This topic of strength training as it pertains to youth athletes (age 10-14) is of special interest to me, mainly because I hear all sorts of lies, myths, and simple false facts that strength training will hurt a young athlete’s growth potential. This is no more than an urban legend and something that really has never been proven and/or validated.
Simply put, if a young child can participate in high-impact, high-collision sports (football, soccer, lacrosse, etc) then they are fully capable of participating in a structured and supervised resistance training program. The risk of injury is MUCH higher in a contact team sport due to the nature of contact, constant change of direction, and the violent nature of the game itself.
I coach youth football and have seen kids in the ages of 8-13 years old hurt ankles, knees, backs, shoulders, necks, hands, fingers, as well as numerous other contact related injuries i.e. concussions, joint sprains, and muscle strains. How many times have I seen any of these types of injuries occur in the weight room under supervision and structure? NOT ONCE. Yet, there’s not one ounce of hesitation to sign up young children for a game that involves running full speed at each other and colliding over and over again.
I am ALL for playing sports and encourage young athletes to participate in as many sports as possible to develop into a well-rounded athlete. But to discount and disregard weight training for athletes is not only foolish, but it is severely limiting an athletes potential as well as increasing their risk of injury in sport. Cone drills, ladders, parachutes, bands, and all these other crazy gimmicks and tools will NEVER accomplish this and may actually become a hindrance to an athlete who is already experiencing TONS of agility and speed work at their sport practice without even knowing it. The last thing we need to do for these young athletes is subject them to MORE of what they are already doing at practice.
By getting an athlete stronger (through various means, just because they are involved in resistance training DOES NOT mean they are lifting HEAVY folks!), they will have greater potential to display force, which in turn means they will have a higher output of power and speed. It’s simple; just like adding more horsepower to an engine of a car, the same applies to the human organism.
My main point is this: young athletes CAN and SHOULD be involved in a resistance training program that emphasizes LONG-TERM DEVELOPMENT. There is no such thing as a QUICK FIX for young athletes; look long-term and you will find success not only in the short-term, but moreso the appreciation of what strength training can do for athletes, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Please leave me your thoughts and comments below; I’d love to hear your input on this topic!
Training for speed and strength does not have to be very fancy. It doesn’t need to be all that scientific either. Don’t get me wrong, there are proper ways of planning, set/rep schemes, volume, frequencies, duration, intensity, and a whole other load of variables that go into a great program…
But you shouldn’t have to analyze the program to death and try to make it perfect. Why? Because there is no perfect program in existence. In reality, every program/workout/routine (whatever you’d liked to call it) will work for some time; but eventually you’ll stall out and either hit a wall or regress. Not good!
There are many common mistakes that I see all too often and most of the time they just need a simple fix to help get results. Check ‘em out…
1.) Too Much Volume – Less is more, especially when you are looking for all-out, blazing speed. Speed is the critical “game-changer” and more often than not, the faster team or athlete will ALWAYS have the advantage. I usually almost always start my athletes out with low volume sprints 1-2 times per week, never exceeding 200-300 yards in total volume (the number of sprints you ran X the distance on each sprint). Think about it: do you think running endless repeat 100 yard sprints , as fast as possible,with 30 seconds rest will do anything for your speed? Sure, it might make you tired; it might make you sore; you may even throw up… Most sports require you accelerate anywhere from 5-30 yards. I usually recommend the “short-to-long” approach with most team sport athletes, where you begin sprinting at shorter distances for a couple weeks, then gradually extending the distance and volume out each week.
2.) Too Many Exercises – This one is extremely common. For example: you walk into a regular gym on a Monday (also known as universal bench press day) and everyone and their mother is performing every exercise known for the chest; bench press, incline press, decline press, chest flyes, machine flyes; and often times each one will be performed with ZERO warm up, too many sets, and way too little rest. This basically is doing absolutely nothing but getting you the “pump” which only lasts for a short while after you’re through exercising anyways. Instead of focusing on how many exercises you should be doing, I think the better choice would be to focus on the quality of movement and continually adding weight to the bar each week.
3.) Body Part Splits – This is another very common occurring trend that really is only effective if you’re very advanced and have built up a substantial base of strength and muscle. Body part split routines typically explore a bodybuilder’s routine, for example:
- Monday – Chest
- Tuesday – Back, Biceps
- Wednesday- Legs
- Thursday- Shoulders, etc..
