I, like many other strength coaches, went through school to earn my degrees. I sat through kinesiology and physiology classes. I studied nutrition and wrote up sample workout plans for my strength and conditioning classes. I interned at a nearby college, observing and even getting some hands-on experience with many different sport teams. While earning my masters, I was a graduate assistant at that same college.
So when I got the job I currently have as the strength and conditioning coach for all sports of a high school - I felt that I was more than ready. Why wouldn’t I feel this way? I studied everything I was supposed to in college, I had worked with highly successful college teams for two years. Surely I could handle high school teams and the responsibilities that came along with it.
Maybe I was naïve or more inexperienced than I realized (or a combination of the two), but my first few weeks on the job were eye opening. When reading the books or writing up sample workout plans, it was always about how to structure the workout. As exercise science students, we were graded on our knowledge of proper exercise order, exercise selection, sets and reps, among other tangible things. All of those things are certainly important.
But never once do I remember ever being told to create a workout plan where you have a team of twenty-five athletes and not enough equipment to run the workout how you wrote it up. Even at the college I worked at, we had the resources to implement any workout we wanted exactly how we wrote it up.
So, I had to adapt and adapt quickly.
It was now part of my job to write up effective plans that could fit in with the equipment and space I had available. This means that some of those tangible things I learned in college had to be altered or ignored at certain times.
Here are a few things I have used to help with limited equipment and space as a high school strength and conditioning coach.
Supersets and Circuits
Supersets and circuits are effective and useful tools even if you have enough equipment and space. Take away some equipment, and they become that much more important to your program.
Of course, supersets are used so that you aren’t standing around in between sets, but they are also great for getting certain exercises done when half the team is doing something else. It cuts the equipment you need for certain exercises in half.
This helps me out because I use a lot of kettlebells in my program and have way more athletes than I do kettlebells available. Paring a kettlebell exercise with a barbell exercise not only decreases the equipment needed, but it also makes sense from a pure strength and conditioning standpoint.
A perfect example is the pairing of a barbell deadlift and Turkish get-up. Yes, it helps out with the amount of bells needed, but you are also pairing a strength exercise with a movement/stability based exercise...so it’s a win-win situation.
I have found that with some thinking and creativity those win-win situations happen more than you would think.
Circuits are beneficial for the same reasons.
For most of my programs, the workout ends with a circuit of four exercises or at least a tri-set of three exercises. There are many times I wish I could use multiple supersets instead and have the athletes focus on two exercises at a time instead of three or more. But when dealing with the accessory lifts (in my case anything that isn’t a barbell) I just don’t have enough equipment (kettlebells, medicine balls, rings, etc.) So instead, I write up circuits that spread the athletes out among three or more exercises. Then I have them rotate through, utilizing the amount of equipment that I do have.
I want to stress that even though supersets or circuits might not always be my number one choice for certain things, they are effective - and in fact, do help my teams achieve more in a shorter amount of time.
Keep It Simple
From my experience I am guessing that half of the strength coaches reading this already fall under this category and the other half do the exact opposite. I am not saying either direction is right or wrong, and I am sure each side has a reason (at least I would hope so) for implementing rather simple lifts or more extravagant ones.
I am a believer in barbells being the single most important piece of equipment a strength coach can have at his or her disposal. The main compound movements are the background of my programs, and fortunately I do have just enough barbells to make it work with the amount of athletes I have.
Keeping it simple in regard to exercise selection and equipment used would be my philosophy no matter the amount of equipment and resources I had available to me. It just so happens to work out that this philosophy is very beneficial when working with a tight budget.
Bands, chains, plyo boxes, weighted vests, and a number of other tools are very effective, and I would recommend them to anyone that has the means to try them out. But in my opinion, all of those tools are vegetables and barbells and kettlebells are the meat and potatoes. It’s nice and very beneficial to have vegetables, but the meat and potatoes are what gets you the most bang for your buck.
I understand the argument from the other side about why chains are good for this or bands help with that. I have read those same books. Heck, I have used those tools and I like them. But I can live without them and so can my athletes.
What would be difficult for me to live without are kettlebells. They are effective for a number of reasons not the least being their versatility. You can swing them for power out of the hinge, you can press them, squat them, and perform corrective exercises with them. A dumbbell might be able to be used for one or two of those, but not all of them. I am also not saying everyone has to be as big into kettlebells as I am.
The point I want you to take away is that if you are on a tight budget, sit down and be honest about what you can do without and what you can’t. Not what makes your athletes look cool, or what you like to do yourself....but what is your meat and potatoes.
I am not sure how much I can say about this third and final tip without being there in your weight room with you. I don’t know what exact equipment you are lacking or what you would like to add but can’t because of lack of resources. However, I will tell you that you can sometimes find a way to make things work if you are creative enough.
It’s not always pretty and doesn’t have to be. It’s a weight room after all. Making your own equipment is obviously cheaper than purchasing it but it does take time and creativity, and you might even have to pay out of pocket.
A great example are loaded carries. They are a staple of my program. We use kettlebells, dumbbells, you name it. If this is something that you want in your program this is a great opportunity to show your creative side and build things that can be carried whether it is sand bags, potato sacks, buckets filled with various objects, etc.
I have buddies that have made their own sleds, plyo boxes, and vests to hang weight from for bodyweight exercises. Again, having the ability to sew a vest together is something that I never dreamt I would need to know as part of my job, but welcome to the life of a high school strength and conditioning coach.
This Is The Life We Chose
The life of a high school strength coach is not perfect. We must use what we have to the best of our abilities and create an environment that is safe, effective, and enjoyable for our athletes.
That is no small task.
I am sure I talked about a lot of things that most of you reading this have experienced yourselves. A lot of what I discussed is probably not new to most of you, but I hope that I was able to share some ideas that will be helpful.
Please comment on this article if you too have new ideas about working around a tight budget. I look forward to hearing how some of you are dealing with this situation.