The Power of PE

The Power of PE: Learn Better, Feel Better

The Power of PE: Learn Better, Feel Better

This is part 2, of two-part series. In part 1, we discuss the lack of physical activity amongst our youth and the impact it has had on our collective health.

It’s no secret that this nation is facing a serious health and wellness issue and it’s starting in our schools.

Across the country, PE courses are being cut or drastically reduced due to budget constraints or shifting priorities. Students are less and less active as they grow up within our educational system.

Such sedentary behavior has led to our younger generations being less healthy than ever before. (Read our article on this phenomenon here)

The importance of correcting such an unhealthy trajectory has surged in recent years. Educators and schools are working hard to re-invest in Physical Education programs, reinvigorate recess, and introduce scheduled classroom activity.

As a direct result, we are beginning to understand just how important PE is to the education of the “Whole Child”. 

Hundreds of studies have come out in just the last few years, all illuminating a direct positive connection between formal physical education programs and improved academic achievement. 

Fitness Education, it seems, may just be the secret sauce for effective education!

Learn Better

According to researchers, regular, structured physical activity directly affects the brain’s physiology in such a way that improves education and learning.

Exercise, and the associated increase in blood flow and oxygenation in the brain leads to the development of cerebral capillaries, the production of neurotrophins, the growth of nerve cells, and the overall improvement of the brain’s neural network. 

Your brain, itself, will grow in size.

As a direct result of this cerebral activity, this “brain exercise,” their lies a proven positive association to academic achievement.

In Naperville, Illinois, math and reading scores shot through the roof when PE was mandated and placed at the beginning of every school day.

Frankly put, regular exercise creates better learners.

Regular physical activity, and its effect on students’ brains and biochemistry leads to improved execution functioning and cognition. Students concentrate better, have better memory, and can process, store, and retrieve information more effectively. 

Perhaps most importantly, though, there has been shown to be absolutely NO downside to spending more time in PE and less in other subjects:

“The studies also suggest that increased time spent in physical education is not likely to detract from academic performance even when less time is devoted to subjects other than physical education.”

When push comes to shove, spending more time in structured PE is proven to be an effective way of creating better learners and higher achieving students.

Check out how PLT4M can help in your pursuit to promote happier and healthier lives.

Feel Better

While standardized test scores and academic achievement are important, the positive emotional effects of fitness education may be even more important.

As reported by the APA in 2018, depression and anxiety are affecting our teens worse than any other age group. Intense schedules, social pressures, and rising academic/athletic/personal expectations have taken their toll on our youth. 

Today’s generation of students and young adults are more stressed than ever before.

Luckily, an investment in activity and physical education can pay dividends here, as well as exercise has been shown to:

  • elevate mood
  • positively influence depression and anxiety
  • reduce psychosocial stress
  • enhance various aspects of self-esteem.

Additionally, school & classroom behavior appears to be radically improved as well.

Studies have continuously found associations between PE and impulse control, attention, attitude, and task-based behavior amongst students throughout their school day.

Schools that enhanced the presence of Physical Education and school-sanctioned physical activity have experienced less educational “disruption” in general. In fact, there exists a strong correlation between high physical fitness achievement and a concurrent improvement in attendance and decrease in disciplinary incidents. 

In a generation full of behavior disorder diagnoses, and medicated kids, this goes even farther. Parents and teachers of children with ADHD reported markedly improved behavior following structured physical activity. 

Long story short, kids who are engaged in regular physical fitness programs have more positive moods, better classroom behavior, and feel less stress.

We Owe it to Our Kids

We all want the best for our kids.

If we want them to be successful students, healthy kids, and happy people, then we must look at the role and presence of fitness and activity in their daily lives.

When push comes to shove, we owe it to our kids to place a greater emphasis on PE within their overall education.

The research is clear, it will help them live healthier lives, perform better in school, and experience greater emotional happiness.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Sam_Updated

SAM BRESLIN, Co-Founder, Head of Performance

  • CSCS, CF-L1
  • Offensive Coordinator & Head Strength Coach at a High School in MA
Importance of PE

Fitness in Physical Education: Get up & Move!

Fitness in Physical Education: Get up & Move!

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2, discussing the mental/emotional side of physical education.

Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.
-Thomas Jefferson

Hard work, self-improvement, and self-sacrifice used to be the hallmarks of this country. 

Toiling, in pursuit of a worthy purpose, was hardwired into our nation’s DNA. It was reflected in everything from the professional workforce to our youth and the public education system.

In recent decades, however, the value of physical pursuits and well-being dropped in favor of the cerebral.

Academic subjects and the arts were hoisted to a position of “most-importance” whereas physical education was looked down upon as a “baser,” less noble pursuit. Worse, educators were forbidden from making kids sweat, or feel physically “uncomfortable” in class.

The result? A national health epidemic.

Houston, We Have a Problem.

Unfortunately, we are not speaking in hyperbolics. This country has a health and wellness problem, and it’s being perpetuated in today’s youth, each and every year.

In fact, as recently as 2015, the prevalence of obesity amongst the nation’s High School population was a staggering 20.6%.

Making matters worse, overall physical fitness rates have been in decline since the turn of the millenia.

  • Less than half of 12 to 15 year old youth have adequate cardiorespiratory fitness levels
  • Only 52% of children between 6 and 15 years old have adequate muscular endurance, based on the number of pull-ups performed
  • Of High School-aged students, just 5.3% of boys and 12.1% are in the “excellent” Health Benefit Zone for grip strength.

We’re talking about more than 1 in every 5 high school aged students being overweight, and only 1 in 2 being in any sort of adequate muscular or cardiovascular “shape”.

It’s no surprise, a lack in physical fitness can lead to all sorts of harmful situations down the road as kids age. Such students are at greater risk for all of the following:

  • High Blood Pressure & Cholesterol
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Asthma & Sleep Apnea
  • Low Bone Density & Joint Problems

Happiness, stress-level, and academic achievement are also all at risk when physical activity and fitness are not made a priority within education. (Read our complete take on that side of the argument here).

