Training the High School Powerlifter
By Chad McMullin, MS, CSCS
Having been head coach of the Warren Central powerlifting team for almost ten years, I can tell you that without hesitation that training teenagers has be one of the most frustrating and at the same time rewarding jobs of my life. Many of the guys I have coached came into our weight room as freshmen having never even seen a weight, only to leave after their four years having won district, region, and some even state titles. The frustration comes from seeing some guys having great talent, but end up a memory simply because they could not handle the expectations of our program. In the following article, I will discuss the way we set up our training and my philosophy of training.
Per our state high school association rules, we cannot start training as a team till the end of October. Since usually about 5-8 of my lifters play football and their season usually is not over till early to mid-November, I usually start practices with about 5 lightweights (114-148). These guys don’t participate in any other sports, so it gives me time to work on their technique on each lift before the older guys come in and one-on-one training becomes a little harder.
Our basic training cycle lasts about 14-16 weeks, depending on when the football playoffs end for us. Since our training room is kind of small, we divide up into two groups: the seniors will come in during the last period of the day and the underclassmen will come in after school. This has its good and bad points: good because it allows for a little more individual coaching, especially if someone is having trouble on a lift. The downside is we are not able to all train together as a team. As a coach, you want your team to build a certain chemistry, no matter what sport you coach. But I can tell you that come meet time, everything comes together.
Our first four weeks of training is usually done without gear. Since some of our younger lifters may have never even lifted before, I try to really work on technique with them. This also helps the older guys that may have some aches and pains from the football season to slowly work their way back into lifting shape. I try to stay around 4 sets of 5-10 reps with light to medium loads and stress perfect form. This is probably the most important thing for young lifters. If their form is bad and nothing to done to correct it, progress will be slow, they will no doubt get frustrated, and potential injuries can and probably will occur.
We will start getting into our suits about 12 weeks out from our district meet, which is usually in mid-February. A usual training week breaks down into four days: Monday is our squat day, Tuesday is our bench day, Thursday is deadlift, and Friday is conditioning day for the ones who are not in football. Since our time is limited, I try and keep the training to big, multi joint movements. For example, on our squat days, we will include reverse hyperextensions, kettlebell swings, and ab and hamstring work and get out. We usually only have 45min to an hour, so we are constantly moving from one thing to another without any real breaks.
I have based my training philosophy on several different things. A lot of what we do is based on Westside and Louie Simmons. Our squat and deadlift training is pretty standard WSB. We rotate our exercises in three week waves based on how close we are to a meet. Our deadlift exercises consist of deficit DL’s off 100’s, reverse band DL, and full range DL. The guys really like the reverse band deads. That and the kettlebell work really pushed our deadlift last season. I set up the bands in our rack about half way and double them so that they only help about the first inch or so and then the guys are locking the weight our with no help at the top. Our squat day is a little different in that instead of changing the exercise every week, I change the band tension or chain weight every week. We will use a regular three week wave, increasing each week, and then dropping back down.
Our bench training is different in that under our state HS association rules (basic usapl rules); we are not allowed to use bench shirts. We still switch our exercises each week for three weeks, but concentrate on lower work for the chest one week, lockout work the second week, then full range the third week. The main exercises we use are 1 and 2 board presses, reverse band bench, and finally regular full range bench press. This really worked great last year. My 275 benched 345 in the state meet and should break the 6A state record (380) this year. My 220 hit a 325 easy and should be close to a 350 by this year’s state meet.
Finally, let me caution coaches about your lifters cutting or gaining weight. The problem with kids cutting weight is pretty obvious. My rule on this is if they are within a pound or so of making their class, then we can try and make an effort. If not, then you were not mentally tough enough to get that taken care of in the time leading up to the meet, so tough luck for you. As far as gaining weight, I had a 181 about two years ago that wanted to gain up to 198. We had seen the results from the other region meet and he had little chance of qualifying for the state meet at 181, but could pretty easy at 198. So not big deal I thought. The day of the meet, he was still about 4 pounds off, so he ate a big breakfast and started drinking water and Gatorade on the way to the meet. You can probably guess but as soon as he had started to step up on the scale, he blew chunks all over me AND the head judge. NASTY!!!!! Since we had spent the night before, I had brought a change of clothes. The judge was not that lucky. He was so mad that he went outside and punched a hole in a coke machine. Needless to say, I try not to let guys gain weight the day of a meet anymore, or at least I stay away from them when they are weighing-in.
Chad McMullin has been teaching and coaching at Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi since 1998. He has been an assistant football coach, basketball coach, and is currently the head coach for powerlifting, cross country, and strength coach for football and baseball. Before coming to the high school level, he was an intern strength & conditioning coach at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and at Mississippi State University in Starkville. Coach McMullin also competes in bench only meets in the USAPL and WABDL as a 220/242. His best bench is currently 536lbs. in a single ply bench shirt.