The Power of PE

The Power of PE: Learn Better, Feel Better

The Power of PE: Learn Better, Feel Better

This is part 2, of two-part series. In part 1, we discuss the lack of physical activity amongst our youth and the impact it has had on our collective health.

It’s no secret that this nation is facing a serious health and wellness issue and it’s starting in our schools.

Across the country, PE courses are being cut or drastically reduced due to budget constraints or shifting priorities. Students are less and less active as they grow up within our educational system.

Such sedentary behavior has led to our younger generations being less healthy than ever before. (Read our article on this phenomenon here)

The importance of correcting such an unhealthy trajectory has surged in recent years. Educators and schools are working hard to re-invest in Physical Education programs, reinvigorate recess, and introduce scheduled classroom activity.

As a direct result, we are beginning to understand just how important PE is to the education of the “Whole Child”. 

Hundreds of studies have come out in just the last few years, all illuminating a direct positive connection between formal physical education programs and improved academic achievement. 

Fitness Education, it seems, may just be the secret sauce for effective education!

Learn Better

According to researchers, regular, structured physical activity directly affects the brain’s physiology in such a way that improves education and learning.

Exercise, and the associated increase in blood flow and oxygenation in the brain leads to the development of cerebral capillaries, the production of neurotrophins, the growth of nerve cells, and the overall improvement of the brain’s neural network. 

Your brain, itself, will grow in size.

As a direct result of this cerebral activity, this “brain exercise,” their lies a proven positive association to academic achievement.

In Naperville, Illinois, math and reading scores shot through the roof when PE was mandated and placed at the beginning of every school day.

Frankly put, regular exercise creates better learners.

Regular physical activity, and its effect on students’ brains and biochemistry leads to improved execution functioning and cognition. Students concentrate better, have better memory, and can process, store, and retrieve information more effectively. 

Perhaps most importantly, though, there has been shown to be absolutely NO downside to spending more time in PE and less in other subjects:

“The studies also suggest that increased time spent in physical education is not likely to detract from academic performance even when less time is devoted to subjects other than physical education.”

When push comes to shove, spending more time in structured PE is proven to be an effective way of creating better learners and higher achieving students.

Feel Better

While standardized test scores and academic achievement are important, the positive emotional effects of fitness education may be even more important.

As reported by the APA in 2018, depression and anxiety are affecting our teens worse than any other age group. Intense schedules, social pressures, and rising academic/athletic/personal expectations have taken their toll on our youth. 

Today’s generation of students and young adults are more stressed than ever before.

Luckily, an investment in activity and physical education can pay dividends here, as well as exercise has been shown to:

  • elevate mood
  • positively influence depression and anxiety
  • reduce psychosocial stress
  • enhance various aspects of self-esteem.

Additionally, school & classroom behavior appears to be radically improved as well.

Studies have continuously found associations between PE and impulse control, attention, attitude, and task-based behavior amongst students throughout their school day.

Schools that enhanced the presence of Physical Education and school-sanctioned physical activity have experienced less educational “disruption” in general. In fact, there exists a strong correlation between high physical fitness achievement and a concurrent improvement in attendance and decrease in disciplinary incidents. 

In a generation full of behavior disorder diagnoses, and medicated kids, this goes even farther. Parents and teachers of children with ADHD reported markedly improved behavior following structured physical activity. 

Long story short, kids who are engaged in regular physical fitness programs have more positive moods, better classroom behavior, and feel less stress.

We Owe it to Our Kids

We all want the best for our kids.

If we want them to be successful students, healthy kids, and happy people, then we must look at the role and presence of fitness and activity in their daily lives.

When push comes to shove, we owe it to our kids to place a greater emphasis on PE within their overall education.

The research is clear, it will help them live healthier lives, perform better in school, and experience greater emotional happiness.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Sam_Updated

SAM BRESLIN, Co-Founder, Head of Performance

  • CSCS, CF-L1
  • Offensive Coordinator & Head Strength Coach at a High School in MA
Importance of PE

Fitness in Physical Education: Get up & Move!

Fitness in Physical Education: Get up & Move!

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2, discussing the mental/emotional side of physical education.

Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.
-Thomas Jefferson

Hard work, self-improvement, and self-sacrifice used to be the hallmarks of this country. 

Toiling, in pursuit of a worthy purpose, was hardwired into our nation’s DNA. It was reflected in everything from the professional workforce to our youth and the public education system.

