The Problem with High School Strength and Conditioning Programs

25 Aug

I am blessed with the opportunity to work with several area high school sports programs as a Strength & Conditioning coach/consultant, in the areas of program design, instruction, and supervision.  I have also observed dozens of area high school Strength & Conditioning programs.

Outside of the high school weight room, I train scores of student-athletes, at my facility, who are “products” of their high school Strength & Conditioning programs.  Unfortunately, most of what I observe is subpar – “under-strong” kids (given their size, age, and training experience), poor technique, and lack of appropriate supervision and direction.

Based on my experience and observation – and discussions with hundreds of high school athletes, parents, and coaches – here are some of the problems with high school Strength & Conditioning programs:

Lack of Knowledge

Strength & Conditioning is not rocket science, but it is (or should be) exercise science and training should be evidence-based.  A background that includes foundational exercise science and practical application/exercise technique should be a requirement.

Lack of Credentials/Qualifications

Most of the folks working with our high school athletes, in the area of Strength & Conditioning, do not have the experience or expertise required for the job.  Qualified individuals should have an educational background that includes exercise science; and certification, such as Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), from a nationally/internationally accredited organization like the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Inadequate Program Design/Management

Designing and managing a high school Strength & Conditioning program requires more than YouTube, Google, and other programs’ training templates.  There are several factors – including energy systems, demands and movement patterns of the sport, etc. that must be taken into consideration.  I know of a program that chose athletes’ exercise loads based on their ages.

Inefficient Time Management

Too little work and too much rest.  Lots of standing around watching, waiting, and socializing.

Inadequate Supervision/Instruction

Ratio of trainers to athletes is way too low, especially for sports with big numbers, like football.  Last year, I was in a high school weight room working with the girls basketball team (about a dozen players), and the freshman football team was also training – 40 kids, one coach (who spent the entire session sitting at a desk reading the newspaper).  I think I spent more time instructing, demonstrating, and correcting the football players than I did working with girls basketball players.

One Size Fits All

This one, admittedly, is a challenge, but it’s possible to develop an appropriate and productive program for all the sports programs at a school.  I’ve known of programs who use stuff like P90X or Insanity to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  This would be a great strategy if the high school football team consisted of adult men and women trying to improve their level of fitness.

Lack of Proper Warmup

Very little time spent doing programmed, dynamic (movement-based) warmup exercises.  Too many programs still warming up by stretching, and even doing very little of that.

Inadequate Periodization

Very few programs take into account training phases (off-season, pre-season, in-season) and, if they do, their training plans rarely address the needs (and challenges) of these phases.  Many programs have no plan whatsoever for the in-season (maintenance) phase.

No Real Plan for Progression

Most programs don’t have a good plan for making their programs progressive (increasing intensity) because they don’t understand the rules and guidelines that govern this process.  The NSCA has a “2 + 2” rule that is physiologically appropriate and can simplify the process.

Poor Understanding of Energy System Training

The energy system demands of the sport must be taken in to consideration when designing a Strength & Conditioning program.  Power sports require programming that incorporates short bursts of high-intensity activity, while endurance sports programs have different needs.  I know of several area basketball and volleyball programs whose cardio-metabolic training and fitness testing consists of a mile run.  Think about the demands and movement patterns of those two sports (especially volleyball) and let that sink in for a moment…

Inappropriate Exercise Selection

I’m not sure how some of these programs choose their athletes’ exercises.  Most of these programs pay little attention to areas like joint stability, landing mechanics, and overall injury prevention.  Focus on opposing muscle groups is often overlooked (for example, many programs love exercises like squats and leg presses, but pay little attention to posterior chain – glute/hamstring – development).

Poor Technique

Unfortunately, you have to know and understand (and be able to instruct, demonstrate, and correct) proper technique to be able to appropriately coach it.  I train lots of athletes who come to me with poor exercise technique (arching the back on the bench press, poor squatting mechanics, etc.) – which can be dangerous – who tell me their form is taught and encouraged by their coaches.

Poor Nutrition Education and Monitoring

Strength & Conditioning and nutrition should be connected.  Sports nutrition should be taught and viewed as something that complements and enhances the athletes’ training.

Adversarial Relationship

This is one of the most troubling aspects, for me.  It’s almost as if the coaches don’t – or refuse to – acknowledge that we are on the same “team.”  Our goal – to create a better student-athlete – should be aligned.  It’s disappointing to me when coaches disparage my training and discourage their athletes from participating in it.  Sadly, I think control plays a large part in this situation.  Communication and collaboration can improve this process.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

Your thoughts?

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