Updated: Jan 25
I loved lifting in High School. Back in my day, we followed a "bigger stronger faster" manual that had us hitting 5, 3, 1 reps of the big lifts -- back squat, bench press, deadlift, power clean. I don't recall exactly how the scheme went but it was something like do 5 reps for a couple weeks, 3 reps for a couple weeks, then it was max out time.
For us football players that was a big deal. Our maxes for the four lifts would be written on the board, added up, and we'd be in a "club" -- the 750, 1000, 1250, or 1500 pound club -- and you'd get a corresponding t-shirt. I was in the 1000 pound club and o man did I want to be in the 1250 pound club.
I wanted it so bad that at a "lifting meet" (a couple local football coaches would get their teams together for a measuring contest) I severely injured my back doing squats and deadlifts. During a squat attempt (I honestly don't remember the weight, but I remember it being not my max weight), I felt a twinge in my low back and dumped the weight forward.
I didn't feel good about it, had never felt anything like that before, but wanted to keep going in the meet.
The next lift was deadlift. My first pull, something gave way, my back stiffened all the way up, and I shooting pain and numbness down my left leg. I tried resting, icing, and heat -- the standard procedure of that time.
Eventually, I got an MRI. It revealed a herniated disc in my spine. That made sense because I couldn't sit or stand for 15 minutes without my back cramping, my leg going numb, and being in a lot of uncomfortable pain.
I didn't play football my Junior year because of the injury. I couldn't even watch practice because there was no comfortable way for me to stand. After 10 minutes, my back would hurt; I'd try sitting on the ground, and it would hurt more.
Obviously, I don't know how my life would have turned out had I played my junior year. It's not like I was getting recruiting letters as a sophomore, but maybe I would have gone on to play in college. Maybe nothing would have changed. Who knows?
BUT HERE IS HOW THAT EXPERIENCE AFFECTS ME AS A COACH TODAY
High school athletes need a strength coach, just as bad as they need a sport coach.
Freshman can't be doing the same thing as seniors, especially if they've never lifted before. The strength coach should be knowledgeable about human mechanics, physiology, psychology, not to mention programming and not just the buddy of the coach who lifts a lot.
Hammer the fundamentals of movement before trying to max out.
Setting up good movement patterns from the start will advance their training. Let's say there is a D lineman and an O lineman that weigh the same, the D lineman has a crappy 400 pound back squat, the O lineman has a beautiful 300 pound squat. Odds are, the O lineman will house the D lineman because the O lineman can better recruit strength in an advantageous position. Going for one rep maxes without the fundamentals is a recipe for disaster -- take it from me.
Program for Long-Term Growth, Not Short Term Gainz
I want to program for the WHOLE athlete, not to just hit numbers. Freshman can't be doing the same thing as the seniors. Younger athletes need a program to develop muscle memory -- time under tension, isometrics, concentrics, eccentrics -- and MUSCLE -- classic hypertrophy work of fewer sets and more reps. More advanced lifters need to develop explosiveness now that they've got the movement pattern and base of mass on them. That means more sets and fewer reps of more compound movements. It means having a different program when you're in season versus out of season. It means doing unconventional lifts like stone carries, truck pushes, tire flips, sled drags that will put on muscle WITHOUT putting the athlete at risk of injury. It means having different volume of exercises and being smart about to not OVERTRAIN in the off-season. All athletes should be doing core work and accessory work. All athletes need to do mobility work as well.
Looking to take your high school athlete's lifting game to the next level? Want to make sure they're getting properly coached and not just hyped up and injured? Want to see them increase their chance for playing in college, for the University of Tennessee Volunteers or the Vanderbilt Commodores? Get your athlete the best coaching in Nashville. Contact me today!!