Medicine Ball Workout

Fit 4 Life: Teaching Fitness, Part I

Fitness in Education

Thankfully, physical fitness in education has seen a meteoric rise in the past decade. Fitness classes are popping up in P.E. departments all across the country. Kids aren’t just playing games anymore, they’re running, jumping rope, doing squats and push ups, etc. While just getting kids active is a big part of the puzzle, there are a number of considerations when teaching fitness in a class setting that need to be addressed if the curriculum is going to be successful in the long term.

Firstly, we must establish a working understanding on how to move better, pure and simple. Just sweating isn’t good enough. Proper movement patterns allow kids to avoid injury, perform better and live healthier lives. They squat every time they get in and out of their chairs. Picking up a backpack is a deadlift. We execute a push up anytime we get up off the ground. As PE teachers, it’s our job to teach them how to do everything the RIGHT way.

Next, we need to accommodate ALL. No student should be denied the benefits of learning fitness. This means we need to adjust everything we do for every ability level while still serving the overall class goal.

Lastly we need to engage kids – make them excited about fitness. It’s hard for kids to understand the long-term benefits. We need to make the concept fun, and deliver tangible progress they can believe. Ultimately, our aim as educators should be to point our students in the right direction. We should work hard to give them the tools they need to go on to live healthier, fitter lives beyond the classroom.

Building a Good Foundation.

When it comes to teaching fitness, set up is vital. What we mean, here, is the actual teaching of proper movement from the ground up. It is our responsibility as teachers to provide a consistent and understandable dialogue on how to perform all of the exercises we are asking students to complete in our classrooms. Often, this is a much more difficult task than it first appears. Take the push-up for example: one of the most basic strength movements out there, it can still be difficult to teach to an audience with a wide range of abilities and experience.

How do you describe the movement and its standards so that everyone understands proper form from the beginning? This is where comprehensive understanding of the movement and relevant coaching cues come into play. For a perfect example, take a look at another one of our posts – How to Teach the Push Up. One of the most common faults is hand placement and elbow path. As Coach Max describes in the video, we are looking for non-internally rotated shoulders – so he uses the cue of “elbows back, not elbows out”. This gives the athlete understandable cueing that he or she can actually use while performing the pushup over and over again. (He also provides scaling options, which we will discuss next.)

We must establish a universal and consistent standard of movement for every exercise, as well as the language used to teach them. Students should be completely clear on what is expected of them, and be able to replicate the safest, most efficient, most beneficial approach to every movement you use in class.

Appropriate Movement Scaling!

One of the biggest hurdles PE teachers face when it comes to teaching fitness is the issue of non-universal ability within their classes. Student ability and experience runs a wildly large spectrum. In one class there will be experienced athletes to whom a simple push up is easy, and inexperienced students who have never even attempted one. How do we account for all experience levels within a class when attempting to teach and use a staple movement like the push up?

Beyond cueing for perfect technique, you must provide scaling options for students of differing ability. What if an athlete cannot do more than one perfect rep, how do you scale the movement in order to accomplish the appropriate volume without sacrificing technique? We must offer easier alternatives that allow students to perform perfect reps to completion. With the push up, we can scale with boxes (or any flat surface) of varying heights. Not only does this allow for completion by any student, but provides a great learning progression that results in vast improvement over time.

There should be absolutely no barrier to entry when it comes to fitness. No matter the student’s ability, we should be able to teach and scale a movement to the point that it can be completed and improved upon every single day.

Make it FUN.

As we all well know, students who aren’t engaged with the material, won’t put forth the effort needed to see improvement. Stay tuned for part 2 on some ways to make fitness more fun!

Want to see how we can help you teach fitness? Schedule a Demo Here!

consistent

In-Season Training for Football, Part I

*Please note, while we focus on Football here, many of the talking points that follow are applicable to all sports*

In my experience, one of the least utilized advantages for high school football coaches is that of regulated and consistent in-season training. Ultimately, this is understandable – we only have so much time with our athletes. We need to install gameplans, reinforce positional techniques, and prepare our team for Friday nights. Many coaches are understandably loathe to give up any of this on-field time for anything. So why should we make room for in-season workouts? How should we execute them? When? Let’s take a quick dive into the particulars.

Why?

