What if there was a way to build unstoppable team chemistry while also getting your team in better shape? Challenge workouts can be effective at building team chemistry AND developing the correct energy system if you do it right.
With that said, here are two important reasons you should consider using challenge workouts in your program:
- Sacrifice is the foundation of teamwork. Challenge workouts allow your athletes to put in time and effort together which builds respect and camaraderie from the shared experience. There is nothing like a group of people working hard for a cause.
- There fun and can be energy system specific. This is a game changer. As strength and conditioning professionals, part of our job is to program to the best of our abilities... just like a good cook adds in the right ingredients. We should make our workouts as efficient as possible for our own space, athletes, and their respective sports.
Energy Systems and Challenge Workouts
Time to add in a little science: We know from research that there are 3 main energy systems that work in our bodies - Alactic, Anaerobic Alactic, and Aerobic. We know certain sports require predominantly one over the other two.
1. Alactic (utilizes the Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP) /Creatine Phosphate (CP) pathways)
- 7-10 second high intensity exercise with a 2-5 minute break
- Anaerobic = without oxygen
2. Anaerobic Lactic (utilizes glycolysis)
- 20-40 seconds intense exercise with 1 to 3 minutes rest
- Anaerobic = without oxygen
- Long submaximal continuous bouts of exercise
- Aerobic = with oxygen
- Many activities can qualify as aerobic training, as long as the athlete’s heart rate stays elevated, but below their anaerobic threshold (or the heart rate/line where you stop utilizing oxygen for exercise). Repeated intervals with inadequate rest periods can be just as aerobic as jogging for 30 minutes. It all depends on your heart rate. Typically, a general guideline is keeping the athlete’s heart rate around 120-150 beats per minute.
Real world comparisons:
Alactic (ATP/CP) and Anaerobic (Glycolytic) are like cars with a fast engine but burn fuel quickly. Alactic would be a drag racer, Anaerobic Lactic would be a Mustang. Aerobic is a slower to start but more efficient engine that utilizes fuel really well - like a Prius.
Knowing the energy systems allows us to make better programs/decisions because, as strength and conditioning coaches, we understand conditioning and speed development are not the same thing.
Example Weight Room Challenges
Match an activity with your goal. The weekly challenges below are the bread and butter of our team building process. We build in these tough challenges at the end of every week to give the athletes something to look forward to and break up the monotony of the training week.
Alactic (ATP/CP) system
- Tug of War
- Mano a Mano, my team vs. yours, and whoever can pull the other team past a certain line wins.
- Those who are not currently participating must play "rock paper scissors" to re-form teams. This will keep them engaged and act as their rest period.
- Relay Race
- You can turn anything into a relay race, but there is nothing like repeat sled pushes.
- Simple and effective. All out for 10 seconds and rest until it is your turn.
- In this example, athletes aren't goofing off during their rest period because they are so spent after each bout that they utilize their rest.
- Med Ball Volley Ball
- Each player takes his or her turn to catch the ball and throw it back over the net. They then rest until their turn is up again.
Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic)
- Cat and Mouse/Sharks and Minnows
- Set number of a athletes (sharks/cats) to chase and attempt to tag the other athletes (mice/minnows).
- Sled Push/Weight Medley Relay Race
- Example: One partner sits on a sled while the other pushes or pulls it for 50 yards. They then switch off and the other partner now pushes the sled. Next station, partner wheelbarrows for same distance.
- Set up 3 5x5 yard squares in a line. It will be 15 yards down by 5 yards wide total. One teammate in each square. Another athlete attempts to make it through each square without getting tagged. Players assigned to a square must stay in their own square.
- Set up 9 spaces with cones, ladders, circles etc. at 5/10/15 yards away. One athlete sprints and put an object down and returns to the start. Tags a teammate and they repeat the same task. First team to get 3 in a row wins.
- Small Sided Games
- Soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee, kickball, capture the flag
- Set parameters so the games don't get too intense and can only last for the designated time (Example: 3 passes before you can score, no touching, play non-dominant hand.)
- Scavenger hunts
- Put together a list of items or tasks that teams have to find/complete. This is one of my favorites.
- Death Marches (Fatigue makes cowards of us all. - Vince Lombard)
- Sounds scary, but it is really just doing something for a long period of time that tends to be very monotonous. A fun example I have been using recently is this: I break athletes up in groups and tell them as a team, "I want you guys to figure out how to get this 500lb sled from point A to point B as fast as possible." I might have obstacles in the way they must work around, like getting the sled up a flight of stairs. The sled cannot be pushed, so they must find another way to do it. They have to find a creative way to get it done quickly and work together.
Things To Consider
- Space and Equipment: Work with what you have. You can do a lot with very little.
- Athletes Age/Maturity: You must keep them actively engaged the whole time. For example, you want to work on building the ATP/CP energy system with 12-year-old boys. For that, they need some recovery between bouts to build that system. If the athletes wait around during their rest period with no task at hand, many problems will arise. They will lose focus, wander off, start messing with each other, etc. It will be chaos, so we must be creative and keep them involved in a low level way.
- Physiological Response: Make sure you are getting the response you intended. Periodically having a couple athletes wear heart rate monitors can give you a glimpse into the real response they are having to the activity. Our challenges change depending on season.
- Giving the Athletes a Choice: Let them be actively involved in the process. Autonomy goes a long way. Athletes can be really creative. I have learned many new things by just stepping aside and letting them work it out. Athletes have fun when they can do something different and tend to become more engaged. There is a lot of carry over between activities if we set the right parameters with the proper work-to-rest ratios.
Start Your Challenges
Challenges can be an effective way to teach athletes stress management, efficiency, and consistency. There is always a time and place to do hard things to help cultivate a better sense of toughness and hard work, but let's do it effectively and with a positive purpose.
We do that by making sure that when we do challenge/conditioning finishers that they are fun, engaging and work the proper energy systems. At times this will not always be pretty, it won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
From these experiences, our athletes will understand what they can accomplish both physically and mentally. As coaches, we have to constantly educate our athletes on the reasons why. We should not be closed doors. If we communicate with our athletes on why we are doing what we are doing, we come to a better understanding and receive better “buy in” from them.
This gives the athletes a sense of purpose and a reason to go beyond. Thus they will rise to the occasion when needed. They will develop a bond, a brotherhood, and a team of leaders that will raise the bar and make them accountable for their actions. From this they will become better men and women.