Creating a Strength and Speed Development Class

Physical Education classes give kids a much-needed opportunity to be active during a long, sedentary school day. But P.E. can be so much more than just an “open gym” exercise session. As coaches and teachers, we have a unique opportunity to impact students on a daily basis, in a way that directly influences their growth and development as athletes. Strength and speed are two essential components to long-term athletic development, and it is never too early to begin challenging our students to learn and practice the tools to help them become great athletes. In this post, I outline how to develop a P.E. class focused on strength and speed development, from a teacher’s perspective. You can use these steps to help create a P.E. class that not only challenges students, but also instills core athletic principles and techniques that translate to better athletic performance.

Phase 1: The First Steps Are Political

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of a good strength and speed development curriculum, you will need to get approval and support for your P.E. class from school leadership, your colleagues, and parents. Make sure you have a clear, actionable plan for implementing your curriculum. To do so, it’s important to understand the chain of command. You need to work with your department and also have open communication with parents about the program. Buy-in from your students is also is very important.

In presenting my curriculum, for example, I brought it up at parent-teacher conferences to get parents on board before implementing. Always keep in mind whose toes you may be stepping on, but also realize you can’t (and won’t) make everyone happy with your decisions. Knowing who to talk to, when to say something, and when not to, can go a long way in ensuring your curriculum is implemented successfully.

Step 1: Ask your principal or department chair for support.

As a high-school teacher and coach, I have learned that support from school leadership is essential for any new endeavor. Bring your ideas to your principal and athletic department chairperson and ask for their support. This is the first and most important step in developing an effective P.E. class because it sets up the success of your curriculum from the top-down. Understanding the chain of command goes a long way in terms of effective departmental communication.

Step 2: Meet with the guidance department and give them a detailed description of what students will be expected to do in this class.

Although you may be tempted to overlook this step, it is important to get on the same page with the guidance department before introducing a new class to students. The guidance department helps students make informed decisions about which classes to take and why, and you will want to equip them with as much information about your curriculum as possible. This is also a good exercise in developing the general goals of your class, which leads into the next phase of curriculum planning.



Phase 2: Goals of the Class

Now that you have approval and support for your plan, you can begin diving into the details of what your class will entail. The goals of your class will depend on the age and experience level of your students, but the curriculum should adhere to industry-approved lifting techniques. As I will discuss later, technique should be the foundation for your course. From there, a teacher serves a supportive role and allows kids to learn through both success and failure.

@@All strength and conditioning classes should strive for a safe learning environment.@@ Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working with teenage kids, whose bodies are still developing. In my class, I like the idea of working with kids throughout their high school experience because I get to help them develop a strong foundation in the weight room. I slowly progress with them to ensure they are adapting to the program while also learning and making long-term gains.

Teaching and Correcting Technique

As a coach, I believe in teaching technique as a foundation of the class and then acting as a supervisor after that. By properly executing lifts, students get more out of the movements and do so in a safe manner. Aside from that, they are better able to transfer their knowledge of lifting to any sports teams they are on.

Expect it to take about four weeks for your students to get the fundamentals down. Technique takes a little while to be mastered and the first couple weeks are chaotic. In my class, I begin by teaching fundamentals, and then I monitor their lifts to show them how to correct bad form. As you progress with the class, everything should become more efficient and kids should be in and out of the weight room in a manageable timeframe.

Aside from my supervisory role, I manage efficiency by telling kids when to move on to the next lift. I think that is part of being a successful strength coach: knowing how to cycle a class through the weight room. With a large group of high schoolers, that can be difficult to do, so I use a microphone to give commands over the loud-speaker.

In the end, any teacher in the weight room should facilitate action from their students. Have them search for answers before you explain something to them. Be a constant student. Listen to experts, listen to your athletes and how their bodies naturally react to different movements. @@Teach based on a constant feedback loop.@@ That’s how you inspire buy-in from your students and set a class up for success.

Teach based on a constant feedback loop. That’s how you inspire buy-in from your students and set a class up for success.
— Mike Nitka

Selecting Movements for Instruction

Choose one exercise from each of the following three categories, and focus your class on teaching and improving technique within that specific movement pattern. Which exercises you choose will depend on the age and skill level of your students, the time constraints of your class period, and equipment or weight room resources.

Squat: Bodyweight Squat, Front Squat, Back Squat

  • The squat teaches important athletic movement patterns, like hip extension, and demands rigidity and stability in the core and spinal muscles. Whether or how you load the squat depends on your class, but this movement is foundational for developing strength and speed.

Press: Push-ups, BB/DB Bench Press, BB/DB OH Press

  • Shoulder stability and proper scapular mechanics are involved in the press, which make it another central movement pattern to train for strength and speed development. Whichever exercise you choose to teach, your students should learn how to create stability at the shoulder joint, and utilize that stability to help express power.

