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10 Commandments for Great Weight Room Culture

The weight room is only as good as the consistent effort and attitude of those who sweat within its confines on a daily basis. The best equipment, the most advanced programs, and all of the flash in the world means nothing if you don’t have commitment from the athletes training.

Such dedication, or “Buy-In”, is the elusive holy grail that coaches are all chasing.

Commitment is a product of “Culture”. Culture is a culmination of inherent expectations and leadership that drives the daily behavior of your students and athletes.

It is our job as the #1 leader of our group, to set a culture that breeds hard work, accountability, and success. We want to inspire a feeling of personal investment in each one of our athletes. Doing so, though, is much easier said than done.

So, what steps can you take to cultivate this type of culture within the weight room, year over year?

1. Set the Tone

Great culture starts with YOU. It will be your passion, your attitude, and your convictions that will ultimately shape the culture in your weight room. More important than WHAT you say, is HOW you say it. Everything you express through body language, attitude, and tone, matters. Students are always watching.

2. Lead by Example

See point 1. You must define your message and practice what you preach! If you don’t exemplify model behavior, why would your athletes be inspired to do so themselves? Therefore, if you’re late and your rule is a 10 burpee penalty when tardy, then drop and hit your burpees. Students may giggle, but they will respect you even more.

3. Put the Athletes First

Successful weight rooms do not emphasize reps, sets, weights, workouts, or equipment. Rather, they emphasize the athletes who are giving their all. Our priority is the students themselves and an environment of collective effort, camaraderie, and competition.

4. Celebrate Winning

Encourage students by matching and challenging their current ability, not overreaching and tossing students into advanced programs too soon. Every student, regardless of ability, will be successful at something, make sure you provide that something. If a student hits a training mark, celebrate it! Create goals, poundage clubs, leaderboards, and inject competition within workouts, weeks, and seasons to drive effort and engagement.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead

Nothing derails a weight room like inefficiency. A great coach knows there is no place for poor planning or a lack of preparation. You must be ready, at any given moment, to work with any athlete that walks through your doors. Create your entire progression of programs ahead of time – something for every level of experience and schedule. Proper education, progression, and scheduling ahead of time will ensure students are being set up for success.

6. Explain Your “Whys”

Don’t just work your athletes, teach them. Believe it or not, kids really do want to know “why”. Empower students with an education so that they believe in what you are asking of them.

7. Invest in Your Home

Your room is a physical reflection of yourself and your culture. With some sweat and a few dollars you create a better environment. Small changes to the atmosphere can have a huge impact, providing the catalyst for big change in culture. Clean the room, rearrange the equipment in a more orderly fashion, buy cheap new basics like PVC’s/medballs/bars/clips/chalk/etc, or spend a weekend repainting the walls or replacing the flooring yourself.

8. Respect Your Home

No matter the situation you’re in, you can create an atmosphere you’re proud of. Care for your equipment, place a priority on order and accountability in the room. Even if it’s not much, be grateful for the equipment you do have, take pride in it and take care of it to keep it in tip-top shape. If you show that you care, the students will follow suit.

9. Make it Last

Want to make a lasting mark at your school? You must be willing to be a vocal and proactive advocate for your own efforts and that of your students. Every student should have the right to a complete physical education. They deserve a place to better themselves, physically and mentally, under the tutelage of a knowledgeable and passionate coach. Campaign for yourself and your program – convince your PE/Athletics department to invest in the betterment of it’s students.

10. Have Fun!

Energy and enthusiasm is infectious. So, if you’re having a bad day – if you’re tired, you’re unhappy with colleagues, you’re personal life is bumpy … you must rise above it. Put it all aside when it comes time to work with your athletes. For you, and your athletes, the Weight Room should be a place where nothing else matters.

You owe it to them to give it your best each day, because you’re expecting their best each day in return. We’re investing in our student’s physical development and well-being, there can be no more important mission that that.

Colin (1)

High School PE + Athletics = Long-term Athletic Development

Unlike most trending topics and buzzwords, LTAD is worthy of the attention it has garnered in recent years. “Long-Term Athletic Development” is a concept that is crucial to understand if and when you are dealing with high school students and athletes.

But what does it mean?

Long story short, LTAD refers to a practical approach to fitness and athletic education. It takes physical activity and teaches it like we do any other subject: through progression and planning.

Below we outline what we believe such a plan should look like for the average middle/high school student over the course of their schooling.

*Please note that what follows does not cover the entire spectrum of accepted LTAD progression, just that which is relevant to the Middle or High School teacher/coach.*

Phase 1: Learn to Train (Grades 6-8)

Without a doubt, the single most important key to this entire equation is a proper education. It is the foundation upon which all will be built – it is also the most often overlooked.

