Starting a High School Strength Program

29 Jul

team-weight-room-640[1]At our facility, we work with a few hundred high school student-athletes, and serve as advisor/coach/consultant to several high school strength and conditioning programs.

In terms of quality, high school strength and conditioning programs vary considerably, and most of them are subpar.  The biggest reason for this is that most of these programs lack adequate and appropriate program design and supervision, and allow little or no involvement from qualified, experienced strength and conditioning professionals.

To make matters worse, most high school strength and conditioning programs are run by coaches, most of whom are not qualified as strength and conditioning professionals.  Many of these coaches are hell-bent on control and loathe to take advice or guidance from “outsiders.”

The net result is that most high school strength and conditioning programs are run by individuals who lack even a basic understanding of foundational exercise science and it’s practical application.  Unfortunately, many of these programs are less than effective and — worse yet — can be unsafe for student-athletes.

My advice to high school sports coaches:  GET SOME HELP.  Check your ego, loosen your grip on your program, and consult with a qualified and experienced strength and conditioning professional.  Trust me — it will be time and money well-spent.

Mike Boyle wrote this article for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Strength and Conditioning Journal over a decade ago, but it’s still just as relevant today.

Starting a High School Strength Program

Frequently at clinics, I speak with high school coaches who are interested in starting or improving a strength and conditioning program at their school. Most often they are looking for guidance in setting up the program and always want to talk sets and reps. Much to their dismay, I generally want to discuss organizational and administrative concepts because, in my experience, these are the real keys. Setup and execution make the program run — not sets and reps.

If you get one thing out of this article remember this quote:  “A bad program done well is better than a good program done poorly.” – Author Unknown

Keep it simple, and adhere strictly to the following guidelines:

  1. Forget uncooperative seniors.  The source of most frustration in starting a high school program is dealing with seniors who already “know how to lift.” Separate these guys out right away. If they don’t cooperate, get rid of them. They’ll be gone soon anyway.
  2. Do one coaching-intensive lift per day. What do I mean by coaching-intensive lift? Exercises like squats or any Olympic movement are coaching-intensive. Coaches must watch every possible set to correctly ingrain the correct motor pattern. If athletes are front squatting and hang cleaning the same day, which do you watch, the platforms or the squats racks? Don’t force yourself to make this decision. For example do lunges instead of squats on the day that you clean and do pushups instead of bench press on the day you squat. On squat day, don’t do an Olympic movement, do Box Jumps as your explosive exercise. This process of one coaching-intensive lift per day may only last a year, but you will not be getting poor patterns practiced with no supervision.
  3. Get all administration done prior to the start of sessions. The biggest failure in strength and conditioning is coaches sitting at computers instead of coaching. If you need workouts done on computer, do them during a free period. The job is strength and conditioning coach. Don’t get caught up, as many coaches do, in having great programs on paper and lousy lifters. Let the paper suffer and do the coaching.
  4. Coach. This is what it is all about. Coach like this is your sport. So many coaches ask, “Can you give me a program?” We could but it wouldn’t work. College or pro programs are not appropriate for high school beginners. They need teaching, not programs. The program begins and ends with technical proficiency. Coaches must realize that their athletes are the window through which others see them. If a college coach came into your weight room would you be proud or ashamed? Would you make excuses for the poor technique or, accept the pats on the back for what great lifters your players are? The other factor, even more important than your athletes being the window through which others see you, is that your athletes are the mirror in which you see yourself. Your lifters are a direct reflection of you. When you watch your athletes are you happy with yourself as a teacher and coach.
  5. Technique, Technique, Technique. Never compromise. Perform parallel squats all the time. Our athletes do nothing but front squats to a top of the thigh parallel position. If you bench press, no bounce, no arch. Never compromise. As soon as you allow one athlete to cheat or to not adhere to the program others will follow immediately. Remember why athletes cheat. They cheat to lift more weight. Lifting more weight feeds their ego. If you allow it to happen, cheating is very difficult to stop. To make your point use exercises like Pause Bench and Pause Front Squats. These exercises can be very humbling. Canadian Strength Coach Charles Poliquin has a principle he calls Technical Failure. This means that you never count a rep that was completed after technique broke down.
  6. Use body weight when possible. Always teach bodyweight squats first. If they can’t bodyweight squat, they can’t squat. Do lots of pushups, feet elevated pushups, 1 leg squats, chinups and dips. Bodyweight is humbling. Use it wisely and often with high school kids.
  7. If you test, test super strict. Testing is when things really deteriorate. In testing the coach should see every lift, and the coach should select every weight. Don’t reward strength. This is a huge mistake that I believe encourages drug use. Reward improvement, make athletes compete with themselves, not others. No t-shirts for rewards unless they reward improvement over personal bests. Also if you test strength, also test performance factors like Vertical Jump and 10-yd. Dash. If athletes are improving strength without changing performance factors, the program is only marginally effective.
  8. Have appropriate equipment. This is critical to a good high school program. Spend money to encourage success. Success is what sells the program. Strength and conditioning coaching is easy in principle, but difficult in practice. The key is to try to see every set and coach every athlete. This is difficult, time consuming, and repetitive. At the end of a good day you should be hoarse and tired. A good strength coach will have sore legs and knees from squatting down to see squat depth all day.


