Danger in the High School Weight Room!

Top 6 Pitfalls of the High School Weight Room.

Mike Kellner, MS-ATC, NASM-CPT
All-Star Sports Academy

In 4 years of working as an Athletic Trainer in 2 universities, I saw a lot of injuries that could have been avoided with proper strength & conditioning programs. I always wondered why athletes were unable to find good programs to prepare them for their sports. Now that I’m working with high school athletes on the strength & conditioning side of the equation, I’ve noticed some things that help to answer that question for me.

The trends and habits I see in high school weight rooms (as well as big-chain gyms) are troublesome and may be injuring young athletes, or at the least, holding them back. Since starting my career as a strength and performance coach at a private training facility, there seems to be a trend occurring to the athletes coming into the gym from their High school weight rooms. In any case, these trends are not good, as they lead to more problems than benefits for the athletes. Here are my top 6 “deadliest” pitfalls I’ve found in your high school weight room and some simple ways they can be avoided. that need to be addressed and fixed.

#6 Lack of Proper Warm-up/ Stretching Program Prior to Lifting- Too many athletes skip a proper warm-up when working out. They believe it is pointless or that it cuts into the time they have for their lifting program. The reality is that a proper warm-up will not only bring blood flow into muscles about to be worked it will also help in the prevention of injuries during the workout. A proper warm should be no less than 15mins long and the athlete should have broken a sweat by the end.  Try a combination of self myofascial release (SMR) techniques, core/hip activation drills, as well as both stationary and movement mobility exercises.


Example: After foam rolling for 10-15 minutes try the following warm-up before starting your lift:
2 Rounds of:
10 Over head Squats
10 step out Lunges ( 5 on each side)
5 walk out pushups

Followed by 2 rounds of:
Jogging in place for
High knees in place
Butt Kicks in place
Frankenstein walks in place
single leg toe touches in place
EACH exercise goes on for 30 secs



#5 To Much To Early- Possibly the single most prevalent issue in the HS weight room – and maybe the most dangerous! In my discussions with other strength coaches, it seems universal that athletes are under the mistaken impression that more is better!). More exercises, more sets, more reps, more weight. I constantly see athletes performing exercises with loads far beyond their capability, with poor form, simply so they can say they lifted XXX pounds. The dirty truth is that a lift done poorly with an improper amount of weight is not a legitimate lift and counts for nothing! Proper technique will yield greater strength and power gains over more weight in any lift. More is not better, better is better.



#4 Isolation of Single Muscle Groups- “ Today is chest day!” How many times have you heard that come up at your gym? If you want to bulk up like “Arnold”, “Lou”, or any other bodybuilder in some meathead magazine, isolation of certain muscle groups is a great strategy. But in sports, do you ever use just one muscle group in isolation? The answer is NO! Sports movements consist of whole body, integrated movements requiring all aspects of the athletic skill-set, Think of a soccer players kick on the goal or a wrestler taking a shot on his/her opponent. Both of these require total body strength, coordination, power, speed, balance and agility. These skills can’t be acquired with an isolated, body-part oriented training program! Training for sport should consist of training the body as a whole using big functional movement exercises, such as the squat or deadlift. You should try splitting your workouts into an upper body centered lifting day and a lower body centered lifting day. Don’t be afraid to slide one or two lower body movements in the upper body centered day, and vice versa. Every sport movement uses every muscle group in the body, either as a prime mover or a stabilizer; our training should mimic that as well.

Example lower body training day:
1. A.)Trap Bar deadlift for 4 sets 8 reps
B.) Box Jumps 4 sets 4 jumps

2. A.) Kettlebell clean and press 3 sets of 4 reps (each side)
B.) Physioball abdominal roll out 3 sets of 10 reps
C.) Kettlebell swings 3 sets of 12 reps

3. A.) Single leg elevated dumbbell squats 4 sets of 6 reps ( each side)
B.) Heavy sled drags  4 sets 15-20 yards

#3 Long Distance Running for Conditioning- Time after time I hear athletes come in saying how they wanted to get some conditioning work in or their coach wanted to do a conditioning session and they ended up running 3,4, or 5+ miles. My usual reply is “That’s great!! When did you join the Cross Country team?” I say this because running long distances as your conditioning program should only be with those sports where running long distance is the actual sport.  You will never see a football player, wrestler, or soccer player run for 3 straight miles without stopping. Truth is running long distance will not only break down muscle in your body it will train your body to work efficiently only at a slow rate of movement speed. In sports it is never a light/moderate jog to the ball or court - you sprint, jog, sprint, side shuffle, etc... There are hundreds of ways to build the cardiovascular system more efficiently for sports such as sprints, hills, circuit training and even increasing your intensity through your whole workout.