In recent decades, however, the value of physical pursuits and well-being dropped in favor of the cerebral.

Academic subjects and the arts were hoisted to a position of “most-importance” whereas physical education was looked down upon as a “baser,” less noble pursuit. Worse, educators were forbidden from making kids sweat, or feel physically “uncomfortable” in class.

The result? A national health epidemic.

Houston, We Have a Problem.

Unfortunately, we are not speaking in hyperbolics. This country has a health and wellness problem, and it’s being perpetuated in today’s youth, each and every year.

In fact, as recently as 2015, the prevalence of obesity amongst the nation’s High School population was a staggering 20.6%.

Making matters worse, overall physical fitness rates have been in decline since the turn of the millenia.

  • Less than half of 12 to 15 year old youth have adequate cardiorespiratory fitness levels
  • Only 52% of children between 6 and 15 years old have adequate muscular endurance, based on the number of pull-ups performed
  • Of High School-aged students, just 5.3% of boys and 12.1% are in the “excellent” Health Benefit Zone for grip strength.

We’re talking about more than 1 in every 5 high school aged students being overweight, and only 1 in 2 being in any sort of adequate muscular or cardiovascular “shape”.

It’s no surprise, a lack in physical fitness can lead to all sorts of harmful situations down the road as kids age. Such students are at greater risk for all of the following:

  • High Blood Pressure & Cholesterol
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Asthma & Sleep Apnea
  • Low Bone Density & Joint Problems

Happiness, stress-level, and academic achievement are also all at risk when physical activity and fitness are not made a priority within education. (Read our complete take on that side of the argument here).

And yet, across the country, many high school students are graduating with little-to-no physical fitness, and lacking the tools to drive them forward into a healthy life in the long term.

The Missing Link: A Commitment to PE 

Our national health concerns are no surprise given our recent focus, or rather a lack thereof, on physical activity & exercise in school.

Physical Education, itself, has traversed a unique and winding road over the last two centuries.

In the early 1800’s, PE was focused squarely on gymnastics and personal hygiene. It then shifted to more of a sports-dominated pursuit for near-to a hundred years.

Then, the press of global war forced the government to push PE back towards fitness education and physical standards (driven mostly by a need for a fit “fighting-age” population). The oft-debated “Presidential Fitness Test” was a direct result of this movement. It wasn’t perfect, but exercise was a priority.

But, economic downturns in the 70’s and 80s, though, and the subsequent budget cuts, led to a drastic decline in the presence of comprehensive PE programs in our nation’s educational institutions.

Instead of being presented with regular activity and exercise, our students are now more sedentary than ever.

In fact, the United States earned a D- in Overall Physical Activity within the recently released 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.

Research has shown a disturbing trend amongst our nation’s students with regards to acitivity levels:

  • Only 6% of students get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Just 30% attend any sort of PE class every day. Worse, over 50% attend such a class just once a week! 

To make matters worse, PE has become the subject from which students claim exemption on a regular basis. From physical or cognitive disability, to participation in other school activities, like band or art class – these days there are many “acceptable” reasons for missing PE.

Across the country, students are being asked to sit more, and move less.

We’re setting our kids up for failure.

Let’s Get Moving

With the country’s youth facing such serious health concerns due to a lack of fitness and activity, it is time to invest in Physical Education.

If we want to solve our nation’s health crisis, we must place physical education at the level of importance at which every other school subject sits.

It may require some physical discomfort. It may require a shift in attitude within schools. But it must happen.

Teaching lifetime fitness is a noble pursuit.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Sam_Updated

SAM BRESLIN, Co-Founder, Head of Performance

  • CSCS, CF-L1
  • Offensive Coordinator & Head Strength Coach at a High School in MA
Clean

The Evolution of HS Strength & Conditioning

High School Strength & Conditioning: A Rising Tide

Until quite recently, High School “S&C” has been criminally undervalued and overlooked in educational institutions all across the country.

Strength and Conditioning, as a whole, has long been relegated to the private sector, or “next level”  – disconnected from the mass education and development of our youth. 

During the school day, many PE programs had moved away from formal fitness or strength education. For decades, far more attention was paid to the “academic” subjects. Our educational system had little emphasis placed on hard work, self-image, personal improvement, and physical/mental wellness.

