NLJ Sports Reporter
Newcastle athletes are no strangers to off-season workouts, but this summer a new program called HIT was made available to middle and high school students wishing to prepare for their upcoming sports’ seasons.
On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, one will find the weight room at the high school bustling with as many as 50 young people taking advantage of the strength and conditioning program.
HIT stands for High Intensity Training, and the program’s motto is Powerful Bodies, Powerful Minds. NHS and NMS athletes began training three days a week on June 4, and the program will conclude on August 7.
Joe Champa, who is the program director for HIT, explained that it consists of weight lifting as well as elements of speed and agility training. However, that isn’t all that Champa and the other trainers are focused on when it comes to training young athletes.
“One of our biggest concerns is with injury prevention,” Champa began. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are if you are sidelined with injuries, so our goal is to assess and correct issues that may have the potential to lead to injury during the season.”
Before any training took place, each athlete underwent a movement screening where HIT trainers observed and assessed feet, knee and hip movements in order to develop correctives.
“You have to move correctly before you exercise, or you will do more harm than good,” Champa stated. “In our movement screen for example, we can see if kids are pronating, causing the knee to move inward. When the knee caves in, that is a big indicator of possible future ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) damage, so we want the knee to be straight and over the toes rather than caving inward.”
In order to correct this type of movement, the trainers focus on building the gluteus medius, or the side glute muscle, because it is a major stabilization muscle for the knee.
“We do a lot of work around that small butt muscle because it really helps to track the knees and keep them over the toes where they should be,” Champa explained. “We also are concerned with the abdomen, pelvis and ankle as each of those areas contribute to knee injuries as well.”
Colby Wartman, a graduate of Worland High School, is working with NHS and NMS athletes as the lead trainer. Wartman graduated from Dickinson State University after starting four years on the DSU football team with a degree in exercise science, and is also a CSCS. Having gone through three shoulder surgeries and one knee surgery, Wartman has a personal stake in working with athletes to keep them healthy and in the game.
“I believe that part of the reason I suffered those sidelining injuries was due to improper training, so that HIT has such a strong emphasis on injury prevention gives it a leg up on some of the other programs out there,” he nodded. “We work with athletes to get them stronger and faster, but we also work to ensure they can stay on the field and make a difference for their team.”
Most of the Newcastle students in the summer program are multi-sport athletes, but the HIT trainers address needs specific to injury prevention prevalent in certain sports.
Both Champa and Wartman pointed out that cross country runners typically are hard sells when it comes to strength and conditioning programs given the nature of their sport. However, hip flexor injuries can often sideline these long distance runners.
“Our program has seen success in greatly reducing the number of hip flexor injuries for track and cross country athletes,” Wartman began. “One of our first guinea pig kind of situations was in Killdeer, N.D. We worked with a track and cross country team who had been plagued with hip flexor injuries, and the following year they had zero.”
A third, and somewhat unique, aspect of the HIT program is that it offers nutrition education along with strength and conditioning and injury prevention. Champa is also a registered dietician, and he works with the athletes in educating and developing a nutritional plan to meet their needs.
“We send out emails and we have a communication app that all of the athletes can access where we let them know how much protein they should be getting, how hydrated they should be — so how much water they should be drinking — and so on,” he explained. “The supplement industry is a big deal right now, but unfortunately it’s not very well regulated. We educate the kids on those supplements, and if they are taking them, we talk to them about whether or not the supplement has been tested and if it’s actually good for them.”
Seniors Lexus Voelker and Cade Ostenson are in their fourth summer of off-season workouts, and both expressed that they believe the HIT program has been beneficial.
“With the program we used before, it was a lot more intense with speed workouts. I feel like I’m getting stronger because we do spend a lot of time with weights, where before the focus was more on speed,” Voelker stated. “Also, the trainers saw that when I did my squat, my left leg went weird so they have given me correctives to fix that.”
“I like that the workouts are concise and done in an hour, and I think I feel more in shape this year. They do nutrition as well and I feel better,” Ostenson nodded. “The first week we were here, we did movement screening where they watched our form. I was favoring one side over the other. Sawyer [Roberson] wasn’t very flexible in his shoulders, so they gave us correctives to fix that. We’ve learned a lot of things to improve our flexibility and to build up our core muscles.”
With just a couple of weeks remaining in the program, the results will soon show whether NHS and NMS athletes have benefitted from HIT, but it’s pretty safe to assume that all participants will have seen improvement.