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Three Things College Didn’t Teach Me

My Experience

I invested a lot of time and money earning my bachelors in exercise science and masters in sports performance. Upon completing my education I was fortunate enough to immediately begin working with collegiate athletes in the weight room. I was confident in my knowledge of rep schemes, rest periods, anaerobic versus aerobic training, and things of the like. However, I soon learned that my education was just beginning. College books did a good job of covering the tangibles aspects of life, and exercise science classes did a good job of covering practical application of those tangible aspects; that is if the world was a perfect place.

I learned that life as a strength coach doesn’t always run as smoothly as it did in books and classes. In books there was always enough space to carry out the tasks, coaches always had enough equipment for the entire team, and the workouts could progress as planned because there was never any mention of people missing workouts for a variety of reasons. As I transitioned into the strength and conditioning coach for an entire high school athletic department, these unexpected problems only increased. Over two years later I still face these challenges but feel much more confident in overcoming these obstacles and want to share this article for any other coaches, both experienced and beginners, that may be facing similar problems.

Space and Equipment

Space is something that a coach always struggles with. Unless you are at working at major university space is something that every coach fights every day. A strength coach is no different. When writing down sample workouts in school you never had to account for space. The assignment was to write out the best workout plan that you could using the science and knowledge that we had. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in real life. When I am sitting down to write programs I visualize our weight room in my head. I visualize the layout of the room, the flow of the room, how the athletes will move from station to station. More often than not I have to compromise and write a program that might not be number one on my wish list but a program that makes sense with the space that we have. The number one priority is the athlete’s safety and when space is limited that becomes a major focal point. You have to choose safety over everything else.

Depending on your resources available, equipment may be as much of a challenge as space on the list of problems you will face. While writing programs you have to be aware of the amount of equipment that you have. It may look good on paper, but if in reality you have a line of athletes waiting to use that piece of equipment then you may have to rethink the order of your exercises. I don’t use many different tools in my training. Mostly I utilize power racks and bars, as well as kettlebells, rings, and medicine balls. When I was first starting out I remember thinking that this workout looks awesome and couldn’t wait to see it in action. Then I proceeded to watch as athletes had to stand around and wait for certain equipment while another piece of equipment went unused. Over two years later, this is still a problem and some of it is just unavoidable. However,  I use circuit training towards the end of the workout or whenever I want to use certain equipment or exercises that would be simply impossible to do alone. I will say that when using circuit training it is important to visualize the flow of the room to ensure that enough space is available to perform the exercises safely.


Inconsistency of athletes showing up to the weight room is almost a non-factor in college. In high school, it is a major problem that a strength coach must deal with. This isn’t because the athletes are skipping or that you have a badly run program, but high school students play other sports and may not have an off-season. They are also involved in clubs, or have jobs along with a million other reasons for not always being able to show up. This is a frustrating problem for a high school strength coach because there isn’t much you can do about it. I may be two months into our off-season football weightlifting program and four new kids decide that they want to try out for the team. It is my job to find a way to integrate them into the program in a safe manner.

For technical exercises, I start them off with kettlebells. So for example, I may have the new kid’s pound away with goblet squats and kettlebell deadlifts while the others are using the bar. It is also important to encourage new students to utilize open gym time to perfect technique and to be available during their busy schedules.

I run my high school programs similar to a college style where I have one hour time slots one after the other for teams to train so scheduling an open hour wasn’t as easy as it sounds. One thing that helps is that I work with every team in the school so if a multi-sport athlete is in-season for one sport he or she is at least in the weight room with me during the season and won’t be entirely de-trained when they start their next sport. There is no easy answer to this problem. You have to do the best you can to integrate the athletes that aren’t able to consistently attend in a safe manner.

