Integrating Strength and Conditioning Into High School Physical Education

As physical education teachers, we want students to leave our programs with a toolbox full of knowledge and skills to support meaningful physical activity engagement. This can be done using a variety of instructional methods and curriculums.

While traditional activities such as sports and team games can still play an important role in our programs, strength and conditioning is a lifetime activity that continues to grow, particularly as a part of high school physical education programs.

Many schools have the facilities and equipment needed to integrate strength and conditioning into high school physical education classes and are already providing this type of programming for their athletes.

However, given the breadth of related content and equipment, along with important instructional and safety considerations, some physical education teachers might not know where to start when adding a strength and conditioning program to their high school PE curriculum.

This blog post will give you a starting point, but we encourage you to read “Integrating Strength and Conditioning Into a High School Physical Education Curriculum: A Case Example,” which we coauthored for the May/June 2021 issue of JOPERD. The article not only provides more details related to what strength and conditioning is, its benefits, and the components of a strength and conditioning program, but it also provides a detailed case example of a well-developed high school strength and conditioning program.

What is Strength and Conditioning?        

Strength and conditioning, resistance training, strength training, weight training, and weightlifting are terms that are often used interchangeably. Some of these terms may even be names of classes at your school.

However, strength and conditioning is the overarching term that includes these types of training along with agility, plyometrics, and speed training. The overall goal of strength and conditioning is to improve performance.

Benefits of Strength and Conditioning

Students can experience physiological, psychological, and health benefits when participating in a strength and conditioning program.

  • Physiological Benefits — Students can experience increases in strength, explosiveness, proprioceptive abilities, general body awareness, athleticism, durability, balanced physical development, and more efficient use of training times and energies from participation in a strength and conditioning program.
  • Psychological Benefits — Students who participate in strength and conditioning can experience increases and improvements in resistance training self-efficacy, physical self-worth, global self-worth, self-esteem, perceived body fat and appearance, and physical self-concept.
  • Health Benefits — Students can experience improvements in overall body composition, reduced body fat, strengthened bones, increased resistance to sports-related injuries, and improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, skeletal muscle mass, and insulin sensitivity. Students also exhibit lower levels of diastolic and systolic blood pressure, pulse pressure, and rate of pulse pressure after participation in strength and conditioning programs.

5 Key Components of High School Strength and Conditioning Programs

When adding strength and conditioning to a high school PE curriculum, the goal is to help students be successful and lay the foundation for an active lifestyle after graduation.

Here are several guidelines high school PE teachers can consider when developing their strength and conditioning program:

  1. Student Readiness Are students mentally and physically ready to participate? Do they follow instructions? Are students capable of handling the stress of the training program? Do they have competent levels of balance and postural control?
  2. Qualified, Certified Instructor It is essential to have a qualified teacher leading the strength and conditioning program. Because many physical education teacher education programs may not fully prepare teachers to design and implement strength and conditioning programs, it’s important for schools to support professional development opportunities — and for teachers to pursue them.

    For example, teachers should obtain a strength and conditioning certification from a high-quality program such as:
  3. Developmentally Appropriate Select exercises that are appropriate for students’ body sizes, fitness levels, and resistance training experience. Exercises should also promote muscle balance across joints and between opposing muscle groups. Make sure to base training volume and intensity on program goals, the interests of students, and students’ technique levels.

    Additionally, make sure students are provided with plenty of rest time between exercises. Most importantly, it is essential to emphasize the use of correct form when performing strength and conditioning exercises.
  4. Program StructureThe program structure, or periodization, should maximize the athletic development of the students while also meeting their individualized overall training goals. Keep in mind that longer programs tend to be more supportive of positive performance outcomes.

    Also, remember to keep in mind important school dates, such as holidays or testing, when deciding on your program’s structure. You do not want a holiday or a scheduled test to interrupt students’ progress through a phase or cause a student to miss a testing week, for example.
  5. Assessment in Strength and Conditioning Programs Use a variety of tests to track students’ progress through the training program and allow students to track their own progress. Help student develop goals to meet their personal performance expectations. Tests can measure maximal strength, power, strength endurance, reactive strength, rate of force development, speed, agility, and flexibility.

3 Key Takeaways From a High School Case Example

Our April/May 2021 JOPERD article includes a detailed example of a high school that integrated a well-developed, inclusive strength and conditioning program into its PE curriculum.

While you may not be able to implement a strength and conditioning program of this caliber, here are the key takeaways from this example that may be helpful as you begin thinking about adding this type of program in your school:

  1. Coach Certifications Both coaches involved with this program have high level, accredited strength and conditioning certifications. The head coach holds a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification and a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified certification. The assistant coach also holds a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified certification.
  2. Different Levels of Programming The coaches of this program have put a lot of thought and effort into the programming they provide to students. There are five different levels of programming that students are placed in based off their initial testing results. These different levels meet the needs of beginner or foundational students all the way up to the advanced athletes who intend to compete in sports at the collegiate or elite levels. Different programming not only allows students to improve and excel based on their ability level, but it also provides students with the motivation to get better so they can move up to the next level.
  3. Technology This program has also integrated many different types of technology into its programming to support student learning. For example, students use Tendo units, PUSH Bands, Jump Mats, and more recently, Vitruve devices, to measure the speed, power, and height at which exercises are performed. The use of these devices also gives students immediate feedback on their performance, which allows them to determine if the exercise was performed correctly or incorrectly. Additionally, students can track their progress over the course of a program phase, semester, and year through the use of the TeamBuildr app.

Next Steps

Starting a strength and conditioning program can be a daunting task, especially if you have limited experience with this type of content development and instruction. However, here are some steps you can take to get started:

  • Use the information provided in this blog post.
  • Read some of the literature related to strength and conditioning to help familiarize yourself with some of the opinions, best practices, and types of exercises that can be used in the programming (some good resources are provided at the end of this post).
  • Pursue professional development through accredited certification programs. Certification will ensure you are prepared to develop the programming and implement best teaching/coaching practices involved in a strength and conditioning program.

Overall, we want to emphasize the importance of making sure students are ready to participate and that the programming is developmentally appropriate and enjoyable for the group of students you are working with.

Additional Resources



Featured image by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash.

Kacie Lanier

Kacie Lanier is a doctoral student in the Physical Education Teacher Education Program at Georgia State University. She also teaches undergraduate courses and supervises student teachers. Her research interests include studying the impact of physical education participation on students’ mental health and the role strength and conditioning plays within the physical education curriculums.

Chad Killian

Chad Killian is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Georgia State University in Atlanta where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in physical education and advises doctoral students. His primary research interests involve studying the use and efficacy of digital instruction in the K-12 physical education environment.