The weather is getting cooler.
The leaves are starting to change color.
You hear the trumpets of the marching band and smell the freshly cut grass.
You see high schoolers walk down the halls in their jerseys, packed student sections, and homecoming is almost here.
That’s right - head to your local high school on a Friday night and you are sure to find one thing - high school football.
At this point, high school football, is in full swing, and teams everywhere from South Florida to Texas and Washington are competing.
Rival games are coming up and the best teams are starting to sense they may be headed to the playoffs.
There is nothing quite like high school football and Friday night lights. For most students, this is the last time they will play football games, but for a few college may be the next step, and for even fewer maybe even the NFL. For those students who have dreams and goals when it comes to football, there’s no denying it takes a lot of hard work.
This is no doubt going to include watching film, lifting weights, getting faster, working on agility skills, and becoming better at the technique of their position.
Whether you are a parent reading this or a student-athlete yourself, you should know that lifting weights is critical for success to be the best high school football player you can be. And the best way to get colleges to notice you is to be the best player on your team, in your conference, and ultimately in your state.
Hopefully, if you are reading this, you already know that hard work is a requirement for success - not only for you but for your team.
All high school teams are working hard, but how are you going to give your team the edge?
Whether your goals are to become a starter, win a state championship, play football in the NFL, play football in college, be put on the national rankings lists, be the best player you can be, or any combination of these, lifting weights is going to be a huge part of it.
Getting stronger, more explosive, and faster is how you separate yourself from players on other teams.
The offseason is where you really improve these areas.
Right now, the goal is to stay healthy, maintain strength and speed, improve technique at practice, and be physically and mentally ready for Friday nights. In the offseason, this is where you really focus on improving your weaknesses.
Many high schools have team lifts and programs, these are great for high school football players - assuming the coach knows what they are doing and the equipment and environment are safe.
If you are a high school coach or parent, the same equipment below is great for your school’s weight room as well as your own home gym.
So let’s go ahead and get a head start on what equipment is going to help you improve - so you are ready for your high school games next fall.
#1 Barbell, Squat Rack, and Weight Plates
This is arguably the foundation of any strength program.
Walk into any college (or even high school) weight room and you’ll see they are built around these three pieces of equipment.
You might be wondering why these pieces of equipment are so popular when it comes to strength and conditioning for high school football.
There are a couple of big reasons.
First, a barbell loaded with weight plates is the most effective tool for building strength. Second, barbells and weight plates give coaches a ton of options when it comes to what exercises athletes should be performing.
Now, this does not mean that every athlete should begin with using a barbell and weight plates.
If the athlete cannot perform an air squat or a lunge, you are putting them at significant risk by adding resistance in the form of a barbell. Along the same lines, if an athlete cannot perform a pushup, putting them on a bench and having them perform a bench press is not wise. However, if the athlete can perform basic strength and body control tests well - air squats, lunges, pushups, and pullups - moving on to a barbell, and then slowly adding weight plates over time is a great idea.
Another quick note, be sure the athlete is following a structured strength and conditioning program and is supervised, this will not only ensure better results but also the safety and well-being of the athlete which must be the number one priority.
Once we make sure we are following the appropriate steps above, we then can use the barbell to build strength.
In the fitness world, there are what are called the “big three” when it comes to barbell exercises - the bench press, deadlift, and back squat.
These are three great exercises for high school athletes to get ready for the games next fall.
Other exercises that are going to be incredibly beneficial include the strict press, front squats, barbell lunges, bent-over rows, Romanian deadlifts, and cleans.
All of the exercises mentioned above can form the foundation of a strength program.
So now that we know what we can do with a barbell, squat rack, and weight plates, let’s talk about what to look for when buying these pieces of equipment for your high school football athlete.
Let’s start with the barbell.
I would highly recommend getting an Olympic barbell.
These barbells are designed for movements like cleans, snatches, and jerks.
Now, for the high school football athlete, I would not worry about jerks, or snatches unless you are working with one of your coaches. For the advanced athlete cleans can be a good option for developing power. However, I would still make sure you have one of your qualified coaches' eyes on you when performing cleans.
Olympic lifts are great for developing the power needed for high school football but are also very technical.
The reason I say to still get the Olympic barbell is because it allows you the option to perform Olympic lifts. Standard barbells don’t rotate making Olympic lifting much tougher.
You can still perform all the same lifts - bench, squats, etc. - with an Olympic barbell that you could with a standard barbell.
Okay, for your squat rack.
This depends a lot on how much space you have.
If you are working with a small space, there are racks that fold in and out maximizing space.
If you have more space, a full power rack can be a great option.
If possible, be sure your power rack has a pullup bar and plate storage. Pullup bars are on most power racks and allow you to perform one of the best pulling exercises without taking up any additional space.
When we think about pulling exercises for high school football players we want to make sure we pull vertically (pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-down machine) as well as horizontally (bent-over rows, single-arm rows).
