High school training manifesto

Like most of you, I am a regular visitor to elitefts.com. I read the articles, Q&As, training logs and have had the opportunity to attend three of the Learn to Train seminars. In a recent log post by Coach Watts, he wrote about five things that are wrong in our country and how to fix them. This inspired me to create a list or manifesto of ten things I believe form the foundation of a training philosophy when working with high school sports participants.

Working for close to 30 years as a middle school and high school sport coach and the last ten years exclusively in the weight room has been a long, strange trip.  One huge lesson I have learned along the way is that when it comes to strength training, almost every coach has an opinion on how his or her sports participants should lift. This is often regardless of the coach’s own experience under the bar. Because of this disparity between programs, coaches, and opinions, the strength training for the multi-sport participant becomes a confusing, garbled process. Quite often, the sports participant gets caught in the middle between two or three sport coaches each giving different direction on what is best for the athlete.

The following is a list of things that, regardless of sport, should form the foundation of a high school training program. To be sure, this list is far from complete. My intent is to at least get the people that I work with thinking beyond the scope of their own domain. I would like to see coaches gravitate toward a more global approach as it becomes more important to share sports participants and provide quality opportunities to compete at a high level.


There is no question that squats are an essential movement in the development of sports participants. The caveat with utilizing squats in a routine is that depth (how low one goes) is a primary factor in obtaining results. It is widely accepted that one must lower the hips to a point that the crease of the hip drops slightly below the top of the knee — this is breaking parallel. It takes squatting to this depth to get all of the available muscles involved. When squatting is done above this level, the backside muscles (hip extenders) are not called upon to participate and the exercise becomes little more than a terminal knee extension with a bar on the back.

Regardless of the style of squat used, it is imperative to emphasize hip extension. While depth is a critical factor in this equation, I believe some styles such as the traditional parallel back squat and the parallel box squat are better at building the power of hip extension. Other styles such as the front squat, high bar Olympic squat, Zercher squat, and the overhead squat place a much greater demand on the knee extending muscles and diminish the role of the hip extending muscles.

The power of hip extension is directly involved in sprint speed and jumping height. The great Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis utilized the squat in the strength training of sprinters such as Ben Johnson. He also exposed the fact that elite level sprinters have 1:1 or even possibly 1.3:1 hip extension to knee extension strength ratio. This clearly illustrates the importance of training the backside hip extending muscles. Interestingly, a common ratio in strength literature calls for a ratio .6:1. If this is the current standard, maybe this can help to explain the excessive knee ligament injuries in our female sports participants. Strong hip extenders are critical to knee joint integrity.

The box squat is an excellent way to teach proper squat technique. With the correct box height depth is the same every time. The lifter also learns to sit back and spread the floor with his or her feet, creating stimulation for the backside muscles. One additional benefit of the box squat is that it is easier to recover from, making it perfect for in-season training.

If we are going to have our participants squat to improve performance and enhance injury prevention, we should all be diligent in coaching these people to squat to a parallel depth. This must be the standard.  

this is a short view of one of my mentors and myself see often when working with high school athletes. At Peluso Fitness the Squat is the foundation of all strength/speed training for all sports. Checkout elite to read the whole article.  


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Merry Christmas to all.