If you’re a high school athlete, summer represents one of your best opportunities to get strong.
The reality is that most athletes of this age do not have a solid foundation of strength, which holds back every other component of their athleticism. If you play a fall sport, summer represents a long period with plenty of free time to get inside the weight room. Now is the time to bit the big boy movements and build muscle. Do lots of Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses and Cleans. A stronger foundation will transfer to a better on-field performance every time.
Testosterone levels are at their highest during adolescence and early adulthood. If you’re not in the weight room moving legit weights around during your teenaged years, you’re failing to take advantage of this precious opportunity for building muscle and strength. And the summer months present arguably the best opportunity out of the entire year to do so.
Too many athletes and coaches spend too much time on “sport-specific training” in the spring and summer and not enough time building that base of strength. Left to their own devices, athletes might do nothing but play pick-up games all summer and not step foot in the weight room. Then they wonder why they’re playing poorly and/or constantly getting injured during their season.
The more thickness and muscle density you give your core and frame, the more punishment you can dish out and absorb on the field. As a coach, I see this as the weak link in many athletes. They’re just not strong enough to perform well and to handle the physicality of their sport!
Now, why do so many high school athletes avoid this type of training? Well, building your foundation is the most grueling type of training you can do. It means you must work large compound movements. It means you must use heavy weights. It means you must have the barbell on your back and in your hands. It means you must push your mind and your body. It means you must train with intent and be explosive. It is not easy, yet it is essential to becoming a better athlete.
When doing these big movements, you must learn to use heavy weights with low reps, as well. Twelve-rep sets of Squats do little for your explosive strength. You need to do triples and even singles. Absolute strength is what the goal here is, and absolute strength can only be built if you are using 90 percent and above of your one rep max. If you can do double-digit reps with a weight you are by no means working absolute strength. Save the reps for your auxiliary exercises where it’s OK (and recommended) to do 10-12 reps per set.
Getting stronger doesn’t have to be complicated. But you can’t make a routine of nothing but accessory exercises and expect to get bigger and stronger. I believe you should only be doing four, maybe five exercises per weight room workout, and the first two should ideally be compound barbell exercises. Barbells are the easiest way to utilize the greatest loads, which is what you want when you’re trying to get stronger. The first exercise should be your “big” movement for the day (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, etc.) and should be the lowest reps with the most weight. Go for some PRs, don’t be afraid to hit the big singles.
Your second movement should be another big compound movement, but with a little less weight and a few more reps (say, 5-8 reps). Then exercises three and four can be accessory exercises with yet lighter weights at 8-12 reps per set. Exercise five, if you have one, should be similar and you can maybe move up to 15-20 reps per set if appropriate.
All your movements should be done in an explosive fashion. Controlled and correct, but move the weights as fast as you can. One of my favorite sayings is “train slow, play slow” and it is very true. Slow reps are for a different purpose and of little use to an explosive athlete.
You want to develop an explosive rate of force and to do that, you must lift fast and explosively. I am not going to waste my time or yours filling this page with all kinds of scientific explanations about force times x = this or that. I’m not going to tell you that you can build a foundation on fancy candy-pants soft drills or tell you how to work around the big exercises. You must train heavy and hard, no other way will get you the thickness to be solid on the field. Your diet and rest along with your sport experience are all important but without a strong solid foundation, there’s going to be hard-cap ceiling on your potential (and hint: it won’t be all that high).
Just running through hurdles and ladders will not build a strong foundation. I will not give you reasons to avoid the hard work it takes to get truly stronger. There is way too much soft talk going on these days as it is. Tough athletes on the field are tough, hardworking athletes in the gym.
Save the excuses about why you can’t train hard. If you want to play and play up to your potential, then bust your butt in the gym all summer. If you bring the effort and do the right thing in the right order, you can do it. Bottom line. Want to improve your game? Get stronger. Building a stronger foundation is hard work. Plain and simple. Yet without it, everything you try to build athletically will be standing on shaky ground.
Coach Rick Scarpulla is the owner of the Ultimate Advantage Training Center. You can reach him at 914-433-1110 as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo Credit: gradyreese/iStock