I am begging you that you please take my advice based on over 20 years of experience in training athletes at all levels – Stop killing your kids.
So it is a Thursday late afternoon in early January and I quickly check my phone messages before I start my training sessions for the evening. This is a text I received from one of the kids in my group session for that night:
“Eric sorry I can’t make it tonight because I won’t be able to do anything. At school they killed me yesterday and I’m been trying to foam roll everything out and I still can’t even move”
This young athlete is a high school football and baseball player and this week his football team started their off-season workouts. This was only his second workout of the program so I asked what he did. Here is what he sent:
Hex Bar Dead Lifts
This is Day TWO. Mind you that these young men have not done any consistent organized strength training for almost 5 months. They also have accumulated the bumps and bruises and wear and tear of a long football season since they last trained seriously. No matter how much teenage testosterone is pumping through these young boys veins, I don’t know anyone who isn’t taking copious amounts of steroids that could do this workout with any level of proficiency and intensity and survive.
Unfortunately this is not an anomaly and is all too common in weight rooms in high schools all across America. I am contracted by several high schools to coordinate training programs for their teams and at this point in the year our football teams are getting reintroduced to training by doing an Intro Program that is primarily unilateral exercises and movement based work as well as initial movement testing to gauge for any painful and/or dysfunctional patterns or imbalances, and other baseline measureables such as bodyfat testing, etc. We don’t touch a barbell or do any strength testing of the major lifts until at least 3 weeks of the Intro Program.
That being said, I understand that most high school weight rooms are run by sport coaches who may or may not have extensive training in strength and conditioning or performance training. They aren’t necessarily doing this maliciously but they only know what their coaches did and are just passing that on. So for the coaches out there who are looking for a better way to care for your athletes and prepare them best for success, here are a few tips:
-Soreness is NOT a gauge of a good workout. The athlete I mentioned earlier in the article was destroyed by a single workout and that induced dysfunction that has now carried over into him not being able to participate fully in subsequent workouts so that workout was actually a step backwards and not forward
-Training is cumulative. That means that no one rep, one set, one workout or one week is going to define your results. Consistency trumps intensity every single time
-Be careful about trying to make training all about “mental toughness”. Trust me in that having your athletes suffering from crippling soreness all the time does not equate to more grit in competition. Your training should be connected with a path to success, not serve as punishment
-More is NOT better. I would much rather have you do 12 total sets of 3 or 4 different movements and do them perfectly with focus and intensity rather than 24 to 30 sets of 6 to 8 exercises that are done sloppy and half-assed. There is only so much our physiology and nervous system will let us put out in one episode. Lots of lousy reps are just getting you good at lousy reps.
-Don’t lose sight of your WHY. We train to get better at the given sport, not to get better at training. Unless you are training a weightlifting team, don’t overemphasize only getting good at the basic lifts and make sure that your focus is on training what will actually transfer to the field, track, court, etc.
-Your #1 goal is having your players available come game time. That means they are 100% and healthy. No one ever scored a goal or a touch down or hit a home run from the training room. Good training should help fortify your athletes health and produce more durable performers. Most importantly, what you do in your training can be difficult and challenging but should NEVER hurt.
-You can’t go pedal to the metal all the time. You need to know when you slowly ramp up, when to back off and when to push harder based on your schedule.
-Don’t guess – Test. If you are training to improve strength, power, etc., find out if that is even what you need and if you do, you need to know if what you are doing is actually working.
Please don’t misinterpret what I listed above as being soft and passive and that we should not challenge our athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, without a plan, we are inevitably planning to fail and may end up wasting a lot of time, effort and energy that doesn’t produce results that ultimate lead to winning on the field.