Strength and conditioning specialist P.J. Gardner offers observations and advice on training safely and handling potential injuries.
STACK: What are some common misconceptions among high school athletes concerning weight training?
P.J. Gardner: Many high school athletes don’t understand the progression of exercises, meaning they do not know when to increase or decrease their intensity. High school athletes develop a mind frame of training haphazardly without any direction. For example, athletes will max out on exercises every couple of weeks, thinking they’ll get stronger, but that is not necessarily the case.
STACK: What kind of direction do you provide to get athletes to train properly?
P.J.: One important element . . . is developing a workout program that is sport-specific. The athletes are required to bring their individual workouts to the weight room and carefully record the lifts they perform, the amount of weight used and their sets and reps. This not only makes the athlete accountable for the workout, but also gives trainers and coaches a certain degree of regulating what the athlete is doing each time in the weight room.
STACK: What kinds of results have you seen with high school athletes using this recording method?
P.J.: This method allows the coaches and trainers to keep the athletes honest, and it also allows us to monitor injuries and sometimes find out why an athlete was possibly using more weight than he should have for a specific lift.
STACK: How do you explain to your athletes that this is a safe and effective way to train?
P.J.: We stress that a number of injuries happen throughout the year, and without an organized program the effect of the weight training is not as beneficial. Once again, it’s important for athletes to realize the need to regulate their intensity. For example, in-season training requires more of a maintenance program with fewer repetitions, whereas preseason or off-season training involves a heavier lifting program.
STACK: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see high school athletes make when training?
P.J.: Most mistakes are made in an athlete’s technique while performing the Olympic lifts, such as the Clean and Jerk or Squat. We focus on the form and the correct progression of weight when teaching high school athletes. We keep them at a lighter weight until they perfect the technique in order to avoid common injuries in the lower back or shoulders.
STACK: Is it difficult for a high school athlete to admit that he might be injured or hurt?
P.J.: Absolutely. I try to tell athletes up front to be honest with me. If they’re hurting, tell me, and we’ll handle the situation immediately so we can get the athlete back on the court or field soon. I always tell the players, “Pay me now or pay me later,” meaning that if you let a sprained ankle go on for two or three days, it’s likely to become worse, whereas if you tell me immediately and we treat it, then you may be back three or four days sooner.
STACK: What’s your philosophy on physical therapy and rehabbing injuries?
P.J.: The earlier you can detect an injury and address the problem, the better off the athlete will be. We try to quickly pull the athlete out of practice or game situations and treat the injury with heat, ultrasound, ice, massage and rest. If we receive permission from the athlete’s parents, then we might provide Motrin, Aleve or Tylenol to further reduce inflammation.
STACK: What kind of advice would you give a high school athlete who doesn’t have access to a trainer at his high school?
P.J.: I would definitely say seek professional help or advice somewhere. Parents obviously mean well, but sometimes they don’t provide the correct information or guidance. Most of the time, I would suggest first telling your coach about an injury, because most high school coaches understand or at least have general knowledge about injuries and how they should be treated. If possible, I would strongly suggest seeing a certified athletic trainer.