Meanwhile, before and after school, athletic coaches encouraged athletes to “lift” and train at something considerably beyond a developmental level. Parents and athletes were expecting greater and greater levels of athletic performance. But, students lacked proper foundations or experience, while coaches and programs often lacked access to qualified instruction and programming. 

In many places, the sum total of HS S&C were loosely run off-season football workouts each summer.

Now, though, we are all experiencing an exciting shift in focus. Physical and mental well-being has risen to the level of cultural priority, and a new educational pedagogy has appeared in the form of Long-Term Athletic Development. 

Together, these evolutions have begun to bring Physical Education and Athletics together with a focus on proper education and development of ALL our student athletes, across the board.

These days, it’s hard to find someone who would argue against schools making a concerted effort to teach movement, fitness, and performance to all of their students in a progressional, appropriate manner.

The IDEAL

With such a growing trend, it is no surprise that industry leaders are now outspokenly calling for the presence of qualified, certified, and experienced fitness professionals in EVERY high school.

It’s about time!

Just 3 years ago, the NSCA itself published a white-paper on the benefits of hiring a full-time, qualified and credentialed S&C coach at every high school. They made an obvious and clear case, citing benefits such as:

  • Injury Reduction Amongst Athletes
  • Proper Long-Term Athletic Development for ALL students
  • Improved performance and long-term health
  • Increased safety in the gym and on the field
Long story short – a well-run strength and conditioning program would benefit ALL.

Just as the Sciences, or the Arts, are a pillar of our educational system, so too should be physical wellness and athletic development.

In fact, one could argue that, of ALL the things our kids learn in school…how to live long, healthy, and happy lives through self care and self-improvement may be the most important.

We WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree.

In a perfect world, each of the over 15 Million current high school students across the country would have direct and consistent access to a certified fitness professional.

From the day they walk through the doors as a freshman, they would be subjected to a formal education of all things fitness and performance. From simple human movement standards to advanced athletic performance training – they would receive a consistent, appropriate, safe, and personalized experience day in and day out.

The REALITY

The unpleasant truth that we must face, though, is that such an ideal is not yet the world in which we live.

In the US alone, there are over 43,000 public and private “secondary” schools (those serving at least some of those 15 million students through grade 12) across the country.

At the same time, the NSCA claims just over 40,000 coaches – WORLDWIDE. (While not the only institution granting fitness certifications, it is arguably the gold standard, and the most popular for potential employers.)

We’re losing the numbers game, pure and simple.

Think of it this way:

Even if EVERY SINGLE CSCS Coach in the world worked with HS students → Each Coach would be responsible for almost 400 (!!) students per year.

In reality, there lies an even greater discrepancy. Most optimistic estimates put the actual number of high schools employing a full-time, certified strength coach at only 10-15%. This means that, at best, over 35,000 schools lack any qualified personnel to run their programs.

Currently, at the NCAA level, only 70% of DII/DIII athletic programs employ a certified strength coach, and as recently as 2004, even the D1 level only saw 70% of programs employing a NSCA certified coach.

It’s not hard to see, placing qualified professionals in every school will be an uphill battle for years to come. 

The reality is that, in these schools, the responsibility of education and training falls to hard-working and well intentioned PE Teachers and Athletic Coaches. Most frequently, these individuals have no formal experience or background in the performance industry, nor, it is worth noting, do they claim to. They are often volunteering their time and energy for the benefit of their students and athletes.

So – what can we do??

STUCK IN NEUTRAL

The unfortunate juxtaposition of rising demand and such sparing supply has placed us all in an awkward, static spot.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

  • Coach posts video of a developmental athlete performing a “max clean” on Twitter
  • Video demonstrates an alarming lack of attention paid to safety or technique
  • Video goes viral
  • Qualified strength professionals bash coach, athlete, and status of the space at large, piling on one after another.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen it – hell, we may have even participated.

But let me ask you this:

If there simply aren’t enough qualified coaches to properly teach and implement training with our youth athletes, what do we expect? Is our preferred alternative the complete inaction and missed education for 85% of our high school population?

The obvious answer is, “NO”, none of us want that – it flies in the face of the entire industry’s mission. Nor will thousands of athletes and teams just stop working out because they lack a professional to lead them.

In order to move forward, we need to find alternative solutions, ways in which we can create the greatest improvement for the greatest number – NOW, not just 10, 20 years from now.

