Dear Parents and Coaches,
Squat, deadlift, clean, press… What do these exercises have in common? Your high school athletes will likely be doing a variation of each of these during their off-season and summer training programs.
The main reason these lifts are so common in strength and conditioning programs is they are extremely effective for building size, strength, and power, especially under a barbell. There is no bigger bang for an athlete’s buck than the gains these exercises can produce.
Using methods that have the highest return on improving performance should be a main focus of strength and conditioning for athletes at the high school level and beyond. However, coaches and athletes must understand complex lifts carry great risk of injury if they are not taught, performed, and progressed properly. Great numbers in the weight room count for nothing if an athlete is not healthy when practice and competition begins. Therefore, safety should be prioritized over performance.
Often times these lifts are excluded for safety, but that fails to produce adequate athletic development. Our athletic culture has inspired almost every coach and athlete to integrate complex exercises and progressive loading into training. Failing to incorporate the big lifts may lend an advantage to competitors. Additionally, if athletes plan to compete at the collegiate level, a note from Mom is not going to get anyone out of squat day. Collegiate level training programs are full throttle from day 1, so athletes need to be ready to safely hit the ground running. High school is the proper time to teach skills, assess and correct movement, develop strength, and discover issues like pain that need to be addressed by a healthcare professional. It’s too late to touch each of those bases once college begins, because the expectation will be that every athlete is ready to train to win.
What’s the solution?
Find individualized instruction from a strength and conditioning professional, because there are too many bodies in general high school strength training environments for athletes to receive sufficient personal instruction. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) have to understand the mechanics of squatting, deadlifting, cleaning, and pressing as a standard to be certified. A professional holding this certification is the best start when looking for proper instruction for lifting and loading. Additionally, locating a resource who can correct movement is crucial. Every athlete has subtle flaws in their movement that can lead to bigger issues down the road. Often times, impairments require corrective exercise prescription or manipulation. A Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Certified Specialist or a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) are great resources for corrective exercise or referring to the most appropriate professionals for therapies. They are commonly available at sports performance facilities and sometimes within high school athletic departments.
Finally, every young athlete needs to practice these exercises as skills that may enhance their ability to perform in their respective sports. If athletes decide to push the limits and risk injury, they are abusing a privilege. On the other hand, they need to understand the work must be stressful enough to stimulate adaptations. Most importantly, if an exercise hurts or cannot be performed properly, athletes must speak up to their coaches. Every athlete is responsible for an attitude that will keep them safe while giving the necessary effort to improve when performing the big lifts. Lastly, remember the goal of training is to be the highest performing athlete possible as a contributor to a team and as an individual for every practice and competition.