Keeping your athletes motivated is one of the hardest things to do as a strength coach. One of the best ways to do this is to make the atmosphere in the weight room fun. This doesn’t mean that you give your athletes the day off or let them watch “Wedding Crashers” during a workout. But you will be surprised at the positive response from your athletes when you train them in a more competitive, exciting atmosphere. Here are ten ways to make your weight room more fun.

1.   Let them listen to their own music in the weight room. Of course, music tastes may vary greatly among your athletes, but work something out where each of the genres of music is represented. A disc changer set at random is a great idea.

2.   Make charts of their max effort work, and hang them on the wall. This should not be an Excel sheet but some type of record board. You might use weight classes or positions.

3.   Set up teams for max effort work, and add the best maxes together. The highest number wins. For example, if you are doing pin pulls, and there are five kids on one team who lift 225, 275, 315, 405, and 495, add them up and compare their totals to the other groups. The key is to try and match them as close as you can so they have to work and set PR's to win.

4.   Same as the above, but use total reps instead. For example, pick a weight for dumbbell presses and have them do three sets to failure. The kid who gets the highest reps wins. Have them take turns with their sets so that they’re always trying to beat the others’ best set on their next one. We used to do this all the time at Westside. This is where we got the three sets of 20 reps on the stability ball, and why we use five-minute rest periods. It would take that long for the other guys to do their set. We would track the reps on a dry erase board. This also works well for push-ups and other high rep movements.

5.   Have your kids train their speed work in groups (2–3 for the squat and 3–5 for the bench). Make each kid responsible for one aspect of the lift. For example, on the bench press, one kid would be responsible for verbally encouraging bar speed while another would be responsible for making sure the lifter keeps their ass on the bench. Group speed training is very important because the emotional drive increases with each kid. Try to pair them up based on strength so that there are fewer weight changes between sets.

6.   Use lactic acid tolerance training. Pair up two kids of the same strength and have them do back to back sets of speed squats or benches. The goal is to see who lasts the longest. The rest between sets should be 30–45 seconds for the first 5–6 sets, and then encourage them to get back under the bar as soon as the other guy is done.

I remember a Friday squat session with Chuck many years ago the day before a meet. Louie, Chuck, and I were the only ones in the gym, and the monolift was broken down and on its way to the meet. We were not lifting in the meet but had to get some type of squat training in. We were using 405 out of the power rack. After the first few sets, I felt very good so I began to push Chuck. As soon as he finished his set, I would be at the bar. We were so fast that as soon as he took his last hand off the bar my first hand was on it. We went back to back this way (rest periods had to be around 20 seconds) for 15 sets. It looked like Chuck was beginning to die out so I started to run my mouth, which wasn’t easy to do because I could barely breath. On Chuck’s next set, he absolutely killed the weight. This fired me up, and we went on for another ten sets. At this point, I asked Chuck if he was done yet. His response: “Only if you are,” and then went on to kill the weight. After the thirtieth set, I knew I was screwed. I was seeing stars, could not breath, had a cramped back, and felt like I was going to die. I made the next set but hated every second of it. At this point I had to pull out. There was no way I was going to beat him. He was not even close to his best shape, and he totally kicked my ass. He then did a set of five to teach me a lesson. Although I got beat and almost died in the process, it was as Jim would say “good times” and a session I will remember for the rest of my life. Of course Louie loved every set of it.

7.   Have special “take a weight” days. I also hated these at Westside. They would always happen during a holiday, and some of the night crew would come in and train with us in the morning. They would always be some type of max effort movement like pin pulls or pulling off matts. We would only be doing them for a week or so when Louie would tell us “Hey, next Monday we are going to max out on pin pulls.” Regardless if you were hurt, in shape, or anything else, you were doing it. We would all get together and see who could hold their own. We never knew when this was going to happen, and it is still one of the best things we do. It mentally makes the lifter stronger.

8.   When doing speed work, if it looks like one kid is having a bad day, have the other kid begin to work up and call him out. Either he will hang or pull out. Most of the time, the kid will get the stick out of his ass, and have a good day.

9.   Have the athletes try to get in as many reps as they can in a set period of time. This is more for accessory work than for max effort or speed work. Set a time of five minutes (does not really matter), and have each kid do as many as they can in that time frame. The only rule is that they are not allowed to set the bar down for longer than 15 seconds.

10. Create different classes for them to try and achieve. In powerlifting, we have classes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, masters, and elite. Our total determines where we rank, and the goal of all lifters is to move to the next class up. You do not have to use max lifts for your classes, and you should select movements and skills that you feel are relative to your athletes and your own training philosophy.

Keep in mind that this is just a short list. Talk to other coaches and lifters, and see what they are doing. When trying to make the weight room fun, remember that it is not always 100 percent about the science of the training. Some of these things may not fit what some coaches would feel is the right thing to do. However, if you are not having fun, then what’s the point of training? It is also important to not over do it. Many of these suggestions are very intense and taxing on the system. If you use them too much, they won’t be as fun, and they will lose their training effect. Some are also designed with the intent to make the lifter mentally stronger. These are the ones you have to control the most because they really only offer limited training value outside of mental toughness. They will wear the kids out big time. Too many coaches use toughness training too often. It’s easy to wear a kid out but a totally different thing to make them stronger.