And yet, across the country, many high school students are graduating with little-to-no physical fitness, and lacking the tools to drive them forward into a healthy life in the long term.

The Missing Link: A Commitment to PE 

Our national health concerns are no surprise given our recent focus, or rather a lack thereof, on physical activity & exercise in school.

Physical Education, itself, has traversed a unique and winding road over the last two centuries.

In the early 1800’s, PE was focused squarely on gymnastics and personal hygiene. It then shifted to more of a sports-dominated pursuit for near-to a hundred years.

Then, the press of global war forced the government to push PE back towards fitness education and physical standards (driven mostly by a need for a fit “fighting-age” population). The oft-debated “Presidential Fitness Test” was a direct result of this movement. It wasn’t perfect, but exercise was a priority.

But, economic downturns in the 70’s and 80s, though, and the subsequent budget cuts, led to a drastic decline in the presence of comprehensive PE programs in our nation’s educational institutions.

Instead of being presented with regular activity and exercise, our students are now more sedentary than ever.

In fact, the United States earned a D- in Overall Physical Activity within the recently released 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.

Research has shown a disturbing trend amongst our nation’s students with regards to acitivity levels:

  • Only 6% of students get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Just 30% attend any sort of PE class every day. Worse, over 50% attend such a class just once a week! 

To make matters worse, PE has become the subject from which students claim exemption on a regular basis. From physical or cognitive disability, to participation in other school activities, like band or art class – these days there are many “acceptable” reasons for missing PE.

Across the country, students are being asked to sit more, and move less.

We’re setting our kids up for failure.

Get your students moving in Physical Education with PLT4M. Check out more here!

Let’s Get Moving

With the country’s youth facing such serious health concerns due to a lack of fitness and activity, it is time to invest in Physical Education.

If we want to solve our nation’s health crisis, we must place physical education at the level of importance at which every other school subject sits.

It may require some physical discomfort. It may require a shift in attitude within schools. But it must happen.

Teaching lifetime fitness is a noble pursuit.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Sam_Updated

SAM BRESLIN, Co-Founder, Head of Performance

  • CSCS, CF-L1
  • Offensive Coordinator & Head Strength Coach at a High School in MA
Clean

The Evolution of HS Strength & Conditioning

High School Strength & Conditioning: A Rising Tide

Until quite recently, High School “S&C” has been criminally undervalued and overlooked in educational institutions all across the country.

Strength and Conditioning, as a whole, has long been relegated to the private sector, or “next level”  – disconnected from the mass education and development of our youth. 

During the school day, many PE programs had moved away from formal fitness or strength education. For decades, far more attention was paid to the “academic” subjects. Our educational system had little emphasis placed on hard work, self-image, personal improvement, and physical/mental wellness.

Meanwhile, before and after school, athletic coaches encouraged athletes to “lift” and train at something considerably beyond a developmental level. Parents and athletes were expecting greater and greater levels of athletic performance. But, students lacked proper foundations or experience, while coaches and programs often lacked access to qualified instruction and programming. 

In many places, the sum total of HS S&C were loosely run off-season football workouts each summer.

Now, though, we are all experiencing an exciting shift in focus. Physical and mental well-being has risen to the level of cultural priority, and a new educational pedagogy has appeared in the form of Long-Term Athletic Development. 

Together, these evolutions have begun to bring Physical Education and Athletics together with a focus on proper education and development of ALL our student athletes, across the board.

These days, it’s hard to find someone who would argue against schools making a concerted effort to teach movement, fitness, and performance to all of their students in a progressional, appropriate manner.

The IDEAL

With such a growing trend, it is no surprise that industry leaders are now outspokenly calling for the presence of qualified, certified, and experienced fitness professionals in EVERY high school.

It’s about time!

Just 3 years ago, the NSCA itself published a white-paper on the benefits of hiring a full-time, qualified and credentialed S&C coach at every high school. They made an obvious and clear case, citing benefits such as:

  • Injury Reduction Amongst Athletes
  • Proper Long-Term Athletic Development for ALL students
  • Improved performance and long-term health
  • Increased safety in the gym and on the field
Long story short – a well-run strength and conditioning program would benefit ALL.

Just as the Sciences, or the Arts, are a pillar of our educational system, so too should be physical wellness and athletic development.

In fact, one could argue that, of ALL the things our kids learn in school…how to live long, healthy, and happy lives through self care and self-improvement may be the most important.

We WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree.

In a perfect world, each of the over 15 Million current high school students across the country would have direct and consistent access to a certified fitness professional.

From the day they walk through the doors as a freshman, they would be subjected to a formal education of all things fitness and performance. From simple human movement standards to advanced athletic performance training – they would receive a consistent, appropriate, safe, and personalized experience day in and day out.

The REALITY

The unpleasant truth that we must face, though, is that such an ideal is not yet the world in which we live.

In the US alone, there are over 43,000 public and private “secondary” schools (those serving at least some of those 15 million students through grade 12) across the country.

At the same time, the NSCA claims just over 40,000 coaches – WORLDWIDE. (While not the only institution granting fitness certifications, it is arguably the gold standard, and the most popular for potential employers.)

We’re losing the numbers game, pure and simple.

Think of it this way:

Even if EVERY SINGLE CSCS Coach in the world worked with HS students → Each Coach would be responsible for almost 400 (!!) students per year.

In reality, there lies an even greater discrepancy. Most optimistic estimates put the actual number of high schools employing a full-time, certified strength coach at only 10-15%. This means that, at best, over 35,000 schools lack any qualified personnel to run their programs.

Currently, at the NCAA level, only 70% of DII/DIII athletic programs employ a certified strength coach, and as recently as 2004, even the D1 level only saw 70% of programs employing a NSCA certified coach.

It’s not hard to see, placing qualified professionals in every school will be an uphill battle for years to come. 

