High School Weight Training: Early Failures and Lessons Learned
When I got my first strength & conditioning job at the high school level, I had been working for several years as a personal trainer. Prior to that, I got my first real experience in the field of strength & conditioning as an intern at the University of Minnesota. After starting at the high school level, I quickly realized two things:
- Working with large groups is vastly different than training individuals.
- High school athletes are vastly different than Division 1 college athletes.
Everything was individualized for my personal training clients, and at the college level, each team had their own program. Sometimes, there were multiple programs within the same team. So when I started my high school job, I did the same. I put together different programs for each sport. Each program was based on what I felt the demands of the sport were.
Then came the attempted implementation. I had all of these beautiful programs put together, but when we starting lifting with our off-season athletes after school, I had all these programs that kids were trying to follow. If I had athletes from ten different teams in lifting together, I had ten different programs that I was trying to implement, which brought up all kinds of issues:
- I was spending almost all my time teaching new exercises, lots of them, each workout.
- There were so many different things going on that I couldn’t keep everything straight or keep track who was supposed to be doing what on any given day, much less sets, reps, and intensities.
- Multi-sport athletes didn’t know which program they should be following because there were two or three different programs for them depending in the time of year.
- It took a tremendous amount of time to put these programs together.
- It’s pointless to work on sport specific strength if you don’t have a good base of general strength first.
- Beginning lifters cannot handle advanced programming methods.
So after one season, I had to revamp what I though I could do, and change things completely. The workouts in the weight room for me as a coach were too chaotic. Consequently, I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job of actually coaching. I also came to realize that all high school athletes, regardless of the sport, all need basically the same things:
- Better general and overall strength.
- To develop explosiveness.
- Training with their feet on the ground because that’s how they compete.
- Use total body and multi-joint movements because that’s how they move in their sport.
It doesn’t matter if you play football, volleyball, basketball, or tennis. And it doesn’t matter if you are male or female. You still need these four things. So we switched to unified approach and it worked much better for everyone.
Under our unified approach at Farmington High School, all teams and athletes do very similar things during their lifting workouts, and almost all workouts include the following movements:
- A squat (back, front, overhead, goblet, etc)
- An Olympic lift or deadlift
- An upper body push or pull.
These are typically the four main movement categories for both in-season and off-season athletes. In-season teams will focus mainly of these areas for their workouts, with a few minor changes and additions along the way. For off-season athletes, we include hip hinges, carries, iso-lateral movements, rotational movements, and overhead work as part of our auxiliary lifts, but all off-season athletes are doing the same movements each day. (One note: I do make different programs for in-season teams because of the varying competition schedules, but the overall weekly plan is very similar from one team to the next.)
When everyone is doing the same workout on the same day, it’s much easier to manage. I am a more effective as a coach because of it. The transition for the athletes from one season to the next is also a lot smoother. And I think it helps to build a sense of community within our athletic department among teams and athletes. There are no special teams with special programs. We all use an athletic development program and we’re all in it together, working hard to get ready for the next season. So from my experience, a unified approach to strength programming works much better for high school athletes than sport-specific programming, and I highly recommend it.