By Josh Ortegon
JV vs. Varsity: Variations in High School Strength and Conditioning
Generally speaking, “curriculum” refers to a series of related courses, often in a specialized field of study. High School students follow a curriculum in most of their classes whether it is math, physics, English, or other related subjects. Strength and conditioning programming for the high school athlete is no different. A progressive physical curriculum that builds on itself from year to year with the goal of developing skills will increase students’ overall fitness levels, improve athletic performance, and help prevent injury. All these are skills that will help them become active and healthy adults or potentially contribute to sports success at the next level.
Skill Development Is a Long-Term Process
Many high school strength programs do not implement developmental and skill-specific programs that progress their athletes from grade to grade. Many times the programs implemented with the ninth graders, who are commonly brand new to strength and conditioning, are the same programs implemented with the older, more experienced athletes at the school. This would be no different from expecting students to learn calculus prior to taking algebra. However, the repercussions are not a failed grade or a poor SAT score but failure to reach full athletic potential or even injury.
Sometimes the high school strength and conditioning specialist (HSSCS) is involved in the fitness programs being implemented among middle school athletes. As a result, the transition to the high school program is seamless for such athletes. However, more frequently, ninth grade may be the first time the HSSCS has an opportunity to work with those athletes. In this case, there are many things to consider before implementing a program, including training history, developmental stage, and previous history of injury.
High School Strength and Conditioning Considerations: JV Athletes
Just like the sports program, the ninth and tenth grades are spent building a foundation and learning simple skills that provide the athlete with the tools necessary to be successful at the varsity level. Understanding that many high school strength and conditioning programs separate the JV from the varsity in the weight room, the HSSCS can be specific to the needs of each level. Below are a few bullet points to consider when developing your strength and conditioning program for JV athletes:
- Proper warm-up: All training starts with the warm-up. JV athletes should have a full understanding of the warm-up, how to perform it and even how to lead it on the field
- Mobility training: Understanding that at this age many kids will begin to go through their growth spurt, mobility training is important to prevent injury and improve suppleness.
- Developing ancillary capacities: This goes right along with learning the warm-up. This is the time to educate the athletes on rest, recovery, regeneration, nutrition and mental preparation.
- Single leg training: SLT can be one of the fastest and most effective ways to get an athlete into training. It takes very little coaching to get an athlete to lunge, step up, or perform any other single leg exercises. They are also essential in improving sleep and injury prevention.
- Skill development: Learning the lifts properly is important to not just safety but elicit a positive training response. The JV years are an optimal time to teach proper lifting mechanics preparing athletes to add load.
- Conditioning and acceleration technique: Most would agree that in order to get faster, it is necessary to get stronger. Additionally, in order to train specific conditioning, we must have general conditioning. These years are great to teach proper acceleration mechanics and skills as well as develop a strong conditioning base.
High School Strength and Conditioning Considerations: Varsity Athletes
The varsity years are the time to reap the benefits of the base that was built during the ninth and tenth grade. Many times, but not always, the athlete has gone through the growth spurt and is developmentally ready to load in the weight room. The previous two years of work will serve as an optimal foundation upon which to move to the next level of strength and conditioning. In other words, these students have “aced” algebra and are now ready for calculus. Below are a few bullet points to consider when developing a strength and conditioning program for varsity athletes:
- Acceleration training: With basic acceleration technique learned, this can be a time to start modalities such as sled sprints or other forms of resistive sprinting. Most often, around 10% of body weight is an appropriate load for resisted sled sprints.
- Loading the lifts: After two years of preparation and technique training, now is the time to increase intensity and volume. As long as proper technique is continued, there is a benefit to loading Olympic lifting and their variations as well as other core lifts like squats and press variants.
- Programming: This goes along with the previous point. Programming that will focus on peaking for competition and competition seasons can be implemented. With proper technique and the ancillary capacities sharpened, loading can be varied for a desired result.
- Overtraining concerns: Precautionary measures must be implemented to prevent physical and mental “burnout.”
- Movement training: Movement skills can now be developed to be specific to the desired sport. Athletes are still encouraged to play multiple sports, but movement training can become specific to a particular sport at the given time within the year.
Training programs must always fit the developmental stage of the athlete. For the HSSCS, this can always be a challenge. The needs of the incoming freshman are not the needs of a senior who has gone through a program the last three years. There are always things to consider in program design but we must always equip our athletes with the skills they need to become healthy, active adults and not just implement a sport- specific model that alienates those who do not move to the next level of athletic participation.