The reality is that, in these schools, the responsibility of education and training falls to hard-working and well intentioned PE Teachers and Athletic Coaches. Most frequently, these individuals have no formal experience or background in the performance industry, nor, it is worth noting, do they claim to. They are often volunteering their time and energy for the benefit of their students and athletes.

So – what can we do??

STUCK IN NEUTRAL

The unfortunate juxtaposition of rising demand and such sparing supply has placed us all in an awkward, static spot.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

  • Coach posts video of a developmental athlete performing a “max clean” on Twitter
  • Video demonstrates an alarming lack of attention paid to safety or technique
  • Video goes viral
  • Qualified strength professionals bash coach, athlete, and status of the space at large, piling on one after another.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen it – hell, we may have even participated.

But let me ask you this:

If there simply aren’t enough qualified coaches to properly teach and implement training with our youth athletes, what do we expect? Is our preferred alternative the complete inaction and missed education for 85% of our high school population?

The obvious answer is, “NO”, none of us want that – it flies in the face of the entire industry’s mission. Nor will thousands of athletes and teams just stop working out because they lack a professional to lead them.

In order to move forward, we need to find alternative solutions, ways in which we can create the greatest improvement for the greatest number – NOW, not just 10, 20 years from now.

FOCUSING on the SOLUTION, not the PROBLEM

Plt4m Logo

We have a culture that places increasing importance on true, developmental Strength and Conditioning at the high school level. At the same time, we have too few “professionals” to fill the national need. But, we do have an army of passionate teachers and coaches already working in the trenches, eager to help.

How can we most quickly, most efficiently, and most completely bridge this gap to the benefit of all?

The answer, it seems to us, is the fostering of open, collaborative dialogue and shared experiences amongst ALL those that find themselves in the role of “HS Strength Coach”, professional or otherwise.

It was this thought that inspired us, years ago, to start a project we called PLT4M (“platform”).

“The Rising Tide”

Partially shaped by an aphorism on economics made popular by John F Kennedy, our thought was that if community and collaboration could be fostered amongst ALL that found themselves in the role of HS S&C, we could elevate the entire industry, if only slightly, and slowly over time:

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

If, on any given day, our efforts can lead to just ONE clean being caught in an improved front rack and power position, ONE squat avoiding complete valgus knee collapse on ascent, ONE pull from the floor maintaining a neutral spine, ONE HS implementing a full ground-up fitness curriculum…

Think of the cumulative effect!!

Thankfully, we found very quickly that we weren’t alone. There were already hundreds of like-minded individuals toiling away in an effort to achieve the exact same goal. 

Organizations like the NHSSCA and SHAPE America had already turned their attention to the oft-neglected HS space in an effort to bring people together, to share ideas and resources – to EMPOWER those working with our students and athletes.

Our respect for these groups is almost too great to define. Hard-working teachers and coaches, themselves, they are continually striving to provide the entire industry with the support needed to raise the standard of HS S&C across the country.

To right away be amongst such esteemed company was humbling, to say the least.

Together we can turn the tide. With the sharing of collective wisdom and experience, we can, ALL of us, march toward the level of “professional.” We can raise one another up, turn the entire industry into a team of educators on a shared mission.

Let’s share the wealth. Educate one another, pass along experience, and remain open-minded. When ANY of us benefit – we ALL do.

The Birth of PLT4M

It was our sincere hope to add something tangible to this effort – a tool to facilitate the mission of High School coaches and educators across the country.

Inspired by our own use and enjoyment of HUDL while coaching, myself and my co-founder set out to create a software tool for HS Strength and Conditioning. We hoped to create a planning and management “platform” that could save coaches time and connect them to their athletes year-round, while also providing programs, videos, educational content and other resources to elevate the training happening at the HS level.

What started as a side-project for two former college teammates, current HS/College teachers and Football Coaches, has blossomed into a tool we hope will support all of those HS S&C coaches out there, no matter their personal backgrounds, with whatever they may need.

PLT4M IN ACTION

Real application of PLT4M across Athletics and Physical Education with varying age groups and fitness goals. (Select the tabs below.)

Reclaim Your Nights and Weekends

Our initial goal was that of efficiency.

We, too, had spent countless hours in excel, had juggled multi-sport schedules, and drowned in paper workout sheets. We wanted to alleviate the administrative burden carried by the teachers and coaches running strength programs at their school.

At Dakota Valley High School in South Dakota, a school of just 350 students, Cody Sexton is tasked with coordinating the training of all 10 athletic teams throughout the year. Delivering personalized training while balancing overlapping sport schedules and experience levels was no easy task. 

As did many of us, Cody first turned to Excel to execute his plans. It provided a structured method for delivering personalized workouts to each athlete, every week. As any experienced strength coach knows, though, Excel has its drawbacks.

“I had 100’s of tabs in excel and I would come in each weekend to print the updated workouts so kids had their personalized program.” PLT4M Ipads

Fed up with slogging through max updates, copy and pasting, and individual printing for hours every weekend, Cody looked to PLT4M as a management tool.

PLT4M’s centralized system allowed him to house and update maxes with direct input from his athletes, populate workouts with precise and personal loading in real time, and deliver it all into the hands of his athletes without a single minute spent clicking through Excel tabs.

Even better, his administration threw in their support, purchasing iPads and iPad stands for the weight room. Using PLT4M’s Rack View, they could now load up to 5 athletes on each device. Athletes access their personalized workouts directly through the app and input their results in real time.

While Cody’s process of updating kids numbers each week hasn’t changed, it is now automated through PLT4M, streamlining the process and most importantly, giving Cody his weekends back. 

Get Everyone on the Same Page

While saving a single hard-working coach time and streamlining the daily training experience of athletes in the moment was a worthwhile endeavor – the idea of bringing everyone online had even loftier goals.

If we could help connect coaches and athletes in real time, year-round, we could help to foster a sense of unity amongst an ENTIRE athletic program.

A great high school athletic culture is one marked by a common vision – a shared purpose.

