A Simple Way to Program Training For High School Athletes
The more I've worked as a volunteer in a high school setting, the more I've seen the nuances of getting a Strength and Conditioning Coach on campus. It's not an easy undertaking, and for many sport coaches the duties of running a strength and conditioning program falls into their hands.
Now, there has been a large push and acceptance for hiring qualified strength coaches and specialists at the high school level, but nonetheless there are many states who struggle to find those individuals due to policies and procedures in hiring and funding. At least, my neck of the woods (the mountains of North Carolina) has proven this to be true, and there has been a struggle to improve what happens in the weight rooms. Especially for our local area coaches, many do not have the time or resources to dive deeply into exercise programming and athlete development on top of their coaching and teaching duties.
What is often easiest for these coaches to do is find some workout plan for free online from bodybuilding.com, a college football team, or some random personal trainer. This gives them workouts to do, but it does little to really meet the needs of their athletes or make substantial changes in their athlete's performance. This is largely due to the contextual nature of programs and their target population, training space, training age, and the ability of the coach writing the program to coach the movements within said program. But these things don't always match the athletes you have in your environment.
Knowing this, I find it critical to help provide a simple method to writing workouts for sport coaches who find themselves in a spot of running their team's workouts.
The first thing we want to make sure of, before we start doing anything, is compiling a list of exercises you feel confident coaching and teaching your athletes to optimize their success. If you can't teach the Olympic Lifts or how to do them safely, you don't need to do them. The same would go for Deadlifts, Squats, Bench or Shoulder Presses, or any special exercises. Create the list of what you feel confident in coaching, and identify which exercises can be done with the equipment you have available. Then you can start to put them into categories.
What categories? Movement categories. Realistically, we can classify exercises into four main categories based on common actions or characteristics in order to simplify how we program them. The categories are as follows:
Squat: while commonly thought of as a Back Squat, this category realistically includes any exercise where the hip, knee, and ankle get close to or break a 90 degree angle. This includes symmetrical/double leg exercises like the Front/Back Squat, Goblet Squat, or Air Squat, and also includes asymmetrical/single leg exercise such as lunges, step ups, and split squats.
Hinge: these are exercises which the hip joint closes to 90 degrees or less, while the knees bend slightly beyond 180 degrees. These include movements like deadlifts, RDLs, and Good Mornings (and their single leg equivalents).
Push: these are upper body exercises in which the resistance is being pushed away from the center of the body. Examples of Push exercises includes Pushups, Bench Press, Shoulder Press, Dips, and DB variations of these exercises.
Pull: these are upper body exercises in which the resistance is brought closer to the body. Examples of Pull Exercises includes Barbell/DB Rows, Pullups/Chinups, and Inverted Rows.
Once we've classified our exercises into these categories, we can start to place them in sequence for actual workouts. Personally, I like to rotate through each of these at least once in a week. But if you only lift 3 days per week, you may end up having one lift which only gets put in once every two weeks due to scheduling. This scheme which we'll lay out is inspired by Joe Kenn's Tier System, which goes into more detail for varying the patterns for Power and strength (and has a some differing categories).
What we want to do first is pick a main lift for each category. Whenever the category is at the top of the order, this is the exercise we will use. These often tend to be our bigger compound movements and barbell exercises (though chinups/pullups tend to be a great pick for Pulling days). The rest of the exercise categories can be filled in with smaller exercises or Dumbbell (DB) variations and or exercises utilizing less muscle groups. Once we pick our main lifts, we can use the following template:
Now, there's a bunch of ways to skin the cat once we've got an order like this. You can make the first two exercises main exercises, and do them with heavier numbers. Or you can do the first exercise and then the next two as a superset, and then the fourth exercise. You could do them all individually. The big key is going to be knowing your kids. Now, to give you an example of what this template looks like filled out:
Trap Bar Deadlift
Single Leg RDL
Single Arm DB Incline Bench
RFE Split Squat
DB Good Morning
Now the sets and reps is a whole other article completely, but this framework can help make your programming simpler. The great thing is, you can run the same workouts for a few weeks at a time and have your athletes add 5-10lbs per week, using the same sets and reps, and they'll get stronger. After a few weeks, change the exercises and repeat.
At this point, you may be thinking, "Is it really so simple?" and the truth is, it kind of is. Especially when we look at middle or high school athletes who have limited weight room experience, they'll get stronger doing basically anything if it's done in high quality. The biggest thing you can do for them is to coach them up on basic things and help them master those fundamentals. And if you're patient, you'll see some great results.