If we want our kids, classes, and teams to succeed, we must remember that we are dealing with kids. Most have little to no experience in the world of fitness and training. If we want to progress to advanced techniques and programs, we must first build a solid foundation for all.

“You wouldn’t try and teach calculus to a student before he or she had learned algebra. Nor should you attempt to train an athlete with advanced programs and movements before you cement the mechanics of a simple air squat.”

The trick to this education is progression. Start from the ground up and work from there, always looking to be better – know more, than the day before.

Movement

Everyone, and we do mean everyone, should learn the foundational human movements. Squatting, Pressing, Pulling, Lunging, Hinging, Running/Walking/Carrying – they are all essential to human life, let alone athletic development. Knowing what they are, and how to execute them properly is paramount to long term health and performance.

Skipping this step would be like trying to build a house upon a foundation of sand.

Self-Awareness

Arguably the most important component of their entire fitness education is helping each student and athlete come to an understanding of their own abilities – their strengths and weaknesses. Taking ownership of one’s ability is a lesson for life and it allows us to maximize the training later on. We instill an understanding of how to scale movements appropriately, what loading and volume is doable, and how to adjust workouts to accommodate injuries or logistical issues.

It is this understanding, this self-awareness that is paramount if we want each and every one of our students to truly reap the best results from their training moving forward.

Throughout this phase, our “training” is marked by a focus on understanding and execution. Intensity is NOT the goal, here.

Step 2: Train to Train (Grades 8-10)

After setting proper foundations, we progress to more compound movements, begin to introduce external objects and resistance, and up the intensity a bit. The goal is to build a bit of work capacity.

We learned how to safely and efficiently move, now we are learning what it means to “train”.

Capacity

Now our work includes an element of challenge. We want to begin to push our students and athletes out past their comfort zone.

At PLT4M, we first do so by beginning to make workouts task- or time-based, adding an inherent personal or interpersonal competitiveness that spurs motivation. Volume increases as well, becoming true “work” that forces bodies and minds to adapt over time.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

All the while, adding this variety makes things more fun for the students. Learning new things, challenging oneself and each other, should always be a part of the process if we want to see continual improvement.

Strength

Additionally, we begin introducing new compound movements or adding light resistance to existing movement patterns.

We can take the air squat and progress through goblet squats and then convert it into a loaded back squat. Slowly, we will develop a competency here, never sacrificing movement, while increasing the intensity through load. Eventually, we can even arrive at a loose 1RM for each student that will allow them to direct their more advanced training in the future.

You cannot underestimate the importance of a student’s awareness of their own strength or capacity. No matter who he or she is, an athlete should be learning what it means to develop ability over time through targeted training.

Step 3: Train to Compete (Grades 10-12)

At PLT4M, we believe everyone engaged in fitness or training is an “athlete”. Whether they are looking for a competitive edge in sports, or looking to simply be the best, healthiest version of themselves, we can now direct our training with “purpose”.

Athletic Competition

If a student is involved in, and dedicated to, competitive athletics, we can and should offer them the ability to train for performance.

At PLT4M, we are advocates of a holistic approach to performance training that aims to develop a complete athlete. Our programs are designed to grow power output through strength development and dynamic movement like plyometrics and Olympic lifts, build full-body control and prevent injury through mobility and stabilization work, and increase our mental and physical capacities through targeted but holistic conditioning. This means we don’t specialize or program by sport.

Why not? Read more about our approach to athletic performance training for high schoolers here.

Once the athlete has committed to performance training, the only question left is whether or not they are currently in a competitive season (read more on our distinction on that concept here).

Personal Fitness

Fitness shouldn’t end after a student’s initial education. Just because he or she is not engaged in athletic competition doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or couldn’t be intensely engaged with physical training. Exercise, or hard work, is hard-wired into our DNA, and its benefits are endless.

As with athletic performance training, when it comes to the pursuit of “fitness”, balance is ever the key. Strength can stave off decrepitude, but conditioning can fight chronic disease, while mobility can prevent injury. All fields of fitness play a part of the full equation and nothing exists as “most important” to a healthy lifestyle. Thus, we want to train it all.

We want to provide everyone, regardless of personal goals, with various approaches to holistic, but purposeful training.

Step 4: Train for Life (All Ages)

Perhaps the most important “Phase”, this one is not meant to happen at any one specific time. Rather, it should pervade your entire perspective and approach.

We tend to forget that, when it comes to fitness and training at the high school level, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced. Our primary objective is to provide them with the tools necessary to live a life of mental and physical well-being.

Most of life exists beyond high school.

Often, especially when athletics gets involved, we tend to forget this most important rule. We get lost in the day to day, or we’re too focused on our own personal goals.

If the senior captain football player is afraid to run a mile because he’s too focused on getting as big as possible, or the volleyball player is back squatting under load to increase her vertical jump before eliminating valgus knee collapse from her squat or jumping technique – we’ve done our athletes a serious disservice.

