Strength: Our Unified – Inclusive Strength Training Program Overview -- Coach Adam Stoyanoff

Our Mission: 

Strength Training taught with fundamental, universal, and inclusive principles of health and wellness, so that every member of our community may have the opportunity to live a long life with clarity and strength. 

It's possible to design and implement a unified-inclusive Physical Education (PE) or Strength and Conditioning program at the Middle School and High School level.  

Universal Component:  This program is designed in a way so the strength training or any exercise component can be effectively modified, taught, coached, and executed by anyone within our community.

Inclusive Component:  This program is for every single kid that walks through the school doors or into the weight room.  

This is the type of program that has the capacity to impact each kid in the school.  It has the ability to change the school, the families within the community, the city, the school district, the state, and surely the country.  The results could be astounding, however, it may need to be executed in a very particular way. 

One of the keys to its' success, is how the fundamental principles are taught universally; everyone is learning the same important foundations, but in slightly different ways. 

Physical Education and Strength Training are too important to be made exclusive to any one cohort. It's imperative that we teach it in ways that are inclusive to the majority of people, especially our youth. 

The purpose of this model is to demonstrate how a high school strength and conditioning program, when built a specific way, can ultimately impact an entire community. 

I've had the privilege of teaching strength training at over 20 high schools in my coaching career and each one had a different culture, atmosphere, demographic, and socio-economic makeup. Even with those differences, these schools have the same fundamental needs; a unified-inclusive strength training program that serviced the physical and emotional needs of the kids. 

If you're a parent, chances are, your child will come into contact with a physical education or strength training program within the high school setting. There's good programs, bad programs, and programs that are just status quo.

Since I've arrived back to the United States, I've had the chance to discuss high school program design with a handful of Athletic Directors and Principles. The conversations follow a general template, which is described below. It lays out the type of high school Physical Education and Strength Training program that can have the most positive impact on our youth. 

Program Objectives and Established Purpose:

  1. Build a High School Strength and Conditioning Department, that will be impactful to student athletes, non-athletes, families, and community members
  2. Reduce risk of injury
  3. Improve human performance (Multi-Sport Athletic and Non-Athletic Variables)
  4. Teach lifelong health and wellness principles
  5. Teach and reinforce aspects of a winning culture via holistic model (Physical and Emotional IQ)
  6. Reinforce departmental teamwork (Sports medicine, administration, teaching staff, support staff)
  7. Goal Oriented/Fun/Enjoyable

Unified Strength Program Design:

Providing opportunities for general strength training and exercise for everyone within the community is part of our driving mission.  There will always be a transparently communicated open door policy with the weight- room and exercise resources.  In order for the programs ultimate mission to come to fruition, there needs to be working timeline.  This timeline-template can be enhanced. We’ll always be looking for opportunities to shorten the expectancy of each event.   

Year 1:  The first year of the program will lay a particular foundation, that may seem like it’s oriented around student athletes.  Already the student athletes are the ones typically strength training, so beginning the programs’ principles with this group is most efficient.  

Year 2:  Providing more well-designed opportunities for the entire student body will be established by the summer before year 2.   

Year 3:  By this time, there will be community opportunities that could involve administrators, teachers, and family members

Year 4:  By this year, the 9th grade students that began the program, have now participated for their entire High School career.

Strength Training for Sports:

Specific strength training for sports will always be well established within the fundamental principles of exercise physiology.  

In-Season teams could be prepared to strength train 2-3 times per week during season.  This is determined by a number of constraints that could include playing time, position, sport, etc. 

Off-Season teams could be prepared to strength train 3-4 times per week.  Workouts aimed toward stressing the specific energy systems required for their sport may be performed.  

Exercise selection is initially determined by safety measures, resource constraints, frequency and duration allotted for workouts, equipment available, group size, etc. 

Strength Training for Non-Sport Individuals:

One of the great components of this program, is that everyone in our community will benefit from learning similar fundamental strength training movements and exercise modalities.  The key to the programs’ success, is the discreet details in which the strength training and exercise is taught and communicated with.

Everyone can do similar training modalities.  Our kids will may be taught the same things with slight variations, while we must acknowledge that each kids reason for strength training or exercise is different.  Their reasons why for participating in a healthy lifestyle the driving force behind their actions.

As teachers and coaches, we have the responsibility to help them process their thoughts, feelings, and actions about strength training, 

We can have an all-conference point guard performing a squat, and that athletes’ performance is just as important as any other student who wants to perform the same fundamental movement pattern.   These growth & development opportunities be dependent upon to our ability to teach, coach, communicate, and ultimately be great leaders for our youth.  

Optimally, within our 4-year timeline, we want every kid in our community to be confident lifting weights, exercising, enjoying their time together in the weightroom, and sharing with each other the fundamental components of health and wellness that their program is built upon.  

