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Building strength, balance, power and grace from within

Youth Strength Training Tips

Resistance Training has become universally recognized as a safe and beneficial component of any fitness program (including youth) provided that a properly designed and supervised program is followed.

  • Children and adolescents should be emotionally mature and able to follow instruction.
  • Children and adolescents should be physically ready to handle designated program.
  • Correct technique should always be followed. Quality is more important than the weight lifted or the number of repetitions performed.
  • Instructor should change the exercises, volume and intensity of training, and frequency of resistance training throughout the year. This yearly planning is called periodization. 
  • Instructor should be credentialed and understand the unique demands of children and adolescents.
  • Children and adolescents should be supervised at all times.
  • Choose a safe training environment, free of hazards.
  • Group training should be kept small (less than 10) to ensure adequate supervision.
  • Proper warm-up (5-10 minutes) should be implemented.
  • Proper cool down should be implemented.
  • Teach breathing methods.
  • Children and adolescents should be taught proper weight room etiquette.
  • Program should begin with minimal weight and high repetitions(12-15 reps).
  • Teach core activation and balance prior to strength training.
  • Resistance training should be performed 0-3x per week depending on the training calendar.
  • 1-3 sets of 6-15 repetitions is recommended.
  • Avoid back to back weight training sessions. Skip a day in between.
  • Children and adolescents should learn that they can work hard in a safe and fun environment.

Many of these tips came from  "A Position Paper and Literature Review of Youth Resistance Training"  by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and from my many years of training and attending seminars. 

Core Stabilization

Look at the image of Haystack Rock above. The ocean waves and wind are free to move about while the rock stands magestic and strong. A performance athlete must also be able to maintain a strong center while demonstrating grace and mobility.

Basic Stability Exercises

A runner directs his/her force straight forward utilizing specific muscles of the core. As a performance athlete, you must use your core in every direction and angle.  There are literally thousands of exercises which will help strengthen all of these muscles. Once you have mastered the basic stability exercises, it is important to challenge yourself in new ways.

The Basic Squat

The squat is the most universal exercise used to improve form, function and strength in virtually every sport. The problem is that it is the exercise which is most commonly done incorrectly.  If you are a ballerina who is accustomed to doing plies in turnout, give your hips a break and include basic squats  in your training.

Fairly good squat: This is the image of an athlete who was asked to do a squat with no direction or instruction. If I were to improve her squat I would first tell her all of the things that she is doing well!   So, what is she doing well? See how her knees go forward and do not collapse inward? That is very important since knee ligament injuries are so common and this is an important technique in preventing ACL and MCL tears. What is not so good? I know that we are looking at the image from the front and not from the side but...you can still see that her knees go forward in front of her toes. When the knees go in front of the toes, you overwork the muscles in the front of the thigh and underwork the gluteals and hamstrings. This can cause increased stress to the knee. Also, I would have her keep the arms up but relax the shoulders, creating a nice long neck.

basicsquat.jpg

Tips in teaching good squats

1. Teach athlete to put hands in front of them as shown.

2. Instruct athlete to crease at the hips to make the knees bend rather than the other way around.

3. Teach athlete to keep the center of the knee aligned with the second toe. So, if you want to do a narrow squat, your feet and knees should be close together. If you want to do a wide squat, your knees and feet should be farther apart.

4. Keep the heels in contact with the ground.

5. It is helpful to tell the athlete to reach back like they are trying to sit in a chair.  To keep the knees from going forward in front of the toes, place a large box, bench or the seat of a chair flush with the tips of the toes. If they touch or move the object the knees are still going too far forward.

6. Bend knees to a 90 degree angle. Deep squats can aggravate the knee.

7. Even after using the cues listed above, form can be poor. Hands on instruction with a knowledgeable strength and conditioning specialist or coach is essential.

Increase Strength (not size)!

Performance athletes need to be strong and powerful while minimizing the production of excessive muscle mass. Many skaters fear that weight lifting will cause them to "bulk up". In reality, an individual's shape is controlled primarily by genetics. Many performance athletes begin strength training about the same time as their body is entering into pre-puberty or puberty. Strength training often gets a bad rap when, in reality, the hormones of adolescence have kicked in. Skaters can increase lean body mass while reducing or preventing the increase of excess body fat. The result is a strong, healthy, athletic skater! **Follow the guidelines for age when manipulating these variables

Tips for minimizing muscle "bulk": 

  • Perform fewer exercises (1-4)
  • Perform higher loads (weights) and lower repetitions (1-5)
  • Increase rest between sets (4-5 minutes)
  • Perform more sets (5-12)

Information obtained in the following article. Click below for detailed information.

"Should Female Gymnasts Lift Weights?" Sands, William A, McNeal, Jeni R, Jemni, Monem, Delong, Thomas, Sports Science 4(3), 2000

More about Strength Training

American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines on Youth Strength Training