Nationally ranked athletic powerhouse, Loyola Academy in Illinois, exemplifies such a culture of success.

Jeff Lindeman, Head Strength Coach for all sports at Loyola Academy is a big part of that equation. 

Coach Lindeman has served as the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator at LA for the last 11 years. During his tenure, he has fostered a culture of unity, hard work, and success that has resulted in dozens of state championships and a handful of national rankings across various sports.

This isn’t something that happened on it’s own, nor did it happen overnight.

Coach Lindeman wanted to use the S&C program at LA as a unifying factory, continually cultivating a school-wide sense of transparency and accountability. PLT4M provided him a way to connect everyone together.

PLT4M automatically logs every workout an athlete completes and tracks all the progress data that the coach wants. Coach Lindemann then gives access to all of the athletic coaches in school, allowing them to take a peek at their team anytime they want through their own App. They can see who’s logging workouts, what results are being entered, create group-specific progress/activity reports, or just review the day’s workout.

“My workouts weren’t changing, the technology was. We were getting kids more engaged through their favorite technology, bringing coaches into the process, and streamlining our administrative tasks.”

When you add all of this up, what do you get? 

The athletes are more engaged than ever. They are taught great habits when they arrive, and accountability is reinforced year-round. Coaches have bought in and reaped the benefits. 

Loyola Academy now has a training culture defined by commitment and progress. It’s this mindset, coupled with hard physical work that sets LA apart. They create better athletes, and better teams, year-round.

Control the Chaos

While the “tech,” or software, was a powerful tool, and our first step, we wanted to take things even further. We wanted to share our own collective experience and expertise to every coach and athlete that may benefit.

To that end, we gathered a team of certified, experienced, and enthusiastic strength coaches and PE teachers to develop the educational resources needed to support such a large endeavor. 

Together we created over a DOZEN pre-built and fully-fleshed out training programs for any user to use, or customize to their heart’s content. From introductory movement programs great for novice athletes, to full in-season and off-season training programs for competitive athletes. Coaches and teachers are free to use or modify as they see fit.

Additionally, we have built up a catalogue of over 500 personally-produced educational videos that range from simple movement demonstrations to in-depth technique instruction.

The aim is never to replace the teacher and coach – but rather to be their “back-up” in the weight room.

In Glenwood HS (IL), for example, PLT4Ms extensive educational video library, coupled with personal delivery of class curriculums allowed experienced PE Teacher, Sara Hogan to avoid being stretched too thin in large classes of mixed-grade students. 

Sara could first lead the class as a group, briefing and teaching the day’s main movements or lessons. Then, students could head out to work on their own, armed with a digital “textbook” per se, allowing them to take much greater ownership of their class time. Students with plt4m app

Fully developed lesson plans and easy to access educational videos for every element of the programs were both “essential in continuing education in class”. Sara, in fact, implemented a rule that highlighted this new accountability:

“Before coming back to ask a question of the teacher in the room, you must watch the relevant video and read its accompanying description in an effort to find the answer yourself.”

Instead of minimizing the teacher, the added resource of a personalized training app for each student actually highlighted the value of the teacher, and resulted in 2 phenomenal things…

  1. 1-on-1 Instruction: Teachers were less focused on administrative questions, like “what movement comes next?” or “what does this exercise mean again?” and free to focus on technique and individual instruction as needed once the class began.
  2. “Peer-to-peer” instruction: After the teacher led the class with the day’s main lessons, kids could review content at their own pace, and support one another as they learned and practiced.

In the end, it became an environment that every subject teacher wants – one in which their time is spent actually teaching, and working with kids that need extra instruction, rather than fielding administrative requests and review questions.

Long-Term Athletic Development

Above all, PLT4M’s mission is to help all High Schools implement a complete and coordinated approach to LTAD through their PE and Athletic Departments.

The ultimate goal is successfully getting every student athlete the complete education and training experience they deserve!

At St. Paul High School in Nebraska, a smaller school comprised of just a few hundred kids, Rusty Fuller serves as the Physical Education director for grades 7th through 12th, and is the Head Football Coach. LTAD (1)

Rusty, and St Paul High, wanted to adopt such an approach to athletic development. The goal was to bring all students together, allowing them to work side-by-side, while still allowing for personalization and varying goals.

This was not without its challenges.

“Running a successful class training session with 30 kids of varying ability is hard. You’re trying to adapt things on the fly for different kids while also teach and instruct on proper form and mechanics.”

Rusty turned to PLT4M in hopes of streamlining this process from the ground up. He wanted something that offered instructional content to every student, programs for students and athletes alike, and allowed him to track a host of different data.

With PLT4M, he could combine his PE classes and athletic programs in a way he hadn’t been able to before. 

As is the case with many small schools, a lot of the kids at St. Paul are multi-sport athletes. Rusty and his principal saw the value in PLT4M’s variety of programs. From holistic, multi-sport training, to education curriculums and personal fitness programs. This allowed Rusty to place different students on specific programs dictated by competitive seasons, as well as teach fitness to students not engaged in athletics.

St. Paul has thus established a comprehensive, yet flexible Physical Education curriculum that caters to each student’s individual needs. All 7th and 8th graders start with PLT4M’s Intro to Fitness and Intro to Training Programs, which establishes proper movement mechanics and a proper foundation. They then graduate to ‘Introduction to Weight Training’ – an in-depth, 3-Part educational program that acts as a great bridge into barbell and dumbbell resistance training.

From there they can move on to competitive athletic training or more advanced personal fitness regimens. Everyone is brought through a complete progression, personalized for them every step of the way.

Friday Night Lights

GameDay Lifts

GameDay Lifts

One of the hottest recent topics in the world of High School Strength and Conditioning, it has exploded in popularity amongst the rank and file coaching world.

To be clear, we are not talking about the efficacy of In-Season training and the consistency of strength training through a competitive schedule. Rather, we are referencing the quickly growing trend of high school coaches who seek to use a targeted weight training session as a direct and immediate precursor to improved athletic performance on the field of competition.

