In part 1 of Strength Training for Youth, we talked about what separates the bottom of the line up from the top on a youth team. We identified that the best way to give the bottom of the line up athletes the ability to compete for a spot at the top of the line up is through a well-designed and properly supervised strength and conditioning program. In part 2, we will walk through a basic outline of how we design workouts for our youth athletes.
First and foremost the overall goal of training youth athletes, ages 8-13, is keeping it FUN!! We must obtain a positive association with strength training and the gym. This is the only way to keep their young minds engaged and committed to the program. They might not fully understand the importance of learning how to squat properly, doing more push-ups, and working on mobility. The only measure that matters to youth is:
Is it fun? Or is it not fun?
After that, the goal is to improve body awareness and control. This starts by laying a solid foundation of quality movement.
The basic outline of our youth program looks like:
Warm-Up: 10 minutes
- Soft Tissue Work
- Blood Flow
Speed/Plyometrics: 15 minutes
- Medicine Ball
- Hand-Eye Coordination
Strength: 20 minutes
Finisher/Game: 15 minutes
- Mirror Drills
- Tag Games
- Obstacle Course
This is an overlooked but vital part of youth training, or all training for that matter. First it’s our chance to educate the athlete on the importance of taking care of their body. They will learn about the muscles, where they’re at, what they do, etc. But, It’s also a great opportunity to get to know the athlete on a higher level. Find out what they enjoy doing. Favorite movie, music genre, food. Their favorite player, team and other sports they are interested in. This will not only help develop trust between the athlete and coach, but you will also acquire valuable intel on how to cue them during future exercises.
For example, if they love to play basketball and we are working on jumping with max intent, we can cue the athlete by referring to gathering a rebound. A quick/powerful jump as high as you can. We can also better incorporate tools and props throughout the program. For example, if they like football and we are running some sled sprints, we can do a simple quarterback handoff or a post route to a touchdown pass. Easy integrations that go a long way.
These are dynamic movements used to prime the body for the upcoming exercises, loosen up stiff muscles and help maintain mobility. We do 4-6 movements like hip bridges and planks to activate the glutes and core, spiderman lunges with rotation to warm up the legs and thoracic spine, shuffles and skips to create blood flow.
Introducing form and technique drills for running and jumping will promote good habits and safe practices. We integrate basic running progressions and simple plyometrics like sprints, skips, jumps, bounds and hops. Using tools like boxes, cones, and jump ropes.
One thing we continuously work on is proper landings. Learning how to absorb force efficiently will help build strength in the lower body, increase performance, and protect them from injuries. Things like depth drops are heavily utilized and widely varied. We keep the fall relatively small, rarely going over a 16 inch drop. But mix it up with single leg/double leg and adding sprints, jumps, and catches after they establish a stable platform.
For the strength part, we pick 4-8 exercises maintaining an even blend of upper body and lower body movements. We use supersets, circuits, AMRAP, EMOMs and various other methods for organizing this portion of the workout. This helps keep it fun and engaging for the young athletes.
On the lower body exercises we choose one knee dominant and one hip dominant. So things like Goblet Squats and Box Step-Ups for knee dominant and Walking Lunges and Kettlebell Deadlifts for hip dominant. For the upper body, we balance out pressing and pulling exercises. Simple Push-Ups and Inverted Rows are frequently used exercises. We also do a lot of isometric and eccentric work like Bent-Arm Hangs and Bodyweight Squat Holds.
With the strength-building exercises, we tend to lean towards less is more. We don’t get overly complicated with anything. Learning the basics of how to move and focus on developing a foundation to build upon is our main goal.
Finally, it’s important to leave the athlete with a fun, lasting memory. One that will keep them coming back for more. For this, we like to end with some sort of finisher. Playing games like tag, spikeball or simply running football routes are awesome ways to continue developing and having lots of fun at the same time.
Another thing is constructing obstacle courses. Getting creative with the equipment and what the athletes enjoy can be just as fun for the trainer as it is for the kids. It’s also an easy way to plug in some movements that we might have missed during the session. For example, if we didn’t incorporate any carrying into the workout, then we can get creative with adding carries into the finisher.
Eventually, the athlete will begin to mature both physically and mentally. They will become bored with the pace and nothing will present a real physical challenge to them. They’ll be executing the exercises with speed and ease while everyone else is struggling to maintain balance. This is when we look to graduate an athlete from our youth class into our higher-level programs. The programs are still focused on a broad range of lifts and movements to better develop body control and force production, but specifically tailored to that particular athlete. This way the athlete continues to be challenged and developed throughout their career.