Highland’s strength and conditioning program focuses on injury prevention
Jun 22, 2017 04:49PM ● Published by Travis Barton
Pizza instructs athletes form as they perform agility drills. (Nicole Beckstead)
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Like most strength and conditioning programs in the state, Highland’s program wants to help their athletes get stronger, bigger and faster. But, more importantly, Highland want to keep their athletes healthy.
“I think that (injury prevention) is one of the biggest factor of a strength and conditioning program that often, if you’re not directly involved, is overlooked,” said head football coach Brody Benson who oversees the school’s strength and conditioning programs. “They think more of the bigger, faster, stronger—not the preventative component.”
The Highland strength and conditioning program is comprised of three levels to help athletes avoid injury.
“If we force someone into a compromised situation like doing hang cleans day one you’re just going to hurt the kid, and there’s no benefit that’s going to come from it,” said Stephen Pizza who writes the programs for Highland’s athletes while managing his own gym in Salt Lake.
Pizza said they try to teach their athletes the importance of starting with the basics.
“Everyone wants to do the advanced cool stuff right from the get-go, but it won’t benefit them if they don’t learn the foundational basics,” Pizza said.
One example of this method of training is having their students start with a goblet squat where the weight is in front of them before doing squats with the bar on their back.
“We need to make sure that we’re developing the body without hurting it,” Pizza said. “If you do hurt the body at that stage of age you can really do some big damage.”
The Highland coaches monitor each athlete to make sure they’re training at the right level to avoid injury.
Core strength, joint stability and neuromuscular coordination are three things the coaches try to establish before moving onto the more advanced exercises.
“These kids are growing at such a rate that a lot of kids you’ll see it’s almost like a baby deer,” Pizza said. “They don’t know how to move their bodies at that age.”
During the school year, Highland has several strength and conditioning classes where they train students from multiple sports. During the summer, they’re mostly focused on football.
“I think every football program in the state of Utah has some sort of strength and conditioning program,” Benson said. “I think if you want to be a competitive program you definitely have to have something in place.”
Benson said that having a strength and conditioning program at Highland is nothing new. The school even had a program before he got there 16 years ago.
“Everyone that has a program in place is going to see benefits from it as long as they can get the kids to buy into it,” said Benson.
Benson said that one advantage their program has is they have a larger weight room than other schools in the state. The weight room can facilitate 50 to 60 athletes at a time.
“We’re just trying to stay up to date and on the cutting edge of what’s new, what works, what’s functional,” said Benson.
Benson said that he is lucky to have knowledgeable coaches like head strength and conditioning coach Ed Lloyd.
“One thing I like is that we don’t outsource anything,” said Benson. “Everything that we do, we get done within our own building.”
“I think the biggest thing is having knowledge in the room,” Benson continued. “You can always have bodies that show up and guys that lifted weights in high school come back and teach the same things they did in high school. The thing that I think is nice about our staff is we do work to gain knowledge and go outside for research.”
This spring, Benson took some of their strength and conditioning coaches to University of Tennessee where they learned from one of their coaches who spent a few years in the NFL.
“Our coaching staff is willing to be open to go out and gain knowledge and then put it into practice. I think the more eyes you have in the room, the better off you’re going to be,” Benson said.
Pizza develops programs for each athlete by talking with them and their coaches and observing them to pinpoint their weak spots.
Often athletes that are on the same team have similar weaknesses, said Pizza.
Pizza said that it is important for football coaches to have dedicated strength and conditioning coaches.
“A lot of coaches get overwhelmed thinking I need to be the head coach, I need to be the strength coach, and I have to work on injuries,” Pizza said. “It’s more than they can really handle.”
Benson said that their approach helps them focus on keeping their students healthy.
“It’s not just about getting bigger, faster, stronger, but it’s also about preventative measures, and I think that’s something that we try to do a lot of is the injury prevention,” Benson said.