Training High School Athletes

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This past spring, I was given the opportunity to speak to some athletes at my old high school.  I talked about my high school and college athletic experiences as well as my time in the weight room.  One of the most asked questions throughout the day was “What would you have done differently, if you knew what you know now?”  And though I answered the question as best I could, I couldn’t help but rethink the question over and over.  I trained very hard as a high school athlete and also made a huge amount of mistakes.  Though I learned a great deal from them, there is no reason why others should have to make the same mistakes I did.  Here are some things that I would have done differently as well as some mistakes that I see other high school athletes make.

  1. Train the Core.  Fortunately I had a coach that stressed this to me.  Unfortunately I never listened.  I found ab work a chore and since the low back wasn’t a bodybuilder muscle, I could’ve cared less.  But if there were one thing that would have made the greatest difference to me, it would have been to strengthen my core. I’ve had to play catch up ever since.  In any sport, at any level, male or female, the basis of strength lies in your posterior chain. As I’ve brought up this weakness, not only have I become stronger, but also I have a better awareness of my body.
  2. Don’t Train Like College Athletes.  Many times high school coaches will turn towards the local university for guidance on strength training.  Many times the coach will copy the workout and apply it verbatim to the athletes.  The problem with this is that most college programs are based on a fairly accurate one-rep max for an experienced lifter.  While this can work for a one-sport college athlete, it does not work well in a high school situation.  Do you remember how much your strength improved in the first few years of high school?  A high school freshman can improve his squat by over 100lbs. in one year.  I believe that for a high school athlete a program based on rep records and constant improvement, with variation is the key.  While talking to college coaches can be very informative, make sure that you take in consideration the vast difference between the two athletes.
  3. Form Before Weight.  I believe that this is the responsibility of the coach, as it is hard to expect a young athlete to take weight off the bar.  Learn how to lift and the big weights will follow.  Whenever I read of high school football players that squat over 600lbs. I rarely believe it, unless it was done at a credible powerlifting meet.  A 400lbs. squat at or below parallel is much more impressive than a quarter squat of 550.
  4. Build Hamstrings.  I rarely did hamstring work, mainly because I couldn’t see them in the mirror.  Hamstring strength is crucial if you want to be a better athlete and a few sets of leg curls will not cut it.  If you don’t have access to a glute-ham machine, partner leg curls will suffice.  Again, squatting to at least parallel is also crucial to hamstring development as are good mornings and reverse hypers.
  5. Participate in Other Sports.  I find the recent trend of one-sport specialization ludicrous.  Not only does it become boring, but competing in other sports will actually make for a better overall athlete.  Michael Yessis, in “Secrets of Soviet Sports Fitness and Training” states that “Sport scientists…have also found that athletes can benefit from participating in sports other than the one in which they specialize.  By doing so, they can tap a broader array of physiological skills, as well as take advantage of a psychologically relaxing diversion.”  He states that weightlifters would play volleyball for a warm-up and wrestlers would often play basketball.
  6. Don’t Buy into Supplements.  I’ve paid the “Joe Weider Tax” and it isn’t fun.  I never want to see the amount of money that I’ve wasted on supplements.  The depression would be too great.  It’s easy to fall for the advertisements in magazines that state “Our brand works 1000% better!”  What does that mean?  Do I get 1000% stronger?  The ads are slick and the models that are used make it incredibly appealing.  Unfortunately, it takes more than some creatine and “Super-Andro-Megastack Heavy Duty Mass Maker 2000” to gain strength.  A basic multi-vitamin and perhaps some protein power are as fancy as you should get. Get your diet and training in order.
  7. The Weight Will Come.  The second most asked question during my stay at my high school was “How do I gain weight?”  I had the same question at that age and believe me, be careful what you wish for.  It is hard to for most kids to understand that their metabolism is running on overdrive.  First, if you miss workouts, don’t expect to get bigger. Second, I question how much they really eat.  Most people underestimate their total food intake and think that a huge dinner will make up for it.  If you are really serious about gaining weight, make it a priority and make eating as important as your training.  You may be surprised at the results.
  8. Don’t be a Bodybuilder.  Like many, my first introduction to lifting was through Arnold.  I received a book detailing all the fancy exercises and how to shape the delts, and achieve the “stunning sweep of the outer thigh.”  While I did take some information from the book, training for athletics is a different animal.  Many times, I read magazines that detailed some pro bodybuilders program and tried to apply them to my training.  Not only are these workouts an inflation of some ghostwriter’s ego; they have little application to athletics.  I’d much rather be All-State in my given sport than have the largest peak on my biceps.
  9. Don’t Overtrain.  This is perhaps the biggest mistake being made.  I remember working out 7 days/week for at least 2 hours a day and maxing out everyday.  The enthusiasm was noble, but the training was stupid.  It’s easier for a young person to make gains and handle such an insane volume, but a beginner will make gains with just about any program.  If you are spending more than 3-4 hours a week in the weight room you are either making friends or neglecting other portions of your training.
  10. Train the entire body.  In high school, I was hell-bent on getting a big squat and clean.  So all I did was squat and clean. Even though these exercises are good selections for an athlete, I completely ignored my upper body, abs and lower back.  For most athletes, the situation is reversed, but the point is that the entire body must be trained.  Does this mean one exercise for each muscle? No.  But make yourself a complete lifter.
  11.  Start Today.  I find it strange to see a college football player miss workouts, have a poor attitude in the weight room and not care about his training, but once the senior season is over; he suddenly commits himself to training for the NFL scouts.  All of a sudden he’s concerned with his diet and his 225 bench test and hires an elaborate personal trainer. What has he been doing for the past 4 or 5 years?   It’s easy for a young person to think that 4 years is a long time, but get started today on training.  Don’t put it off.  You’ll be that much more ahead of your competition.

 

Many of these ideas are simple and basic, but I know that they would have helped a great deal if I’d read them while I was in high school.  If you are a high school athlete, do yourself a favor and learn from those who were there and made mistakes.  On a last note, I can’t underestimate the importance of educating yourself as an athlete.  If you are truly committed to being a college or pro athlete, understand why you are doing what you are doing.  Don’t be afraid to try some new ideas out and expand your thinking.  If you are scared to think outside the box, you may be limiting your potential and your playing time.


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