March 9, 2018 • Strength & Conditioning

Where’s your strength coach?

Five reasons all high schools need an experienced & qualified professional in the weight room

There’s no better place to arm young people with the tools to be successful in life than in the weight room. A qualified, full-time strength coach is the best candidate to progress students through a long-term athletic development program and teach students the importance of being dedicated to continuous self-improvement and how that can propel them not only in athletics, but also throughout their academics and professional lives.

A properly developed program teaches students to set goals and overcome obstacles, which in turn builds self confidence to set even loftier goals. It also prepares students to be leaders and begin a virtuous cycle of success in high school, college and beyond. Here are five reasons all high schools should hire a full-time, certified strength and conditioning coach.

1. Strength programs help athletes maximize potential in life.

Weight training can be the most important class for high school students. And not only because child and adult obesity is an epidemic.

Weight training teaches students life lessons and provides them with the opportunity to overcome adversity, which arms them with the tools necessary to chase their dreams and fulfill their potential. Unlike any class or sport, the weight room teaches students to improve their physical abilities while giving them the confidence to pursue whatever excites them throughout their careers.

For this reason, schools should make wellness and weight training classes a priority in their curriculum. The training environment goes beyond athletic performance. It teaches students to overcome fears and achieve goals. Unlike traditional classes and sports, a properly designed strength and conditioning program tracks personal progress and teaches students to embrace the process of getting better every day. Nobody steps into a weight room for the first time armed with the knowledge and strength to excel, but after each workout, everyone leaves with increased mental and physical toughness, and a sense of accomplishment.

In the weight room, effort is the most respected attribute. While individuals may be impressed by the ability to run fast and lift heavy loads, the student who ultimately earns the most respect is the one who trains with the most intensity and is dedicated to maximizing their individual potential.

The weight room even provides a unique opportunity for students to support and encourage others, not only with their words, but by their actions and attitudes. Students quickly learn that energy and effort — both positive and negative — are contagious and can be spread in multiple ways. These are life skills that stay with students long after they graduate high school.

2. Experienced, qualified strength coaches have the expertise for proper age appropriate athletic development.

Billy Graham said, “A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime.” That’s especially true of strength coaches, who are around athletes year-round, and it’s unlikely all team coaches will have the opportunity to focus solely on the personal development of each student-athlete.

School administrators should provide their students with strength coaches who understand fundamental movement patterns and exercise science; know how to properly structure a long-term athletic development program for large groups; and how to progress students based on age, ability and movement competencies.

Many schools now offer strength and conditioning/weight training classes during the day. However, most schools do not have a written curriculum for these classes or a qualified coach. Teaching fundamental movement patterns and lifting progressions is extremely important and can be difficult at the high school level. It takes an experienced and educated strength coach to do it effectively. 

Physical education and team sport coaches do great work, but rarely is their educational background in exercise science or strength and conditioning. 

3. Qualified strength coaches develop programs specific to each athlete.

A coach must consider many factors when designing a program. At the high school level, a strength and conditioning coach should break a student’s athletic development program into different blocks or levels. There’s a big difference between training a 13-year-old freshman versus an 18-year-old senior.

It’s a red flag if a student comes home and brags that their coach administers the same training program as the local university or professional team. Collegiate and professional athletes are more advanced, so their programs are designed differently than a high school student’s athletic development program. 

High school programs must be age-appropriate, and qualified strength coaches are trained to always consider birth-year age, developmental age and training age. They also should factor in the athlete’s stability, mobility, technique, power and relative strength when designing a program to meet them at their stage of development. Proper technique should be stressed before a student-athlete can progress from one block to the next, and they must demonstrate mastery in each movement. Only after an athlete demonstrates that they’ve perfected a single stage should they progress to the next block.

4. Strength and conditioning programs improve classroom performance.

A quality strength and conditioning program goes beyond improving physical performance and instilling lifelong character development. There’s also evidence that exercise and strength training improves brain function and has a profound impact on mental health.

Research shows that students perform better in classes immediately following their strength or fitness sessions. In a 2007 study, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary 20 percent faster following exercise. So, it’s fair to say a properly designed strength and conditioning class during the school day can improve test scores.

5. Improper strength programs can be dangerous.

If a student is poorly instructed in the weight room, someone can be seriously injured. 

“If a student isn’t doing what he’s supposed to do in math class, he fails the test,” said Fred Eaves, director of athletics at the Battle Ground Academy in Tennessee. “However, if a student isn’t doing what he is supposed to in the weight room, someone could die.”