Your thoughts?

Learn to Communicate Effectively

27 Jul

isOne of the most important aspects of my job involves communication.  Every day, I communicate — verbally and in writing — with customers (and prospective customers), colleagues, subordinates, and interns, among others.

At the risk of sounding somewhat critical and condescending, I am disappointed with the state of verbal and written communication.  I don’t want to get on my “soapbox” and rail against electronic communication and social media, but I do feel that interpersonal and professional communication have steadily deteriorated and eroded over the past few decades.

The ability to effectively, concisely, and compellingly articulate thoughts, feelings, and ideas to others is important for all of us.  Fortunately, effective communication is a skill that can be learned, developed, and improved.  People recognize the value of a truly effective and efficient communicator.

Here are some thoughts for improving your verbal and written communication:

  • Be organized.  This should be done before you attempt to communicate your thoughts.
  • Be focused.  Choose no more than 2-3 key points, and focus on those.
  • Be clear.  Set expectations, from the beginning, about what you want to communicate.
  • Stay on topic.  Don’t stray off course.
  • Be articulate.  Deliver your message clearly and unambiguously.
  • Enunciate clearly, when speaking.  Speak at an appropriate volume and enunciate key points.
  • Be attentive, when listening.  Effective communication is a two-way activity.  You can’t learn and understand when you’re talking.
  • Maintain eye contact, when communicating in-person.  Eye contact builds rapport and displays interest.
  • Practice.  Speak more, write more, and read (yes, read) more.
  • Educate yourself.  Build and develop familiarity, comfort, and expertise with your subject matter.
  • Model others.  Read, listen to, and emulate others you consider effective and compelling communicators.


Your thoughts?

Muscles Grow BETWEEN Workouts

24 Jul

isEvery athlete knows (or should know) that strength training is an integral part of the performance improvement process.  Stronger, faster, more powerful athletes are better athletes, and strength training catalyzes that process.

And, as important as strength training is, muscles don’t grow during workouts, they grow between them.

Muscles get bigger and stronger during their recovery period, which makes rest and recovery  — following your workout — equally as important.

You can facilitate the recovery process — and gain strength and muscle more quickly — by adhering to a few simple post-workout strategies:

  • Increase blood flow and break up knots and adhesions with a foam roller.  After your workout, spend about 15-20 seconds kneading each muscle group.
  • Allow 48 hours between workouts, but keep moving.  Active recovery  — via light activity (for example, walking, jogging, lateral shuffles, etc.) — is important to the muscle repair process because it facilitates delivery of nutrients to your muscles.
  • Protein intake should remain consistent, even on your “off” days.  Keep feeding your muscles between workouts.
  • Get a good night’s sleep — at least seven hours a night.  Growth hormone is at its highest levels while you’re sleeping.

Be smart about your post-workout recovery, and you’ll maximize the benefit of each and every workout.


Your thoughts?

Increase Strength and Explosiveness with the Isometric Squat

22 Jul

squats-strength-training[1]Want to improve your speed, agility, vertical jump, and overall lower-body explosiveness?

