Strength Performance Network

What is going on in high school weight rooms?

At this time of year, I get to see what’s going on inside a lot of high school weight rooms, and I’ve got to tell you something – it’s downright scary. The four things I see most often are:

1. Lack of supervision
2. Poor technique
3. Poor effort
4. Incomplete routines

Lack of supervision – The problem here usually is not that there isn’t a coach around. The problem is that the coach simply isn’t doing anything. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll repeat it again – God bless high school coaches for giving up so much of their time to the kids. It’s inspiring to me to see coaches give so much up to work with young kids. What’s uninspiring is watching a coach sit around, not paying attention to what’s going on, not correcting technique, not motivating kids to give better effort and basically not coaching.

Unfortunately, I also see a lot of coaches who show up, stand in the corner and let another coach do everything. If you’re going to be there, do something productive. Showing up might make you feel like you’re doing your part, but you’re really wasting your time. If you’re not going to actively coach, you might as well spend your time at home with your wife, kids, dog, lizard….

Poor technique - I believe that it’s important to always be active when you’re coaching in a weight room. You need to be moving around, giving feedback and ALWAYS addressing technique issues when you see them. Walking past a kid who is performing poor reps is essentially accepting it and telling the kid that he/she is doing a good job. That leads to long term problems, and it’s not doing anyone any good.

Often, the problem is simply that coaches are choosing exercises that they are unable to properly coach. Some of the most common exercises I see problems with are RDLs, cleans and squats.

On the RDL, I’m not sure if some coaches are still listening to the BFS people who tell you to actually ROUND your back over and keep your legs locked while doing this exercise, but if that’s the case PLEASE STOP! The RDL can be difficult to coach with young kids who don’t have very good body control. The back needs to maintain a slight arch and the knees should be slightly unlocked. The most important part of the exercise is to get the pelvis tilting so the glutes and hamstrings are required to move it.

The clean is easily one of the biggest problems I see in high school weight rooms. I’ve actually seen, with my own eyes, coaches tell an upperclassman to show a freshman how to do a clean for the first time. That might be OK if the upperclassman was a world-class lifter, but that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I winced as I saw what was being shown because it was obvious the upperclassman had never been shown good technique either. Just last week I had an athletic trainer tell me that he has multiple kids break their wrists and severely hurt their backs every year doing cleans at their high school. I used to blame the clean, but I’ve changed my stance slightly. Now, I’m blaming the coach who doesn’t know how to teach the exercise and use it correctly.

The squat is a problem because coaches seem more interested in the weight on the bar than the technique of the lift. Get the kids used to going to parallel, keeping their posture, and keeping their heels on the ground. The other HUGE issue I see with squats is that the spotters DON’T SPOT! I’d rather see a high school coach teach kids how to spot really well than just about anything else. If you have a room full of good spotters, it’s like having coaches all over the place.

Poor effort – Do I really need to get into this one? Why would anyone accept kids not giving effort. Let’s face it, a lot of kids have no idea how to push themselves. They just don’t understand what they are capable of, so they often stop well short of what they can actually do. It’s up to us as coaches to help them discover what they are capable of. I’m not talking about destroying a kid, choosing inappropriate weights or yelling at someone. I’m talking about talking to kids about what they should be feeling in the weight room and how to effectively spot a partner in order to bring the best out in someone else. Too often, I see coaches turning a blind eye to kids giving half effort. That is accepting the problem, and it’s probably going to transfer onto the field.

Incomplete routines – Is there something wrong with including some upper body pulling movements in a high school program? Do coaches have something against training the hamstrings? A college strength coach told me this week that he feels like a lot of people are over training the posterior chain. That might be true at the collegiate or professional level, but not in high schools. In fact, I can’t tell you how many programs I see that have no hamstring exercises included in their routines. None. Zero.

And, with the inundation of information we’ve gotten about core training over the last three years, I can’t believe how many high school coaches still aren’t including exercises to help stabilize the spine. Again, I think BFS has coaches thinking that core lifts are just bench, squat and clean instead of exercises FOR the core.

A strength training routine should address all of the musculature in the body including the hamstrings, upper back, posterior deltoid, neck, and lower back. The bench, squat, clean routine of the 70’s is now so outdated that it’s negligent.

These are some of the problems I see in high school weight rooms. I must say that I also see a lot of kids working their butts off and there are certainly coaches out there doing a great job. A few small changes would go a long way, and I hope these suggestions end up helping a lot of kids.

Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS

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Comment by Darryn Fiske on July 20, 2009 at 2:53pm
Totally agree as well with your assesment. I get freshmen who say they know how to do certain lifts like the squat and with them just doing a warm-up set you can tell they have no idea what they are doing and then I spend more time teaching them on how to actually do it right. The response I get is "Well this is what our high school coach told us to do." Upon which I usually reply, "That is the form they told you to use?" The biggest adjustment I see with our kids is the intensity or effort factor. I call it the "Every one gets a ribbon" factor. Kids these days are handed everything. Everyone gets a trophy or a ribbon and no one has been asked to work for something. Then when they get to college and are asked to work and are pushed and they end up "shutting it down" in terms of their effort level. Then it becomes a struggle to get them with our program and the level we deem necessary they need to be working at effort wise. I have seen some really good kids come from some really good strength programs and they do really well here. I laughed when I read your comment about the BFS program and the RDL. We have had a slew of those kids and in particular I had a girl who I know went through the BFS program at her high school tell me she box squatted 365 pounds, but yet can't get to parallel with 115 pounds in a regular squat. Amazing. Nice blog post and straight to the point.
Comment by Canute McKenzie on July 18, 2009 at 9:14pm
I definitely agree, I was training my neighbor at his old high school because he is getting ready to start his freshman year of football in college and I was training him at his old high school and the summer weightlifting program was a joke. The kids were standing around, couches were in their office and were not really supervising. The only time they participated was when they ran the cone drills. I was working with my athlete putting him through explosive exercises and implementing some complex workouts and all the other kids were looking at him like man that is a crazy workout and you could see the amazement in their eyes. Their was only one coach that really new the exercises that i was putting my athlete through and that is because he was a former college football player himself so he knew what we were doing and he never had a problem with me working his former player my athlete at his school. I thought everything was okay , but at the end of the workout when we were leaving the head coach called my athlete into his office and said that I couldn't train him at the school, and that he could only work out their if he was doing the work outs that the coaches were implementing for everybody else. I told him we would just go to the high school behind my neighborhood, because that was where his old football coaching staff who coached him from 9-11th grade was now coaching and when we went their it was a totally different atmosphere, the coaches were involved, they ran different stations and were watching correcting and actually coaching. When we went their they let us use a platform and didn't have any problem with us working out their and they were even observing some of the lifts that I had my guy perform along with their athletes. After that experience I could observe which program wants to win and wants to advance and which program will stay in the cellar because success on the field begins the first day of summer.

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