In many ways, football is a war of attrition. Teams that find success are the teams that last. A team that stays healthy and out of the lower rungs of the depth chart, and a team that is moving at the same intensity and capacity throughout the season, is the team that wins more games down the stretch.

The human body is an incredible machine. It adapts to anything you ask it to do on a regular basis. It’s the reason you’re asking your athletes to train all off-season long – they will become bigger, faster, and stronger. Most coaches, though, ignore the other side of that coin. The work your athletes do in the off-season isn’t permanent. If you cease your training when the season rolls around, your athletes will begin to adapt to this lack of demand. In the end, athletes will get weaker and less dynamic every day of your 3 or 4 month season. By simply continuing to train through regular in-season lifts, your athletes will maintain much of their peak physical abilities.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the issue of injury and the prevention thereof.

We spend so much time during the off-season taking care of the little things in preparation for grueling physical competition in the fall. Our rotator cuffs have been strengthened and stabilized, our hips and ankles are more mobile, etc. Unless you continue to work on things like injury prevention, these important gains will decline throughout the season. Thus, injury becomes more likely during the later stages of the season, exactly when it hurts your team the most.

How?

In-Season workouts are much simpler than their off-season counterparts. During a competitive season, an athlete is already consistently working on muscular conditioning and sport-specific mobility through daily practices and games. In order to maximize results, then, the coach wants to add a maintenance program of baseline strength, mobility, and injury prevention while keeping overall volume low. Here at PLT4M, we utilize a 12-week In-Season program that utilizes a non-linear, maintenance-driven approach. We keep mesocycles small, switching movements and rep schemes every 3 weeks, with unloads in between.

Generally speaking, we want to perform weighted movements at “intensity”, not volume.  As such, we are moving weight in only a handful of compound movements, while supplementing with a few select injury prevention exercises and mobility work. For example, we might pair a weighted strength movement like the front squat with light injury prevention work, say scap push ups. Then we will couple a lighter, faster power barbell movement like the hang snatch with a bodyweight strength piece like pull ups. We’ll pepper in other mobility or auxiliary pieces, like our favorite – the PVC overhead squat, and we always end with a good stretch or foam roll to ensure that the athletes are recovering (or ready to get after it again during practice).

All of our percentages and rep schemes are intended to challenge the athletes enough that they lose as little of their off-season gains as possible, but not so much so that they are sore, tired, or susceptible to minor strains and pulls during practice. We still utilize work sets, but during the season it is more often to track the inevitable (but hopefully minimal) decline of strength levels. If any athlete misses his sets, he bumps his weight down so we avoid overtraining the next week. Thus, we have taken our prescribed loads down from off-season levels, and use work sets to monitor decline as opposed to improvement in order to continue to accurately program for our athletes.

We aim to get athletes in and out of the gym in a half hour or less – keeping that intensity high but total volume low. Bottom line, we are trying to keep strength levels as near to off-season maxes as possible, while not overtaxing the body during the competitive season.

When?

The trickiest part of In-Season training is adding it into your weekly schedule without sacrificing too much practice time or ruining athlete effort on the field. Stay tuned for part 2 in which we discuss the issue of scheduling in-season workouts during the rigors of a football season.

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Stretching for Recovery

In our experience, the most overlooked part of training for high school athletes is the cool-down & recovery period. At PLT4M, we use a number of different static stretching routines (like the Band Stretch above), mobility work, and foam rolling as our final piece of each training session.

We cannot stress enough the benefit of incorporating this type of recovery work on a regular basis. While static stretching has been shown to be inferior to dynamic warm-ups as pre-exercise activity, it does offer a number of benefits when used after training.

  1. Increased flexibility and range of motion
  2. Improved circulation
  3. Better posture
  4. Stress relief (physical & mental)
  5. Enhanced coordination

In this coach’s humble opinion, a simple band stretch done post-workout works wonders. With as much stress as we are putting on our bodies in the pursuit of progress, calming things down and reinforcing good mobility and flexibility is extremely beneficial. You’ll feel better after the workout as well as more prepared for the next session. Over time, it will drastically improve your movement and flexibility and help prevent injuries during competition. Over and over we have seen athletes neglect this piece to their detriment. On the other side, we have also seen numerous athletes & coaches fall in love with this type of recovery once forced to incorporate it on a daily basis. Bottom line: it will help you become a better athlete!