high school weight room

Are You Building or Breaking Athletes? (The Block Zero Concept)

If you’re in any way involved with prescribing performance training to athletes then you’re either building or breaking them.  If you’re not familiar with basic strength and conditioning concepts it’s easy to assume that lifting weights equals building athletes. This is true to a certain extent, but it’s crucial to understand that athletes need to be proficient at controlling their own body movements before they begin any weight training.  If the athletes can’t master the basic movement fundamentals then they are at a high risk for injury and reduction in athletic performance. So how do you properly introduce weight training to athletes? How do you get them to move properly and progress to weights? I’m going to give you the 10,000 foot view of the “Block Zero” concept created by Joe Kenn that helps coaches understand the importance of moving properly and increasing relative strength before lifting weights.

The “Block Zero" concept is an introduction to an organized training plan where you assume the athletes relative training age is zero (no weight room/training experience). The training should typically start at the middle school age; however, older kids and athletes may have no training background so it can be started later. Even athletes that have been training for years can start at “Block Zero”.   It’s very common for a new strength and conditioning coach or a performance coach to implement a form of “Block Zero” to assess their athletes.

Have you ever heard of the saying “embrace the process?”. With the “Block Zero" concept you will learn to embrace a process that typically takes about 6-9 weeks of training with minimal weights.  For a lot of new coaches and new athletes this will seem like an eternity in the weight room without loading barbells and throwing weight around, but your goal under the “Block Zero” concept is for all of your athletes to master the fundamental movement patterns.

The fundamentals that need to be mastered are the squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, walk and rotate.  These aren’t just patterns you do in a workout these are movements that you do in everyday life. There are correct and incorrect ways to do these movements based on someone's limitations and anatomy.  This is why a program like “Block Zero” will help identify areas that need to be enhanced. Imagine not being able to get into a squat properly due to limited ankle mobility. Limited ankle mobility can result into a squat not getting below parallel and pain and tightness in the ankles. This is why you would never want to put weight on your back if you can’t master the basic squat.

Another example is the dead-lift.  An exercise I’ve seen done with bad form numerous times.  If an athlete can’t properly hinge, how do you expect them to remain injury free during dead-lifts?  A rounded back when dead-lifting is a sure sign the athlete is doing the lift incorrectly and will most likely get injured.  The “slow cooking” program takes an athlete from an unloaded basic hinge and progresses to weights, but necessarily straight to the barbell. The process depending on the athlete typically starts at an unloaded hinge, then to a banded or kettle-bell hinge, then to a trap bar dead-lift, and then to the barbell. Keep in mind you may find ways to teach the hinge and progress differently and that’s okay.  Each athlete is different and learns differently. Use whatever works so as long as they master the fundamental movement.

Your ultimate goal as a youth strength coach, high school strength coach, sports performance coach or maybe even a parent who trains their kids at home stated by Joe Kenn is that “when your athlete(s) leave you and enter their next training program (high school, college) that the new strength coach believes they are one of the best prepared athletes they ever had”.  Your athletes should have body awareness (balance), mobility/flexibility, smooth and efficient body mechanics, relative strength and stability. All of this can be accomplished with a training regiment that focuses on mastering the fundamental movements such as the “Block Zero" concept.

If you do train athletes I’m hoping you have some understanding that basic movement patterns need to be mastered before loading weight on to your athletes.  If you’re a strength coach at the high school and college level it may be easier to implement because the student athletes are required to train if they want to play sports.  If you’re a private business owner you will have to set some expectations with your client athletes. The “Block Zero" concept is not sexy, and some of your clients, parents may get impatient and that’s understandable.  You may just have to turn their business away if they’re not bought in. Yes, easier said than done, but keep your end goal in mind that you want to build athletes and not break them.

You can find more about Joe Kenn and the "Block Zero" concept on his website. The “Block Zero” concept and programming is available and I highly recommend anyone that wants to train or currently trains athletes to invest into the programming.  


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