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Designing a Weight Program for Athletes

Squats. Deadlifts. Bench Press. Overhead Press. Leg Press.

This is typically what comes to mind when people think about training athletes.

As for my philosophy, I rarely have any of my athletes do these exercises. And if we do, we perform them unilaterally as opposed to bilaterally.

As for barbells and machines... we rarely use them either.


Like my professor in college said, "There's no such thing as 'sport specific training'. The only way to train for a sport is to play that sport".

Simply said, but absolutely true. We can't actually train "sport specific movements". It's just a term that's been overused.

However, when I'm training athletes, I incorporate movements that TRANSLATE best to athletic movement.

And when thinking about athletic stance and movement, I think about a staggered position, unilateral power, rotational and side to side movement.

So when I design a program, I always make sure it follows at least a 70/30 split of unilateral to bilateral movements. Because in sports, we need to be able to push off one leg and be explosive in all directions on the drop of a dime.

When we train bilaterally, our body will tend to slightly favor one side of our body. We will compensate for our weaker side and rely more on our stronger side. We might actually never feel this or notice that it's happening either.

I'm not saying that I'm opposed to performing back squats and other bilateral movements, I would just rather perform unilateral strength movements if I had to pick between the two.

If you don't train unilaterally, your body might develop a pretty big difference between your stronger and weaker side of your body.

If this is the case, you won't be able to push off your weaker leg as explosively when:

Guarding someone in basketball.

Diving for a ball in volleyball.

Making a sharp cut in football.

Swinging in softball/baseball/tennis/golf.

Planting when throwing Disc/Shot/Jav.

Performing Triple/High/Long Jump.

Coming out of the blocks and acceleration phase during sprints.

Well Balanced Program

In any athletic program, variety is key.

We need to have a wide range of:


Types of load

Types of foot/hand placement


Planes of motion

Triphasic training

Bilateral movements

Unilateral movements

Bilateral Movements

I still have my athletes perform bilateral movements, but just not nearly as many as unilateral movements. Just think of an exercise where you would use a barbell and both hands and both legs for, and then turn it into a unilateral movement.


Bent Over Row with a barbell

Instead, you could:

-Do it on one leg.

-Use kettlebells instead.

-Only use one hand.

Squats with a barbell

Instead, you could:


-Goblet Split Squat.

-Pistol Squat.

Bench Press with a barbell

Instead, you could:

-Single Arm Jammer Press.

-Single Arm KB Floor Press.

-Single Arm DB Bench Press.

Overhead Press with a barbell.

Instead, you could:

-Landmine Press.

-KB Bottom Up Press.

Straight Leg Deadlift with a barbell.

Instead, you could:

-KB Single Arm/Leg RDL.

-Landmine Single Arm/Leg RDL.

My Favorite Bilateral Exercises:

Weighted Jump

Depth Jump

Broad Jump

Trap Bar Deadlift

Goblet Squat

Push Ups

Pull Ups

Seated Cable Row

Jammer Press

Ball Slams

Unilateral Movements

Besides the select few of bilateral movements listed above, the rest of our program is made up of unilateral movements.

The two strength exercises I base my program around are the Single Leg Glute Bridge and the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS).

The two power movements we use most frequently are the Single Leg Side Jump and the Side Medicine Ball Throw.

Outside of these four exercises, the remainder of the program includes:

Single Leg Stability.

Core Stability.

Hip Rotation.

Shoulder & Ankle Mobility.

Full Body Strength Exercises.

Explosive Movements.


Now, let's put it all together and create a 60 minute workout.


Dynamic Warmup - 10 minutes of:

Single Leg Stability.

Shoulder & Ankle Mobility.

Full Body Activation.

Increased Heart Rate.

40 Minute Workout:

Single Leg Glute Bridge 3 x 10

Single Leg Side Jump 3 x 10

RFESS - heavy 3 x 5

Weighted Jumps 3 x 5

Pallof Hold 3 x 30 sec.

Sit-Through 3 x 10

Seated Cable Row 3 x 10

Side MB Throw 3 x 5 each

Single Arm Jammer Press 3 x 10

Single Arm Face Pull 3 x 10

A Competition Finisher at the end. Examples:

Personal Competition

Attempt to beat your previous personal best on:

Sled Push.

MPH on a 10 second sprint on the Air Runner.

MPH on a 10 second sprint on the Air Bike.

Distance on a Broad Jump.

Amount of consecutive Pull Ups.

Partner Competition

Attempt to beat someone of similar athleticism in:

Shuttle Drill.

L Drill.

10 yard sprint.

Dead Hang.

Distance on an Overhead Medicine Ball Throw.


Remember, we're not training these athletes to be Power Lifters. We don't need to spend our valuable time with these athletes trying to perfect the Bench Press and Hang Cleans.

Numerous studies show that a Weighted Jump produces actually MORE force output than the Hang Clean.

On top of that, it's also easier to teach and there's a smaller chance of injury.

I've seen athletes throw their back out and one college athlete actually broke his wrist trying to catch the bar on a Hang Clean.

Why risk this injury?

In my opinion, Weighted Jumps are a more efficient exercise than Cleans. This is why we perform this exercise at least twice a week and I don't even teach Cleans to my athletes.

When programming, just always ask yourself:

"What am I trying to accomplish with this exercise?"

"How can I reduce the risk of injury?"

"How can I increase core activation?"

"Are we training in all three planes of motion?"

"How can I turn a bilateral exercise into a unilateral exercise?"

Control the Atmosphere

Find music that they respond with and play it LOUD.

Explain why they're doing each exercise.

Bring a ton of positive energy.

Remind them of their goals.

Be competitive.

Have fun.


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