Boys' and girls' high school sports are an exciting time for so many student-athletes. All of the hard work leading up to the season has finally paid off.
Well, sort of.
You see some high school athletes take advantage of the off-season and get good rest, lift weights, improve their conditioning, and focus on improving sport-specific skills. Others tend to enjoy the break, play a lot of video games, and don’t take their sport all that seriously. Now, I’m not one to judge here. If you play sports to have fun and don’t really have big goals and dreams, I get it. But, if you talk about wanting to dominate next year, play in college, or be the best player on your team, you have to prepare like it not only for yourself but for your team.
One of the most important things to consider with high schoolers is safety. Anytime lifting weights occurs there is an inherent risk. It is important that when your athlete is lifting weights they are supervised, taught proper technique, and follow a well-thought-out program. These three things will help avoid many of the common injuries seen in high school athletes.
Here are 10 pieces of gym equipment that I think deliver the most benefits for the high school athlete. Now obviously, a cross-country athlete is going to have different goals and demands physically than an offensive lineman in football. So when creating this list, I tried to choose the pieces of equipment that would create the most well-rounded athlete for high school sports.
Let’s jump in.
The barbell is one of the best tools for not only building strength but learning to lift. Whether we are talking boys' or girls' high school sports, one of the biggest reasons to lift is to improve body awareness and learn to move correctly.
If we take the squat, for example, the air squat is step one. Now, determining where you are at as a high school athlete (i.e. freshman who has never lifted a weight or senior college commit who has been in the weight room for the last six years) will certainly be a factor here. But the point is, that after learning the air squat the athlete can move on to an empty barbell to learn front and back squats. The barbell allows the athlete to feel some weight and begin to learn the movement, but it also allows the advanced athlete to progressively load weights in order to build significant strength.
This strength is going to help you become a better player for your team, improve your game, and maybe even become the best player in the country (okay, maybe not but who knows?)
The barbell is not only for squats, though. It can be used for overhead press, RDLs, bent-over rows, and so much more.
#2 Weight Plates
If you have a barbell, you are going to need weight plates.
I would recommend bumper plates as they allow you to perform explosive movements like cleans, because of their ability to be dropped. Weight plates allow you to go from the empty barbell, learning the movement, to adding significant weight. By adding weight appropriately, over time, your athlete will begin to see gains in strength - given they are resting appropriately, eating enough, etc.
When it comes to how many weight plates to buy, this depends. Generally, boys are stronger than girls so keep that in mind. However, some of the top girls will certainly outlift some of the boys. Also, sports that are more aerobic based like soccer and cross country will need fewer weight plates. For the advanced, power-based sport athlete (football or field events in track) I would say the most weight you probably need is:
3 sets of 45 lbs
1 set of 25 lbs
2 sets of 10 lbs
1 set of 5 lbs
For the aerobic-based sport athlete, someone newer to lifting, or some of the smaller females:
1 set of 45 lbs
1 set of 25 lbs
1 set of 10 lbs
1 set of 5 lbs
I realize that there are a lot of athletes that fall somewhere in between, but just know the first group totals 370 lbs and the second group totals 170 lbs. So feel free to choose something in the middle.
#3 Squat Rack
Earlier we talked about the importance of safety when it comes to high school athletes lifting weights. One of the best ways to do this is with a squat rack. If you plan on lifting with a barbell you need a squat rack. It is not only safer, but it is incredibly more efficient as well.
How does a squat rack improve safety? A squat rack has safety bars that are helpful to drop the barbell onto in the event an athlete fails a rep. For instance, when performing a squat, the athlete would set the safety bars to a height just below where the bar would be in the bottom position of their squat. This way if the athlete fails a rep, they can safely get out from underneath the bar. Athletes should still have adult supervision and a spotter even with safety bars.
Squat racks also allow athletes to bench press and squat without having the barbell start on the floor, which is not only inefficient but unsafe.
Dumbbells are great. Here’s why.
They are one of the most versatile ways to build strength. Dumbbells can be used for exercises like bench press, bent-over rows, RDLs, and even squats. Basically, any exercise that can be done with a barbell can be done with a dumbbell, plus dumbbells have the added bonus of being able to perform more single arm and leg exercises, which are great, especially for the developing athlete.
