Zolper used weights to rehab injury and win all-state honors

July 15, 2017

Liam Zolper was always a gifted athlete who loved to play football and lacrosse, but when an unexpected injury forced him to retire from football, he didn’t let it get him down. Instead, he saw it as a temporary setback and a chance to become a better lacrosse player. Liam had previously trained with me, but after his injury, we had a new focus, so we created a plan to strengthen his weak areas and make him a stronger, faster athlete. 

The injury first surfaced a few years ago when Liam was playing in a lacrosse tournament. “I bodychecked someone and was hit from behind at the same time. I felt my shoulder come out of the joint, so I left the field and popped it back myself and finished the tournament,” he said. Liam seemed to be fine, so he continued to play sports like normal. It didn’t resurface until a couple months later during freshman football when he pushed someone and he felt the shoulder reinjure. After a trip to the doctor, it was determined that Liam had a tear in his labrum and he had to get surgery to repair the issue. Post-surgery, Liam returned to football, but eventually decided to give it up and put all of his energy into improving his lacrosse skills.

The following summer, Liam’s mother contacted me to help him strengthen his shoulder and get him ready for lacrosse season. After analyzing Liam’s situation, I decided his training needed a different approach. Instead of concentrating on core exercises - squats, bench presses - that most coaches require for sport-specific training, we focused on strengthening his weak areas and began building the smaller stabilizing muscles, like the rear deltoids, side deltoids and rhomboids for shoulder strength and stability. This process started with mostly bands. As he consistently got stronger, we progressed to weights and more difficult exercises. With each passing week, the workouts became harder and the choice of exercises became more advanced. Eventually Liam showed no sign of weakness and his shoulder became stronger than ever, and we felt he was in great shape to start lacrosse season.

This past spring was a great success. Liam not only found himself playing in the Division I state lacrosse finals, but he was also named first-team all-conference and first-team all-state face-off player as a junior. In addition, he won 70 percent of his face-offs, showing that he had turned his weakness into a strength, dominating on the lacrosse field. He did all this using a 6-foot defensive stick with an open head, which makes it much more impressive because players almost always use a short stick with a head designed for face-offs. “I think training my back and shoulders helped a lot with the quickness of my hands and being able to muscle people off the ball,” said Liam. As his trainer, I personally believe his performance during the season proved this theory.

In addition to receiving athletic awards on the lacrosse field, Liam also excels academically. He is currently a member of the Junior Honor Society, which requires him to be a very good student with a high GPA, and he participates in several other leadership clubs, such as the Future Farmers of America, Leo Club and Ducks Unlimited. Liam also had the privilege to be the third person in Cape Henlopen High School history to be invited to attend the prestigious Jake Reed Nike Blue Chip Lacrosse Camp at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which includes some of the best lacrosse players in the country and is favorite place for top NCAA Division I programs to find fresh talent. 

There is no doubt in my mind that Liam Zolper has a very promising career ahead of him. The hard work and dedication I witnessed puts him in a class of his own. Good luck, Liam, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish in your senior year.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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