the movement I am trying to teach. I utilize a model I inherited from Dan Pfaff when it comes to gaining strength and skill. It goes along with the typical theory of introduce a stimulus to the body and the body will adapt. Coach Pfaff takes it a little further in saying after the adaptation phase comes a “Stabilize” phase where the athlete must learn to use the new acquired strength or skill before progressing to the last phase. The final phase is referred to as “Actualize” in which the athlete can put the new strength and skill into their actual athletic movement patterns. This is something that may take weeks, months, and years to develop. Letting an athlete slowly develop strength ensures an athlete is doing it in a healthy and sustainable manner.
I will typically take 12 weeks to build an athletes strength levels to a true 100% RM when coming off of a demanding in-season or lengthy period of rest. In the Brick Training Method this would be (3) 4 week training cycles. I will follow a traditional model of loading the athlete with lighter weight and higher reps to develop a work capacity early on and ensure movement patterns are correct before we add heavy external loads. I am a huge Kelly Starrett fan and use his movement teaching patterns for most of my lifts. Mr. Starrett is a very intelligent Physical Therapist and Crossfitt Coach who has blended anatomical correct movement patterns into the world of strength training. Check out his site www.mobilitywod.com for more info on him.
A sample full 12 week Base/Load/Load+/Deload model is shown below:
|RELATIVE INTENSITY FOR MAX EFFORT EXERCISE|
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6|
|70% (3×8)||75% (4×6)||80% (5×4)||72% (3×5)||75% (5×5)||80% (5×4)|
|Week 7||Week 8||Week 9||Week 10||Week 11||Week 12|
|85% (5×3)||77% (4×3)||80% (6×3)||85% (6×2)||90% (7×1)||90%+ (4×1)|
When we get towards the end of the training period I will decide the week 12 intensity by relying on athlete feedback. I know some people will shun at this, but an athlete will not PR because the percentage on the card says they should. They will PR if they are prepared and able. Past results have shown slow cooking their strength sets up for a big finish on weeks 11 and 12. If for some reason we aren’t firing on all cylinders I will use week 12 as a deload week and move on. Like I said, typically if the program is designed correctly and all variables of running, lifting, and outside stressors are acknowledged and accounted for week 12 is a success.
Example Max Effort Brick: (The first 3 sets are warm up sets)
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
See the images below for a Relative Intensity Chart as well as the Prilepin’s chart I use to help iron out the confusion of what intensity and rep/set schemes to use. I use these as a guide to my training programs, but I will rely more on the feedback of my athletes to determine if we are under or over-doing it.
The dynamic effort or speed brick is dominated by a low intensity, medium volume approach. The rate of force development of these exercises is extremely high so the muscles involved will often fatigue quickly. Exercises done in this brick are between the 2-5 rep range and 6-10 set range. Many of these exercises are done with body weight so a percentage chart is not fitting for many movements. Be familiar with foot contacts and other plyometric volume measures if you are implementing box jumps, hurdle jumps, or med ball work. I try to keep my plyos under 25 reps per session and under 100 reps per week. If you are using Olympic lifting variations in this brick be sure the weight is light and the speed is very fast. I use no more than 60% of a 1rm in this training brick if I am using an Olympic lift. The rest time will usually be :45s-2:00 to allow partial recovery, as often allowed by the competitive sport. Example: Football players typically exert full effort for 5-7 seconds and recover for 15-30 seconds. Data has shown that these athlete’s will get about 70% recovery before the ball is snapped again. Keep in mind the rest time can be altered to your sports demands, but I have had good success with :45s-1:30 rest in the dynamic effort brick with my athletes.
Example Dynamic Effort Brick:
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
The repetition effort or hypertrophy brick is about acquiring size, strength and stamina in the muscle. The specific demands of these movements varies greatly so a general rep/set scheme cannot be used. I will usually use 3-4 sets of anywhere from 5-15 reps depending on the exercise. The intensity of these movements vary greatly as many are body weight only exercises, but if it’s a load bearing exercise I usually prescribe intensities in the 60%-70% RM range.
Some muscles lend themselves to being highly fatigue resistant while others do not. In my experience, movements like inverted rows and pull ups usually fatigue athletes rather quickly, while movements like back extensions and reverse hypers are a little more fatigue resistant. It is important to keep this in mind when implementing these exercises into your program. Just using a 3×10 approach to every movement may work, but it is not the best option. Learn the demands of the movements and you will have more efficient programming.
Example Repetition Effort Brick:
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
I typically reserve the 4th week of each training cycle as the deload week. My typical rule of thumb is choose an intensity that is between week 1 and week 2 and a volume that is 60% of the highest volume (Reps x Sets) you trained during that particular cycle. For example, if we went 70/75/80 for a 5×6/5×5/6×4 cycle our deload would be at 72.5% with the volume being 18 total reps (60% of highest volume which was 30 reps). I typically error on the side of less here so i would choose a scheme like 3×5 at 72% on this deload week. See the PDF workout card at the end to see this in an actual workout.
This deload gives the body a chance to recover and adapt. Constantly loading over an extended period of time can lead to Chronic Load Syndrome. You will know if you have dipped into Chronic Load Syndrome because weights, throws, and jumps will not move in the same manner they did in prior training sessions. Athlete’s will feel sluggish, lack speed, coordination, power and/or strength. It is important to know the difference between a bad day because of lack of sleep or nutrition and actual Overload Syndrome.
Extra Accessory Work
One of the biggest questions people may have with the brick method is where does the accessory/auxiliary type work fall in this program. We do a significant amount of accessory work in the warmup and in bricks 4,5,and 6. I do not categorize bicep and tricep work as foundation type work so I will not make them an emphasis in the workout. When designing a workout for the athletic population, I pick exercises that give me the biggest bang for my buck. Multi-joint type movements that incorporate multiple muscle groups are exercises I use. I can get significant bicep and back stimulation in a pull up/chin up type movement without having to spend time programming curls. I have yet to see an athletic event that is a single joint, single muscle movement. Single joint movements do have their place, but I save them for auxiliary circuits at the end of the workout or I will utilize a “Blitz Package” type card similar to Coach Kenn, where athlete’s can come in on their own time and work on these muscles.
One of the biggest changes I have made to my training program in the last year is the introduction of a dynamic cool down. We did these daily after our throwing and lifting sessions when I was in college and I never suffered a soft tissue injury in my 3 years as a thrower. I introduced this cool down to our baseball team this summer and we had zero, yes ZERO soft tissue injuries during a 12 week training cycle of intense lifting, speed work, conditioning, and baseball specific work. We do our cool down as a lap around the football field with a variety of dynamic movements. See the pdf below for the layout of our cool down.
I wanted to finish this post by offering up a sample of a 4 week block of the Brick Training Method. Please see the link to a PDF attachment below.
One guy I wanted to mention and thank was my co-worker and roommate Dak Notestine. He is a very intelligent young strength coach and constantly challenges everything I say and do within my programming. This makes me stay on top of my knowledge game at all times and has made me a much better Coach over my time at Ohio University.