Strength + conditioning = fewer injuries for Brodhead students
"Go quick, quick, quick, quick!" he shouted as students hopped on one foot through a line of hurdles.
The speed drills in the advanced strength and conditioning class came after several slower runs focused on sticking the one-footed landing after each hurdle.
"There you go, there you go, there you go," Knuth said.
The wooden floor bounced as feet landed between each hurdle.
It was just one exercise in a class that has helped keep Brodhead athletes in shape year-round and cut the number of sports injuries, teachers and students said.
Peggy Olsen, a physical therapist in Janesville, volunteers after school to help athletes get back in the game after injuries. She started working with the Brodhead sports teams seven years ago. The first three years were plagued with injuries, including three knee ligament tears on the football team and plenty of hamstring injuries.
Times have changed.
"It's just not that way," Olsen said.
She attributes the drop in injuries to the increased time students are spending in the weight room and other conditioning.
The conditioning classes are popular among athletes—they make up about three-quarters of the class—and many students take the advanced course multiple times. Students receive a physical education credit for the five-day-a-week class, which also is offered in summer.
Classes are split into two groups, which alternate days between the weight room and conditioning in the gym. Students log their weight training and are tested about every month on sprints, jumping and flexibility, Knuth said.
The conditioning portion uses resistance bands, something athletic director Jim Matthys said probably puts Brodhead in front of other school programs.
Students learn that to become better athletes and to avoid injuries they have to be more mobile, which means stretching, Knuth said.
Classes start with everyone on the floor stretching with bands.
"(It's) not just trying to bulk up and get as big as you possibly can—it's not all about strength," Knuth said.
Instructors have learned through clinics that "strength is great, but the kids can still get injuries if they can't get control of their bodies."
Non-athletes in the class know they are getting healthy and learning life-long workouts, instructors said.
"There's no question" that the football team wouldn't have been playing in the state championship game last fall without the strength and conditioning program, said Matthys, who helps out in the weight room during the class.
Before the program, girls didn't use the weight room, he said.
Now, girls feel more comfortable lifting weights because they're among a dozen other girls.
Knuth also points to the results of Monroe Clinic's annual athletic performance testing, where students from area school districts are tested in agility, acceleration/speed and lower and upper body power. Last year, seven Brodhead boys placed in the top 15 among 485 athletes. Three girls placed in the top 20, including Taylor Douglas, who took third place and was the top freshmen female champion.
Douglas, now a sophomore who plays volleyball, basketball and softball, said the conditioning class has taught her how to explode and how to use her arms while running. She's seen all of her records improve in the last year.
Douglas and senior Mariah Mohns, also a triple-sport athlete, said coaches teach sport-specific skills, but the conditioning class provides overall conditioning to keep kids in shape during the off-season.
Students who don't prepare during the off-season often are the ones who become injured when practice starts, said Nate Maresh, an athletic trainer at Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center who works with Janesville Parker and Orfordville Parkview student athletes.
After the first two to three weeks of practice in a season, the injury rate goes down because students are getting back into shape, he said.