Assessment, Education, and Planning for High School Strength and Conditioning Success
By Josh Ortegon
As a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist, there are many factors to consider when designing a year-round strength and conditioning program. Skill level, other sport demands, time available for training, and available resources such as equipment and space can all be powerful influences.
When following the Long Term Athletic Development model, high school athletes will fall into one of two stages of training: the “train to train” (TTT) phase or the “train to compete” (TTC) phase. The TTT phase may begin as early as ages 5-6 and normally should taper around age 13-14. It is an important time for physical fitness training as the athlete enters and moves through puberty. During this time of rapid growth, there are also special considerations such as a common decrease in athletic abilities and motor skills.
The TTC phase is the time to begin ramping up training and competition. The athlete is typically looking to enhance performance. This stage commonly begins at or around 14+.
High school athletes overlap the end of the TTT phase and enter the TTC phase. One reason for the big range in age is to accommodate athletes who develop before or after their age group. Being in the high school setting, I see the TTT phase as the most critical period of development. The High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist needs to understand the implications for programming that result from the growth spurt. At the same time, rising pressures from coaches, parents, and athletes to specialize in one sport are also common.
Evaluation is key in any program. Evaluating each athlete will help the high school strength coach to see the strengths and weakness of the program and help track the success of the high school strength and conditioning program over time.
Using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), the hop and stop, and a sprint, agility, and jump test are great places to start. With the rise in injury in our youth, the FMS is an important tool in identifying asymmetries and inefficient movements in athletes. These faulty patterns may be a contributor to poor performance as well as a potential factor in increasing risk of injury.
The hop and stop, developed by Dr. Paul Juris, measures the asymmetry between force production and force absorption and can help determine the likelihood of an ACL injury. This is extremely valuable in all developing athletes but especially in female athletes who are at increased risk for non-contact knee injuries.
For speed and agility testing, a short acceleration and a longer distance test work great. I have found the 10- and 40-yard sprint as well as the pro shuttle for agility to be excellent tests. I prefer the vertical leap for power testing, but if testing tools are limited, a standing broad jump test is acceptable, as well.
During the end of the TTT phase, teaching proper lifting technique as well as acceleration and agility/multi-directional movement skills is essential. While proper progression and loading of the Olympic lifting movements, squats, deadlifts, and pressing exercises are essential to develop strength and power safely and effectively, extra attention should be noted in the areas of mobility, core stability, and movement pattern development.
This is also a great time to educate athletes about concepts like proper nutrition, the importance of quality sleep, and recovery and regeneration techniques. These all represent activities that can be performed independently to improve performance and help prevent injury.
Implementing these concepts into a program can be the most difficult part of a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist’s job. The variance of skill, coach-ability, training experience, and tools available are all obstacles the high school strength coach must overcome in programming and implementation.
We are going to break down this example of a high school strength and conditioning training program for a football team into 4 phases: pre-season, in-season, post-season, and off-season training phases.
8-Week Pre-Season Football High School Strength and Conditioning Program
Below is a breakdown of an 8-week pre-season program for a football team. The pre-season program consists of three training days. Weeks 1-4 include three lifting sessions and three speed, agility and conditioning sessions. In weeks 5-8, the final lifting session is replaced with team competitions to prepare for the upcoming season.
Day 1: Acceleration, Lower Lift
Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Lift
Day 3: Speed Endurance, Full Lift
Day 1: Speed Endurance, Lower Body Lift
Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Lift
Day 3: Speed Endurance, Full Body Lift
Day 1: Acceleration, Lower Body Lift
Day 2: SAQ and Conditioning, Upper Body Lift
Day 3: Speed Endurance and Conditioning, Team Challenges
16-Week Football In-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program
Below is a breakdown of a 16-week in-season training program for a football team. We get a bit more specific in this phase as we must get ready for Friday night. With the conditioning being done in practice, it is important for all coaches to be on the same page.
Monday: Sprint/acceleration training, Full Body Lift (high intensity, low volume), In-practice conditioning
Tuesday: In-practice agility and movement training
Wednesday: Full Body Medium (medium intensity, low volume), In-practice conditioning
Thursday: off / restoration techniques
Saturday: Active Recovery
8-Week Football Post-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program
Below is a breakdown of the 8-week post-season program. After a slight break, usually based around Thanksgiving break, it is time to get back into training. This is the time for very general strength and conditioning, preparing the athlete for the 16-week off-season training. The eight weeks will be broken down into 3 weeks of training, one week recovery and game play / challenges, and 3 weeks of training. The final week will consist of a testing week. The training weeks will also have to be scheduled around Christmas and New Year’s break so there may be variance to your program based on the school schedule.
The program will consist of 3 training days per week and 2-3 major full-body lifts each day with metabolic conditioning and physical preparation each day. This is also a great phase to teach proper lifting technique and incorporate new lifts or skills into your program.
16-Week Football Off-Season High School Strength and Conditioning Program
The off-season program tends to be the phase that gets the most attention. This is time to make your largest gains on strength, speed, and power. This phase is broken down into 7 training weeks, a de-loading week, 6 training weeks, a test week, and a full week off to rest in preparation for pre-season training. Obstacles in this phase will be holidays, family vacations, and other summer activities.
The off-season training program will consist of 3 training days per week with a rest day between day 1 and day 2. The first 7 weeks will focus on strength and hypertrophy training in the weight room and acceleration training on the field. Again, general preparation is the focus as we begin to get more specific at the end of the phase.
First 7 Weeks
Day 1: Speed/Acceleration training, Upper Body Strength
Day 2: Speed/Acceleration, Lower Body Strength
(day off if possible)
Day 3: Full Body Lift. Weeks 1-4 there is not speed or agility training. Weeks 5-7, the volume in the weight room will be decreased as it will be preceded with speed endurance training.
After 1 week off, we enter the final 6 weeks of training in the off-season phase. This phase becomes a bit more specific to the needs of football. Weight room training begins to focus more on power production and strength gains. The breakdown of the 6 weeks is as follows:
Next 6 weeks
Day 1: Speed/Acceleration Training, Upper Body lift
Day 2: Speed Endurance Training, Full Body Lift
Day 3: Agility/Movement training, Lower Body Lift
Upon completing this phase, we have a testing week to compare to the previous test week at the end of our post-season program.
Developing a full-year training program for high school athletes can be difficult for the High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist. However, while there certainly are many obstacles, there is a way to provide a skeleton to base your training program around. The program must be flexible and always evaluated and adjusted according to the needs of your athletes. While this provided skeleton may not meet the specific needs of your team, I hope it provides you with things to consider and can serve as a tool when developing your full year programming.