Exercise selection is determined first by fundamental movement principles:

A. Lower Body
    1. Hinge (Hip Dominant)
    2. Squat (Knee Dominant)
    B. Upper Body
      1. Vertical Press
      2. Vertical Pull
      3. Horizontal Press
      4. Horizontal Pull
      5. Neck (Flexion, Extension, Lateral Flexion)
      6. Shoulders (Anterior, Posterior, Lateral)
      C. Core
        1. Anti-Rotation and Rotation
        2. Anti-Flexion and Flexion
        3. Anti-Extension and Extension

        *Bilateral and Unilateral variations of every major movement 

        Unified Conditioning (Acceleration & Agility) Component:

        For Sports:

        As many student athletes are significantly active through the year, conditioning components will be used sparingly.  Specific conditioning will be planned appropriately to prepare student athletes for what is required out of them during competition; taking movements and energy system requirements into consideration.  Conditioning workouts will be time to teach fundamental acceleration, deceleration, stopping, and movement principles.  

        For Students Not Playing Sports:

        These opportunities can look a number of different ways.  It could be a Saturday morning run club, goal-oriented sprint intervals, specific bouts of exercise on a piece of cardio, or partner runs.  Some important aspects of this, is that it’s safe, well planned, goal oriented, and enjoyable.   

        Strength Training Exercise Selection Principles:

        1. Safety (Objective and Anecdotal Evidence)
        2. Resources available
        3. Load efficiency
        4. Quantifiable progress
        5. Universal model (General to Specific)
        6. 4-year model (Off-season, Pre-season, In-season X 4)
        7. Comprehensive model
        8. Teachable
        9. Needs vs. Wants
        10. Enjoyable


        Common Universal Exercise Choices:

        A. Lower Body
          1. Hinge: Trap-Bar Deadlift, Barbell Deadlift, Stiff-Leg Deadlift
          2. Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat
          B. Upper Body
            1. Vertical Press: Overhead Press, Push Press
            2. Horizontal Press: Bench press, Push-Up
            3. Vertical Pull: Machine Pulldown, Chin-Up
            4. Horizontal Pull: Dumbbell Row, Inverted Row
            5. Neck and Shoulders: Neck Flexion, Neck Extension, All major shoulder movements
            C. Explosive
              1. Olympic Lifts and Derivatives: Hang High Pull, Hang Clean
              D. Core
                1. Movements and Anti-Movements: Bridging, Hanging Leg Raise, Glute Ham Raise and derivatives, etc. 
                E. Plyometric
                  1. Low Impact: Low Load-Short Duration, Quick Feet Drills
                  2. High Impact: Overload-Short Duration, Box Jumps

                  Unified Strength Training Principles:

                  A. Progressive Overload Principle
                    1. “How to” before “How Much”
                    2. Technical proficiency first
                    3. Systems in place to help the student athletes determine weights used
                      1. Charts/Percentages
                      2. Effort Based Progressions
                      3. Straight Sets (Learn in order “Light, Moderate, Heavy”)
                  B. Exercise Continuum
                    1. Load: Bodyweight Goblet Suitcase Barbell
                    2. Movement: Unilateral Bilateral 
                  C. Explosive Lifts/Skilled Lifts
                    1. Purposeful
                    2. General foundation and proficiency demonstrated
                    3. Age appropriate (Training Age, Emotional Maturity, Biological Age)
                    4. Olympic lifts and derivatives 


                  Flexibility and Mobility:

                  1. Time dependent
                  2. Major muscle groups
                  3. Safe/progressive/comprehensive strength training = Flexibility and Mobility
                  4. Warm-Up and Cool-Down

                  Workout Template:

                  This template can look different throughout the year.  It may be executed differently depending on the nature of the group.  

                  There will always be a beginning and an end. 

                  1. Warm-Up
                  2. Workout Sheets and/or White-Board (Universal and Program Specific)
                  3. Group Discussion (Standards/Expectations/Specific & Individual Instructions)
                  4. Execution of workout
                  5. Group Follow-Up and Dismiss (Specific & Individual Feedback)

                   Nutrition and Recovery:

                  A. General nutrition guidelines
                    1. Coincides with resources and realistic/practical expectations 
                    2. Safety
                    B. Recovery
                      1. Sleep and Stress Management

                      Program Culture and Atmosphere

                      Everything under the roof of our educational institutions is important.  Math, Science, English, Biology, Chemistry, Social Studies, the support staff, it’s all important.  The weightroom is just as important as anything else.  It has the ability to positively impact the lives of our youth and community; for a lifetime. 

                      Almost every high school and college in the United States has Physical Education opportunities or a weightroom available to their students.  With that being the fact, the possible impact we can have on our kids isn’t about just providing the hardware; it’s about what we teach, how we teach it, why the kids want to learn it and then the consistent execution of the principles. 

                      “I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” – John Wooden

                      Guiding our students and student athletes through this type of journey may be the most impactful part of their early development.  The weigtroom could have the ability to teach our kids things that no other place can.  

