Q and A: Training Young Athletes

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Q: This summer I may be in a position where I am training many teenage athletes that have never had proper training before. This will be a brand new experience for me as well, and I know it’s an area of your expertise, so I’m looking for a few pointers.

Am I right in thinking that the following points are the most fundamental for those new to strength and conditioning?

1. Acquisition of appropriate joint and muscle ROM

– Absolutely. If there’s one thing that really gets my goat (and trust me, you don’t want my goat to be gotten) it’s when trainers/coaches don’t take the time to actually coach their athletes. One of the best compliments you can ever get is when another coach comes into your facility and comments on how well-coached your athletes are.

Conversely, nothing will hurt your credibility more (at least in my eyes) than not paying attention to details. I don’t care how many letters someone has next to their name, how many certifications they have, or how long they’ve been in the industry – if their athletes are repeatedly cutting their squats short, rounding their backs on a deadlift, flaring their elbows out on a push-up, or doing anything else that is equally as likely to make me want to stick a hot fork into my eyes, they’re being lazy and have no business training people.

And, for the record, I understand that there are times where “stuff” just ain’t gonna look pretty. A little leeway here and there is fine. But when it’s an on-going occurrence, that’s un-called for.

2. Taught bodyweight exercises with good form

– Sure. There’s a lot to be said about teaching someone how to do a proper body weight push-up or squat. In all likelihood, most un-trained individuals will have a hard time with either of the two. What’s more, research will show that un-trained individuals can still make significant gains with as little as 40% of their one rep max, so emphasizing body weight exercises is a great starting point and may be all they need.

That said, don’t be scared to load them. Progressive overload kinda works.

3. Taught explosiveness

– I’m often asked why I don’t teach the olympic lifts. Because I don’t teach them, people are often under the assumption that I don’t like them, or don’t see any value in their efficacy. That couldn’t be further from the truth! On the contrary, the reason why I don’t go out of my way to include them in my programming, is because unlike many strength and conditioning facilities (where you know you’ll have an athlete for “x” number of years), I don’t know how long I’ll have an athlete.

It doesn’t make much sense for me to go out of my way to teach something as technique heavy as the OLY lifts, when I may only have a kid for a few weeks, or if I’m lucky, a few months.

Instead, there are other ways I can teach explosiveness. For starters, getting a kid to stop chugging two liters of soda per day works wonders. It’s amazing what losing 10-15 lbs of bodyfat will do for a kid’s explosiveness. As well, when you’re dealing with a certain number of (un-trained) athletes at once, it’s important to include modalities that can easily be coached, as well as easily inserted into a program. This is the exact reason why I love kettlebells, as well as why we use med ball work almost exclusively to work on explosiveness.

4. Taught (and thoroughly reinforced) perfect technique with all main exercises

– Again, while I think many trainers and coaches get too caught up in minutia (it’s not the end of the world if an athlete’s foot externally rotates a little when (s)he squats), I think anyone who doesn’t prioritize or enforce this is a joke.

5. Would it be acceptable to use the dynamic, maximal and repetitive effort methods (one method per day)?

– Teach them the basics first – push-ups, squats, deadlifts (trap bar preferably), chins/pull-ups, lots and lots of single leg stuff, core stability, etc. There is absolutely no need to integrate ME/DE work with them at this juncture. With beginners, all they should concentrate on is getting their quality reps in. They don’t need advanced training methods at this time

All in all, you need to be cognizant of just how much time you have with them. For example, we generally have a client/athlete for 60-75 minutes, so a typical session may look something like this:

– Warm-up (foam rolling, mobility, activation etc.): 5-10 minutes: (older clients will be closer to the 10-15 minute range here)

– Low-intensity plyometrics: 5-10 minutes. This can be anything from light sprint work, box jumps, hurdle hops, or even low-grade movement training drills such as side shuffles or skipping drills.

Of course, you’ll have to use some common sense here. Overweight and/or woefully de-conditioned clients won’t necessarily be able to handle plyometric training without hurting themselves, so please don’t be an asshat and be that guy who programs 100 yd sprints for someone who can’t walk more than 10 feet without gasping for air.

– Resistance training/Lifting heavy things off the ground and/or over your head: 30-40 minutes. Free weights and/or bodyweight exercises with necessary “filler” (low grade mobility, activation, stretching exercises spread throughout sets); this will include any core training, too. Focus on movement patterns.

Horizontal Pull – row variations

Horizontal Push – bench variations

Vertical Pull – chin-up/pull-up variation

Vertical Push – military press, etc

Single Leg – static un-supported (1-legged RDL’s, 1-Legged Squats), static supported (bulgarian split squats, etc), dynamic (step-ups, lunge variations)

Quad Dominant – squat variations

Hip Dominant – deadlift variations

Guns and Horseshoes – cause you know, sun’s out, guns out

Core Stability – pallof presses, lifts/chops, plank variations, etc

I’m not going to go into detail here on how to structure things, because frankly I don’t want. Needless to say, you should be hitting each movement pattern at least once per week, sometimes twice (depending on the needs/goals of the client).

– Conditioning/Finishers: 5-10 minutes. Or, put another way, this is where the ass kickery happens. I may have some clients do some EDT PR Zone circuits, Airdyne Tabatas (always a favorite), or maybe set up a circuit where they push the Prowler and hit the tire with a sledgehammer. Either way, they should hate life by the time they’re done.

– Restoration: 5-10 minutes. This is where I’ll have clients do some extra stretching, rotator cuff/scapular stability work, etc.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully gives you some sort of idea of what things you should be focusing on. Again, no need to get fancy with these kids – just about anything will work. However, I feel that if you cover the points above, you’ll be headed in the right direction. Good luck!

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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