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Athletes often encounter unexpected breaks from strength training. At our local high school, several of the teams trained in a conditioning program for six weeks and were about to test their maximums when they missed two full weeks due to the weather. What to do!
After talking with the coaches, we agreed that testing maximums after 2.5 weeks without any activity could cause injuries due to detraining. Plus, maximum lifts would not be very good.
Three of the track athletes, who are also football players, competed in the Indoor State Games at the end of the two-week break. No athlete performed well. Not only did they feel like the lacked muscle tone, but for the throwers, technique was also "flat". Their timing was off even though the correct movement patterns were mainly intact.
The issue is reversibility. We decided to continue conditioning for a short time. We did not test maximums and, instead, transitioned straight into the intensive period to save the time that would have been taken up to test maximums (usually an additional week).
We're using the number of repetitions that correspond to loads at specific percentages for the intensive cycle. We may test maximums for some teams, depending upon their schedules and when they plan to peak.
The bottom line is safety. The athletes' perceptions of how much they lost in 2.5 weeks, their extent of muscle soreness upon returning, plus the research on detraining were a good basis for continuing conditioning, then transitioning to intensive training over the next few weeks.
As a high school strength coach, I'd like to share the challenges that we've had, what we're doing, and how our athletes have benefited after the first year.
When someone asks me to help them make an important decision about sports, school, or anything else, my bottom line answer is “follow your heart”. Here’s why.
When I was a kid, all I ever really planned on doing was what I loved—being an athlete and working to be the best I could at it. I never dreamed that athletic competition could open so many doors later on, but it did. Throughout my life I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, doing what I loved and not knowing where it would lead.
It’s been some 30 years since I was immersed in training and competition as a member of the USA Track and Field Team, but my love of sports always gave me direction.
It all started in high school when one of the new teachers decided to take some kids to the Wayne Elks Club Track Meet. I won, and that inspired me to love track.
Two years later, I met Dr. Richard Willing, a college professor and coach, who recruited me to compete for his AAU team, the NJ Striders. When I qualified for the National Championships and Olympic Trials in 1968 in my senior year in high school, he saw to it that I got to Denver and Los Angeles to compete. What an experience for a kid who never really left the NJ area—competing against top athletes that I had read about and crossing the country by car all in one trip!
It was also because of Dr. Willing that I entered Montclair State that year. And it happened that the first college national championship for women was held in San Marcos, Texas the following spring, where I won 3 national titles in 1969 and over the next 15 years made many USA Teams.
I was the only athlete Dr. Willing ever coached in his 41-year career to make a USA Team, but he did not live to see it. Sadly, Dr. Willing passed away on his way to the Mexico City Games, so he never knew what I accomplished and what a difference his passion for coaching track made in my life.
I will always be grateful to Dr. Willing for setting the stage for years of international competition, which later opened more opportunities into a fulfilling career as a professor, coach, and sport scientist. Best of all, I have wonderful memories of a great role model and mentor whose influence has lasted a lifetime.
It all started because I followed my heart and did what I loved, not knowing where it would lead. I think of Dr. Willing whenever I coach kids, and I hope that sharing my passion for sports will make some positive difference in guiding the direction of their lives.
That's why my advice is to follow your heart and let your passion about whatever you love guide you. You never know what doors will open.
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