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Today’s High School Strength & Conditioning

Written by Joe Chiaramonte, AT, ATC, CSCS, MFR, SFMA
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Joe ChiaramonteWith a sports medicine career spanning 20 years (20 as a Certified Athletic Trainer-ATC and 6 as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist-CSCS), I have come across thousands of student athletes with many different injuries, medical conditions, surgical rehabilitations and performance levels. I have come to realize that student-athletes are very different from 1998 to 2018.

With the popularity of sport specialty, club sports and growing technology that leaves kids sedentary instead of finding time to “play”.  We see more and more “games” being played instead of “practices”.  Practices help to develop proper movement patterns and fundamental techniques that typically require “structured repetition” exposure, instead of “learn by playing a game exposure”. I don’t understand having more games than practices if you are trying to reinforce technique. I actually heard of a 14-year-old that caught 12 games in one weekend!  Not surprisingly that ADOLESCENT boy needed shoulder surgery.   The parents were quick to blame the weight-lifting coach, but not the overuse of catching 84 innings in two days hoping to get “college exposure”.  Even more telling, the strength coach told me that the athlete showed up to 3 out of the 20 weight-lifting sessions and didn’t do much more than body weight exercises in those sessions.

I am here to shed a little light on high school strength and conditioning and clear up some misconceptions that people have about their elite trained student athletes.

joe 2018 blogBe sure your strength coach is qualified. Be wary of the “Back when we did things” coach. The most dangerous phrase to hear when it comes to training is “We have always done it this way”. Well, kids were different then. They rode bikes, ran around the block, played tag, went to the playground, and (yikes) even walked a mile to school! They didn’t have slumped shoulders, weak abdominals and tight hips. They are different now too, and they will be different tomorrow. How does your Strength Coach measure up to the ever-changing climate of strength and conditioning?

  • Can your strength coach properly screen movement patterns and identify dysfunctions that could be a pre-cursor to injury if ignored or improperly loaded?
  • Can your strength coach recognize a progression and regression to each movement to assure proper program advancement order? Would you let your kid take trigonometry before algebra? Why would we load up a bench press bar if our kids cannot do a proper push up?
  • Can your strength coach tell you why he’s doing the exercises he/she is prescribing? Do they format workouts to “crush kids” or better yet, are they proud if the “kids puked today” from a workout? A great quote from Joe DiFranco is “Any coach can make you TIRED, a great coach can make you BETTER.”
  • Does your strength coach know how to meet each athlete where they are biologically, or do they have a cookie-cutter program that was good in 1988? Uniformed programs are OK, but are adjustments being made for individual proficiency?
  • Does your strength coach advocate time to educate and model good nutrition (NOT supplements), good sleep patterns, good stretching and when to seek medical advice?
  • Does your coach understand the minimally effective dosage for exercises? Do they understand the body’s energy systems well enough to know that great reps get great results and crappy reps get crappy results. Worse yet, crappy reps can get you seriously hurt in the weight room without proper teaching, spotting and understanding proper movements under load. If you are overly fatigued and trying to sprint or box jump or do cleans, it is a recipe for disaster.

Here is an actual workout board a high school sport coach posted for his athletes to complete:

Back Squat 10x10

Squat Jumps 10x10

Trap Bar 10x10

Burpees 10x10

Front Squat 10x10

Lunge Jumps 10x10


Push Ups 10x10

Sit Ups 10x10

"You have one hour"

Yes, folks, that is 800 reps in 1 hour. Piece of cake. Don’t forget to “rest” before sit ups! This workout got 155 comments from HS Strength Coaches on the NHSSCA (National High School Strength & Conditioning) Facebook page. You can imagine the flack this coach caught. The one comment that stuck out to me as an athletic trainer was “Rhabdo”. It was referring to a very serious condition called Rhabdomyolysis which has been, unfortunately, in the news lately at the NCAA/HS level from athletes being “pushed” into intense exercise causing muscle damage and potential kidney failure. The workout posted above does not seem to be coming from a certified, knowledgeable exercise scientist and coach. This is not progressive overload, this is punishment and negligence.

joe 2018 blog 2Let me be clear. I am a HUGE advocate of pushing our athletes to get better. Not only in the weight room, but in life as well. Some of the greatest lessons of overcoming adversity can be taught in the weight room and on the training surfaces. Quite frankly, science teaches us that we need to push our bodies to the limit to get stronger. We need to fail (safely) in the weight room to get bigger, faster and stronger. If we are always in “maintenance mode”, our muscles, bones, heart and lungs will adjust to the basic stresses we impose on them. When we push harder into training and challenge ourselves physically, our body will react to the stressor and overcome it. If we never test our limits, we’ll never know how much we can do. There’s an old Navy SEAL concept that is the 40% Rule. When your mind is telling you that you are done, your body is only 40% done. If we never tap into that threshold, it is very hard to reach goals that we set.

I am not bashing the old standards of a great strength training program with movements like squatting, benching, pull ups, dead lifting, and some Olympic movements like the clean and jerk. In my opinion, however, if your coaches, themselves, are not proficient with the movements themselves or understand all of those movements, they have no business teaching them to high school kids.

It is my opinion that there is a ton of promise in the future for strength and conditioning at the high school level. There are more Certified Athletic Trainers in the high schools than ever before because athletic departments see the value of the profession. I believe that certified AND qualified Strength Coaches will be the next necessity for all successful high school athletic programs in the near future.

The Center for Physical Rehabilitation employs a number of dual credentialed sports medicine and fitness experts, including Physical Therapists, Physical Therapy Assistants, Certified Athletic Trainers, Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists.

To see the classes we offer, view our outstanding staff and see the local schools we contract our Strength & Conditioning FAST programming to, please visit www.pt-cpr.com and view our Academy for Sports & Wellness.

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