Kickstarting a High School Strength Program: 6 Steps to Success

Listen to Devin Wendel's experience over on our Podcast, Chalk Talk.

Two years ago, Devin Wendel, a former 3-sport high school athlete and then collegiate football player, who studied to become a certified Athletic Trainer, was given his dream job. Devin Wendel

Devin was asked to come back to his Alma Mater, Mount Abraham High School in Vermont, and serve as the new Athletic Director and Activities Coordinator.

Full of ambition and enthusiasm, Wendel aimed to reinvigorate the athletic culture at his old high school. One of his top priorities was the creation and promotion of a true, school-wide strength and conditioning program that could benefit every single student and athlete.

For the most part, though, he was starting from scratch:

“When I was in high school we did not have a strength program, and it was a big wake up call for me when I went to college…..It was a really humbling experience having no idea what I was doing in the weight room as a college athlete. So coming back to Mount Abe as the AD, I knew I wanted to do something.”

Creating anything from nothing is a tall task – let alone a comprehensive strength and conditioning program. 

Devin took to the problem in a calculated and organized way. Here are his 6 steps to creating a school-wide approach. 

Step 1: Establish a Unified TEAM

While he was excited and eager to jump right into the nitty-gritty, the inner coach in Devin knew that it would take some serious teamwork for this project to become a success. 

Everything from the equipment in the room, the writing on the walls, and the program’s athletes would be using, Mount Abraham’s new AD wanted to make things happen collaboratively.  

Wendel brought together Physical Education teachers, sports coaches, and athletic trainers at several planning meetings, outlining his vision and allowing them to voice their opinions and offer suggestions. Mount Abraham

Teachers across the school jumped to contribute. The Design and Technology teacher, even, created vinyl cutouts of the school’s “power words” for use in and around the program. Now words like effort, pride, drive, commitment, focus, and intensity cover the walls in the weight room. 

Step 2: Empower Coaches & Teachers

Outside of bringing coaches and teachers into the fold, they also needed to be empowered within the weight room.

“The biggest improvement in our program is that with getting into PLT4M, we have had more coaches and teachers willing to get in and teach a movement or technique that otherwise they wouldn’t have done.”

With Devin’s background and expertise, he supported his coaches as they started to get comfortable teaching and coaching new lifts and movements.

Step 3: Optimize the Weight Room Space 

Outside of more coaches and teachers getting comfortable, the weight room itself needed attention. 

Mount Abraham High SchoolDevin looked at the small weight room, tucked away in the back corner of the woodshop, as a challenge. Packed with old, unsafe equipment and not much room to move, Devin and his colleagues knew they needed to get to work. 

Together, Devin’s team removed old equipment, installed a new rubber floor, and made simple changes to the layout to optimize space. 

All they needed was a few racks, free weights, and plenty of room to move about the room. Now Mount Abraham had a place to work hard and be proud of.

With the weight room overhauled, it was time to get more students involved. 

Step 4: Expose Students in PE 

The initial goal was simply to expose students to the weight room and introduce basic fitness/performance movements. 

Mount Abraham had a veteran team of physical education teachers that were dedicated to making sure each student felt comfortable in the weight room. To start, the physical education department introduced foundational movements and focused on mastering the basics. 

Additionally, Devin sought to bridge the gap between PE and Athletics by having coaches open the weight room after school, continuing the education and training for the school’s student-athletes. 

Step 5: Continue Exposure in Athletics

After school, the weight room has become a bustling space for a variety of groups and teams. 

Eighth graders got to come in on the ground floor and received full exposure to the basics. Now the habits and expectations have been instilled with the youngest athletes and will continue to develop through their high school careers. 

For sports teams like field hockey, football and baseball the weight room offers a variety of opportunities. 

Field Hockey looks at their weekly team lift, as an hour’s worth of team building before the season even begins. 

Football and baseball have reinvigorated their culture, and are drawing clear connections to their off season commitment to potential future in-season success.

Step 6: Reflect, Lead, and Develop

Mount Abraham has made the school-wide commitment to their weight room, and now they plan to stay the course and continue to develop their unified approach. 

Devin knows that there is no magic bullet for continued success, but a combination of dedicated coaches and teachers, the right resources, and students that are bought into the process. 

“We can give these kids all the tools they need, but they still need that educator, that teacher, that coach, that leader guiding them.” 

When the athlete sees their leader is committed, they, in turn, are going to be committed. They are going to see how dedicated that coach is, and they, as the student, are going to want to follow that person.” 

Devin and the folks at Mount Abraham have surely taken the lead for what a high school strength and conditioning program can become!