In a relatively short amount of time, the common convention has shifted from one extreme to another: 

“Lifts should occur as far before competition as possible” → “We lift on Game day to give our team an advantage”

With such a drastic swing in popular opinion over such a short time, we thought it’s worth a deep dive into ALL the facts surrounding “GameDay Lifts” and their possible use and benefit. (If you haven’t already, check out our podcast on the GameDay Lifts.)

“GameDay Lifts” vs. Lifting on Game Day

Before we do anything else, let’s first clarify the VERY important distinction between lifting for a perceived benefit during a following competition, and performing a standard developmental lift on the same day you play a game.

The “GameDay Lift” is meant to incite better performance in the moment, the science of which we will dive into in a moment.

However, sometimes, game day performance isn’t the actual priority. 

Sometimes, there are circumstances at the High School level, and even the elite level, that warrants a lift performed on the day of a game.

For example, a Freshman soccer player engaged in his or her first bout of consistent strength training may benefit far more from additional days of training and less of a focus on competitive results. It would be hard for any multi-sport athlete to develop over their initial months and years of training if they were perpetually considered “in-season”.

Maybe, younger athletes are less “in-season” than they are in the developmental process – with their sport seasons taking a back seat. Getting 3 days of training in a week may trump any competition schedule or desire for performance on the field in the moment.

Additionally, some sports are less taxing. Your JV baseball team may not exert themselves as much during a competition due to the nature of the game and/or the number of athletes and substitutes. These athletes may achieve more benefits from spending more time in the weight room, adding in lifting sessions rather than removing them.

In each scenario, a coach is placing greater emphasis on strength & athletic development than performance during competition.

We are actually great proponents of providing more training for athletes who don’t play much, or play at a lower level, as they are still in a developmental stage and the extra training won’t take away from the game since they don’t participate much.

However, when it comes to the rising concept of “GameDay lifts”, it is very much a different scenario. Instead, coaches are having athletes lift prior to games for a perceived ergogenic aid. 

We’re talking in-the-moment performance, not development.

The Rise of GameDay Lifts

For decades, In-Season strength training has been a consistent staple of great programs. This training included carefully selected strength exercises to preserve a resiliency to injury and maintain maximal strength & power output during competition.

In fact, this approach to training has been widely regarded as an essential component in all athletic seasons. 

In-Season Strength Training: Maintaining strength levels during a competitive season in order to reduce susceptibility to injury. 

Over the past year or two, however, a new facet of In-Season training has risen…

TheGameDay Lift.

A “GameDay Lift” is a specifically programmed weight workout, performed in a specific window of time prior to competition, intended to elicit a biological response that results in improved performance on the field.

Most simply, Coaches across the country are using maximal intensity movement at low volume as a stimulus to “wake the team up” before a competition.

Proponents of this new training protocol are pioneering an attempt to harness the power of “PAP”, or “Post-Activation Potentiation”, and the biological response found in humans after physical activity.

Here, at the concept of PAP, though, is where the murkiness begins.

Specific exercises DO, in fact, cause excitement of the body and mind. BUT, the research and reality of its application are far more complicated than a simple yes or no use case.

All Hail Post-Activation Potentiation

So, what the heck is PAP, really?

Officially, PAP is the documented excitation of the central nervous system producing an increase in contractile function, following a heavy load lifting stimulus. It is a phenomenon by which the potential force exerted by a muscle is increased in subsequent attempts due to previous contraction. 

So, even more basically…lift something heavy, and your muscles and nervous system will be better primed to do so again afterwards.

Not to get too science-y here, but PAP is believed to be the sum of 3 specific biological reactions: 

  1. An increase in Phosphorylation of the regulatory light chains — which means an increase in the cross-bridge cycling rate or how quickly you can produce force.
  2. An increase in potentiated H-reflex excitability — which in turn means increased recruitment of high-order motor neurons, leading to faster and more forceful muscle contractions. (4,5,9)
  3. A decrease in the pennation angle of the muscle fibers — which is an advantage as more force can be transferred through the tendon and eventually to the bone.

To cause such a reaction, athletes must perform compound strength or power movements (the back squat or power clean, for example), using loads of 80% or greater, relative to their 1 Rep Max, for just 1 to 2 reps and sets

This resulting excitation or “alertness” is temporary, but can cause significant improvements in explosive movement (particularly countermovement jumps), sprint speed, and throwing ability. 

Sounds Great! Though, I feel like there is a “but” coming…

Considerations for PAP Application in Athletics

While the results of PAP excitation seem to be nothing but beneficial to athletics and performance, there are a number of additional considerations that must be made when attempting to utilize it in a team setting, especially with high schoolers.

Small Window of Opportunity – Timing & Duration

Perhaps the most notable conclusion in the research that is worth your consideration is the timing and duration of the desired effect.

In fact, the window for potentiation (excitement) peaks at about 6 minutes post-lift, and has completely dissipated by the 14-minute mark. It has been suggested that such timing of peak potentiation is because it is the period in which light-chain myosin remains phosphorylated, creating a contraction “memory” and fatigue has subsided

This window of opportunity has been coined: the ‘‘fitness-fatigue model’. To further complicate things, this window is also HIGHLY dependent upon the exercise (different exercises cause different fatigue rates) and training status of the athlete (e.g. trained or untrained), all of which call for different protocols to see an effect.

Because of this ‘window’, it is worth mentioning that in all of the research, PAP has only shown positive results in single event tests (all-out sprint, maximum jump or throw), not repeated events. 

So, when thinking about team sports, competing in games spanning multiple hours, with on-field warm-up periods beforehand, utilizing PAP through weight training becomes tricky.

Training Status & Amateur Athletes

Furthermore, High School coaches should take into consideration who they are training.

Almost without exception, high school athletes are amateurs – with relatively limited experience in the weight room. 

PAP is proven to be less effective, or not effective at all, in amateur athletes; regardless of the type of training method performed. 

