A Middle School Athlete's Guide to Being Ready for a High School Weight Room

Incoming freshmen can get a jump on their high school career by learning what to expect from a varsity strength and conditioning program.

So, you've graduated from middle school and will soon be stepping foot inside a high school weight room.

Although you might think you'll be doing a lot of the fancy exercises you see your favorite athletes and influencers doing on Instagram, hopefully, you won't be. Because a lot of that stuff is crap. A good high school weight room will have athletes doing simple, straightforward workouts that have plenty of both scientific and anecdotal evidence behind their ability to get you stronger, more resilient and more athletic.

I am writing this mainly for incoming freshman, but the same ideas apply to anyone who hopes to soon become a regular in a high school weight room. You might be a high school junior who's simply never lifted before but who wants to start now.

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So, you've graduated from middle school and will soon be stepping foot inside a high school weight room.

Although you might think you'll be doing a lot of the fancy exercises you see your favorite athletes and influencers doing on Instagram, hopefully, you won't be. Because a lot of that stuff is crap. A good high school weight room will have athletes doing simple, straightforward workouts that have plenty of both scientific and anecdotal evidence behind their ability to get you stronger, more resilient and more athletic.

I am writing this mainly for incoming freshman, but the same ideas apply to anyone who hopes to soon become a regular in a high school weight room. You might be a high school junior who's simply never lifted before but who wants to start now.

A high school strength program is more than just lifting weights and running. Of course, that's a huge piece of it, but this is also a great time to build camaraderie with your teammates and coaches. You can develop your leadership skills here. You can find out your strengths and weaknesses outside of sports here. This is where you assess the character of your peers, and they assess yours. This is where you become a better athlete, but also learn life lessons that will stick with you forever.

Sure, you want to lift to get stronger and ultimately maximize performance while controlling what you can to prevent injury, but you also want to take advantage of the experience that is being offered. Because it is like none other, and if you take full advantage of it, it's something that can truly shape the course of the rest of your life!

Start Preparing Now

You do not and should not wait to enter high school before you start engaging in some sort of meaningful physical training.

After talking to some of my friends and colleagues in the high school setting, there are some trends and common themes they talk about when it comes to incoming freshman. First and foremost is that they can quickly tell who's had some training experience and who hasn't.

According to Mitch Gill, head athletic trainer at Dacula (Georgia) High School, athletes who have some training experience prior to high school are "typically light years ahead from their classmates" compared to those who do not.

Not sure what kind of training you should be participating in? Below we have what we call our "Foundational Movement Skills." We implement them with athletes ages 11 and up. Working with a certified fitness professional at ages 11-13 can give you a major leg up when you hit high school. Instead of having to learn these movements as a freshman, you'll already be familiar with them and can hit the ground running. Our Foundational Movement Skills include:

Squat

Your knee-dominant, lower-body focused movement. The Goblet Squat is a great squat movement for beginners.

Hinge

Your hip-dominant, lower-body focused movement. The Barbell RDL is a quintessential hinge movement.

Push

Pushes work your anterior (front side) upper-body muscles. The Push-Up is a simple yet highly effective example.

Pull

Working your posterior (back side) upper-body muscles. The Cable Row is a classic pulling exercise.

Run/Lunge

Moving dynamically from one leg to the other, as illustrated by the Reverse Lunge.

Jump/Land

Not just being able to jump high or far, but being able to properly absorb the forces landing from those jumps create. The Broad Jump is one example.

Carry/Rotate/Resist

Being able to handle load while controlling your torso/core is a huge part of athleticism. The Farmer's Walk looks simple, but there's a lot of core strength and stability happening there.

Throw/Slam

Being able to propel an object explosively but also safely and with control. The Med Ball Slam is a fun way to learn how to transfer energy throughout the body and channel it into an implement.

All of the above videos are ground-level functional exercises you can use to start mastering each movement. If you can squat, hinge, push, pull, lunge, jump, carry and throw proficiently, you honestly will enter high school with an awesome foundation of movement.

