Sep 7, 2018
Exploding Myths

All high school strength and conditioning coaches want to help kids get stronger, faster, and more competitive. Unfortunately, some of the most ingrained beliefs about how to do that are simply dead wrong, according to Shane Trotter, CSCS, RKC, ISSA. In a recent article for, Trotter aims to set the record straight.

Trotter, a Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Mansfield (Texas) High School who works with over 500 young athletes each week, believes two core misconceptions are driving today’s youth strength and conditioning. First, coaches and parents are convinced that if training is hard, it’s good. Second, they believe that youth athletes can benefit from the same strength programs used by college teams.

According to Trotter, the first step in avoiding these pitfalls is to toss out the plans created for more advanced athletes. “Your youth athlete cannot train like the pros,” Trotter writes. “Adolescents and teens are not elite lifters. Even the few that come in moving well, have a low training age. Their neuromuscular system is dying for resistance and will make the most progress with quality execution of simple, tried-and-true methods.”

Trotter advises aiming for control and accuracy in simple movements, scrapping the “bring out the puke buckets” mentality. “We don’t want exercise that is optimally exhausting, we want to train efficient movements that make future reps less exhausting,” he writes. “Emphasizing more control and intelligent progression of the fundamentals is the most effective workout for the first few years of training.”

Basic movements are especially critical for today’s youth athletes, whose sedentary lifestyles mean they often show up with less physical prowess. “Most athletes who come into my high school cannot do one perfect push up,” Trotter writes. “Consistency and simple, smart progressions are king.”

Next, Trotter recommends rethinking how you develop power. Using the power clean and snatch — great for more advanced athletes — may actually do harm with young athletes. “The clean and snatch are extremely technical lifts,” Trotter writes. “They are phenomenal for power development in executed correctly, but that is usually not found in a high school group until many months of progressions. That is time that could have been better spent on far simpler, equally effective, power training.”

Instead, Trotter recommends building power through the movements of the sport itself and from jumps and sprints. “Rather than using sprints and jumps for mindless conditioning, teach kids to perform them correctly in a way that efficiently expresses power,” he writes.

On the flip side, make sure you’re not using power moves for conditioning. “Power exercises are extremely taxing, which is why those in a dogged pursuit to make kids more tired will often use them as conditioning,” Trotter writes. “This is unsafe and misses the point of both power and conditioning.”

Finally, Trotter challenges the belief in the bench press as the ultimate move. “Somehow, people still believe the bench press is the most important lift,” he writes. However, “While the bench press has a purpose and is a great indicator of upper body strength, your program could do a better job of creating athletes by never benching again.”

Instead, Trotter urges coaches to look at the bigger picture. “Acceleration, angles, and multidirectional total body power are far greater determinants of athletic performance,” he writes. “This is even the case for an offensive lineman, the most brute-strength, limited-movement athletic position out there.”

Taking the focus off the bench press makes room for a more three-dimensional approach to strength, which makes for better athletes. “Lying on a bench can’t compare with the athletic benefit of Turkish get ups, weighted push ups, 1-arm push ups, and handstand progressions,” Trotter writes. “If you can get athletes executing these exercises, they’ll have functional chest strength comparable to any top bench presser, and be far more effective in competition.”

Trotter acknowledges that tackling commonly accepted dogma can be hard, but the reward can be a better and safer program. “We must be willing to question our assumptions and learn new things, and not feel personally attacked by information that conflicts with prior thinking,” he writes. “This will allow us to inch closer to the truth, as we continually shed less beneficial practices in favor of those that are more effective.”

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