According to studies, two of the most profound problems in the world today are stress and poor sleep. Today, stress not only affects adults, but it has also trickled down to high school students and even younger children. As a high school educator, when I see the amount of stress the students are under, I’m reminded of how fortunate I was during my time in high school. When I played sports, there was no pressure to play year-round, and I had zero stress getting into college. Today, the pressure to get into college is much greater. Grades and test scores are not enough. Students need internships and volunteer work and must find creative ways to stand out among a crowded and competitive college applicant pool.
The stress in sports is higher as well. Burnout, overuse injuries, loss of interest, and increased pressure to perform have all increased in both high school and youth sports. A positive result of this increase in stress is that strength coaches are talking about recovery and wellness more. We have an opportunity to expand our role as Directors of Strength and Conditioning by getting involved with or starting a wellness program at your school.
The World Health Organization defines wellness as a state of wellbeing in the areas of exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, and social connectedness. When teaching wellness, strength training should be the primary focus of all exercise. When students’ strength improves, their nutrition habits, sleep patterns, and social connectedness all improve. To put it in its simplest form: If you are getting stronger, you’re in an “anabolic” recovered state. If you are recovered most days of the week, you feel refreshed and energized. Strength training is a valid
measurement in overall wellness.
Wellness programs can provide an opportunity for students who are not involved with athletics to learn how to strength train. Educational institutions can no longer offer these valuable tools in strength training, nutrition, and wellness to only athletes. Everyone deserves to feel confident and strong. At Laurel School we provide access to strength training to all girls, who can earn PE credit by getting on their own personalized strength program. By the time they graduate, they know how to design their own strength program. They know how to progress with volume and intensity. They know how to peak at the end of a program. Most importantly, they are more in touch with themselves. They know when to back off and have a deload week. One student described her experience as, “strength training has not only given me more confidence and discipline, but it has also taken a burned-out / overtrained athlete and turned me into a strong powerlifting girl.”
When educating junior high and high school students it is important to remember that not all stress is bad. According to Dr. Lisa Damour, co-founder and executive director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls and New York Times bestselling author of Untangled, “Stress should not be feared. It is a normal and acceptable aspect of life.” She adds, “The correlation between daily life stress and stress through strength training are very similar. We stress our bodies with strength training, our muscles adapt through small progressions, and the muscles get stronger. The same goes for daily life stress. Our body is constantly learning this process of handling and adapting to daily stress. The more practice we get, the more our lives grow.”
Nutrition and Wellness
Nutrition plays an essential role with strength and wellness. We cannot assume that students and parents have a basic understanding of energy requirements for training. Information that might seem good from their favorite celebrities is usually not the best thing for teenage athletes. Speaking with other colleagues and high school strength coaches throughout Ohio, there is growing concern with nutritional habits, especially with female athletes.
As a part of our wellness program, I speak to every class on basic nutrition. Talking about nutrition can be sensitive in a school environment, but that does not mean we should avoid it. Discussing the common warning signs of overtraining and/or not consuming enough calories are the same in every school.
● Consistent soreness (being sore most days of the week from playing your sport, or 3 days after a workout). I have witnessed dozens of students get rid of their aches and pains simply by adding calories.
● Plateau with strength gains as Juniors and Seniors (the stronger you get, the more calories and protein you need).
● Identifying the 3 macronutrients and how to include them with most meals.
● Having a general idea of what the student’s energy requirements are. We don’t want them to count calories, but girls should know if their needs are around 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000. Most guidelines say that 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day should be the minimum for high school female athletes. Showing basic examples of what 2,000 calories per day looks like is a safer way for them to gauge if they are meeting energy requirements.
● The energy requirements for boys who are strength training 4x’s per week and trying to put on 15lbs of muscle may be 4,000 calories per day or higher. Absorption with vitamins, minerals and enzymes may be even more important for this heavier load of calories and protein. Taking in a variety of fruits and vegetables can make all the difference in getting protein absorbed and utilized better.
The pressures that girls face from society regarding physical appearances can result in a higher rate of eating disorders among female students. Therefore, it may be harder to convince girls to eat more as they get stronger. We all must work hard at changing the mindset of, “if you eat more, you will gain weight,” to “I am getting stronger; therefore, I need more fuel to recover.” If we are teaching strength, we must also teach nutrition.
Wellness in the Community
Wellness is not a new concept. Health and Physical Education classes have long taught the basics of health and wellness, but now the program may include school psychologists, counselors, athletic trainers, PE teachers, and strength coaches. In addition, wellness programs can be used to bring student athletes, parents, club coaches, and strength coaches together. There are too many elementary school and junior high students playing year round, setting the groundwork for overuse injuries.
Over-competition and burnout is at an all-time high in our communities. The trending explanation that athletes peak too soon in their careers is sad when referring to 16-year-olds. Through wellness programs, we can promote the value of long-term athletic development. With
the increase of full-time strength coaches, we are starting to see more high school students take 2-3 months off completely from their sport to strength train. This is a small victory for wellness!
Whether you think the youth sports model is broken or it’s just too competitive, wellness programs can help students and parents learn how to strike a balance between competition, training hard and recovery. The demand and value of strength coaches have never been higher. Through education, we can help shift the narrative from “I am not an athlete; therefore, I don’t need to strength train” to “I am going to strength train to feel better.” After all, training for sports is temporary, but strength training for life is forever. Strength training participation in high school will continue to play a pivotal role in the movement towards lifelong mental health and wellness.
Dan Dvorak c.s.c.s.