5 Mistakes High School Athletes Make in the Weight Room

Nowadays, most athletes know that spending time in the weight room is one of the best ways to get better at their sport. You know you can’t just roll off the couch after months of inactivity, show up on game day, and expect to be successful—if you want to be competitive, you’ve got to get in the weight room. Whether you’re a football linebacker, volleyball player, or cross country runner, a properly designed strength training program will help you maximize your athletic potential in competition and arm yourself against injuries. But showing up to the weight room is only one piece of the puzzle—you have to know how to utilize the weight room THE RIGHT WAY in order to see the results you’re after. Here are the top 5 most common mistakes we see high school athletes making in the weight room, and what YOU can do to avoid them.

This is an example of a PERIODIZED Training Plan, and how we program at volt. 

This is an example of a PERIODIZED Training Plan, and how we program at volt. 

Mistake #1: Random Training

You can’t just wander around the weight room doing random exercises for an arbitrary number of reps and expect to get better at your sport. Most athletes know the weight room is the place to start putting on muscle and building strength, but trying to guess your way through a workout is not the right way to go about it. At Volt, we specialize in getting sport-specific training plans—designed by strength coaches and based on industry-standard S&C principles—into the hands of athletes and teams for this very reason. There is a goal, a structure, and a formula to each and every Volt workout, and no room for unnecessary exercises. Randomly performing exercises in the gym will not only fail to optimize your athletic preparation, but, even worse, can detract from your improvement on a progressive training plan.

AVOID IT: Get on a training plan!

Mistake #2: The Bench Press and Biceps Program

Fellas, I’m looking at you! The bench press is a great tool for developing upper-body strength, but it’s not the ONLY tool. Biceps curls may sculpt your guns, but they don’t offer much in terms of performance development. These two movements are probably the most often-performed exercises in a high school weight room—but when it comes to improving your athleticism, they’re simply overrated. It’s better to train on a well-rounded program built specifically to help develop the athletic traits you need for competition. Will bench press and curls be included? For most sports, yes; simply at the right times, and for the right reasons.

AVOID IT: Get on a well-rounded training plan!

Mistake #3: Train Till You Puke

“Mental toughness” is a term used frequently to describe the discipline and effort needed to excel at sports. Players who can last nine innings, four quarters, or the full 90 are said to have great mental toughness. But it is also used to describe athletes who can survive a long, grueling workout that leaves them lying on the floor gasping for breath—which is not necessarily beneficial to your athletic performance.

Having the passion and fortitude to give something your all is an important part of being an athlete, but when it comes to preparing for your game, you have to be careful that you don’t train SO hard that you limit what you can do tomorrow. Ending a workout without puking or leaving a you-shaped sweat puddle on the floor doesn’t mean that you’re not giving 100% to that workout. Athletes, in general, need help finding a handbrake when it comes to how intense their weight room sessions should be. There will be moments in a planned training schedule when it’s appropriate and necessary to give it your all—but those should be properly spaced within a training program so their effect on performance is maximized and your ability to compete is improved. 

AVOID IT: Focus on the specific goals of each workout—NOT on going so hard you end up puking!

Mistake #4: Training Everything BUT Athleticism ("Iron Addiction")

The weight room is a place where athletes can improve any number of physical qualities, like strength, explosiveness, durability, and endurance—but sometimes it’s easy to forget to that the weight room isn’t the ultimate destination, and strength training isn’t the ultimate goal. Athletes need to be implementing the traits developed in the weight room in sport-specific conditions of speed and power, translating them into meaningful athletic qualities for competition. You can’t just lift a lot and expect to get better—you must also prepare to handle the challenges of sprinting, jumping, changing direction, and whatever other motor demands are involved in your sport. 

Similarly, you need to be conditioned to be able to repeat those efforts throughout your competition, whether it’s a four-quarter football game or a 14-minute rugby sevens match. Utilizing progressive med ball throws, jumping and plyometric drills, and a well-designed energy system development plan (conditioning plan) will help to allow the strength qualities developed in the weight room to be properly expressed during game time. Finding ways to fit all the puzzle pieces together is exactly why you need a properly structured training program.

AVOID IT: Don’t ignore conditioning and field work!

Mistake #5: Training ONLY Athleticism ("Iron Deficiency")

There’s a flip side to this coin. Too many athletes think they can prepare themselves for competition by only performing hurdle drills and speed ladders (skipping the weight room entirely)—sadly, they’ll only end up getting better at hurdle drills and speed ladders. A good strength training program exposes the body to progressively higher workloads, increasing the functional capacity of the body to work more efficiently with less risk of injury. In other words, strength training will help make your movements safer and more efficient, allowing you to work harder with less effort. This is much harder to accomplish if athletes are functionally weak from lack of weight room preparation. Athletes who expose themselves to strength training can increase their potential to become fast and powerful (those efficient movement patterns allow for greater force production, after all!), and will see greater results from speed and power training down the road.

AVOID IT: Don’t sacrifice all your weight room time for conditioning work!

The Takeaway

If there’s a theme here, it’s this: the best way to prepare for your sport—outside of actually PLAYING your sport—is to train on a properly designed strength and conditioning program. One that is structured (no random training), well-rounded (more than just bench press and biceps), strategic (varying in intensity), balanced (incorporating conditioning as well as weights), and designed to maximize your athleticism (translating weight room work to on-field performance). If your training doesn’t accomplish these goals, you may be wasting time well spent in the weight room.

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog, and is the lead sport performance specialist at Volt Athletics. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®), and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University in Exercise Science. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.