Tag: techniques

STRENGTH TRAINING FOR YOUTH ATHLETES

Most parents know that strength training is an essential component of maximizing their child’s athletic potential but many don’t know when to start said training. When asked this question I like to refer to the ACSM research article that states, “Generally speaking, if children are ready for participation in organized sports or activities — such as Little League baseball, soccer, or gymnastics — then they are ready for some type of strength training.” If you feel your child has the emotional maturity to take part in an organized sport then they are perfectly capable of taking up strength training with a qualified professional.

One concern many have is that strength training will negatively affect bone growth in youth athletes. This is a myth that is taking much too long to go away. There hasn’t been documentation of this actually occurring while there is in fact ample evidence to the contrary. Strength training has been shown to actually increase bone density, peak bone mass and bone strength.

Strength is the only physical attribute that has a direct impact on all other areas of athletic performance and has the highest potential for growth when compared to other qualities such as power and speed. In an article from the Mayo Clinic the author states that when done properly, strength training can:

  • Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Develop proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older
  • Strengthen your child’s bones

A properly designed program for a youth athlete must be created and executed by a qualified coach and of course I am partial to myself because of my education, credentials, and experience. Currently my youngest client is a 12 year old basketball/football player whose performance has skyrocketed since he started strength training. I have also worked with the Skyline High School Girls Basketball team, the Bellevue High School Track team, and many individual youth athletes from around the area competing in lacrosse, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and even cheerleading.

 
I have seen over and over again what strength training can do for a young athlete and have come up with some guidelines that can serve any coach or parent working with young athletes.

General Guidelines for Strength Training Youth Athletes:

1. Master the basics while focusing on proper movement patterns. With young athletes it is best to first master general movement patterns and body weight exercises before moving on to more advanced strength training modalities. Great exercises include: jumping/landing, med-ball throwing, body weight squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and sled pushing/pulling.

2. Use proper loading parameters. Strength training doesn’t always mean loading up a squat bar and going as heavy as possible. As a general rule with young athletes it’s best to stick with body weight exercises or exercises with loads that allow the athlete to complete 8 to 20 repetitions each set. As the athlete advances the intensity of exercises can advance as well.

3. Teach proper force absorption. Learning how to properly land and decelerate will be invaluable in preventing future sports injuries for any athlete. Deceleration is also a crucial factor in agility performance.

4. Don’t specialize too early. Young athletes should build as broad an athletic base as possible in order to maximize athletic potential. Performing only exercises that seem “sport specific” is not an effective way to build an athletic base. While this might make for a good basketball or soccer player now, it will actually do them a disservice for their athletic future. Specializing early is also a great way to burn a kid out on a sport.

5. Make it fun! Strength training should be something that the kids look forward to and enjoy. This is an opportunity to set them up to not only maximize their athletic potential but also create life-long healthy habits. If your kid does not enjoy training they won’t reap maximum benefits and will likely discontinue training at the first opportunity they get.

I started seriously strength training for sports at 15 years old and I only wish I would have started sooner. At that time I started working with a strength coach named Mike Seilo, and I am not exaggerating when I say he changed trajectory of my athletic and eventually my professional career. Strength training with a qualified coach dramatically increased my athletic performance and without Mike I don’t think I would have gone on to compete in track and field at the collegiate level. Outside of improving my sport performance Mike influenced me to become strength coach and work with young athletes. Mike’s influence on me went way beyond sport performance and I can only hope to have the same influence on kids during my career.

Under the right supervision strength training can be a huge benefit to any young athlete. Not only will they improve athletically, they may learn some valuable lessons that serve them inside and outside of the gym as well as develop life-long personal relationships. If you have a child involved in athletics I highly recommend you find a qualified coach and get their strength training career underway.

If you have any questions regarding youth strength training please contact PFT Tom Sheriff CSCS (tsheriff@sacdt.com)
206-443-1111 ext. 292.

Back to the Basics

Sometimes more is better. Sometimes flare is good. Sometimes getting nuts is totally the thing to do. But sometimes none of those things are the answers. When is that the case? When you stop and ask yourself, “Am I getting any stronger, faster, healthier, fitter, am I making progress?” When you answer no to any and all of those questions then it’s time to dial back and get back to basics.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about, first, moving up in weights. If you haven’t been able to add that extra 10lbs to your squat and press weight the answer may lye more in technique than it does in actual strength. It’s time to break down that complex movement and focus on better full range of motion squats (weighted or just plain old air squats), and then practice your shoulder press form. Breaking down complex lifts so that you can put more energy into each piece so that when you put them back together you are stronger in both aspects of the lift is the best way to be more efficient in your movements as well as increase strength.

Same rules can apply to less complex lifts; take the bench press for example. If you feel like you are really struggling to improve your bench press and even more so really struggling to get the bar to your chest at the bottom (lets be real, it’s not a bench press if you aren’t doing the full range of motion) then perhaps adding more weight or doing more reps is not your answer. The best way to improve your strength, especially in the full range of motion of the bottom position is to do the old basic push-up. Teaching your body the path of motion and touching your chest to the floor in your push-ups (let’s be real, it’s not a push-up until you touch your chest to the floor) will increase your joint strength and flexibility 200% more than a heavy bench press to 90 degrees.

Maybe you don’t care about how much weight you can lift, maybe you care about how well you do during the swimming leg of your next triathlon. You’ve been doing all these super cool exercises with a band, you started adding in some crazy new bag full of sand, or you decided using the strength ropes during every workout for 30 minutes was going to get you faster and stronger. You know what makes you a better swimmer…swimming. Will more strength help you? Sure, but unless you are an efficient swimmer with great technique you can only get so far creating stronger muscle fibers.

Sometimes my clients ask me, “How do I get strong enough to do a pull-up? What kind of exercises should I do to improve my pull-up strength?” Easiest answer ever…do some pull-ups. If you are looking to improve your running, run. I don’t think rowing and bicep curls are going to do anything for your 5K time.
Sometimes we get sucked into the new craze, the new in thing. There’s been Abs of Steel, Tiabo, standing on exercise balls, standing on Bosu Balls, Kettlebells, Strength ropes, and the list goes on and on. But when all of these fads come and go or at least stop being the “cool new thing” what keeps you ahead of the rest and improving? Knowing the basics. If you can swing a 50lb sandbag around like it’s your job but you can’t do a proper full range of motion squat you are going to have trouble doing much else besides swinging a sandbag around. To be a good athlete, a well rounded athlete, a strong, flexible, powerful, healthy, uninjured athlete you need to start from the ground up. Good training has nothing to do with how hard you sweat, what kind of crazy equipment you use, what kind of protein shake you ingest; good training comes from good movement and good smart progression.

As the saying goes, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Learn the basics, if you’ve learned them but let some things slide in order to move up in weight, do more reps, sweat more, etc. maybe it’s time you take a step back and get back to basics.