Making sure your squat rack has a pull-up bar is an easy way to ensure your athlete has the ability to get that vertical pull without having to also get a lat pulldown machine, saving you space and money.
Plate storage on your squat rack is good for saving space and is also convenient for loading your barbell in the rack.
Finally, weight plates.
There are basically two broad categories when it comes to weight plates - metal and rubber.
I would highly recommend the rubber plates.
Rubber plates will allow you to drop the weight plates. This is especially important if you even consider performing Olympic lifts.
When Olympic lifting dropping the barbell is encouraged for safety reasons, something you cannot (or at least should not) do with metal plates.
Plus, the plates cost about the same.
To protect your floor and your athlete go with rubber plates.
Be sure to grab a bench too. It's going to be hard to do a bench press without it.
Dumbbells are number two on the list and my second favorite piece of equipment for high school football players.
Contrary to popular belief, dumbbells are not only for biceps curls.
No, dumbbells are incredibly versatile and give the athlete and coach a lot of options when it comes to exercise selection.
Barbells are generally more popular because it is easier to load heavier weights with a barbell. However, dumbbells have some benefits that aren’t seen in the barbell.
The biggest one is single-arm movements. When we use the barbell - exercises like bench press, strict press, and bent-over rows - we are forced to use both arms in sync. This is great for maximum power and building strength but can allow for compensation. Oftentimes, we have slight overcompensations and strength imbalances with one arm or the other. This is not a huge deal, but when we add in some single-arm work with exercises like dumbbell rows, bench press, and strict press, we are now forced to use each arm independently as the dumbbells are not connected like the barbell is.
This is one of the reasons that when using dumbbells, athletes tend to not be able to move as much weight.
So how can a dumbbell exercise improve a high school football player’s performance - take the dumbbell bench press for example.
One of the most important parts of football is blocking and a big part of that is the strike with the arms. There are many factors that go into successful blocking - with probably the biggest being explosive hips - but the strike from the upper body is very important as well.
As a high school football player working on your upper body strength is going to improve that strike and the dumbbell bench press mimics the strike movement quite well.
Other exercises I really like with dumbbells include step-ups, walking lunges, lateral goblet lunges, and of course biceps curls.
There are a few different types of dumbbells to consider.
Similar to weight plates, dumbbells primarily either have rubber or metal “heads”. Because there really isn’t a reason to ever drop dumbbells, it doesn’t make much difference which ones you decide on. You should always control your dumbbells to the floor or back onto the dumbbell rack, rather than dropping them.
Another option that is especially great if you are trying to save space is the adjustable dumbbells.
These dumbbells use one handle and have a pin that adjusts the weight on the ends.
As far as cost, the adjustable tend to be pretty expensive, but if you compare it to how much it would be if you bought each set of dumbbells on their own, it is much cheaper.
If you are looking at purchasing a starter set of dumbbells for your high school football player, I’d recommend a lighter set of around 20-30 pounds and a heavier set of around 50-75 pounds. This will allow you to perform most exercises with an appropriate level of resistance. As the athlete progresses, you can add additional dumbbell sets.
If you are looking at dumbbells for a high school weight room, you are going to want a set every 5 pounds starting at 10 pounds to at least 75 pounds.
#3 Medicine Balls
As far as bang for your buck, the medicine ball is high on the list.
Medicine balls are great for increasing power, which is one of the biggest separators when it comes to high school football players.
Many high school football players are big and some are strong, but power - the ability to explosively use that strength - is often rare.
Olympic lifts with the barbell are a great way to develop that power, but the learning curve is pretty steep.
Medicine ball exercises are a good alternative that can be learned much faster for high school athletes.
One of the ideas constantly discussed when it comes to explosive power is triple extension.
Basically, what this means is that your ankles, knees, and hips are all extended - allowing for large amounts of force stemming from your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. If you are struggling to picture what this looks like think of someone standing on their tippy toes.
This position of triple extension is seen in high school football in tackling, blocking, and sprinting.
We can mimic and increase power in this position with the medicine ball.
Exercises like medicine ball slams, overhead throws, and kneeling chest passes are great for increasing explosive strength for high school football.
A 14 to 20-pound medicine ball is a great place to start.
#4 Cleats and Cones
While not specifically gym equipment, in order to be a better football player you are going to need to get your field work in.
Don’t be the guy who spends all offseason in the weight room and shows up next fall out of shape, not having worked on change of direction, speed, or agility drills in the offseason.
Be sure to work speed drills, shuttles, lateral shuffles, resisted sprints, and agility drills.
You can be as strong as you want, but if you can’t move well all that strength won’t be nearly as valuable.
Just like in the weight room, be sure you have a well-thought-out plan and one of your coaches' eyes on you.
Spend the offseason getting stronger, faster, and more agile, and you’ll show up to high school practice next season as a whole new player. Remember, this equipment is just a tool, you have to use the tool and work in order to see results.
We can’t wait to see how you improve.