Freelap Friday Five with Mark Hoover
Mark Hoover is the Director of Strength and Conditioning at York Comprehensive High School in York, South Carolina. Coach Hoover started his career coaching football at both the high school and NCAA levels. After spending nearly 20 years in the dual role of sport coach/strength coach (including 11 years as a head football coach), he made the transition into full-time strength and conditioning in 2015.
Coach Hoover holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and physical education and is fully certified in K-12 social studies and physical education. He is currently pursuing an MS in Exercise Science. He is a USAW Level 1 and Certified Advanced Sports Performance Coach, as well as an NASM-Performance Enhancement Specialist. Coach Hoover is a proud original member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association and is the Region 8 Director for the South Carolina Strength Coaches Association.
Freelap USA: Working with high school coaches is hard, as it requires a lot of communication and education. Could you share common challenges a high school coach has when juggling private training programs, different team philosophies, and limited sports medicine?
Mark Hoover: Working with sport coaches can be a challenge. There is such a wide range of knowledge and interest in sports performance that every situation is unique. When I look back on my early years, I recognize I made mistakes by communicating the absolute wrong way with coaches who had questions and concerns. “I know because it’s my job to know, so leave me alone please” isn’t best practice, for sure!
As I grew in the field, so did my way of handling those situations. I learned that most coaches (including myself!) “don’t know what they don’t know.” We all have an idea of how things should be done based on what we have learned to that point. As my knowledge base began to grow, I recognized that when I first started, I knew zero, except what I was told by my football coaches in high school and small college football. I’m lucky to have had coaches willing to help educate me in the field as I made my way to this point. It lit a fire under me that still burns today to seek more and more knowledge.The ability to know the ‘why’ and explain it to coaches, parents, and athletes is a strong tool, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
Coaches (most of the time) do not question us to be critical. They question us because they see us doing something different from their norm. That is such a fantastic opportunity for both of us. Teaching and educating coaches makes us both better. The ability to know the “why” and explain it to coaches, parents, and athletes is a strong tool. By successfully explaining to and teaching our coaches what we do and why, we gain a strong ally who is comfortable with our knowledge base, trusts us, and feels comfortable enough to jump in and help with the program.
The “why” is what really separates a qualified strength coach from a “weight room guy” at the high school level. If we know why we do every single thing we do and exactly how to defend and explain that why, sport coaches will usually buy in very quickly and trust will begin to form. I strive to make sure our sport coaches are fully confident that our program is evidence-based, and that I can explain exactly why we do it if they have questions.
Freelap USA: You perform both single leg and double leg training. Could you explain why a combined approach works for you rather than just one or the other?
Mark Hoover: I think the whole debate about unilateral versus bilateral is such a pointless one. Most coaches use both, and those who don’t have great explanations why they choose not to. I spent the first 10 or so years of my career doing bilateral back squats almost exclusively. I was a football coach and worked with football players. The back squat was what I had been taught. (I didn’t know what I didn’t know!)
As I began to further my education and move more and more in the direction of strictly strength and conditioning and how the human body actually worked, I began to embrace unilateral variations.
I think another aspect of being a qualified strength and conditioning coach is having a strong grasp on progression and regressions. The unilateral squat is a huge part of that process for us. Teaching a single leg split squat early on develops balance and strengthens the knee area, as well as all the smaller muscles that stabilize the body. It allows a full range of motion and teaches the athlete to squat to parallel and below without loading the axial spine. It helps us teach the athlete to stay tall and strong as they squat.
The single leg squat requires much less technical prowess to perform well. The last step in our progression, in fact, is now the barbell split squat. We move from front to split as the final step because it requires our athletes to place the bar on their upper back, stay tall, brace to have an “iron spine,” and squat to a great position. They can load the bar with a weight that will challenge them, while not being excessive.
We regress back to this even with our top block athletes to practice and reteach often throughout the year. This is an amazing in-season tool as well. We can keep volume low and intensity very high as we move toward the post-season, without loading the bar as much as we do with a bilateral back squat.The whole debate about unilateral vs. bilateral is such a pointless one. Most coaches use both, and those who don’t have great reasons why they don’t, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
That being said, everything we do in our squat progressions leads us to the bilateral barbell back squat. It may be unpopular in some circles, but when our athletes are technically sound, move well, and physically ready (graduation is usually mid-10th grade, but some are a bit earlier and some a bit later), we back squat. It is a staple of our program.