Pull: Pull-ups, Deadlift, High Pulls, Power Cleans

  • In our forward-facing culture, pulls are essential for shoulder and back health. The complexity of the exercise you select will depend on the age and skill level of your students; preadolescent students should always be carefully supervised, and should avoid heavy structural training, so choose your movements accordingly.


Phase 3: The Class

When you have structured your curriculum and prepared for your class, it is now time to address your students and provide a framework for what they can expect in your class, and what will be expected of them.

Orientation Topics

  • Dress Code

I believe it’s important to have some kind of basic dress code for the class. I had to tell the guys in my class that they can’t wear muscle shirts. For the girls, I told them a modest pair of shorts and a T-shirt with sleeves are appropriate. I also ask them to wear a good pair of cross-training shoes, preferably low profile with a flat sole. Never allow cleats in the weight room. Set the expectation at the beginning of your course, so students know what is safe and acceptable for weight room attire.

  • Punctuality

Make sure to set the tone for punctuality in your class. Be the first one there and set an example so your students reflect that behavior. If someone is late to class, ask for a pass from a previous class. Implement small “punishments” when necessary, but keep in mind that you should teach and deal with kids the way you would like to have been treated in a reverse situation. In my class, I stress to the kids that I only get 50 minutes with them and that we need to utilize the time we have.

  • Grading

Grading for strength training classes is open to the teacher’s judgment. I suggest grading based on attendance and effort in the program without simply handing out good grades. @@Allow kids to experience failure because that’s the best way many of them will learn.@@ I sometimes see failure as a necessary step forward.

  • Orthopedic Issues

Be aware of any orthopedic issues your students may have when they come into the class. This ties into the safety element of your program and you want to do whatever you can to avoid potential issues.

  • Safety Issues

Again, safety is extremely important for any strength and conditioning program. Put in the effort and spend extra time building safety measures into the your class, right from the point of curriculum development.  Here are a few bullet-points to keep in mind to help ensure safety in your class:

  1. Know which lifts require spotting and which do not

  2. Make sure lifting coaches are constantly aware while in the weight room

  3. Monitor lifts for proper technique and weight
  • Data Collection

Collecting and tracking data is a great way for students to see their improvement through the course, and is essential for assessing the effectiveness of your curriculum. In my classes, we start with basic measurements (age, weight, etc.) and progress to tests that require more skill to complete. Remember to always use the same protocols for athlete testing: same tests, same order of tests (if possible), same methods of recording test data, etc. For example, if you give students two attempts at the 10-yard dash on the first testing day, you cannot give them four attempts at the next testing session as it would invalidate the data.

Here are the tests I use with my students:

  • Age/Height/Weight (Some districts will have you use BMI as a metric as well)
  • Push-up/Pull-up/Sit-up tests (we use the Presidential Fitness Test norms as guidelines [i.e., as many reps as possible within 60 seconds])
  • 10-Yard Dash
  • Vertical Jump
  • Pro-Agility
  • Other? Be creative! Test your students on what you want them to learn throughout your class. As long as you keep your testing methods consistent, almost any physical task can be used to collect pertinent data


A Sample Week (50 Minute-Class)

Take inventory of your equipment, because you will need to organize your students for optimal equipment-sharing and efficiency. For example, if you only have 1 bench for 40 students, you won’t have time for everyone to bench press at the same time. You may need to stagger kids and equipment, based on needs.

This is a sample week of my Strength and Speed Development class. My class is 50 minutes in length, five days a week. For numbers, we have 6 squat racks, 6 platforms, and 6 benches. Class size is 24 to 30 students. I organize the room so that 4 to 5 students form a group at each station.

Monday

  1. Movement pattern warm-up: Push-ups
  2. Skill practice: Jump rope in place (forward)
  3. Lifting Technique: Front squat spotting safety and front squat progressions: no bar to bar
  4. Finisher: Pull-ups

Tuesday

  1. Agility/movement pattern warm-up: Dot drills and sit-ups
  2. Skill practice: Athletic stance, forward 1st step, stop, and falling starts/stop
  3. Flexibility: Hips, hamstrings, and shoulders

Wednesday

  1. Movement pattern warm-up: Push-ups
  2. Skill practice: Moving jump rope
  3. Lifting Technique: Barbell bench press spotting safety and barbell bench press progressions
  4. Finisher: Pull-ups

Thursday

  1. Agility/movement pattern warm-up: Dot drills and sit-ups
  2. Skill practice: Back pedal and turn. Backward run and turn. 
  3. Flexibility: Hips, hamstrings, and shoulders

Friday

  1. Movement pattern warm-up: Push-ups
  2. Skill practice: Jump rope in place (backward)
  3. Lifting Technique: Deadlift safety and deadlift progressions
  4. Finisher: Pull-ups

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Mike Nitka, MS, CSCS*D, RSCC*E, FNSCA, USAW, is a guest contributor to the Volt blog, and the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Muskego High School. With 35 years of experience, he has been frequently honored for his contributions to the field, including being voted the NSCA High School Strength Coach of the Year.