Sports Performance Training (SPT)

Strength Coaches that train athletes, better known as Sports Performance Coaches are a vital component for improving athletic performance.

Since the turn of the century Sports Performance Training (SPT) experienced some growing pains. Strength & Conditioning as a whole is always evolving although sometimes not for the better.  Trends come and go, but the tried and true methods that stood the test of time will never fade out.

In this article I’m going to share what I believe is most important when training today’s sports performance athlete.  The beliefs and methods come from 20 years of training myself as an athlete and 10 years experience training/coaching athletes at my gym, JVH Sport Performance.

Let’s start digging…

Sports Performance 20 Years Ago

The biggest difference from 20 years ago to today is that athletes are under-developed before they step foot in the weight room.  Most high school athletes cannot perform simple bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, box jumps (landing) and hinging.  So, with all the new ‘revelations’ in SPT, why is that?

A few reasons; early specialization, year round competition schedules, distractions with advances in technology, lack of outside play throughout developmental years and misinterpretation of commitment required to gain strength/improve performance.

SPT in the early 2000’s transformed from mainly bodybuilding with occasional powerlifting in the mix to a balancing act.  Stability balls, standing on one leg, injury prevention, sprint mechanics and speed training were marketed as the latest and greatest way to train athletes.

Shortly after Sport Specific became trendy, which caused some SP Coaches mimic the same movements athletes performed daily in their respective sports. That was the result of the ‘fitness business’ marketing guru’s throwing out trendy that proved unworthy on gameday.  So, athletes went from being strong and durable prior to the 2000’s to flexible and frail thereafter.

Today I believe it’s all coming full circle.

Let’s talk training

The most effective way to improve athletic performance in the weight room is to blend different methods together and individualize based on daily evaluation.  In a nutshell, all athletes need to gain strength, explosiveness, speed and become more durable (injury resistant). Without strength gains, speed/explosiveness will not improve, risk for injury in sport will not improve, athleticism will not improve.

Suffice it to say strength is the highest priority.

Athletes that master technical efficiency with compound lifts such as squats, deads, pressing, hinging, clean & press etc. can achieve much bigger strength gains.  The role of Sports Performance Coaches is to progress them accordingly. One of the biggest mistakes a Coach can make is throwing an athlete under a bar before he/she is ready.  If an athlete can’t execute simple bodyweight exercises they must earn the strength to use a barbell.

I cringe every time I walk into a high school weight room with the sport coach screaming his face off at his players while they load up the barbells.  It’s typical to see an athlete performing a half squat with too much weight on the bar, knees caving in, back rounded, falling forward on their toes and yelling throughout the entire rep.

I cannot comprehend how anyone in their right mind believes that carries over to sport.

As Sports Performance Coaches it’s our job to individually progress each athlete as they gain strength and training age advances.  Once we build up the broken foundation athletes can be challenged under the barbell and then advance to contrast style training.

Building The Foundation for Sports Performance

Here’s where the blend of training comes in.  Building the foundation can be quickly and effectively done so by mixing bodyweight calisthenics, sleds, db’s, kb’s, sandbags and bands.

Under-developed athletes will quickly build a strong foundation utilizing the following template in the early phase of training.


Phase 1

Bodybuilding for strength/technical efficiency- DB’s, kb’s, sandbags

  • upper pull/lower push: DB recline row/KB goblet squat
  • farmers carry variation: sanbag baby carry

Bodyweight calisthenics for volume/technical efficiency- push-ups, inverted rows/pull-ups, lunges, squats, hip bridges, static holds, superman’s, back extensions, leg curls

  • push/pull upper- push-ups/inverted rows
  • push/pull lower- bodyweight squats/FE hip bridge
  • static hold- superman iso

Sleds/bands/bodyweight for work capacity

  • push/pull lower- sled pull/push
  • pull/push upper- band pull aparts/wall crawl
  • attack weakness- Coaches call


Blending calisthenics, bodybuilding, underground/strongman styles of training is a lethal combination.  It’s imperative to hammer away at technique, bracing/creating tension throughout this phase to effectively transition to barbell lifts.

The next phase is all about mastering compound barbell lifts while gaining strength on all fronts.  Athletes should spend a lot of time gain strength in the bench press, deadlift/hinge, squat and overhead press.   We still focus on building the foundation of strength throughout this phase.


Phase 2

Pre-workout- dynamic warm-up with athletic movements, calisthenics, movement prep, flexibility and medicine ball throws

Compound lift/joint stability- barbell, bands, or bodyweight

bench press/band face pull or deadlift/push-ups or back squat/pull-ups

Bodybuilding for strength/hypertrophy/technical efficiency- DB’s, kb’s, sandbags

  • upper push/upper pull- DB incline bench/Bent over row
  • lower push/lower pull- SB front racked reverse lunges/DB RDL

Sleds/bands/bodyweight/isolation for volume

  • prowler push/hip circle squats/inverted rows
  • sled row/bi’s/tri’s

Notice the blend of powerlifting, bodybuilding, calisthenics, underground/strongman.  The next phase utilizes the same blend with the addition of explosive plyometrics and athletic movements, which is known as contrast training.  I will also introduce olympic lifts to some athletes at this point. I do not recommend Sports Performance Coaches do so unless they’re highly educated and experienced in Olympic Weightlifting.


Phase 3

Pre-workout- dynamic warm-up including flexibility, calisthenics, movement prep, which transitions into speed/explosive power development

Compound lift/explosive movement

  • Front Squat + depth drop, box jump
  • Deadlift + sprint 50 yards
  • Bench press + MB chest toss

Bodybuilding for strength/hypertrophy/technical efficiency- DB’s, kb’s, sandbags

  • upper push/upper pull- DB incline bench/Bent over row
  • lower push/lower pull- SB front racked reverse lunges/DB RDL

Sleds/bands/bodyweight/isolation for volume

  • prowler push/hip circle squats/inverted rows
  • sled row/bi’s/tri’s


When it’s all said and done

The biggest difference training athletes today vs. 20 years ago is progression.  It’s not optimal to just throw an athlete on any cookie cutter program nowadays. It’s our responsibility as Sports Performance Coaches to improve athletic performance quickly and efficiently.

Great Coaches care enough to do what’s right for the athlete even if it takes more time, energy and effort. If progressed correctly, athletes will gain strength, become explosive, get faster, avoid injury, get tougher (mentally & physically) and most importantly, gain confidence.  At the end of the day, if an athlete doesn’t believe in him/herself their performance won’t improve.

John Hoke

John Hoke

As the owner and Head Coach at JVH Performance I strive to provide the best, most effective overall training experience for our members. It's my mission to help people achieve their fitness goals and create an environment that inspires them to strive for improvement every workout. I strongly believe that anyone can achieve their fitness goals with the right structure, support system and accountability in place.