Coaching High School Athletes in the Weight Room
By Jim Kielbaso
Just about every sport coach now recognizes the fact that a strength program can help their athletes optimize performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve overall health and self-esteem. Some coaches are very comfortable in the weight room, while others feel totally out of their element. Either way, there are a few easy steps to follow to maximize your effectiveness in this environment.
Many coaches get overwhelmed in the weight room and never really give their best instruction or encouragement. But, many high school athletes need you there to show proper technique, get through the routine quickly, keep traffic flowing, give safe and effective spotting, and maximize effort.
In addition to reducing the risk of injury and enhancing performance, the weight room is also an excellent place to develop relationships and create team unity. Unfortunately, many coaches miss out on this because they are sitting in the corner or absent from the room altogether. Never underestimate the long-term benefits of polishing your weight room coaching skills.
Here are a few easy steps you can take to optimize your coaching effectiveness and help your athletes get the most out of their training time:
1. Educate Yourself. If you haven’t implemented a program because you don’t feel knowledgeable enough, put that excuse to rest. You don’t have to be an expert to help your team reap the benefits of strength training, and there are plenty of books that can give you a decent understanding of technique, program design, and how to spot different exercises. Go to your local bookstore or at the very least get online to find something to fit your needs. There is plenty of mis-information online, so just be sure to read with a critical mind. Always check the source before you completely buy into something that sounds too good to be true.
Avoid the trap of feeling like your athletes need an incredibly specialized training routine. It’s best to keep it simple with high school athletes. They will benefit from a basic, well-rounded program, so just get them started and feeling comfortable in the weight room by introducing a few basic exercises that you can easily teach. Remember, you can always add more later on.
2. Teaching Sessions. Before you turn your athletes loose in the weight room, spend a couple of days teaching them how to perform all of the exercises and how to safely spot each other. Take your time up front to save a lot of time and energy down the road.
3. Record Keeping. Once you’ve created the training routine, give it to your athletes on a piece of paper or card-stock so they can record the amount of weight lifted and number of repetitions performed on each set. This serves a few important purposes. For the athlete, it tells them exactly what they should be doing on every exercise and gives them a goal each day. This will help them make progress and eliminates guess-work.
For the coach, a workout card quickly gives you a lot of information and tracks attendance. You are going to be bouncing around from athlete to athlete, spotting as many athletes as possible; you want to spot each athlete on at least one exercise each day so you have a little contact with everyone. As soon as you’re done spotting one athlete, look around the room, see who is ready to lift, and get there quickly.
Having the workout card available allows you to easily see the weight and repetition goal for each set before you begin spotting. You can assess progress and effort on each exercise by taking a quick look at the chart. This is a great way to increase accountability and improve your ability to coach multiple athletes in the weight room.
4. Exercise Selection. In an effort to keep your training sessions time-efficient, it is recommended to select exercises that utilize a large amount of musculature rather than focusing on isolation exercises. For example, squats, leg presses, lunges, bench presses, dips, pull-downs, rows, and military presses all use multiple joints and recruit several muscle groups. These exercises should be the foundation of your program.
Curls, wrist extensions, and triceps pushdowns are examples of isolation exercises that can eat up a lot of valuable time.
It is also highly recommend that you select exercises that are relatively easy to teach, learn and execute. Lifts like the power clean and snatch are very technique intensive, require a great deal of coaching expertise, and are often performed incorrectly, which can be dangerous. There is absolutely no need to include exercises that are problematic for your situation. Whether you don’t feel comfortable teaching an exercise or the athletes just aren’t getting it, drop any exercise that is causing problems.
5. Traffic Flow. I often see traffic jams in high school weight rooms. This makes for an inefficient, frustrating experience that can be avoided. Rather than performing several sets of each exercise, have your athletes perform one set of 2-4 different exercises for the same body part to keep traffic moving.
For example, instead of performing three sets of bench press, try doing one set of bench press, one set of incline press, and one set of push-ups. Not only will this keep everyone moving, it also allows the musculature to be trained at several different angles and is equally effective in developing strength. This eliminates a lot of standing around that ultimately creates distractions and decreases training intensity.
You can also create different versions of a workout. Change the order of exercises for some athletes so the equipment is being used at different times. This small change will allow more athletes to workout simultaneously without traffic jams.
The weight room can be the motivational hub of your program if you create the right environment, and these simple tips can increase your effectiveness as a coach. They will allow you to maximize your coaching skills and give your athletes what they deserve – your attention.