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.**

Featured Video Play Icon

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!

Featured Video Play Icon

Deadlift Technique Drill

At PLT4M, we’re total sticklers for proper deadlift form. We love the lift as a tool for developing raw strength as well as a rigorous reinforcement of core stability, posterior chain mobility, and spinal alignment and posture.

Too often, though, we see young athletes pulling heavy loads off of the ground with sub-par technique or worse. Not only are they sacrificing maximum potential force production with inefficient movement, they are putting themselves at the very real risk of legitimate injury.

In order to combat this risk, we like to spend time drilling our “pulling” technique anytime we get the chance.

DEADLIFT POSITIONAL DRILL

Here we have a complete drill for athletes to correct or improve their positions while warming up for heavier loading. With a PVC pipe or empty barbell, perform 5 slow reps of each of the following:

1.Top-Half Deads (Like an RDL, from hip crease to the knee). Focus on pushing the hips back, keeping the bar on the quads, knees remain where they are, lumbar curve maintained.

2. Bottom-Half Deads (mid-shin or ground to the knee). Focus on pushing the floor away, instead of pulling the bar off the ground. Hips and shoulders should rise together, maintaining a good flat back.

3. Pausing Deads. Combine the two movements, with a deliberate pause at the knee.

4. Full Deadlifts. Blend both pieces into one fluid movement. Focus on returning the bar the exact same way you pick it up.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!

3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

3 Keys to Warming Up Before A Workout

The Warm Up.

It’s the least “sexy” part of training. It lacks the competition and the intensity of the rest of the workout. Because of this, it is often overlooked by coaches and or avoided by athletes. The warm up, though, is one of the most important components of any training program.

Beyond simply preparing athletes for more intense work, a proper warm up simultaneously offers us a chance to work on movement technique, prevent injury in the gym and on the field, and become a better overall athlete (mobility/ROM/proprioception/etc).

How should you approach the warm up in order to achieve all of these significant benefits?

Let’s take a quick look at the structure of a well-executed warm up.

Important to note here, is the order in which everything is executed. Though we have laid out a specific sequence of events, a warm up does not always have to follow such to the letter. Often, these stages will overlap, and sometimes it makes more sense to perform a technique brief before mobility or perform your activation in place of dynamic movement. Bottom line: so long as you are using a structured warm up with purposeful intent, you’re doing it right!

Step 1: Get Moving! (Elevate Heart Rate)

1A: Light Cardio

Before we do anything else, we must prime the engine. To do this, we elevate the heart rate, incite blood flow to the entire body, and begin moving our muscles and joints in a low intensity environment. The easiest way to accomplish this is to hop into some light “cardio” work. You have a whole host of different options:

  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Rowing
  • Jumping Rope
  • Jumping Jacks

Beyond the traditional cardio options, you could easily opt for something more entertaining to a group of young athletes. A casual game of knockout, tag, musical chairs (the med ball version is quite entertaining!), etc. are great options so long as it is casual and relaxed. All we are looking for is continuous movement at a very moderate pace. Perform for somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes depending on time constraints.

1B: Dynamic Movement

Once the heart rate is up and blood has begun to flow, we like to transition directly into another kind of continuous movement. Unlike our monostructural cardio, though, we are working through fuller ranges of motion about different joints. The goal is to expand our initial warm up into more athletic, movement-relevant motion.

Example: The Alternating Spiderman & Reach

Other possibilities:
PVC Pass throughs
Bodyweight Good Mornings
Inchworm to a Push Up
Continuous Line Drills

In each of these examples, the goal is slow, purposeful movement. These are not static stretches, but neither are they fast-paced. We want to reinforce great biomechanics (focusing on the maintenance of the lumbar curve during a bodyweight good morning, for example), and begin to warm up the muscles and connective tissues through a complete range of motion that will be used during the workout ahead.

Step 2: Mobility

Now that the body has been warmed up a bit, we slow things down a little with some mobility work. There is a LOT of debate on the place and efficacy of static stretching and tissue mashing (foam rolling, etc) – all we will say is that in our experience, the benefit of targeted mobility performed in conjunction with a proper dynamic warm up is undeniable.

The purpose, here, is to improve our positioning. This refers to the positions we must find for safe, efficient, and powerful movement within the gym, but also on the field of competition. For example, if we are getting below parallel in the day’s workout, we may prescribe some banded hip and ankle mobility. Not only does this grease the groove for our squatting, it reinforces proper hip/knee/ankle alignment to prevent unintentional internal rotation of the hip (specifically the valgus knee collapse so often associated with ACL injuries) and also improves ankle dorsiflexion. Both are key to avoiding injury and improving performance when running, jumping, etc. 

Banded Squat Mobility:

There are TONS of mobility progressions, SMR work, and positional holds that can be utilized within your warm up. The end goal is simply to correct or improve a position without sacrificing the integrity, or strength, of that position.

Step 3: Movement Prep

3a: Activation

Once we’ve gotten the blood flowing and our range of motion enhanced, we want to take some dynamic activity and make it specific to the training demands of the day. Our goal is to begin to “activate” the particular muscle groups and kinetic chains that are of primary focus later on. In conjunction with your mobility work, proper activation greatly reduces the chance of injury while improving performance.