Dumbbells are also relatively cheap as a starting point for high school athletes beginning to lift. You do not need an entire set unless you just have the space and want to build a full garage or home gym. I would recommend starting with two sets of dumbbells - a lighter and a heavier set. For the lighter dumbbell, somewhere in the 15-30# range, and for the heavier dumbbell probably between #30-#70. Obviously, these are large ranges, but high school athletes come in all shapes, sizes, and experience levels when it comes to lifting weights.
You’re probably wondering why the barbell matters with all of these benefits of dumbbells. The biggest reason why the barbell matters is that as you lift heavier weights it is much more efficient. Some exercises like cleans and squats just aren’t as effective with dumbbells as with a barbell.
This one probably seems pretty simple, but it is absolutely necessary.
You need a bench to bench press. I mean it is in the name. However, benches aren’t great for just bench pressing. Having a bench allows you to perform single-arm rows, rear-foot elevated split squats, box squats, incline press, and many other exercises.
I’d recommend going with an adjustable bench. This will give you more possibilities when it comes to exercise selection and it takes up the same amount of space.
#6 Jump rope
Whether we are talking about boys' or girls' high school sports, jumping rope is a great way to build coordination in your athlete.
One of the things that is really important in developing high school student-athletes is getting them to understand their body and how it moves. Jumping rope gives you that immediate feedback. Miss a jump, you’ll know - either your feet will get tangled in the rope or it will smack you on your leg. This immediate feedback can be quite frustrating, but a great learning tool nonetheless.
Jumping rope is also good for building your conditioning base. Jump rope for five minutes and you’ll see what I mean. Another benefit of going back to your days on the playground and jumping rope is that it will help prepare your ankles and calves for sports that place high amounts of stress on your lower legs - think basketball, volleyball, soccer, and football among others.
If you have the space, sleds can be an incredible piece of gym equipment.
There is nothing quite like the leg fatigue and out-of-breath combo that comes from pushing sleds. Sleds have become popular as of late and for good reason. You can load the sled up with a heavy load and use the sled for strength work or you can take all the weight off and use it for sprint work. You can even choose somewhere in between, and get that game-like conditioning your high school athlete needs. Want to dominate the second half of your football game, finish the season strong, and be better than others your age? Using a sled as a part of a well-thought-out program can be a great start.
Sleds are also great for your knee and ankle health. Make sure you have some weight plates if you decide to buy a sled. Otherwise, you may end up sitting on it for your child and no one wants that.
The GHD (glute-hamstring developer) machine does exactly what it says, develops your glutes and hamstrings.
This machine is great for building a strong posterior chain. However, it does take a little bit of a learning curve to understand how to use it. They also are pretty large.
But, if you have the space and are willing to learn about how to use it properly with great technique, I think it is an incredible machine that will certainly help develop the backside of your lower body.
#9 Medicine Ball
A slam ball or medicine ball is going to be a beneficial addition to your athlete's gym equipment.
Medicine balls typically weigh between twelve and thirty pounds with the most common being twenty pounds. These are going to be especially great for rotational sports. Almost all sports are going to have some sort of rotational nature, but I’m specifically thinking of sports like golf, tennis, and baseball.
One of the best exercises you can do with a medicine ball is a twisted throw against a wall. This is a great way to improve rotational power. Other exercises include slams, tosses overhead, and forward throws. All of these are going to work your explosive strength which is critical in almost all sports.
You probably only need one. I’d recommend a 20-30 lb ball for males and a 14-20 lb ball for females.
#10 Resistance Bands
Resistance bands serve a few purposes for the athlete in the gym.
First, they can be a great tool for warmups and cooldowns. Bands assist athletes as they stretch and can be used to help “activate” or warm up muscles through less intense resistance.
Resistance bands can also be used as an exercise on their own. Whether that is a banded good morning, banded bicep curls, or banded tricep extensions. Bands also can be added to lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press to add extra resistance at the top of the movement.
If you find yourself in a quick bind and need to make sure you get a workout in on the road, a set of dumbbells and a resistance band can go a long way.