Summary Of My January 2015 Workshop: Strength Training For Prep-Athletes…

Summary of my upcoming Workshop.  January 24th, 2015 11:00am.  Nederland Community Center.

“The car with most, and the hardest miles on it will likely go to the junkyard first” Jhciacb

Pet Peeves…

Throughout this workshop I will site multiple instances of how sports conditioning for prep athletes is too often in the hands of people who teach without thinking, teach without knowing, and teach without caring. It is my intent to incorporate a new aspect into strength and conditioning at the prep level; mindfulness.

Analogous to blind leadership and blind following in religion, the culture of strength and conditioning for teenage athletes is a telephone game of a monkey-see monkey-do culture with little room for scientific thought, logic, or individuality. Both ego and ignorance are often at the root of bad strength and conditioning practices by prep sports leadership.

Though good science and practices exist at the highest levels of sport, its trickledown to student athletes at the prep level is almost non-existent. Much of what middle and high school athletes are taught and asked to do by their coaches is based on what those coaches were taught by their coaches, and by what they see other coaches doing with their athletes. To some degree, this also exists at the college level.

I cringe when I attend a prep basketball practice and see a coach take his players through a series of conditioning exercises. Knowing how to set a legal pick is one thing. Knowing proper hand and back placement for a pushup is another. Too often athletes and their parents assume that because a coach has lead a team to compete for a state title, they possess an inherent knowledge of exercise physiology. This is rarely the case.

Pursuit Of Better Performance vs. Injury Prevention…

Injuries as the result of strength and conditioning work by prep athletes in support of their given sport should never happen. Should. Never. Happen. Being sidelined by an unnecessary training injury may not only cost an athlete the chance to play, it might minimize his or her chances of playing at a higher level later in life. Notwithstanding, it may hinder them in some way physically, well into their adult life.

When teenage bodies are loaded, overloaded, and pushed to extreme levels of stress in pursuit of an increased physical capacity to support their sport, the opportunity to become injured in the course of the workout is greater. Unnecessary workout injuries take place every day across the country at the middle school and high school level.

I am of the perspective that strength and conditioning for prep athletes should take place primarily as a means of minimizing injury on the playing field, not in support of enhancing their given sport. This is a broad line, and is a controversial position within the strength and conditioning community. It is though, one I believe has a logical foundation.

For years the emphasis has been on creating bigger, stronger, and faster athletes. With the injury rate in all major prep sports being at an all-time high, one has to question more closely whether the practices used to create these athletes are in the athlete’s best interest.

Intentions Of The Weight Room…

Can the weight room help an underdeveloped upper body gain more power to enhance a hockey player’s slap shot…? Yes.

Should time in the weight room put that athlete at risk…? Never.

Too often though, it does. Coaches often use strength training movements based on excessive weights and an excessive volume of training with the belief that these are the exclusive means to increased power and strength.

I believe that for a player to shoot a better slap shot, he needs to practice his slap shot – with the highest level of concentration, consistently, and under the supervision of a skilled coach. Any support by way of the weight room should be reasonable, and not put the player at risk of injury.

In engineering, form follows function.  In strength training, function follows form... In strength training, function follows form...

In engineering, form follows function. In strength training, function follows form…

In engineering, form follows function.  In strength training, function follows form…

Is it possible to enhance athletic performance in the weight room without going to extreme measures…? Yes. Two of the more common traits coaches and parents wish to see developed in athletes are strength and power, both of which can be enhanced with almost no risk of injury. Power and strength can be trained for with exercises that use no momentum, thus minimizing the opportunity to become injured during the course of these exercises.

In the weight room or on the playing field, momentum is one aspect of nearly every injury. Other aspects of athletic injury include physical structure, leverage, and force. On the playing field, momentum, force, and leverage cannot be eliminated. In the weight room they can be managed. Prepare the physical structure (body) to be intact, eliminate momentum, use leverage intelligently, apply force with concentration, and a weight room injury is less likely.

Love Me Tendon…

Strength training done properly can enhance muscular strength. What goes largely unrecognized with strength training and unappreciated is, that strength training can also promote tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, become increasingly dense, and fuse muscles to bone – just above and just below our joints.

Having stronger tendons offers our joints greater support both on and off the playing field. Strength training movements practiced through a complete range of motion, and are executed slowly during the transition phase of any strength movement, strengthens tendons – thus supporting joints.

Strength training movements, when performed with a minimal amount of concentration or emphasis on form, carry an inherent risk. The example I most often site is that of a lunge. The protocol for a lunge to be done properly is complex. I often refer to movements such as lunges as a thinking person’s exercise. A good deal of thought and concentration are required to perform lunges safely and properly.

