By Nico de Villiers
Posted: Updated:

I had the privilege of recently attending a Strength & Conditioning seminar presented by world-renowned S&C coach, Ashley Jones. Ashley has been a mentor of mine for several years and I have been following his writing on GetStrength and Elite FTS for a couple of years now. Besides the high-level teams he has been involved with (Crusaders, All Blacks, Wallabies, Scotland, Edinburgh, Stade Français), Ashley has a remarkable gift of teaching and getting his message and philosophy of training across in a very simple and user-friendly way.

Here are some of the keynotes and take home message from the seminar, mix with some of my notes I picked up in discussion with him.


Strength Training Philosophy

  • Choose exercises that you get the most bang for your bucks. Free weight & compound movements like squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press and rows. Exercises should be basic and be able to go heavy. Don’t assume players can do all lifts, exercises should be coach continually and move towards perfection


  • Training time should be less than 75min (total), with appropriate rest time and sufficient volume. This should be easily accomplished. The theory behind this is that testosterone levels will peak after ±20min and can hold for approximately for 40-50min. Anything longer than this and you are not getting full value out of your training. It would be better to do 2 x 45min session a day than one of 90min.


  • A strong foundation of strength should be built before trying to accomplish speed and power. Strength underpins all other physical components in the gym. For this reason, developing strength should be the priority for all gym programs. Once players have reached a certain level, the focus could shift a bit towards other bio-motor abilities (speed or power).


  • Unilateral movements should be included in any good program to identify and help to correct weaknesses. Unilateral movements like the lunge is a fundamental movement pattern and should not just be seen as an assistant exercise. As players get older, there should be a bigger focus on unilateral movement in their program. This is to keep to load on their frame a bit lower and helps prevent asymmetries that could lead to injury.


  • Focus on the muscles you can not see (pulling movement for both upper and lower body). Also, include the highly neglected rotator cuff exercises.


  • Train movement (Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Lunge etc) not muscle (Pecks, Deltoids, Quads etc)


  • Use different loading protocols for different movements for different individuals. Any program should be adjusted for the individual, not the other way around. The players need to be challenged constantly to bring about adaptation. Using the same loading protocols will eventually lead to stagnation. As players increase in training age, the more variation is needed


  • The technique should ALWAYS dictate the load used, not the opposite.


  • Change the core movements and assistance exercises every 3-4 weeks to attain the best adaptations of the neural system. For elite athletes, this might be every 1-2 weeks. Use a variety of angles, bars, loading patterns and equipment variations to sort out what the best works for you and what transfers to your sport and position.


  • Anything you do in the gym must crossover into your chosen sport/activity. Be specific with exercise selection and loading protocols ( e.g. explosive vs non-explosive exercises can not have the same loading protocols)


  • The ability to train is governed by the ability to recover, so less is often more.  Doing 2 full body session in a week could be better than do a 4 session split routine in terms of recovery.


The Programming Process

An individualised program is the holy grail of team sports. This is very seldom if ever achieved, but the trainers should always strive towards it.

The process of achieving this starts with regular one on one interviews with players. Programming for each block is then based on players:

  • Age
  • Recovery ability
  • Injury history
  • Current physical status (monitor and wellness, this could be done through daily CNS testing and questionnaires)
  • Positional analysis and requirements (What S&C requirements does the coach want for how we want to play)
  • Individual players needs and wants
  • Coach’s observations and ideas for relevant fitness monitoring

Based on the above information, gym programs would be created based on a 3 step process of

  1. Exercise selection
  2. Loading methods and cycles
  3. Weekly training split

Each players training age will dictate too what end they can self-determine each one of the above steps.

In part two of this article, I will look at how each step in the process is designed and put together.

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