FOCUSING on the SOLUTION, not the PROBLEM

Plt4m Logo

We have a culture that places increasing importance on true, developmental Strength and Conditioning at the high school level. At the same time, we have too few “professionals” to fill the national need. But, we do have an army of passionate teachers and coaches already working in the trenches, eager to help.

How can we most quickly, most efficiently, and most completely bridge this gap to the benefit of all?

The answer, it seems to us, is the fostering of open, collaborative dialogue and shared experiences amongst ALL those that find themselves in the role of “HS Strength Coach”, professional or otherwise.

It was this thought that inspired us, years ago, to start a project we called PLT4M (“platform”).

“The Rising Tide”

Partially shaped by an aphorism on economics made popular by John F Kennedy, our thought was that if community and collaboration could be fostered amongst ALL that found themselves in the role of HS S&C, we could elevate the entire industry, if only slightly, and slowly over time:

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

If, on any given day, our efforts can lead to just ONE clean being caught in an improved front rack and power position, ONE squat avoiding complete valgus knee collapse on ascent, ONE pull from the floor maintaining a neutral spine, ONE HS implementing a full ground-up fitness curriculum…

Think of the cumulative effect!!

Thankfully, we found very quickly that we weren’t alone. There were already hundreds of like-minded individuals toiling away in an effort to achieve the exact same goal. 

Organizations like the NHSSCA and SHAPE America had already turned their attention to the oft-neglected HS space in an effort to bring people together, to share ideas and resources – to EMPOWER those working with our students and athletes.

Our respect for these groups is almost too great to define. Hard-working teachers and coaches, themselves, they are continually striving to provide the entire industry with the support needed to raise the standard of HS S&C across the country.

To right away be amongst such esteemed company was humbling, to say the least.

Together we can turn the tide. With the sharing of collective wisdom and experience, we can, ALL of us, march toward the level of “professional.” We can raise one another up, turn the entire industry into a team of educators on a shared mission.

Let’s share the wealth. Educate one another, pass along experience, and remain open-minded. When ANY of us benefit – we ALL do.

The Birth of PLT4M

It was our sincere hope to add something tangible to this effort – a tool to facilitate the mission of High School coaches and educators across the country.

Inspired by our own use and enjoyment of HUDL while coaching, myself and my co-founder set out to create a software tool for HS Strength and Conditioning. We hoped to create a planning and management “platform” that could save coaches time and connect them to their athletes year-round, while also providing programs, videos, educational content and other resources to elevate the training happening at the HS level.

What started as a side-project for two former college teammates, current HS/College teachers and Football Coaches, has blossomed into a tool we hope will support all of those HS S&C coaches out there, no matter their personal backgrounds, with whatever they may need.

PLT4M IN ACTION

Real application of PLT4M across Athletics and Physical Education with varying age groups and fitness goals. (Select the tabs below.)

Reclaim Your Nights and Weekends

Our initial goal was that of efficiency.

We, too, had spent countless hours in excel, had juggled multi-sport schedules, and drowned in paper workout sheets. We wanted to alleviate the administrative burden carried by the teachers and coaches running strength programs at their school.

At Dakota Valley High School in South Dakota, a school of just 350 students, Cody Sexton is tasked with coordinating the training of all 10 athletic teams throughout the year. Delivering personalized training while balancing overlapping sport schedules and experience levels was no easy task. 

As did many of us, Cody first turned to Excel to execute his plans. It provided a structured method for delivering personalized workouts to each athlete, every week. As any experienced strength coach knows, though, Excel has its drawbacks.

“I had 100’s of tabs in excel and I would come in each weekend to print the updated workouts so kids had their personalized program.” PLT4M Ipads

Fed up with slogging through max updates, copy and pasting, and individual printing for hours every weekend, Cody looked to PLT4M as a management tool.

PLT4M’s centralized system allowed him to house and update maxes with direct input from his athletes, populate workouts with precise and personal loading in real time, and deliver it all into the hands of his athletes without a single minute spent clicking through Excel tabs.

Even better, his administration threw in their support, purchasing iPads and iPad stands for the weight room. Using PLT4M’s Rack View, they could now load up to 5 athletes on each device. Athletes access their personalized workouts directly through the app and input their results in real time.

While Cody’s process of updating kids numbers each week hasn’t changed, it is now automated through PLT4M, streamlining the process and most importantly, giving Cody his weekends back. 