You see that each workout works in isolating muscle groups; in reality, when does the human body EVER work in isolation? Not only is this routine very ineffective for most trainees in building muscle and strength, it’s really BORING. That type of routine would leave me bored to tears and who really wants to perform 5-6 different chest exercises in 1 day? Instead of a split routine, switch up to either 3-day per week “full body” workouts, or 4-day per week upper/lower split. By doing this you will eliminate boredom, your workouts will be much more effective, you’ll be in the gym much less, and you’ll get way better results. I prefer 3-day per week full body workouts for most people, but 4-days per week has also served me well too.
4.) Employing Fancy Gadgets and Gizmos – This is pretty funny, but sad also. Parachutes, ladders, ankle weights, hand weights, thigh weights, weights, tubes, cones, velcro/band strapped to every joint on your body, etc.. The list could go on. When it comes to speed training, the simplest methods and tools yield the greatest results. I have used nothing but a hill, sled/tire with a strap and belt for resisted sprints, set of cones to mark off distances, and a medicine ball to develop extremely fast and explosive athletes. In order to move fast… You need to practice moving fast. If you’re going to utilize resisted sprints that’s fine; sprint up a hill, or use a sled/tire with a 25-45 lb. plate in it and start sprinting. Keep the rest period longer if you’re after speed, keep them shorter if you want some extra conditioning and fat loss.
Remember, this stuff is simple. Yes there is a science to programming and planning (that’s why there are professionals out there that do this for a living), but you can still get results by doing the simple things, being consistent, and making sure you are making progress every time you train.
Have a purpose, a goal, and a plan, and you will not fail.
John Cortese, CSCS
CTS Strength & Conditioning
In this day and age, I get asked ALL of the time on what supplements athletes should use.
Normally I give them one or two of my top choice IF their diets are sound and they are getting enough calories in from food alone. Even with this advice though, it’s tough to get in enough solid food at once if they are young and really don’t have a clue what is good and what is bad as far as health and and caloric density goes.
I know what it’s like to be in a hurry and crunched for time. As an athlete, you often don’t have the time to prepare meals, especially if you’re in school, going to practice, in the weight room, etc. This is why it’s almost crucial to know how to prepare your own quick recipes that are actually good for you and will help you recover faster and in the process build more strength and muscle.
Simply put, if you aren’t eating enough your results will suffer and you’ll be frustrated, still wondering why you aren’t making progress. Well I can tell you this, that almost anytime an athlete stalls out and is starting to feel run down and tired, it’s probably because they aren’t paying attention to their nutrition and recovery as they should be.
So, on that little note, here are a couple of easy meal replacements you can utilize right away to help you reach your goals faster. The great thing about these shakes is that ANYONE can make them if you know how to operate a blender. They also are great in that the prep time is minimal and you can take down quite a bit of calories at once very quickly and easily. Finally, they pack a ton of nutritional value with lots of protein, healthy fats, carbs for energy/recovery, and great vitamin and mineral content.
Most meal replacement powders can get quite pricey, and contain lots of other garbage and filler that you simply don’t need. These are fresh and can be modified constantly to keep variety going all the time if you ever get sick of the same recipe. Have fun with it and make it your own.
I have utilized these types of shakes for when I wanted to get some quick calories in, or even after a tough workout. I would prefer to see athletes drinking these 1-2 times per day on top of what they are eating already.
Blueberry-Banana w/ Vanilla
8-12 oz. Whole Milk
1-2 Scoops Vanilla Whey Protein Powder
Handful of Spinach leaves (can’t taste it, trust me)
1 tbsp Natural Almond Butter
1-2 Cups frozen blueberries
Dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract
*Optional but recommended: 1 tsp cod liver oil or fish oil, 1 tsp creatine monohydrate, and 1 scoop greens powder.
**Mix together in a blender for 30-45 seconds or as needed.
8-12 oz Whole Milk
1-2 Scoops Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
1-2 Cups Frozen Strawberries
1 TBSP Natural Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Frozen Rasberries
Handful Spinach Leaves
*Optional But recommended: 1 TBSP cod liver oil or fish oil, 1 TBSP creatine monohydrate, 1 scoop greens powder.
**Mix together in blender for 350-45 seconds or as needed.
As you can see, these are really easy to make. There really is no excuse to not get enough food in during the day by saying you don’t know how to make anything. I’d be willing to bet most of you out there have these in your house already with the exceptions of a few items listed here. Remember these are just some example of what I use, but feel free to try them out or modify as needed.