Try adding the isometric squat to your training, according to research from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which found a strong correlation between an isometric squat — performed at (knee flexion angles of) 90° and 120° — and strength and explosiveness.

The isometric squat is performed by pausing in (and holding) the “down” position for some period of time (for example, 1-4 seconds).

As with any squat exercise, you can use body weight, a dumbbell or kettlebell (goblet style), or barbell (front or back squat).

  • Start in upright position, with hips and knees fully extended
  • Slowly lower your body by pushing your hips back and toward the ground
  • Keep chin and chest up, and heels on the ground
  • Pause when knees are bent at 90° to 120°
  • Return to starting position by pushing hips forward, and extending hips and knees
  • Repeat for pre-determined number of repetitions

Please see related articles, Get Stronger with Isometric Exercises and Add Isometric Exercises to Your Training Regimen.


Your thoughts?

The Case for Creatine

20 Jul

gnc%20creatine[1]Muscles are made of protein, so it’s important — especially for active individuals and athletes — to get enough of this nutrient.

Creatine is an endogenous (made by the body) substance that is present in every human cell. It functions as an energy storehouse.

Creatine is best known for supplying energy for muscles during short, intense bursts of exercise, as are necessary for most (speed and power) sports. Since creatine may improve muscle mass, rather than muscle efficiency, it’s usually not taken by most endurance athletes. There are various theories about the use of an initial “loading period” (up to 20 grams per day for several days), but most experts agree on a smaller, daily maintenance dose, usually 2 to 5 grams per day.

Creatine is one of only two (caffeine) supplements documented to improve athletic performance.  Several studies support that creatine improves performance of single or repetitive bouts of short-duration, high-intensity activity and/or exercise.  Therefore, it may be most beneficial for athletes engaging in speed and power sports. There are a few studies that suggest that elite athletes may not benefit from creatine supplementation as much as lesser-trained individuals do.

When used in accordance with appropriate dosage guidelines, creatine appears to be safe and effective for most people. Individuals with existing kidney disease should not use creatine. The most commonly reported side effects of creatine are diarrhea and muscle cramping, which seem more likely to occur with higher levels of supplementation.

Please see related posts:

Is Creatine for You?

Creatine Before or After Your Workout

Recommended Supplements, Part 4: Creatine


Your thoughts?

Skill is Good, Will is Better

17 Jul

isAbility is awesome.  Skill is splendid.  Talent is terrific.

But without the will to succeed — the will to win — talent, alone, will only take you so far.

The world is littered with talented (but complacent) people who have never realized their potential because they lack something else.

That “something else” is a long list of intangible qualities that successful people have, that includes (but is not limited to):

  • Ambition
  • Dedication
  • Desire
  • Determination
  • Energy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Hustle
  • Passion
  • Perseverance
  • Persistence
  • Work ethic

The will to succeed can compensate for shortcomings in talent and skill; but talent and skill won’t overcome a lack of ambition and desire.

I’ll take the person with less talent, who wants to — and works to — maximize his or her own potential, over the talented but complacent, unmotivated individual, any and every day.

What are you going to do to be your best today?


Your thoughts?

Accept Your Role (but keep working)

15 Jul

San Antonio SpursWhat’s your role on your team?

Are you a starter, or do you come off the bench?

Do you play lots of minutes, or just a few?

Now the important question, especially if your role is not aligned with your aspirations:  How do you handle it?

How is your attitude and body language?  What are you projecting to your teammates and coaches?

Your role on your team — and your contribution — may not be exactly what you’ve envisioned, but it’s important to accept your role.

That doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it or satisfied with it; nor does it mean you should resign yourself to believing there’s nothing you can do to change it.

It does mean, however, that you must do your best to avoid negativity — negative thoughts, words, and actions — that can disrupt and erode team chemistry.

That being said, if you have loftier goals than your current situation enables, don’t be complacent — keep working toward your dream.

Work hard at practice and push the teammate(s) playing in front of you.  Your efforts at practice can help make the whole team better, in addition to improving you.

Away from practice, continue to work hard — on your own — strengthening your individual skills.

Not everyone can (or will) be their team’s star player or MVP, but you do have the ability to be better tomorrow than you are today.


Your thoughts?

