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Strength training for middle school athletes.

There has always been a concern about when to introduce the school-age athletes to the weight room and how to teach him to lift.


Our parents and doctors have legitimate reason for their concern. As a coach, I have always been concerned about the readiness of the students to begin lifting on a regular basis. Our middle school athletes offer the widest range of physique among the age groups. Many of them are physically mature and ready for heavy lifting, while others are awaiting the onset of puberty and the release of the hormones that make strength-building feasible.

After studying the issues for many years, I have come up with my own ideas of how to teach such training to the middle-school football players.

Having taught at the middle school, junior high, high school, and one 7-12 school levels, I know that each situation requires a different approach. Space, time, and equipment will affect the organization of each program.

Middle-school athletes do not have to concentrate on strength development as intensely as they do on lifting technique. The strength will come with physical maturity. The most important thing to teach is the proper lifting techniques.

That is the way to avoid the injury and prepare the athletes for the workouts.

We usually work out twice a week, using the same basic workout every day (emphasizing technique rather than poundage). Once the athlete exhibits his ability to do an exercise, he is allowed to add weight.

My rule of thumb is: "If the muscle is sore, that's O.K. If the joint is hurt, stop and reduce the weight." Students should add weight slowly and only if they can maintain the proper technique.

Though I cannot always see everyone in the weight room, I always try to keep a watchful eye on them and especially the kid who tries too hard and the kid who is somehow in a group with larger kids who can do more.

Our basic program is modeled somewhat after the BFS Readiness program; I use its "graduation" criteria: Keep the "graduates" in one group and the "non-graduates" (who do no work with as much weight) in another.

We usually go about three weeks before changing up auxiliary lifts. Our core lifts box squats, bench, hang cleans, and dead lift. While routines are great, you need a little variety or the kids will get bored.

We vary the auxiliary exercises from time to time. But we try to keep the same core exercises for each workout (squats, bench, cleans, and dead lift).

During the summer workouts, we are able to spread out our weights in the gym rather than the classroom size space we normally use during the winter. We then try to a stretch with each station. We also add a neck exercise--since we do not have a neck machine, we do other neck exercises to stabilize the neck





Lower Back


Dot drills

Push-Ups Abdominals


Toe Touches


In and Out

Medi-ball sit-ups

Lunges Cone Drills

Square Drills

Pro Speed Agility or T-Drill

Resistance Running (2-man harness)

From Running Drills


Jab step

High Knees


Ladder drills

1 foot

2 foot

lateral run

12 inch hurdles

1 foot

2 feet

straight run

lateral run


We spend about 40 minutes with each group. Usually the 6th graders are kept together in one group. This group does their speed work first. The 7th graders will lift first. After about 40 minutes, we let them take a drink as we change stations.


We do much of the same routine except that we have about an hour with each group. Now the new 7th graders run first while the 8th graders lift first. We also do more conditioning work in the summer. Winter is for speed, agility, and strength work. Summer is for all aspects of training but more emphasis on conditioning as the season approaches.

Emphasis is always on proper techniques rather than heavy weights. As the players physically mature, they can add weight to their lifts. Keeping the less mature players from adding too much weight too early is the greatest challenge.

Most of our players get stronger throughout their middle school careers so that they are physically ready for the increased demands at the varsity level.

By Johnny Metcalf, Clay-Chalkville Middle School, Trussville, AL

Leg Press 2 x 10
Upright Rows 2 x 5
Dead Life** 2 x 5
Leg ext.curls 3 x 10
Box Squats 2 x 5
Hang Cleans # 2 x 5
Bench Press 2 x 5
Incline Press (close grip) 2 x 5
Hyperextensions (back) 3 x 10
Pull-ups (towel) 2 x 10
Box Lunges 2 x 10
Bench Dips 30
Dumbbell work
Rotator Series
Triceps ext.
Lat Pulls (bent over flys)
Neck Exercises

** This is the first year we have tried Dead Lift--it seems to help
reinforce the lower back and chest position you want for all power
exercises. Rubber training weights (10 and 15 pounds) are used to get
the bar up off the ground; this helps prevent having to bend over too
far with the lighter weights.
# We start with Hang Cleans and progress to Power Cleans (usually in the
summer after we can properly do Hang Cleans.) Rubber training weights
are used to get the bar up off the ground for Power Cleans.
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Author:Metcalf, Johnny
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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