Strength Training Overview
By Rohrk Cutchlow and Landon Evans, Illinois State University

[Editorís Note: This text was written for Illinois State Universityís web site ( and is probably one of the best things I have ever seen written. Their developmental phases that they use are what everyone should be using for training their athletes. I hope everyone reads this article and understands that every athlete canít be put on an advanced program right away. There needs to be a progression to everything and I think that ISU has got it right. So do yourself a favor and read this. Ė Jim Wendler, EliteFTS]

As the student-athlete enters into his/her first year at Illinois State University, they are assessed by their coaches to get an idea of their level of preparedness for the sport. We also assess their preparedness level, but we do it in regards to weight training.

We often work with great athletes that have not lifted a weight in their life. Ultimately, their level of preparedness is low, therefore we must utilize the most basic training elements to enhance sports performance and decrease injury. Unfortunately, we have witnessed an all too common theme of athletes coming in with poor weight training experience. They have been inadequately taught how to perform certain movements, and have often been prescribed workouts that create muscular imbalances which can ultimately lead to injury. An example of this called the "mirror mentality." This refers to athletes who train primarily with movements that develop the musculature that they can see in the mirror. This includes the chest, biceps, abs, and quads. These individuals have extreme weaknesses in their hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abs, and upper back.

To assess the preparedness of athletes, we utilize a battery of tests. The data provided by the tests creates a map that allows us to effectively and efficiently get from point A to point B. If this knowledge is not known, we are blindly prescribing an exercise regimen that will yield mediocre results. We understand the necessity of programming based on the preparedness of the individual, and design programs to accomplish two goals: increase performance and decrease risk of injury.

We utilize the following methods to increase muscle tension and ultimately enhance strength qualities in our athletes:

1) Maximal Effort Method (ME): Utilization of maximal loads. 90%+ loads.
2) Submaximal Effort Method (SE): Lifting submaximal loads to near failure. 80-90% loads.
3) Modified-Repeated Effort Method (RE): Lifting submaximal loads to near failure. < 80% loads.
4) Dynamic Effort Method (DE): Lifting submaximal loads at the highest attainable speed. Load dependent on goal.

At Illinois State University Strength & Conditioning, we classify athletes based on their preparedness. The classifications we use are as follows:


1) Inability to perform body weight calisthenics effectively.
2) Utilize mainly general movement patterns and body weight activities, while concurrently teaching them the fundamental techniques of the barbell lifts without added resistance to the barbell.


1) Body weight calisthenics are nearly mastered, but still possess weaknesses that must be overcome to move onto the next stage of classification.
2) Introduction to weight training utilizing the repeated effort method with loads no higher than one could perform 12-20 repetitions with.
3) Concurrently utilize body weight movements within their weight training sessions.
4) Introduction of the dynamic effort method with jumps, med balls, etc. is used to teach the athlete the meaning of moving explosively.


1) Body weight calisthenics are mastered.
2) Introduction of the submaximal effort method.
3) Concurrently utilizing the repeated effort method to help facilitate the strengthening of muscular weaknesses and the improvement of body composition via increase of cross-section as required by their sport.


1) Have great body awareness, and are able to move on to more complex training methods and movements.
2) Maximal effort method is now introduced utilizing repetitions of 1-5 RM based on the exact preparedness level of the athlete.
3) Main goal is to get the athlete very strong to increase their power output.
4) Dynamic effort method will be used concurrently, but is not the primary emphasis of the program.


1) Most athletes do not reach this level at ISU. Generally the athlete only reaches this stage of development if their level of preparedness increases faster than the average athlete, thus allowing more advanced methodics to be used.
2) Dynamic effort method will be used extensively to heighten the expression of power output with the tremendous strength base that the athlete possesses.
3) Maximal effort method will be utilized with loads that allow for 1-3 repetitions to be performed.

Please note that there are exceptions to our classifications. If we have an incoming athlete that is very strong in the weight room, but cannot perform body weight calisthenics, we are not going to classify them as a predevelopmental athlete. We utilize a complex training system that ultimately allows us to concurrently bring up weaknesses while not detraining the strength qualities that an athlete possesses.