Insider In-Depth: How the Terps LAX Team Trains to Dominate
February 8, 2016
My name is Ryan Cotter, and I am the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Maryland Men’s Lacrosse team. The purpose behind this article is to show exactly what we are doing with our athletes, and the rationale behind why we are doing it. Often times when I read articles by strength coaches, they do a great job explaining their overall training methodology or system, but do not get into the specifics of what is actually going on with their athletes on a day to day basis. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to show the actual program that we are using here at Maryland with our men’s lacrosse team, and try to provide some insight as to why we are doing what we are doing.
In-season, we have reduced the frequency of our lifting from 3 to 2 days a week, with both lifts being total body lifts. The majority of our games are on the weekends, therefore we typically train Mondays and Wednesdays. In the event of a midweek game, we would reduce our training to only 1x that week.
There is not a ton of research out there on the game demands of lacrosse, or a lot of other literature on best practices for training lacrosse players. However, we are fortunate enough to use GPS with our players, and it seems like the demands of the game are fairly similar to what you see in Rugby Union. Both sports cover approximately 3-4 miles in a game, necessitating a well-developed aerobic base. A lot of the running actions involve aggressive change of direction with frequent high intensity accelerations and decelerations, requiring the athletes to be strong enough to support those types of dynamic efforts. Finally, because of the contact involved in the sport, the athletes need to carry a certain amount of lean body mass to be able to handle the collisions that occur throughout the 4 quarters of the game.
For those reasons, I chose to use Dan Baker’s wave-loading periodization scheme, a periodization scheme originally designed for Rugby League players. I like the 6-week cycles because it calls for less exercise rotation and therefore reduces the number of times throughout the year the guys are going to be sore due to new exercises being rotated in. I also like how this periodization scheme doesn’t require a lot of true deloads (reductions in volume and intensity), but has a gradual volume deload over the 6 weeks, with 1 true deload week after 2 cycles (12 weeks). The first few weeks of the cycle allow the athletes to maintain some of the muscle mass that we worked all off-season to obtain, and the later weeks allow for us maintain our maximal strength throughout the entire season.
Like most coaches, I program by making sure we have certain movement categories checked off, not just specific exercises. I like to use Mike Boyle’s exercise classifications to ensure we are hitting all movement patterns that we want to hit throughout the week. Lower body exercises revolves around which joint has the the degrees of flexion/extension during the exercise, making them either knee or hip dominant exercises. Upper body exercises are classified as pushes or pulls, and also by what plane of motion they are in (e.g. vertical press, or horizontal pull). Next, I will categorize the exercise as a power exercise, or a strength exercise, with strength exercises being primary, secondary or tertiary, which loosely follows Joe Kenn’s exercise classifications. Primary exercises are ones that we test and ones that we typically do every single cycle, no matter the time of year. Secondary exercises are close variations of primary exercises, with the aim of having as much carryover as possible. For lower body, secondary exercises are usually a unilateral variation of the lower body exercise (e.g. primary = deadlift, secondary = Single leg RDL). Tertiary exercises are auxiliary or supplemental lifts, usually targeted at one specific muscle group.
Day 1 (Monday): Hip dominant lower body emphasis. Upper body pressing emphasis.
1. SL Squat to box (8-12”) – Single leg stability. It is also part of a larger progression to full pistol squats.
2. Side Lying Windmills – Thoracic spine mobility.
3. KB Warmup Complex – Increases HR and core temperature, as well as reinforces the hip hinge pattern that we will be using in the next 2 exercises. The single arm swing portion of the complex also serves as core stability work.
1. Hip dominant power: Hang Clean - Super set: Bridge w/ leg extension – Glute activation and core stability. I have the athletes focus on getting pelvic and spinal neutral before and throughout each rep.
2. Hip dominant primary: Hex Deadlift - Super set: Airex 3-way reach – Single leg stability and stresses the hamstring at more than 1 angle.
3. Upper press primary: Bench Press – The bench press helps us maintain upper body mass as well as gives me some insight into how the guys are recovering from the weekend games. Bench press is one exercise where you are guaranteed to get the best effort from the athletes, and if they are struggling with 5 reps at 80% for example, that gives me some insight into our current level of readiness.