Muscle Recovery 101

13 Jul
Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey on Whole Grain Bread

Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey on Whole Grain Bread

The way exercise works is actually pretty simple.  Exercise helps stoke your body’s fat-burning and muscle-building capabilities.

The harder (and higher intensity at which) you train, the better response you get.  Moderate- to high-intensity exercise stimulates the mobilization of your fat stores (that means it gets fat out of “storage” and into the bloodstream where it can be used by the muscles as energy).

This effect can last up to 24 hours (some experts contend the effect lasts even longer) and allows you to burn more fat even when you’re not exercising.

After your workout, your body is hungry for and ready to convert consumed proteins into new muscle.  Depending on your strength and fitness goals, consuming the right nutrients after your workout can help you burn more fat and/or add more muscle.


Volumes of research prove that consuming carbohydrates within 30 minutes post-workout can stimulate muscle glycogen re-synthesis (energy, in the form of stored glucose, in your muscles).  This can help restore your muscles’ energy supplies for future workouts.


Equally as important, consuming protein, particularly its essential amino acids, immediately after and up to 3 hours post-workout provides the body with the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. When you combine carbs with protein after a workout, especially a prolonged, resistance training session, you can maximize the results of your strength training regimen.

POST-WORKOUT (Carb + Protein Combo) SNACKS

Here’s a short list of ideas for your next post-workout snack:

  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt with berries/fresh fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg and apple slices
  • Lean turkey/chicken breast sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce, tomato, and sliced avocado


Your thoughts?

Invest in YOU

10 Jul

conference-nsca-2013This week, I’m attending the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) National Conference.  It’s a great opportunity to improve myself through learning, networking, and professional development.

In essence, I’m investing in myself.

If you want to achieve, accomplish, or succeed, you’ll need to develop — and invest in — yourself.

Here are some ways you can invest in yourself.

Discover Your Strengths.  What are you doing when you’re at your best?

Set Goals and Review Your Progress to ensure that you’re on track to accomplish your goal(s).

Get a Mentor to give you objective guidance and perspective.

Develop Your Skills

  • Education – classes, degrees, certifications
  • Training – workshops, conferences, webinars
  • Knowledge – books, articles, blogs

Be Creative.  Try something new – some activity you haven’t explored before

Cultivate Your Mind and Body

  • Read
  • Be open-minded
  • Keep your mind active with word games and puzzles
  • Exercise regularly
  • Fuel your body with healthy foods
  • Allow for adequate rest and recovery
  • See your physician regularly, and when you’re sick
  • Wear clothes that make you feel confident and attractive

Be Thankful

Find Your Purpose.  What drives you?  Why do you do what you do?

Try to do at least one thing, every day, that makes you better and moves you closer to where you want to be.


Your thoughts?

Good Nutrition Doesn’t Have to be “All or Nothing”

8 Jul

8c08f343446b14128f6f9df8dd797ddb[1]Regular exercise is important, and good nutrition is its complement.  Both are equally important components in maintaining your fitness, health, and wellness.

And, while some may believe an extreme, fanatical approach to diet and nutrition is necessary to reach their goals, I do not.

People often feel overwhelmed with nutrition when they have an “all or nothing” mentality.  They feel that they must never ever eat anything “bad” for them or all of their efforts are ruined.

Free yourself of that thinking.  It’s impossible to never eat anything “bad” for us.  You are setting yourself up for failure with this mentality.  Balanced nutrition means eating foods that will be beneficial for your health most of the time, but also not feeling guilty when you occasionally eat something that may not be the best choice.


  • Eat based on your goals and your target (desired) weight
  • Eat a balance of lean protein, clean carbs, and healthy fats
  • Increase your daily protein consumption to about 0.6-0.8 grams for every pound of your desired body weight
  • Limit “junk food” calories to 10% of your total, daily caloric intake
  • If you over-indulge — quantity or quality — get back on track the next meal or the next day

Moderation is the key, but people may have different opinions regarding what is moderate.  Having ice cream once per day is not moderate.  Focus your daily meals and snacks on whole foods like lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Save the sweets — like ice cream — for special occasions.  You’ll enjoy it more this way because then it really is a treat.


Your thoughts?


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