In fact, PAP effect from lifting protocols may not be effective until the lifter has become elite (10+ years of training experience) and any form of lifting could cause immediate detriment in subsequent performance tests for less trained individuals. 

Fatigue

Putting aside the effect of nervous system excitation, we must look at the other subsequent effects of training. 

We must remember, any form of lifting causes muscle damage, an increase in cortisol, and a decrease in testosterone, no matter the amount thereof or intention of training.

From the research, we know that during any lifting session of maximal muscle contraction, there are a number of other, potentially detrimental, physiological reactions:

  • a rapid depletion of creatine
  • an accumulation of extracellular potassium
  • an increase in intramuscular calcium and hydrogen

All three contribute to a subsequent decrease in force production and strength. This problem is greatly intensified with less trained individuals, and the effect can last from several days to even weeks, post lift.

Additionally, beginner lifters will suffer from metabolic fatigue due to decreased storage and availability of energy substrates, and a brief decrease in performance from circulating hormones. 

Younger populations (22 and younger) generally do recover faster from muscle damage, however, this is often overstated. 

Once muscle damage has occurred, regardless of age or amount, there has to be a recovery process in order to repair the damage. It’s during this time, that peak power output, average power output, and maximal strength are compromised, combined with elevated soreness, fatigue and inflammatory markers

To complicate matters further, we also know that on game-days, cortisol levels are already significantly elevated. 

Any additional exhaustion, no matter how small, will be chiefly evident towards the end of the game (e.g. 4th quarter), when fatigue is the single largest factor in determining team success; particularly at the High School level with small teams and limited subs (12).

Long story short, athletes can only excite the CNS enough times before the system becomes exhausted, overloaded, and fatigued – often times resulting in injury or illness in the athlete (13).  

If sporting events are 2 hours long or more, and volume on the field is high, a coach must consider whether CNS activation is of benefit relative to any pre-fatigue to muscles, hormones, or energy substrates prior to the start of a game. 

Our Approach for High School Athletes

It is of our own personal opinion, here at PLT4M, that the “GameDay lift” may not be the most advantageous approach to maximizing on-field performance.

So what would we do?

DAY OF: Reducing Stressors

Candidly, if we had a team hours before the game, we would try to reduce unnecessary stressors, rather than adding them, such as having them wake up early or changing daily routine to get in a lift. 

Instead, we may opt to bring the team into a dark, quiet room, and have them lower their heart rates with breathing techniques to activate their parasympathetic (calming) nervous system, all while having them visualize their jobs on the field or court (footwork, plays, or winning).

Why? 

This will drop stress-hormone levels and improve their ability to control their emotions. Moreover, visualization training and anticipating success has been strongly correlated to success on the field (15). Lastly, enhanced breathing warmup techniques can improve performance on the field by up to 15%.

Additionally, self-myofascial release performed on game day could be an advantageous use of time, as this has been demonstrated to significantly improve performance markers. 

With foam rolling, heart rate does not rise above the top end of resting – an example of effective exercise that DOES NOT increase fatigue, yet improves performance, and gives the athletes a sense of “feeling good” before a game.

Most significantly, there is no damage done to muscles that are about to be taxed.

PRE GAME: PAP in the Warm-Up

This does NOT mean that the concept of PAP is completely moot in our minds.

There are techniques to using the post-activation potentiation response to your advantage that does not impact fatigue on athletes; namely using CNS stimuli during the official pre-game warm-up.

A proper warm-up targets a few necessary conditions, increasing the following: 

  • heart rate
  • body temperature
  • respiration rate
  • blood flow
  • joint viscosity

All of which, in turn, means faster muscle contractions and relaxations, improvements in the rate of force development and reaction time, improvements in muscle strength and power, improvements in oxygen delivery, and enhancements in metabolic reactions to name a few.

Moreover, a systematic warmup will progress from general movements (raising overall heart rate, respiratory rate), to specific exercises the sport or athlete will face. 

During the specific phase, joint range of motion and similar isolating mimicking exercises are used to prime the body, muscles and tendons . (Examples could be A-Skips, glute bridges, hip or hamstring activation exercises, rotator ROM movements).

During the final phase, short sprints, explosive plyometrics, agility training, and change of direction drills are used to elicit PAP.

In fact, using elements of plyometrics (both bilateral and unilateral) have been found to improve subsequent sprint and vertical results, suggesting that by simply adding in forms of jumping or bounding into the final stage of a warm-up, coaches could theoretically take advantage of this phenomenon

That being said, while research has demonstrated significant improvements using this technique in warming up, how this will affect the course of a match lasting several hours has yet to be determined.

But what about the professional athlete I saw on Social Media, lifting on the day of a game?

Inevitably, this discussion always leads to a response about Michael Jordan’s game day training, or professional MLB athletes lifting on game day, and how this must be proof as to the power of “Gameday Lifts” for performance enhancement. 

In reality, the strength coach is simply navigating a 160-game schedule, complete with travel days and other professional obligations. Sometimes, maintaining consistent strength training to prevent injury may trump game schedules and individual performance in a given day. 

Just like with developmental athletes at the High School level, sometimes, the priority is NOT maximal performance in the moment. 

Outside of clinical research, rehabilitation scenarios, or during contrast training, there are little to no concrete examples of elite athletes using a PAP to gain a competitive advantage in competition or training.

Why?

Even for elite athletes, many unique factors come into play and designing a program to maximize the PAP effect. It is this individualized dose-response that is difficult to control for, to say the least. 

Somewhat similar training has been used by elite track and field coaches and athletes who follow a periodized tapering program and perform a maximal intensity lift on the same day or just prior to their track and field event. 

PAP has also been documented to improve single event swim sprints, and bat swings in baseball, but implementation during a sporting competition is far and few between (10, 11).

Most often, the cost-benefit ratio of lifting weights just prior to a game outweigh any temporary benefit. The added stress, the logistics, the temporariness of PAP, and the difference in results per athlete – it all means the concept is best left in controlled, clinical environments.