Example: 5 full sprints uphill (20-30 yards max.) with 15-20 sec breaks in between sprints at the end of your workout. Repeat as “sets” 2-3 times.

#2 Social Environment….In a Bad Way – I put this as my number two solely on the reason because I see it developing more and more in gyms everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I think building a social network with your teammates/ gym-mates during workouts is an integral part of the team building process. In fact, the people I talk to most in my life besides family are those I train with. However, conversations should consist of topics such as “How was my form?” “Did I get low enough?” or shouting words of encouragement, not “Did you hear Becky is going out with Tommy?”  “What did you get on Mr. K’s quiz this morning?” or checking your text messages in the middle of a set. When it’s your time to train, you train; all other stuff should go out the window. You should only worry about yourself, the safety and the progress of you and the others around you. Going into a workout like this is very therapeutic and that’s one of the reasons why so many people become “addicted” to working out.


A way to promote this behavior is not only train with like-minded training partners but also, set boundaries before working out such as; leaving cell phones in the locker room or agreeing to only talk about training until after the workout. Setting up boundaries helps everyone get the most out of the workout in front of them and not get distracted.



#1 Non Certified/ qualified “Trainer”- To me, this pitfall is so dangerous that it has its very own set of pitfalls within it, and is the single most prevalent reason athletes so often fail to reach their training – and performance – potential!. I don’t want to come across like I’m criticizing all sport coaches. I realize that a few have a real background in the field of exercise science or have spent a considerable amount of time and energy to really dig deep and understand the ins and outs of effective strength and conditioning for youth athletes. Unfortunately, those coaches are too few and too far between the ones who simply don’t. Most are former athletes who think they know how to lift and, having survived the hazards of having a “more is better” coach when THEY played the sport, translate that exact mindset to your 14-18 year old.


Here are the 3 parts of this particular pit fall or land mine, if you prefer:

3. Improper exercise selection More is not better. Better is better. Too often, when young athletes look up to the older, “wiser” coach (or just another high school athlete, because there’s no coach to be found) in the weight room, they get a random selection of “killer” exercises designed to beat them up and make them hurt all over. None of that will make you a better athlete. Any workout can make you sweat. An intelligently crafted athlete training and development program will make you a better athlete in measurable and predictable ways, and will translate to your field, court, ice, track or mat performance.

2. Lack of regressions/progressions Not every high school athlete is ready for every exercise. Some can handle anything you ask of them and get better from it. Top strength and conditioning coaches know that progressing or regressing any exercise is particular to an athlete’s movement patterns, kinetic chain dysfunctions and condition and even their mindset. When coaches push athletes to perform exercises they aren’t prepared for, they dramatically increase the risk of injury for those athletes. This is the exact opposite affect we’re hoping for, isn’t it?

1. Improper technique Too many athletes have bad lift technique. This is a problem even in a controlled environment with light weights. Imagine what happens in the competition-fueled atmosphere of the high school weight room! It doesn’t matter if it’s the big brutes from the football team or the girls soccer team, bad form and a fired up atmosphere is a recipe for disaster.


Adding weight to bad form can be catastrophic. So many knee, ankle, back and other serious injuries, on and off the field, could be prevented if the high school athlete were taught proper and effective form before increasing working loads! Strength coaches need to be familiar with a vast array of knowledge – mobility, tissue preparation, joint stability, muscle activation, proper form for each individual, cueing and the development of “muscle memory.” You can’t just “google it and go” anymore!

Sports coaches, parents and athletes: we’re all on the same team! Just like you wouldn’t do your own dental work (even dentists let someone else do it for them), let professionals do what they’re good at! You’ll develop a better team culture if you let a professional take care of your athlete’s strength and conditioning.

Strength and conditioning coaches don’t want to “horn in” on your team. On the contrary, we want to work hand-in-hand with you to develop programs that address the needs of your team, raise their level of performance and remain injury-free. They’ll be better athletes and better players.

And THAT means more “w’s” than before and more success. And success is better for everyone.

PARENTS and ATHLETES - want to avoid the "pitfalls" and stay on the road to student-athletic success? Check out our "Next Level" Athlete Success System! "Next Level" is the blueprint to success in high school and college student-athletics...and even beyond!

COACHES - we have revamped high school weight rooms to be more functional, more efficient and more EFFECTIVE! We will be happy to talk with you about creating all of your off-season, pre-season and even in-season weight room programmingf or your team at no cost to you or your team! Just give us a call at 732-597-3725 and we'll be happy to give you the details!