Freelap USA: Speed is loved by team coaches, but they often practice hard and do a lot of conditioning. Could you share how you manage to get lifting in without interfering with staying fresh for games?
Mark Hoover: Our teams that have athletic periods all lift 2-3 times a week in season. Our after-school athletes try to get in three, but with the multi-game schedules, we usually see them twice a week (except for football). Our sub-varsity players lift three times a week as well. In fact, we don’t have an “in-season” program for any of our non-varsity athletes. We use that time to attempt to gain a relative advantage over our opponents by continuing to move forward in our developmental program. As we wrap up our pre-season program, we shift to a much lower volume, higher intensity program with a strength focus.
“Maintain” isn’t a word we use. In fact, we lift heavier for the most part. The lower volume compensates for reps they see in sport and eliminates the potential of DOMS, while the higher intensity helps them continue to gain strength. Again, we make a huge effort to educate our coaches on energy-system-specific conditioning to avoid unnecessary volume or wear and tear on the athletes. We preach “minimum effective dose” year-round, but especially during the season. Communication is crucial, as is flexibility.
Freelap USA: Some teams lift in the a.m. and some in the afternoon. Can you explain what determines when an athlete trains?
Mark Hoover: In our situation, it is solely based on class scheduling. Each semester, we have four blocks of 90 minutes each. The only “team” I have both semesters is football. The last two falls I saw them at the end of the day and spring split the first three blocks into three classes. I’m told that next year, our football class will be the first block in the fall, to allow us to spend more time in the weight room. I will have wrestling that same block on the days football doesn’t lift.
This is ideal, as the athletes will have ample recovery time and the ability to eat at least once between. I have our non-varsity sophomores in a separate class in the fall as well. My third class is a mix of athletes from other sports. In the spring, we have baseball, softball, and women’s soccer the last block of the day, with each team getting three days a week for at least 45 minutes. Our athletes with academic conflicts will train in our after-school program.
Freelap USA: Tracking kids’ athletic development can shed light on why a team may have a greater chance of winning. Perhaps a good idea is to share why number chasing isn’t bad provided that it’s patient?
Mark Hoover: This one has been discussed at length on social media and is probably a full-length article on its own! However, I will say that the “chasing numbers” debate is even more of a waste of time and effort than the “unilateral vs. bilateral” war. We all chase numbers. That is how we measure and track progress. We pursue increased performance, and all research clearly shows that the stronger the athlete is, the faster and more powerful they are. So, if you are not in pursuit of increased numbers on the bar or decreased speed numbers, then you are doing the coaches and athletes a disservice.
I can say, without a doubt, we all pursue numbers. At YCHS, we block our athletes based on a percentage of 1RM, movement, and power. The goals for each athlete are based on height, weight, and frame. Our mid skill players in football, for example, have goal numbers based on back squatting 2x bodyweight, 2.25x hex bar deadlift, and 1.25x bench press, 32” vertical, and an 8’9” standing broad jump.
We set these benchmarks based on Gary Schofield and Micah Kurtz’s recommendations for blocking athletes, combined and modified with a two-year average of what our best performing players in that category were able to do. If we get as many of our current players as possible to those numbers by the time they are juniors and seniors, we will see improved performance on the field. So, we do chase numbers.
That being said, we pursue those numbers in a progressive, patient, and technical manner. That, I believe, is the real debate. When coaches say “we don’t chase numbers,” and wear that as a badge of honor, they should actually be saying “we don’t allow numbers to be earned with less than a quality performance of the exercise following a progression that leads to technical prowess.” But I think that sentence may be too long to tweet, lol.We all chase numbers, but it’s the application and programming of how we get to increased numbers in the weight room that’s the real battlefield, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
I was actually at a strength clinic once and overheard a coach say, “we don’t have great technique, but our kids are strong as s—” Those are the coaches we should argue with. Using wraps, bench shirts, or other things to add weight to a lift, spending an inordinate amount of time doing heavy singles or doubles over 90%, following a canned powerlifting program instead of developing a program for an athletic performance, and other things along those lines are what (I believe) the “we don’t chase numbers” crowd actually is against. On that, I agree with them 100%.
I just think this “war on strength” needs to be more clearly defined. It’s not “numbers” that are the enemy of sports performance and that can give our profession a bad name at times. It’s the application and programming of how we get to increased numbers in the weight room that is the real battlefield.