They are sacrificing lasting success in the long-term, for the perceived advantageous results in the short-term.

Don’t overthink it…if your kids are educated, motivated, and active, you have done your job.

Always keep the big picture in mind. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they leave our team or class.

Multi-Sportv2_updated (1)

How to Train HS Athletes: 3 Steps for Complete Athletic Development

These days, everywhere you look, someone is touting the newest and best way to make better football players, or volleyball players, or track athletes. Unfortunately, with so many out to make a buck, sometimes the real goal gets lost in the mix.

When dealing with High School athletes, we must keep the proper perspective. We’re dealing with teenagers, all at the very beginning of their athletic/fitness careers. Even when talking “sports performance training”, our true role is one of educator.

Step 1: Build a Proper Foundation

First and foremost, we must ensure that we aren’t ignoring an athlete’s long-term athletic development or “LTAD” (see our article on that here). Before we talk 40 times and squat maxes, we have to progress each and every athlete from the bottom up.

Want your senior captain squatting over 400 pounds? First they must master a proper air squat.

Only upon a secure foundation can we actively improve “performance” on the field. Too often, coaches are in a rush. We want results and we want them now. Instead of spending time learning the basics and developing a baseline ability, we throw inexperienced athletes into advanced training programs and expect them to perform.

This is both inefficient and dangerous.

The shortest path to any goal is a straight line. The only way to yield long-term results is through planning and progression. We must set common foundations, progress athletes through a holistic fitness education, then transition into more advanced performance programs that allow them to realize their fullest potential.

Step 2: Master the Basics… (Then master them again!)

High school athletes are NOT specialists.

As track coaches, basketball coaches, lax coaches, etc…it’s easy to forget that your athletes exist beyond and outside of your sport. An overwhelming majority, though, of high school athletes compete in multiple sports (as they should!).

If we have an athlete that plays 2 or 3 different sports throughout the year, how do we justify them specializing in their training at any point? Worse than hindering progress, this can inadvertently lead to an increased incidence of injury. By definition, “specializing” in something must come at the expense of something else. Imbalances are often the root cause of injury. You cannot be specialized and well-rounded at the same time.

We believe the best athlete is a balanced athlete.

Every athlete (every human) should be taught strength. It’s the basis of a healthy life. But, strength is only valuable to an athlete when it can be combined with contractile speed to produce power, so we combine traditional strength development with plyometrics and high velocity olympic lifts. Even power, though, is only good when it can be exercised with control and precision. So, we refine it by enhancing proprioception through mobility focused compound movements like the overhead squat, and targeted neuromuscular activity like jumping rope or agility ladder progressions. Beyond that, this newfound ability will only be beneficial if the athlete stays healthy and can fight off fatigue. Being such, we place a heavy emphasis on proper injury prevention and recovery as well as conditioning through a number of different methods. From classical aerobic conditioning, to interval work, to high intensity Metcon (Metabolic Conditioning) workouts.

We firmly believe that such a holistic training program will build a better football player, soccer player, track athlete…you name it. The skills may vary widely between sports, but the physiological requirements are far more universal.

Step 3: Challenge Your Perspective

Perhaps most important, though, is a reminder and understanding of who, exactly, we are training.

As high school coaches, we all want the same thing. We want to develop more dynamic athletes and better teams. But, training high school athletes is a highly unique endeavor. We tend to forget that, when it comes to performance training, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced.

For the overwhelming majority of your athletes, their high school years will be the first time ever involved in an athletic strength and conditioning program. High school students lack a solid foundation of functional fitness on which to specialize. Most can barely squat or perform a deadlift properly, let alone do so with heavy weight or in any fancy variation. It is absolutely imperative these athletes are all given a comprehensive program that works to build a complete athlete from the ground up. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they finish our sport.

If your 18-year-old offensive lineman is scared to jog a mile because of a sole focus on size, you’ve done his long-term health a serious disservice.

Any athlete that commits to a complete training program with consistency will see results that translate not just in sport, but in life.

Want to see how we can help you educate and train your athletes? Click here!


**Where do these beliefs come from? Well, first and foremost it comes from real-life experience. Not only does the entire PLT4M team come from athletic backgrounds (we were all multi-sport HS athletes that went on to compete at the collegiate level), but it shares experience teaching and coaching at the college and high school level as well. Our team of trainers runs the gamut from CSCS coaches through the NSCA, to certified PE teachers, to credentialed trainers through Crossfit and USAW. We all still regularly work with athletes of all levels and experience. To make a long story short, we understand the issues facing high school teachers, coaches, and student-athletes because we’ve lived them. Our cumulative experiences have brought us to a common place in regards to strength and conditioning/fitness, and this vision is what shapes our programs here at PLT4M.**