8 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was A High School Athlete

By: Schuyler Schmidt

What a difference a few years of learning makes! My high school “glory days” as a varsity swimmer and runner would have been so much more “glorious” if I had known then what I know now about reaching peak performance.


1. Warming Up

Then: My pre-competition warm-up, regardless of the sport, consisted of static stretching; a few toe touches, and I was good to go.

Now: Static stretching has a place in a proper warm-up, along with rolling out, activation work, and dynamic stretches and movements. This routine would have had my muscles already warm and firing in the correct sequence at the beginning of the race, versus, using the first few minutes of the competition as my warm-up. Check out Praneeth’s post to learn more about proper warm-up protocol before an athletic event.

2. Functional Training

Then: While I did include strength training in my workout regimen, I followed a general routine that was heavy on biceps curls, triceps extensions, etc. and used lots of weight machines instead of free weights, kettlebells, and body weight. Needless to say, I worked on the beach body, not the athletic body.

Now: Functional training is the key to improving athletic performance. Olympic lifts like hang cleans and close grip snatches, plyometric exercises like box jumps and hurdles, and old-fashioned med ball throws/slams improve power and explosion. My starts, sprints, and flip turns would have been better if I had learned to explode from the hips.

3. Deadlifting Form

Then: My trainer was a football coach with a football coach’s mindset—just move the weight. Consequently, my max weight was high but my form was atrocious, putting me at risk for injuries far more serious than the sore back that often occurred on deadlift days.

Now: Deadlifting and its variations are incredible exercises for developing the posterior chain, but poor form leads to bad patterns that are hard to break and injury. My lower back and my posterior chains thank me for learning improved deadlift technique.

4. Core Training

Then: Crunches, back extensions, and the occasional plank were all I needed for a strong core.

Now: Core strength is essential to the transfer of power from upper and lower limbs. While Pallof presses, torsional buttresses, and flexor moment planks, etc. are no fun, anti-extension and anti-rotation core exercises are essential for peak performance. Having a better core would have given me a stronger kick in swimming and improved my mechanics, especially at the end of the race when fatigue sets in.


5. Sports Nutrition and Hydration

Then: My typical high school schedule included lunch around noon, practice or competition after school, and then a trip home, meaning there were often gaps of 4+ hours when I didn’t eat or drink anything.

Now: Pre-workout food supplies quick energy for performance. Post-workout nutrition is needed for good recovery. Staying hydrated keeps your body working. Better nutritional habits would have increased my energy during my races and allowed for improved recovery between hard practices and meets.

6. Mobility and Stability

Then: I had never heard of the joint-by-joint approach, mobility, or stability. If my knee hurt, I assumed it was only a knee problem.

Now: After reading the works of Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, etc., I realize that knee pain could be the result of poor ankle or hip mobility. This knowledge would have led to less pain, less worthless rehab time, and fewer injuries during my athletic career.

7. Tapering

Then: Tapering is the decrease in training volume before a championship meet that prepares an athlete for peak performance. On a large high school team with only one coach, every athlete was tapered on the same program, with widely varying (and sometimes disastrous) results.

Now: Tapering is a highly individualized process dependent on an athlete’s conditioning and gender. My performance would have improved by tailoring my coach’s taper workouts to better fit my fitness level.

8. Training Harder vs. Training Smarter

Then: If one rep, set, or exercise is good, then two must be better! Constantly pushing my body to the limit led to injuries that ended my competitive athletic career.

Now: Rest and recovery are necessary for regeneration. There is a fine line between training for performance and training for the sake of training. I know where the line is now.


Would I have been an Olympic champion or even a national qualifier if I’d known in high school what I know now? Probably not, but I’d certainly have been a better version of my high school self.


Which of Schuyler’s thoughts can you relate to the most? What do you wish you knew about training in high school that would have helped you become a better version of your younger self? Comment below and remember to”like” us on facebook!

My name is Schuyler Schmidt, and I am a third year honours Kinesiology student at Waterloo. I love everything that involves movement and look forward to learning more through my classes, training the varsity athletes, seminars, and the Strength & Conditioning Club. Having dabbled in everything from distance running to powerlifting, I have a broad view of fitness and believe that “one workout doesn’t fit all.” Outside of academics, I enjoy hiking, canoeing,  jewelry making, gardening, and working at a vineyard/winery in my hometown.


1 Comment

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One response to “8 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was A High School Athlete

  1. natashabhawkins

    Reblogged this on Building a Better Athlete and commented:
    This is an amazing blog! Great for young athletes to read, I know a lot of older athletes would agree.

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