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Barbells, as promised

March 12, 2012

During the winter season I, along with another teacher, run a strength and conditioning program for out of season athletes. In practice this is 65ish kids who play soccer, football, lacrosse, or field hockey trying to get stronger for their sport and, I’d argue, for life. Now that the season is past and they’ve all moved on I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on how it went.

This year we went with a three day a week program, student lifted twice a week and did a simple metcon the other day. Metcons usually involved a rower and were in the 6-20 minute time domain, usually intervals of some sort. This year I didn’t program the metcons myself, which saved a fair bit of time and headache for me. Lifting sessions saw four groups of three kids with their own squat racks. Students were grouped by height which tended to correlate to age. We focused on the back squat (lowbar or high), the press, and to a lesser extent the bench press and the deadlift.

All in all we were pretty pleased with the season. A lot of kids made a lot of gains in strength and overall fitness. We have a couple of junior boys scratching at the boundary of a double body-weight back squat. One junior boy broke the #400 barrier, first time I’ve seen a student do that at this school. Several kids went from never squatting the naked bar with poor form to squatting body-weight with good form and depth. Four girls got their first pull ups ever. The only injury we had was one tweaked lower back which cleared up in about a week. Stronger fitter tiny humans will be taking to the field in the spring and the fall. I’m pleased to have been a part of it.

Getting girls to stick with the program has been a challenge and we’re still wrestling with what to do about it. One notion is that we’re going to make an entire session the girl’s session. Instead of three groups of boys and one group of girls (which is what each of our three daily (six total) sessions looked like) we’ll have an entire session made entirely of girls. In theory this will make them more comfortable and likely to stick with it? I’m skeptical. But my skepticism, my faith that if we just trusted them to be strong and lift hard led to something like a %20 attrition rate for girls. So we’ll listen to feedback of actual girls and former girls and see if putting them all together will help. Perhaps my wife will pitch in with the coaching again, that would surely help too. Seeing a thin athletic young woman squatting bodyweight might help convince them that they aren’t going to hulk out and be gross. I also want to sit them all down and do a tutorial on what photoshop and the media is doing to their brains, but oh well…

Programming. This year we went with a nice linear paradigm. 3sets 5 reps across, increasing by 5, or 10 pounds each workout. I think a few kids didn’t really buy in to the part of this where they pay attention to their weights, but by and large they knew what they were doing and that kept people on task. Only one kid outgrew this growth pattern, stalling when he got to around 335. We put him on a diet of speed sets and changed up his heavy days which got him moving again. Pleasing outcomes abounded. Looking forward to next year.

And as a bit of icing on the proverbial cake I hit a personal PR of 415 in the back squat, and hit a 250 power clean. Not bad for a 6’4″ physicist.

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