These exercises aren't fancy, but they are phenomenal for building strength. If you're entering a good high school program, these will be the foundations of the weight room. Strength is the building block to pretty much all other athletic traits. If you want to get faster, jump higher or move quicker, there is a good chance that at the ages 11-18, simply gaining strength or higher quality movement can help you do it.

Worry About YOU

According to Coach Gill, many of his incoming freshmen are "too worried about how much weight the person next to them is lifting."

Competition is good, but when you're just starting out in the weight room, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping your ego in check. You need to focus on your own goals, your own abilities, your own needs and your own training program.

Should you push yourself? Heck yeah. But you've got to be smart about it. Don't be reckless and try doing 90 pounds more than your last one-rep max just because you see one of your older teammates doing it.

Remember you can't compare yourself to a senior who has been lifting for four years when it's your first month in the weight room. That's apples to oranges. Instead, focus on building the best quality movement that you can while consistently getting stronger and staying away from injury.

The kids who go after lifts they have no business pursuing are the ones who end up injuring themselves and making zero gains. Crummy form does not get you stronger!

Will You Slack or Will You Lead?

There is often a lot of freedom in the high school weight room. Some classes may have 75-plus kids lifting at once with just a few coaches supervising.

This means you can easily blend in and be average by doing things like skipping reps, giving low effort and not cleaning up after yourself. Or you can step up and be a leader by showing others the right way to work.

That's the decision you have to make every time you step in the weight room. Do you just want to go through the motions and maybe see a little benefit, or do you want to train with intent and leave no doubt you're improving?

This is your shot to become a better leader and a trusted athlete by teammates and coaches. Don't wait until you're a senior to start working hard. Set the standard for yourself and for others from day one and you'll be amazed at what you can do. Again, this doesn't mean you have to lift the most of anyone in the weight room. But it does mean you have to bring great energy, focus and encouragement to each session as well as being respectful of others in the weight room and cleaning up after yourself.

Get Your Mind Right

Speaking of leadership, one of the greatest benefits of the high school weight room is the mental side of things. Every day you have the opportunity to enhance two characteristics about yourself.

Those are your attitude and your effort. There are many things in life you can't control. These are two things you can and should control daily.

These don't just inherently make you a better athlete. These inherently make you a better human being. Every day at the end of a training session, you should ask yourself two things:

  • Did I approach this with the right mindset? (attitude)
  • Did I try my hardest? (effort)

If either of the answers are no, you've got some work to do. Or you can continue to remain the same while others surpass you.

Understand Why

Understand why you are even in the weight room as well as why you're doing what you do there is extremely important. If you're doing something with no purpose behind it, you're just going to go through the motions. If you know your purpose, you're going to bring the passion.

According to Human Kinetics, "Strength and conditioning coaches have two primary goals. The first is to improve athletic performance, which usually means improving athletes' speed, strength and power. The second primary goal is to reduce athletic injuries."

The reason you are performing exercises in a very specific order, using a very specific amount of weight for a very specific amount of reps is to accomplish these goals. All training is not created equal.

Good coaches are not afraid to hear the question, "Why?" If you truly don't understand why you're doing something, ask your coach. If they're a good coach, they can help put a purpose behind it. When your understanding of that purpose matches the coach's, then you have the recipe for a great weight room culture.

I hope this has given you a snapshot of what's to come for you in the high school weight room. Here are the five major takeaways you can start using right now to make sure you get the most out of your freshman year (and beyond) in the weight room.

  1. Work on your foundational movement skills prior to high school. Ideally, with the help of a certified fitness professional.
  2. Set your own goals and work towards them.
  3. Take ownership of your time and purpose.
  4. Check your attitude and effort daily.
  5. Think big picture and strive to understand the purpose.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: Andres Lindlahr/iStock

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Topics: WEIGHTLIFTING | STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING | YOUTH SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS