The Iron Dread Strength Program is well known throughout the school and helps many athletes and nonathletes better themselves. In the summer of 2017, Christopher Whittaker was brought to Dexter High School to be the offensive line coach for the Dreadnaught Football team and a teacher for the health and wellness class.
Whittaker, however, was not interested in only coaching and teaching. He saw the opportunity to make the whole school stronger with a workout program that would later be called Iron Dread.
“What happened was there was no position, I created it, we made it and the athletic department supported the addition of a strength coach to the staff,” said Coach Whittaker when asked if Iron Dread was always his goal.
Since the creation of the program, it has gone through many changes and is helping Dexter’s athletes get bigger, faster and stronger.
Previously, Iron Dread utilized a linear periodization model, where there would be three core exercises for that day, and they’d be mostly full body days. This system worked, but was not making athletes strong enough, fast enough. Some of the lifts, like the hang clean, would take a while to get the form down.
“In those early Iron Dread programs we’d waste a whole hour with nothing but a pvc pipe and working hang clean,” Whittaker says.
Later on he found out athletes could gain a lot more from exercises they could easily learn. The training programs started utilizing the conjugate system rather than the linear periodization model. The conjugate training program consists of a four day training week.
A max effort upper day, a max effort lower day, a dynamic or speed upper body day, and a dynamic lower body day. The sessions start with warm-up exercises, then transition into the two core lifts for the day, and lastly accessory work. The accessory work consists of exercises that work specific parts of the body and are targeted for improvement of each athlete’s max lift.
The two core lifts are always some variation of the squat, the bench, or the deadlift that change every week, and don’t require near as much explanation as the olympic lifts the program used in the past. “We’ve made a lot of progress, we’ve gotten a lot stronger, we’ve prevented a lot of the preventable injuries” Whittaker said.
Coach Whitaker is constantly working to improve the program. He has been attending weight lifting clinics and reading, listening, or watching anything that could help Dexter’s athletes.
“I went to the ‘Learn to Train 10’, at eliteFTS in London, Ohio,” said Coach Whitt.
While there, he spent an entire weekend testing out equipment Dexter’s athletes don’t have access to such as specialty barbells, resistance chains, and belt squat machines in order to gauge whether they would be useful for our weight room. He was also able to learn more efficient ways of executing lifts to get the best results when he implemented them into Iron Dread.
“What wound up happening when I went to that clinic in August, all of a sudden I come back and we’re talking a little different about how we squat but it works better”. While Whittaker wants to purchase new equipment, the program simply doesn’t have the funds to afford it. “One of the big things I’m trying to do right now is come up with funds to get speciality bars and chains, to get more of the conjugate tools,” said Whittaker.
Although he does not have access to all the equipment he’d like, Coach Whittaker makes do with the limited equipment and continues to strengthen the school.
A big reason for the success of the Iron Dread weight lifting program is the growth of the weightlifting class. The class, Strength and Conditioning for Performance, has been available to Dexter High School students for sometime now but it has never been as beneficial to Dexter athletes as it is now.
The reason for this? It has been taken over by Head Football Coach, Phil Jacobs, ever since his hiring in the spring of 2017. The class uses coach Whittaker’s conjugate approach with four days of lifting a week.
Last year it was only offered for two hours out of the day; however, do due the increased interest this year they had to add a third hour to fit everyone in. The strength class provides an alternative to athletes who don’t have the time to come in during the morning or stay after school and benefits athletes from all different sports.
As the program has grown, more and more people have bought into it. Athletes from all sports have only positive things to say about Iron Dread.
“It’s increased my max a lot, I’m a lot stronger,” Junior Mark Young says. The volleyball team, who had a great season this year, has been extremely involved with the program as well, “On the court I feel like I can hit the ball twice as hard as I could last year,” senior Brooklyn Brown said.
Even those who aren’t in any sport are more than welcome to come, Coach Whittaker wants to see everyone get bigger, faster and stronger.