Build More than Muscle and Strength in Your High School Weight Room

TAGS: high school football, football training, youth sports

Over the past eight years, I've traveled to help build our high school football weight room and my gym, Daman’s Strength Training. My quest in my early travels was to help better structure our high school weight room. I wanted to help our athletes get the most out of the time and hard work they put in. I wanted to build more off of what had been built in the past. The past did very well and it helped me continue the success in the weight room. This eventually turned into me finally going after my dream and opening up my own gym.

Each and every year, high school coaches of all sports, especially football, attend clinics and seminars to learn new offenses, defense schemes, and special teams and better prepare during the season. What they forget the most is the off-season training. The off-season will help you better guide your in-season success. I've had the opportunity to meet some strength coaches from New Jersey, California, Seattle, New York, and Kansas, to name a few. What we spoke about is that the majority of high school football teams have poorly structured off-season training programs. These poorly structured off-season programs begin with little supervision. The weight room should begin with structure. You need to have coaches who are willing to invest their time to help make the athletes better. And I don’t mean lifting with them. Your high school days are over!

It seems like they're all carbon copies of one another. The coaches don’t hold the athletes accountable for getting into the weight room on time. They allow them to miss training sessions, yet they don’t play any other sport. There isn't any coaching/teaching of technique and proper movements. Would you structure your practices this way? If you have problems with your athletes during the season and they don’t want to put the work and effort in, maybe you need to think about what you aren't doing during the off-season. The workouts never really have a rhyme or reason. They max kids out every 3–4 weeks on the bench, squat, and deadlift. Basically, these high school athletes are being put in an unsupervised weight room.

This is a dangerous situation!!

I was fortunate to have a head football coach who had a structured weight room and held you accountable. We went on to win a state championship going 15-0!

Here is another non-structured high school weight room.

Somebody’s in trouble!!

I'm not trying to offend anyone or any team. I'm just simply stating that this happens in schools and during off-season training. I’ve seen it. I hear about it from the athletes at my gym and other strength coaches tell me the same stories. If your son plays high school football and goes to the weight room to work out, you might want to check it out to see what goes on while he's training. Hopefully, your son has a great staff who put in the time and effort!

A big issue that I always hear is that coaches make all new athletes max out when they enter the weight room. They max out on the bench, squat, and deadlift. I fell victim to this when I first started and quickly got out of it. I knew there was a better way. I messed with percentage charts, matching reps with a certain weight to guide the athletes to a close max. Then I realized that it doesn't matter how much they lift if they all have poor form. I thought the most basic movement would help improve all athletes. I started with body weight squats, push-ups, and light trap bar work. I kept a close eye and charted each athlete.

This is how I worked with athletes on the squat. As technique improved, I gradually worked them into the barbell squat. Some athletes might not make it there during the first year in the weight room. It’s totally OK. I just keep making them better and stronger. This is after they mastered body weight squats, kettlebell goblet squats, and safety bar squats. I keep mixing up the different squat movements. These are just basic progressions. Keep working basic movements, keep reinforcing technique, and keep them accountable for making each and every workout.

Once they go to the barbell squat, I keep adding weight as long as they maintain form and strength. The turnover from the progressions was always huge. The athletes knew the movement and felt confident with the bar on their backs. Put your athletes in the position to get better. Just because they don’t come back to do your workouts doesn’t mean that they don’t like lifting. They might not be seeing any results and could just be bored.

How can you work with maximal weight when you were never taught the proper technique? We don’t tell offensive linemen to just go block. We coach them on technique, which makes them better. But when a new athlete walks into the weight room, the coaches instantly make them max out. They seem to think that a percentage is a must. Rethink who you are putting under the bar and think about how to get them there through progressions.

A structured off-season training program will do wonders for your in-season success. Since 1991, our high school football program has appeared in eleven WPIAL championship games—nine in the last 14 years and six PIAA championships. The off-season training program has always been a staple to the success on the field. The weight room isn't for every athlete and quite frankly shouldn’t be. The weight room is where you build team camaraderie. You might have to kick kids out. In some of the videos, the coaches should be kicked out. High school coaches need to invest more time in learning how to structure and run a proper training program. I've talked to many coaches who are willing to take advice and guidance. The other half feels that you are intruding on their team and that what they do is already good enough. I've heard this 1000 times: “We’ve been doing it our way since the 70s.” We coach high school sports because we enjoy being around the kids, helping to guide them, and hopefully teaching life lessons.

Here are your top three “stick to your guns” weight room rules:

1. Set a standard for time, arrival, and cancellation if athletes are going to miss or be late. If an athlete arrives late, send him home. If he misses a workout, he can come back next week. The athletes will see that you are serious and other athletes will respect the weight room.

2. Start on time. The workout starts on time and as a team. Nothing is to be done on your own or on your own time. This creates individuals. Keep a set time. Don’t change the time to better accommodate the athletes. The weight room is run on your time.

3. Respect the weight room. Everyone puts weights back and gets the weight room ready for the next workout. Speak to your athletes about progress and bring out the best in each athlete. Make the weight room a competitive environment.

I had a formula when I ran our high school weight room and it was bulletproof. Don’t get me wrong—it takes time, but if you're willing to invest the time, you will love the results. It took me two full years to get the weight room where it needed to be. I made many mistakes, put together terrible workouts, and struggled with getting our athletes better at times. I was always willing to make myself better to get our athletes where they needed to be for the season. It didn’t matter if I had training at 7:00 a.m. All the athletes were there on time. They respected the weight room and saw results. They were hooked on getting better. Sometimes you may have to cut the dead weight and get rid of potential athletes who are holding the other 10–20 kids back.

I stuck to my rules and those football players respected the weight room and learned the importance of hard work. I coached them on technique, held them accountable, created an irresistible environment, and made them believe in themselves in terms of strength and mental toughness. Put them in a position to win!

Yep, this happens!

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