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You may think you’re on track to make it to the next level in your sport. You put in the work on and off the field, and you follow the advice of the knowledgeable people around you.
But later in life, you'll probably look back at your athletic career and regret areas where you could’ve improved. Maybe if you made one change to how you approached your sport, you would have led your team to a championship—or better yet, had the opportunity to play for your dream college program.
Most, if not all, athletes experience such feelings at some point, because no one is perfect. But to help you avoid some of the mistakes that others have made, we spoke with nine elite strength coaches to learn what they wish they had done differently when they were high school athletes.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Mike Boyle: The one thing I’d tell you is that practice matters. I was a swimmer. I loved racing and hated practicing. I lived race to race. I wanted to win my race that weekend, so come mid-week, all I was thinking about was saving energy to race on the weekend. I didn’t think about the idea that I was building toward that race. Our coaches didn’t do a good enough job explaining to us that we are building toward a championship. I had a very short-sighted and day-to-day view, and I probably didn’t really appreciate the value of practice. I thought you went to practice because you had to in order to play in games. You just view it as a necessary evil.
WATCH: Elite Performance With Mike Boyle
2. You Need to Recover
Nick Winkelman: Training hard was expected, but recovery was not. We received no education on the use of hydrotherapy, foam rolling, stretching, sleep habits, nutrition, etc. While I got great results through my junior year in school, I believe those results could have been further augmented through regimented recovery strategies. At the time, the known recovery strategies were not used unless you were a high-level college or pro athlete.
3. Surround Yourself With Like-Minded Individuals
Tony Gentilcore: I was from a very small town, and there were not many guys in my area who were into fitness. I basically did everything on my own. So, the one thing I have to say is that it’s a huge benefit to have people you can go to and say, “Let’s go lift.” That would’ve been very beneficial for me. [The right] training environment is huge. You can talk sets and reps, and ideal training splits, but a good environment can make the difference. If you’re around like-mind individuals, then you’ll have better progress.
4. Don't Overlook Injury Prevention
Eric Cressey: I'd tell my younger self that just because you're not hurting doesn't mean that you aren't on a fast track to being in pain. In other words, it's important to do your preventative maintenance training—rotator cuff drills, scapular stability exercises, mobility work, etc.—before it's too late. Overlooking these important inclusions in a training program can set you up for injuries during your athletic career, as well as long-term problems as your fitness plans evolve over the course of your life. As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
5. No Program is Complete Without the Big Lifts
Mike Robertson: I wish I knew that real strength work—specifically squatting and deadlifting—would improve my performance. I was “coached” by a guy who only trained legs with machines, and as such, my maximal strength in my lower body was sorely lacking. As soon as I added the big lifts into my routine, my athleticism skyrocketed and I saw huge improvements in my performance.
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6. Going Heavy is Not Always the Answer
Mark Roozen: I can remember we had a quote up on our wall in the high school weight room: “GO HEAVY OR GO HOME!” Every time we went in the weight room, we tried to see how much more we could lift on the Bench, Squat or whatever exercise we were doing that day. I wish back then I would have had a better understanding of program design and how to create a plan. Having a better understanding of how to put the whole performance package together would have made a huge impact on what we did and how we performed on the field, court or track.
7. You Need To Vary Your Workouts
Rick Scarpulla: The one thing I wish I knew about training in high school is that you can’t work the same body part or do the same exercise every day to gain size or strength. We would bench every day, yet we couldn’t figure out why our numbers never went up. I think we only did the same six or seven exercises, and we’d wonder why our elbows and shoulders hurt. Oh yeah, and I had a coach who told me that Squats make you slower.
8. Supplements Are Not Guaranteed to Make You Stronger
Nick Tumminello: My mother was a bodybuilder in the 80s and 90s, so I was lucky to grow up with a solid direction when it came to weight training, good form, rest, training splits, etc. I also had great wrestling coaches in high school who were smart when it came to conditioning. So, I'd say, when I look back, the thing I was naive about was supplements. I spent lots of money—I hardly had any money, like most high school students—on supplements. I thought that they must work because they were promoted in bodybuilding magazines, which I read furiously.
9. Training Involves More Than Just Lifting Weight
Duane Carlisle: I wish I knew how to put it all together. For instance, how to integrate nutrition, recovery and regeneration, and differentiate the different aspects of movement training. Another thing, I wish I knew how to warm up properly. We would go out and do a few things [to warm up.] There are so many more effective methods now. Ignoring these factors will make your workouts not nearly as effective.
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