The key to success in today’s sporting world is to develop a complete athlete. If you compete, or if you just love to train, you need to look at how you can continue to make positive gains.

I believe you must have a great philosophy so you know why you are being successful, and also why you aren’t making gains. A great philosophy is like a set of train tracks. Going through the training life, the more successful you become means you stayed on track. If you start having problems, you’ve probably been derailed.

At the University of Southern California (USC), our philosophy is very simple: “How To, How Fast and How Much.” “How To” deals with technique and preparation, “How Fast” deals with the speed of the movement and the speed at which we progress and “How Much” deals with the amount of weight or the number of reps and sets.

How To

As athletes come into our program, usually as freshmen, the coaching staff feels they are closer to a high school athlete than to a college athlete. Because of this, we need to train with great focus on “How To” do things right. As the athlete learns great technique, we can then begin to focus on how fast the athlete is moving. To improve, we need to move at game speed in all our movements.

How Fast

The transition to “How Fast” usually comes around the summer going into the athletes’ sophomore year. By this time, they are closer to a college athlete than to a high school athlete. The final transition comes about during the winter of their sophomore year.

How Much

The beauty of this philosophy is that if the athlete begins to have issue in moving at full speed, we can revert back to “How To” and make sure the technique is correct. If the athlete cannot move at game speed, the weight or amount of work is too much. If they are not working at game speed, they are not becoming a better athlete. If we are not improving athleticism, we are not doing our job.

The role of flexibility

Now that we have our philosophy set, we need to focus on how we are going to go about our work. To completely develop an athlete, I need to start with the flexibility and core (abdominal/low back) strength.

With this in mind, I feel that USC’s flexibility and core programs are on the cutting edge. We have connected with top professionals across the country to develop a program that will help our athletes play at the highest level throughout the season. Our job is to reduce the chance of injury. I use the term “reduce” because you can’t remove all chances of injury in the explosive, dynamic world of football.

Stretching isn’t the end

Flexibility has to do with stretching, but it also has a lot to do with hydration and nutrition. With this in mind, we teach our athletes about all of these ideas. Stretching isn’t the end, it is a means to an end.

In practice we have the option of two different types of stretches. When we have practices without pads, we do more dynamic movements (combining stretching and movement). With pads, we will do more sport-specific dynamic movements. With both stretches we will also do a series of joint flexibility and stretching techniques.

After practice we have two opportunities to post-stretch the athletes. The athletes working out in the weight room have the opportunity to use foam rollers and stretch bands to work on their flexibility. Athletes who are not scheduled to work out after practice will have the opportunity to do a dynamic post-stretch which aides in their recovery.

When school starts we do a dynamic stretch warm-up with their agility and quickness workouts, which takes 15 minutes. Then we warm the athletes down for 5 minutes after the workout. This means that 20 of our allotted 45 minutes of workout time is spent on flexibility, core and movement training. The rest of our time is spent aggressively maintaining strength levels.

The flexibility of our athletes is a priority of USC’s program. We take the necessary time to keep our athletes able to play at the highest levels—with the understanding that injuries are always a possibility, no matter how flexible an athlete has become.

This attitude toward flexibility is also seen in our strength training portion of our program. To lift more weight, overall flexibility must be a major focal point of any program.

Too many athletes want to get right into their program and will do some light stretching before they get going. I have found that the younger the athletes, the more “bullet-proof” they believe they are. As athletes become more mature and survive a few injuries, they begin to take more time during the preparation phase.

When I came to USC, Coach Pete Carroll outlined his belief in how a strength program fit into his overall philosophy. Carroll said we needed to “prepare at the highest level, to practice at the highest level, in order to play at the highest level.” To carry on this philosophy in the movement and strength portion of the program, we work tenaciously to ensure that our athletes are better prepared than any other athlete in the world. This type of energy can be seen by some as extraneous, but I believe that our ability to prepare our athletes at the highest level is one of the keys to our continued success. ~Reprinted with permission from Power Magazine, January 2010.