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Getting a High School Strength Program off to a Good Start

August 28, 2003 12:17 PM

The following article is aimed the beginning trainee or someone with the responsibility of overseeing the training of teenagers and young adults. Hopefully the following points can be of some help. Being a high school physical education teacher I am fortunate enough to teach a strength training class as well as run the high school weight room. It is truly a privilege to be able to introduce young students to strength training and hopefully get them started on the right track. As we all know it is very easy to stray of course as there are many distractions out there. When you have the opportunity to help mold a young student's life you take on a great responsibility and must be " on " so to speak at all times. The following is a list of things that I like to emphasize here at Lynbrook H.S.
  1. A high emphasis on safety. Safety encompasses a lot of things from proper use of each piece of equipment, demonstration of good form on the given exercise, how to spot, how to handle being spotted, and being spacially aware. The weight room is a great place. If you get sloppy an careless you can get seriously hurt. The purpose of the weight room is to help PREVENT injury and to get stronger. Simple common sense can go a long way. Safety cannot be emphasized or practiced enough.

  2. Learning and focusing on the basic compound exercises. In my opinion before you focus on intensity, progression, variation etc., you need to get the kids competent in performing highly productive movements (squats, deads, presses, pull ups etc.). They are the most result producing, provide quick positive feedback and thus keep the kids coming back for more.

  3. The students need to know their purpose. What I mean by this is that they should be able to explain things like; HOW they are benefiting from what they are doing, names and functions of basic muscles, describe various exercises and there functions, construct a well rounded training program and possibly be aware of some of the important facts in iron game history.

  4. Have a basic underlying philosophy but one that allows for some flexibility. Our focus is on strength, injury prevention and health. At times we discuss some basic anatomy and phys., cardiovascular work, and nutrition. Unfortunately not everyone's main focus is strength. Some like strictly bodybuilding or general fitness or more of a cardiovascular emphasis. This is fine but they must meet certain criteria. For example I'll usually have my kids do a compound upper body pushing movement, a compound upper body pulling movement and a compound hip/thigh/low back movement before they can do anything else. If they worked those components hard, I'm happy. From there the student can choose to do exercises that they may want to add. These will vary greatly from student to student. This approach many times will prevent you from losing kids and over time kids will see the light and will see what works. Kids who are totally new are pretty easy to win over. It's the kids who have been at it on their own for a while that may require some patience. On more than one occasion the first question out of a student's mouth when first viewing the weight room has been, " How come there is no pec deck?" Hey, if you want to use the pec deck fine (even though we don't have one) but this should not be your focus. I have found that over time if the kids see that you are sincere in helping them, they will incorporate your philosophy much more willingly. By the end of the year you will find that the chest and bicep only guys have added full squats, standing presses and deadlifts to their programs.

  5. Be straight with your students. Let the kids know that there is not a magic formula, supplement or short cut to achieving your goals. I have heard Dr. Ken Leistner say numerous times something to the effect that, " some people THINK they want something but you certainly couldn't tell by their actions or efforts. Either you want something or you don't." You have to go after what you want. It will take time effort, perseverance and hard work. Learn to enjoy the process.

  6. Provide motivation. Some already have. They are easy. For others you'll have to find what motivates them. Find a way to make their goals fit in with your philosophy. Running contests, bringing in guest speakers and providing exhibitions can also help immensely. For the past few years we have put on a very successful strongman contest that has really helped pump up a lot of the kids.

  7. Be a good role model. Keep yourself in good shape and practice what you preach. Be able to demonstrate lifts properly and precisely. I am not saying by any means to go in and show off. The kids need to be aware that you believe in what you teach and that you have put your time in the trenches. Students will follow your lead.

Mike Dieguez is a physical education teacher at Lynbrook h.s. in New York. He also runs the school's strength training program. He has his own personal training facility in Plainview, New York. Mike comes from a strong athletic background having played professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets organizations. For further information call Clutch Hitting Baseball (516) 349-1069.