Another example I site is that of high repetition compound movements such as power cleans, deadlifts, and overhead presses. These movements emphasize the body’s power zones, but also draw from smaller supporting muscles. These supporting muscles are often not able to keep up with the larger profile musculature – they fatigue and give way sooner during higher repetitions. By give way I mean one of two outcomes: The most likely, that the athlete will stop the lift. Or less desired, that the smaller muscles will cramp and fail to function properly. In a worst case scenario, they can tear.


One trait that many student athletes possess is inconsistency in training. As surprising as this may sound, I often suggest to prep athletes that they not to include strength training as part of their conditioning if they can’t be reasonably consistent. Young muscles drifting back and forth between hypertrophy and atrophy are good targets for injury. Better they never enter the weight room than to go once or twice per month. This is especially true with younger athletes when bone density and musculature are not yet fully developed.

Flexibility Training…

Rather than having younger athletes move in rapid succession between sets of an exercise, and throughout a workout to enhance conditioning, I suggest a technique I call stresting in the weight room. This is simply stretching in-between sets – long enough to stretch the muscles involved. Rest long enough to stretch – stretch long enough to rest. Typically I suggest these stretches be held from 20-30 seconds.

With regard to stretching before or after a workout, there is no empirical data to suggest one is more favorable than the other. There is some interesting recent data though, which suggests stretching before exercise may have more negative consequences than stretching after a workout. In either case, strength training through a complete range of motion is the act of stretching. It is stretching with weights in one’s hands or at the ends of their legs.

I find that stretching in-between sets maximizes flexibility, and also helps the athlete stay focused on the workout.

Basic Feeding…

In the case of prep athletes I recommend minimal supplementation, and minimal dietary enhancements or restrictions – unless they are in the category of gifted or exceptional athlete.  Nutritional supplements such as protein powders, creatine, vitamins, minerals, and other micro and macronutrients should not be emphasized. Basics should be emphasized.

A little green.  A little brown.  A little red.  A little white. Balanced colors are usually balanced meals...

A little green. A little brown. A little red. A little white.
Balanced colors are usually balanced meals…

I’ll suggest the emphasis on nutrition be aimed at eating frequency, balanced meals, healthy snacks in-between meals, and minimizing sugars. If a student athlete were eating consistently with the food pyramid taught in elementary school (in any era), he or she will be eating substantially better than many of their athletic contemporaries.

I also suggest that young athletes avoid nutritional trends such has high protein eating, Paleo eating, low-carb, and force feeding. Yes, force feeding. I once knew a high school football coach who required all of his players to eat a loaf of bread per day – this was mandatory.

Athletes and parents should make the distinction of between eating to gain muscle, and eating to gain weight. Certain line positions in football notwithstanding, eating to gain weight will rarely have a positive effect on athletic performance, and can have a negative effect on future dietary habits.

Look What I Can Do…

I recently had dinner with some multi-sport teenage athletes. The conversation eventually turned to the weight room. After they were done discussing the various strength exercises they most hated, the conversation was naturally reduced to maxing out on the bench press and the squat.  As it unfolded, I wanted to hang myself.

There is no physiological or rational foundation for a student athlete to max-out on any strength exercise – nor is there any valid reason other than to placate the athlete’s ego, or for the coach to measure the student’s ability against that of another student. This measurement though, is not an indication of athletic performance on the field.

The SRM (single rep maximum) has little impact on building strength, helping an athlete generate increased power, or in the development of muscle mass. The SRM is simply statement of comparative strength in the weight room, and its pursuit carries more risk than benefit. The only injury I have ever incurred in the weight room was an unnecessary SRM on the bench press at the age of 19.

I have few memories of conversations among or between student athletes and/or coaches when the discussion was centered on proper exercise technique, safety, or injury prevention. My highest hope for this workshop is that you as the student athlete or as the parent, leave with an increased awareness of safety, and the utility of proper strength training as it applies to supporting the student athlete.

Worth repeating: Strength training should make an athlete’s life better, not worse. Be well… rc


Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from the late Gary Moore.  Enjoy!

6 responses

  1. I love that you are giving workshops! And this topic interests me. In a year, my oldest daughter will be allowed to attend the gym (she will be 12). I am sure it can benefit her, especially in her basketball practice, but I want to make sure we do it right!

  2. Why does it not surprise me that a football coach thought it would be a grand idea to scarf down a loaf of bread a day? SMH.

    I remember maxing out in college on the bench press. I thought it was dumb then and I’d never do it again. I’d rather be able to brag about doing proper push-ups daily verses tossing up an absurd amount of weight once.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Heidi. I’m not completely against maxing out — though I have not maxed out in anything for years. It has no place though, in the scheme of a teen who is still developing, and worth repeating, there is NO athletic benefit to it.

  3. Good points here!

    One of the things that I like best about doing yoga is that it has such a great combo of flexibility and strength training… and it’s fascinating to see how different exercises support one another.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.