Session Design

The purpose of this is to explain the simple logical progression you might go through for a strength/speed session. Just a few examples of exercises and rationales, and I think they can be tailored to any kind of session, it’s up to the coach how they prioritize time on each component given the needs of the athlete/client, time available, equipment available and the overall goals. It is taken from the Team Exos (formerly Athletes’ Performance) system/methodology, where I Interned in the Summer of 2013, and I would highly recommend anyone who is looking for a place to Intern to take a look at their website.

Firstly, no matter how well you have planned/structured your session, you really have to connect with your athlete/client in educating them what, how, and why they need to do certain things, so they make the right choices not only in the session, but away from the weight room too. Coaching is teaching, and you need to motivate them to be self-sufficient and take ownership of their development also, a two-way process.

Pillar/Glute Activation

The warm up can start with an isolation focus on the pillar or glute area in order to create stability within the system. In my opinion, glute activation would be performed before every session – this can range from mini band (placed around the ankles and/or knees) walks with either a straight leg or base position and a liner or lateral focus depending on the session. It doesn’t always have to be mini-band work though, simple drills such as glute bridge, single leg glute bridge, or even drop landings from a low height so you have to decelerate your body mass, this can be progressed from bilateral, to a split position, and finally a unilateral landing. Pillar strength can include simple front and side pillar bridges, changing the position from the elbow to a push up position, then finally alternating between leg and arm holds for 2s for example. These are simple drills but can get people use to ‘bracing’ and holding good posture that will be required as the warm up progresses into more dynamic movements and eventually at higher speeds.

Dynamic Flexibility

These drills address key mobility and stability issues and again can vary depending if the session has a linear or a lateral focus. Primal movement patterns such as lunge variations (front, back, lateral, drop), squat (sumo, overhead), can be performed with rotation/twits/reaches to the side and overhead. These can be performed on the spot or moving and depending on athlete limitations can be narrowed down to 3/4 key exercises to really focus on specific areas. Exercises on the move can include knee hugs, leg cradles, single leg RDL at walking pace then progress to the ones everyone knows such as hip openers, carioca, and inchworms etc.

Movement Integration

From dynamic it moves to a more specific movement skill integration, again whether the session has a liner or lateral focus. Here basic marching and skipping drills are of primary focus with the distances kept low and focus on good posture and application of force through the kinetic chain. Simple drills like these I like to focus on tempo and rhythm, I have seen many (especially youth athletes and some professional) who really struggle to co-ordinate their bodies for simple march and skipping drills.

Neural Activation

These drills are more response/reactive based to either an audio or visual stimulus. Most are performed on the spot from a base position such as wideouts, base rotations, and pogos, and usually last for 3-4 seconds in order to gradually elevate the CNS slightly. These can be performed and followed by an explosive movement such as a short acceleration or jump in response to the coaches audio/visual stimulus. A simple example would be two-foot pogos on the spot and when the coach claps their hands – accelerate 5 yards.



Plyometrics can be defined as any movement (jumping, running, throwing, changing direction) that utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle. It is a rapid eccentric contraction or “pre-load” where elastic energy is stored in the MTU immediately followed by a concentric contraction, which is more forceful due to the short and fast “pre-load”. If the unloading phase is too long and slow, then the stored energy is dissipated and doesn’t result in a more forceful contraction. Performing plyometrics is a great way to bridge the gap between high force movements in the weight room, and high velocity movements out on the field. When using plyometrics it is important to consider the strength, age, training age, technique, training phase, and session demands of the individual for example. It is important to respect the high demand certain plyometric exercises place on the CNS. I prefer to work on landing mechanics or the eccentric component before concentric (this is not a classic “plyometric” but will serve a purpose to help when move to SSC exercises).
Plyometrics can be further sub-categorized into jumps (2 leg take off > 2 leg landing), hops (1 leg takeoff > same leg landing) and bounds (1 leg takeoff > opposite leg landing). These can have a linear, rotational or lateral emphasis, with a vertical or horizontal component. Simple examples can be a non countermovement jump (squat jump) where the athlete squats down, holds for a count of 2/3 seconds, and jumps. This is purely concentric but a good place to start as teaches good technique in decelerating at slow speeds. Then this can be progressed to a counter movement jump, where the descent is fast and followed immediately by the concentric phase, research has shown that stronger athletes can manage the eccentric load more efficiently and this transfers to greater force & velocity in the concentric phase, which should result in a greater jump height. This also has implications for injury prevention as many injuries in team field sports around the hamstrings and knee usually occur during high velocity eccentric loading and through lack of neuromuscular control.

Movement Skills

Movement skills are important as it’s all good chasing numbers in the gym but it really does have to transfer to efficient movement when they go onto the training pitch. These can have a linear technique emphasis (wall drills – posture holds, single/double/triple exchanges, load & lifts) and harness drills with a 45 degree forward lean (marching, skipping) and prowler pushes (marching and bounding) for acceleration. The application component comes with free runs, bound-to-run, ins & outs for example depending whether the focus is accleration, transition, or absolute speed. You can also make the transitions with the harness from march > bound > accelerate for example but I prefer to do those drills free from any resistance. However theses can be performed assisted, resisted or a combination depending on strengths and limitations.
For lateral/multi-direction emphasis will include single/double push to base, crossovers, crossover > accelerate for example. Sound mechanics can be focused on during simple closed drills so that the mechanics remain consistent when the drills become more reactive or unpredictable. The big thing here I feel is awareness, with movements in each plane to be able to control motion and minimize energy leaks. It’s all good teaching drills, but they need to perform skills during play, so need to be efficient at getting in and out of positions through dissociation of the hips and trunk is key to being stable and mobile during agility.


Every single movement needs to have purpose and contribute to improvement the above movement efficiency on the field. Movements can be broken down into:

  • Total Body
  • Upper Body Push Vertical/Horizntal
  • Upper Body Pull Vertical/Horizontal
  • Lower Body Push 1Leg/2Leg/Split Stance
  • Lower Body Pull Hip/Knee Dominant
  • Sessions can be split up to total body, upper/lower body, or total body mix.

Here is a sample shot of how you can break down some exercises (Mladen Jovanovic).


And how you could implement some into a 3 week, 4-days a week split organised into the following:

  • Day 1 – Upper Body Push/Lower Body Pull
  • Day 2 – Upper Body Pull/Lower Body Push
  • Day 3 – Upper Body Push/Lower Body Pull
  • Day 4 – Upper Body Pull/Lower Body Push

Sample Programme

Repetitions for the primary lifts are kept relatively low as this would be for someone who is inexperienced in terms of strength based resistance training, with the axillary exercises The exercises alternate as stated above in terms of vertical/horizontal, push/pull, hip/knee dominant etc and can be tailored to the athletes needs, but this is a ‘general’ sample programme that includes many global movements, rotational, isometrics, and mobility exercises.

For more information:
Team Exos
Verstegen, M. and Williams, P. (2005) The Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body & Your Life, Rodale Books.
Strength Coach Podcast – Episode 35.5


One thought on “Session Design

  1. Pingback: Science of Sports Performance | Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training 2

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