                      We have the privilege of taking them through situations, where they’re completely in control of their outcome.  With strength and conditioning, it may be the fairest endeavor they could partake in; every-thing is their fault.  When they succeed, it’s because of their efforts.  When they’re not quite where they want to be yet, they must practice patience and reflect on their efforts.  As trusted professionals, we must be there to guide them. Learning to value this process is something that that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives. 

                      Strength training is not about perfection, above all, it’s about genuinely valuing the non-linear progress.  

                      We’ll begin with a foundation, and once that’s built, we must move on. Progress comes in well-designed waves of systematic progressions. As coaches and teachers, it’s our role to help guide our students and athletes through the trying times and help them celebrate the winning times.  We’re giving them the tools to succeed and ultimately helping them develop self-sufficiency. 

                      Our students will learn to be accountable to themselves, to each other, to show care & concern towards each other, how to be patient, vulnerable and the importance of helping the people to their right and left.  They’ll learn how to ask questions in tough times, and they’ll develop clarity and confidence through it.

                      The weightroom is a community and a small part of a bigger town with parents and families.  Weightrooms, when they’re used correctly, I’ve seen them impact entire schools and communities for the better.   

                      A winning weightroom culture is not about how much our kids bench press, or the specific exercises they’re doing. The numbers will come, the most valuable lessons they’ll learn are from learning how to execute their responsibilities the right way.  It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it. 

                      Below are some of the core principles that are responsible for building a strong foundation.  

                      Culture and Leadership Components 

                      1. Universal belonging and safety within the group
                      2. Trust Transparency Familiarity
                      3. Established Purpose
                      4. Shared vulnerability

                      Components of Individual Emotional IQ

                      1. Perspective
                      2. Clarity
                      3. “Why”
                      4. Confidence
                      5. Self-Esteem/Confidence vs. Self-Worth

                      Universal Standards

                      1. Be Present
                      2. Kindness-Care-Concern
                      3. Effort Dependent-Not Outcome Dependent
                      4. Ask Questions
                      5. On-Time
                      6. We always do our best
                      7. We do not make assumptions
                      8. We are honest with our words
                      9. We do not take things personally 

                      Universal Expectations

                      1. Communicable and Agreed Upon
                      2. Fair
                      3. Progressive

                      Accountability Mechanism

                      1. Non-Invasive
                      2. We will seek, notice, and acknowledge
                      3. 3-Way Consequences (Great/Expected/Not Yet)
                      4. No Punishments 


                      1. Well-organized weightroom for flow and safety (AED/Emergency Response Plan)
                      2. Adequate lighting
                      3. Music (Time appropriate, word appropriate)

                       Family and Community Impact

                      1. Approximate 4-Year Model
                      1. Student Athletes
                      2. Students
                      3. Families
                      4. Community
                      1. Open door policy for parents and families (We will be known as a great resource)
                      2. Learning seminars and classes
                      3. After hour opportunities 

                      The Family and Community Impact component may be the most important variable in this program design.  In most schools, the student athletes will initially receive the majority of attention and available resources, pertaining to strength and conditioning opportunities.  As this group makes up a significant amount of the total population, it’s an adequate group to begin programs with.  It is only a starting point though, as a unified-inclusive program is designed to impact everyone within the school and community.  

                      During the first year, the program may be initially designed to execute the needs of the student athletes, who are playing organized sports.  After these needs are established or while they’re being built, the rest of the student population must be included or minimally have the opportunity.  These opportunities can look a number of different ways, however, the key component to its’ success, is that the same general-fundamental principles of strength training are taught throughout the school.  The same principles are taught, just different ways. 

                      This idea of inclusivity will, without a doubt, build an extremely strong student body and ultimately impact individuals outside of the school walls.    

                      It’s necessary for parents to be involved.  There’s a handful of ways this may happen.  The open-door policy comes with standards and expectations.  One of the key components of well executed strength training sessions, is minimal distractions.  When anyone is working out, they are the most important thing in the room.  It may be ok for parents and siblings to watch workouts or to somehow be involved, but it may not be a distraction.  

                      One of the best ways to build a connection for the students and their parents, is to create parent-only strength training opportunities.  Within these sessions, just like strength training opportunities for non-athletes, the parents are taught the same fundamental principles that their kids are learning.  An extremely important note here; when non-athletes and parents are provided these opportunities, they’re being taught the same principles, but in different ways.  The success of this will be depended on skilled coaching.   

                      A true unified-inclusive strength training model for any institution, in time, will ultimately impact an entire community.  It relies on an unwavering mission, extraordinary effort, great attention to details, and superb communication.   

                      Thank you for making the time to read this.  Please find ways to apply these ideas successfully.  The health and well-being of our youth will depend on it. 

                      1 comment

                      • Chris Vangsnes

                        A very interesting and worthwhile take to involve the entire community into a project like this. Strength is never a weakness, and it shows in many forms. As an outlet for reaching people, strength can serve as such a medium and begin to help others on their journey of lifelong health and wellness. I like these ideas Adam as we within Strength & Conditioning are a service based industry set to perform for others.

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