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Every year, a new wave of high school students enters the weight room for the first time. Some students arrive excited and eager to work hard. Other students come nervous and scared about what the weight room has to offer. And of course, we all have the few students who think they already know it all.
As the only high school Physical Education teacher at my small school in Nebraska, I get each and every student for an intro class. At Conestoga Jr-Sr High School, every freshman student takes an Introduction to Strength and Conditioning class, where I introduce fitness and weight training.
These are the 5 tips that I use to make sure my students are set up for success in class and beyond.
Make the Weight Room Welcoming
It is important to remember that many of these students have never been in a weight room before. To expect students to jump headfirst into weight training is like expecting a new swimmer to dive headfirst into the deep end.
The weight room can be intimidating! Make it welcoming by starting each day with something fun.
At Conestoga we start the class with some sort of "Instant Activity," the goal of which is to let students get interested, engaged and comfortable with class. Most of them are coming from sitting at a desk all day, so this helps them kickstart their time in Introduction to Strength & Conditioning.
Examples of Instant Activities:
- Rock, Paper, Scissors
- Red Light – Green Light
- Cone Reaction
Even as we get more comfortable as the semester goes on, I continue to do our Instant Activities so that students always start the session on a positive note.
Teach Movements Over Muscles
Many students walk into the weight room looking for a chest workout, arm workout or leg workout. My goal as a teacher is to make sure that students develop a vocabulary of strength and conditioning language they can take with them far past my class.
In class we make it a point to emphasize movements over muscles when it comes to what we are going to be working on. To help build the vocabulary, I will break it down for the students in some broader categories.
- Asymmetrical Squat
- Horizontal Push
- Horizontal Pull
- Vertical Push
- Vertical Pull
- Force Production
- Force Absorption
As we introduce and teach new exercises, we can circle back to our overarching movement categories. This helps the students map out in their minds the larger world of strength and conditioning with movements, exercises and muscles.
Provide Constant Feedback—for Everyone, From Everyone
As we start to develop this wide range of foundational movements and exercises, students must receive feedback.
Although of course I am providing feedback throughout the weight room, I am not the only teacher. Students are expected to give each other feedback on their lifts and movements. And as teachers, we need to deliberately make this peer-to-peer instruction a part of the class.
Example Workout Group of 4:
- Student 1, Main Exercise
- Student 2, Spotting
- Student 3, Watching and Giving Feedback
- Student 4, Accessory Exercise
Intentionally creating a place for students to give each other feedback requires they also start to build their vocabulary. Past just the understanding of movement categories, students begin to develop a more performance-based vocabulary through my lessons and watching instructional videos.
Meet Students Where They Are
For some students it will just click. Other students will continue to struggle to figure out the basics. Meet each group where they are in their development and training.
Because of the established framework setup, I can provide different modifications, progressions and guided feedback based on how students are doing.
A great example is the different challenges teaching the hinge will present, and how I can modify and alter movements for students.
As we progress in the hinge and add some lightweight dumbbells or barbells, students will struggle to maintain a neutral lumbar spine. To help struggling students, I will incorporate the Landmine RDL. I find it helps to "groove" the hinge pattern for those who might be struggling to do so with more traditional exercises.
Regardless of the variations, the entire class is still focusing on the hinge.
Remember This Is Just the Beginning
For young freshman students who are introduced to strength and conditioning, this is just the beginning.
By helping students feel both comfortable and confident in the weight room, we have the opportunity to empower them far past our class.
Remember this Introduction to Strength and Conditioning class might not cover each and every thing you wanted. Still hopefully you left students wanting more. Whether they come back for more with you or seek out different exercise opportunities, your class will set them up for whatever will happen next.
Photo Credit: FatCamera/iStock
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