Matt Brzycki Coordinator of Health Fitness, Strength and Conditioning Princeton University
This is the unedited version of an article that appeared as Nothing Lax About It in /Training & Conditioning/ 9 #9 (December 1999): 35-38 With five national championships in seven years, the Princeton University Men's Lacrosse Team was the most successful college program of the 1990s. And they take their strength and conditioning seriously. "Our schedule is highly competitive every year," says head coach Bill Tierney. "Our strength and conditioning program is a key element in our preparation to play this type of schedule. When all other skills are equal, the stronger and more conditioned athletes will win."
Long-time assistant coach David Metzbower -- who is responsible for their strength and conditioning program -- states, "We aren't trying to create a team of competitive weightlifters or bodybuilders. The main purpose of our strength training program is to prevent injury." It's felt that increasing the strength of a player's muscles, bones and connective tissue will allow him to tolerate stresses that might otherwise cause an injury. "The other purpose of our program is to increase a player's performance potential," notes Coach Metzbower. "Strength training won't automatically make an athlete into a better player but it will improve his potential to be a better player. An athlete must still learn how to apply his strength on the lacrosse field."
THE GENERAL APPROACHAt Princeton University, time is a precious commodity. Needless to say, a high priority is placed on academics. These academic demands have a tremendous impact on an athlete's time. As such, the design and application of the strength and conditioning program can be summed up in one word: efficiency. The coaches feel that the most efficient program is one that produces the maximum possible results in the minimum amount of time.
PRE-SEASON TRAININGTheir pre-season training starts when the players return to campus in the middle of September and ends on January 31. This 4.5-month period is critical for developing the physical preparedness of the team.
ConditioningIn order for athletes to play lacrosse at their full potential, it is important for them to be as highly conditioned as possible. At Princeton University, the lacrosse coaching staff assesses the readiness of their players with a simple conditioning test: Regardless of their position or bodyweight, all of the players must run 1.5 miles in nine minutes or less. The athletes are tested four times during the pre-season: (1) when they return for fall classes in mid-September; (2) in the beginning of November; (3) just before or just after the December holidays; and (4) the last day in January (which is the day before the season begins).
Because lacrosse is a sport in which the players must run, most of their conditioning work is accomplished by running. However, the heavier players are encouraged to do at least some of their conditioning with low-impact, non-weightbearing activities -- such as pedaling stationary bicycles -- to reduce their potential for orthopedic problems that can result from the higher impact forces of running.
During the pre-season, the players also practice their lacrosse skills and do position-specific agility drills. (During the fall, they are permitted 12 team practices as well as individual sessions with coaches.) Plyometric drills are not part of their conditioning program because they place too much stress on the body.
During their pre-season conditioning, the lacrosse team incorporates the following guidelines:1. Frequency. The players do conditioning workouts three times per week on non-consecutive days (usually on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). For the first two months of the pre-season, their three weekly conditioning workouts consist of long-distance running. After completing a long-distance run, the players occasionally do a series of sprints up the stadium steps.
In the middle of November, they reduce the frequency of their long-distance running to twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and add an interval workout (on Saturday). Each interval workout starts with an easy 1-mile jog. Then, the players run a designated number of work intervals using a 1:1 work:rest ratio (e.g., two minutes of intense work merits two minutes of rest).
2. Progression.In general, the purpose of their conditioning program is to progressively overload the energy systems that are specific to the sport of lacrosse. Like the conditioning test, their application of progressive overload is surprisingly simple. There are three ways that the players can provide progression from one conditioning workout to the next: (1) complete the same distance at a faster pace (i.e., in a shorter amount of time); (2) cover a longer distance at the same pace; or (3) increase both the distance and the pace.
In the beginning of the pre-season, for example, the players run for either 20 minutes or 3.0 miles; at the end of the pre-season, they progress to the point where they run for either 30 minutes or 4.8 miles. The interval workouts are also progressively more challenging. For instance, their first workout calls for five work intervals of two minutes duration (i.e., a total of ten minutes of work) with a rest interval of two minutes between each effort. Their goal is to run 600 meters in each of the five 2-minute work intervals -- a total of 3,000 meters for the workout. By the end of the pre-season, their last workout calls for ten work intervals of 90 seconds duration (i.e., a total of 15 minutes of work) with a rest interval of 90 seconds between each effort. Their goal is to run 500 meters in each of the ten 90-second work intervals ñ- a total of 5,000 meters for the workout.
3. Duration.More isn't necessarily better when it comes to conditioning (or strength training, for that matter). Excluding a warm-up, their conditioning workouts ñ- whether they be long-distance or intervals -- do not exceed 30 minutes. In fact, some conditioning workouts are completed in as little as 18 - 20 minutes. Keep in mind, however, that although the length of the workout is low, the intensity of the effort that is expected of the players is quite high.