Enjoy, and if you have any questions or comments, please let your voice be heard by dropping a comment below. Or, feel free to share your own recipe you might have so others can try it out.
A few of my younger 12 year old athletes showed up a bit early for their training session the other day, so we had some extra time to kill before we started.
They had both been complaining of feeling tired, sluggish, headaches, complaining of allergies or allergy-related symptoms, knees/feet ached, etc. Something you most likely should never, ever hear a young person describe how they are feeling (I realize sometimes allergies are uncontrollable, but I have some ideas and thoughts on that too).
I asked them one at a time exactly what they ate from the start of their day when they woke up, to the time they came in for training, and what they normally eat after training, dinner, and anything before bed.
What I heard was pretty shocking, but not surprising to me unfortunately. I’ll give you a very brief idea of what their diets were like…
- Breakfast was a rarity, and even if they did eat breakfast it was either cold, sugary cereal (i.e. frosted flakes, captain crunch, etc), or some sort of flour-filled “breakfast food” i.e. waffles or french toast with lots of syrup. No fruit, no protein, no nutritional value to any of these foods, just lots of sugary grains and processed, preserved foods. I asked them if they eat breakfast and they said sometimes yes, sometimes no, mainly because they wake up too late and don’t have time to eat anything before school. Moving on..
- Mid morning break or “milk break” usually consisted of either chips, soda, or cookies that are sold at school to these kids. This is usually around 10:15 AM. More sugary goodness in the early morning to fuel their day. Awesome.
- Lunch: depends, but sounds like it’s usually (again) processed garbage that is (re) heated up at school and given to the kids. I heard pizza, chicken nuggets, jello, ham sandwich, apple, and a little bit of water from 3 different kids.
- After lunch, usually nothing until they were done training at 3:30 or 4:30 PM. After training was over, they normally opt for some form of soda, chips (again), although I did hear chili to my surprise which is a pretty good choice considering all the other crap they ate all day.
- Dinner all depends on what mom and dad made up at home or if they went out to eat, so that varied.
- After dinner usually some more processed grain with lots of sugar or processed dairy with lots of sugar, i.e. ice cream, pastries, cookies, etc.
As you can clearly see, this is NOT good. I’m willing to bet most of the athletes who I speak to on a regular basis about this sort of thing still continue to let it go in one ear and out the other. Even my older high school kids are eating like this. As an 11 or 12 year old, you’re still learning on what’s right and wrong, but even then they’re getting to the age to make some logical decisions. High school kids have NO excuses and I’m not willing to give in or let them tell me that “they don’t have time”. I hear so many excuses day in and day out as to why they can’t gain weight, or why they aren’t getting stronger, or why they’re always sick/tired… THE PROOF IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Look, this is not a joke to me. This shouldn’t be a joke to you. Part of training properly is eating to fuel the body optimally so you perform at your best. You won’t put low-grade gasoline in a high-performance sports car, right? Same goes for your body: give it high octane fuel and it will run like a sports car. Give it crap, you’ll feel like crap, constantly be sick/tired/injured, and never get to where you want to be.
I’ve even asked nearly every athlete to write down EXACTLY what they ate on a daily basis and bring it to me so we can go over it together and make changes.. How many have done it? TWO. And guess what? Those two athletes are KILLING IT; one kid has put on nearly 22 lbs of muscle in about 6 months and is dominating his age group. No coincidence at all right there.
This is not good, guys.. Not good. I want to see you take responsibility for your own actions and realize that YOU have to be held accountable when things aren’t going your way. I am taking part blame for this, as I haven’t fully implemented some good strategies for these kids. Yes, I do give everyone a handout and I expect them to take it seriously: look it over as many times as needed, write down any questions you may have, and bring it back. I don’t think that’s asking a lot, and I will gladly go out of my way for the ones who do the little things to get better and constantly seek out help to better themselves.
I also realize that the parents are involved as well, so we’ll need to communicate extremely well with parents about this topic as they’re the ones (most of the time) buying the food that’s in the house.
Stay tuned for Part 2 (this weekend) where I’ll lay out simple ideas for parents and athletes, give solid choices for kids to start using NOW, and a very basic template to follow. I’m also going to start having (free) mini seminars for all athletes that want to learn more about this type of thing and how proper eating can and will help your body perform at it’s best at all times! It’s time for a change!
Please leave your comments and thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and concerns about nutrition for young athletes. This is extremely important and cannot be ignored any longer!