Most of my athletes are on the same training schedule:
- Off-season – End of April to October
- Pre-season – October to December
- In-season – December to April
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There are several separate Training Phases during these three time frames with specific physical adaptations expected from each. The whole season is planned out in advance, though may be adjusted depending on the particular needs, progress and competition schedule of each athlete throughout the year, though the overall template remains generally the same.
At some point an athlete or I will discover/observe a new methodology and/or exercise(s) that are interesting and not currently used in our programs. A knee-jerk reaction can be to immediately try the exercise in the next workout session whether it makes sense or not. In general I recommend my athletes avoid this path and instead make a list of all the “I want to check this out” stuff and new exercises/popular modalities that catch their attention.
So the general rule when it comes to adding something new in the middle of a training season is “Stick to your program – put it on the list”. Why? And should this rule ever be broken? I’m assuming first of all, that your current plan is effective and administered by a qualified coach (read more about good vs. poor coaching).
The most obvious reason to follow this rule is the new efforts may not provide any desired results. Doing something because it looks cool/interesting does not automatically equal results and you end up wasting valuable time and energy that can be focused elsewhere.
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Take for example ‘handstand walks’. You could make a case for improved balance and shoulder girdle strength as a positive outcome. I would ask if you perform your sport (or daily life for that matter) from a handstand position? No. So will that kind of balance transfer directly to your competition skills? No. Will it help strengthen the shoulder girdle? Yes…if you can stay up on your hands long enough. Also we are already doing enough exercises (and they are just as cool or better - think Olympic lifts and other fun shoulder work) that cover that body region. Bottom line is adding the handstand walk will not have any significant effect on achieving training/competition goals (though if I performed more 'handplants' in my sport and/or daily life I might think differently about the handstand deal i.e. skateboard/halfpipe maneuvers).
Another is limited time and a risk of injury in adding new items to training ‘mid-stream’. It takes time to learn a new movement and then build up to a maximum weight. If this new concept/exercise is then forced into the routine without taking the time to learn the moves and build up strength, you increase your exposure to injury. The last thing you want in the middle of the training season is a nagging injury that interferes with progress or takes you out of training all together.
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Is there a scenario where adding something new during the training season is OK? Yes. And I use the following questions to help determine if I should add new modalities mid-season:
- Will adding this exercise provide an immediate positive effect on training?
- Is the new exercise easy to incorporate (learn)?
- Can the new exercise be effective with lighter weights?
- Does the new exercise provide direct transfer to competition performance?
To use a personal example, I’ve increased my Olympic lifting frequency and volume this season. My clean and jerk have improved a lot, but my snatch skills have not progressed at the same rate. I’m not quick enough under the bar and am not consistent with my catch position. I saw a video for a "nameless catch drill" and thought it could help my problem. It was a combination of two exercises I already was doing – Snatch Balance and BTN Sotts Press (demonstrated in the video below - thanks to Lauren C for video help!). When looking at the list of questions above, the answer for all of them was “yes”, so there was no debate on whether or not to incorporate the new exercise.
If we use the same questions for the handstand walk example from earlier, the answers are “no”, “no”, “kind-of/not really” and “no”. Once again no debate here, this exercise doesn’t make the grade.
So what about the list of “stuff I want to check out”? We save that for just after competition season (mid/end of April) and select the exercises that will have a positive effect on training and start to learn them during the rest/recovery period right into the beginning of off-season training. This is also time to do exercises that won’t really help but are just fun to try out. Training is fun and I think it’s important for my athletes to keep that attitude with what they’re doing in the gym. So there’s a little time to ‘mess around’ with stuff that eventually may not make the grade once the off-season training season is underway.
It’s pretty simple, there’s no need to change gears if you are working with a coach and plan that’s working. When making adjustments and/or addressing issues mid-season, use the 4 questions listed previously to help determine whether the exercise(s)/modality you’re considering should be incorporated into the routine.