Better Exercises for High School Athletes

I agree that the best program for school-aged athletes is the one that has the most participants, but we can still
make them better!

Now that we are approaching the end of the school year and “off-season” lifting programs are beginning and we are teaming up with Champ I Am screening athletes at Holmen High School – it’s got me reminiscent of my training in high school.

I got started being interested in exercise and lifting weights around 6th grade; I devoured all the Ironman and Muscle & Fitness magazines, went through a variety of books about creating programs and muscle-building, along with listening to any tips and pointers from those that were experienced lifters in the gym (no internet back in the 90s).  My main purpose for training was for our football program, but also for aesthetics.  I wanted to look better by increasing my muscle mass – no doubt!

Looking back at all the exercises I did and the many hours I put in working out/training – I’ve realized that I could have done less work and received even more benefits!  I wasted too much time doing too many exercises that had no practicality when it came to football, or served any purpose in my daily life.  Now, don’t get me wrong, every  minute I spent lifting was precious to me then and still holds sentimental value now – I learned a lot back in the day.  If only I knew then what I know now…

If I had a chance to jump into a time-traveling Delorean and give myself some pointers – it would be as follows:

Going Back to the Future!
Going Back to the Future!
  • Throw away and never look at the bodybuilding magazines again!  99% of it is advertisements with scantily clad ladies that you spent too much time gawking at.  And the remaining 1% that talked training – 98.76% of that are exercises that hold no place for a high school athlete – let alone anyone that isn’t competing as a bodybuilder.
  • Spend more time moving and less time isolating.  What was I thinking strapping a harness around my back to keep my elbows in while I did countless repetitions of bicep curling?  Locking my legs in so tight in order to pulldown as much weight as possible without being vaulted off of my seat? Wrist curls (don’t get me started!)? Calf Raises? Ab Crunches? Oh my!
  • You are complimented by many people about how great your form is with the barbell back squat, but you are going to end up having 3 major episodes with low back issues that are no fun.  You should focus more on a variety of squat exercises instead of the back squat.
  • You should put more emphasis on deadlifting – PERIOD.
  • Whatever you think you are doing and calling it a power clean is anything but!  It’s more like a do whatever you can do to perform a major reverse curl and get that weight to your chest.

Yeah, something like that!

I’m going to list off four types of exercises that I did as a teenager that could have been substituted for something better, would have transferred better on the field of play, and added to vitality while getting older.  So, without further ado…

Bench Pressing
(flat, incline, decline, flys, front raises, lateral raises, military press, dumbbell, barbell, etc…)
There were too many exercises for the ever-popular chest and shoulder muscles that had nothing to do whatsoever with athletics – let alone – life’s activities.  The video below requires only a superband, a pvc pipe (not just for plumbing anymore), and a whole lotta core & shoulder stability!

These different variety of presses not only gets the ol’ shoulders, chest, and triceps going – it also teaches the entire body how to respond to a pressing movement against an unbalanced resistance in a “functional” manner (I mean, how many times do you press while lying on your back?).

(barbell front & back, front-back-side lunges)
I’ve seen too many kids come into a weight room with a decent bodyweight squat only to have a barbell thrown on their shoulders – messing everything up and creating a whole slew of compensation nightmares!  There is a better way to build fundamental strength in the squat and lunge patterns that does not require a barbell!

As a side note: the over-head pressing done at the bottom of the Up/Down movement really gets the abs/core fired up so when standing back up from the bottom position, the engage more effectively and work better while transitioning to the top position.  More useful than dropping into the bottom position of the squat and bouncing back up!

If there is one type of movement I would tell my younger self to do MORE of – it would be anything that stemmed from a hip hinge position.  In case you don’t know, the hinge is the first movement you do before a deadlift exercise…it basically is sticking your butt out while maintaining a neutral spine.  The hinge, coupled with hip extension (when you stand tall from a hinged position), is the most powerful movement our bodies have and involves all parts of our bodies, too!  So, here are some variations of the hinge and extension movement that transfers better to athletics and everyday life…

Power Cleans

I hear about these monster weights that are power cleaned up in local high school gyms and think to myself, ‘Do they look like this…’

…or, do they look like the reverse-curling guy all the way at the top?

The power clean movement is an awesome way to power up for sports and life, but it is highly technical to teach a bunch of kids in a group setting.  Power cleans with sandbags, however, offers a different feel without the intense coaching that goes along with it; see the variety of cleans that can be done with some sand in your hand!

In closing, I am thankful for all that I learned as a teenager when it came to training and lifting weights.  However, I don’t believe that the exercises I chose “back in the day” helped me be a better mover.  If it did, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have had to deal with not one – not two – but THREE back issues in my twenties!  As I do more and more of these movement-based exercises, I feel so much stronger and wonder how much more equipped I would have been back then…now it’s time to crank up 1.21 Gigawatts and head back to the future – er past!

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