The High School Odyssey

TAGS: power squats, caleb, high school, kettlebell, ssb, wendler, training

About 12 weeks ago, I started training with a local football player, Caleb Sexton. At 6’3”, he is a 16-year-old sophomore at London High School and plays defensive tackle. His mother knew my wife and asked if I could help him out. I was a little reluctant with this idea because, with a full-time job and a family, my free time isn’t abundant anymore. The only way I could do this is to allow him to work out during my training time, which was quite challenging at first. However, I have found this experience to be rewarding for both him and me, and Caleb has made great progress.

Below is an outline of what we do and how we do it.

Typical training day

Dynamic warm-up

·        Jumping jacks

·        Pogos

·        Flings

·        Star jumps

·        Bodyweight squats

·        KB swings

·        Arm swings

or

·        Sled drag (110 lbs for a total of 250 yards; this is a mix of forward and backward dragging)

Mobility work

·        Leg swings (front/back)

·        Leg swings (side/side)

·        Hurdle step over

Stretching

·        Static hip flexor stretch

·        Static calf stretch

Ab/low back training

·        Pick one exercise for low back and abs and perform 2–3 sets of 10–20 reps (for example, Caleb would do incline sit-ups and pull thrus)

Weight training

Core lifts. Our major lifts are parallel squat, bench press, and trap bar deadlift. We also perform safety squat bar squats, front squats, overhead squats, three-board presses, and deadlifts. We cycle these fairly frequently, and we do what I feel Caleb can handle both physically and mentally. We work in four-week mini-cycles with 75 percent of his lifts falling between 80–95 percent. This doesn’t account for down sets, which I use frequently to build muscle mass, work on form, and provide a challenge and gut check.

While we don’t always perform down sets, they helped Caleb build quite a bit of muscle. More importantly, they dramatically changed his attitude and perception of what was possible, helping him step up and conquer challenges. We only performed the down sets when I felt Caleb was mentally and physically prepared. I determined this by posing a series of questions before and during a workout about school, the tests he was taking, his girlfriend, sleep patterns, etc. This is my really cheap version of the Omega Wave. During lifts that I knew he could perform, I watched his form and ease of movement. Also, I changed some of his “down sets” to “up sets” by increasing the bar weight.

We didn’t perform any sets to failure to ensure that his form was never compromised. All of his percents are based on a max that he can easily perform any day of the week. This method will allow him to make steady but small progress over a long period of time. It also allowed him to make progress when he wasn’t feeling well. If he was feeling great, I had the flexibility to increase his bar weight so he could set new personal records.

We perform two major lifts a day.

Assistance lifts. Assistance lifts are a major component in Caleb’s training. They consist of single leg variations (lunges and one-leg squats), leg presses, power squats, Romanian deadlifts, 45-degree back raises, various kettlebell work, band good mornings, sit-ups, hanging leg raises, leg raises, and side bends. For the upper body, we do a lot of lat and upper back work as well as dumbbell rows, chest supported rows, shrugs, push-ups, dumbbell work (flat, incline, military), bent over lateral raises, and whatever curl and tricep movements he wants to do. When we first began training, I told him what to do. Now (and I do this so he learns how to train himself), I allow him to pick the exercises and choose the sets and reps. I feel this is the greatest gift that I can give him.

We perform 4–6 assistance lifts per day.

Major hurdles to overcome

Several things needed to be addressed in Caleb’s training. He lacked general conditioning, he had poor abdominal and low back strength, and he lacked upper and lower body strength. He needed work with basically everything!

Because his squat form was poor and his knees buckled whenever there was any considerable weight on the bar, we did not squat for the first six weeks. Instead, I had to find a way to load his legs without squatting. I increased his leg strength with sled dragging, bodyweight squats, lunges, one-leg squats, and leg presses. We did one of these every training day. We still keep these exercises in the program, but not in the same amount as before.

Caleb couldn’t do a push-up when we started, and wasn’t strong enough to hold himself up. This was due to a lack of both upper body strength and low back/abdominal strength. We combated this with elevated push-ups (done with a bar set on safety pins in a power rack), various pressing work (bench, incline, etc.), and mid-section work. After 12 weeks, he was able to perform three sets of 15 push-ups.

Progress so far

Caleb’s progress has been amazing. He shows incredible dedication, never misses a workout, and always shows up on time. In addition, he comes in with a passion and desire to succeed. The numbers below show his progress over a period of approximately 12 weeks of training here at the Compound.

Trap bar deadlift

·        Before: Didn’t have enough mobility to even pick up the bar. Once we got him to do it, he did 225 x 1.

·        After: 300 x 3

Bench press

·        Before: 185 x 3

·        After: 225 x 4

Squat

·        Before: n/a, couldn’t squat 95 lbs to parallel

·        After: three sets of five reps at 225 below parallel

Bodyweight

·        Before: 265

·        After: 290

I’m not sure of Caleb’s body fat, but he is certainly leaner. His midsection has gotten noticeably smaller, his shoulders and upper back are bigger, and his legs have gotten thicker.

I think Caleb has made remarkable progress, and as stated before, most of it is his doing. Not only does he come to every workout with a great attitude, but he has been a great training partner. Along with Matt, Caleb has made the last few months of training some of the best of my life. While his leg strength is not where I would like it to be, the most important thing is that he is making progress. That is all I ask for. I am not one for putting stock in numbers, and I don’t care whether or not he benches a certain amount or squats 500. The only thing I’m after is getting him to be a better football player. For him, this means getting stronger, getting faster, and gaining mobility so that he can perform optimally. I’ll let the sport coaches take care of the rest.

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