How We implement Dr. Yessis' 1x20 program at North Scott High School

Jun 22, 2022

“Developing young athletes should not copy what the local D1 athletes are doing in their program, they are older, mature and most are a different level of athlete entirely.”

That is a statement I heard many times, and completely agreed with.

The problem for me was, when I looked around, that is exactly what most high school programs did, myself included. To no real fault of our own though, my training life only got serious as a track and field thrower at Iowa State University, and my coaching was developed and refined as a Graduate Assistant at Illinois State University. Training as an athlete and training college athlete's is what I knew, and what most people know or whom they feel they can go to for guidance. So naturally for me, when I was hired at North Scott High School as the head strength and conditioning coach/teacher I relied heavily on my previous experiences.

What I did at the beginning of my career at North Scott wasn't wrong, I want to reiterate that, and what most people are doing isn't wrong, but I wanted to find a better way for the population I was working with.

I wanted to serve our kids the best way possible and actually do what I said was important, train our kids differently and more developmentally appropriate. While attending Jay DeMayo's Central Virginia Sport Performance Seminar a few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of doing only what is necessary for performance and not necessarily doing everything you can.
Just because you CAN do something or you do a certain amount of volume, does that really mean you should?

I thought this was a great concept but also struggled to wrap my mind around doing 1 set of an exercise to elicit adaptation because I have always accumulated volume through multiple sets. Again, I want to reiterate that I am focusing on developing young athletes and not college or professional athletes.

Anyone who has worked in a high school sees that kids are busy, stressed, and tired.

Dr. Yessis states, “They are in a constant state of submaximal fatigue. Because of this, athletes are often incapable of playing or competing at their highest levels during competition.”

Higher intensity programs have their place in the long term, but for me I wanted to find what made the most sense for our population, and this concept of repeating the same exercises daily for 1 set per day began to make a lot of sense.

Training is cumulative. Everything builds upon what has previously been done, and accumulates over time. Cumulative training effect and training age are extremely important concepts when trying to understand how to train novice athletes. Most of our kids have zero training experience other than playing their sport and therefore we get them with a training age of 0. Ideally, they would have some training experience from a young age but on the other hand, we get to mold and develop them from scratch, which can have its advantages as well. 

The 1x20 program is simply an entry point to a long-term training model.

It is important also to understand that 1x20 is just a name, there is much more to it than the loading protocol. We begin our incoming 8th and 9th graders in the summer on an 8 week block of introducing movement patterns. Most of them are not loaded and include simple calisthenics, jumps, throws, crawls, torso exercises, and movement patterns such as uni-lateral squat, bi-lateral squat, hip hinge, vertical and horizontal pulling and pushing among others.

It is very simple and all done in a station format with low volume. This is another article entirely and one of the best things we have done here at North Scott. I have upper classmen help me lead the stations/peer coach and it is an amazing thing for us.

After the 1st 8 weeks, we use a systematic progression of general to specific exercises to develop the total athlete.

Initially we do 1 set of a given exercise 2-3 times per week. We still progress exercises as we see fit and progress slowly and deliberately. We begin by choosing anywhere between 6-12 exercises and work up to 20. We are never in a hurry to add exercises, which allows us, take our time teaching each individual exercise well.

The goal is to progress up to 20 or more exercises in a session. We will not start right away with 20 reps. We will begin with 1 set of 4-6 reps which allows us to focus on HOW to execute each exercise, teach motor control, and how to feel the muscles we are trying to use. At this stage, patience and teaching are paramount. We will also begin building off our remedial jump and med ball throwing progressions as well.

With beginners, motor learning and neurological adaptation will happen first.

By repeating the same exercises 2-3 times per week, the frequency of execution allows for better motor learning. Each day as we begin to improve the motor skills of each exercise we will add 2-3 repetitions. As we become more comfortable with each exercise over time the goal is to add 2-4 new exercises each week until we have 20+ exercises that include multi-joint compound movements but also address single joint specific exercises such as hip adduction/abduction. Over time, we will complete 20+ exercises for 20+ repetitions each.

Another key concept we want our kids to understand is technical vs absolute failure.

We talk about technical failure often. We want to perform each exercise with correct technique, and the more repetitions and load we add they need to understand that we will stop at technical failure not absolute. That is a concept that can be difficult for kids because they think if they can get the weight from point A to point B isn't that the point?

Yes and no, it is not the “What” but the “How.” How is each repetition performed, what Is the intent behind each rep, can you be disciplined enough to execute each rep to precise standards. When we get them to understand that we tell them our goal is to reach technical failure or just before technical failure at 18-22 repetitions.

As our kids begin to understand these concepts we want to emphasize that, we want to train hard!

Do not stop at 20 because that is the goal, stop when you have too. I have had kids hit 30+ reps on certain exercises because they finally took the governor off and trained hard. This is not the goal, but it also helps them to see what they are capable of and challenges them physically and mentally. If they hit high reps like that, we then let them know that they can add weight to the bar, dumbbell, KB, etc.

Each workout the exercises will remain the same but we do not want to do the same thing. For example, if an athlete completes 22 reps this session, the next session they will move up 5lbs. with a goal of hitting 18-22 reps as usual. The stimulus changed. They will continue to add 5-15lbs of weight until they cannot complete 20 reps; if they hit 18 reps with a certain weight then they stick with that weight the next session with a goal of adding more repetitions.  Each session has a different stimulus.

