High School athletes hit the weights for better performance

crossfitnesslogoOver the last 10 or 15 years, there has been a seismic shift for younger athletes. Not so much in the way their sports are being played on the field, but how the athletes are preparing themselves for action. As athletic trainers learn more about the human body, the way athletes are training continues to evolve.

There has long been a very distinct stereotpye about the culture of the weight room. Mamaroneck head football coach Anthony Vitti, himself a former Tiger standout, recalls that, in his day while weight training was a big part of the football program, the workouts being done by athletes weren’t nearly as sophisticated as they are today.

“We used to call it the ‘Pig Iron Room,’” Vitti said. “You’d go in there and try and lift as much weight as you can, but in reality, that didn’t help in terms of becoming a better football player.”

Now, Vitti—and other area coaches—employ varied strength programs that incorporate much more thought. The Tigers offseason program, run by assistant coach Jason Washington, is designed to focus on developing the fast-twitch muscles football players need in order get stronger and faster. With combinations of lifts, plyometrics, and sprints, the Tigers don’t even work out in a weight room anymore, preferring to train outside when possible.

“Jason is our strength guy, and he’s able to understand the body, he’s able to train the different muscle groups you need to function as an athlete” Vitti said. “Sure, you can walk into a sports club and see a body builder, but you have to ask yourself: Can that guy run?”

Aside from team run programs, athletic training is fast becoming big business. Mike Basciano, who graduated from Harrison High School in 2006, has devoted his life to helping athletes train ever since a chance encounter in the gym with Harrison track coach Dominic Zanot changed his life in 2005.

“I was a 125-pound kid, a back-up wide receiver,” said Basciano. “Then Dominic Zanot started coaching kids in the weight room, teaching kids how to do Olympic lifts, and then the next year, I’m 150 pounds and I’m an all-state running back.”

Basciano now competes as a weightlifter, but also operates Elite Athlete Summer Camp in Stamford, Conn., a training facility that specializes in catering to athletes.

Over the summer, he has athletes in sports from football and baseball to track and water polo, spending 20 hours in the gym a week in order to optimize their performance. Like a growing number of places, Basciano’s facility includes Olympic lifts and other speed and agility training—including instructions on proper sprint mechanics‑to make a more well-rounded athlete.

“What we pride ourselves in is not just the training, but also educating our athletes,” said Basciano. “When we’re doing a drill, we make sure the athlete understand how it relates to their sport.”

With such a diverse number of sports represented in his clientbase, he said, it’s important that the instructors find some way to make the movements relatable.

“Training a baseball player is a little different than training a football player, but mostly just in the explanation,” he said. “It’s all in the cues that you’re using to teach.”

And unlike the old days, said Basciano, the routine is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

“We’re always looking at our drills. As much as it is on the athlete, it’s our job to keep creating new drills,” he said. “Whether it’s conversations about training, YouTube videos of new things people are trying; we always go through each motion as coaches until we have a finished product.”

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.