This is the conclusion that S&C coaches and exercise scientists agree on: PAP is powerful, but implementing a protocol outside of training, for use around competition, is practically impossible and potentially detrimental. 

Wrapping it All Up

We know we threw a lot at you, here, but we really wanted to do the topic justice. “GameDay Lifts” are a complicated, multi-faceted concept that deserve a truly deep dive.

In our humble opinion, what this whole discussion boils down to, is simply a complete consideration of ALL the circumstances at play in any situation.

  • Who is the athlete in question? 
  • Is development a priority, or performance in a given event?
  • What are the timing, duration, and logistics involved in the competition day?

There is no one answer for all.

As a football coach, for example… 

Perhaps, during school on Fridays in the fall, you are training your underclassmen as “developmental athletes” with full lifts, and your Varsity Athletes/Starters as “competitive athletes” with lower-key stress-reduction. 

Then, during the on-field pre-game, you utilize such a warm up as described above, designed to induce PAP responses and “light up” the entire team for competition.

Or, let’s say your a PE teacher who meets with athletes every day of the week…

First, you separate out your developmental athletes from experienced athletes. The former get consistent weight training education regardless of sport schedule. The latter get true “In-Season” lifts on days when competition does not take place.

For the experienced athletes truly focused on the day’s competition, you can regiment a formal game day protocol that relieves stress and prevents undue fatigue: 

    • 5 minute easy steady state cardio
    • 15 minute total body dynamic warmup progression
    • 15 minute foam roll
    • 5-10 minutes of static stretching

Each section should be explicitly planned and prescribed, down to each movement and its duration. This should take at least 45 minutes but can be stretched as long as needed, as it shouldn’t be rushed in the first place.

In the end, personalization, with consideration for all the factors involved, is the key.

Inevitably, everyone will have their own take and opinion based on the research at hand. BUT, as with anything in terms of training, the key is to simply use your discretion. 

Do you have arguments/questions/comments to add to the discussion? We would love to hear them!

benchtest

10 Commandments for Great Weight Room Culture

The weight room is only as good as the consistent effort and attitude of those who sweat within its confines on a daily basis. The best equipment, the most advanced programs, and all of the flash in the world means nothing if you don’t have commitment from the athletes training.

Such dedication, or “Buy-In”, is the elusive holy grail that coaches are all chasing.

Commitment is a product of “Culture”. Culture is a culmination of inherent expectations and leadership that drives the daily behavior of your students and athletes.

It is our job as the #1 leader of our group, to set a culture that breeds hard work, accountability, and success. We want to inspire a feeling of personal investment in each one of our athletes. Doing so, though, is much easier said than done.

So, what steps can you take to cultivate this type of culture within the weight room, year over year?

1. Set the Tone

Great culture starts with YOU. It will be your passion, your attitude, and your convictions that will ultimately shape the culture in your weight room. More important than WHAT you say, is HOW you say it. Everything you express through body language, attitude, and tone, matters. Students are always watching.

2. Lead by Example

See point 1. You must define your message and practice what you preach! If you don’t exemplify model behavior, why would your athletes be inspired to do so themselves? Therefore, if you’re late and your rule is a 10 burpee penalty when tardy, then drop and hit your burpees. Students may giggle, but they will respect you even more.

3. Put the Athletes First

Successful weight rooms do not emphasize reps, sets, weights, workouts, or equipment. Rather, they emphasize the athletes who are giving their all. Our priority is the students themselves and an environment of collective effort, camaraderie, and competition.

4. Celebrate Winning

Encourage students by matching and challenging their current ability, not overreaching and tossing students into advanced programs too soon. Every student, regardless of ability, will be successful at something, make sure you provide that something. If a student hits a training mark, celebrate it! Create goals, poundage clubs, leaderboards, and inject competition within workouts, weeks, and seasons to drive effort and engagement.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead

Nothing derails a weight room like inefficiency. A great coach knows there is no place for poor planning or a lack of preparation. You must be ready, at any given moment, to work with any athlete that walks through your doors. Create your entire progression of programs ahead of time – something for every level of experience and schedule. Proper education, progression, and scheduling ahead of time will ensure students are being set up for success.

6. Explain Your “Whys”

Don’t just work your athletes, teach them. Believe it or not, kids really do want to know “why”. Empower students with an education so that they believe in what you are asking of them.

7. Invest in Your Home

Your room is a physical reflection of yourself and your culture. With some sweat and a few dollars you create a better environment. Small changes to the atmosphere can have a huge impact, providing the catalyst for big change in culture. Clean the room, rearrange the equipment in a more orderly fashion, buy cheap new basics like PVC’s/medballs/bars/clips/chalk/etc, or spend a weekend repainting the walls or replacing the flooring yourself.

8. Respect Your Home

No matter the situation you’re in, you can create an atmosphere you’re proud of. Care for your equipment, place a priority on order and accountability in the room. Even if it’s not much, be grateful for the equipment you do have, take pride in it and take care of it to keep it in tip-top shape. If you show that you care, the students will follow suit.

9. Make it Last

Want to make a lasting mark at your school? You must be willing to be a vocal and proactive advocate for your own efforts and that of your students. Every student should have the right to a complete physical education. They deserve a place to better themselves, physically and mentally, under the tutelage of a knowledgeable and passionate coach. Campaign for yourself and your program – convince your PE/Athletics department to invest in the betterment of it’s students.

10. Have Fun!

Energy and enthusiasm is infectious. So, if you’re having a bad day – if you’re tired, you’re unhappy with colleagues, you’re personal life is bumpy … you must rise above it. Put it all aside when it comes time to work with your athletes. For you, and your athletes, the Weight Room should be a place where nothing else matters.

You owe it to them to give it your best each day, because you’re expecting their best each day in return. We’re investing in our student’s physical development and well-being, there can be no more important mission that that.