As we progress through the program there a few different ways to attack the progressions.

For our beginners we will continue a certain exercise in the 18-22 rep range for as long as we can make progress with that exercise. There will be a time when they can no longer add weight to the bar and complete 20 reps; the key is making sure kids are adapting at a slow steady pace. If they add 40 lbs. of weight to an exercise, they will hit that wall immediately, become sore, have poor technique, and not adapt steadily, but if they can be patient and slowly add 5-15lbs of weight to the bar, they will adapt and grow exponentially and continuously.

I would caution adding 15lbs, only do that early to find a good starting point for stronger individuals. I am always tempted to drop the repetitions sooner than I should, so what I have gone to more recently is instead of changing rep ranges immediately from 20's to 14's we will change exercises and learn a new skill. We will follow this template for at least a year and if I am lucky enough to get kids as eighth graders, they will be in 20's for the first year and a half but progression through different exercise variations.

When we have progressed through different exercises at the 20-rep range, we will then lower the rep range to 12-16 or 14's. The same progression holds true and we work until adaptations stop then before we move to 8's. There are times where I will move into lower rep ranges with our older kids but not too often do we do that. I have found that significant amounts of strength is gained without using lower rep ranges, but I will utilize them as a carrot for the kids.

Let's face it, kids like to train heavy at times and “See what they can do.” Just last week I had a senior boy bench press 275x9 reps, then came back about 5 minutes later and absolutely smoked 315x1. He had never had more than 275 on the bar before! Our goal now is 315 for reps by the end of the year and getting closer to 350 for a 1rm.

After 1- 2 years of our general prep phase the 14's and 20's are used in shorter blocks and 8's are used mostly for speed and can be combined with 14's for strength.

For example, immediately post season we will focus on long duration isometrics and eccentrics for a short block, then get into a 20 phase. Working with high school kids sometimes the duration of the 20 block is dependent on when their next season is. Some of our kids really do not have an off-season, in that case, I will work with them and we will decide together what works best for them. If I have a wrestler that immediately goes into tennis season, but tennis is something they do for fun and aren't very competitive we will treat his training as if he is off-season.

As we get closer to the season, we will move through the progressions and to the point of pre-season, we are focusing on speed as much as possible. Throughout the season we will train 2 weeks of 8's or sometimes lower volume and focus on VBT with 1 week of 14's to maintain strength levels. Depending on how I see the individuals and how the team is responding, I have moved both rep ranges down midway or later in the season. Big Rocks, what is most important at that moment in time.

These are the repetitions and progressions we utilize here at North Scott, but it does not paint the entire picture.

Throughout all of this we will sprint, throw, jump, and carry on a daily basis as well. We follow Dr. Verkhoshansky and Dr. Yessis jump progressions as best we can. The key is knowing how far an individual can progress through. Some of our athletes are high level, Division 1 athletes that I am very comfortable eventually utilizing the shock method with. Others may not get to that point in high school.

The hard part is giving the right dose to an individual at the right time. We will follow basic teaching progressions and then evaluate as much as we can individually later in their careers.

This leads be to the final thing I will address.

If you read Dr. Yessis, he is a bio-mechanist. He places extreme value on specialized exercises to in enhance sport performance. For many performance coaches, specialized training is almost sac religious. Especially in high school or with developing kids. I used to think the same way, because we all know that to improve at a given skill or sporting action you must train and practice that skill or action.

The qualities gained in the weight room through general training means can enhance those skills, but not without training those skills. The approach that I have taken is to train skills that crossover for most sports and athletes and keep it simple. I believe that all athletes will benefit from better sprinting mechanics, so we all work on specialized exercises to improve. We train cutting action as well because many sports utilize cutting actions.

We all will train rotational specialized exercises as well because many sports use rotational movements and need to understand separation of the hip and upper body while staying connected.

I listened to a message from Coach Vern Gambetta just this morning where he talked about how “may will be chosen, but only few will choose.”

That fits my next point to a T.

There are a select few kids that choose to want to be great, that will do anything they can to be the best that they can be. With those kids, I will utilize specialized exercises for their particular chosen sport to help increase their technique execution. These exercises only constitute a very small percentage of their training, but when intent, focus, and execution of these exercises is all at a high level it can enhance the sporting skills tremendously.

The reason we have chosen much of Dr. Yessis 1x20 system at North Scott high school are many.

Simple, consistent, frequent, and easy to implement help with exercise technique execution.

Lower intensity allows for less stress on the nervous system and slow consistent adaptations. It allows soft tissue strength gains while also strengthening connective tissue at a greater rate by increasing blood flow to those areas.

In early stages of training 1x20 increases aerobic capacity and muscular endurance without hindering strength and speed. This type of training will have an oxidative effect and will help develop the cardiovascular system to build a better foundation for future high intensity training.

All of those things also help contribute to lower fatigue levels, and can help reduce injuries.

One of the best compliments given to me in my career came recently from a much-respected physical therapist in our area. She told me North Scott is the gold standard for S&C programs in our area among her colleagues, due to the low numbers of injured athletes they see. I am not naïve to think those numbers are I only due to what we do in our program, but I do feel our program has a small part in that figure and I hope to continue to help keep our kids safe, healthy, and competing long into the future.