Strength & Conditioning Philosophy

A Strength & Conditioning philosophy is something which defines a S&C Coach. It encompasses many layers some of which can include; how you think in regards sports performance, your system of training as well as your coaching style. As we get more experienced as coaches, our philosophy can change and evolve however big rocks stay the same so we should never loose sight of the fundamentals. At EPI we strongly recommend young S&C Coaches should write down their Strength & Conditioning philosophy, in doing so they can think more clearly about how they look at sports performance and what they can do to facilitate this process.

EPI Strength & Conditioning Philosophy

The overall goal of a strength & conditioning program is to develop athletic performance whilst making the athlete/team more robust to injury. At Elite Performance Institute (EPI) we rely on three key pillars, these include:

  1. Movement quality
  2. Principles of training
  3. System of training

Movement Quality

One of the primary goals of an S&C Coach is to enable their athletes to express force more efficiently for their sport. We can do this using both general and specific methods in our exercise selection choices. Force development can be achieved in the weights room and on the track/pitch/court depending on the sport. In order to express force efficiently and effectively, we must first determine if the athlete has the appropriate range around the joint(s) to perform some key exercises we want to use in the S&C program. Secondly, we should determine how competent they are at expressing different types of force and at different speeds. Finally, we must determine if the athlete has adequate movement skill development to perform the exercises we would like to use e.g. Olympic lifts.

Movement screens are a great way of determining fundamental movement competency in terms of mobility, stability and motor control. They can also be used as a way of determining who may be at risk of a non-contact injury due to a poor score. At EPI, we use the Movement Compensation Screen (MCS) along with our ROM tests to determine if an athlete has the appropriate movement competency for some of the key exercises we want to use in the weights room e.g. Squats, Deadlifts, Olympic lifts, etc.

As S&C coaches, we need a baseline determination of where our athletes lie in terms of their force expression. Depending on their sport, chronological age, training age and level in sport (amateur/professional) some of these tests would not be used. However, at the elite level we can assess our athletes with the following:

  • Max Strength (3RM testing Back Squat/Bench Press)
  • *Strength-Speed (1RM Squat Clean/55% Loaded Squat Jump)
  • *Speed-Strength (3RM Hang Clean/30% Loaded Squat Jump)
  • Reactive Strength 1 (CMJ/Drop CMJ/Squat Jump)
  • Reactive Strength 2 (Depth Jump/5 Single Leg Hop Test)

*Linear transducer device (Tendo Fitrodyne/GymAware) should be used during these tests to determine power output. For competent lifters 1RM and 3RM can be used for the Squat Clean and Hang Clean exercises respectively. For athletes unable to Olympic lift, loaded squat jumps at 55% and 30% of their 1RM Back Squat can be used.

Determining if an athlete has the appropriate movement skills to perform all the key exercises you would like to use in the S&C program is quite straight forward. A lot of this comes down to experience, an experienced coach can quickly make out the good movers and bad movers within the group from session to session. If conducting baseline fitness testing, an experienced coach will quickly see who can move well or not when conducting the tests. A more effective way to quantify movement quality in bilateral, unilateral and jump landing positions is to use the Movement Compensation Screen (MCS) during pre-season testing/screening.

Redeveloped Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast 2/4/2014 General view of the gym area Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

Principles of Training

There are many principles of training which an S&C Coach must consider when organising the training process. At Elite Performance Institute (EPI), we believe the principle of “adaptation” is critically important however there are others which are central to the training process. See below this extended list:

  1. Adaptation
  2. Overload
  3. Specificity
  4. Reversibility
  5. Recovery
  6. Variation


As S&C coaches, every session we perform we are looking for a training adaptation to be elicited from the work performed. Whether it is strength, power, speed, ESD or recovery session, we want to elicit the appropriate response. Adaptations to the demands of training occur gradually, so coaches need to be patient when looking for significant improvements. Efforts to accelerate the process may lead to injury, illness, or “overtraining”. Many adaptive changes reverse when training ceases. Conversely, an indadequate training load will not provide an adequate stimulus, and a compensatory response will not occur.



Training loads must be increased gradually in a systematic approach to allow the body to adapt and to avoid injury. Varying the type, volume, and intensity of the training load allows the athlete an opportunity to recover, and to over-compensate. Loading must continue to increase incrementally as adaptation occurs, otherwise the training effect will plateau and further improvement will not occur. Manipulation of training overload and recovery must be delivered using a balanced and structured approach, failure to do so can result in poor performance and/or injury.



Energy system development (ESD), muscle fiber types, and neuro-muscular responses adapt specifically to the type of training to which they are subjected. For example, strength endurance has no transfer of training effect to speed performance. Conversely, endurance training activates aerobic pathways, with little effect on speed or strength adaptations. Even so, a well-rounded training programme should contain a variety of elements (aerobic, anaerobic, speed, strength, flexibility), and involve all of the major muscle groups in order to prevent imbalances and avoid injuries. It is the role of the S&C Coach to create balance in the training process for the athlete/sport they are working in, with primary emphasis on identifying the key fitness components which will facilitate sports performance.


A regular training stimulus is required in order for adaptation to occur and to be maintained. Without suitable, repeated bouts of training, fitness levels remain low or regress to their pre-training levels. For this reason, the training process is typically broken down into training phases/blocks whereby specific fitness components are developed over a 3-4 week period.

Recovery & Variation

Muscle groups adapt to a specific training stimulus in about three weeks and then plateau. Variations in training and periods of recovery are needed to continue progressive loading, without the risks of injury and/or overtraining. Training sessions should alternate between heavy, light, and moderate in order to permit recovery. The content of training programmes must also vary in order to prevent boredom and “staleness”.

System of Training

A system of training acts like a road map for a S&C Coach when working in sport and needs to be in the forefront of the coaches mind. A system of training should define their the coaching style, thinking process and methodology they want to use to develop the athletic qualities needed for the sport and to facilitate injury prevention. Systems of training can vary from coach to coach, however, without any system it is questionable whether the coach has full comprehension of the training process and methodology they use to enhance sports performance. At Elite Performance Institute (EPI), we have an eight step approach we use as part of our system of training.

  1. Create a needs analysis
  2. Identify key fitness components
  3. Perform a movement screen
  4. Perform fitness testing
  5. Profile your athlete(s)
  6. Create S&C program
  7. Enhance force-velocity curve
  8. Enhance energy system development (ESD)

Written by Karl Gilligan

Founder & CEO 

Elite Performance Institute (EPI)

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