Get Everyone on the Same Page

While saving a single hard-working coach time and streamlining the daily training experience of athletes in the moment was a worthwhile endeavor – the idea of bringing everyone online had even loftier goals.

If we could help connect coaches and athletes in real time, year-round, we could help to foster a sense of unity amongst an ENTIRE athletic program.

A great high school athletic culture is one marked by a common vision – a shared purpose.

Nationally ranked athletic powerhouse, Loyola Academy in Illinois, exemplifies such a culture of success.

Jeff Lindeman, Head Strength Coach for all sports at Loyola Academy is a big part of that equation. 

Coach Lindeman has served as the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator at LA for the last 11 years. During his tenure, he has fostered a culture of unity, hard work, and success that has resulted in dozens of state championships and a handful of national rankings across various sports.

This isn’t something that happened on it’s own, nor did it happen overnight.

Coach Lindeman wanted to use the S&C program at LA as a unifying factory, continually cultivating a school-wide sense of transparency and accountability. PLT4M provided him a way to connect everyone together.

PLT4M automatically logs every workout an athlete completes and tracks all the progress data that the coach wants. Coach Lindemann then gives access to all of the athletic coaches in school, allowing them to take a peek at their team anytime they want through their own App. They can see who’s logging workouts, what results are being entered, create group-specific progress/activity reports, or just review the day’s workout.

“My workouts weren’t changing, the technology was. We were getting kids more engaged through their favorite technology, bringing coaches into the process, and streamlining our administrative tasks.”

When you add all of this up, what do you get? 

The athletes are more engaged than ever. They are taught great habits when they arrive, and accountability is reinforced year-round. Coaches have bought in and reaped the benefits. 

Loyola Academy now has a training culture defined by commitment and progress. It’s this mindset, coupled with hard physical work that sets LA apart. They create better athletes, and better teams, year-round.

Control the Chaos

While the “tech,” or software, was a powerful tool, and our first step, we wanted to take things even further. We wanted to share our own collective experience and expertise to every coach and athlete that may benefit.

To that end, we gathered a team of certified, experienced, and enthusiastic strength coaches and PE teachers to develop the educational resources needed to support such a large endeavor. 

Together we created over a DOZEN pre-built and fully-fleshed out training programs for any user to use, or customize to their heart’s content. From introductory movement programs great for novice athletes, to full in-season and off-season training programs for competitive athletes. Coaches and teachers are free to use or modify as they see fit.

Additionally, we have built up a catalogue of over 500 personally-produced educational videos that range from simple movement demonstrations to in-depth technique instruction.

The aim is never to replace the teacher and coach – but rather to be their “back-up” in the weight room.

In Glenwood HS (IL), for example, PLT4Ms extensive educational video library, coupled with personal delivery of class curriculums allowed experienced PE Teacher, Sara Hogan to avoid being stretched too thin in large classes of mixed-grade students. 

Sara could first lead the class as a group, briefing and teaching the day’s main movements or lessons. Then, students could head out to work on their own, armed with a digital “textbook” per se, allowing them to take much greater ownership of their class time. Students with plt4m app

Fully developed lesson plans and easy to access educational videos for every element of the programs were both “essential in continuing education in class”. Sara, in fact, implemented a rule that highlighted this new accountability:

“Before coming back to ask a question of the teacher in the room, you must watch the relevant video and read its accompanying description in an effort to find the answer yourself.”

Instead of minimizing the teacher, the added resource of a personalized training app for each student actually highlighted the value of the teacher, and resulted in 2 phenomenal things…

  1. 1-on-1 Instruction: Teachers were less focused on administrative questions, like “what movement comes next?” or “what does this exercise mean again?” and free to focus on technique and individual instruction as needed once the class began.
  2. “Peer-to-peer” instruction: After the teacher led the class with the day’s main lessons, kids could review content at their own pace, and support one another as they learned and practiced.

In the end, it became an environment that every subject teacher wants – one in which their time is spent actually teaching, and working with kids that need extra instruction, rather than fielding administrative requests and review questions.

Long-Term Athletic Development

Above all, PLT4M’s mission is to help all High Schools implement a complete and coordinated approach to LTAD through their PE and Athletic Departments.

The ultimate goal is successfully getting every student athlete the complete education and training experience they deserve!