Make It Enjoyable

Lastly, I want to talk about the atmosphere of the high school weight room. Creating a positive atmosphere was never covered in my five years of school. It is definitely something I’ve learned on the job and something that I think is undervalued by some coaches. The weight room should be enjoyable. That’s doesn’t mean you have to make it a recess or take out things the athletes dislike and replace them with exercises that they do. But if the athletes are dreading coming into the weight room that is a major problem. I have found that teams that enjoy the weight room will work harder than teams that don’t. I know, such a shock. But yes, I love the weight room and training. Yes, most football players love the weight room. But I work with every sport in the high school. I don’t have to be a genius to realize that the weight room isn’t the long distance runner’s favorite place. Or that the freshmen girls’ volleyball team may be intimidated by the weight room. Find ways to make it enjoyable, be creative. I create games and competitions that make it seem less like weight training. I pay attention to the attitude of the teams and I’ll be a little more creative with the teams I suspect don’t really want to be there. Crack a joke to the freshmen, let them know that even though they are there to do work they can still have an enjoyable time.

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By now, I hope that I have written enough of these articles to convey my passion for this field. I can discuss different training philosophies for days, go over cues for teaching techniques with anyone, and I’m a nerd when it comes to programming. I absolutely love the tangible part of training,. Equally interesting to me are the intangibles of training. The things that aren’t always evident from across the gym. I think that my love for the intangible aspects of training can be traced back to my athletic career where I believed from an early age that I could gain a competitive advantage by mastering the intangibles.

This has carried over to my own training experiences, where I firmly believe that what has helped me the most are taking the intangible parts of training seriously. When talking about intangibles there are different aspects that all fall under one larger idea; mindset. I believe that mindset is the single biggest factor that sets people apart that are after the same goal. Regardless if that mindset is deemed positive or negative there are different traits that arise from it. A few of those traits are consistency, or lack thereof, resiliency, intensity, and accountability to name a few. I plan on writing articles on these different traits but I will start with one that I believe has helped me the most; consistency.

I find it interesting that people ask me all the time what I eat, or what program I am doing. I get asked, “how much do you bench?” almost weekly. But no one has ever asked me what is the one greatest thing that I attribute to my success in training. If they did, my answer would be a boring one, consistency. I’m sure people would expect me to go into detail about a complex training program and talking about an extreme diet that I am currently trying. I doubt that anyone would expect my answer to be a single word.

I don’t believe I was genetically gifted or predestined to be good at training. I was a decent athlete growing up, by no means anything to brag about, and am more athletic now than at any point in my life thanks to training. What sets me apart from people struggling to see improvement in the gym is consistency. I do what I am supposed to do more often than most people. Yes, I read and I experiment and I talk to my mentors. Yes, some programs and techniques work better than others and it is important to learn them. But you can gain all the knowledge you want and if you don’t apply it consistently you will never reach your full potential. This is why consistency is a trait of mindset. You must possess a certain mindset to realize the importance of consistency. When I wake up in the morning I know I am training that day. I don’t even think about what if this or that happens. I’ll get those outside factors taken care of without letting it affect my training. I think the reason consistency comes so easy to me is because of my, Why.

Yes, let’s not forget the first question I asked of you all. I know my Why, it may change from time to time, but I always have a clear understanding of why I am doing what I am doing. By knowing my Why I have a reason for consistently going to the gym, for consistently eating the way I do. Without having a Why, a purpose, failing to be consistent is an easy thing to do. Where I see most people fail in the gym is when adversity hits them. I guess this can be life in general. It is easy to be consistent when everything is going great. I see it all the time. People are consistent when their schedule works out and no outside stress is affecting their training. They have no nagging injuries that make certain exercises impossible to do. Everything is running smoothly so of course they look forward to going to the gym and to eating right. However, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as an injury pops up, or a new responsibility takes away some of their free time, things begin to unravel. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. It can be as simple as they aren’t seeing results as fast as they first did and they become frustrated. It’s difficult to be consistent when it’s not as fun, when you aren’t seeing the results. But that is exactly the time you must keep consistent because it always comes back around and you will start seeing improvement again, your injuries will heal, and your schedule will lighten or you will simply get better at time management. Knowing your Why will help you possess a mindset that will allow you to push through these adversities. It will be that driving force that keeps you consistent.

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