Training the High School Powerlifter

TAGS: mcmullin, gaining weight, coach, high school, strength, training

Having been head coach of the Warren Central powerlifting team for almost ten years, I can tell you without hesitation that training teenagers has to be one of the most frustrating, and at the same time, rewarding jobs of my life. Many of the guys I have coached came into our weight room as freshmen having never even seen a weight only to leave after their four years having won district, region, and even some state titles. The frustration comes from seeing some guys have great talent but end up a memory simply because they couldn’t handle the expectations of our program. In the following article, I will discuss the ways we set up our training and my philosophy on training.

Per our state high school association rules, we can’t start training as a team until the end of October. Because usually about 5–8 of my lifters play football and their season usually isn’t over until early to mid-November, I usually start practices with about five lightweights (114–148 lbs). These guys don’t participate in any other sports, so it gives me time to work on their technique on each lift before the older guys come in and one-on-one training becomes a little harder.

Our basic training cycle lasts about 14–16 weeks, depending on when the football playoffs end for us. Because our training room is small, we divide up into two groups. The seniors come in during the last period of the day, and the underclassmen come in after school. This has its good and bad points. The upside is it allows for a little more individual coaching, especially if someone is having trouble on a lift. The downside is we aren’t able to all train together as a team. As a coach, you want your team to build a certain chemistry, no matter what sport you coach. But I can tell you that come meet time, everything comes together.

Our first four weeks of training are usually done without gear. Because some of our younger lifters may have never even lifted before, I try to really work on technique with them. This also helps the older guys who may have some aches and pains from the football season to slowly work their way back into lifting shape. I try and stay around four sets of 5–10 reps with light to medium loads, and I stress perfect form. This is probably the most important thing for young lifters. If their form is bad and nothing is done to correct it, progress will be slow, they will get frustrated, and potential injuries can and probably will occur.

We start getting into our suits about 12 weeks out from our district meet, which is usually in mid-February. A usual training week breaks down into four days—Monday is our squat day, Tuesday is our bench day, Thursday is deadlift day, and Friday is conditioning day for the ones who aren’t in football. Because our time is limited, I try to keep the training to big, multi-joint movements. For example, on our squat days, we include reverse hyperextensions, kettlebell swings, and ab and hamstring work. We usually only have 45 minutes to an hour, so we’re constantly moving from one thing to another without any real breaks.

I’ve based my training philosophy on several different things. Much of what we do is based on Westside and Louie Simmons. Our squat and deadlift training is pretty standard Westside Barbell. We rotate our exercises in three-week waves based on how close we are to a meet. Our deadlift exercises consist of deficit deadlifts off of 100s, reverse band deadlifts, and full range deadlifts. The guys really like the reverse band deadlifts. That and the kettlebell work really pushed our deadlift last season

I set up the bands in our rack about halfway and double them so that they only help about the first inch or so. Then the guys are locking the weight out with no help at the top. Our squat day is a little different in that instead of changing the exercise every week, I change the band tension or chain weight every week. We use a regular three-week wave, increasing each week and then dropping back down.

Our bench training is different in that under our state high school association rules (basic USAPL rules), we aren’t allowed to use bench shirts. We still switch our exercises each week for three weeks, but we concentrate on lower work for the chest one week, lockout work the second week, and then full range the third week. The main exercises we use are 1- and 2-board presses, reverse band benches, and finally regular full range bench presses. This really worked great last year. My 275-lb guy benched 345 lbs in the state meet and should break the 6A state record (380 lbs) this year. My 220-lb guy hit 325 lbs easy and should be close to 350 lbs by this year’s state meet.

Finally, let me caution coaches about your lifters cutting or gaining weight. The problem with kids cutting weight is pretty obvious. My rule on this is if they are within a pound or so of making their class, we can try and make an effort. If not, you weren’t mentally tough enough to get that taken care of in the time leading up to the meet, so tough luck for you.

As far as gaining weight, I had a 181-lb guy about two years ago who wanted to gain up to 198 lbs. We had seen the results from the other region meet and he had little chance of qualifying for the state meet at 181 lbs but qualify could pretty easily at 198 lbs. So no big deal I thought. The day of the meet, he was still about four pounds off, so he ate a big breakfast and started drinking water and Gatorade on the way to the meet. You can probably guess, but as soon as he had started to step up on the scale, he blew chunks all over me and the head judge. Nasty! Because we had spent the night before, I had brought a change of clothes. The judge wasn’t that lucky. He was so mad that he went outside and punched a hole in a Coke machine. Needless to say, I try not to let guys gain weight the day of a meet anymore or at least I stay away from them when they are weighing in.

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