At St. Paul High School in Nebraska, a smaller school comprised of just a few hundred kids, Rusty Fuller serves as the Physical Education director for grades 7th through 12th, and is the Head Football Coach. LTAD (1)

Rusty, and St Paul High, wanted to adopt such an approach to athletic development. The goal was to bring all students together, allowing them to work side-by-side, while still allowing for personalization and varying goals.

This was not without its challenges.

“Running a successful class training session with 30 kids of varying ability is hard. You’re trying to adapt things on the fly for different kids while also teach and instruct on proper form and mechanics.”

Rusty turned to PLT4M in hopes of streamlining this process from the ground up. He wanted something that offered instructional content to every student, programs for students and athletes alike, and allowed him to track a host of different data.

With PLT4M, he could combine his PE classes and athletic programs in a way he hadn’t been able to before. 

As is the case with many small schools, a lot of the kids at St. Paul are multi-sport athletes. Rusty and his principal saw the value in PLT4M’s variety of programs. From holistic, multi-sport training, to education curriculums and personal fitness programs. This allowed Rusty to place different students on specific programs dictated by competitive seasons, as well as teach fitness to students not engaged in athletics.

St. Paul has thus established a comprehensive, yet flexible Physical Education curriculum that caters to each student’s individual needs. All 7th and 8th graders start with PLT4M’s Intro to Fitness and Intro to Training Programs, which establishes proper movement mechanics and a proper foundation. They then graduate to ‘Introduction to Weight Training’ – an in-depth, 3-Part educational program that acts as a great bridge into barbell and dumbbell resistance training.

From there they can move on to competitive athletic training or more advanced personal fitness regimens. Everyone is brought through a complete progression, personalized for them every step of the way.

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.

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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.**

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Teaching the Clean

One of the most technically difficult movements to learn and perform well, the clean is also one of the most beneficial. It’s a dynamic blend of strength and power development, full body mobility, and precise proprioception. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as one of the most athletic lifts.

Starting new athletes in the clean can be a tricky endeavor due to it’s many moving parts. Here at PLT4M, we like to start at the “top” with the most basic element of the clean and work our way down over time.

Thus, we begin by teaching the “High Hang Power Clean” – basically focusing on the jump and pull with a catch in our front rack position. We introduce this movement in parts:

Hands & Feet:
The athlete’s feet should be in a neutral position directly under the hips. Their hands should be at least “thumb-swiping” distance from the thighs on the bar, with the arms hanging long and loose from the shoulders.

Position 1/Jumping Position:
From here, we instruct the athlete to simply “soften” the knees, or bend them slightly. The torso remains vertical, we’re not looking to lean forward, here. It is just a little 2 inch dip of the hips.

Pull & Catch:
We tell the athlete to jump with the legs while pulling the bar up the torso. Cue them to try and pull their shirt up with the bar, keeping the elbows high and outside. Once the bar has reached chest height, we shoot the elbows through and assume a quarter squat position – also known as the power position.

Even breaking it down to these most basic pieces, you will see many different athletes exhibiting many different faults, From here, it’s easier to identify individual issues and fix with each athlete, rather that try and break the movement down even further.

Fault 1 – Scarecrow vs Zombie:
One of the most common issues you’ll see with new athletes is the tendency to reverse curl the bar as opposed to the proper high pull. First, cue the athlete to mimic a Scarecrow, not a Zombie (elbows high and outside – video here: https://youtu.be/r2bFx9iJBQI). If the visual cue doesn’t work, provide them with a tactile cue, placing a physical obstruction like a pvc pipe in the way, forcing the bar to travel upward instead of out from the body.

Fault 2 – Starfish Catch
The next most common issue relates to hip and foot position on the catch. Often, athletes will jump the feet out wide in an effort to stabilize the weight. While this is instinctual for many, it puts them in an unsafe position under load, and also limits their ability to move weight. Cue them to avoid this starfish catch, and jump from hip-width to shoulder or squat width (video here: https://youtu.be/gA2PyfCHeps). There are a number of ways to fix this issue. You can use a tactile cue by placing your foot or other obstacle in the way of excessive width, or a visual cue with a taped target area on the floor.

Once we’ve mastered the high hang power clean, we can much more easily begin to introduce the other variations – moving all the way down to a full squat clean from the floor.

Always remember that we are looking to instill great mechanics before we add serious loading. Set good habits and the weight will come!