The New Arms Race – Strength and Performance In High Schools

High school strength and performance is a hot topic.  There’s an emerging trend happening and it’s worth exploring.

Having been in the fitness industry since 1985, I’ve seen many trends come and go.  Some better than others.  I ran a fitness bootcamp, one of the first in the area, in Cedar Park, Texas for several years.  What started outside at a local park (Elizabeth Milburn) doing push ups, squats and sit-ups grew into 3 different locations and a subleased 10,000 square foot space with resistance equipment, heavy bags, sleds, and a boxing ring.  I sold the business in 2011 to pursue other opportunities but bootcamps, Crossfit and group training types of businesses are still going strong and they are here to stay.

FullForceFitness 2005-2011

Now, I’ve got another very new, emerging trend for you that I predict will also be here to stay: High school strength and performance  programs coached by experienced professionals.

There is a huge need for this – the scary stories that I’ve heard about middle and high school weight rooms cannot be believed.  In many cases, the middle school and high school weight rooms are a place where very dangerous accidents are waiting to happen.  But don’t take my word for it.  Look into it for yourself if you’re a parent of a middle school student.  Poor technique and downright bad advice are common in our middle school and high school weight rooms around the country. Whose fault is it?  I’m not here to point fingers but I can report to you that there are a lot of progressive high schools and coaches around the nation who are already turning the page and jumping into a new, improved and much safer way of overseeing the school weight rooms.  The weight rooms are becoming safer and the results that the athletic programs are getting are incredible.

“A greater emphasis on strength and conditioning is another way prep athletic programs hope to stand out from the rest says Jordan Johnson, who spent the past six years at Jenks High School in Oklahoma before moving to Owasso High School (also in Oklahoma) as Owasso’s first ever strength and conditioning coordinator.

“It used to be just Jenks High School (currently ranked #2 in football in the state of Oklahoma), Union High School (currently ranked #3 in football in the state of Oklahoma) and Broken Arrow High School (currently ranked #1 in the state of Oklahoma and #26 in the nation) had strength and conditioning coaches,” says Johnson. “Now there are nine or 10 in the Tulsa area. Now it’s the arms race of high school sports. You always want that competitive advantage.”

It’s great to have a strength and performance program in the high schools but what kind of results are they getting?  Because, in my book, it’s always about results.  Results are the bottom line.


Jenks High School football. Currently ranked #2 in Oklahoma (click image, click again to close).


Union High School football. Currently ranked #3 in Oklahoma (click image).


Broken Arrow High School football. Currently ranked #1 in Oklahoma and #26 in the nation (click image).


Owasso High School football. Currently ranked #5 in Oklahoma (click image).

Let’s Look At Other Sports At These Schools


Union High School baseball. 2018 Oklahoma 6A Boys Baseball State Champions (click image).

soccer-state-champs-2018-6a-Union-scott-york-fitnessUnion High School soccer.  2018 Oklahoma 6A Boys Soccer State Champions.

When you really dig down and research what makes these schools athletic teams so good, you begin to see a common denominator.

Strength and performance.

Jordan Johnson added that in the not-so-distant future he believes there will be “more schools hiring strength and conditioning coaches. And schools could even make it part of their curriculum.”

Brent Marley, Owasso Eagles head football coach,  also believes the popularity of strength and conditioning programs will only grow in high school athletics. The Owasso Eagles are currently ranked #5 in the state of Oklahoma.  Marley said schools that invest in their strength and conditioning program are bound to reap the rewards on the field.  “I think it’s critical, getting our athletes to be bigger, faster and stronger,” says Brad Cantrell,  Collinsville athletic director and girls’ basketball coach.  “It’s critical for us to do that to achieve what we want to achieve.”

It’s no secret that properly trained middle and high school athletes receive invaluable benefits from strength training.  Here’s my list of just some of the benefits:

  • Athletes become more injury resistant.  Stronger bones, tendons and ligaments.  More body armor (muscle).
  • Athletes are properly trained for his or her specific sport.
  • Pound for pound stronger athletes.
  • Better coordination, balance and quickness.
  • Mentally tougher than they were before.
  • Improved self esteem and confidence.
  • Improved nutritional knowledge.  The athletes who have been with me for a while have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t than 99% of their counterparts.  They know how to eat, when to raise calories and how nutrition affects strength and performance.
  • We know that proper exercise leads to improved sleep.  Improved sleep can mean quicker recovery, improved health and possibly even better grades in school.  I say “possibly” but I see improved grades in my athletes regularly. In fact, I insist on A’s and B’s in order to be trained by me.  There’s a book called “Spark” which is a groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD.

“My Neck, My Back, My Netflix And My Snacks”

My wife and I recently watched a show on Netflix called, “QB1”.  This is a reality show which highlights 3 of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation.  One of the quarterbacks plays for Bishop Gorman High School in the Las Vegas area.  The team went on to become high school national champions.  The best high school football team in the United States!  I had to know more.

The Bishop Gorman High Gaels have amassed six straight Nevada state football championships—as great a run as any seen in Las Vegas, on or off The Strip. But what’s behind such success? The program’s strength begins with…strength.

“Any team that wants to compete for a championship at any level has to have NOT a good strength program, but a GREAT one,” head coach Kenneth Sanchez tells SI Edge. “And that’s what we have here at Bishop Gorman. It’s the foundation in which our house here at Gorman is built on.”

Bishop Gorman is currently ranked #1 in the state of Nevada. Their strength of schedule is currently 41.8 which means they play the toughest schools in the nation.

As the head coach said, “the program’s strength begins with…strength.”  It’s apparently an underlying factor in most if not all of these top winning programs.  This is a trend that won’t be slowing down anytime soon.  Sports are competitive and as long as people want to win, they will look for any advantage.

Whatever happened to those 3 quarterbacks who were highlighted in “QB1”?  One is on the Georgia Bulldogs football team, one is on the Clemson Tigers football team and the third is on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons football team.  I’ll bet anything that they are in a top notch strength and performance program.




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