What does this look like?

Frankly it can take on many forms, all depending on your approach and goal for the day. One day you may choose to shore up the midline in preparation for heavy deadlifts by working some hip extensions or simple supermen. Another day it may be concentrated shoulder pre-hab before barbell pressing work. It may be specific glute activation before squatting to help prevent valgus knee collapse in inexperienced lifters. It may even be simple gymnastics of push ups and air squats, or barbell complexes to dial in lightweight movement patterns that will be used later on.

For example, this series of DB Carries is a great way to activate the shoulders and lockdown the midline all at once.

The beauty is in the flexibility – you can get a lot of things done while also preparing for your more intense work to come.

3b: Technique

Arguably the most important component of movement prep. No athlete is at a level of movement competency that would eliminate the need to drill technique and form every single day. We are great believers in mastering the basics…then mastering them again!

We first like to grab a PVC or empty barbell and drill the movement in question, and all of its constituent parts. If it’s a heavy squat clean day, for example, we will likely run through our 3 position clean drill first. Then, we drill the exact movement for a number of light, perfect reps. Then we gradually increase the loading and resistance until we’ve reached our desired level of intensity. 

3 Position Clean Drill:

This process really serves two purposes. First, it allows time for technique work. Too often, coaches and athletes opt not to continually work movement technique to their detriment. It also prepares us, neuromuscularly, for the intensity to come within that exact movement pattern.

All of the above is a surefire way to prime the body for your training session. You’ll be less susceptible to injury, you’ll gain total body control and ROM over time, you’ll cement great movement patterns, and you’ll see the best gains – you’ll PR more.

So next time you train, incorporate a great warm up then get to work!

Featured Video Play Icon

Squat Therapy

Squat Therapy, or the overhead wall squat, is a relatively simple, yet dynamic training tool. At PLT4M, we use it for an array of different purposes. It can be used to dial in great squat positioning before a big below parallel day, assess current levels of mobility and track progress over time, or simply drill form during the development of new athletes.

Above all, though, we love these wall squats for their ability to act as a diagnostic tool.

Starting at least a full foot or more away, have the athlete face a wall, and settle into a shoulder width stance, with toes slightly turned out. Then, have the athlete raise their arms directly overhead in full lockout position. From here, we will ask them to complete a slow and controlled squat rep, during which we can look for common faults.

1. Do the arms unlock, or do the chest & shoulders drop toward the wall in a “hunched” position?

Take a look at the athlete’s shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. Many young athletes are incredibly immobile through their thoracic spine (section of the spine from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage) from sitting in front of computers, hunching over cell phones, etc. We can reverse this chronic thoracic flexion through regular mobility and strength/activation work.

2. Does the athlete lose their natural lumbar curve – aka does the lower back round out?

This likely signifies a lack of core stability or the need for specific activation. We’re not talking “strength” here, or the active generation of force – we’re talking about the ability to resist movement. With so many crazy dynamic “core” exercises out there, we tend to forget that the primary purpose of our abs is to stabilize the trunk and keep the spine in a neutral position. A great way to shore up and activate the core is through isometric holds. Planks, glute bridges, asymmetrical DB carries, etc are all great options to turn on and improve that core stability.

3. Is the athlete unable to get the hips below parallel?

Lack of depth could be due to a number of different issues. First is basic strength – if an athlete is extremely “untrained” he or she may be unable to support their bodyweight through a full range of motion. Here we can scale depth with targets of decreasing height, progressing them to full depth over time, much like we would scale a push up or pull up. It could also be a product of supremely tight hip flexors – another wonderful byproduct of our sedentary/sitting/desk lifestyle.

Frequently, the lack of depth actually arises due to a lack of ankle mobility, namely the total range of dorsiflexion. There are a number of easy tests and fixes for this issue that will help athletes achieve greater depth while maintaining an upright torso. We will be addressing those tests in future videos, but working calf/achilles flexibility is an excellent start for any athlete having trouble.

4. Are the knees caving in?

Valgus knee collapse is likely due to poor hip mobility or a lack of glute activation and can be a serious risk of injury (both in the gym and on the field). Soft tissue work (foam rolling and poses like the Pigeon stretch) coupled with targeted glute/hip activation (bridges, banded crab walks, etc), can help to open up that hip joint for proper external rotation. This will allow the knees to drive over the toes and maintain the natural hinge position of the knee joint. (See our article on this specific issue here: https://www.plt4m.com/fix-your-squat-4…).

5. Are the feet spinning out, actively rotating on the floor during the descent?

This is most likely the athlete’s body compensating for a lack of ankle mobility. If the knee cannot drive out over the toe, the ankle will rotate outwards in the path of least resistance. It is also possible that the athlete suffers from a lack of stabilization through the foot arch – cue them to drive the big toe into the ground as the squat. Lastly, the spin could also be caused by a lack of hip internal rotation, which we can fix with mobility drills like the Frog pose.

By no means are these the only possible faults and fixes, but they should give you a great place to start with your athletes. Every athlete will follow a slightly different path to perfect form, and regularly diagnosing their movement patterns is a great way to help them along the way.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!