Colin (1)

High School PE + Athletics = Long-term Athletic Development

Unlike most trending topics and buzzwords, LTAD is worthy of the attention it has garnered in recent years. “Long-Term Athletic Development” is a concept that is crucial to understand if and when you are dealing with high school students and athletes.

But what does it mean?

Long story short, LTAD refers to a practical approach to fitness and athletic education. It takes physical activity and teaches it like we do any other subject: through progression and planning.

Below we outline what we believe such a plan should look like for the average middle/high school student over the course of their schooling.

*Please note that what follows does not cover the entire spectrum of accepted LTAD progression, just that which is relevant to the Middle or High School teacher/coach.*

Phase 1: Learn to Train (Grades 6-8)

Without a doubt, the single most important key to this entire equation is a proper education. It is the foundation upon which all will be built – it is also the most often overlooked.

If we want our kids, classes, and teams to succeed, we must remember that we are dealing with kids. Most have little to no experience in the world of fitness and training. If we want to progress to advanced techniques and programs, we must first build a solid foundation for all.

“You wouldn’t try and teach calculus to a student before he or she had learned algebra. Nor should you attempt to train an athlete with advanced programs and movements before you cement the mechanics of a simple air squat.”

The trick to this education is progression. Start from the ground up and work from there, always looking to be better – know more, than the day before.

Movement

Everyone, and we do mean everyone, should learn the foundational human movements. Squatting, Pressing, Pulling, Lunging, Hinging, Running/Walking/Carrying – they are all essential to human life, let alone athletic development. Knowing what they are, and how to execute them properly is paramount to long term health and performance.

Skipping this step would be like trying to build a house upon a foundation of sand.

Self-Awareness

Arguably the most important component of their entire fitness education is helping each student and athlete come to an understanding of their own abilities – their strengths and weaknesses. Taking ownership of one’s ability is a lesson for life and it allows us to maximize the training later on. We instill an understanding of how to scale movements appropriately, what loading and volume is doable, and how to adjust workouts to accommodate injuries or logistical issues.

It is this understanding, this self-awareness that is paramount if we want each and every one of our students to truly reap the best results from their training moving forward.

Throughout this phase, our “training” is marked by a focus on understanding and execution. Intensity is NOT the goal, here.

Step 2: Train to Train (Grades 8-10)

After setting proper foundations, we progress to more compound movements, begin to introduce external objects and resistance, and up the intensity a bit. The goal is to build a bit of work capacity.

We learned how to safely and efficiently move, now we are learning what it means to “train”.

Capacity

Now our work includes an element of challenge. We want to begin to push our students and athletes out past their comfort zone.

At PLT4M, we first do so by beginning to make workouts task- or time-based, adding an inherent personal or interpersonal competitiveness that spurs motivation. Volume increases as well, becoming true “work” that forces bodies and minds to adapt over time.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

All the while, adding this variety makes things more fun for the students. Learning new things, challenging oneself and each other, should always be a part of the process if we want to see continual improvement.

Strength

Additionally, we begin introducing new compound movements or adding light resistance to existing movement patterns.

We can take the air squat and progress through goblet squats and then convert it into a loaded back squat. Slowly, we will develop a competency here, never sacrificing movement, while increasing the intensity through load. Eventually, we can even arrive at a loose 1RM for each student that will allow them to direct their more advanced training in the future.

You cannot underestimate the importance of a student’s awareness of their own strength or capacity. No matter who he or she is, an athlete should be learning what it means to develop ability over time through targeted training.

Step 3: Train to Compete (Grades 10-12)

At PLT4M, we believe everyone engaged in fitness or training is an “athlete”. Whether they are looking for a competitive edge in sports, or looking to simply be the best, healthiest version of themselves, we can now direct our training with “purpose”.

Athletic Competition

If a student is involved in, and dedicated to, competitive athletics, we can and should offer them the ability to train for performance.

At PLT4M, we are advocates of a holistic approach to performance training that aims to develop a complete athlete. Our programs are designed to grow power output through strength development and dynamic movement like plyometrics and Olympic lifts, build full-body control and prevent injury through mobility and stabilization work, and increase our mental and physical capacities through targeted but holistic conditioning. This means we don’t specialize or program by sport.

Why not? Read more about our approach to athletic performance training for high schoolers here.

Once the athlete has committed to performance training, the only question left is whether or not they are currently in a competitive season (read more on our distinction on that concept here).

Personal Fitness

Fitness shouldn’t end after a student’s initial education. Just because he or she is not engaged in athletic competition doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or couldn’t be intensely engaged with physical training. Exercise, or hard work, is hard-wired into our DNA, and its benefits are endless.

As with athletic performance training, when it comes to the pursuit of “fitness”, balance is ever the key. Strength can stave off decrepitude, but conditioning can fight chronic disease, while mobility can prevent injury. All fields of fitness play a part of the full equation and nothing exists as “most important” to a healthy lifestyle. Thus, we want to train it all.

We want to provide everyone, regardless of personal goals, with various approaches to holistic, but purposeful training.

Step 4: Train for Life (All Ages)

Perhaps the most important “Phase”, this one is not meant to happen at any one specific time. Rather, it should pervade your entire perspective and approach.

We tend to forget that, when it comes to fitness and training at the high school level, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced. Our primary objective is to provide them with the tools necessary to live a life of mental and physical well-being.

Most of life exists beyond high school.

Often, especially when athletics gets involved, we tend to forget this most important rule. We get lost in the day to day, or we’re too focused on our own personal goals.

If the senior captain football player is afraid to run a mile because he’s too focused on getting as big as possible, or the volleyball player is back squatting under load to increase her vertical jump before eliminating valgus knee collapse from her squat or jumping technique – we’ve done our athletes a serious disservice.

They are sacrificing lasting success in the long-term, for the perceived advantageous results in the short-term.

Don’t overthink it…if your kids are educated, motivated, and active, you have done your job.

Always keep the big picture in mind. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they leave our team or class.