Strength TrainingAnother vital component in preparing their players for the physical demands of lacrosse is strength training. The players are encouraged to use whatever type of equipment that they prefer, whether it be barbells, dumbbells, machines or manual resistance. Along these lines, the players do not attempt to mimic lacrosse skills in the weight room with weights or weighted objects.
The players do not perform any type of strength testing. Instead, they are asked to chart their performances in the weight room on workout cards. Coach Metzbower periodically reviews the cards to monitor the progress of his athletes.
The lacrosse team incorporates the following guidelines during their pre-season strength training:
1. Intensity. In terms of effort, Coach Metzbower emphatically states, "We ask our players to train hard. We do not want wasted time." In the weight room, their athletes are asked to perform each exercise to the point of muscular fatigue: when they've fatigued their muscles to the point that they can't perform any additional repetitions in good form. To increase the intensity of the exercise, the players sometimes do 3 - 4 post-fatigue repetitions -- either forced repetitions or breakdowns -- immediately after reaching muscular fatigue.
2. Progression. Their application of progressive overload is much simpler, more practical and less restrictive than that of an approach using periodization. In the weight room, the players can make progressions from one workout to the next two ways: (1) Whenever they achieve the maximum number of prescribed repetitions, they increase the resistance and (2) if they cannot do the maximum number of prescribed repetitions, they use the same resistance and try to perform a greater number of repetitions. After increasing the resistance in a subsequent workout -- usually by about 5% -- the players start at the lower end of their repetition ranges and increase the repetitions until they attain the maximum number again.
3. Sets. A staggering amount of scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that there are no significant differences in strength improvement when comparing single sets to multiple sets of an exercise -- provided that the single set is done with an adequate level of intensity. In seeking the most time-efficient methods possible, the players are encouraged to perform one set of each exercise to the point of muscular fatigue. This is true regardless of whether or not they are in-season.
4. Repetitions. In general, the athletes attempt to reach muscular fatigue within the following repetition ranges: 18 - 20 for their hips, 13 - 15 for their legs and 10 - 12 for their upper body. Anyone who reaches a plateau with these ranges is prescribed slightly lower repetitions.
5. Technique. "How the weight is lifted is more important than how much weight is lifted," says Coach Metzbower. The players do not lift weights explosively. Rather, they are expected to raise and lower the weight with a deliberate, controlled speed of movement. Furthermore, the athletes exercise throughout the greatest possible range of motion that safety allows.
6. Frequency. During the pre-season, the players do 2 - 3 total-body workouts on non-consecutive days. The athletes have the option of performing a split routine. In this case, the athlete trains his upper body on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and his lower body on Tuesday and Thursday.
7. Volume. During the pre-season, the players limit the number of exercises to 19 or less in a total-body workout. Recent data from the NCAA Injury Surveillance System indicate that three bodyparts account for 45% of all injuries in men's lacrosse: the knee (17%), upper leg (17%) and ankle (11%). Accordingly, most of their exercises target the major muscles that effect these bodyparts, namely the hips and legs as well as the upper torso.
8. Duration. The players are encouraged to complete their workouts in 70 minutes or less. It is felt that spending any more than 90 minutes in the weight room is an indication that the level of intensity is undesirable.
IN-SEASON TRAININGThe lacrosse team begins their season on February 1st the first permissible practice date allowed by the NCAA -- and can end it as late as Memorial Day weekend. The in-season training is very similar to the pre-season training with the main difference being a reduction in the volume and frequency of strength and conditioning activities.
Once the season begins, most of the team's conditioning work is done during practice. Sometimes, the players do different sprint drills covering various distances during and at the end of practice.
The players lift twice a week during the season, usually Sunday and Tuesday. Athletes who feels as if they need more recovery after a Saturday game can lift on Monday and Wednesday.
During the season, their strength training routine consists of six exercises that address the following areas: hips (1), chest (2), upper back (2) and shoulders (1).
OFF-SEASONThe off-season program -- essentially the summer months -- is basically the same as the pre-season program. Each player receives a summer strength and conditioning manual that is developed by Coach Metzbower. The comprehensive, 50-page manual contains sections on strength training, conditioning, flexibility, skill work and nutrition.
In addition, the manual has monthly calendars that detail specific instructions on what the players should do on a daily basis in terms of strength training and conditioning. The manual also contains a conditioning diary for them to record their results from each running workout and several strength training cards to chart their performances in the weight room.
Finally, the manual has three appendices that feature exercise options for free weights, machines and manual resistance.
EFFORT = SUCCESS
The lacrosse team's approach to strength and conditioning is summed up best by the coaching staff this way: "Successful seasons are not built on occasions of hard work or moments of brilliance; success comes from the consistency of effort at high intensity."