4. Knee dominant secondary: Barbell Rev Lunge - We do reverse lunges because it puts less stress on the patellar tendon than forward or walking lunges.
5. Vertical press: Single Arm DB Overhead Press - Besides being our vertical press for the week, this exercise serves as an anti-lateral flexion exercise.
6. Hip dominant tertiary: Nordic hamstring curls – The benefits of training the hamstring eccentrically, especially with this exercise, have been well documented over the past few years.
Day 2: Knee dominant lower body emphasis. Upper body pulling emphasis.
1. TWLA Series – We use this for improving shoulder stability and rotator cuff strength. It also helps prep the shoulders for the heavier pulling exercises later in the workout.
2. Mini band shuffles – This serves as our glute activation. I feel that it is important to do some type of glute activation (usually glute med) before we squat.
3. Barbell warmup complex – Similar to the KB warmup complex, this gets the athlete’s heart rate up a little bit, as well as gives them another opportunity to groove their hang clean technique with light weight.
4. Med ball throws – Lacrosse is a rotational sport, and using heavy med balls (20+ lbs) allows us to train that rotation on a different point on the force velocity curve than they do every day in practice.
1. Knee dominant power: Barbell Jump Squat - Our loads for this exercise typically revolve around 20-30% of our predicted back squat maxes, which has been shown to be the load that elicits peak power output. While we want to train the whole force velocity curve, in-season we want the most bang for our buck and don’t stray too far from the 20-30% range. Bootstrap squat and reach – Hip mobility and thoracic extension
2. Knee dominant primary: Front Squat - I prefer front squat to back squat for my lacrosse players for a couple of reasons. First, front squat tends to be more quad dominant than back squat, and this is our main quad dominant exercise. Next, our athletes do not have the best hip mobility in the world (something we are working on) so squatting to good depth with back squat seems to irritate some of our guys’ low back more than I would like (a lot of butt winks), especially in-season. Side note: I am of the opinion that safety squat is the best way to squat, we just don’t have enough of them for it to be feasible for a team of 50 guys. To me safety squat is the best of both worlds: it allows for back squat loads (typically higher once you get accustomed to it) and the cambered bar allows for the load to still be anteriorly distributed like a front squat, and therefore leading to better squatting posture and pain free depth. Additionally, the handles allow for a more comfortable shoulder position, where we are not forcing the athletes shoulder into a hyper extended and externally rotated position. Spiderman’s – Hip mobility
3. Vertical pull primary: Ring Pullups – I prefer doing pullups with rings. The rings allow for more natural rotation of the shoulder (similar to the “Perfect Pushup”) with the hands typically pronated with the arms fulling extended and finish neutral at the top of the pull.
4. Hip dominant tertiary: Stability Ball Hamstring Curl - Concentric hamstring work which compliments the eccentric hamstring work done with the Nordic hams the previous lift.
5. Horizontal pull – Single Arm Dumbbell Row
6. Hip dominant tertiary: Hip Thrusts – I am a big fan of hip thrusts because (similar to kettlebells and opposed to the Olympic lifts) they train hip extension by moving the weight horizontally rather than vertically. The idea with this is to increase horizontal force production, which might be more important than vertical force production in sprinting performance.
Over the first 2 weeks of our pre-season we completed a fitness battery that included the Yo-Yo IR1 (aerobic capacity), 1500m max aerobic speed test (aerobic power), repeat 300’s (lactate capacity), and the U.T.E.S. protocol, (Utah Test of Exhaustive Sprints), a repeat sprint ability developed by Utah’s Ernie Rimer).
Currently, we condition the team 1x per week, with all of our conditioning being sprint based. This allows us to train maximal speed at least once week, and ensures that we are stressing the hamstrings with top end speed work on a consistent basis. During a typical practice week, our guys get a ton of change of directions and high intensity accelerations and decelerations, which all very taxing on the hip flexors, so I want to make sure we are stressing the hamstrings during our conditioning sessions. On top of our team conditioning, certain athletes have bike based conditioning that they complete on their own time for body composition purposes.
Hopefully that gives you some insight into what we are doing here at Maryland. Please feel free to contact with me with any questions/feedback that you have. You can reach me on Twitter @CoachCotter2 or by email at RCotter1@umd.edu