Unfortunately, high school students have died while training. Given the enormity of the consequences when something goes wrong, it’s imperative that strong policies are created and followed at all times. Coaches with a background in program design and training progressions have the requisite knowledge to minimize safety and health risks to young people.

Schools and local governments would not consider hiring a lifeguard or athletic trainer who doesn’t have the educational background or credentials of expertise in their respective subject matter. But, at many schools across the nation, we have individuals supervising strength and conditioning programs who do not have education or experience related to athletic development or strength and conditioning.

We have many coaches and teachers around the country who do a magnificent job, and our hope is that more high schools understand and appreciate the benefits that a full-time, qualified strength coach can bring to their school and community. These coaches can work with the physical education teachers and sport coaches to integrate a comprehensive, long-term athletic development program at all levels of the school district and community.

After the squat rack, bench and dumbbells: Five things your weight room needs

Long-term athletic development is one of the many goals for a high school strength coach. Every day, we work to transform young athletes into robust machines that can squat, hinge, explode, absorb force (land), press, pull, carry and lunge.

Many of these attributes can be instilled and enhanced by the core lifts that are performed with squat racks, barbells, dumbbells and benches. After a high school facility has the staple pieces of equipment in place, these are five additional pieces of equipment to add to a weight room, when the budget allows. Supplementing your weight room with these pieces raises the level of training and allows your athletes to maximize their physical potential.

Multi-resistance bands

Resistance bands or monster bands are versatile, portable accessories for any weight room. These bands are wonderful tools when working with young athletes who may not be able to perform body weight exercises such as the pull-up or dip.

Bands are available in a variety of widths, thicknesses and resistance levels, and they can be used for anything from banded pull-ups, banded pull-a-parts for the upper back and traps, band walks for the glutes, mobility work, or banded bench presses and squats. The ability to vary resistance levels and location of the athlete’s band grip makes it easy to conduct group exercises with athletes of varying strength and skill.

Trap/hex bar

The deadlift is a staple in all athletic development programs to develop lower body strength, power and applying force into the ground. The trap or hex bar makes it easier for many athletes to get in a safe position to perform the movement. Many young athletes do not have the proper mobility to get in the good starting position necessary to perform a safe conventional deadlift with a barbell. This puts many young athletes at risk of injury when performing the movement.

The trap/hex bar decreases a great deal of this risk, allowing more athletes to capture the tremendous benefits of the deadlift exercise without unnecessary risk to their health and sports performance. The No. 1 goal of all strength coaches should be that no harm/injury is incurred to the athlete while in the weight room.

Glute ham developer

The glute ham developer is a great piece of equipment to develop the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Many athletes, especially young players, have a weak posterior chain. Many sports, like basketball, volleyball and soccer, are very anterior dominant. Therefore, it’s our duty to develop our athlete’s posterior chain.

Strengthening an athlete’s posterior chain also helps them better perform other weight lifting movements, like the squat, clean, push jerk and snatch.

Medicine balls

Medicine ball training has been around since the ancient Greeks and allows for endless training adaptations for strength, stability and power. The ability to use different sizes and weight levels allows for a coach to continuously challenge their young student-athletes.

These are great tools for loading young high school athletes, because many of them are not confident in the fundamental movement patterns. The medicine ball allows for the student-athlete to learn the pattern without having the psychological bearing of a barbell, dumbbell or plate. When used correctly, medicine balls also are unbelievable for producing and developing power effectively and safely through all planes of motions.

Suspension training device

Suspension training devices take up very little space in the weight room and provide the possibilities of hundreds of bodyweight exercises.

These devices train movements, not muscles. This means athletes not only can increase their strength but also their balance, stability, mobility and coordination at the same time. It’s very important that young high school aged athletes learn to move well before excessively loading. The devices are very portable, and you can leverage gravity and the student-athlete’s body to complete the exercises.

Micah Kurtz (MS, CSCS, RSCC*D, FMS, USAW, NASE-CSS) was named the 2016 National Strength Coach of the Year by the NSCA. He is in his ninth year as the director of strength, conditioning and athletic development at AC Flora High School and serves as the strength and conditioning consultant coach to the nine-time high school basketball national champs, Oak Hill Academy. Luke Kurtz is the vice president of legal affairs for U.S. Sugar. He played and coached professional football for the Corinthians football club in São Paulo, Brazil. Learn more at

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